Thursday, February 11, 2016

Being Both Muslim and Gay -- Fabulous Training and Further Reading (1)

A training session I attended yesterday, provided by the LGBT Foundation, was utterly amazing, with the only flaws being, in my opinion, a) that we didn't manage to fit in the whole of the planned agenda in the time allowed and b) there wasn't enough of a range of LGBT* Muslim thought presented.

To have a gay Muslim speak of their very difficult history with their community was invaluable. To see that man also have so much pride and belief in Islam and understand that he was striving to be 'a GOOD Muslim' was truly inspirational. I found it invaluable to hear his views on what that, on a very personal level, entails. I feel both honoured and better-educated as a result of witnessing this man's courage and faith.

I learnt a heck of a lot about Islam yesterday. I was also shown that the religion is not the community, and vice versa, which was utterly revalational for me. I learnt that 'bad' Muslims are as commonplace as 'bad' Christians and 'bad' Pagans and that the same can be said for 'Good' people too. I also learnt how much more vulnerable non-heterosexuals are within Muslim communities. They are in a position very similar to that experienced by homosexual men whilst being homosexual was still illegal in Britain - open to abuse and blackmail, and subject to ostracism and becoming hoimeless, shamed and disgraced if 'outed' or if they decide to 'come out'.

How I interact with Mulsim people, both straight and otherwise, cannot help but be changed by the training received yesterday, for the better. Understanding others is apparently one of the prime reasons for our existence, according to Islam, and that principle was certainly at play yesterday.

In the wake of this fabulous training I went to a book store to browse, and (especially as a Pagan) find it suspiciously 'coincidental that I came across a book on exactly the topic I had just received some basic training in. As a result, I am currently reading 'Homosexuality in Islam' by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle. I recommend this text to anyone who was inspired to learn more following the training.

Now though, the thunder of hobby-horse hooves and the battle-cries of a Strong Womyn about to partake in a Rant are heard . . .

My great sadness about this book is that I see the author as ignoring 'dispositional bisexuality' because Scott feels it could weaken the arguments for the acceptance of gay, lesbian and Trans* people amongst Muslims.
I wish I had known yesterday to ask the speakers how they feel about 'dispositional bisexuality' in relation to Islam. I had not heard that term applied to 'my sort' until today, though, through my reading.
When I see the word 'Bisexual' I automatically think 'Dispositional Bisexual' and I see now why some lesbian and gay people see Bisexuals as a 'threat to our cause', because (apparently) they see 'Behavioural Bisexual' - 'Non-gay' people who have same-sex encounters 'because it's on offer' and straight sex is not so easy to access at the time.
It hurts me to have to accept that the author of 'Homosexuality in Islam' feels addressing Bisexuality is outside their remit. They say that to do so could weaken their arguments for acceptance because Dispositional Bisexuality is (apparently) not referred to in the Qur'an, only the lewdness of the Tribe of Lot, which they purport included Behavioural Bisexuals. It reads as if the author is in denial of the existence / veracity of the Dispositional Bisexual. Worsse yet, the female Bisexual (Dispositional or Behavioural) isn't even mentioned in passing.
I understand that the author has tried to present the best case possible for tolerance of gay, lesbian and Trans* people in Muslim communities. I am also now aware how invisible my Bisexual Muslim peers must feel.
Just in case anyone has any doubts, people who have sex with both/all genders BECAUSE IT IS WHO AND HOW WE ARE, not some life choice we have made EXIST.
I find great sadness in the fact that some homosexual and Trans* people, who have gained some ground in the battle to prove they are acting on their nature, not against Nature (or God) rather than being homosexual by choice, cannot see that Bisexuality is not necessarily a 'Choice' either. I am a Dispositional Bisexual and this has been my rant for the week.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A History of Abuse and Becoming a Hero

I just realised something -- The human members of The Avengers each have a history of abuse in their background.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) was neglected by both of his parents and abused by his alcoholic father.

Steve Rogers (Captain America) was bullied by his peers as a child, as well as suffering severe ill health and experiencing child poverty.

Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) was raised within the ultra-abusive setting of the Red Room. In some variants of her backstory they even sterilised her during her childhood.

Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and his brother were put into the child services system. It was so bad for them that they ran away and joined a carnival show.

Bruce Banner (Hulk) was persistently attacked and at times imprisoned and experimented on because of 'The Other Guy'.

The only Avenger not subjected to mental or physical abuse and mistreatment is Thor. He's a much-loved Prince, but he has terrible social and personal failings. His brother is so abused, both physically and emotionally, that his psyche has been dreadfully damaged by his experiences.

