Review of the Vampire Film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

14 09 2014

It is Only Lovers Left Alive - Posterone of the most striking films I have ever seen. Vampires Eve and Adam re-unite after a few decades, and the younger sister, Ava, tries to shatter their dreams by acting like a no-good Angelena. The premise is bizarre, yet fascinating.

Eve and Adam text about Adam’s depression, and she, the ever-sprightly one, decides to travel from her base in Tangier to his place in Detroit, where she attempts to soothe him. Everything is weird—she is texting her lover on an iPhone via her Moroccan boudoir, which is decorated in embroidered fabrics and is probably suffused with various exotic scents. Gold, blue, and white are the main colours. He is consumed in a mess of guitars and violins in a decaying Detroit mansion.

Eve and Adam are humane vampires who acquire blood by bribing hospital staff and local friends to quench their thirst. They have no desire to feed on humans unless necessary. Much like modern-day human vegans refuse to consume animal products unless necessary. Until Eve’s younger sister, Ava, arrives and starts acting like a total douche-bag. "only lovers left alive"She drinks Adam’s musical assistant to death, and Eve and Adam have to dispose of his corpse in a vat of acid somewhere in an abandoned building in Detroit.

After kicking Ava out on her own, Eve and Adam decide to return to Eve’s favourite place—Tangier. Unfortunately, Tangier is infected with contaminated blood. Even Eve’s reliable source of blood—Marlowe—lies dying of contaminated blood. Eve delicately lays her hand on the head of his human care-taker. It is actually a quite moving scene.

The last scene is amazing. Since Marlowe and his special source of blood are gone, Eve and Adam are forced to walk the streets ofOnly Lovers Left Alive - Last Scene Tangier, seeking a source of blood. They are starving. Eve in particular catches the scent of blood. It is a couple making out. She convinces Adam to turn them. He acquiesces. The look in their glassy eyes is disturbing.

Only Lovers Left Alive is amazing not only because it is so cryptic and peaceful, but also because it forces the viewer to re-imagine the vampire as a creature with human emotions. After all, humans are just cattle in the eyes of the vampire.

 





Transgender Women and Women’s Sports

19 04 2014

Chloie Jonsson Transgender Woman AthleteRecently, RuPaul’s Drag Race came under fire for its usage of the word she-male in a skit in which contestants had to guess whether a picture of a person’s legs were those of a ‘male’ or those of a ‘she-male’. The complaint by transgender advocates was that such language denigrates transgender people by invalidating their gender identity.

Some transgender women, such as model Carmen Carrera, have denounced the usage as unequivocally pejorative, while other transgender women, such as classical pianist and musician Our Lady J, have defended it as artistically meaningful and provocative.

This whole fiasco has forced me to wonder how transgender people are being treated in the everyday world. Just as some transgender people are entertainers, some are also athletes. While the dialogue over usage of she-male in Drag Race heats up, transgender people are also facing obstacles in the world of sports.

Recently, personal trainer and Crossfit athlete Chloie Jonsson, who is a transgender woman, sued Crossfit for discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The fitness company allegedly barred Jonsson from competing in the women’s division of the CrossFit Games. In defense of Jonsson, GLAAD created a petition requesting that CrossFit change its policy to allow ‘transgender athletes to compete under their consistent, lived identity’.

CrossFit responded with this less-than-sympathetic and doggedly deterministic statement:

The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has the genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological Chloie Jonsson Transgender Woman Athlete IIadvantage over women. That Chloie may have felt herself emotionally, and very conscientiously, to be a woman in her heart, and that she ultimately underwent the legal and other surgical procedures to carry that out, cannot change that reality. Further, the timing of her sex reassignment surgery (and any subsequent hormone therapy) does not change this discussion.

Our decision has nothing to do with ‘ignorance’ or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.

How positively decisive and ‘scientific’. But CrossFit’s decision is not necessarily based on an ineluctable fact about biology, at least in regard to transgender women who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. Rather, they seem preoccupied with black-and-white ideas about sex biology. Consider this argument by an anonymous Facebook user in response to a cisgender woman’s attack on transgender model Carmen Carrera:

With the removal of the testicles, plus 2 or more years of hormone therapy, she is at a disadvantage, not an advantage. Her testosterone levels are nearly zero, BELOW cisgender females, whose ovaries do produce some testosterone. Plus
with the loss of testosterone, muscle mass reverts to female structure. Genes (XY or XX) have zero to do with this. Did you know that 1 in 30,000 females at birth is XY, has a vagina, and grows up to be a girl like any other girl? Did you know that 1 in 100,000 males at birth is XX, has a penis, and grows up to be a guy like any other guy?

The truth is far more complex than grade school biology might assume and there is zero evidence that trans women have any substantive advantage in sports.

Who should I believe? You? Or the medical professionals who analyzed all this data and said that tTransgender Woman Aeris Houlihanranswomen are biologically women for the purposes of competition? I think I’ll stick with the opinions of the experts.

The woman in question does not “still have testosterone”, meaning your entire line of reasoning rests of false assumptions. I would suggest you reconsider your logic, because by starting with erroneous assumptions, you have reached an erroneous conclusion.

http://lizdaybyday.wordpress.com/…/medical-information…/

Another anonymous Facebook user showed how it is profoundly insulting and biologically inaccurate to deny transgender people their identity, especially after transitioning (although whether or not one has transitioned does not affect their identity):

No, she’s not. She’s not male; especially after going through HRT and (presumably) surgery. Everyone has testosterone in them. Everyone also has estrogen and progesterone. EVERYONE. It just so happens that these hormones are present in someone’s body in different levels based on their designation at birth. When someone goes on HRT, the hormone levels in their body change – if someone AMAB goes on estrogen, their muscles shrink and weaken, bone density goes up, fat distribution changes, body hair and skin softens. Same with someone AFAB going on testosterone – their muscles get bigger, faster; bone density goes down, body hair increases and their body fat moves to cis male patterns.

