5 Parties Standing Up for Scottish Women

As my contract was illegally terminated by a Russell Group university recently, following over 2 years of victimisation for blowing the whistle on violation of disabled rights, I have even more respect for anyone willing to stand up for what’s right, no matter the consequences.

Although there are individuals in other parties, and some opposition to self-ID without clear commitment to female safe space (yes, Scots Libertarians I’m looking at you) there are only 5 parties that I know are unequivocally standing up for Scottish women. I want to provide a link to their policies so that voters can make an informed—and perhaps strategic—choice.

In alphabetical order:

AlbaManifesto—“Standing up for women and girls” starts at p.10. Unique relevant points are that the Scottish Government should pause GRA reform until views of women’s groups, the EHRC and the Court of Session ruling on sex and gender are all taken into consideration—and calls for a citizens assembly to consult over any future reforms. These points are reinforced in the Scotland’s Many People section under Women’s Rights.

With the very greatest respect for the elder statesman at the head of Alba, I’d love to read his political (not personal) memoirs and I think it’s time he retired, let Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh take over and so remove the block to victory that is the lingering taint of the court case that means many women won’t vote for the party—despite the not guilty/ not proven verdicts.

Freedom AllianceManifesto—(This is my party but I’ll try to be fair to all.) Under “Personal Freedom”, unique relevant points are: “Freedom Alliance will: Legislate specifically to protect individual’s right to body autonomy and to prevent the state from mandating any medical procedures.” and “Always oppose any form of discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, race, nationality, disability, health or medical choices.” So, to be honest, the clear commitment isn’t here—however it is in the section in Latest News named YOUR SEX IS A FACT : YOUR GENDER IS A FEELING which states clearly:

“We will protect sex-based rights and single-sex spaces. We oppose the Scottish Government’s reforms to the Gender Recognition Act”

I feel the phrase “bodily autonomy” is unhelpfully unspecific as may confuse positive rights (entitlements) and negative rights (protections). I suspect it’s being used a bit vaguely to cover the fact that the party supports politicians who agree on other party policies but have opposing views on abortion. Unlike the SNP, Freedom Alliance does not agree with a party whip, especially on matters on conscience.

Independence for Scotland PartyManifesto—the only mentions here are: “ISP supports the Equality Act (2010) and the Gender Recognition Act (2004).” However there is explicit endorsement of Women Speak Scotland’s Manifesto for Women’s Rights in Scotland. I can’t find that exactly (however that website is amazing for gender-critical resources) but I’m guessing it refers to the Joint Statement by Scottish Woman’s Organisations which contains this:

The Scottish Government must therefore:

  • ensure single-sex spaces, facilities and other provisions are fully protected;
  • strengthen the rights of women to create and access them through clear guidance;
  • ensure in-depth and thorough Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments are carried out, especially in sectors and services where sex self-ID has been introduced by stealth ahead of legislation, so that public bodies in Scotland are not potentially in breach of their Public Sector Equality Duty.

Again I really respect the ISP, especially as they were so gracious in regard to not stepping on Alba’s toes, and my only personal concern is over their massive support for vaccines. I’m also not sure what differentiates them from Alba and I wonder (as my own party is exploring with ADF) whether a merger would be mutually beneficial.

Scottish Family PartyManifesto—basically they say everything about supporting women and children that everyone else says (at length but there’s a helpful electronic ToCs) with the difference that, although they explicitly condemn bullying of LGBT people, they are very clear that the heterosexual family is the basis of morality and stability in society, and that undermining it leads to a multitude of ills. Under “Supporting families”:

As well as being a great source of joy, family life underpins our society. In the family, care and love are embodied, and resources are shared freely. The state should not seek to supplant the fundamental role of the family in bringing up children and should refrain from interfering in family life. Instead, the state should be supporting families to enable them to provide for themselves, structure their family life according to their priorities, and bring up their children according to their values.

While I respect the honesty of the Scottish Family Party, I do feel that the tone and content of some of its messaging, especially on video clips, lacks the urbane respect for diversity that people in the 21st century expect from politicians. That said, there is absolutely no doubt that they oppose gender theory. Under “Values education”:

The philosophy of gender fluidity is dangerous to young people, leading to confusion and unhelpful experimentation.