I don't know what to think about this. It feels like 'comic trope', but it also has some other things going on. . . .

Thoughts anyone?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pondering the Universe as I know it

I've been through three lots of Trans* Awareness Training now. The audiences for these were, respectively: professionals, volunteers and service users. I've learnt a lot, and I have started getting my head around the issues and the behaviours and language expected of me in each of those roles.

It's been a quite revelatory experience for me, mostly because a change of self-perception has occurred alongside all of this learning. It's going to be complex to try and explain here, mostly because I suspect people will say my experiences are new and related to the teaching I've been given. I do want to assert most strongly though that my recent 'Eureka's' have come along as part of a very long-term evolution of self and self-perception.

A few weeks ago I had a very male, quite challenging, persona appear as a part of my psyche.  He declared his name, told me he was gay and generally made a pest of himself. He's younger and much more assertive than I usually am and has made it clear he doesn't like our body because it doesn't match his perception of himself.

It's taken me a while to get used to this persona. He's quite a bit 'not me'. When I take a longer view of myself, though, he starts to make sense. . .

I have experienced male personas a lot in the past. Generally they come and go, but a couple have stuck around long-term and pop up when something relevant to them is going on. I have a few female personas that chip in from time to time too, on top of my 'residing' persona. I want to stress, at this point, that this is not a mental illness -- the personas are aspects of the whole person that I am and are completely aware of one another.

Historically, too, as I have said to my partners at times, some days the best way I can describe myself is "I've got a cock on today". By this, I mean that I am both experiencing a 'phantom cock' and am generally in a headspace that is not female or feminine in any way. My drives, tastes and moods are other than I usually experience as a woman.

So, not too surprised to meet this guy in my head, except he's quite rude to me!

Contemplating this latest development at the same time as learning new words and new definitions of the gender identities people manifest, I have now come to the conclusion that I am 'genderfluid', and have been for a very long time.

I'm also having to deal with my 'new*' persona's body dysphoria. It'\s nothing new to me not liking my own body -- I've struggled with my weight all my life -- but wanting to change it or feeling serious distaste for it has never been a place I've been at. It's quite perturbing suddenly realising that inside of me is a persona who has serious issues with our presentation, shape and gender, and he's not afraid of moaning about it!

I also have a feeling of 'obligation' to this persona, which is another new development. I feel that he needs to be taken into consideration as I live my life, unlike other personas who have expressed themselves previously.

My partner hasn't expressed too much surprise at all of this, which has astounded me, because I am struggling to get my head round it and thought she would too! To my great surprise, she's actually accepted the persona and told him to shut the f*ck up and stop being a bitch to me! I have a truly wonderful, amazing and talented partner!

So, to update my 'profile', I now consider myself a genderfluid, humanosexual ( / bisexual / pansexual), panromantic polyamorous person. I present as female most of the time, but some days I am not travelling through my life with a female's head, heart or sensibilities.

Too, I now have a better understanding of my anger management issues, my mood swings, my inclination to depression, my relationship with my body and the long-standing sense of not knowing who I am or what I am here for. Win!

*new  --  I don't think this persona is 'new', so much as he has chosen now to express himself very strongly.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Activism -- What it is and how to do it

Here are the things I learnt about activism, from Monica Pearl, this week:

1. Being an activist means WE get to decide what is fair, not government or businesses, or even 'the majority'. If you know of an unfair situation and are passionate about it, give activism a go.

2. Be clear that activism is not polite. You don't ask, you COMPLAIN, you DEMAND, you push until something CHANGES.

At the same time, understand that sometimes you will need to take action KNOWING that you will lose. It's not always about winning, it's most often about raising awareness and attracting support for your campaign through PUBLICITY. Make noise, generate a clamour!

3. There are a few ways to organise yourselves. DON"T rely on consensus. Having a core team is necessary, but also have sub cores for dealing with particular areas of your activism. Sanction smaller groups to take do certain things. For example, you might create a team for deciding how to harass businesses, who do that research and make those decisions, and then can call everyone in on their campaign when needed. For example 'phone blocking' a business -- calling in incessantly, thereby preventing them from doing business. Trusting the other core sub teams is essential - if they ask you to do something, do it.

I am really on-board with the 'don't rely on consensus' thing. I've done a lot of work in groups and democracy is a great theory, but it seriously hinders 'getting things done'. One of the other women present said that when she had been an activist everything was done on consensus and it did work for them, though. I guess a lot depends on the group and on the cause.

