International Men’s Day

In the late 80s/ early 90s I started some men’s groups. Nowadays, especially in the White liberal middle-class tertiary-educated post-industrial cultural groups that love to congratulate each other for their progressive values on social media, the received wisdom is that membership of a men’s group is evil on a par with joining the Ku Klux Klan. And at least the Klan are honest about it. And, apparently, had a female wing: the WKKK. (By now, they’re probably co-ed and insisting on everyone using inclusive pronouns.)

Despite the prejudice of the gender-obsessed youth born this century and the paranoia of many (not all) middle-aged White feminists, men’s groups in those days were not primarily about women. This may come as a shock. However, yes, on occasion, we men do like to talk to each other about subjects other than our relations with the opposite sex.

Although many men’s groups were self-consciously inspired by their feminist counterparts (more on that later) consciousness-raising was a widespread late 60s/ early 70s strategy of emancipation that by the late 80s was so standard in feminism that its more general application, and revolutionary origin, was often ignored.

Feminism was then (and is even more now) not so much a broad church as shifting and contested female sacred space seething with accusations of ideological heresy, strategic alliance, excommunication and schism – as well as a place of healing, of community and of miraculous resilience and solidarity. So, while my take on male-female relations was based on Dorothy Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur and Jean Baker Miller’s Toward a new psychology of women, in said groups the topics of conversation tended to centre men’s self-understanding and relations with other men.

Rather pretentiously (it was that kind of Uni) I subtitled the group, “an experiment in self-conscious brotherhood” and, although there was some flirting, some macho bravado, some backstabbing and a lot of gossiping, that appeared to be the general experience.

We talked about gender stereotypes, about relations among and between gay and heterosexual men, about the possibility and difficulty of bisexuality, about our relations with our fathers, about loneliness and friendship, and a bit about group dynamics. We went for walks and road trips and sat round a fire in somebody’s cottage in the country. We shared meals (some shared beds) and some of those friendships have lasted decades.

Another inspiration was a book by Robert Bly named Iron John, which personally I found rather macho and extremely American (I’m Scottish) but also valuable if read in context: as a corrective to a certain feminist view, now almost universal, of masculinity as incurable toxic. It is precisely because Bly was speaking, rather bluntly, in that context that his work was used to demonise an entire movement.

A few years later, early in the new Millennium I think, a man trying to start a men’s group in Edinburgh, and announcing it on Facebook, was shouted down by feminists insisting on an approved woman chairing each event and policing the topics of conversation. This was at a time when the exclusion of men from female groups was non-controversial. The reason, plainly stated, was that men couldn’t be trusted to gather on our own as our only possible motivation would be to plot against women.

Several things had changed:

  • The Courage to Heal and other sacred texts of the Recovered Memory Movement had convinced a generation of (mostly) young White middle-class women that either they had been abused in early childhood by an older man or had suppressed the memory due to trauma.
  • Madonna’s postfeminist flaunting of feminine allure had won over Dworkin’s aversion of the male gaze.
  • A new generation of girls were being raised to see themselves, primarily, as victims and, automatically, as more worthy of praise for any achievement (due to having to overcome their victimhood) than boys.
  • The adjective “male” replaced the nouns “man” and “boy” whereas the noun “women” replaced the adjective “female”.
  • To address previous and continuing gender imbalance, countermeasures were applied – some of which confused affirmative action with positive discrimination.

So, for example, in university departments (including those overwhelmingly staffed by women) strategies of diversity & inclusion that were set up to balance gender by choosing a less represented demographic candidate over one equally qualified and experienced were popularly understood as a license to employ and promote good women candidates, still bleeding from deep wounds of the gender wars, over the ever-abusive male candidates who had caused them, simply by being born with a Y-chromosome. So basically White middle-class women replaced White middle/ upper-class men.

Meanwhile more and more boys were receiving primary care in exclusively female-led households and primary education from almost exclusively female teachers. In this process they got the message that men are inherently either mad, bad or sad whereas women as wise, good and in touch with their emotions.

So, is it any surprise that so many young men are attempting to “identify” out of being male? Here’s some homework (I’m a teacher, sorry) for you to verify the outrageous claim that there is prejudice against masculinity: look up the hashtag #InternationalMensDay on social media. Read the posts and comments. What percentage of them are positive about masculinity?

