The candle flame gutters

I’ve been blogging for a year now here at missing sparkles. It started as a small group of us, each presenting our own views, opinions and discussing what we each saw as important issues within the queer community, the greater social environment (I was going to use the word milieu, but I don’t want to look like a wanker) and the intermingling thereof.

However, our numbers quickly dwindled, some before we even started, as each individual author found themselves too busy, usually engaged in the sisyphean endeavour known as the PhD.

Before long, there was only me. With my idealistic cynicism, loving disrespect for politicians, affable polemic, and occasional use of naughty words. Words like fuck, for example.

After the others left to pursue academic titles and post nominals I entertained the notion that I would find replacements and other people to cover the wide gamut of queer identities, but for various reasons they never manifested — typically because those I found who were interested were themselves too busy doing other things, and those who were free were already blogging or writing in their own spheres.

So it was just me.

I had never intended to stay with missing sparkles forever, but I thought I would be here for a long time. I’ve been planning to finish up here for a while, but now a series of events has hastened my departure.

I written before of my mental illness — I’ve never been shy about being public about it — and it’s affected my blogging here in the past. But now it’s come racing back and caught me blind in a dark cul de sac, it’s black robes fluttering around me as it drags my optimism into the darkness of shame and despair.

The other issues hastening my departure are as complicated as they are my own.

It’s a shame to see this blog end. I built up a nice little audience, got myself into a few intellectual scuffles, had endless fun with Tau Henare, and ended up pissing off some of my friends.

I will return before too long, but not here. Maybe not even as Mr Wainscotting, though I am quite attached to the identity. I’ve always felt an affinity with the phoenix — in a purely symbolic sense, of course — and I will rise again, with a new blog where I can write about a greater range of issues (perhaps not with the same grandiosity as the legendary bird, but a boy can dream).

Many years ago, when I was at my lowest, I purchased a book that gave me a perspective that brought me back from the brink. That book is Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Being dyslexic, books have to be very interesting for me to be able to read them, and Sagan never fails to disappoint. I almost never read fiction books — I get my escapism from daydreams and cinema. It is in non-fiction that I find most pleasure and in the realms of science and particularly astronomy that I find my perspective.

I’m going into my room now. I’m going to curl up with my hot water bottle, maybe snuggle with my Ted E. Bare teddy bear, and read that book.

“The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

Good night.

Dear Colin Craig,

“New Zealanders are getting so tired of politically correct posturing. Political correctness doesn’t change how people think, it just prevents them speaking up. I am happy to speak up and go on record as one who would vote against this proposed bill.”

I’ve written before of my opinion of the “political correctness” canard, and Craig swans out with it as if it’s an actual argument.

“The marriage institution being a relationship between a man and a woman predates government. It is not the job of government to start re-defining marriage.”

And it’s not your job to be defining it. If the government’s going to have marriage written into law, then it must keep up with society’s changing definitions of what it means. The definition of marriage has changed more than conservative Christians care to remember or even believe.

Saying that marriage is an institution that belongs to a one cis-man, one cis-woman couple is like saying that writing belongs to right-handed people. The importance of right-handedness certainly predates government, and in modern times it seems rather silly to think of it as being any kind of privilege (it’s easy to forget that only a generation ago, children were being caned for writing with their left hands).

If Colin Craig does “not support an ever expanding state meddling in the affairs of it’s citizens”, then he’s contradicting himself by saying that we should therefore oppose marriage equality. But then, cognitive dissonance is something people like Craig have become rather skilled at.

I prefer bars not run by douchehats

Edit: This story has made the ODT.

UniQ Otago is hitting out at the owner of The Southern Break bar in Dunedin after he posted homophobic comments on his Facebook wall. After some kind of altercation at a competing bar, the owner went home to say that they can “suck a dick” immediately followed by calling them “fucking faggots”, later saying the bar was run on “liquidation letters and aids.”

UniQ Otago is not happy:

“Those comments are disgusting and should not be tolerated in our society.

“Running an establishment full of people under the influence of alcohol, they must provide an environment that is safe for all their patrons. We do not believe this is truly possible if the owners are being outwardly homophobic.”

I’ve read the comments myself, though I shan’t publish them in full here, and another person further down the comments said “Loving the banter.. feed the fagot [sic] fire!!!”