4. The steps in taking action are:

  • Plan - HOW can you publicise your cause and get changes made?
  • Action - WHAT are you going to do (this time)? What pressure can youi bring to bear, and on whom? Often the aim is to disrupt 'business as usual'.
  • Voices - WHO can be pulled in to participate in the action and how do you arrange things so everyone knows what to do, WHEN and WHERE?

5. Make REALISTIC demands. Go for small but achievable goals. FORCE the issue.

6. Be strategic and have allies. Work with other groups who have similar aims, objectives or interests. They can come support your protests and you can help swell the numbers at theirs. cross-pollination of groups is good.

I think this is a really important 'pointer'. I never would have come up with this. It makes huge sense now.

7. One example that came up in discussion - How would you address that a company has on 23% women and their 'five year goal' is to raise that to 30%?

Obviously you're going to go for EMBARASSING the company and should demand that the company realise their plans for change aren't ambitious enough. You're going to demand that they make more significant change over a shorter time period.

One approach you could take is phone blocking the company (see below) until they improve their policy in accordance with your demands. It's important to TELL them what you are going to do and why -- no good 'taking hostages' if you don't state your demands. Make sure the story 'breaks' too.

It occurs to me that you might need to provide help or advice to them on HOW to meet your demands, too, in an example like this one, where they are at least trying. 

The other, really important, issue with this example was that the 'whistle blower' be protected, as she was an employee who could lose her living if she was implicated by the action. The speaker made it clear that she should not be getting involved herself, but rather call on her activist allies to act.

8. Sometimes you will WILLINGLY get arrested in order to raise the profile on an issue. Have back-up and support systems in these circumstances. It's essential you know WHO has been arrested. Also have a sympathetic solicitor's number on hand, ideally someone with some knowledge of anti-defamation laws as well as a strong background in protest cases.

Being in the 'getting arrested' group isn't for everyone, but it does generate a lot of publicity; that's the aim. If you are not able or comfortable with getting arrested, you don't have to be involved in such actions.

Not every action has to be loud or violent. For example, ActUp held a 'kiss in' to protest for equality for gay people.

9. Communicate. Exploit social media to the full, both for raising the profile of your cause and for helping you organise events and actions.

A more 'old school' way to 'pass the word', and I think perhaps more approiriate if an illegal protest is afoot, is to use a 'phone tree'; you ring five people, they each ring five more, and so on, a bit like chain letters or chain emails.

10. There are barriers to be crossed even within our communities. These are attitudes such as:

  • 'Things are so much better now'. Yes they are, but it doesn't mean that they can't still be improved. 'Better' acknowledges there were problems, but ignore that it's not completely 'right' yet, nor even FAIR!
  • 'Let's not rock the boat'. This speaks of accepting unfair treatment, mostly because we are afraid of having our previous gains taken off us. It forgets that what we have gained is our right, not a privilege. 

If you don't protest, it WILL be taken as truth that 'They're fine with us'. This subsumes your agreement.

11. Remember, when you meet a person with a barrier, attack the barrier, not the person.

12. Don't be 'wet' about things. Some groups make the mistake of branding the problem with slogans, but fail to solve it.

So what causes do I care enough about to become an activist? 

  • Fighting 'Binary Thinking'.
  • Body Choices - especially stopping the medical mutilation of intersex children
  • Bullying in  all it's forms, but espoecially bullying in the workplace
  • De-stigmatising Mental Illnesses and stopping unfair dismissals and the like
  • Promoting education about Bisexual, Intersex and Trans* matters

If you share one of these interests and are looking for support leave me a comment and a way of contacting you. I can be messaged on facebook too, where I am present as Katisha Morish (surname accidentally mis-spelled on FB).

If you want 'further reading', look for 'Women, Aids and Activism' in second hand bookstores or second-hand on Amazon (it's out of print atm ).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What is Polyamoury?

I often mention that I am polyamorous. Someone just asked me what that means, so I decided to say here.

This is what polyamoury is for me, there are lots of other versions though.

It means I have learnt by experience that I can be utterly devoted to and in love with not just one person at a time, but several. I am also willing to put in the considerable effort needed to keep more than one partner a time happy and content and in love with me in return, and to give them opportunities to do the same for me.

It also means I am honest with people -- sometimes painfully so -- and expect them to be brave and truthful and willing to try new things. For me, 'good' polyamoury requires that everyone you are having a relationship with knows about everyone else you are having a relationship with. Sometimes they love the people you love too, and that's when it really gets great.

