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.

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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.

Online dating, redux

There’s a point I omitted in my last post that I feel is important to make:

La Dida’s column quoted several lines from the blog Douchebags of Grindr:

“I’ve blocked more Asians than the Great Wall of China.”

“Not into femmes, fatties and furballs.”

“Vanilla and spice, no chocolate and rice.”

Now, I do believe that people are entitled to like whatever they want, and are entitled to seek out what interests them and turn away what doesn’t. But the above sentences — and they are fairly typical — go beyond that, and start reeking of racism and bigotry.

The question is, can dating or hookup sites police this without pressing on people’s freedom of desires and expression; and should we even police it at all, or let these douchebags identify themselves so we know who to avoid?

Soz, No Asians

I have noticed, as I’m sure practically everyone else has too, that on dating sites such as NZ Dating or Grindr, a lot of people state that they don’t want you to contact them if you’re a different race, or otherwise “undesirable”. “No Asians,” “No fatties,” “No fems,” the list goes on… On this front, Critic’s La Dida has beaten me to the post.

I’m going to deliberately take a slightly ambivalent approach, not only to avoid re-hashing what La Dida has written, but also because there’s a bit of complexity to the matter, and I’d like to try to spur people into thinking about the issue, rather than just passively reading my text.

There’s two fronts to this argument. The first is that deliberately excluding Asians because they’re Asian is, obviously, racism. (I’ll stick to racism at the moment, rather than dealing with fatphobia or ageism etc., for the sake of simplicity) As is excluding blacks, Maori or any other race. (For some reason, Asians seem to be the most discriminated against in this particular field).

The second front, is that you can’t very much help whom you’re attracted to. I’m attracted to men with facial hair, strong arms and a friendly disposition; I’m turned off by men more than a few years younger than me and guys who care more about maintaing back dimples than eating McDonalds. In this regard, race is another trait about a person that determines whether you’ll find them sexy or not — humans typically find most attractive those who are within their own tribe or race.

It is because of the second that the first has snuck in (or rather, why the first is so pernicious). But that second front isn’t set in stone.

We all have our tastes and preferences, but these bend and change depending on the culture we’re immersed in. I, for example, thought Hipsters were hot, until the sub-culture was ruined by Hipsters. Now I barely find it sexy at all. And the same is certainly true of ethnicity.

At the risk of delving into pop-evolutionary psychology, finding people of your own ethnic group sexually attractive and others not, makes sense from a survival perspective. But I think that it’s more of a “tribal” thing than a racial one. I believe that you find things within your own culture or subculture attractive, rather than ethnicity, and these things shift like the wind.

But on these sites, and especially on sex sites like Grindr, is it actually discrimination do preclude hookups from people due to their body shape, mannerisms or even ethnicity? When people are looking for sex, they’re looking for what they’re interested in, and what they’re interested in is not entirely a conscious thing, nor is it really anyone else’s business.

When you look up porn (don’t deny it) you look up whatever “genres” get you off. For some people, that means looking to specialist niches, for others it means broadly sweeping across the internet. Most of us have something specific, some trait or set of traits, that we innately consider sexy. Hooking up with people beyond the porn shoots is an extension of that. I happen to not do twinks, does that make me ageist?

But the problem with dating sites, is that you’re dealing with real people, not just porn personae (well… typically). Furthermore, our culture is increasingly being pushed onto these online media to meet people, be it for relationships or just sex. Our ability to challenge or warp our cultural preferences aren’t challenged if we can just block people that don’t fit into them before we’ve even given them a chance. Even today, our sexualities are still closeted — most of us struggle to pull without going to gay bars rather than mainstream ones, and public parks and toilets have given way to NZ Dating and Grindr. We’re still pushed into niche areas where we naturally form cliques.

This allows racism and bigotry to fester and grow.

We must be careful in our arguments. We must be careful in policing bigotry when it comes to people’s sex lives. We fought long and hard, and are still fighting, for the rights to own our sexualities — to be able to have (consensual) sex with whomever we will. Our sexual autonomy is sacred. If we are to fight bigotry in our communities, which I agree is something we must do, we must do it across the board, but not force ourselves into each other’s pants.

Yes, it is dehumanising to consistently see your traits listed as undesirable on everyone’s profiles, and we seriously need to shift our attitudes. But policing our sexuality is not the way to do it.

One thing I have to strongly disagree with in La Dida’s column is the line “The sad reality is that within the queer* community we often repeat the mistakes of our hetero cousins: Body and gender policing, ageism and racism to name a few.”

I’ve seen other things like this in his writings as well as in conversations I’ve had with him in person outside our nom de plumes. Heterosexuality is not the source of all the world’s ills. It’s not the source of sexism, ageism, racism or body policing.

I heard the same argument from a member of the once-noble International Socialists, except that capitalism was the source of all these ills. I take great umbrage at the diminishing of these problems by blaming them on our perceived enemies. That’s scapegoating, and it doesn’t recognise the actual sources of these problems that affect us all. By labelling racism and fatphobia as “hetero” things, and that we shouldn’t emulate them because they’re hetero things, denies our own hand in their perpetuation, and doesn’t actually look to the source.

We’re all humans. We’re all bound by, and fight against, human nature. It’s not the hetero’s fault, it’s all of our faults. And we have to own that if we’re going to have any honesty.

Catching up

I need to do more of this “blogging” thing. You may have noticed my content dropping off the last few months. This has to do with life stuff that I can avoid a little more readily than I want to say what they are here.

Suffice to say, I intend to play furious catch-up over Easter. There’s a lot more trans* stuff happening atm than the whole Greer thing, and I really want to address racism and bigotry within our own communities.

Also, I just want to post more random, fun, cool things.

In the mean time, here’s a kitty I found on Reddit: