Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bollocks And Bellyaching

This afternoon I saw an article posted by a transsexual sister activist about the failings of the alliance of the Pink Community. The article was very melodramatic, bordering on the hysterical. In fact, I feel it was nothing short of a load of bollocks and bellyaching.

GLB and I components of the Pink Community were labeled "captors" and "oppressors". And the remarks made on Facebook by the same activist as well as some others who agree with her were disappointing and rather disparaging - although she did take some fire for it.

There are too many comments in this thread for me to cover them all, but let me just state from the point of view of a civil rights activist, that to shun our allies and to withdraw from the broader movement is nothing less than folly and a tactical error.

Civil rights issues run on numbers - and as a minority within a minority, we are a little short on those. If there are people who feel there are shortcomings in assistance, commitment or delivery on the part of general GLBTI organizations to the T community (and yes, I know there are), then instead of whining about it and pulling out, "we" (that is, YOU all) should rather get involved in these organizations, and do it yourselves.

Before you judge me as being sarcastic, allow me to point out that I am post-op and I am the director of one GLBTI organization, as well as on the board of another. Somehow, all those GLBI people whom these two groups deal with - and with whom I come in contact, manage to see past my transsexuality, and we get the job done together.

If you want change in the world, you have to become that change.

As for the criticism of the transgender umbrella, the only thing I have to say about that is - live and let live. As we go through our discovery of human gender and sexuality it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no gender binary, just a range of gender expression.

With current research showing that only 5% of human population is exclusively homosexual and another 5% exclusively heterosexual - meaning everybody else is either ambiguous, bisexual or asexual, it has to be asked how anyone can still think that way.

It is easy for those of us who have had the luxury of surgery to sit back and be armchair critics - what about those without the means to pursue surgery? How DARE we criticize them for making peace with their bodies midway through their transition? HOW DARE we act like the very same bigots who make our lives a living hell every chance we get?

When we begin to dip our fingers in bigotry, prejudice and elitism - where do we draw the line?

Look at the bigger picture from the outside for a moment. How many of the feminist community thinks of a transsexual as a "real" woman? Often I encounter feminist women who regard transsexual females as fake, not real women, or a threat to womanhood. And they take pains to exclude us, believe me. What about the cis-gay lesbians who refuse to be associated with trans-lesbians?

There are many, many GLB and I people out there who oppose oppression of the transgender community. (And yes, transgender INCLUDES transsexuals as a group - look it up on wikipedia.)

My brothers and sisters - painting the entire GLBI movement as a failure, as "captors" and "oppressors" is not only bad for us, it's insulting, divisive, counter-productive - and it's a load of bollocks as well.

From the outside, bigots who hate all of us and wish us all dead, regardless of what letter we hang round our necks, are watching one group which they think are scum, discriminating against another group they also call scum. Fighting in a burning house never made sense to me. I hope it no longer makes sense to you.

We should not fall into the same trap of thinking we are somehow better or more special than others. Yes there are flaws in the GLBTI alliance. Fix them - don't make it worse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cardboard Armor & Quicksand

I have little patience for religious fundamentalist bigots who jump up and wave their fingers, condemning me and those like me for who we are - and using flimsy and baseless religious rhetoric as a foundation for their hatred and prejudice. You're running into battle wearing cardboard armor and waving plastic swords! Go back to school and ask for a refund!

Prejudice kills. Don't you know that? Is your religion, whatever that is, fueled by hatred? Or is hatred your religion? It's not mine. Get over yourselves.

I address religious fundamentalists - that doesn't mean any specific religion... but since you bring it up - I'm a little peeved at people who make nasty remarks, thinking they can use religious beliefs as a soap box to stand on, and as a hammer to hit people with.

I'm very well aware that not all people of any particular religion feel the same way about anything, but once again, my comments are not directed at an entire group - just the fundamentalists. You aren't a fundamentalist, are you?

Let me just ask you, since when has hatred ever made sense? Whatever happened to "treat other people how you want to be treated" and "love others as you love yourself"? How about "Judge not, lest ye be judged"? Hypocritical bunch of finger-pointers. I find it laughable and obvious when the rules which they apply to us somehow just don't apply to them.