Under “Policies”:

Currently children and young people are being harmed by the message that choosing a new gender identity is normal, natural and healthy. While we sympathise with those experiencing gender confusion, we do not believe that legal gender change should be possible.

Sovereignty (formerly Restore Scotland)—Manifesto—under “A Free Scotland”, unique relevant points are:

We oppose the SNP’s illiberal family policies. We believe in family autonomy and we will fight for parental rights, and the right of children to be raised in line with their parents’ beliefs.

We pledge to:
• Repeal the Hate Crime and Public Order Act.
• Ensure parents are not criminalised for using mild physical discipline.
• Outlaw Self ID as inimical to women and children’s rights and safety.
• Criminalise the purchase of sexual services and strengthen anti-voyeurism legislation.
• Mandate age verification on websites offering adult content.

Under “Investing in Education”:

  • Replace Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education with politically neutral teaching.

Another party I deeply respect and my only concern is that the respect Sovereignty have (which I can testify to personally) for all persons covered by the Equality Act 2010 could be more explicit in their manifesto.

Other defining (for some) policy points are here:

Abortion—the SFP and Sovereignty are explicitly pro-life, the former (although pragmatic about an incremental legal reduction in time limits) quite militantly. None of the others mention this topic, clearly, in their manifestos.

Europe—whereas Sovereignty explicitly opposes rejoining the EU, Freedom Alliance doesn’t oppose the concept of free trade in Europe but supports decentralisation and opposes the technocratic bent of the EU; the SFP is neutral but respects the referendum result; both Alba and the ISP promote joining EFTA as a means, with the will of the people, to rejoin the EU.

LGBT—apart from the anti-bullying stance, the SFP is clearly against same sex relationships and trans identity. Sovereignty recognises gender dysphoria and the need for treatment but seems silent on LGB issues. Alba, the ISP and FA all are clearly supportive of same sex relationships and all seek to balance the rights of trans people with those of women—although this balanced respect is not always reflected in all the media content put out by all their members.

Scottish Independence—Alba, the ISP and Sovereignty are manifestly for independence; FA & the SFA are neutral, the latter explicitly so and for the former you’ll just have to take my word for it, however FA is explicitly for decentralisation of power, UK-wide, and both encourage more local engagement with political activity and decision-making.

This post is inadequate to convey the complexity and professionalism of the political stances of these 5 parties. If I have misrepresented a party, I apologise and please let me know on Twitter by post or DM. Please take the time to read all of their manifestos because there is much that is admirable in each of them.

Whoever you vote for, please make sure they will stand up for the beleaguered women of Scotland!

Vintage scrap of thoughtful young White woman with blue eyes and light-brown hair with a black butterfly clip wearing red tasseled jacket, colourful scarf and tartan-trimmed highland bonnet with 3 ptarmigan feathers.

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her image Woman Beautiful Art Portrait into the Public Domain.

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It’s a Fake

They get the music right, and there is some big hair, cardies and drainpipe trousers—though none of the boys have Wham! style haircuts. Russel T. Davies continues with his self-hatred: the positive portrayal of older White men is limited to those who support the pharmaceutical narrative and whose sexual desire is (presumably) domesticated by having a partner. Older Black men lose points if religious, as that is shown as at least comic if not sinister.

Women gain points for being secular, metropolitan and preferably ethnic as well as for dedicating their lives to the service of (young) gay men. Mothers are mostly monsters but redeemed if fat, disabled or married to ethnic males. Davies gives himself the opportunity to address female self-sacrifice but basically gets a monster mother to blame a young woman for being a fag hag—without the show narrative taking responsibility for that accusation or showing the least interest in her personal life—and leaves it at that.

Brian Mullin, writing for the Los Angeles Times, finds that It’s a Sin doesn’t even advance the portrayal of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. I used to believe in that pharmaceutical narrative (I don’t now) but I take his point. Davies is very good at only one thing: the portrayal of young gay male jouissance. In this series he simply makes the equation that joy = death.

Davis also airbrushes drag queens, and their internecine war with m-f transsexuals, out of the 80s gay scene in which they literally played a starring role. Instead he’s opted for vaguely sketched cardboard cutouts of “trans” characters, dotted about the set, never centred and never defined. Lesbians are limited to sitting around tables agreeing with gay men and the main character (effeminate and never shown in the least attracted to women) is shown as ridiculous in pondering bisexuality—the only mention of that sexuality at the time of its major struggle for recognition in the lesbian & gay community.