UniQ Otago is right to be incensed and outraged. I’m incensed and outraged. Once again, we see an example of people turning to homophobia as an attack. He may well have had a bad experience at the other establishment, but that does not excuse him of shouting “faggots”, not at all!

Furthermore, as a bar owner, he has a duty to the community. If he is unable to show that he is an upstanding member of the public, then he’s ineligible to have his liquor licence renewed. This is precisely the sort of thing that shows that his standing is not up.

Homophobia is still rife in this country, and it’s shit like this that keeps knocking us down. Homophobia and intolerance like this is something up with which we should not put.

You can marry your cousin, so long as he isn’t gay

North Carolina. Once again proving the adage that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

The state, where it’s legal to marry your cousin, recently went to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment prohibiting not only same-sex marriage, but also civil marriage and domestic partnerships.

Last time the state made an amendment to their constitution about marriage, it said this:

All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the third generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.

While we have all the legal trappings that civil unions grant in New Zealand, we still don’t have the dignity conveyed by marriage or the respect it has in society, and we also still cannot adopt.  We’re forced to compromise with a “good enough” alternative.

North Carolina, however, seems to believe that teh gayz don’t deserve any recognition of their relationships and should forever be relegated to being second class citizens. Once again, they’ve used the cry of “religious freedom” as a cudgel against the rights and freedoms of others.

Hopefully it won’t be long before they realise the folly of their ways and look back at Amendment 1 as an embarrassing blight upon the history of their state.

Persecution in NZ

A 4 year old child has effectively kicked out of kindergarten and his family ostracised because he is living with HIV.

The outrage over this is already loud, so I thought I’d add a little to the cacophony. I’m simply going to link to the Campbell Live episode OnDemand:

Clicky clicky click.

And a quote from Shaun Robinson, NZAF Executive Director:

“The reaction of the childcare centre management isn’t due to a lack of information or awareness or education. The NZAF, community members and doctors have all spoken to them on the phone, given them information and materials and been to hui with them. They’ve been very well informed but the sad fact is, the management team don’t want to know that there is no risk whatsoever to the other children, they’d prefer to persecute this child and create hysteria in the community.” [Emphasis mine]

The treatment of this boy and his family is abhorrent. I find it amazing how quick we were to forget our past and continue persecution into the future.

It’s 2012 for fuck’s sake.

Jumping the gun

I’m a couple of weeks late on this one, but in late April, a lesbian couple were thrown out of [public.], a bar in Wellington, after sharing a quick kiss while waiting for a taxi. One of the two, Rebecca Galbraith, wrote this in a letter to the bar:

“At 2.50am, as we were leaving for a taxi, I leaned over to briefly kiss my girlfriend, something I had not done yet as we were in the company of friends, when a man abruptly tapped me on the shoulder and informed both of us to leave, immediately.

“… I have no doubt he was watching us for the entire time we were at Public.

“… When standing on the street, I turned to the man who kicked us out and said this would not happen if we were a straight couple. And he agreed, and shrugged, and said ‘it’s not my place’, and with a smirk, claimed he ‘wished it could be different’.”

The outrage was as immediate as it was expected. Victoria University Queer Officer Genevieve Fowler championed their cause, helped push the story to the media and offered to help write a complaint to the Human Rights Commission that Galbraith was lodging. The Wellington Young Feminists’ Collective started organising a “Pash-in” at the bar to protest their outright homophobia, and the Wellington Queer Avengers were quick to join in. [public.] was lambasted across the press, both mainstream and queer.

The owner of the bar tried to defend the actions of the bouncer, but no one would listen. Why should we? They turfed a couple out of their bar for the crime of sharing an innocent kiss while lesbian. The management is clearly homophobic and need to learn not to discriminate.

Except there’s a teensy problem.

Just a little one…

It didn’t happen as Rebecca Galbraith said.

[public.] released CCTV footage of the night to selected media showing the couple hugging and kissing for an extended period of time without security doing anything, and later slinking off to a corner beyond of the camera’s view, which is where they were approached by the bouncer 10 minutes before the bar was due to close. They were not asked to leave because she “briefly kiss[ed her] girlfriend.”

Having been shown the CCTV footage by 3 News, Galbraith decided not to continue with her complaint to the HRC, and seems to have gone into delete everything mode. Fowler has also done the same after whipping up hate for the bar. The WYFC cancelled the pash-in, citing not the fact that the women wern’t honest, but rather because they were over it, and the Queer Avengers continued to support the women and said “their complaint should be taken seriously.”