Be that as it may, too often the religiously intolerant set about destroying other people's self-esteem, dignity and lives by using their own beliefs as a sledge hammer to brutalize and to smash out their foundations - and then of course things start to get a little ugly, because at that point they open up their belief systems to scrutiny and attack - and just as any other religion or belief system, it cannot hold up against an assault of science, logic and reason - which cannot but fail to prove a religion.

I say this because if there was any single religion or belief system in existence which COULD prove itself as a FACT, beyond any doubt, then there would be absolutely no debate or question about the supremacy of that religion, nor any competition from another. And today there are a multitude of not only separate religions in the world, but each religion is itself divided into sects and cults of their own - each claiming to be the ONE true faith, and all others to be false. I think the conclusion here is pretty self-evident.

In this respect, my point would be that not one single religion today can claim with any legitimacy that it is "true", "factual" or "correct" - and truly expect to be taken seriously by a skeptical or questioning mind. Therefore any individual or group using religion as a tool or justification to destroy lives, is attempting to build its house on quicksand, so how can it expect to win any serious debate on such issues?

Of course, the most typical reaction when this is pointed out, or when people being victimized and brutalized by religious zealots stand up against their attackers - is that the persecutors suddenly paint themselves as the victims in astonishing and breathtaking displays of victim-blaming.

I respect people's beliefs, whatever they may be. The way I see it, what they believe is their business, not mine - the trouble is that too often they make it their business to know what it is I believe, or to try and force me believe what they believe. How often do we see the anti-equality pundits chipping away at democratic underpinnings, using irrational fear of diversity and beliefs differing from theirs as a "threat" to civilization, democratic values, and their "way of life"?

Perhaps there is something wrong with me for holding the view that all people should be treated equal before the law - even bigots and religious fundamentalists - and if people would just respect each other first, and then the fact that nobody believes EXACTLY the same thing - the world would be a lot more peaceful, and a better place for all of us to live in.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EC Mirror Casts Poor Reflection

Some of you know that my city, Port Elizabeth, will be hosting its first ever Pride event this year - an event which I am proud to say I am involved in, be it in my own small way. ECGLA, an organization I am part of, stands behind the Nelson Mandela Bay Pride - which will take place on the 24th of September - with one or two smaller events on the side during the month leading up to the main event.

I have to say that so far I have been pleasantly surprised to note that there have been no negative encounters, nasty letters in the press, and no hate mail specific to the Pride event. In fact, we were even surprised and excited to learn how positive the public appears to be about Pride. Of course, there always has to be one bad apple in the basket, doesn't there?

Today I was forwarded an email reply to a request sent out to newspapers in our area to publicize an event which forms part of the run-up to Pride.

On Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 11:18 AM, Ec Mirror Admin wrote:

"As far as I understand it, Pride is an organization which promotes and sympathises with the cause of Homosexuals. However, practising homosexuals are acting directly acting against God’s Holy Word as laid down in the Bible. So although we are not judging practising homosexuals, (God is the only judge of all our actions) we wish to try and live in accordance with God’s principles.

Therefore we will not be promoting this kind of function at all.
Please do not send us anything to do with Pride.
The Hope Clinic is a completely different issue, however, and we have tried our best to promote this for you because we feel the Hope Clinic does a huge amount of good work in the community. Congratulations on the Hope Clinic and we wish you all the best.

Thank You
The Publisher
EC Mirror"

After reading this letter, I wrote what I felt to be an appropriate response.

Dear EC Mirror,

Your response to a request for publicity of an event in NMB Pride has reference.

Pride is an event which promotes tolerance, equality and celebrates the human and civil rights of people who have suffered and still suffer daily prejudice and persecution - both in general society, as well as in their family and school and work situations - resulting from a lack of education and human rights values.

The NMB Pride is an event geared towards raising awareness of our existance as a community and our human rights shortcomings, while also building good will between the Pink Community and the rest of the Metro by means of peaceful social interaction while raising funds for local charities and generating tourism income for local businesses.