The most grave sins of the series are those committed against Africans portrayed as backwards (with zero recognition of indigenous efforts to resist or even debate the social and biological harms done by corporate pharmaceutical interests from the global north) and, ironically, against young gay men.

This series continues the profitable trend of pushing drugs. Like all the other AIDS stories, It’s a Sin dismisses the proven connection of poppers (ubiquitous in gay discos then and widely used in gay sex) with Kaposi’s sarcoma and ignores the fact that 47 gay men didn’t just turn up coincidentally at a New York hospital all with the same cancer, Michael Gottlieb was studying low T-cell counts in two cities and actively recruited patients. All of whom were long term massive drug users.

The HIV/AIDS hypothesis (at least the Gallo version, there are others) has been the blueprint for all subsequent viral drug and test advertising campaigns—most successfully with “Covid”—and will be used again if the public are stupid and uninformed enough to swallow “Monkeypox”. Predictably, this latest series, like all the others, is being used to push for more public money for the pharmaceutical industry. So it can kill even more people. That’s not an act of charity. It’s a sin.

Cartoon graphic of two dark-haired men staring at an image of a pill bottle on a wall

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Medical Insurance into the Public Domain.

The Real Greens

The trouble with the terms “greenwashing” and “pinkwashing” is that those using them may (perhaps) inadvertently do what they accuse others of doing: painting over structural issues that need to be addressed.

Pinkwashing is often used to denigrate the success of the LGBT community in Israel and there have been several aspects to this accusation:

  • Denying the issues faced by LGBT people in majority Muslim countries in general and in Palestine in particular.
  • Denying the freedoms won by the LGBT community in Israel.
  • Denying the possibility of a people under oppression to simultaneously oppress a community of their own.

Countering the first denial, Mark Segal of NY Daily News is quoted as stating:

If you have a need to prove your “wokeness” by assimilating with those who support the rape and death of LGBT people, you don’t know the meaning of LGBT liberation.

Countering the third denial, Al-Qaws, a group dedicated to gender and sexual diversity in Palestinian society, has a more nuanced statement:

Singling out incidents of homophobia in Palestinian society ignores the complexities of Israel’s colonisation and military occupation being a contributing factor to Palestinian LGBTQ oppression

My point is not to reduce the socio-political complexities to which the latter quote alludes to some kind of catchy soundbite but rather to emphasise that key word. Some issues aren’t simple—but that doesn’t mean they should be painted over in pink.

Or green. Cory Morningstar, on the blog Wrong Kind of Green, has written a detailed take-down of current media environmentalism entitled The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. (For those who prefer listening to reading, there’s a beautifully-read podcast version.)

The reaction to greenwashing can also be rather simplistic and, similarly, has various aspects:

  • Denying the ecological issues of the planet
  • Denying the benevolent motivations of environmental protestors
  • Ignoring the possibility of both of the above co-existing with invented (or exaggerated) issues and with malevolent motivations

To stop communicating in double negatives, let me state clearly what I mean. While climatologists are divided on the question of there being a planetary temperature crisis caused by human (or animal) agency, no-one sane denies the obvious issues of air, land and water pollution by pesticides and other poisons and by plastics. Electromagnetic (high or low) frequency pollution is another source of concern.

Related issues are those of the cost-effectiveness of supposedly environmental alternative sources of energy and fuel—as well as the social impact of the market for conflict minerals (used in phones, laptops, solar panels and electric cars).

About all these issues my point is simple:

  • Unless supposedly progressive groups are prepared to grapple with the complexities of real intersectional oppression and liberation, they aren’t really progressive.

It’s not enough to pay attention to the wake-up calls of green celebrities; we also need to see beyond—to the marketisation of Africa and other repressive goals of the Great Reset.

It’s not enough to acknowledge the latter and ignore the very real problems of pollution.

It’s not enough to be aware of the dangers of Frankenfood and the sinister appropriation of the means of global food production by a very small group of plutocrats; we also need to acknowledge the unnatural and inhumane treatment of farmed animals—if not for their own sake then at least for the effect that their confinement, torture, forced assimilation of toxins and barbaric slaughter has on our own bodies and on our souls.