If we want young men to stop invading female space and attempting to appropriate female identity, we need to start valuing masculine men.

US Navy Poster of two fit young men wearing white navy caps riveting girders.

Thanks to Dawn Hudson who has released her image Vintage Navy Poster into the Public Domain.

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What’s Wrong with the Resistance?

I’ve just left a chat group on Telegram because I couldn’t stand it any longer. Like many, I don’t have much free time — and an unrelenting flood of repetitious, unevidenced, incoherent and hysterical posts about “the Cabal” does nothing to inform and persuade people to resist the developing technocracy and everything to reassure them that its resisters are all crazy.

Left-leaning friends (current and former) may be relieved to hear this. Typically unable to distinguish between pointing out the historical roots of Big Pharma in poison gas manufacturers, such as I.G. Farben, and denial of the Shoah, they’re unable to reason clearly because they confuse categories.

For example: if I say it’s a Tuesday and the calendar says it’s a Tuesday and Adolf Hilter says it’s Dienstag, does that make me (or the calendar) a Nazi?

A real example: Alison McDowell, excellent on the links and repercussions of the 4th Industrial Revolution, blocked me on Twitter when I pointed out her (obvious) ignorance of the Catholic Church. Among other instances was her oohing and ahhhing over a post about “Masonic crosses” which even the original poster eventually conceded were simply a variety of crosses illustrated in a Masonic book. (Still not got it? The category “Masonic” applied to the book, it could not be assumed to apply to every illustration of traditional Christianity referenced in those pages. Especially as Masonry isn’t Christian.)

In fairness, Alison is quite candid about the fact that she couldn’t tell a Maltese Cross from The Maltese Falcon. She just didn’t like me pointing it out. I point things out. It’s why I lose friends. And save lives. Also, her Da Vinci Code style amateur exploits in the wonderland of Roman Catholicism (as I say, she’s amazing on Geo-Political Economics) are small potatoes compared to the Frito-Lay-factory-short-of-a-fish-supper crazy going on online right now about “the Cabal”.

Let me try to summarise (no, I haven’t read it up in depth and I don’t intend to):

The Cabal is a sinister leftist right wing communist elitist Black Jewish Catholic Alien reptilian, em, cabal, of gay trans paedophile vampire vegans funded, em, by themselves, who came from Outer Space to this Flat Earth and tried to convince us it was spherical by founding The Catholic Church and Black Judaism to really worship Satan, who is, em, them, by means of The Pyramids, The Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Oh, and, y’know, religion, Netflix, NASA, and stuff. Antarctica is a Circular Ice Wall beyond which (it is known because no-one can get there) there is All Sorts of Alien Tech. Like they can blow this shit right up! They govern us by means of Mind Control and drink kids’ blood. The Moon Landings were faked cos there’s no Outer Space. We’re not gonna believe what those Aliens say!

Source? All over the Internet. Apparent source? Every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a 2-dimensional account with 15 identical followers that opened sometime in 2020/21. And all those influenced by them, including some vulnerable people with shaky mental health.

There are also celebrity influencers and though David Icke of course springs to mind, he appears to be speaking (of the struggle between the limbic and mammalian brains and the frontal cortex) metaphorically and may be simply a rather dramatic New Ager who believes in Universal Consciousness and Higher Things. He also, very clearly and very sanely, preaches specific resistance to the ongoing violations of human rights and civil liberties.

My concern is both with the ones who don’t (such as trust-the-plan Simon Parkes) and the ones who urge people to take part in illegal actions that are as unlikely to succeed as they are likely to alienate the general public.

Because it is no secret (they state it openly) that intelligence services are targeting resistance groups in person and online. What better way to derail the train bound for freedom than to send its drivers conflicting signals, place as many obstacles on the track as possible and, easiest of all, convince the passengers not to get onboard but to stay, patiently, listening for further announcements in the waiting room…in the deferential and ever-deferred hope of a celebrity saviour.

If religious education were actually taught in schools and church history in universities (based on historical fact rather than endless emoting and opining over present-day imaginary identities) then more people might know that the blood-drinking hypothesis was a 1st C. Roman imperial slur against the newly-formed Christian community and one that was diverted from their spiritual descendants to be used against Jews in most centuries since, including this one.

