Monday, 8 December 2008

On Ways Not To Report Murders

Yesterday, I mentioned Kelly Telesford (and misspelled her name, apologies). I was going to write a bit more, but felt that firstly, it wasn't directly on-topic, and secondly, that she deserves her own post.

I am pretty behind the curve on this one - her case has already been covered by many women more qualified and articulate than me.

However, this is, sort of, my point. These are all bloggers who have a particular knowledge of transgender issues, and care about them. I have heard virtually nothing in the mainstream media, besides occasional mentions on the BBC. Shanniel Hyatt was acquitted in August this year, and Kelly has now been dead for a year – a year in which her sister and mother have gone through hell, and a lot of us have shivered in the chill of prejudice coming from the attitudes surrounding this case.

You know how this guy, Shanniel Hyatt, was acquitted? The court found that she strangled herself. Queen Emily lays out the evidence clearly and concisely:

“His successful defense which "proved" he didn't kill Kellie Telesford was:
    1. We had consensual kinky sex. And she might have died from that.
    2. Except she was alive when I left her and robbed her.
    3. Also, she might have done it to herself,
    4. And then covered herself with a blanket.
    5. Also, I had kinky sex with her but didn't discover she was trans til after she was dead and the police told me (those "deceiving" trans women.)

You see, trans women have MAGIC POWERS. We can kill ourselves with scarves with partial DNA matches of the suspect. Who was placed at the scene by CCTV and stole her phone and stuff. But, like, totally didn't strangle her, even though the doctor said there was no evidence of kinky sex gone wrong.”

You see, when gender comes into a case, as it does whenever and only when a non-cis-male is involved in some shape or form, this usually means that sex was involved. Because, of course, anyone who identifies outside the heteronorm, is doing so purely on the basis of what they do in bed. Which is kinky, obv. And when sex comes into the picture, it has a habit of obscuring everything else, particularly when that ‘something else’ is evidence of bigotry and hatred. Which means, QED, that Kelly Telesford killed herself. Personally, I favour Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation (i.e. that she was killed by the person with whom she spent the night with, and who was proved to have stolen her things and was caught on CCTV leaving her apartment, leaving his DNA on the blanket covering her dead body). But then what do I know?

The series of post titles on the BBC website for Kelly Telesford are horribly telling. As the details came out, she was routinely dehumanised – not by the killer but the media, who seemed to be determined to do the defence counsel’s work for them:
    News - England - Woman is found strangled in home
    News - England - Strangled woman was murder victim
    News - London - Man denies transgender killing
    News - London - Man cleared of transsexual murder

Notice, how, as Kelly was deemed less ‘woman’ and more ‘object’, the case against the killer seems ever stronger, and acquittal ever more likely? And also, the case in general seems to be deemed less interesting to the public (it becomes ‘London’ news, rather than ‘oh-holy-fuck-yet-another-trans-woman-has-been killed-and-we-still-haven’t-got-the-balls-to-call-out-transphobia-and-misogyny-as-loudly-as-possible’ news?

This is a case where racism, sexism, transphobia and also homophobia are linked so inextricably that it seems pointless to call attention to the interconnectedness of ‘isms’, and yet it has never been so vital. A woman died, and her killer walked free. The oldest story in the book, and yet few seem to realise yet that until we are all free from oppression, none of us are. And the people most likely to suffer in this hierarchy are the ones least able to defend themselves and obtain justice.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

On "Unfair" Dismissal

Some time ago, I read a story in the Mail (relax - it was on a pub table, and I only read it to practice rational argument whilst angry), about a man who had been fired from Relate, for refusing to give gay couples psychosexual counselling on account of his Christian faith.

I didn't really think I'd hear anything more about it. I did have a conversation with J in the pub, about whether we'd actually want someone to be forced to advise us about our sex life when they felt everything they were recommending was a sin, especially considered that J is mortally shy about anything to do with 'down there', and would rather not discuss it with anyone, thank-you-very-much. Basically, if a couple is going to counselling, they are potentially vulnerable and need to be able to trust the counsellor and feel comfortable with them in order to work out their own problems. This is, obviously, not going to happen if the person who is supposed to be helping you through relationship troubles believes that the whole relationship is wrong. And believe me, we can tell when people disapprove.

However, we now, happily, have laws in the UK, stating that it is illegal to deny people goods or services on the basis of sexual orientation (gender identity is not mentioned, but I suspect and hope would be covered under laws against gender discrimination). So this would indeed seem to be an open/shut case. Relate have worked with gay couples at least since this counsellow joined, so it is not comparable to the case of Lillian Ladele, a registrar who was found to be wrongfully dismissed for refusing to conduct civil partnerships. It was found that she took the job before civil partnerships had been allowed by law, and so when these were introduced, she was required to perform ceremonies she would not have consented to perform. The was found to have been wrongfully dismissed, so a precedent is set (although this case is currently under appeal, and will hopefully be overturned).