The so-called Green parties are allied with inhuman forces indifferent to the fate of most of the planet and its population—apart from some ecological pleasure parks strictly set aside for the elite. Let’s not pretend that meanwhile these plutocrats are all ethical vegans: they’re all guzzling meat pizza, fatty hamburgers and high sugar Coca-Cola.

In contrast, the resistance to global tyranny is full of people who eat healthily, exercise daily, participate voluntarily in various community projects and grow our own food.

We’re the real greens.

Cress growing out of soil held in a White male hand in front of the mesh cover of a plastic greenhouse.

Trans of the City

Of course I cried at the end of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, a limited series just released on Netflix based on those books of that author. The showrunner Lauren Morelli “cultivated an all-queer writers room”, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And it shows. Out of the eight main characters, three are trans – or are portrayed as such. (But no plot spoilers!)

I’d reread the books, again, after a year spent around San Francisco and Sinaloa (across the water from Baja California). I was living in community in an area of multiple deprivation in Edinburgh, working in a nursing home. I found the former more challenging than the latter and the series was a form of solace. I’d read them in the bath, by candlelight, with incense and essential oils, switching off from my unhygienic passive-aggressive alcoholic flatmate, my actively-aggressive neighbours, and whatever craziness was happening on the racist and drug-ridden housing estate.

Some years later I felt I understood the main character more when I dated a guy who introduced himself as “a female-to-male transsexual”. (Even though Anna’s transition was the reverse.) No-one prompted me with pronouns, in those days, but my guy was ‘he’ to me and that was fine. I’m a bisexual man; nothing about him threatened or repulsed me. We were great in bed; it was just all the other times when his insecurity, selfishness and obsessive personality were so trying.

But, like the Netflix series, we’re all limited – and I’m certainly no saint. The limitations of the series are obvious when you expand the view to the minor characters (especially including the 1960’s vignette). Most of them are under the trans umbrella. Let’s remember that the books were written by a gay man – so he, like me, is not.

It’s no news that trans is the new gay. And, to give the all-queer writers their due, there is some portrayal of the tensions between young intersectional queers and the older White queens; and between individuals who transition and their partners who have a new identity thrust upon them – one that includes them. I wonder how much input Armistead, who “also spent time with the writers”, had.

Director Alan Poul says:

“There were lots of different voices with a lot of different opinions so it was a very vigorous room but[,] at the same time, nobody had to explain queer 101 to other people in the room.”

I welcome this series, despite its limitations. The character of Anna Madrigal (wonderfully portrayed both by Olympia Dukakis and Jen Richards, in her earlier incarnation) may believe in magic and utter the occasional spiritual insight but her appeal is always in her compassionate humanity.

So it’s a pity that, in this very politically correct series, the issues of coercion and ideological purity aren’t addressed. “I know I’m not supposed to feel this but…” says Margo, the partner of Jake, who transitioned and who censors her speech when she says, “I miss when we were lesbians”. And the only mention of the issue of safe female space, based on sex not gender, is a clear invitation to laugh at the dumpy older lady being sarcastic about having to share an open plan unisex bathroom with 15 other people in the intentional living community that Michael is (not) considering joining.

There’s a lack of honesty here. Something that this all-queer writers room didn’t address. And that’s a shame because so many of us, in what could be termed the queer community, have been moved to tears by these books – and also moved to contemplation of ourselves, our lives and our civil situation – and so moved to action.

These are my fears for the future:

  • That we continue to divide into intolerant camps policed by an unordained and unelected priesthood of ideological purists
  • That we refuse to consider each ethical issue separately and continue to lump them all together in an all-or-nothing party politics of right or left
  • That we are so unrestrained in our virulence towards each other that we ignore the backlash that our enmity must certainly cause, as every action provokes a reaction

Here are my hopes:

  • That we each take responsibility for our words and actions, and their lack, and the effect they have on others
  • That we learn to value the truth that someone else expresses, even if it conflicts with our own
  • That we hold each other in a gaze of compassion

Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing Olivia de Havilland, in the memorable TV series Feud: Bette and Joan, said these words:

“Feuds are not about hate, it’s never about hate; feuds are about pain.”

I find I’m a better human when I allow myself to feel my pain, when I’m conscious that I’m not the only one in pain, that it’s an inevitable part of the human condition. Every single character, in all incarnations of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, is in pain. The best ones, in their best moments, temper that pain and even heal some of it when they remember that and reach out in recognition – rather than in rage. Or simply respect that someone else’s pain may be, despite our best intentions, unfathomable.