I do not deny the depravity of some human beings but the lesson of the Holocaust is not that Germans are especially sadistic but that good people can be gradually coerced into evil fairly easily, until it becomes banal.

That’s what we need to resist. Anti-Semitism, recklessness, agents provocateurs, clashes of celebrity egos, ignorance and stupidity will only get in the way of the diffusion of sane, sympathetic, balanced and well-researched investigations such as that of Cory Morningstar on The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. (Cory doesn’t deny the ecological problems of the planet but simply shows how big businesses is exploiting them, and young activists, in order to open new markets.) Or basically anything written by the amazing, and always responsible independent journalist Whitney Webb. (Whitney is always careful to state exactly what she can evidence and her analysis of political blackmail and international information technology is based on painstaking research.)

For resistance to be effective, the messages broadcast need to be sane, focussed and supportive of human rights and civil liberties. That means the administrator “owners” of groups and channels need to reduce repetition, weed out the crazies and ban prejudice. Otherwise all they will do is encourage either inaction or unsympathetic and possibly life-threatening confrontation with the authorities and the general public. What we need to be doing is appealing to hearts and minds. Warmly and wisely.

Thanks to Circe Denyer for releasing her image Halloween Whispering Clowns into the Public Domain.

Black & White; Left & Right

I’ve previously praised Dear White People but now I want to address the contentious issue of Critical Race Theory which seems to underlie the film and series. The present inspiration is twofold: bitter words about bodily words with a friend for whom I have deep affection, and the 2020 Equality & Diversity lecture by Prof. Kendall Thomas for the Oxford University Faculty of Law.

The past and continuing inspiration is, as usual with me and ethical controversy, the late Dr Robert M. Pirsig, about whose work I wrote my doctoral thesis. CRT has become a huge ideological issue in the USA and, of course, the opposing positions tend to follow party political lines. What’s interesting for me is that, listening to opposing speakers, both sets seem utterly convinced of being right and (apart from some glaring misrepresentation of socio-political reality) both can be quite convincing. Having now alienated most readers, let me explain why.

Firstly, arguments that are intractable are often so because:

1) people are arguing about different things

2) people are arguing about the same thing but in different contexts

An example of 1) is abortion. The main reason why this is intractable is that each side of the argument is consistent with an opposing view on pregnancy: baby or blood clot, basically. A huge step forward is therefore to say: “I don’t agree with your understanding of biological reality but I can see how your stance seems reasonable to you, with that understanding”.

An example of both 1) and 2) is transgender. Because not only is one person thinking about a post-op (top & bottom) m-f transsexual and the other a male serial rapist and occasional crossdresser but the one is imagining the first popping on a blouse in M&S and the other imagining the second naked, erect and threatening in a women’s locker room, shelter or prison.

Both confounders can come into play in any argument over race. “White people” can variously refer to the young metrosexual hipster whose only experience of an all-White space is his immediate family when no visitors are round, or to Mrs Old Money who keeps a gun handy and can’t decide which ethnic group upsets her the most when they come treading the White sands of her favourite New Englander island. Similarly, “Black people” can refer to anyone from President to a prisoner on Death Row.

But, thinking about both my new inspirations for writing, together, I realised that it’s 2) that’s the real problem – and I have to turn to Pirsig to explain why. (His explanation involves metaphysics or the nature of nature but you can just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you prefer.)

Pirsig says that there isn’t just one level of ethical conflict, there are are 4. Only 2 concern us here. These are:

B) Social vs Intellectual morality

A) Biological vs Social morality

I’ve written them as A) under B) because it is. These three levels of wellbeing/ reality (Pirsig calls them “static quality”) form a hierarchy like this:

Intellectual

Social

Biological

So you can see that the two zones of overlap (with potential for harmony and clash) are also one above the other, with the lower both supporting and undermining the upper. The important point is that each upper level is moral, from its own perspective, but is transcended by the one above.

The skinny:

– perhaps the reason why White Republicans (and their Black allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a colourblind America seem racist to Black Democrats (and their White allies) is that they appear to take no account of the lived reality of especially young Black men being harassed, to despair or death, by the police and other institutional forces.

– perhaps the reason why Black Democrats (and their White allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a just America seem racist to White Republicans (and their Black allies) is that they appear to take no account of the fond wishes of especially wealthy old White people that everyone should just get along in the Home of the Brave and God Bless America!

