Sunday, 1 August 2010

'Goodnight silver star, goodnight angel eyes...'

I always feel a little ambiguous about taking the 'what I did yesterday' approach to blogging. For one thing, it seems to me that it intrudes a bit too obviously into the kind of territory better covered by Twitter; for another, I think it incumbent on bloggers to give a certain amount of bang for their (metaphorical) buck. True, I follow quite a few blogs by established writers which do simply give the reader an insight into the mundane details of their lives; but the reason for that is those writers are already people whose work I follow in other fields. Finding out what a novelist or poet I like is up to when they're not writing the books I buy is an easter egg, not the main point of my following them. I'm under no illusion that this blog is in a similarly comfortable position: anyone reading these words is presumably here because they like the blog itself, so I feel honour-bound to give them something more than an update on my activities when they come here.

Having said all that, I'm going through one of those phases in my writing life when my urge to stay in and write long complex posts, or labour away at poems for hours, goes into abeyance, and I instead revel in the opportunity to get out of the house and either perform myself or watch other people. My writing always seems to function in this in-out cycle: stay at home, internalise, brood, produce; then get out, talk, mingle, share. Of course, because I am actually going out more, and spending less time brooding, this means, I suppose, that the kind of lengthy, impassioned rants which readers are used to tend not to get written. On the other hand, given the all-encompassing nature of the kyriarchy, it's inevitably the case that if I myself can't get it together to skewer the injustices, I'll always be able to point you in the direction of people who can. Time, then, for another edition of that perenially popular feature, The Week in FAIL.

The biggest and most noteworthy FAIL of the week came from Sunday Times columnist and occassional baboon-murderer AA Gill, who demonstrated his trademark wit and savoir-faire by referring to horse-racing pundit and lesbian Clare Balding as a 'dyke on a bike.' Balding, not unreasonably, took offence at this legitimisation of a rather hateful slur, and complained: whereupon she received a staggeringly ill-mannered and boorish reply from Sunday Times editor John Witherow saying, essentially, that because Balding hadn't been lucky enough to have been born straight, she should basically shut up and take her lumps. At which point Balding decided to go public and allow everyone to see the hatefulness of Witheredcock's response for themselves (I'm sure Witherow won't mind my little jape with his surname. What with him having such a bang-on sense of humour and all. Oh, and having a penis so tiny and shrivelled it looks like a sun-dried tomato that's been left to go off on the windowsill of a house by the sewage works over the course of a particularly torrid summer. Still, serve him right for not having a privileged status, eh?)

Witherow's defence of Gill's unthinking homophobia suggests to me that, whatever David Cameron might say in his foreword to the Independent on Sunday's new Pink List (of which more in a coming post), there are sections of the right in this country who feel empowered, now that an essentially Tory government is in charge again, to behave towards those who lack their privileges with a staggering lack of basic decency and cloak it as a bold stand in defence of the misunderstood white male and Jeremy Clarkson's god-given right to wear badly-fitting trousers and have shit hair. One swallow doesn't make a summer, it's true; but then, as the Tabloid Watch blog points out, Gill's gaffe forms part of an ongoing trend of legitimising name-calling towards LGBTQ people in the media.

Despite what people like Witherednob might say, this is not about political correctness. It is not just an academic matter, and it is not about creating 'non-jobs' in council diversity departments. This stuff matters because it affects people at street level, and makes their lives a misery. The most moving thing I read this weekend was this blog from Helen at Bird of Paradox, about the suffering caused by being referred to as a 'tranny' and dehumanised as an 'it' rather than a real person, by a couple of people who probably eagerly lap up the Sun's homophobic headlines. If I had the power to do so I'd like to get those fuckwits, and the pricks who come up with headlines like 'Bender it like Beckham' and think calling Louie Spence 'Louise' is the height of sophisticated wit, into a very small room and bang their heads repeatedly against a stone slab engraved with Helen's words:

'It’s happened to me so often that it’s gone beyond being just upsetting. It fucking hurts. It hurts like hell. It makes me want to lock myself in the house and never leave it again. It makes me wish I lived somewhere I never had to interact with another cis person ever again. Increasingly it feeds my gathering depression and yes, I’ll say it: it makes me wish I was dead.'

There you have it, laid out in black and white. I doubt if Jeremy Clarkson goes home after yet another joke about his bad fashion choices and feels like locking himself in one of his big shiny penis substitutes, running a plastic pipe from the injection-moulded exhaust, turning on the powerful V6 engine and going from consciousness to cadaverdom in less than sixty seconds. But that's precisely because at the end of the day Clarkson can go home to a big house full of ridiculous overgrown boys' toys, to a relationship that is accepted by society, and to a world where he is the majority, and where any abuse he receives in the streets is hardly going to make a dent. But for those who lack Clarkson's privileged status, every slur is like a bullet, a reminder that you do not belong, that you are not in the majority, that there will always be people who hold you to a misogynistic ideal of femininity or a heteronormative form of masculinity; that there are people out there who will try to kill you because you don't conform; that, worse, there are people who won't give a shit; and, worst of all, there are people who will defend the people who make you feel this way because it's just a joke, innit?

My primary school teacher used to say that it isn't a joke if you're the only one who's laughing. It used to amaze me that an awful lot of people in the media still don't understand that. These days, it only disappoints me. And it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the death of the English newspaper and the kind of professional scum who make a living writing for it might not be such an awful thing.

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