Armistead and Christopher at the wedding

Photo of Armistead and partner Christopher in cameo shot from Gay Times

Parents, Protest and the Press

Those naughty Muslims have been at it again – not being nice – not like us Brits! Was basically the message (some of it subliminal) in the online and broadsheet reports about parents in Birmingham protesting outside a school where 98% of the pupils are Muslim and the assistant headmaster has implemented a controversial LGBT education programme. I chose the word ‘education’ because that’s what schools are supposed to be for. Some have called it an ‘inclusion programme’.

As usual with eye-catching headlines, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Firstly, the assistant headmaster. Billed as ‘a gay man’ (as if sexuality has anything to do with being a good teacher or manager) and therefore, in England, in 2019, supposedly deserving for that reason of our sympathy. Unlike the parents. They’re not gay, they’re just Muslim. You don’t get as many points for that in LGBT stories (unless you’re being supportive of inclusion programmes, in which case you get double). In this story, they don’t get any points at all. Not even for being parents. Especially not for being parents. Parents (that don’t support the programme) in this story, like Muslims, are bad. They get slammed by OFSTED [Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills] says The Birmingham Post. Null points. Not nice! Just not British! (Actually almost everyone gets ‘slammed by OFSTED’ at some point, it seems, as I found when I looked up the story. I really don’t know what else they find time to do!)

Anyway, the assistant headmaster. Who had to leave his last school. Cos of the naughty Muslims. Christians. Parents. Whatever. Not with the programme. Bad people. Cos he was gay. Well, not cos he was gay. Cos he said he was gay. Openly. As opposed to closedly. Well, cos he said it was okay to be gay. Well, cos he pushed the programme. Or another programme. Similar. Along with some of his books. And others. Reports are confused.

Let’s look at some of those books, shall we? The ones in the programme. Lovely, aren’t they? Choice, rainbows, find who you really are, be who you want, yes you can! Dogs can do ballet too! Boys can be princesses. And you can start as young as you like! Nothing wrong with all that, is there?

Of course not. So what are the parents protesting about then? Let’s find out, from the two mothers of schoolkids who are interviewed. In an edited video Fatima Shah explains the protest and (from the same source) here’s Mariam Ahmed:

“Protester Mariam Ahmed, whose four-year-old daughter attends the school, has organised a petition against the No Outsiders project.

She said yesterday: ‘What they are teaching is not right, they are too young. There are nine parts of the Act and they only seem to be focusing on one, homosexuality, and that is wrong. They need to have an ethos which reflects the area.

‘It’s not just because we are Muslims, there are Christians here too. We don’t have a vendetta against homosexuals and we respect the Act. We respect that Mr Moffat is gay and we are happy for him to teach.’

She said she would consider taking her daughter out of school full-time if the lessons continued, claiming children were being affected ’emotionally and psychologically’.”

This report is from The Daily Mail. Not known for its support of Muslims! And if words were edited on the video, clearly to make the interviewee seem less sympathetic, they could also be in print. They may have referred to the signs parents are holding in the photos in the same report: “SAY NO TO SEXUALISING OUR CHILDREN”; “SAY NO TO DISCRIMINATING AGAINST OUR CHILDREN”; “SAY NO TO UNDERMINING PARENTAL RIGHTS & AUTHORITY”; “EDUCATION NOT INDOCTRINATION”; “LET KIDS BE KIDS”; “STOP EXPLOITING CHILDREN’S INNOCENCE”.

Let’s note that this mother correctly pointed out that the Equality Act 2010 covers 9 characteristics – whereas Alston Primary, also in Bimingham, using the No Outsiders programme (explicitly stating that Upper Key Stage 2 (9-11 year-olds) are given books on sexual and gender orientation) gets them wrong: the protected characteristic ‘sex’ is incorrectly listed as ‘gender’ and ‘race’ is listed without ‘colour, ethnicity or nationality’, ‘pregnancy and maternity’ isn’t mentioned and neither is ‘marriage or civil partnership’. So these Muslim mothers have a point.

