Up Front by Emma Hart

22

Giving It the Bish

About ten days ago, I was in a pretty good mood. There was going to be this U.S. election that Hillary Clinton was going to win. A couple of days after that, my best friend was going to visit, and we were going to head out to a nice winery north of Christchurch for lunch.

Things didn’t quite go as planned, obviously. What we got instead was evacuating our house in the middle of the night, because it turns out there are more problems living this close to an estuary than the occasional smell.

And then, when I was fugged with exhaustion and worried that my friend wouldn’t be able to get back to her home in the Wairarapa, Brian Tamaki. And you must understand that I started drinking last Wednesday.

Yes, I hear all the people saying, “Just ignore him. He wants the publicity. Don’t give him the attention.” But when you’re seeing tweets about it from England, I’m pretty sure that ship has well and truly sailed. People have heard his voice. Young queer people have heard his voice. If you ignore him, they haven’t heard yours.

After what I’ve now seen, in the U.S. and the U.K., it doesn’t look to me like not calling this shit out is a viable option.

No, I don’t expect that calling someone racist will stop that person from being racist. That’s not the point. These people have followers. All those people at one point were just starting to listen, and thinking about getting on board. Them, we can reach. And we can take away the support system for bigotry:

What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance. Deny them this reassurance and solidarity. Deny them evidence that “everyone” thinks that way. That is your power here, and it’s a pretty big one

Also, when we speak up, we support the people who suffer very real harms from this kind of speech. If there’s one thing this last week has taught us, surely it’s that no statement is so crushingly stupid that it’s harmless.

And if it is too ridiculous to take seriously, ridicule it. That’s what Jefferson would do. What Tamaki is saying is that his God, whom he claims to love and believe in, occasionally mass-murders some people because of what some other people have done. Let that settle in for a bit. He has tantrums, and kills people. And baby seals. Baby Fucking Seals.

Tell me again why ‘the advancement of religion’ is a charitable purpose?

To exploit other people’s suffering to further your own bigotry and get people to throw more money at your feet is repulsive. I don’t know if he believes what he says, and I absolutely don’t care. I’ve never wanted to go to Heaven: none of my friends will be there. I’m pretty sure he and I both know there is no number of women I could have sex with that would destroy someone’s house.

Fortunately, we can stand up for the things and the people we believe in without taking this feckless shit-gibbon and his leather-conditioned face seriously.

Also, I’m not saying this is something you should do, but apparently people are donating to Rainbow Youth in Brian Tamaki’s name, using the publicly-available email address. That’s a thing that’s happening. Just saying.

One of the things we can do for our young people in these terrible times is to be the change we want them to see. 

39

Wonder Bi

Recently the head writer of the Wonder Woman comic outed her. She’s bi, he said. Duh, I thought. Who didn’t know that?

Lots of people, apparently. The comments on that article are Quite Something. And yes, I know they’re Stuff comments, and people aren’t suddenly going to start not commenting on things they know nothing about. They’re not going to Do a Google.

I've been reading comics ever since I was a child and not once has Wonder Woman ever been hinted as bi-sexual so it's weird that this writer now has the ability to change a 75 year old character's sexual orientation just because it makes sense to him.

I bet the original writers never thought for one moment that years in the future she would be looked on as bisexual.

Now, I’m not a big comics fan. I’m willing to bet some of you are. And these universes get rebooted all the time. Would the creators be horrified? Who knows, right? Well, we can make a pretty educated guess. Here, I’ll let Jonathan Ross explain. It’ll take thirty seconds.

Wonder Woman’s chief creator was William Moulton Marston, who lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne, who was the niece of Margaret Sanger. After William’s death, the two women continued to live together for decades. It’s just possible the concept of bisexual women existing had not escaped Marston’s notice.

But also, how many times does a female character living on a female-only island have to exclaim “Suffering Sappho” before you think something might be up?

On to the other side of the coin. Why wasn’t Wonder Woman more explicitly bisexual? Well, she was created in 1941, when the Hays Code and its companion the Comics Code were saving the youth of the United States from such depravity as women having their feet off the floor while kissing and married couples sharing the same bed.

Topics considered "perverse" could not be discussed or depicted in any way. Such topics included—but were not limited to—homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases.

Anything that’s formally published or broadcast has to get past gate-keepers. Those gate-keepers made sure that, whatever Marston and his successors wanted in terms of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, it wasn’t getting through. (There are existing memos from Marston to illustrators giving astonishingly precise directions as to how the character was to be chained up which have the ring of experience.)