Galbraith played the gay card, and lost. In the process, doing damage to the reputation of a bar that was innocent, because a lot of people jumped the gun. To call it a “debacle” is an understatement.

I understand our reactions when we’re faced with apparent discrimination — I’ve done it in the past, too (and I’m likely to do it in the future). As queer people, we’re conditioned to believe that discrimination is waiting round every corner. Due to the many real discriminations that we face we see queerphobic boogeymen lurking in every shadow.

But we have to be careful how we face those fears, and make sure that we’re reacting to real threats, rather than imagined ones.

Within hours of Galbraith posting her now deleted comment on [public.]’s Facebook wall, the comment list was filled with people accusing the bar itself of being disgustingly homophobic. Boycotts and protests were called for and organised and the media was contacted. The outrage was pouring.

The owner of the bar commented on the now deleted post (because it’s deleted, I’m unable to quote it, so you’ll have to take my word for it) explaining the situation, but that only seemed to fan the flames. Partly because it wasn’t worded very well (the owner was understandably stressed about the situation), but mostly because they had already been set up as the villain in everyone’s eyes.

We need to approach these sorts of accusations with scepticism. We have an incredibly important principle (one of the most important) in both our law and our society. That is the presumption of innocence. The onus of proof lies on whom asserts, not on who denies. And that proof must be beyond reasonable doubt.

In the beginning, we were given one side of a story. Instead of assessing it rationally, talking to the bar, or looking at things like the fact that they were told to leave minutes before the bar was due to close for the night, people jumped to conclusions. They leapt to a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy — two women kissed and were then told to leave a bar, therefore they were told to leave because they’re lesbians.

The bar released CCTV footage confirming their side of the story, and it all came tumbling down like a house of cards in a strong breeze. The media were not happy at being played (Hillary Barry’s “’nuff said” comment at the end of this clip is testament to this). Fowler, who may not have been complicit in the deceit but still went straight on the attack, is now facing criticism as Vic Uni’s Queer Officer, and rightly so — in my opinion she has one option: admit she got played, apologise for not appraising the accusations and launching an offensive against the owners of [public.], and offer her resignation to the mercy of her constituents.

I believe that Queer Avengers and the WYFC owe their apologies to the bar for the respective parts they played (these are otherwise good organisations that I have a lot of respect for and they do a lot of good work. I don’t want to look like I’m demonising them over this issue), as do any other organisations that participated. Discrimination is a real and serious problem in this country. But if we’re going to take direct action against it, we need to base our action on evidence. If we’re going to protest or boycott or take legal action against a business or individual, we need empirical proof. If that evidence doesn’t manifest or turns out to be fabricated after we’ve taken action, then we lose credibility. If we continue to take action after being shown we got it wrong, we throw credibility out the window.

And Galbraith and her partner owe not just the bar, but all of us an apology for erroneously playing the gay card and making a huge issue out of nothing. It may have simply been a misunderstanding, and at the time the women may have genuinely believed it was because they were lesbians, but they kicked up an awful lot of dust, and did a significant amount of truth bending. They smeared the bar on Facebook, in the media, and threatened to complain to the Human Rights Commission. Now, undoubtedly, the couple have learned their lesson, and having been there I can say that the stress from the media attention is not fun. I’m certainly not suggesting they be vilified as liars and frauds. But once egos have healed, public apologies must follow.

When people’s reputations and careers are on the line, we have to tread carefully.

Oh John Banks, you so silly…

I’m not usually one to mock celebrities or politicians for their sexualities when they’re insecure or closeted. Being insecure in your sexuality or living a public life in the closet is not in anyway fun. I’ve chided friends for mocking Christopher Finlayson and I don’t engage in jocular questioning of MPs sexualities unless hypocrisy is in the air.

I’m not, however, going to be so nice to John Banks and his insecurities. I don’t believe he’s a closeted gay, but he seems to have allowed his sexual insecurity to distend into paranoia. I’m not nice to him because I do not believe he deserves it.

I’m speaking (or “writing” — how does voice work when it’s written? I’ll consult a linguist tomorrow) about his recent interview on Radio Live.

He’s found himself in a spot of bother over donations to his 2010 mayoral campaign fund. He’s accused of requesting Kim Dotcom to give him two smaller donations, rather than one large one, and declaring them anonymous, then mysteriously forgetting the whole thing.

