Fighting for Social Justice


If you pride yourself on being liberal there comes a time when the biggest elephant you have ever seen will walk across your living room, out into the hall, into the kitchen and then simply refuse to leave. It will stamp its foot until your whole house shakes and threatens to cave in around you. You will try to ignore it and for a while it will sit and pout but it is doing more than sulk. Have you ever tried not to see it? The more you try, the more visible it becomes and the bigger it grows. In fact, there is no escaping that elephant even if you are a conservative by nature because it is an elephant that attempts to turn the tables on its trainer whatever their political views.

Who is the trainer? The trainer is YOU. The elephant wants to be invited to dinner. It wants to sit down with your family and friends and eat you out of house and home. It wants to trample on your goodwill and turn your comfortable values into one steaming mess of elephant dung and it does so by constantly reinforcing the idea that you can’t be one thing if you are to actively embrace another. The elephant in the room is born out of the nature of the herd and its need to agree on all things for the sake of survival. It looks innocent enough, but it wants to suppress sensible discussions and once it has destroyed your tidy living room and broken down your door it invites its nasty friends in to pillage your world.

The elephant in the room

So who is that elephant anyway? The easiest way I can describe it is by its actions and effects on otherwise reasonable human beings. The elephant will claim to be tolerant of something meaningful to you, such as being LGBTQIA. Then it will say:
“If you are L, you shouldn’t like B or T. If you are B, you must be confused or dishonest. If you are T you are not a real person. If you are A you have to be in the closet.”
Or it may say:
“You cannot possibly believe in God if you are any of the above,” or “there is no such thing as a practicing homosexual Christian.”
The elephant will bring its great weight to bear on issues of human rights and try to make you forget one colossal abuse of human rights by saying the once abused race are now even worse abusers of yet another race. The truth of the matter is that two wrongs never cancel each other out but the elephant does not want you to see that truth, the elephant wants to divide so that those less reasonable can more easily take power.
The elephant lives on a diet of maxims and manifestos. It thrives on causing division and chews up real people so they can more easily be used as cannon fodder to fight battles that benefit nobody except those who profit financially from violence and warfare. It claims to be tolerant but is actually very intolerant, it claims to be peaceful but invites conflict at every turn even in the name of peace.
So next time you are entertaining guests or enjoying the company of like-minded friends at the local ale-house and one of them invites the elephant in what will you do?

Advertisements

Finding a tribe of my own? This is something that never seemed important to me as a youngster. I moved around so much in my childhood that I just learned to mingle with everyone and not become too involved with anyone. The pain of repeatedly making friends and then having to leave them simply switched off my will to try and in many ways I learned to be an island. I know from my reactions to some situations that I am neuro-diverse anyway. It takes a huge amount of energy to do little things at times. Sometimes that is too much energy to invest but equally well, once invested I will usually pursue something through to its conclusion at a frightening pace. I have frequently stayed up all night to edit a story or mix a piece of music that could easily have waited or been spread out over a period of days or even weeks. This can make writing an exhausting task. Music is worse because I will be haunted by the melodies as earworms long after I am finished. Anyway I digress. I wanted to talk about tribes, not obsessive behaviour.

I suppose the time, place and manner of my upbringing steered me away from tribes, peer groups, gangs, classes, cliques, affiliations, denominations – whatever you want to call them. It left me outside looking into several groups, not knowing whether or not I should feel lonely and never quite belonging to any. It also made me more tolerant of differences and disagreements. This is something I cannot actually change and in some ways I am glad. Our world has swung so far towards groups, tribes, niches and nationalism in recent years. I often wonder where it will all end.

Have we not grown out of hatred yet? The answer seems to be no. The most successful politicians have learned to tap into the human desire for conviviality and belonging and, even more worrying, some have tapped into the desire to exclude others because of their differences. Sometimes these differences are obvious such as skin colour or religion; at other times they are less so. The similarities are what interest me more though; the similarities we share with all mankind and indeed with all of Creation itself. Despite rampant diversity in Nature, a close study of genetics shows we really are so similar and for that reason if no other we should learn to respect the desire that is common to all living beings to achieve happiness, to be safe, to be loved. That is my thought for today.

All is God cougarsmall.jpg

Poetry was my first love. For me it is a minimalist art. My aim is to say something beautiful or important is as few words as possible. I scrawl ideas down, cross them out, rewrite until all available space on the paper has been filled with ideas and corrections; you would see lines between lines, margins filled, phrases squeezed in vertically, words struck through and rewritten over and over. Then I write it out fresh, read aloud, cross out what sounds superfluous and finally type up with two fingers on my computer. My originals are hidden away all over the house as they are terrible to behold. Sometimes I write on envelopes, paper bags or restaurant napkins – you don’t always have a notebook to hand. I would hone them down further on the computer and then share. Friends told me I should publish, not an easy task in the UK unless you are very well-connected or have an Oxbridge First and so I learned to self-publish. I made the mistake of not holding back the poems that were more personal than public and was rewarded with a one-star rating and a scathing review that ran into the thousands of words. You learn to deal with it. To annoy someone so intensely is an accomplishment in itself.