I’m not being fair, I know. Putting it more philosophically, one ethical clash is all about rejecting biological values in favour of social values. If this is the struggle Black people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of Black bodies by White people and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as bodies but as social personalities supporting justice.

The other, transcending but being undermined by that, is all about rejecting social values in favour of intellectual values. If this is the struggle White people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of social groups by ideology and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as demographics but as intellectual beings supporting equality.

Now. Caveat! All of us are engaged in all of these clashes all of the time, directly or indirectly, consciously or not. If White people tend to be more concerned about control of their minds than their bodies it’s because they don’t experience the latter as intensely as Black people do. Even in something as basic as Stop and Search. I’m White and middle aged. This has never happened to me. For some young Black men, it’s a daily occurrence.

In this hierarchy of needs (which it also is) we tend to focus on our greatest need and when that is fulfilled we transcend it. So if Black people just want to be able to walk to the shops and back without being shot or arrested, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on institutional racism and defunding the police. Conversely, if White people just want to walk to the shops and back without finding it boarded up and the streets full of rioters, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on national unity and the rule of law.

So one side is also focussing on the way things should be, but they’re not, while the other focuses on the way things are, but shouldn’t be.

The answer is for both sides to stop automatically assuming that the other is racist/ reactionary/ Marxist revolutionaries and to attempt to acknowledge the coherence of their worldview with their lived experience.

Meanwhile, everyone would perhaps benefit from taking the trouble to educate themselves about the content of CRT (including those opposing and promoting it) and to realise that it is possible that answering YES or NO to the question “Is America racist?” could indicate a desire that:

little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

MLK

Student Solitary Confinement – email template for staff/ parents

Hello

Is [NAME OF SCHOOL/ COLLEGE/ UNIVERSITY] seriously imposing solitary confinement on innocent students for fifteen days? And disciplining students who do not comply or handing them over to the authorities? Solitary confinement is a form of torture and we can expect rising rates of depression, mental illness, self-harm and suicide to follow. That’s not a good look for a [school/ college/ university] proud to be [a Stonewall Diversity champion and] Positive about Disabled People. No matter how economically convenient (until outraged parents take legal action for harms caused) torture is not a solution!

According to Juan Mendez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, the imposition of solitary confinement “of any duration, on persons with mental disabilities is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” He has called on governments to abolish it for prisoners with psychosocial or cognitive disabilities.

He has also said that “the longer the duration of solitary confinement or the greater the uncertainty regarding the length of time, the greater the risk of serious and irreparable harm to the inmate that may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or even torture.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/29/submission-un-committee-against-torture-france

Under Scots Law, staff who enforce these measures may also be legally liable – judged to be acting “on a frolic of their own” as the antiquated legal phrase puts it – as “only following orders” went out as an excuse in 1948 at the Nuremberg Trials. So the [school/ college/ university] is also setting up staff for legal liability. That’s hardly Dignity At Work!

  • There is no provision in law for the imposition of solitary confinement (of any duration) on students nor for threatening staff with disciplinary action if they do not enforce it.
  • There is no provision in law for the mandatory download and use of any technology by individual members of the public.
  • Self-isolation must be, and must be seen to be, voluntary.

None of us is above the law. I make no judgement on the good intentions of those who are currently mandating the illegal imposition of solitary confinement. No doubt they passed lockdown in a spacious house with a lovely garden. Not in a dorm room smaller than a jail cell.

Permit me to say that the feelings of these people are not my chief concern at the moment. My priority is the physical and mental wellbeing of our [students/ children] and of my fellow [staff/ parents] – as well as the legal liability which the [school/ college/ university] as a corporate body and individual staff members are now open to because of this solitary confinement regime.

A better tack to take (and one more likely to avoid students ripping up residences to form barricades while singing La Marseillaise) might be to invite the students to self-isolate, to support them (and staff) – and to supply them with limes! 

Yours sincerely,

…………………………………………. [ YOUR NAME]

White hands of a youth clutch black prison bars

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image Children’s Hands into the Public Domain.

Of Girls and Sheds

When I was a laddie (or loddie, as we say in the local dialect of Scots) I decided in the school playground one morning to get all the boys to get all the girls and put them in the shed. This was in the early 70s, just after the Baby Boomers, so classes had between 25-30 pupils in them. The playground where I said “Hey, let’s get all the boys to get all the girls and put them in the shed!” was only for the infants (aged between 5-7) but that meant three years of three classes each. So, even by a conservative estimate, allowing for absences, we must have rounded up over 100 girls that morning.