It's not 'cheating' the way I do it, because everyone knows what's happening and has agreed to be involved. Everyone is faithful to the 'tribe of hearts' and supports everyone as best they can, both practically and emotionally.

Having said all that, I am semi-single at the moment and always willing to consider having new people come into my life in a romantic and sexual context.

Monday, March 02, 2015

What We Call Ourselves and Others

A very interesting day today, doing training on Trans* with the LGF (soon to be the LGBTF).

We started with a briefing on the official modes of address** now to be used within the organisation. The point was made that we shouldn't assume anyone's gender, and it was discussed how to handle telephone calls especially, where voice may suggest gender, but can't be taken as at all conclusive. That we should ask which pronoun** someone wants to use was made clear.

Would you understand that question if asked, though? I'd personally prefer to ask you what title you use - Ms, Miss, Mrs or Mr? Would I be getting the right info though? Do these options cover all bases?

The guidance given to LGBTF staff is to either use a person's [self-selected] name, or 'they'.

(A good quick guide to alternative pronouns can be found here).

Another clear message was never to refer to "The Op", as there are a range of operations trans persons may go through, and not all trans persons "go for the op". Some trans people either don't want to or cannot, due to various health or social issues. Other rude, invasive, irrelevant or prurient questions were also outlined as No-Nos.

We discussed what 'Trans*-inclusivity' means to the organisation. Intersex was mentioned and a reasonable explanation given as to why the organisation has opted to include intersex people within the term 'Trans*'.

All non-binary people are now going to be welcome into any of the LG(BT)F's gendered groups, though there will necessarily be some exceptions, mostly depending on the specific focus of some groups.

It was made very clear as the training progressed that we will endeavour not to promise Trans-inclusion for groups, events or services if we can't deliver them, because to do so is one of the quickest ways to upset and alienate Trans* users. If we can't provide a Trans* aspect somewhere we need just to say so.

My personal feeling is that should be true of the 'B' in LGBT, too.

The Medical and Social aspects of transitioning were explained. The medical process is fairly straight forward, but the culture shock involved in transitioning can be enormous; for example, it was explained how trans women are often horrified to discover they are less heard and less valued in their new gender identity. Likewise, many trans men find it hard to deal with expectations of self-confidence and assertiveness, often having been bullied in the past.

It was also mentioned how capacity for providing treatment is not sufficient to deal with current and future demand. This is set to become a huge challenge, as already waiting lists are frequently twice as long as the target time of 8 months.

The legalities of transitioning and of being Trans* were outlined. One of the earliest required steps to transitioning is changing your name, and apparently twelve documents evidencing your name change are required before you can proceed further along the route to obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (if indeed you want one). Especially noteworthy is the fact that you DO NOT have to tell an employer about having changed identity or having lived under another name in the past, though there could be complications associated with providing references. The online system for obtaining a DBS check already accomodates those who have, or are in the process of, transitioning.

There was loads more too, but I think this gives a good flavour of what we were taught today. The presenters were excellent and were able to speak directly from personal experience. The training was intensive and left me, personally, with lots to contemplate.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Working within my Community

Regular readers will be aware that I am Bisexual. I've started volunteering at Manchester's Lesbian and Gay Federation. I am loving it.

I have never been as involved in 'gay life' and 'the scene' before and it is quite a novelty to me as a result. There's so much going on, too!

First weekend in March there is 'Sugar and Spice', a celebration of International Women's Day. I plan to be there, with bells on (possibly quite literally).

Earlier this week I attended 'Stepping Stones' and learnt a lot as part of Gay History Month.
Bisexual history can be found here.

I also gave thought this week to who amongst the lesbian and female bisexual icons might have inspired me. It took me a while to come up with some names, but here's my list:

  • Josephine Baker, a fabulous dancer from our earlier history
  • Frida Kahlo, a talented Mexican artist whose works I am fascinated by, who was married to Diego Rivera, but numbered Josephine Baker amongst her female lovers
  • Jodie Foster, a very talented actress
  • Alice Walker, author of 'The Color Purple'
  • Sarah Waters, author of 'Tipping the Velvet', 'Fingersmith' and a number of other fabulous period novels
  • Jessie Blackwood, author of 'Per Ardua', 'Life Begins at Forty' and more; also my Best Friend!
  • Margarethe Cammermeyer, the highest ranking US military official to come out while in the service and campaigner for gay rights in the military
  • Angeline Jolie, actress and celebrity and very beautiful woman