My first novel, The Cougar was a different animal altogether. To a minimalist poet the sheer word count of a novel was daunting enough. My main character came to me in a dream one night and literally said “Tell my story.” Berenice was a phantom, a denizen of the temperate rainforest of British Columbia, and it was a labour of love. I wanted the reader to experience the beauty of the forest and Lake Alouette as Berenice does – and as I do also. I am in love and in awe of this great wilderness. Each time I see it is as powerful as the first, existing in a perpetual state of flux, its colours changing from second to second. The forest visibly seems to breathe and is the perfect setting for a shapeshifter. I wanted to make that wilderness real and immediate and for some I did – for others not so much.

My biggest problem was expectation of genre. This is an odd beast for someone of my vintage weaned on literature that has a wider embrace of the possible than the modern “niche” approach. For me, as a poet, writing is about expression and the music behind the words as much as feelings and actions. It was never about marketing. This imperfection was what I brought to Berenice’s story along with a total understanding of what it feels like to be a misfit and never quite belong anywhere.

The Cougar has been called an erotic romance by some, but it is not erotica. It is explicit but romantic. At the heart lie two parallel love stories in different timelines. Berenice is in both and is a loyal and highly principled bisexual woman. That caused me problems with some fantasy readers and Christians who couldn’t cope with LGBT love and ironically it also caused problems with some lesbian readers who couldn’t cope with straight love scenes. Oh boy! Yet again a wicked bisexual predator is at large! There are some other odd love angles in the story because life is strange in my experience and love just is what it is. Perhaps my life as a writer would have been easier if Berenice was straight? She certainly would have done better to be a lesbian from the beginning if that was the target audience. Perhaps she would have done better to choose a more manipulative writer?

In any case, like Berenice, I am a ship at sea in a terrible storm with no apparent safe mooring other than love itself. If she chose me it was for a reason that I will probably never be sure of. Perhaps it is because I too know what it is not to be “amatonormative” (thank you Gabriel Constans for that lovely word). I leave you with the thought that to write an “amatonormative” book requires the author to be in no doubt whatsoever about their own gender identity or sexuality. Where would that leave the Berenices of this world? To force her to be something other than she is would surely be unacceptable in this day and age? Perhaps that is why she chose me after all…

I think I have earned the right to make this post as an older writer. My generation were probably the last to be actively discriminated against for their sexual “preference”. This is a term I hate because it has nothing to do with preference and everything to do with the way people are born. My generation lived under the shadow of Section 28; a horrible law that prevented education of students in LGBT matters under the pretence of “not promoting homosexuality”. It was a stupid and flawed Act of Parliament. You can’t promote homosexuality of course, nor can you alter it or pretend it does not exist. All that happens is that you cause confusion and depression. Then, if Grandma does come out, family and friends snigger in corners and LGBT groups may well shun her for not being braver in her youth. If you could promote any sexual preference, would we have any LGBT people left? To this day, in every single aspect of life, heterosexual norms are heavily promoted by media, peer groups, family and religion and yet LGBTQIA people exist despite all this pressure to conform.

Of course the real result of Section 28 was to force LGBT teachers into the closet or out of the profession and it was pretty dark in that cupboard under the stairs. These days we have very few closets in the civilised world but there are still many battles to fight. One of these is the assumption that you cannot be Christian and LGBT. That is the Elephant in the Room. It is so untrue and to those who say Christians have to follow the Bible’s teachings in every respect, nobody ever does. If you must quote your Bible, for Heaven’s sake read it ALL. Not even the most orthodox Christian would want to keep up with the wholesale ritual slaughter of bulls, goats, lambs and turtle doves demanded in Leviticus – even if they could afford to burn all that meat. We don’t keep slaves anymore and very few people observe the food laws.

220px-Lobster,_Crab,_and_a_Cucumber_-_1891P32

When’s the last time you ate lobster, oysters or bacon?

All of these – and many more – are abominations you know.

I will leave it at that.

Love just is…

This is a post that has been decades in the making. In my lifetime equality issues have made huge strides to the extent that gay and lesbian friends are very much out and part of everyday life. I am less sure about how those friends who are transsexual feel and to be honest the extent of biphobia and bi-erasure from those who should know better never ceases to amaze me. I decided quite early in my writing career to follow the principle that “love just is” and I have never excluded relationships that I felt were germane to the characters in a story. For this reason, I believe I am struggling to find any sort of audience. There are those who would say to me something along these lines:

1. “I can’t buy / read / share your WW2 novel because it has women like that in it.”