The fact that someone was AMAB or AFAB has no standing after they’ve been on HRT for extended periods of time. Like someone said in the comments elsewhere, trans women often end up weaker than cis women due to the estrogen they’re taking (which can knock their testosterone levels way below what a woman is supposed to have).

This isn’t an attack, it’s a biology lesson.

Would you tell someone who was AFAB and is naturally 6’2″, 320 lbs.+, who has been on testosterone for over a year, Gina Caranothat he shouldn’t compete with cis men just because he had been born with a vagina?

Same basic principle. This isn’t a matter of “she was designated male at birth so she has all the advantages a cis male would have competing with cis women!” – it’s transphobia and transmisogyny.

Obviously the point is that transgender women should be able to compete in women’s sports alongside cisgender women, and, also, that transgender men should be able to compete in men’s sports alongside cisgender men. It seems that when surgery and hormone treatments permit, transgender women might actually have a disadvantage compared with cisgender women. Perhaps research will reveal something similar about transgender men.

There are four things to take away from this.

First, if a transgender person is denied participation in all sports, where are they to play sports? In a special Transgender Olympics? I suppose they could, but it doesn’t seem very fair, does it? Transgender women are women, and transgender men are men. I understand this might seem strange, but think about it. Is it fair?

Second, why do companies like CrossFit still believe that men are like this, and women are like that? It’s pseudoscientific bullshit. Cordelia Fine proves so many of these ideas wrong in Delusions of Gender. It is not enough to challenge the notion that gender is ‘ineluctable’. We have to call out pseudo-science purveyors of gender like John Gray on their bullshit.

Third, how are males superior to females? I can understand physical contact sports like football. Yes, most men are physically stronger than women. But what about sports like golf, or tennis, or badminton, or running? What about archery, balance, flexibility, and agility? Women are superior to men in some of these areas. How can you say that men are physically superior to women? You can’t, because they are not.

Fourth, some people of some ethnic descents have an advantage over some people of other ethnic descents. Should you discriminate against Asian men because they are shorter than African men? Where are you going to draw the line?

I will leave you with a superb fight scene featuring Gina Carano in Haywire:

 





A Gay Man Celebrates International Women’s Day (and a Stupid Jerk Shits His Opinion)

9 03 2013

March is Women’s History Month. I want to focus on achievements, but sadly my attention is drawn to shitty American jock humour–which is everywhere. Did you notice how annoyingly stupid the introduction to the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony was? A song about boobs by cut-rate humourist Seth MacFarlane and his tuxedoed entourage?? Oh my goodness, the ice-cold glare launched by Charlize Theron could slice through diamond.

Charlize Theron Booby Song Oscars 2013

Well, I saw a refreshingly cool comment by psychic and medium Chip Coffey, who, in my opinion, reverberates with respectability, class, and integrity:

Chip Coffey International Women's Day Facebook





Women Who Like Gay Porn

8 04 2012

Surprise! No, not really. It’s quite common-sensical, actually–a lot of women like to watch pornography. You might think this strange, assuming either that pornography objectifies women, or that women are sexless emotional angels, but in fact you’d be wrong. It turns out a lot of the pornography women like to watch is gay. This actually makes sense for several reasons, and it seems to corroborate research on female lust, voyeurism, and promiscuity.

The first reason it makes sense for women to like watching gay pornography is pretty intuitive. Just as straight men are sexually attracted to women, straight women are sexually attracted to men. Hence, just as straight men like watching lesbian pornography, straight women like watching gay pornography. Now people will try to break up this neat little analysis by screaming, ‘But women are less visual than men! Research ‘n’ stuff says so!’ This is basically what Tracy Clark-Flory says in her sex column at Salon in which she responds to a woman experiencing a ridiculously unnecessary tug-o’-war between her ‘feminine’ prudery and her lust for man-on-man action: ‘It’s true that research has found men to be more visual’ concedes the columnist in a tone of tired surrender. Sigh. The all-powerful spell of biologically determined sex difference prevails once again: ‘Men are like this! Women are like that! It’s in the genes! No nuance required! John Gray! Venus! Mars! Easy as cake and commercial as shit! Tehehehe!’ But there are two problems with this: Clark-Flory didn’t even direct the reader to a name connected with the research she ‘cited’ (the curse of popular publishing), and pornography isn’t just about vision anyway; it’s about hearing and other senses, too. So, even if the research proved men to be more visual than women, women might still derive other sensory pleasure from pornography, or it might simply provoke their imagination. The point is that straight women are attracted to beautiful men by way of many senses, and beautiful men are a dime a dozen in gay pornography, hence it makes sense for women to enjoy it–despite the mountains of shame that may weigh on their conscience due to age-old prescriptions on women’s  desires.

The second reason it makes sense for women to like gay pornography is that it doesn’t involve sexual exploitation of females. We all know the formula: some ugly man slams a woman’s head into the cushion of a sofa inside some gross, overlighted Hollywood McMansion while she squeals like a stuck pig and rubs the nipples of her voluminous breasts with her French manicure.  The man’s looks don’t matter, because he is the agent, while she is the screaming lump of gorgeous, glistening flesh to be used. It’s obviously male-centred and male-dominated. It almost feels like rape. Gay male pornography doesn’t have this. It involves a man penetrating another man, so there is no man dominating and objectifying a woman. Some gay pornography does involve objectification, but there seems to be a mutual respect and understanding rather than a real-life power division. This isn’t necessarily so for straight pornography, which can conjure up troubling images and memories for many women. But straight sex shouldn’t be the way it is portrayed in pornography–there is no reason why a man and woman should not have mutually respectful, understanding, and loving sex. That’s what should be depicted in straight pornography. Until that day comes, though, women will like gay pornography. Heck, they might still like it afterward, simply because they like watching gorgeous men having sex.