I stood in the middle of the playground and oversaw the task. Which the boys did cheerfully, and fairly gently; the girls went willingly, intrigued by this new game. Fortunately – because (clearly) once we’d got the girls in the shed, we’d have had to do something with them, though I hadn’t thought that far ahead – the bell rang. And we all lined up, two gendered lines for each class, arms outstretched on each other’s shoulders (to maintain the correct distance) to go back to our classrooms. So I never found out what I would’ve said when, inevitably, the boys asked “what do we do with them now?”

But I did learn these lessons that day:

  • People like there to be a plan (no matter how pointless)
  • People will generally follow instructions (no matter how disturbing) without question

I don’t think I’m particularly persuasive. It was just something for us to do. Us kids in Primary 1-3 all played together, unlike ‘up the school’ (Primary 4-7). They tended to divide into year cohorts and fairly closed activity groups: Football; Skipping/ Kick the Can (a variant of Hopscotch); Smoking; Flirting; Gossip.

It’s true that, some days, ‘down the school’, two boys (mostly) would put an arm over each other’s shoulders and walk around chanting “who-wants-to-play-at-Cowboys-and-Indians?” – or Tig (Tag), British Bulldogs, Hide-and-Seek or Best Man Fall (we’d line up to get shot in that game) and others, of either sex, would join the line until we had enough kids to play.

But, most days, the social dynamics of the infants’ playground, in those years, were fairly unstructured. And we all know what happens when you drop something structured into an unstructured environment: either the structure dissolves – or the free elements start to align with it.

I prefer to consider my temporary infantile manifestation of Us and Them as an early indication of public speaking and managerial ability, rather than of an authoritarian and twisted personality. (I’m aware than not all of my acquaintances would agree with me on that.) In my defence, when I’ve worked as a manger, I’ve tended to prioritise building and maintaining good relationships rather than keeping to set plans. But this blogpost isn’t really about me. Because, whether or not I was a wee fascist (and whether or not I grew up to be a big one) isn’t the point.

That group of wee boys and girls was fairly typical of Scottish small town kids of that generation. It’s the generation that’s in power now. The First Minister, the elder statesmen and stateswomen, the top judges, lawyers, principals of universities, CEOs, heads of schools, heads of charities, heads of social care and health boards, NGOs (government-funded and appointed or not), it’s all mostly Generation X. The games we played then were also played by more urban kids, and more rural kids, and I don’t believe that Scots are more rule-bound than any other nation in the UK. Fully a fifth of Scots were estimated to have broken the law to resist the hated Poll Tax, during Thatcher’s regime. So those kids weren’t particularly inclined to follow orders. But they did.

Behind the pointless and self-contradictory regulations of the social game we are all currently playing, named “Covid-19”, there’s a disturbing agenda that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades. We’re being divided, and herded. And we’re all joining in, fairly cheerfully and willingly.

The difference between my former self, that little Scots loddie, and the current powers-that-be is this: once they get us where they want us, they know exactly what they want to do to us.

Are we going to continue to (unquestioningly) just follow orders?

Four wee diverse kids, with colourful clothes, playing

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image Diverse Kids into the Public Domain.

The Silence of the Men

My most popular tweets usually get a handful of likes or retweets; the one I posted on the evening of Friday 13th this month got almost a thousand and my followers are nearing that figure (from 770). Women from New Zealand/ Aotearoa to New York expressed their appreciation. So why was what I said spread so far and wide?

“If anyone at any university in Glasgow is being bullied – for refusing to push reactionary gender stereotypes, refusing to silence women’s concerns over physical safety, or simply for insisting that Equality Impact Assessment is carried out *as provided for* in law – contact me.”

A few years ago, okay maybe about ten, the reaction from women might have been along the lines of “cheers mate but why would women need male support to combat gender stereotypes or ensure safety or enforce the law on a university campus in Scotland?” Some might, quite rightly, have been a bit more vocal about male presumption, implied aspersion of female agency or ignorance of robust anti-bullying regulations at UK institutions of higher education.