2. “Why does everything have to contain lesbians or gays these days?”

3. “There never used to be so many of them. The world is becoming so wicked.”

On the other hand, I also get:

1. “Why did Midge have to marry a man before she discovered herself?”

2. “I wish there were no straight sex scenes in your novel, you know. Without those is would be really good.”

3. “Why did your story have so many men in it? Was that really necessary?”

To me, neither of these attitudes addresses the real problem of bi-erasure, straight-erasure or the LGBT-erasure we (wrongly) assume is over and done with. People who buy books want to look through rose tinted spectacles at a world where any of the following apply:

1. LGBTQIA people do not exist; or only exist on the periphery as sad or comic characters.

2. Men in lesfic – or women in M/M romance – do not play any role in the story, other than a minor part if absolutely necessary.

3. Characters are exclusively gay, lesbian or straight, nobody is ever confused and bisexuality is a wicked perversion that endangers everyone who is actually honest with themselves.

Sadly, my books do not conform to these straitjacketing norms and for that reason I now know that they will probably not be enjoyed by many readers, LGBTQIA or straight, within my lifetime. I have worked so hard over the last five years or so and yet I am still very much on the fringe and at this point in time I am seriously thinking of giving up creative writing altogether and going back to the less frustrating business of composing music.

You know, in my stories, I try my best to make the love scenes open, honest and tasteful; please note I said love. I am not in the business of writing erotica; too many people already do it far better than I ever could. I would just like to find a few more tolerant and open-minded readers who don’t fall into either of the above two categories though. I would like to find some readers who can accept that LGBT characters existed and had (albeit closeted) normal lives before 1970 and others who can accept that their own liberation includes recognising that we are not stereotypes. Real people are not all the same – black or white, hetero-exclusive or homo-exclusive, recognisable genre tropes in day to day existence – nor should we be. My relationships are not second class relationships, either in real life or between the pages of my novels.

Rant over.

Love just is.

10 day detox mug shot

In late October this year I became interested in following no grain diets due to serious health issues. Being hypertensive, diabetic and starting to experience bloating and brain fog was a wake up call and I discovered Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter and Wheatbelly by Dr William Davis. The science in Wheatbelly read true and so I immediately decided to try the low-carb no grain approach. I didn’t find it particularly difficult since I can’t eat potatoes and have never much enjoyed pasta, rice or sugary things. I took it on faith that eating the foods recommended would lead to some weight loss and I was right.

Along the way, I reviewed Dr Davis’s book on Goodreads and gave him a very favourable review. Due to the viral nature of Goodreads, a friend of mine then suggested I join his Facebook Group and I gladly applied. At first this was great. People offered mutual support and shared recipes, as I did myself. When I managed to get my HbA1c results down to normal in three months I posted that too. I was very happy and wanted to share my good news in the group.

table small

Then I suffered another flare up of tendon trouble in my right hand. I had been quite foolish in late November early December. I was trying to get the log cabin project finished in case my sister wanted to stay over (she is allergic to my cats) and I spent a lot of time out in the cold using power tools to sand and polish some old pine furniture. That was the point at which the pain started and the tendon began to click. I would wake in the morning unable to straighten my ring finger on my right hand and the pain was excruciating.

The group had been so warm and friendly that I made a brief post basically saying that I was having a serious problem with RSI and trigger finger due to overuse of power tools when doing DIY and did anyone have a suggestion as to possible dietary treatments. Four very kind people responded with suggestions which I acknowledged with a like. Then the post was deleted without explanation.

I could not understand what was wrong here until somebody slipped me the word that DIY in the USA is not quite as innocent as DIY in the UK and that power tools might be misinterpreted as something altogether more seedy. I rephrased the post and many people again responded including one of the group administrators who said she certainly had not deleted any of my posts but maybe one of the other women or Dr Davis had. Next thing I know is that I have no more notifications from the group; puzzled by this, I searched for the page and got an access denied message. I asked a friend of mine if the group still existed. She said it did but I had disappeared from the members list along with all my posts. Hello! I was blocked.

Now I am no teenage troll and I find it very upsetting to have been thrown out of this support network without word of explanation from anyone. This is seriously spineless behaviour. I followed all the rules, I bought the books, followed the diet, behaved politely at all times, was never negative or rude, didn’t ask stupid questions, tried to support new members and now I was banned for reasons unknown. (Or rather, for reasons I suspect that are baseless and silly in the extreme). If I am correct in my suspicions then somebody needs to get their mind out of the gutter and whilst I seriously advocate the low-carb grain-free approach if you want to turn your life around, and whilst I still stand by the good reviews I have given Dr Davis’s books on Goodreads, I cannot recommend that anyone join his Facebook groups to be insulted and emotionally abused in this way by persons unknown.

