Fiction and identity politics

Ooh look! A lesbian on the telly!

She’s in a crime drama, so her sexuality does not come out until the end, when she is revealed as the murderer. She is a psychotherapist, a good source for horror: the touchy-feely carer who validates her teenage client’s feeling that she is worthless, so inciting her to commit suicide, after taking her to bed. Empathy as a way of controlling others: what should be safe is made scary. This is in DCI Banks- To burn in every drop of blood.

I like the way she is so powerful. I don’t need her to be the good character. Is her sexuality used to enhance her repellency? She is suspected only by accident: she appears normal, at first, if controlling.

I like Maxine in Wentworth Prison– she’s trans, warm hearted, strong, one of the good characters. She has a tough time at first but some of the other Good people accept her. It’s innocent fun for me.

On cultural appropriation, Ottomaddox makes a good distinction commenting on Lionel Shriver‘s speech. Shriver speaks out for the freedom of the novelist to enter other people’s minds, including those of other genders or races, saying that restricting her characters to German-heritage middle-aged women in their fifties from North Carolina reduces her creativity. Ottomaddox says there’s a moral duty to display sensitivity when using elements sacred to the oppressed cultures of native Americans or Aboriginal Australians, which have been all but wiped out by the colonisers, but eating sushi is cross-pollination and so acceptable.

Teaching yoga brings to people’s minds the strengths of other cultures. It is generally done respectfully. Yoga teachers go to India to learn their trade. Britain has oppressed India in the past, but now India shows its power.

What would a story of a trans child humiliated and driven to suicide say? I could believe such a story. It certainly happens. Would it instill sympathy with the trans child, or with the bullies? Would it encourage some readers to condemn the parents for permitting a transition? If it did, would that be a reason to deprecate it?

Shriver also says that dramas are criticised for lack of diversity. Her novel was criticised for being straight and white. She calls putting gay characters in drama “tokenism”- it is mere fashion. I like visibility of trans characters. It humanises us.

I am talking myself round to acceptance of any kind of story, any portrayal. If I try to imagine one I would dislike: contemptible Black people in Gone with the Wind? Is the character believeable? Is the work simply outdated, not telling truth as we see it now? I would not trust Tim LaHaye to write a realistic gay character.

I think there is a possibility that a portrayal of a minority character will be oppressive. I don’t think the mere fact that a powerful person is portraying a person under constraint is oppressive. Much of the interest of that character is how they escape constraint, or try to, or fail to.

The ideal, though, follows Martin Luther King’s words to Nichelle Nichols: “You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.”

Unsatisfactory words

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b3/Blue_Trefoil_Knot.png/451px-Blue_Trefoil_Knot.pngI wrote the word “sinister”, then looked at it dubiously.

I hate its derivation. I am left handed, and resent the word “dexterous” as well. Harmful, dishonest, corrupt, evil, portending disaster, from the Latin for left hand, against clever, having good physical coordination, from the Latin for right? Seriously? What of those common English words “gauche” and “adroit”? My right hand is far better co-ordinated than the left hands of most right handed people. My left hand is as well co-ordinated, but for the way society is ordered for right handers- apart from my keyboard, where left fingers strike far more often than right. That was originally to slow typing down, so that the type-bars did not get stuck together by the ribbon.

And then I learn that Old English left or lyft meant “weak or useless”!!

(sounds of muffled screaming)

My left breast is very slightly larger than my right. This is the reverse of the normal problem, and on an otherwise lovely sweater where I find it particularly noticeable, I wonder if that asymmetrical button detail causes that. Um. A button detail to emphasise small left breasts. Otherwise, I love it. It is thick and warm for cold winter nights, its wild entwining cables are gorgeous, and its powder-blue colour sings to me. Then I put it on-

Everywhere, the Right-handed world pursues me!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/04/TrefoilKnot_01.svg/500px-TrefoilKnot_01.svg.pngRoget is unhelpful. It proposes foreboding, misfortune, evil, grim, weird, ominous, none of which really convey quite the same thing about the last Pope which I wished to convey; and left and gauche. “Sinister” is simply the best word. It is not like sexist language. When “police person” met with ridicule, many minds went productively to work, and now “police officer” is so natural that it is no longer “politically correct”, just normal.

I would not use “gauche”, there are many words for the prejudiced idea which have no prejudice: clumsy, for example.

This is different from reclaiming words. “Sissy”- what is wrong with that? The word “tranny” has been used to convey hatred and contempt, but if I use it and deem it free of bad connotations, then it loses its power for me; but that is only part of the process of overcoming internalised transphobia, and the word may still hurt someone who has not completed that process. “Tranny” is an offensive (or not) word for person of transness (Um. Respectful ways of referring to one marginalised group do not always translate to another.) “Sinister” is an ordinary, useful word, only objectionable for its derivation.

“Deft” for adroit or dextrous also has the advantage of being English rather than French or Latin, though Middle English. After the Norman invasion and the use of Latin in the Universities, we often have three synonyms: English simple, though sometimes seen as unrefined, French posher, Latin poshest. Use of unaffected words is winsome, though The Anglish Moot, while great fun, sometimes takes it a bit too far: wort-lore, for example.