Let’s just note that Andrew Moffat MBE is doing a Ph.D. ‘on the role of schools in countering terrorism’ and that the headteacher of this school has already reported 3 children to the police under the controversial Government Prevent Agenda that some feel is doing more to alienate British Muslims than prevent their radicalisation. In that vein, The Independent gets in a wee dig with a conspiracy theory about Muslim ‘practices’ (homosexuals used to have ‘practices’ too but this was upgraded to a ‘lifestyle’) maybe taking over schools in the area – but (sadly) Andrew Moffat MBE’s old school isn’t one of them and, presumably, neither is his new one. Oh well. Also, this whole thing is part of a DfE [Department for Education] scheme called ‘Promoting fundamental British values through SMSC [Spiritual, Moral, Social & Cultural development’. So, it’s not just about naughty religious people and a nice gay man, is it? There’s ideological conflict going on and No Outsiders is a powerful weapon: Government-backed propaganda.

To sum up: in the wake of a Government consultation in England and Wales on transgender self-ID that was better advertised than the really sneaky one that happened in Scotland (to which 51% of respondents weren’t from Scotland, some were from Switzerland and there were even some from Brazil – oh fortunate people!) the assistant head of a school in Birmingham overwhelmingly attended by children from one particular faith community failed entirely to consult with the parents or to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on the other seven protected characteristics apart from the two that he was really interested in. When parents complained about this, his response (with Government backing) was to spin his failure to protect (and be seen to protect) these other characteristics as upholding ‘Fundamental British values’. Meanwhile the press happily linked parents insisting on their kids being taught science, maths and English, to Islamic terrorism.

Here’s my thoughts:

There are already anti-bullying strategies in schools. Perhaps some need to be more specific.

It is not the place of the Government to teach ‘spiritual values’. Britain is fundamentally racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, unsupportive of women who wish to give birth, unsupportive of stable domestic partnerships, (neo)colonialist, unhealthy, pessimistic, cold-hearted, passive-aggressive, lazy, disorganised, unwashed, hypocritical and inhospitable. If you don’t know these things about Britain, travel. Or just speak to people from somewhere else. There are many things I love about the lands and the people currently designated as ‘Britain’ but I wouldn’t wish our ‘fundamental values’ on anyone.

Ironically, the cultural values of internationalism, religious tolerance, veneration of the old and protection of the young, especial provision for the orphan, the widow and the stranger, health and hygiene, open-hearted friendship and warm hospitality, diplomacy, hard work, order, reverence for scholars and teachers – as well as leading the world in legal recognition of post-operative gender reassignment and (historically) unofficial tolerance of discrete same-sex love – famously belong to countries and communities that are Muslim.

islamic-prayer-silhouette-female Thanks to Mohammed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image ‘Islamic, Prayer, Silhouette, Female’ into the public domain.

Writing a Difference

I’ve previously praised Grey’s Anatomy for dealing wisely with tragedy, and given my opinion on its patronising portrayal of male (but not female) bonding. This American TV series won an award for its ‘colourblind’ casting and it’s refreshing to watch a series that deals with social issues and doesn’t making an issue out of (for example) a Black man running a hospital.

Suffering from (mild) medical colourblindness may perhaps make me less inclined to see social colourblindess in a totally positive light. I do, strongly, affirm its anti-racist intention. However when there seems to be an almost total absence of patient couples of the same ethnicity in Seattle, it is hardly something that viewers can be expected not to notice on a visual medium. Especially if we are also expected not to notice that the protagonist just happens to be a slim, blonde, able-bodied, monied, middle-class, middle American, tertiary educated, professional White heterosexual female with no chronic mental health challenges and no police record. In other words, in every single dominant category apart from one. It’s this one we’re supposed to notice, as it puts her in a vulnerable position with all men. Obviously. And absolves her from any responsibility for being in all the others.

I’m not knocking the screenwriting or directing of Grey’s Anatomy. Other popular TV series could take a leaf out of their book. An episode of Murder She Wrote is set in an exclusively White Paris (Montmarte) that has never existed. Many American films set in ‘foggy London’ have exclusively White Anglo-Saxon characters, unless the protagonist happens to take a trip to meet a Scottish Highland laird, to consult a Gypsy fortune-teller, to visit an Irish bar or boxing club, a Jewish pawnbroker, a Chinese opium den (an addictive drug which Britain fought China to push) or a Black American jazz club. So the ethnicity of a character who isn’t a White Anglo-Saxon becomes their defining character trait and a convenient plot device.