I seriously hope that Dr Davis gets his house in order and sorts out whoever is responsible for this unacceptable and cruel behaviour towards somebody who needed help and was a good group member, contributing and showing support to others. If he does not, then I would question his sincerity. That is the reason for this very public blog post. Be careful. The truth is out there!

I wrote last week about the pigeon holes we assign to ourselves as readers and as writers and how these make it difficult to assign genre at times. Since then, I put out a new LGBT story I had been working on for some time. Coming Home for Christmas is a sweet lesbian romance on the surface but it is also story about wasted years, old attitudes and a time that is probably better consigned to history. Its heroine, Rebel, is ironically far from being a rebel in real life. I can see young women getting quite angry about her behaviour towards Laura and I am not sure how sympathetic she will be to anyone under a certain age. I thought the best thing to do is let Rebel speak for herself:

“Hi Rebel, or shall I call you Jill?”
“Jill is a pseudonym, only Laura calls me Rebel. Perhaps it might be better to call me Eleanor. It feels more relaxing.”
“Well, I am not sure I want you to relax too much, Eleanor. I have a few difficult questions to ask you.”
“I’ll survive!” She laughs. “Fire away!”
“OK! I’ll start with a tough one then. Why didn’t you pull the trigger?”
“What? I can’t believe you’d ask me that right off the bat.” She looks shocked.
“Well? Why didn’t you? You were obviously suicidal.”
“Because the gun only fired blanks of course. What would be the point, Lisa?”
“Sorry, Rebel, but I have to ask. I was told only yesterday by somebody in the know that Bruce Lee’s son was killed with a gun that fired blanks.”
“Really? Wow! You really do believe in putting a girl at ease, don’t you?”
“I’m a writer, it’s my job to get to the point quickly.”
“That’s not just quick. That’s brutal.” She is visibly shaking. “I always knew I was lucky to get through my teenage years but I didn’t know just how close I actually came…”
“Well, I am sure your readers will be glad you didn’t shoot yourself. What they would probably like to know is why you very nearly did.”
“That’s not hard. It was tough in the 1970s. Tougher than you might think. People always go on about the 1960s and the permissive society and all the new freedoms young people had but for people like me it wasn’t so rosy. Folks always talk about rock stars – glam rock, Queen and Bowie – being gay, lesbian or bisexual was a fashion with celebrities. There was a lot of parody on TV too, some of it quite cruel, but in ordinary life there was gay bashing, name calling, inequality under the law, you name it and then there was this whole thing of coming from a religious background.”
“Did you have many gay and lesbian friends back then?”
“Not that I knew of. It wasn’t something you shouted about. When I went to College I met a few students who were “out”. I thought they were incredibly brave at the time.There was discrimination going on in so many fields; the armed forces, teaching, anything with responsibility it seemed. It was tough to get a job. Despite the outrageous show biz stuff we were just ordinary kids.”
“Any element of being provincial in that?”
“Oh, I am sure you’re right. The more insignificant your hometown, the more likely these things are to be driven underground. It’s different if you live in a big city; sheer volume of numbers I suppose and with that comes bravery. I was never brave.”
“But you got through what was in effect a nervous breakdown…”
“Yes, and without treatment. I was in denial of course and I went through a phase where I would go with men just to convince myself I was straight.”
“I got that. You were married twice I see. But no kids?”
“It never happened although we did try. It’s just one of those things I suppose. I’m not too worried about being child-free though. I don’t think children should be compulsory you know.” She laughs again.
“So what brought you to tell your story now?”
“Meeting Laura again. The way I behaved towards her was cowardly and unforgivable. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how she forgave me to be honest and all that is largely personal but I look around and see Christians, many of whom are otherwise lovely people, calling us every name under the sun and trying to take away our freedom. I wasn’t brave enough to fight for it but so many were. If I was sixteen now I don’t think anyone other than my parents would bat an eyelid. They loved me and I am sure they would have accepted me in time but the fact is that so many kids still need to be brave. They shouldn’t have to be. There are too many to this day who are thrown out or forced to conform and there are countries where love still carries the death penalty. To me, that is the real abomination in the sight of God.”
“Thank you for your time, Rebel, and thank you for your honesty.”
“No, thank you for giving me the chance to explain how it was for me back then and how it still is for some young people today.”
“So we might say you are now a Rebel with a cause?”
“Yes, I think I probably am,” she laughs.

Next Page »