Gary McFarlane had previously worked with gay couples, but it was only after having received psychosexual training, and beginning to work with couples within that context that the problems arose. This seems to me to be the main issue: if one counsels an adult relationship, one may take for granted that, 99% of the time, a part of that relationship is sexual, and helping the relationship is "endorsing that lifestyle", as Mr McFarlane put it. So why is it only the sexual counselling part that he has problems with? This isn't a moral decision, made because he cannot in all conscience encourage homosexuality. He is happy to perform one part of his duties, but not another, because, eww, he will have to talk to two men or two women about shagging.

I don't want someone who has a fundamental problem with my relationship advising me on how to save it. Neither do I want to be denied the chance to save it because of who the relationship is with. And neither do I want someone to be forced to do something against their conscience, even if I find their beliefs abhorrent. I generally believe that compromises can be found, whereby someone can receive training on how to deal with people they may not agree with, or another person take certain cases.

However, all this sets a dangerous precedent. If someone can claim exemption from part of their job for religious grounds, then this can theoretically apply to anything, and renders completely pointless any anti-discrimination policy. What happens with small businesses with no employees that feel capable of serving gay people? Already, one Christian policeman has been fired for sending emails to his colleagues with homophobic Bible verses, after apparently being "bombarded" with posters advertising Gay History Month. If he cannot even cope with posters advertising the fact that gay people exist, then how on earth is he supposed to be able to protect gay, trans, or gender-variant members of the public from hate crimes? And yet precendent has now been set for him to claim wrongful dismissal. I am very hopeful that the courts will find this a clear case of harassment against his colleagues, but sadly, I do not and cannot have faith in the justice system. After all, there is no such precedent for justice for Kellie Telesford.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

On Pirates and Harmless Swearing

So here I am, dipping my toe into the great blogpool. My very first post in a great wide world full of interesting people writing fascinating posts and articles. Out there somwhere, people make livings out of this, avid followers hanging on their every word (I know - I am one of these), and putting together great communities, full of supportive and positive people, sharing ideas, art, theory, knowledge, and lolz. There are also people whose sole purpose in life seems to be attacking and hurting people who dare to challenge their right to do and say and attack whatever or whomever they wish, which sucks, but I suppose is the price of the Internet. We will fight them in the tubes! With logic, reason, and never being silenced about the stuff that really matters.

I had planned a pirate post. I spent all morning talking it up a storm with J, getting out my Mammoth Book of Pirates, to regale this echo chamber serving as a diary with stories of Granuaile, the female Irish pirate who was killed in Rockfleet Castle in 1603; of Mary Bonney and Anne Read, who were probably not lovers, but were certainly cross-dressing lady pirates, and as such deserve to be remembered with respect and a bit of salacious imagination; the way that pirates created some of the first mutual insurance societies, wherein a pirate would receive payout from his crew in the case of injury or debilitation; the matelot system in Caribbean pirate crews where men would team up in pairs, to live together, fight together, pool their assets and share their lives; and the deeply flawed William Dampier, who circumnavigated the world three times, mapped the winds and the currents, landed in Australia 80 years before Cook, visited the Galapagos 150 years before Darwin, wrote best-selling travel books, and coined terms such as 'sub-species'.

From pirates, I would segue seamlessly into a quick explanation of the name of this fine vessel I am sailing in - the Good Ship Priory. The Priory is, of course, that famous clinic, where celebrities go to recover from depression, exhaustion, alcoholism and drug addiction. Good for them. Priories are supposed to be places of rest and serenity, where people can be still inside and get closer to their god. Sadly, I am not a believer, so this aspect is perhaps lost on me - but the idea of a safe space is attractive to all of us, and almost all of us can point to our own 'safe space', even if that space is virtual, mental or private. The Good Ship Priory was also the name of a house in which I used to live, in a seedy but colourful seaside town, with four other queers, plenty of alcohol, some pirate hats, some shockingly bad dancing (mostly on my part), and a blackboard on which inspirational 'overheard' quotes could usually be found. Living in this particular type of sin is, let me tell you, pirate dyke heaven. In the case of Henry Morgan, this is literally true, as he died of "drinking and sitting up late" - we didn't get the memo about this.

From pirate dykes, it is but a short step to Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space (and being kidnapped by the same): my favourite webcomic, which I like to recommend, but can rarely find a way to get into conversation! Hurrah! See, this must be the joy of blogs - talking about whatever you like without interruption.

And finally, my name: (Captain) Shazbat. I have never watched Mork and Mindy, but apparently this is where the term originated. I like it, and it sounds a bit like my name without it being possible to identify me on the interweb, and it means this:
    utterly harmless but effective expletive pinched from the '80s sitcom 'Mork & Mindy'. Can be used by anyone anywhere without incurring wrath and disapproval.

So there it is - my first blog post. I liked it. This could get addictive.