The third reason it makes sense for women to like gay male pornography is that it lacks a storyline. This is curious and much less intuitive. In his blog Straightguise, openly gay clinical sexologist Joe Kort, PhD, cites an article by Elizabeth F. Stewart in In Family magazine called ‘Hot Man On Man Action (And the Lesbians Who Love Watching It)’. Kort agrees with Stewart that lesbians enjoy gay pornography for its raw nature and de-emphasis on background and storyline, but he adds that straight women may enjoy gay pornography for this reason, too. But women are supposed to like storylines, right? Wrong, according to Kort. Kort cites Stewart as saying in her article that ‘It is a myth that all women–lesbian or straight–want a storyline and emotional content in porn.’ He, too, mentions that women might enjoy gay male pornography because of the balance of power as well as the obviously real orgasm (often faked by women in straight pornography). Obviously it isn’t scientifically conclusive, but Kort’s suggestion that women like gay male pornography for its lack of a storyline, and for its mutual, egalitarian rawness, deserves a great deal of further exploration, because it totally defies the assumption that women are overwhelmingly sexless and emotional creatures. (But, then, a lot of the best gay male pornography is highly emotional and romantic, and many gay men will attest to this, citing some of the highest-quality specimens of film portraying men in love.)

But why do lesbians like gay male pornography? Because some of them do! This was surprising to me. It’s anecdotal, but I worked with a lesbian at a theatre in Vancouver, and when I asked her about this, she nodded, “Yes, it’s true.” We already know one reason, it seems: as Stewart noted, some lesbians like the rough, anonymous nature of gay male pornography. I can only speculate about the other reasons: so-called ‘lesbian’ pornography is fake, degrading rubbish made by straight men for straight men (it says a lot when lesbian pornography is so off-putting as to turn lesbians on to gay men poking each other’s anuses); lesbians may derive a cerebral pleasure watching men do each other instead of women; and you don’t have to be attracted to somebody’s sex to be attracted to what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it. This last point is important. You can be turned on by what other people do without being attracted to their biological sex per se. So, that is perfectly good reason for lesbians to like gay male pornography, especially when women are so poorly portrayed in the industry.

I should mention income disparities in pornography. Defenders of straight pornography will often argue that the industry isn’t unfair towards women, because the women, being the objects of desire, actually earn more money than men. But this doesn’t necessarily give women an economic advantage over men in the industry. For who is the producer and the director? Probably a man, and that man probably earns more than any of the female models. So even then men might have an economic advantage over women in the industry. Besides, the cost of pornography is not just economic–it is also social and psychological, given the image of women it peddles to the male masses. No wonder a lot of women choose gay over straight pornography.

One last point should be made: research doesn’t necessarily support the assumption that women are more monogamous or less libidinous than men. Self-surveys do not actually reveal how people feel, or what they actually do. The media tend innacurately to portray men as more promiscuous than women when in fact women reveal a similar level of sexual desire when interviewed privately and discreetly, as Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers explain in Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (pp. 58-9). We get a more honest picture if we look at our closely-related simian cousins. While Darwin observed female chimpanzees’ sexual swellings, he failed to notice the “12-day period around a chimpanzee’s maximum tumescence, when she typically mates about one to four times an hour with thirteen or more partners”, according to Barnett and Rivers, quoting Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (p. 53). In fact, there might even be reason for women to be even more promiscuous than men, or at least for men to be more loyal to women than previously believed. As Barnett and Rivers note (pp. 61-3), human females don’t go into oestrus, so human males don’t know when the females are fertile. It could be two or three days out of the month, but he doesn’t know which days these are. Hence, to ensure he successfully spreads his genes, it makes sense for the male to have sex as often as possible with the same female, not with many other females, since he might be killed or injured by their mates. Barnett and Rivers explain this increasingly accepted paradigm even further in their book, which is very much worth reading. What we can say based on these observations is that women like sex, and sex with a lot of different men, a lot more than we might wish to believe given our predilection for safe and secure sex roles.

To summarise, a lot of women like gay pornography, because they’re sexually attracted to men (if they’re straight), gay pornography doesn’t exploit women, it lacks a storyline (which women don’t necessarily crave), and lesbians dislike the degrading, fake portrayal of women in straight pornography (while taking pleasure in the sex acts of people despite their gender). We ultimately get a picture of women’s true desires, which is extremely transgressive. Pornography has been bad for both men and women, but it could be good for both. The point is that women liking gay porn liberates both sexes. It lets men enjoy the role of the sexual giver for once, and women, the role of the sexual agent, for, in the end, a black-and-white power-division isn’t healthy–a balance is.





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.





Angelina Jolie’s Leg and Sexual Tension

8 03 2012

With this post, I descend deep into the dark vacuum of popular culture. I don’t do this unless it yields some sort of useful, insightful commentary, and when we look at how bodies are displayed and portrayed in public and in the media, it does. Consider the recent Academy Awards ceremony, in which Angelina Jolie slinked down the red carpet with a long, lean leg emerging profluently from a part in the side of a black velvet, custom-made Versace gown to seduce the cameras with its cold, alibaster glow. Brad Pitt wore the same tuxedo every other man wore. I won’t kid. Jolie looks truly ravishing, and we should appreciate her beauty, but something about the picture is a little bit more asymmetrical than her dress. It’s the perfect example of the schizophrenic attitude that women can’t expose as much of their bodies as men can, but should expose more of it than men should.

The tension between modesty and sexiness is greater for women than it is for men, at least in the West. If Brad had wanted, he could have gotten away with a wardrobe malfunction and exposed a nipple or two–hell, he could have exposed his whole chest for the world to see and the ladies (and some of the men) would have collapsed on the floor and swallowed up his sweat–but if Angelina had flashed her boobs or, heaven forbid, exited the limousine in a deliberately-designed topless gown (which would never happen), the police would have tackled her scrawny ass to the ground. Fashion critics would hold both Brad and Angelina culpable for being indecent if they exposed their nipples, but would hold Angelina more culpable. At the same time, though, they would hold Angelina more culpable if she exposed less skin than Brad. So, the woman can’t show as much as the man, but she should show more than he. It’s a finer line for her to tread.