What they were left with is what TV Tropes calls Getting Crap Past the Radar. It’s like dog-whistling for non-arseholes. You put things in in a way that’ll get past the gatekeepers, but some of your audience will still pick up on. Probably the most famous example is the use of Polari in Round the Horne.

And this is why slash-fic is just so gosh-darned important in LGBT history. When it really got going in the 70s, even if a character had been conceived as gay or bi, they could not be overtly portrayed that way. To experience those stories, people had to write them themselves, without the interference of gate-keepers.

Things are different now, though, right? We’re all out of the closet and tiresomely shouting from the rooftops all the time and we’ve all got so PC you can’t move without LGBT characters getting their gay all over you.

Yeah. Not really. I mean, obviously things have improved vastly. But there’s still a way to go. It was great that in Star Trek Beyond, Sulu was shown as raising a daughter in a same-sex relationship. Not so great that the kiss they filmed was cut.

Independence Day: Resurgence had a gay couple. You can tell this because at one point, they hold hands.

Should studios and publishers be doing better? Of course they should. Right now it still feels like a buck each way – the publicity for saying there are going to be LGBT characters, and then they turn out to be presented in such a way that the Million Moms aren’t going to notice.

We want bi characters to be identifiably bi. In the meantime, perhaps there’s some consolation in this: there is nothing a character can do that proves they’re NOT bi. That’s why we’re such dangerous ninjas: you cannot see us coming.

41

I Never Been ta Borstal

by Steven Crawford

I've been working for an artist as their technician for a number of years now. I have welding skills and the ability to work across fabrication engineering and fine arts. My formal qualifications in both are a direct result of my dyslexia. All of my engineering training took place in high male to female ratio workshops, the arts training was the other way around.  

I'm not going to name my artist for commercial reasons. Let's just say her name is 'The Artist'. The most recent job we have on is for a Women's Refuge fund raising exhibition. As we were driving around Onehunga, The Artist said she thought Women's Refuge wasn't the ideal name because women are not the only victims of domestic violence. I was like, "Wait! What? I agree, but changing the paradigm is probably impossible."

That's not something I would normally say to The Artist. She is constantly coming up with dreadfully challenging engineering tasks that don't look mechanically possible on the first draft, but I don't let on that anything is ever impossible. It's just not the way we roll. 

I am a fabrication engineer and an artist. I'm not a sociologist, but my own experiences can shine light onto the 'Kiwi male psyche'. My parents separated at a time when grandparent-type people were offering children of separated parents commiserations by saying things like, "It's a shame you're from a broken home." 

And kids who found themselves in trouble with the law were represented by lawyers sayings things like, "This kid comes from a good family." I didn't go to university to study sociology. I only went for the orientations. I have a great memories of the Auckland University cafe music events where we would drink beer from milkshake containers – those "Tallest drinks in town" milkshake cartons, the ones with the giraffe picture – full of tap beer!  

I developed an interest in alcohol from an early age. Not just because DB and Lion branded their products as the male ideal. My drinking began at the local pedophile's pad. I was introduced to it by one of the girls I went to school with. She said we could smoke cigarettes there and hang out. I had no idea that this was a serial pedophile's lair. I have since forgiven myself for this oversight. It was like nobody else, including my parents seemed to recognise the problem either. I 'celebrated' my 13th birthday in that house of horror. 

He was unlike the other pedophile that had groomed me for child abuse earlier in my life, and had been a trusted friend of the family and at times legal guardian (a Centrepoint style criminal). This weirdo who I made myself available to without any parental assistance was an absolute monster, in hindsight.  

Off I went on a teenage alcoholic trajectory, which led to a bit of violence. I wasn't particularly interested in fighting, but I was a problematic drunk at times, and I had a tendency to show up at dangerous parties.  

My first real serious bashing had nothing to do with my drinking. Four of my former acquaintances decided to round on me. They arrived in the middle of the night at a place I was staying, to smash a few windows, punch and kick me to the floor and leave me with a concussion after smashing a bottle of beer on my head.  

I've never had the stomach for that kind of violence, but the drinking just kept me from escaping the sordid, shitty social circles I was being sucked into.

I was at a party where violence was happening outside, then suddenly I was being dragged by my hair onto a porch  I suddenly realised was an actual mini arena. I managed to use wrestling moves like the scissors hold and a headlock to restrain my opponent. This wasn't enough for some of the spectators. They wanted to see blood.