These goals are made all the more difficult by individuals who eagerly apply prejudice and discrimination without any apparent thought or justifiable reason, and by contradiction, simply encourage animosity - which is counterproductive and hampers nation-building.

Shouldn't the "EC Mirror", as a public newspaper, be concerning itself with publishing news and items of public interest in the Eastern Cape - instead of policing or censoring these? How do personal religious values have any relevance to reporting on events in the real world? Is the EC Mirror a church newsletter, or a real newspaper?

The Pink Community is part of the public too - and as tax-paying and contributing citizens of South Africa and residents of the Eastern Cape, we do not appreciate being discriminated against or having our dignity and equal worth as human beings impugned. Are you aware that unfair discrimination is illegal? Have you ever heard of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000?

If this is the attitude of your publication, your publication has been poorly named - because then the "EC Mirror" does not give a true reflection of events in the Eastern Cape, but rather only a cherry-picked, cracked and distorted view excluding the reality that we live here too - and that we might also be interested in being informed of social events in our area which concern us.

By your criticism and refusal to publicize the item forwarded to you, your claim to "not judge" is proven to be a blatant lie - add to that the very fact that your email was unnecessary. Why reply with offensive remarks when you could just have ignored the Pride email - or kept it to a request to not be sent future material about the NMB Pride? Surely that would have sufficed?

By your own words and uncharitability, you mark yourself as a poor example for professional journalism - and in my opinion, your hypocrisy and piety are an embarrassment to people of your faith who do good for others and try to make the world a better place, instead of breaking down those who do.

Your statement regarding Hope Clinic is nothing less than an insult - for you imply that one form of community service by the Pink Community is "good work" while community service which benefits our own community is not - based simply on who we are and who we choose to help, in relation to your prejudice. It is my understanding that you were quite willing to promote our efforts to support Hope Clinic in the past - considering that the Hope Clinic is where it is today primarily because of the efforts of those who helped build and support it, and got it off the ground - who are members of the Pink Community - you demonstrate a very skewed view indeed.

In closing, your remarks demonstrate to me clear opposition to the human rights values enshrined in the SA Constitution, as well as a lack of compassion, ubuntu, common decency and good manners. Consequently, we will no longer consider the services of EC Mirror, as a free community newspaper, sufficient, appropriate or befitting our worthy cause - and therefore we as NMB Pride and ECGLA formally disassociate ourselves from you.

Christina Engela

Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association: Director

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

System Failure

I think any system of government where human or civil rights depends wholly on the public opinion of the moment, is fundamentally flawed.

Where did that come from? Well, it goes back to before we had the present Constitution in South Africa, when as a teenager I was threatened with being labeled a criminal because being gay was illegal in this country then. That's right, I was threatened with jail because I dared to consider that I might not be your average heterosexual cisgender boy. And in those days, even being transgender was a very grey area in legal terms. Being caught in a raid dressed in womens clothing as a biological male was a risky business. It was "fine" to be a cross-dresser or drag queen busted at a gay club during a raid - but you better still have been wearing male underwear - or you would be thrown in jail for "impersonating a female". LOL. Go figure.

Society in the old South Africa used to persecute anyone with a pink tint to them, the armed forces experimented on gay service people and in some cases, tortured them. Churches blamed all manner of ills on us, more than some of them still do, and people would be victimized for who they were - losing their jobs, their homes, their dignity and even their lives. People today often talk about the Apartheid days, focusing exclusively on the struggle for racial equality, as if our persecution and exclusion from society never happened. These days, I hear very few speak about the struggle for our equality. Perhaps that's because it's not yet truly over?

Sometimes I actually hear people long for the old days when "everything still worked properly", when there was supposedly less government corruption - and well, there may have been - but not many people today will claim that the government intrudes as much into the private lives of its citizens as in those days. The simple truth of the matter is, we lived in a fascist state, and a theocracy. It was for all intents and purposes, a throwback from the Second World War - an Aryan state, where politics and social status were not only dictated by race, but also by language, religion, sexuality and gender. Anyone who longs for those days has got to be sick.