This obviously isn’t fair. It’s a Catch-22 and a double standard. It’s a Catch-22 because it tells women that they should be modest and sexy, and it’s a double standard because it places this Catch-22 on women, but not on men. Women aren’t allowed to show their nipples in public (except maybe in British Columbia and Ontario), but they are expected to show more skin than men up to the nipple; meanwhile, men are allowed to show their nipples, but they are expected not to show as much skin as women. Now, you might say, “It’s the same difference. Women can’t show their nipples while men can, but men aren’t expected to show as much skin as women. So it all balances out”. But it doesn’t all balance out. The restrictions against men showing as much skin as women can doesn’t have legal consequences, but the restrictions against women showing as much skin as men can does. Men are socially criticised for showing as much skin as women are expected to show, but women are both socially criticised for showing less skin than men are expected to show and legally reprimanded (i.e. arrested) for showing as much skin as men can show. In short, women have to balance a finer line between appeasing social expectations of seductiveness on one hand, and meeting legal parameters of modesty on the other. That’s not right.

But the tension between the sexy and modest woman occurs on a global scale too. In some regions of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Afghanistan, women are expected to wear veils such as the niqab, burqa (chadri), etc., and women are harassed by police for not donning these garments appropriately. In countries like Britain and the Netherlands, however, magazine racks and television shows are filled with bulging cleavages and glistening thighs, and in countries like France the authorities might actually penalise women for wearing a veil they might otherwise be required to wear in, say, Saudi Arabia. When we compare countries with one another, then, the teeter-totter of modest-versus-sexy woman takes on a global perspective. It infects the world. The world itself simultaneously imposes chastity and desirability on women.

This is absolutely stupid. If we believe in fairness and equality, we can’t penalise women for showing as many body parts as men can, but expect them to show more than men, without being total assholes. It isn’t fair. And it isn’t valid for Westerners to critique Muslim countries for covering their women in veils when Westerners rip women’s clothes off and paste the remaining bits on the covers of supermarket tabloids. It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. What we should be doing is trying to strike a balance by telling women, “Hey, you can show your nipples if you want, but you don’t have to show more skin than men, either”, and telling men, “You can wear something sexier than grandpa shorts or 1930s women’s culottes to the beach. Start by wearing what every man in modern-day Europe wears. A bikini. You know. Like women.” I don’t expect to see Brad Pitt walking down the red carpet in a black velvet Versace gown any time soon–that kind of change takes centuries for men, apparently–but I do expect to see it happen sooner at home, at the beach, and even in the workplace. Surely Hollywood, being so progressive, will eventually follow.





The “Plug-in-Socket” Paradigm: How Homophobia Overlaps with Sexism

3 03 2012

Homophobia, it turns out, has its roots in good, old-fashioned sexism, and I’ll tell you why. On February 6th, Washington state residents Jennifer Morris and Allison Vance, a 13-year-old, testified against gay marriage before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee. Their argument was basically that gay marriage is wrong because men and women complement one another. The state Legislature didn’t buy their argument, however, as Washington state legalised gay marriage on 13 February, the day before Valentine’s Day. (The Seattle bars were rife with exuberant homosexuals that night.) Still, it is important to deconstruct Morris and Vance’s argument, expose its fallacies, and show how they are motivated by sex stereotypes.

The arguments of people like Morris and Vance are usually put in rather crude, simplistic terms. Lacking a grasp on nuance, they tend to compare marriage with things that involve inserting one object into another in order to make more “stuff”, or to produce something tangible. Consider the analogy Morris draws between copulation and buildings, which the Seattle alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger reported on in its official blog, Slog:

Today my main message is that specific tools are for specific purposes…. If you were going to build a skyscraper, you would not be putting bolts with bolts and nuts with nuts, because the structure wouldn’t go up. And if it did it would probably fall apart, probably destroying many lives…. I feel very demeaned by the fact that roles don’t seem to matter.

Nuts with nuts. Such prurient imagery. According to Morris, sex is about creating people, not pleasure—despite the fact that the world is verging on 7 billion. Morris seems to care more about the tribal Bronze Age ideal of propogation than the twenty-first-century ideal of sustainability. The notion is that sex is about breeding as much as possible, despite the stress this may place on the environment, and ultimately on people. Echoing Morris, Vance says that trying to make a same-sex-headed family work is “like trying to walk with two left shoes.” She also says that “[i]n order to walk properly, you must wear one left shoe and one right shoe”. In other words,the only proper sexual union is that between a man and a woman, because the only proper sexual union is between two people who can procreate, and only opposite-sex couples can procreate.

Of course, we already know that this is ridiculous, since sterile couples, hysterectomised women, postmenopausal women, and couples who choose not to have children can marry despite their inability or choice not to procreate—because they love each other. For the same reason, then, gay people should be allowed to marry one another. Any adult can marry another adult who consents to the marriage. Simple as that. But conservatives are immune to this kind of reasoning—it tends to go in one ear and out the other, or else they come up with increasingly desperate and tenuous counter-arguments to avoid facing the fact that this kind of reasoning makes perfect sense.