At one stage during this nightmare, I heard someone telling me to "Go now, get out of here!" I escaped, I ran up the road dived into some bushes and listened to footsteps running up the road looking for me. That's fight or flight, which I know! It's the corner-stone creator of the expensive-to-treat, post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the watered-down, less serious, boys-will-be-boys "Young men get themselves into fights" dismissal statements persist, without considering that the majority of young men are not inherently violent human beings. They are just expected to be, for fucked-up cultural reasons. The main reason I went to drinking parties is fundamentally for much the same reasons that birds sing. 

This kind of mental injury shit happened in tandem with also having some good adult mentors and positive interests and activities such as non-competitive sailing and art. I was involved in Greenpeace and I went to a progressive alternative school which promoted democratic participation. That's probably why I've never been jailed and I'm not dead. Healthy mentors were available and supportive of me, the best they could. 

But still, a particularly violent event well and truly lifted me out of adolescence, when I had just turned twenty. It very nearly woke me up to the fact that I was in need of some kind of professional psychological help. Scratch that, it was obvious enough that I needed some sort of respite, which I was buggered if I knew how to go about applying for.

It was when one of my friends decided to commit suicide by lying on a rural road, in the middle of a particularly dark night. A car ran over the top of him, and because the driver had been drinking, they carried on down the road without stopping. What I witnessed as I stood there with a torch was profound. His brain was knocked out of his head. I was gazumped. I had been living with the fantasy that one day I was going to kill myself, and all my problems would dissolve. Then this eighteen year-old went and did it first, which certainly gave me something to cry about. And showed how spectacularly final death really is. The dubious qualities of self-awareness switched on in high resolution.   

The pedophile experiences were buried deeply below all this other drama. It wasn't until I made it into my mid to late twenties that I began to realise they were the main drivers of my drinking problems.

I was at a community health clinic answering a questionaire, and one of the questions, "Have you ever been sexually abused?" set me off on an out of body experience. I didn't know what to do. I was caught off guard, so I said yes! But I wouldn't be doing anything about it for the time being. I had to first address the alcohol problem, then fortunately  the mental health profession began catch up.

A question I was asked in the early days after making a disclosure was, "Do you have any interest sexual in children yourself?" That's one the myths – the belief that male child abuse turns the victims into weird freaks – that made me reluctant to disclose earlier. The bar to becoming a trauma counsellor was set pretty low then, and it's not raised particularly high since. I'd put my money on the clinical psychologists. Especially the new generations. These admirable people do their homework. 

It's different for average men recovering from trauma than it is for women. That's not because our brains are fundamentally different. It's a cultural thing. Gender politics gets into the mix. And there are no easy ways to unpack that.  

Violence isn't only physical; it's also psychological. In order to get an ACC sensitive claim, you need to have a mental injury, not just a physical one. There isn't any evidence that I'm aware of to say that men and boys are any more, or any less, mentally robust than women and girls.  

Recovering from the consequences of violence requires comprehensive community support. But sometimes it feels like the community is at war. This for me is an echo of my "broken home". That's my own problem to deal with. I am aware that the feminist movement fought for equality. We all benefit from that. I know the women's movement set up the women's refuge, and rape crisis. None of that answers the problem of general ignorance about male victimisation.

I exposed some difficult personal history, you might say intimate details about myself, in an attempt to start a new conversation. I wrote this essay because I'm sick and tired of seeing male victims of violence marginalised in public discourse.  

Before anyone says "diddums", this isn't the 1970s anymore. In this essay, I'm not particularly interested in gender politics per se . I'm identifying a public health problem that needs to be addressed. It's not in the best interests of anyone to have men wandering around alone and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We need to create environments that facilitate disclosure. I am supporting that work here.

20

Our House

This is a house in Russell Square, Timaru. My family lived in the upstairs flat when I was four and five. I am terrified of this house.

I went back to it once, when I was sixteen. I’d been up that end of town because I had a hospital appointment, and it was either wander around aimlessly or go back to school. I was sixteen and kind of self-absorbed, so I saw no problem with going through the gate and looking around the outside. I went around the back to pick out my bedroom window – it had stained glass along the edges. Then I left, and never told anyone I’d been there.

That rickety wooden staircase up the outside, sometimes I wonder if it’s the reason I’m scared of heights. I wasn’t when I was little, I can remember that. Now, stairs with no risers are the absolute worst. I’m not scared of falling, it’s not that logical. I’m scared of being up high.

Maybe it’s because, when I was four, I saw my dad beat one of my brothers down those stairs.

A long time after I left home for uni, one of my brothers bought a house nearby. Sitting on their porch, you could see the roof of the Russell Square house in the not-enough distance. It cast a shadow on my heart.