Not one woman said anything of the kind. I rather wish they had. Because that would mean that the reported imposition of gender ideology, the intimidation of academic women, the mobbing of any woman who even intimates that there may be a debate about gender self-identity and its implications for female safety, isn’t actually happening.

But it is. Massively. On campus.

As for me, the only not-entirely positive reaction I’ve had this weekend is a couple of supportive but confused guys (who apologised) and a couple of good caveats from women. One guy said that 99% of men were supportive of what I said.

So my question is: where are all these men?

I think men aren’t speaking up on this issue for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re confused by the language of the debate
  • They think it’s a ‘gay [LGBT+] thing’
  • They think it’s a women’s issue
  • They’re rightwing
  • They’re leftwing
  • They’re apolitical
  • They don’t see what the problem is
  • It’s not on their radar
  • They don’t want to look ignorant
  • They don’t want to look closed-minded

Of course, these 10 reasons may not be the biggies. Maybe men just can’t be bothered to speak up. Or are afraid. But let’s address them anyway:

  • ‘Transgender’ = ‘transsexual’ and/ or ‘transvestite’, basically; ‘transactivist’ means someone pushing for gender self-ID (that means unquestioned male access to female safe space – such as women’s shelters, showers, bedrooms, prison cells); ‘gender-critical’/ ‘gender abolitionist’ means refusing to accept a return to 1950’s White Western stereotypes of male and female – because the whole concept of social ‘gender’, as distinct to biological ‘sex’, is built on them which is why wee boys who wear pink and wee girls who play football are being manipulated into believing that they really are the opposite gender.
  • It was. Now it’s at a Primary school near you and your son or daughter could be next from mutilating surgery that will leave them sterile and scarred for life – along with perhaps an addiction to plastic surgery and a whole range of other medical disorders. And, no, it won’t make them any less depressed or suicidal.
  • See above.
  • Some people who resist transgenderism also resist sex-selective abortion and/or ableist abortion (and some any abortion not life-saving for the mother); some resist the sexualisation of children; some any definition of children’s sexuality; some also support religious freedom – none of this means they can’t support women’s safe space.
  • Conversely, some who are gender-critical are actively pro-choice and espouse a variety of opinions regarding sex-work, fetish freedom and the evils of religious ideology – none of this means they can’t support women’s safe space.
  • The personal is the political.
  • See 2)
  • It should be!
  • Understandable, but, as it does concern them, they should at least learn the basics.
  • Again, understandable. Men supporting female safe space can be condemned as rightwing bigots or leftwing traitors.

In summary: women need our help, guys. They shouldn’t, but they do. They are being physically threatened, trolled online, stalked along streets, intimidated at their places of work – all for trying to protect the most vulnerable women as well as impressionable children. No-one is ‘anti-trans’. If adult men or women want to cross-dress or undergo surgery to alter their primary or secondary sexual characteristics, as long as that’s not the only option for them (as it is in repressive regimes for lesbians and gay men) then fine. Whether that should be on the NHS is another question.

What shouldn’t be a question is the safety and support of all vulnerable people. How we do that, fairly and safely, is very much up for debate. Men, please speak up for women whose voices are being silenced.

     cover-image

Image: front cover of Kindle version of I Like Being ME!

 

 

 

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.

This Is My Gender

Genderfuck and Maundy Thursday are two nouns not often encountered in the same sentence. The former is a gender-subversive strategy from the identity politics of the 1970’s with older roots – which some would argue stretch back at least as far as the Passover meal (not a Seder service) celebrated by Jesus and his disciples sometime around 30 AD and commemorated by the latter Christian festival.

Yesterday I got into a bit of a tiff on Twitter which I dislike especially when it’s with someone I respect. In this case someone I know personally who does the most admirable (and often least admired) job in theatre – so there is absolutely nothing I could teach him about performance. Of gender or of anything else.

Yet I realised that despite our mutual respect and many shared values, and despite my very amateur and academic acquaintance with his professional practice, I simply wasn’t communicating my theoretical and political problem with the very recently fashionable claims and demands made about transgender. This is my attempt to provide a clearer and fuller explanation for those disinclined to read all about it at length HERE.