But Morris and Vance’s anti-gay sentiment is not just about procreation—it is about the sex roles associated with these (as Morris herself suggested above). Think about it. Traditional sex roles involve a dominant, independent male penetrating a submissive, dependent female. The male is the logical, aggressive, disciplinarian “yin”, and the female, the intuitive, submissive, nurturing “yang”. The male is the dominant force, and the female, the recessive one. The male is the unemotional breadwinner, and the female, the emotional care-taker. Or else, as in the T.V. show Whitney, the woman is the passive-aggressive psychopath, and the male, some dumb, confused testosterone machine who stares like some fucking dumb piece of numb-brained shit at women’s asses. Here we see Vance’s left and right foot. Her argument against gay marriage is founded on old-fashioned, sentimental ideas about a relationship in which a dominant male complements a submissive female (an inherently hegemonic system), and on teaching children these roles early on.

What does this have to do with lesbians and gays, you may ask? Well, in the view of people like Morris and Vance, lesbians and gays are traitors because their relationships do not involve a man dominating a woman (left versus right shoe). Lesbianism does not involve a man dominating a woman, and male homosexuality does not involve a man dominating a woman. Not only does the rigidly mechanistic “plug-in-socket” scenario of “male and female mate, thereby producing offspring” break down in these relationships, but so do the hegemonic, sex-based social roles which derive from it. In a word, gays and lesbians have sex for pleasure, not to dominate a member of the opposite sex and keep the plug-in-socket hierarchy functional. For this reason, in the eyes of gay-marriage opponents, gay marriage is wrong.

But are traditional sex roles really a desirable thing? I don’t think so. They basically imply that women should be nicer people than men (because they have different limbic systems or whatever). But this is kind of like saying that normal people should be a little bit nicer than psychopaths. We don’t say that psychopaths should be crueller than normal people; we say that they should be as nice as normal people, and so we medicate them accordingly. Similarly, we shouldn’t be saying that men should be meaner than women; we should be be saying that they should be as nice as women, and teach them accordingly. And even if there is some biological explanation for men’s greater aggressiveness, it isn’t an ethical imperative; it is merely an observation of a natural phenomenon, like a genetic predisposition for cancer. We don’t say that those genetically predisposed to cancer should be more susceptible to cancer; we treat them for their condition. So, everybody should be held to the same standard of sensitivity and compassion, and it is simply giving licence to cruelty to say that “boys will be boys”. What gay rights activists should be doing, then, is pointing out that homophobia cannot be justified using sexism, because sexism itself is not justifiable.

Besides, true Christians (who make up a sizeable portion of homophobes) shouldn’t be buying into the temptation of saying that male aggressiveness and female submissiveness are biologically predetermined. They believe in Jesus Christ. Well, the Bible says that Jesus was compassionate (Matt. 9:36), that others should be compassionate (Matt. 18:33), and that Jesus himself commanded people to be like him (John 14:12, 1 Corinthians 4:16). If Jesus was compassionate, if others should be compassionate too, and if he told people to be like him, it follows that Jesus and the Bible required people to be compassionate and peace-loving. Now, because Jesus was male, and because he commanded everybody to be as compassionate as he, he necessarily required males and females to be equally compassionate. After all, he is the common denominator for compassion among Christians. So, while sexism motivates homophobia, if Jesus himself breaks down traditional sex roles, Christians can’t use them to justify homophobia.

I didn’t write this post using the traditional English essay formula; I wrote it in a sort of stream of consciousness format. I guess I was channelling Virginia Woolf or something. Anyway, I wanted to show how homophobia stems from sexism, how sexism is stupid, and how sexists have no basis for using Jesus to justify homophobia, since Jesus-quotes don’t justify sexism. Hopefully I’ve achieved this much. It’s important to emphasise that homophobia and sexism have a lot in common. Both gay people and feminists defy patriarchy by defying traditional sex roles. In order to attack homophobia, what gay rights advocates need to be doing is attacking sexism, since this seems to be used to justify a lot of homophobia. A discussion on gay rights is not complete without mentioning women’s rights at some point. Both concern sex roles and sexual identity, and as such they inform one another. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the recent gay marriage victories in Washington state and Maryland.





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 4: The Homosexual!

22 02 2012

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

Last time on the Lady League, the ladies were spreading their legs and lighting up London’s nighttime skyline with a blast of super-powered lady plasma, in preparation to confront the dreaded Plastic Demon.

The suite was decorated in whimsical turn-of-the-century art nouveau decor, with a view of the Eiffel Tower through great French doors which opened up on to the balcony. Oswald’s young, handsome male assistant, Frederick, was tidying papers at a desk in front of the main window.

“I’m bored of Paris”, groaned Oswald, clutching a voluminous goblet of wine and gazing outside the window. “Why do I even bother? It farms fashion trends like a soccer mom chugs corporate coffee. All of those simpering mules strolling by—they think they’re the cat’s meow, but, honestly, their City of Lights has grown dim in my eyes, and its fashion, stale.” Frederick turned his head from his work and nodded vacantly in agreement. “They’re nothing more than a bunch of dime-store papier-mâché drag queens strutting their sad plastic corpses down a worn-out catwalk. And now we’re faced with another fashion horror—this new ‘plastique’ line. It’s all over the magazine covers–Vogue, Marie Claire, even Harper’s—a glittering pile of garish, costumey garbage-bags plucked out of The Wizard of Oz or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What’s wrong with a simple, classic dress? Stick with the basics, I say.” Here he paused briefly, swirling the wine inside his goblet meditatively. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the designer’s true identity is. All we know is her initial, ‘P’, but I want to know the true P, what makes her tick, what makes her build such clownish garments, what makes people fawn like puppies at such horrid sartorial monstrosities.” Frederick nodded.

“I need new surroundings, fresh inspiration!” cried the stuffy queen, throwing the emptied wine goblet at the fire-place. “Pick that up”, he said to Frederick, who hurriedly scooped up the shards of glass on the edge of the fireplace, burning himself slightly but keeping his pain to himself. “I crave the shapes, colours, and sounds of avant garde Berlin, wild, exotic Africa, remote, mystical Asia! What I need is a new muse.”

“Racist”, mumbled Frederick under his breath, swabbing his wound and shuffling papers at the desk.