Comment! I am dying for comments. Propose a synonym for sinister, or a concept with English French and Latin synonyms, or argue with me, or tell me I am wonderful, or abuse cack-handers. Anything!

Acceptance

Once more round the Spiral…

Jesus said, Whoever is not with me is against me. Whoever does not gather with me, scatters. He also said, Whoever is not against you is for you.

These two sayings, taken together, are one of the koans of the Bible: for how can they both be true? The world-view of Holy Willie:

Oh Thou who in the Heavens dost dwell
Who, as it pleases best Thysel’
Sends ane to Heaven and ten to Hell
A’ for Thy Glory

does not fit reality. People do our best under difficult circumstances. There is no obvious line between the Remnant and the Damned, and those who think of themselves as the Remnant generally do harm. They have too much need to Convert others. And there are good unbelievers, and poor believers.

From that, I decided that Morality is addressed to me, and me alone.¬† Compton Mackenzie had a character who read the Bible assiduously to learn her rights and others’ duties. My view was the opposite: I had no right to consider the morality of others’ being or doing, only my own. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

So, this put me on the way to accepting the World as it is. Unfortunately, having little self-respect, I did not do the work of self-acceptance. I had to be other than I am. I had to make a man of myself. I had to be rational, intellectual, thinking things through. Even changing from presenting male to expressing myself female did not let me accept myself, or what I want, or accept what makes me happy. That is the work I do now. That is what I need to do to survive in this world. I am a good person, not for what I do but for who I am, under the shell, under the masks, my authentic self.

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I am so politically correct, that I am a wheen chary of the phrase “her heart’s in the right place” in case anyone is dextrocardiac. Political correctness which is worth anything at all is respect and courtesy.¬†Any infelicity of language¬†can be improved: “fire person”? No, “fire officer”. “Non-sexist language” becomes¬†“inclusive language”, more obviously an improvement. ¬†

 This is excellent practice for a writer, and also for any human being seeking to use language to understand the World. Of course language cannot let us understand the world, but it can take us to those jumping-off points beyond language; and it can continually push the boundaries of understanding.

So, why talk of being “vulnerable”? That sounds frightening and dangerous. Talk instead of being “authentic” or “real”, which¬†sounds liberating and empowering. Talk not of being undefended, but of ceasing to be defensive. I have my defences if needed, but they are needed surprisingly rarely.

Political correctness

Political correctness is said to be common courtesy: don’t be offensive when talking about people; but it is¬†a way of changing the world for the better, so that everyone will be happier.

Of course it is common courtesy. It is wrong to use offensive names for racial groups. It is even useful to give groups of whom I disapprove- say, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints- the name they choose for themselves. (I disapprove of that church because of its scriptures, in one memorable section summarising I Corinthians ch 13, and taking all the poetry out of it.) Their own name is as good as any other title for them. Any name outsiders make up is a mockery, and I dislike mockery unless fear is unavoidable without it. Mockery condemns by arousing feelings rather than by rational thought. I want to be more careful with my condemnation than that, to condemn no more than is clearly justifiable, to see all the good in any person or situation.

Political correctness is more than just common courtesy. It is a way of building acceptance of people as we are, in love, rather than condemning aspects which are unfamiliar or unusual, out of fear. It is a way of achieving acceptance of others and therefore acceptance of ourselves. It is a way towards liberation for everyone.

Some might think political correctness a fertile source of the rules de Tocqueville was thinking of, 

a network of small complicated rules which cover the surface of life and strangle freedom.

But rejecting PC means claiming the freedom to refuse to wake up. The rules there are far more onerous. Embracing PC means claiming the freedom to be yourself.

Offence and oppression

That I find transphobic comments “offensive” is not the objectionable thing about them. The objectionable thing is that they are oppressive.

Offence, after all, is a two way street. A cis-sexual white male can be genuinely offended by¬†a gay person¬†picking him up on his thoughtlessly heteronormative way of expressing himself. If offending someone were the criterion for being objectionable, then the “political correctness” of the gay person is equally objectionable.

However, heteronormative language reinforces the idea of gay people as less than normal, pitiable, different, other. It oppresses us. Oppression is a bad thing. My objection opposes that oppression. This is a good thing. It promotes equality, it promotes freedom for everyone, because “Normal is what everyone else is and you are not“.

Hat tip to Genderbitch, who (to my regret) is taking a rest from blogging at the moment, for this one.

What of the person who says I am in denial, that I am simply a man? That person is ignoring the growing body of evidence that I am not; privileging the hypothesis that I am male, so ignoring other hypotheses; and rejecting my own assertion, after years of denial and self-examination and a deep commitment to Truth, that I am female.¬†I have answered that question for myself. I am female. Another’s assertion that I am male, however passionate or articulate, holds no terrors for me, as it is simply wrong. But remembering how painful I found such assertions in the past, I have a particular hatred for them.