Maundy Thursday marks the institution of the Eucharist. [If you’ve just fallen asleep, wake up! I’ll be talking about genderfuck next.] In the Gospels [no, seriously!] Jesus takes bread and says: This is my body. Christians argue about the many ways this presence and change should be understood and articulated (transubstantiation is only one of these ways). Semantically, these words are a speech act – they do something. Like saying I do and you’re married. Charms, curses, spells, blessings, judicial sentences, some traditions of divorce, coming out of the closet and self-declaration of gender are all also (usually) speech acts.

Although my book Trans/Substantiation (which I was quite rightly accused of plugging) also puts forward a new and more ecumenical interpretation of presence and change in the Eucharist, I am not concerned with that here. [Thank God! You say – or words to that effect.] I’m interested in the limits of a speech act which, although it has the magical quality of changing reality, is normally understood to take effect in the present and have a bearing on the future. Speech acts (usually) have no power over the past.

I mentioned performance because the diva of Queer Theory, Prof. Judith Butler FBA, stresses the performativity of gender. [No wake up, honestly!] In other words it’s all an act, being a man or a woman is just playing a role. I have no problems with that understanding of gender. I don’t believe it to be an adequate description of the phenomena (it’s very lazy ontology) but there is a coherent concept, however shallow.

Putting together these thoughts on speech acts and performativity, let me state that I have no problem with a self-declaration of gender which is understood as: I’ve been playing the role of a man and I now want to play the role of a woman and I undertake to do so for the rest of my life – while respecting the right of people with a vagina to be protected from forced invasion of their safe space by people with a penis (especially if they have been raped by one).

It’s not the only form of genderfuck [told you!] and some would argue that it’s one of the least subversive of the patriarchy because it leaves these binary gender roles intact. There is also the problem of gender nonconforming political strategies (such as gay drag and butch lesbianism) being hoovered up by transgender ideology – with people feeling the pressure to tidily transition to ‘the other’ gender rather than subvert their own or the whole binary system.

Let’s go back to the Eucharist [deal with it!]. The words of consecration/ institution are not: this is not bread and never has beenand anyone who thinks differently is anathema, believer or not.

We are now under immense social pressure to believe that not only can people change their gender, and retroactively, by speech act, assert a permanent underlying essence of masculinity or femininity irrespective of psychology, physiology, or even performance, an assertion for which Queer Theory provides no theoretical support; we are required to not blink an eye if a future assertion, or a series of such assertions, should permanently and retroactively reverse this gender; we are told that women who have suffered penile rape are being selfish and callous when they ask for safe space; and that parents who wish to prevent teen pregnancy are being reactionary and middle-class when they complain about the lack of prudence (let alone Duty to Care) which allows an adolescent with a penis and an adolescent with a vagina to use the same toilets unsupervised while at school.

I am fascinated by magic. Being a Roman Catholic with great sympathy for the Pagan roots of Celtic Christianity and other syncretic spiritualities, especially those of the various locations in the Americas where I’ve studied and worked, my novels are full of the uncanny. However every novelist knows that even when you create a fantastic world, you have to establish and keep to rules of internal narrative logic.

Speech acts are powerful assertions and they have limits. Identity is not something that depends solely on individual assertion. The suffering of marginalisation (especially when ignoring or attempting to trump that of others) is, of itself, neither sufficient nor necessary to establish either one’s identity or the ethics of one’s cause. There is a great deal of difference between an assertion and an imposition. Emotional blackmail and bullying, online or in person, by an individual, a group or an interested institution, do not prove the validity of an ideology – especially one which is presently encouraging many young people to consider life-changing and irrevocable decisions leading to their bodies ending up scarred and sterile for the rest of their lives.

Young people experiment with identities. Anyone who denies this has forgotten their own youth. Let them experiment. But let their youthful enthusiasm, angst, playfulness, posturing, politics, peer networks and constant surveillance of internet information not lead them to a form of genderfuck which subverts their fertility as well as their happiness.

One lesson from Maundy Thursday is that interested institutions (such as imperial dynasties and pharmaceutical companies) could not care less about the individuals whose bodies they consider expedient to maim and destroy in their lust for power.

Jesus subverted cultural notions of power. He questioned authority. He even reprimanded his own disciples, for the sake of a woman who was reverencing his body, even when they had a care for the marginalised.

Ethics isn’t simple, neither is gender. Think about that. Consider genderfuck. Especially on Maundy Thursday.

bread-in-hand-1493896293Yc7

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo Bread in Hand into the Public Domain.