We didn’t live there for very long, but I have a few memories. I remember the woman from downstairs coming up in floods of tears when Elvis died. I remember the ice-cream cake I got for my fifth birthday. I didn’t even know ice-cream cake was a thing. I remember our iron exploding. I remember I’d taken all the cushions off the couch and I was doing forward rolls on them when the police came to take me away. My mum was in the car downstairs, her face all over bruises.

There are no feelings with those memories, just dark holes where feelings should be. But I am terrified of that house.

Earlier this year, the process of preparing to have new carpet laid led to me realising, for the first time, that my father killed himself. Nobody told me at the time, which was probably the right thing to not do.

There has been a photograph of my father on my desk since Fathers’ Day. I went looking, because I didn’t know if I had one. He’s sitting in the sea, holding me upright in the water. He’s looking at me, with adoration. I’m looking at Mum, who is holding the camera. There are no feelings there, either.

My father was treated, unsuccessfully, for his alcohol addiction several times. He was never, so far as I know, treated for his violence, his abusiveness, the sense of entitlement that underlay it all. I wish he had got help. I wish the people who enabled him had actually helped him. I wish people asked, “Why did your father do that? How could he do that?” and not “Why didn’t your mother leave sooner? How could she put you through that?”

The new family violence initiatives are a good start. I hope they come with a change of culture. There’s not much point, for instance, in issuing more protections orders, and having more people able to ask for them, if they’re not going to be enforced. To prevent and heal the damage caused by domestic abuse requires funding to sectors who’ve lost it: counselling, community organisations, refuges. Victims need to be able to afford to leave abusers, and have somewhere to live when they do. It’s good that someone can have specific domestic violence charges on their record, but that doesn’t keep their future partners safe. The only way to do that is for the perpetrators to change.

And they should want to. My father adored me. I never loved him. I can never forgive him. It is forty years later, and I am still terrified of a house.

44

I Swear, It's True

There is a persistent myth among the kind of people I desperately try to avoid that swearing is a sign of low intelligence. Frequent swearing shows a lack of imagination and vocabulary.

Fuck that noise.

Research shows what people I would choose to hang out with have always known: swearing correlates with both vocabulary and intelligence. The more words you know, the more swears you know. Profanity plays on the edges of language, it colours outside the lines. The areas that allow for the most swearing allow for the most creative play with language. Being ‘allowed’ to swear is an indication of freedom: you’re not at work (mostly) or at school or in church. I understand that being around swearing makes some people feel genuinely uncomfortable. For others, it’s a sign of that very comfort, our ability to relax and be ourselves. We’re not swearing to be hard, or to try to impress people by how cool we are. No, honestly. This is us.

Yesterday, in the interests of science, I asked people to tell me their favourite swears. And boy was there creative language play all up the walls.

The words I got were all nouns or noun phrases. They weren’t things you might exclaim when accidentally clicking on an Internet Explorer icon or treading in a cat-present. They were things you’d call people, as insults.

To balance that, however, they weren’t all that transgressive or obscene. What many of them had in common was the combination of a sexual pejorative and something else completely unrelated. For instance:

Fuck-knuckle (this is my preferred spelling, but I will accept fuckknuckle and fucknuckle)

Douche-canoe

Fuck trumpet

Fuckspackle

Knobweasel

And my personal favourite, cockwomble.

The other thing these words share is that, like our old friend twatcock, they’re enormous fun to say. Go on, say cockwomble. Out loud. Now. Doesn’t it have absolutely delicious mouth-feel?

Cockwomble also has a lovely British feeling about it, which the best swearing does, a certain Tuckeresque appeal. British English just seems better at insulting people. Remember this?

 

(I had not realised that I actually stole “shit-gibbon”, though I think the addition of “feckless” improved it.)

And one, used for the same person but from a different source, which a couple of people mentioned:

Hoofwanking bunglecunt. Say it. Buy it. It’s amazing. Bungle didn’t even have hooves. The appeal is nothing to do with the semantics, it’s about the roll of those vowels, the chewiness of those consonants. The bite of the Naughty Words is softened by the silliness of their accompaniment, but also, their originality makes them much more insulting. Think about it for a moment. What would you rather be called, a cunt, or a cock-punching thunder cunt?

Okay, no, don’t, that doesn’t prove my point at all. Fuck.

And yeah, most of the time, we’re just going to come out with the old classics like ‘fuck’. I like to liven things up with a bit of tmesis, but even when I do that it’s normally “Jesus fucking Christ” possibly “on a bike” or “in a shit-hole”. But the glorious language that’s come out of my informal survey has brought home to me the main point in all this.

It’s not the swearing, it’s how we’re swearing. Front-bottoming arse-badger.