Radio Live’s reporter Frances Cook asked what his relationship with Dotcom was. His reply?

“What’s your relationship? This is offensive! He’s a married man! What are you talking about? … Sorry look.. I.. I don’t wanna go down… I’ve had no relationship with Dotcom — he’s got a wife.”

Cook laughs and tries to explain she meant a business relationship, but he hung up.

As I said, I’m not one to mock people for their insecurities, but this is the man who stood up in parliament and said homosexuals “should not be put in charge of vulnerable young people…”, that prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation would lead to New Zealand becoming a paedophile tourist location, and said “I refuse to be part of the bid in this House to give a rubber stamp of approval for what I believe is wrong—socially wrong, morally wrong, and wrong before God.”

At the mere suggestion that he had a “relationship” with another man, even though context implied that the meaning was purely platonic and business related, he jumps into panic mode to defend his straightness, and the straightness of Dotcom. What does that say about him?

This man is in our parliament again, and he’s showing himself to be paranoid and reactionary whenever human rights, specifically those relating to sexuality, are brought up. If we’re going to advance politically, he needs to go.

Dissenting points of view

The other day I wrote a post about bigotry within the queer online dating world. La Dida had managed to beat me to the punch with something I largely agreed with (save for that one line that irked me). In the interest of not repeating him I decided to explore the complexity surrounding the issue (granted, he was only given 400 words to work with), and at the same time took a risk. It’s an issue that I feel is best approached by spurring debate, even if that debate becomes an argument; the risk I took was in being deliberately ambivalent. Whether I was successful I’ll leave up to the reader.

The response to my post were not at all mixed — they were polarised. Though no one seemed to be pro-racism, people either liked my arguments or didn’t. There was little middle ground. The feedback I got was mostly in my favour (though I’m well aware of confirmation bias and the fact that Kiwis tend not to criticise each other as much as they perhaps should), and the negative feedback prompted me to post the comment I did. (I’m going to get things wrong — don’t be afraid to tell me.)

But (putting aside that some people saw it as a personal attack, rather than a disagreement of ideas) most of the negative feedback I received was on the tone of my argument. I’ve run into this time and time again in a lot of different fora: We don’t have to agree on everything, but don’t disagree too strongly. I ran into it a lot when I was the secretary of UniQ Otago, a lot of us ran into it with the Labour Party (which was one of the factors that led to me tearing up my membership card), and I’ve seen it (from the periphery) in some feminist circles. “You’re hurting the cause.” And it gets in the way.

I will not be silenced on tone.

Complaining about tone is a silencing tool: you’re too shrill, too negative, too loud. It doesn’t address the real argument and does nothing to further any cause — in fact, it does the opposite, shutting it down and smoothing it into a trite, sit-around-and-have-tea do nothing committee meeting.

There is room, and necessity, for different approaches to issues, and they can happen at the same time.

In the queer community, sometimes we do need to wear special gloves and approach certain issues with extreme delicacy (teens committing suicide will necessitate that). But if people put forward ideas that I think are bad, I refuse to be denied the ability to say so.

When the stakes are high, and in the queer community they can be very high indeed, I can understand people not being comfortable with disagreement, and I can understand the intent behind only wanting positive reinforcement. But our ideas, all of our ideas, must be open to scrutiny, regardless of how politely that scrutiny comes.

I’m not saying we should throw out civility and compassion. Far from it. People deserve to be treated with warmth and dignity, and we should never allow someone’s abrasiveness to shut us down either. But ideas are not people, and we shouldn’t take it personally when people don’t like them. Good ideas should be praised, but bad ideas should be destroyed, and we can only decide which way to handle ideas by vigorously testing them.

Apple’s success under the insufferable Steve Jobs is testament to the fact that creativity works best in an environment hostile to ideas. In fact, the notion of ‘brainstorming’ put forward by Alex Osborn in the 1940s that promoted a judgement free environment, actually diminishes creative ability, and hinders our capacity for good ideas.

We must be careful to not allow our privilege to blind us to when we are stomping over other people’s perspectives, but we should never be afraid of criticism, especially when it comes from our friends. We’re still fighting to advance our rights — gay marriage and adoption are still before us, bi-erasure is still a thing, and trans* people are still fighting for basic dignities — and our arguments need to be strong.

For our arguments to be strong, first we need to have them.