The solution, to my mind, is to build a new country, a new nation - where all these lines of division have disappeared. That is the foundation of the New South Africa - at least I thought it was?

Over the past few years - since I entered the field of human rights activism, I have seen people first opposing the extension of human rights and equality to me and people like me in the early 1990's, and then lamenting the rights we do have today, and then conspire and labor to deprive me of my equality before the law and my very human rights. It was a battle in the past to attain the rights we have now in South Africa, in many ways a "struggle", to use the popular South African revolutionary term - and it seems this struggle will continue for many years to come - in order to hold on to those rights. It seems to me that if we ever stop fighting for our rights, to protect them, if we relax and think everything is okay - we will be in for a nasty shock.

Our country's government continues to act unilatterally, and without seeing a need to heed the will of the people, to consider the Constitution - or to explain its actions to us - and even desires to conspire to hide its activities from us. Our government still has a very weak and poor grasp of the concept of democracy - a system which it feels is working just fine, just as long as the wind continues to blow in their favor. And yet this same government which is given its power and authority by the constitution which extends civil equality and human rights protections to me and those like me in this country, continues to show economic and political support to countries which wage open war against the same ideals which allow us to be treated as equals within their borders. People with open hatred for people like me continue to be appointed in high profile offices by no less than the President himself, and to be paid salaries from tax monies paid for by people like me. That's quite an insult, isn't it?

An advanced human rights friendly Constitution is fine and well - but what good is it if it is not put into practice? The government says it cherishes the principles in the SA Constitution, and yet acts in a manner which cannot be reconciled with that very Constitution.

I would love to hear the explanation for that one.

In America, it seems that human rights and equality continue to blow in the wind, being passed into law in various states, but perpetually under threat of being repealed depending on the weight of public opinion. Many in South Africa, most typically religious fundamentalists who share ties through so-called "church planting" and also share the same views with those human rights detractors who would even like the death penalty applied to two people of the same gender who engage in romantic relations. I know for certain they wish they could do the same here - a fact which is reflected in the utterances and efforts of those who would like nothing better than to rip out the paragraphs which grant civil rights to people like me from the SA Constitution. I have to wonder how some people think, I really do. I cannot understand how people who enjoy equality and full civil rights can presume to judge that other people, for no logical rhyme or reason, are not deserving of the same rights as they.

Equality should be embedded in the nation's Constitution, and not put up for debate every five minutes when some conservative half-wits get their knickers in a knot over X, Y or Z being allowed the same privileges as themselves.

I would go so far as to say that even if ONE person in a country is not afforded the same civil and human rights as others under the law of the land - then there is no equality. Either everyone is equal before the law - or there is no equality. Even a scientist will tell you that *wink*.

With continued debate in countries like the USA, where different states have different laws governing human rights for specific groups, such as the Pink Community, I believe the human rights of every individual - regardless of any identifying characteristic (gender, identity, sexual orientation, religion, culture etc) should be passed into federal law or the US Constitution - instead of having different laws in each state, and individual states being able to repeal these laws every time enough money or noise is raised around the issue by conservatives. Human rights are human rights and not some ticket to be used every time elections come round.

Right wing human rights abusers have done their level best to sabotage human rights by attempting to pass DOMA into federal law - why does "someone" in the USA not launch a campaign to get the human rights, fair and equal treatment for all entrenched in the US Constitution instead? Why not pass a new Ammendment?

The new darling of the Teabaggers, Michele Bachmann, actually makes Sarah Palin look almost intelligent. I shudder to think of the USA under her, should she win the election - it will be another Bush administration - an unmitigated disaster for human rights and equality. If she wins at all it will be because a) she is white (playing on the politics of race being negatively applied around Obama) and b) female (let's give the girls a chance - who cares if she's an anti-choice, anti-feminist, hang-the-gays teabagger?). As a human rights activist, I find her remarks against Pink rights and women's rights nauseating. People like that give Christians, and Americans a bad name.

The failure of modern "democracies" in this respect harks back to the feudal system, where people were born into class systems, slavery and castes - where "nobles" ruled by the right of their birth and nobody born of lower classes could expect any upward mobility. How is this in any way different to a society which discriminates against people simply because of who they are?

