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A short blog about how I feel about nouns

18 Nov

I don’t know that I want to use identity signifiers any more. I feel like saying things like ‘I am queer,’ ‘I am a feminist,’ ‘I am a vegan,’ ‘I am polyamorous’ functions as a get-out – like, if I say I am these things then it’s as though I believe I don’t have to back that up with actually doing these things.

I’ve long felt disinclined to identify as a lesbian, or as a woman: these are not things that I am. Neither, now, are the things I listed above, even though by contrast I feel entirely committed to them as ideologies. But that’s the point: they are ideologies, and they affect how I behave, and that’s how you tell that I’m into them. It’s not that I am queer; it’s that I do queer: I advocate for it, I consider it, I use it as a filter through which I encounter the world and decide how to interact with others. I think, particularly with an identity word as inherently unstable as ‘queer,’ it would actually be quite inappropriate for me to use language that implies that I embody it over an extended and potentially infinite space of time. At the moment, writing this, I am doing queer. Just now, when I ate tomato soup with a piece of bread for tea and intentionally consumed no animal products, I was doing veganism. Later on, when I invariably have a go at someone on the internet for using problematic language, I will be doing feminism. But to say I am these things could mean that I might not have to do these things, and I don’t ever want to be lazy enough to allow myself a way out.


What’s Kim Kardashian got to do with it?

2 Nov

Okay, so. I am very new to Kim Kardashian. Obviously I knew she existed, and I could have probably picked her out in a line-up but, until very recently, she was completely irrelevant to me. In fact, I am about to argue that she remains completely irrelevant to me; her only and very temporary relevance is that I now feel compelled to speak out against other people’s inference that her life and choices have anything to do with mine.

In the last few days, my Twitter feed has been full of people saying the exact same thing. (Well – most people I follow are white, middle-class, artsy, feminist, queer or queer-friendly, and educated to university standard, so this isn’t really very far out of the ordinary. But, anyway.) In the wake of Kim Kardashian’s now notorious seventy-two day marriage, pretty much everyone has been going, ‘AND YET GAYS COMPROMISE THE SANCITITY OF MARRIAGE.’ And I have been getting fucked off with every single one of them.

For one thing, it’s a logically defunct argument that, because Kim Kardashian is alleged to have had a brief heteronormative marriage for publicity and money-making reasons – an accusation of whose evidence I know little but feel is quite unfair given that divorce and relationship breakdown are usually actually really upsetting, so maybe she’s actually really upset – this means that non-heteronormative couples ought to be able to get married. Before we even get onto my feelings about “gay marriage,” this is wildly problematic, because it still positions marriage between people perceived to be of the “same” gender as something of a deviancy. The argument tacitly runs, ‘because Kim Kardashian can do this supposedly fucked up thing with the institution of marriage, so should people in non-heteronormative relationships,’ which does nothing to challenge the view that marriage between people in non-heteronormative relationships is deviant. Way to promote your cause. (It reminds me a lot of this awesome article about justification of abortion – TRIGGER WARNING.)

For another, taunts about ‘Kim Kardashian’s seventy-two day marriage’ carry the implicit assumption that marriages are not authentic unless they last a certain amount of time. I was particularly interested to note in the last month or so that Mexico is considering offering finite marriage contracts to its citizens which, of course, has also prompted some to complain about the ways in which this might threaten the “sanctity of marriage.” Personally, I feel that, if marriage has to be institutionalised – which I think it does at least in the short term – check-in points during marriages are a great fucking idea, because the idea that anyone would feel anything forever, let alone love someone, is one that I tend to find, in hypothesis, highly idealistic.

I would like to point out here that I do not believe all marriages to be doomed, or all those who choose to get married to be foolish. However, my reason tells me that such a promise would be far better framed as ‘I will always endeavour to be committed to you,’ although I am aware that not all marriage ceremonies involve this promise, and I am also aware that, just because someone promises they will always try to maintain commitment to whatever relationship you have agreed upon, this does not mean that they will actually always do that. I understand that my experiences of being the child of a desperately unhappy marriage and ensuing divorce probably have some sway over the way I feel about this, but I do not think that my approach is solely emotional: I couldn’t, in right conscience, however besotted I was with someone, tell them that I would always love them. I just couldn’t. Because human beings change all the time, and our feelings change all the time, and obviously some people will be more constant than I am, but to promise to be consistently constant? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.