“What was that?!” cried Oswald. “You’re my assistant, wretch, not my sociology professor!” He slapped Frederick with the back of his hand, which was adorned with a large, chunky ring. “I’m paying you to help me write about fashion—and pleasure me—not lecture me on stereotypes!”

“Yes, Mr Oswald”, said Frederick obsequiously, pawing at his abused cheek.

Suddenly there was an explosion of sparkle and glitter as the double doors burst open to reveal Julie Gentron and the Lady League, shrouded in a ball of lady-light. Lupa the Land-Whale clumsily smashed in through the window and tumbled over the desk, lolling about on the ground. Frederick tumbled out of his chair, overcome with shock and amazement. Expensive antique cocktail displays with colourful negro caricatures from the nineteen-twenties, among other accoutrements, were thrown to the floor in the commotion. Oswald dived behind a divan and covered his head.

“Sweet tits of Mary!” screamed the queen.

“Lady League, pose!” cried Julie, stationing herself in the middle of the hotel suite. The ladies gathered themselves and spread their legs in a buffalo stance at Julie’s side. Lupa joined the posse, spreading his stocky legs and placing his fore-fins on his thick hips. His head brushed up against the chandelier, sending a few tear-drop crystals to the floor.

“What in the name of God’s jugs are you—you praying mantises??” cried Oswald, peeking out from behind the divan at the ghastly menagerie before him. “And what is that horrible, gigantic turnip-thing?!” he cried, pointing at Lupa. Lupa lowered his head with shame and frowned. There was a pause, which gave Oswald enough time to analyse their wardrobes. “What’s that??” he hissed, pointing at Donna’s outfit.

“It’s from last season’s Halloween rack at the Bay”, said Donna, looking down at her outfit self-consciously. “It’s kind of retro trashy kitsch, isn’t it?”

“I know what it is, you minx!” grumbled the insufferable bitch. “It’s a throwback to some tacky twentieth century superheroine T.V. series. How gauche. And besides, it’s badly tailored. Look at the seams. And the theme is poorly incorporated into the piece as a whole.” He looked at Frederick for approval. Frederick nodded hesitantly, but turned and glowered.

“Why are you so ruthless??” cried Donna, observing poor Frederick’s reaction. “I thought that the fashion world was full of rainbows, baby-dust, unicorns, and—”

“—and the genius of Simpson Oswald!” cried the queen. He assumed an evangelical tone. “If I were a unicorn,  my aim would be to search out the kind of trash you’re wearing and impale it on my horn of truth! The world of fashion has no room for the lies which you parade.” He stopped and took a few moments to breathe and regain his bearings.

“Sweetie”, said Donna, drawing on a mysterious reservoir of courage, “your world of understated, black-and-grey business wear isn’t fit for a Louisiana trailer park. I Googled you, you prissy little bitch. I’ve seen the garments you made in the fashion department at Oklahoma City Community College. They say one thing: stale, dull, and conservative!” Oswald gasped and cringed in horror.

“That’s three things”, Rosalind said.

“Oh. Yeah. Three things”, Donna said, correcting herself.

“Why, you impudent child!” cried Oswald

“You heartless queen!” returned Donna.

“Girl, I’ll claw you to pieces!”

“Bitch, I’ll crush your queeny ass with one flick of my Lee Press-On Nail!”

Donna and Oswald began to tango, but Donna’s psychokinetic powers got the best of him, trapping him in the pose of a retarded gay Egyptian hieroglyph. He grunted as he fought helplessly against her stranglehold over him. She grinned smugly. Lupa began stamping the ground, flapping his fins up and down and cooing in protest. Another window-pane broke.

“Donna! Mr Oswald!” cried Julie, pressing her breasts outward and assuming an imposing stance. It was enough to cause Lupa to cower, knowing that Julie was the alpha. Donna desisted, and Oswald fell back, regaining his senses. He turned his eyes to Julie.

“Your outfit, on the other hand, is impeccable”, he said, gazing at Julie’s body like a sexually disinterested homosexual infatuated with clothing, “a flawless, streamlined melding of apparel and physique.”

“That’s because you designed it”, said Julie, impatient but flattered.

“I designed this masterpiece??” screamed the queen in disbelief.

“How quickly they forget when they sell their genius for a profit”, said Rosalind contemptuously. “Doesn’t it suit her? She’s a cyborg, after all.”

“Wh–wh–wh–what? One of those icky cyborg things? In my Paris hotel suite? Why on earth?”

“We’re here to save your puny little twig-armed white man’s arse—that’s why!” boomed Rosalind, channelling Grace Jones. Her strong, muscular body glimmered momentarily with a metallic sheen. Julie and Donna nodded in agreement.

“Save me from what?” Oswald was agog.

“Mr Oswald, let me introduce myself”, said Julie with a confident sweep of her shoulders. “I am Julie Gentron, and together my friends and I form the Lady League, a special branch of the Secret Intelligence Service devoted to defending the earth against galactic criminals.”

“Indeed! Except for that one”, he said, glowering at Donna. “Do you always let small-town drag queens follow you around like overly primped puppy dogs?” At this, Donna threatened him with her fingernails; he resumed his station behind the divan, cringing at the psychokinetic mutant.

“Do you always prance around like some useless Project Runway contestant who dropped out of community college with nothing but a pink cotton tank top with a skull-and-crossbones Hello Kitty graphic for a portfolio?” returned Donna, leering at him triumphantly. Lupa remonstrated against Oswald and Donna’s exchange with a low, almost subsonic moan, and the song seemed to have an effect on them, as they began to relax. No-one but Lupa seemed to notice.

“Ladies, please!” cried Julie, standing between the two. Lupa’s big, limpid blue eyes smiled with relief. “This display of oestrogen will get us nowhere. Let’s get to the point of this meeting. Mr. Oswald, we believe that your life is in danger. I realise this must be hard for you to accept, but you must believe me when I tell you that a malevolent and powerful she-thing is working to turn members of the fashion élite into mindless plastic-surgery drones, and you may be her next target.”