When it comes to novel writing, which is not a visual medium (unless it happens to make it to the big or small screen) I tend to avoid explicitly labelling ethnicity but sometimes that’s not possible. In Shades of the Sun I drew on a mnemonic tradition of European occultism which functions precisely because of its strikingly memorable visual images. Among these are:

‘a woman, outwardly cloathed with a red garment, and under it a white, spreading abroad over her feet’

and

‘a black man, standing and cloathed in a white garment, girdled about, of a great body, with reddish eyes, and great strength and like one that is angry’.

The tradition seems to assume that the woman is White.

I tend to describe my main characters’ complexion and hair colour in every book of the Bruno Benedetti mysteries, which gives clues to their ethnicity, and I also at least indicate their age, nationality, familiar and romantic relationships, sexuality, friends, values, politics, occupation and interests. I’ve previously blogged about describing characters by their books, which is one way of doing some of that. An advantage I have is that my protagonist is also my (unreliable) narrator. So rather than suffer the death of a thousand qualifications, I allow Bruno to rant at will about a variety of causes and obsessions and let other characters argue with him.

This point of view is also useful when transcribing BSL (British Sign Language) which is the main means of communication of Simone who is deaf and a major character in both Shades and Qismet. As Bruno isn’t very fluent, he experiences this communication rather like a series of flashcards, so I write this in capital letters inside square brackets. A more assimilationist linguistic politics would translate BSL as any other language but I want to highlight how strikingly visual this experience is, as it’s this aspect which makes Bruno stop and think.

On the issue of sexuality, I see no need to visually describe heterosexual lovemaking. In Tìr nam Bàn, this was an option but it’s simply not necessary. Whatever our sexuality or sexual experience, we are flooded with heterosexuality daily and have been all our lives. Describing homosexuality is a different matter. I haven’t watched all the TV series, but the seven books of the (otherwise excellently-written) very graphic series of fantasy novels A Game of Thrones contain not one instance of gay male lovemaking and the two female characters who allow female lackeys to pleasure them are written as otherwise heterosexual.

Whereas romance in lesbian fiction tends to the political, that in gay male fiction tends to the erotic. These novelistic tendencies can both be read as empowering, especially by those in situations where neither personal political power nor social romantic expression is possible. They can also become rather annoying. Fiction that reads like a pre-Blair Labour Party manifesto, or a post-AIDS sex manual, is neither particularly entertaining (though some may find it stimulating!) nor moving. Fiction that portrays the lives and loves of people who are normally written out of the script can be both.

Writing difference is fraught with danger. Writing characters whose age, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or ability differs from your own is difficult. Sometimes those attempts fail, and may attract criticism. I find writing the character Dave (who first appeared in The Lovers) challenging, not only because his working class Scotophone hyper(homo)sexuality is a shadow energy in the Scots assimilationist milieu but because that shadow is in my own psyche just as much as Clara’s upper middle class pretensions or Boris’s whacky conspiracy theories. It’s just that I find him more troubling. This recent blogpost may explain why.

Writing diverse characters, novelists reveal our own monsters from the Id, as explored in Tricks of the Mind. We can never truly write anything that is outside our own experience. But we can try.

And that makes a difference.

colored-pencils

Thanks to George Hodan who has released his photo ‘Coloured Pencils’ into the Public Domain.

Cross Words and the (Roman) Catholic Press

I’ve won the crossword competition of a certain Scottish Catholic newspaper twice. I started doing crosswords when I returned from years teaching around the Northern Mediterranean and in Latin America, observing that my English spelling and grammar were getting distinctly dodgy. In the Ratzinger years (I never experienced him as the blessing his papal name pretended to be) the crossword was the only thing I liked about that publication. I dislike personality cults and their ubiquity amongst the Scottish RC clergy is not lessened by the constant reference to ‘how much the laity love their priests’ by the staff writers who appear to update their photographs only as frequently as their ecclesiology. My favourite of the bylines is: ‘Celtic supporter and married father of two’. Answers on a postcard.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to pick faults with a periodical cherished by people of the third age who lived through times when sectarianism, i.e. anti-Irish racism and anti-(Roman) Catholicism, was indeed Scotland’s shame. It’s not now. Yes we still have The Walk which reformed Christians fail year after year to denounce but the boot’s on the other foot in terms of shame now. New Ways Ministry report that RC is synonymous with prejudice in the USA amongst the majority of young people and even the RC press in Scotland notes that out of 113 RC parishes around Edinburgh only 30 are not threatened with closure for want of attendance.

The Revd Jim Wallis wrote a book in 2005 subtitled, “Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It”. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but it reveals the roots of the secular struggle for liberation in the Biblical prophetic tradition – a tradition that the Church is using all its might to quash. So the RC press sees no irony in calling for African clergy to ‘re-evangelise Europe’. Slavery was definitively opposed by the RC Magisterium only in 1965 (so those expecting a change on women/married priests or equal/second marriage can expect to wait a bit longer) and even now the idea that enforcing European culture globally is wrong is only voiced in the RC press by colonised clergy and bishops – and only in reference to ‘militant secularism’. Scan any example of the RC press and the majority of images of Jesus are White, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Scan again for instances of inclusive (non-sexist) language. It’s not just that they get it wrong, they just don’t get it.

When the Revd Dr Martin Luther King opposed racism he was opposing the ‘moral majority’ of his day. It’s all there in chapter 9 of Genesis. The Church, the State, Tradition, the Bible. All agreed. All but a small still voice that became a hurricane. The frustration, the hurt, the passivity I observe amongst my lay co-religionists is rooted in a co-dependent mentality that has rendered us as yet unable to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. We are house dogs rejoicing that a crumb of comfort has dropped from the table – from which many of us are officially banned.

Turn to the promise in Isaiah 51:12 “I am the one who comforts you. How can you be afraid?” Turn to the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and read those assurances to you. The Church is ein fest Burg that can withstand militant secularism but the people of God are pilgrims and, often, only in desert places can we hear the call, the Spirit of the ekklesia.

Cross and Altar   ( Small Cross and Altar by Petr Kratochvil: Public Domain )

Best for Baby

Outed and unjustly branded ‘hypocrite’ by a certain Scottish newspaper some years ago, the well-loved RC parish priest preached a heartfelt but sombre sermon to the Midnight Mass congregation at my home church. Tragic events this last month, a year and a century ago cast a pall over the usual joy of the weans awaiting their presents and of the old glad to see another Christmas and hoping to see in another new year. Having mostly shot the craw from my cradle Roman Catholicism some years ago, with the arrival of Ratzinger, I have always felt at home in my home parish – although not at ease. Struggles with celibacy are nothing new in the RC community and only became newsworthy when blended cleverly with both homophobia and anti-Catholicism disguised as outrage at RC episcopal ‘whitewash’. The ‘production values’ of the liturgy, and the heating systems, may never rival those of the Episcopalian cathedral where I feel at ease – although not at home – but the parish of my infancy and youth still holds warmth for me. I participated in the music ministry, the Charismatic prayer group, the Justice & Peace group, I sold (awful) Campaign Coffee, met with Focolare and went on parish retreats and on pilgrimage, served at the altar and returned there from my sojourn with the Franciscans. This year, at my mother’s house, I constricted a crib with her handpainted icon of St Francis as backdrop and Sisters from the local FMDM house have promised my mother to pop in to see it.

So all was pretty cosy, if not exactly warm, until the end of Mass when the parish priest approached the subject of the crib – which I had helped build when it first arrived. This year the proceeds, ‘I have been told to announce’, he was careful to say, will go to the St Margaret’s Adoption Society, ‘for a legal battle they are involved in’.

Oh. The one against ‘the gays’. Like plucky little Belgium against the invading Hun, like St Joan against the English, like Christ outfacing Pilate (the former manifestly representing the Scottish RC hierarchy and the latter ‘aggressive secularism’) and not at all like a Hebrew mother entrusting her babe to a reed basket, praying for someone to care for him, even someone unlike her.

The only thing nuclear families do with consistency is explode. If it takes a village to bring up a child, why are ‘pro-life’ Roman Catholics worried about the sex of the couple who have volunteered to provide for a needy child’s primary care? This is one I’ve changed my mind on. I used to think it was about freedom of conscience, like the legal battle of midwives not to supervise abortion, or about democracy, like state-supported faith schools. Now I realise it’s about limitation of options due to prejudice: it’s not about what adoption should always be about – whatever is best for Baby.

johnny_automatic_Moses_in_the_bulrushes