There is also the issue of non-heteronormative couplings by marriage and queer assimilation. I don’t take the view that queer people oughtn’t get married because they’re copying straight people, although I do recognise the potential for oppression that homonormativity carries with it, although I think this potential lies more in those who would seek to oppress non-normative others anyway rather than those who choose to marry their “same-sex” partners. However, I worry about any degree of submission to an institution – and there will be some degree if you are legally married, however you choose to phrase your vows and maintain your relationship – whose history is steeped in oppression. Of course, just because marriage began as the facilitator of possession of women does not mean that it still necessarily does that; this isn’t even really a valid point to raise with many non-heteronormative married couples. But marriage can still function to facilitate oppression, whomever you are marrying – it can compromise recognition of equally important polyamorous relationships, it can compromise the idea of the significance of the non-biological family, and it can impose a hierarchy of importance upon others’ relationships.

I don’t know if my beef with marriage is really reasonable on these grounds – perhaps it’s similar to my feelings of concern regarding that K-Y intense advert and how it might fuel bigoted ideologies. What do you think?

Fuck the (grammar) police

30 Oct

Let me tell you about my finest hour as a grammar warrior. I was sixteen, and my girlfriend at the time and I had been irked for days about a sign that had gone up by a new housing development on our bus route to school. It was one of several extolling the virtues of moving there and how EASY it was, and it read, ‘No agents fee’s,’ and we were apoplectic. One sunny day after the journey home from school, we decided to take action, armed with a black marker pen and Tippex (more on which later). To our delight, it turned out that each letter was stuck on and could PEEL OFF, so we were able to neatly relocate the apostrophe after ‘agents,’ and ALL WAS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD, and I felt a surge of glee every time I rode the bus past it to and from school. I was right and I was invincible.

I was just as unbearable inside school, trailing around in my half-heartedly ragged school uniform with that same marker pen and Tippex pen ready in the front pocket of my backpack for the inevitable SPAG errors on posters. Ironically, I had declined the offer of becoming a prefect on the grounds that I didn’t feel comfortable policing other people’s behaviour; in fact, I did, but not regarding inconsequential things like what type of trousers you were wearing. It hadn’t struck me, yet, that spelling, punctuation, and grammar might not be Of The Utmost Importance.

I am still passionate about spelling and grammar: I love applying them with precision to my own writing; I love the logic and the order. I think a well-punctuated sentence has something beautiful about it, and I like to make sure my writing adheres to the often ridiculous and admittedly arbitrary rules of the (British-) English language. But I have been prompted recently to reconsider the way in which I express that passion – the way in which I have, previously, used it as a means to undercut and alienate others.

Until pretty much yesterday, I was the kind of person who would interrupt someone while they were talking to correct their use of phrases like ‘less things,’ or ‘different than,’ even though their use of these phrases didn’t impede my understanding of their meaning. I have realised that I don’t want to be this person any more: my belligerence has not been about clarification so much as pedantry and privilege.

Yesterday was my turning-point because of something Amanda Palmer tweeted. She was having a conversation with her followers about things that could be blocked on Twitter in the wake of accusations (/observations) of the block on Occupy Wall Street etc. tweets. She retweeted someone saying, ‘I’d add “block topics with poor grammar” but…that likely wouldn’t work,’ adding ‘try! it’s the internet, anything is possible,’ and followed it with ‘Block Topics With Poor Grammar: retweet if you care.’ I read this, and I felt extremely uncomfortable; I imagined a Twitter in which several users found themselves denied access and unable to communicate because their grasp on the finer points of “correct” self-expression was too loose, and it was then that I first realised the blatant ableism and classism of demands for perfect grammar from members of the general public (I have different expectations of advertisers, but that’s another story). I also first realised the extent to which a passion for high-quality SPAG is a privilege in itself, and indicative of yet more privileges.  I don’t want to live in and perpetuate a world in which people’s self-expression is attacked and limited because they put an apostrophe in the wrong place, or spelt something wrong. Twitter in particular is a space in which I do not want to see this attitude prevailing, because, in spite of the likelihood of most people using it being white and middle-class and not disabled, it represents a mode of expression that allows a greater degree of freedom and access than many other spaces. So, I have uttered my last ‘FEWER!’ – I hope so, anyway.

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