“Ba! No one touches Simpson Oswald, least of all some Rubbermaid robot from the Tupperwear Galaxy!” laughed Oswald smugly, dismissing them with a flail of his limp wrist. “I haven’t heard such a farfetched conspiracy theory since Coast to Coast AM said that evil, shape-shifting harp seals were infiltrating the Canadian Parliament. My dears, if I don’t attend this fashion show, I’ll have nothing to say in my next column.” He stopped and scanned Julie. “Why, that’s it! You just hate me—you want to kill my career! The only foe I see is in your jealousy, you viper! If you insist upon hounding me, I shall call for security to remove you and the rest of your wicked brood from my premises.”

“Sir, that is absurd!” said Julie passionately. The other ladies, including Lupa, backed up respectfully. “We don’t wish to destroy your career—the plastic fiend does! If you refuse our help, your entire career will be co-opted by P, who wants to assimilate you! That is why we are here. To help you. To defend you against P. The combined powers of the Lady League are the only way to protect you from this sorceress. Now, if you’ll just—”

“—Very well. I see that your arrogant, heaving bosoms will not desist. Frederick!” he said, summoning his cowering assistant from behind the desk. “Telephone!” Frederick brought Oswald a telephone in the likeness of a statuette depicting a woman in the act of inserting a pear into her bottom. With apparent indifference to this image, Oswald opened up the telephone and turned the rotary dial. A French voice answered.

“Oui. This is Mssr Simpson Oswald, Suite 405. Put me through to security. Security? Oui, Oswald here. What? Speak English. Yes, I’m afraid a throng of squatting harridans have stolen into my suite and wish to kidnap me. I am rather perturbed, naturally. They are quite persistent and flail about like octupi, insulting me and disturbing my evening cold-cream regimen. Will you please send—Allo? Allo?! I demand that you furnish me with sufficient personnel to evict these—”

“—Your kind words beguile my heart, queen”, interjected a strangely soft, purring voice, as if from a synthesiser. The telephone chord silently stirred to life and wrapped itself round the fashion critic’s neck, cutting off the rest of his sentence. “With such sweet sentiment, you warm it to the core, to the hard, brilliant deposit of lust which drives the engine behind this vinyl visage of mine. For this reason I elect you as vice-queen of my holy plastic army. Enjoy wearing my new hot pink, patent leather catsuit with purple-feather epaulets, Sergeant Sodomite. Today is the last day you wear an American-style suit!”

“Wha–? Gak! Help! It’s choking me!”, gurgled Oswald, tearing at the cord round his neck. Frederick flailed in panic, trying desperately to unwrap the cord, but the Lady League acted without hesitation and took over.

“Girls, waste no time!” cried Julie. The skin under her silver body-suit began to squirm; her subcutaneous weapons were preparing for the assault. “It’s the plastic demon trying to take control of objects in her environment. She must be nearby.”

“I hate to side with old dumpy bottoms here”, cried Rosalind, leering at Donna, “but the world is at stake.”  She leaped at the possessed telephone, grasping the receiver in one hand and the cord in the other. “Quick, Donna! Help me get this thing off this tired old queen’s neck!” She had more trouble than usual unwrapping the telephone cord from around Oswald’s neck given her superhuman strength. Obviously some other force was at work.

“Hey! Truck-lady!” said Donna, placing her hands on her hips. “Go grease up something with holes and pistons. If you think I’m going to help save ‘Oklahoma Male Weekly’ over there, with her queen-bee attitude, you’ve got another thing coming. Ass pirate,” she sneered at Oswald. He returned the look.

“Donna! Rosalind!” cried Julie. “We have no time for petty jealousy. For once, stop with your taunting and concentrate your powers! Now! I must rely on you two while I focus on disarming the device.” She stood erect, closing her eyes and pressing her chest outward. Donna half-heartedly followed her captain’s lead by unfolding her arms and dropping her buttocks down on top of the phone’s carriage, burying it within her cheeks. The signal sputtered.

“I’ll admit,” said Rosalind, trying to tear the cord from the queen’s neck, “Donna’s got a point. He’s a cunt. Even if we do convince him that we’re protecting him, what good will it do us? Donna’ll probably end up killing him with her bare hands anyway.” She began to wrap her hands around Oswald’s neck, her fingers intertwined with the cord.

“Girls, I’m surprised at you!” said Julie. “Especially you, Rosalind! We aren’t here to pass judgement on this man! He’s being strangled by a telephone cord, for goodness’ sake!”

“He seems to find no qualms in passing judgement himself”, said Rosalind, increasing her stranglehold. The poor man’s eyes bulged.

“And he’s such a bitch!” said Donna, gliding her fingernails over the poor queen like hovering reconnaissance aircraft.

“God damn it!” screamed Julie, the circuits of her suit suddenly lighting up in response to her mental state. “That’s no excuse! He may be a cold-blooded, ruthless lizard, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to die!”

“Help me, please!” gurgled Oswald. “I’m sorry I was such a supercilious cunt. Maybe I’m wrong about the use of colour and texture—pastels and crushed velveteen are not fashion faux pas! A smokey eye with a dark-red lip is not overdoing it! I give up! Just save me!” Rosalind looked upward snootily, and Donna bore into Oswald’s eyes with a disapproving glower.

“Girls, stop!” said Julie. “We’ll discuss this another time! Donna, stop sitting on the receiver. Use your psychokinetic power to fight the demon!”