 

 

It Starts in School

It starts in school, where little boys and girls (already accustomed at home to being told to sit up straight and eat their meat and stop behaving like cry-babies over the fate of the moo-cow or the baa-lamb that’s ended up on their plate) are told to dissect a frog, or the young of a rabbit untimely ripped from its mother’s womb, also killed. It’s already dead. So picking up the scalpel (behaving properly, not behaving like children, not behaving like girls, not behaving like gays, not behaving like blacks, not behaving like peasants or the poor) and making the first cut, it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s already dead.

It continues in college or university, sitting nervously, having heard stories, but determined to get through, to get on, to get it, when the professor (or the lecturer, or the university teacher, or the tutor, or just the techie cos why spare anyone else?) walks in and demonstrates the best way to kill a little white mouse. The best way. Thwack! and its head is smacked onto the bench and its neck is broken. It it it. It’s best not to use gender here. It is an animal, no, ‘a specimen’ (you have to get the language right) whereas she or he sounds too human. Sentimental.  It’s science that counts. That half-hour lecture on ethics, that essay on the pros and cons, the one for which everyone on the course, sensibly, came down on the pro side. You’ve done this. It’s all about progress.

Accustomed now to breaking necks and ending life in a variety of ways (the best way isn’t the only way and it’s best not to get involved so it’s all still it and no-one has name just a number) and a bit blasé about the whole thing. You’ve worked as a techie yourself and you’ve actually done that lecture. It’s a rite of passage, you see that now. Anyway the thing now is to get on with your Master’s. And it’s good to get in-vivo on your CV. The pain of the lower mammals never crosses your mind now. Unless you’re doing pain studies, then it’s just numbers. The guinea pigs? Well that’s what they’re for! And the rabbits are the same, so docile. The dogs, admittedly, are harder, and so are the monkeys. It’s more difficult to keep the required distance but you tell yourself it’s all about progress. They’ll be dead soon, anyway. And it is quite a noble feeling you get, especially when you see all those women running in pink. It’s all progress.

At doctoral level it’s a way of life. By now you know that it’s all about funding, and that doesn’t bother you. Everything is all about funding. And everything needs to be tested. No, not because it makes any difference, it’s just the law. The law that is written by politicians who read what you write because you’re funded to write it. You could be cynical, but why? That would involve your heart, and it’s already dead.

One ordinary sunny afternoon or rainy morning, nothing special, and you didn’t even notice, just at some point when you were slicing open yet another sentient living creature, unanaesthetised, in the name of science, you stopped feeling. It’s much easier to be heartless, and no-one notices. It’s a trade secret. More efficient. And you can still go home and play the part of the hearty husband or wife. You don’t have dogs anymore. Too confusing. And when you hear those tiresome people, again and again with the same hippy nonsense, love and peace, ban the bomb, save the animals…

…you don’t imagine what might have happened, what your life, your heart, might be like, if you  hadn’t sat up straight and had refused to eat what was on your plate, because it was a moo-cow or a baa-lamb and you cared more about that than about being childish, or girlish, or gay, or black, or a peasant or poor. Because you cared more, in caring for animals, more than breaking your neck in the rat race, more than slicing up your heart, more than becoming desensitised to conscience so that you could carry on doing and teaching entirely useless sadistic practices because they attract funding and prestige; because you cared more about being human.   

funny clip

Thanks to Anna Langova who has released her photo ‘funny clip’ into the Public Domain

Auld Januar

Auld Januar minds thi gate, kens thi name o aa thi bairns

Dreich ur bonny, wintergreen, nae laird, nae domine, s/he

Nae need fur rules tae reckon oot thi span o thi new Heid

Wha sweeps in lik ae new broom, an is swept oot afore alang

Frae school, kirk ur hospital, frae regiment, parliament

Toun cooncil, corporate board, estate office ur gang hut. 

 

Auld Januar ben thi lodge, receives, secures, watches, cares

An each new broom shuld tak tent o this auld deil, nivver blate

 Wi plain frank wurds o gude sense, respectin nae rank, nae swank

Angel o thi guard tae bairns in time o needs high heid yins

Ignore, tae ‘focus on all stakeholders/ take it forward

Januar, genius loci, minds thi gate: mind whaur ye step!  

 Creative Commons Door

 Alan McManus, Neerday, 2015