“Oh, right. Yeah. Duh!” said Donna, raising her buttocks from the receiver and placing her fingers to her temples. “Sorry for spacing out, Julie. I can do this. I can undo the fiend’s work.” She stood still and concentrated her powers on the cord wrapped around Oswald’s neck. Rosalind assisted by tearing at the cord, and Lupa sang a whale-song which nobody could hear. The cord snapped. Oswald fell back and scurried against the wall, gasping for air. Frederick ran forward to embrace Oswald, who turned him away with a tired groan. Confused, he ran over and embraced Donna, who returned the gesture with a soft pat on the head. Rosalind looked on at Donna approvingly for once, and Lupa stamped up and down, flapping his fins, tears welling up in his big, blue eyes.

“Good”, said Julie, nodding, “but we need more juice to defeat this thing! I’ll deploy a short-distance electromagnetic pulse to short-circuit the apparatus.” She stretched out her arms, her hands curled into fists, and shot forth a beam of gamma radiation that fried the telephone receiver. Meanwhile, Rosalind and Donna were ripping apart the remains of the telephone cord. Finally it dropped to the ground.

“Bahahahahaha!” cackled the sinister voice through the mangled, disconnected receiver. “Your powers may have succeeded in this small trial, Lazy League, but you have yet to defeat my many minions! Soon you shall witness the rise of the demon, and you shall bow at her feet! I’m not going to kill you. Oh, no. I have something far better in mind for you—the beauty of my sweet, immortal caress! Yes, that is right. You shall become like me—plastic!”

The lights flickered and dimmed, as if from a power surge, and all looked at each other in silence.

Stay tuned as the ladies hunt down the inscrutable plastic demon in the next instalment of Julie Gentron and the Lady League!





Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.





Gay Marriage, Majority Rule, and Minority Rights

19 01 2012

As the Washington state legislature mulls a bill that would legalise gay marriage, conservatives are crawling out of the woodwork to stop its passage or to punish Republicans who vote in favour of it by attempting to end their political careers. (The National Organisation of Marriage is trying to do this.) Some of these individuals and groups also want to put the decision up to a public vote. The argument they use to justify this kind of move is that majority opinion reigns supreme in a true democracy. I will argue here that majority opinion does not necessarily reign supreme in a true democracy, and I will show why this is so in four ways: democracy is not just defined as “majority rule”, but also as “equality”; the majority have no right to speak on issues which do not affect them; courts must adjudicate the law impartially; and legislators are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which do not affect their majority constituents.

I want to let you know that I am not telling you how the law actually works; I am simply telling you how it should work according to the principles of ethical reasoning.

With respect to the first point, the issue of gay marriage centres around the definition of democracy. Many conservatives will argue that gay marriage should be put up to a public vote because, in a democracy, the majority opinion rules. However, the definition of democracy does not begin and end with majority rule; it also involves the concept of equality. According to the Random House Dictionary, democracy has the following senses: government by the people, a state having such a form of government, a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges, political or social equality, and commoners as distinct from the privileged class. The definition of democracy encompasses the concepts of both self-representation and equality, so any gay marriage opponent who invokes democracy on the basis of the former, while ignoring the latter, is giving us a skewed, incomplete understanding of democracy. This hardly helps validate their opposition to gay marriage on democratic grounds.

This biased preoccupation with self-representation is closely linked to the notion of majority rule, which is consistently invoked by gay marriage opponents. Gay marriage opponents constantly argue that the quintessential democracy is defined by the reign of the majority opinion. But this is not necessarily so. A lot of issues should be decided by the majority, because those issues affect the majority, but not all issues do. If we treat democracy as “self-representation”, then the majority have the right to rule on issues which affect the majority, but they do not have the right to rule on issues which only affect the minority. Gay marriage only affects the minority, not the majority, therefore the majority have no right to rule on gay marriage. Thus, the conservative argument that the majority should rule on gay rights on the basis of “majority rule” is debunked.

Immediately gay marriage opponents will point out that this argument is not sound because, when a panel of judges rule on such an issue, a majority of votes still matters. It is true that a majority of votes matters when a court of law rules on gay marriage, but there is an important distinction to make: while the public vote on the basis of their personal prejudices, judges are obliged to adjudicate the law. While popular opinion is based on popular prejudice, legal opinion is based on interpretation of the law. It is not exactly fair to compare majority rule on the basis of personal prejudices with the majority rule of judges who are obliged impartially to fulfil the law. Therefore, it is invalid to compare majority rule through a public referendum with majority rule through a court of law, and, hence, it is invalid to say that judges should be doing the same thing as the public with regard to minority rights.

But, of course, gay marriage opponents will argue that judges are only adjudicating laws which are passed by elected representatives of the people. So, now the question is, whose interests do those elected representatives actually represent? Gay marriage opponents would argue that they represent the majority opinion of their constituency. This is not necessarily so. If we accept that the majority should rule only on issues which affect the majority, and not those which affect only the minority, then elected representatives are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which affect only the minority. Instead, they are obliged to defend minority interests. And whose majority vote determines that, you may ask? None, because the vote would be a unanimous decision based on reason, logic, and fairness. Reason, logic, and fairness are the ultimate arbiter, not popular opinion.

Of course, not all legislators are rational, hence not all laws they pass will be based on reason. This does not, however, mean that it is right that they pass the laws that they do. It only means that they fail to acknowledge reason. In some sense, the greatest intellectual burden lies on their shoulders.

In summary, I haven’t tried to create the perfect defense of gay marriage in modern-day democracies; I’ve merely tried to challenge how we alienate minorities using “majority rule” as an excuse, even when the majority have no justifiable interest in the lives of the minority. In principle, democracy should be about how we satisfy our personal interests, not how we control the lives of others. And when there is any question about how an issue affects us, it should be boiled down to whom it affects, and this is determined by reason.

That said, if you live in Washington state, and you live in one of the six constituencies led by undecided Washington state senators, I implore you to contact your senator and ask them to vote “yes” on the bill legalising gay marriage. We are just two senators’ votes away from marriage equality. Just two! It is good for gay people and for everybody else.