I have little time for people who operate under the assumption that they are somehow more deserving, or better than others, especially me.

Debating human rights is fine, it helps people to actually think for a change - but putting the equality of some people with what is considered the norm up for a vote every other day - is both contrary to human rights ethics and ethos - undemocratic, and insulting. All people SHOULD be considered equal before the law in order for a country to be considered truly democratic. And any country that does so while claiming to be democratic and to have the interests of ALL its people at heart is, quite simply, full of it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bread And Circuses

Last week I had the pleasure of having to get up really early for work, at around 4am, when all the respectable birds were still asleep. It was while having breakfast a little later that I heard something faint in the night, a kind of singing chant in the distance that reminded me of a Muslim call to prayer. I really had to strain my hearing to pick it up, as the very light wind at that time of morning affected it, and it faded in and out. It seemed to me that it might very well be that, from one of the mosques in the old part of town somewhere. I began to wonder if I was imagining it, but no, there it was, for a whole 2 or 3 minutes. It brought a smile to my face as I wondered why I had never heard it before.

I heard it the next morning too, while having breakfast, confirming to me that I had not imagined it. At the end of the week, I received an email notice that some people in my area (Richmond Hill) were angry about the "disturbance" coming from North End so early in the morning and were drawing up a petition about it. I was stunned. Could people really be so small and anal about such things? Apparently so.

First, North End is several kilometers away from Richmond Hill - and second, if you are asleep in Richmond Hill at 4am you certainly will not be woken up by that. We are not talking about a racket or a din here, not by any means. And it's not as if it continues until daybreak, or for longer than a few minutes. In short, you basically have to be awake to hear it, so what is the problem? On the other hand, there is really no pleasing some people, is there? I have to wonder about the potential double-standards being applied here by this individual. He lives in Richmond Hill, which as all the locals know, has a Christian church virtually on every corner, and so come every Sunday morning, the sound of bells ringing hardly raises an eyebrow. Which makes my point - why does this fellow not launch a petition to silence those as well?

Or is it a case of "I am a Christian - I can hear church bells ringing from where I live"? Is that perhaps what is bothering him? Does hearing a Muslim call to prayer from your breakfast table make me a Muslim? No? Does it wake me up when I'm trying to sleep? No? See my puzzlement? Live and let live, fella. I don't see any need to complain unless you live right next door, and unless the house next to you suddenly sprouted a minaret without checking with you and your neighbors first.

Cleaning ladies around the country are protesting on Women's Day because they are being paid a minimum wage of less than 2000 zar. Yes, it is shocking, I agree. I couldn't imagine surviving on that kind of money per month. No wonder they call it "peanuts". Of course, when you consider that people who do work that requires more mental and educational skill earn around 4000 per month, how do you justify it? Ah, now it gets tricky, because nobody wants to do dirty work, do they? Pay them a little more and they might actually stop moaning for a while and smile for a change.The only problem is it's never enough, is it? With all the crippling strikes we've seen in the past six months alone, it's amazing the economy hasn't failed yet. The one strange thing about this little item that makes me mutter "only in South Africa" is the main motivation for an increase appears to be that some of these women need to support up to nine children on their small wages. Right. Whose fault is that? Did anyone force them to have nine kids? Is that the employers fault? Aren't there plentiful supplies of condoms and other contraceptive agents available in our "condomwise" country? Doesn't our wise all-knowing government encourage children to get pregnant in order to get the 250 zar per child per month grant to avoid working? What gives, folks, and where do you draw the line?

Women's Day is a nice, touching gesture, isn't it? Sure, everyone could use another day off - but does it really mean anything to women? Is it a reminder that things need to be done in this country to create equity between the sexes socially, economically and politically, or is it just an opportunity to flood the news with images of women partying at public events toasted by prominent government figures talking about doing it? I tend to agree with the women who stayed away from these events - saying that they feel it won't help them in the least. They need action, not talk. The government has been talking for years, and still they are no better off.

Women and children are lumped together under with the disabled folks in one big government ministry, as if being young or female is also a social disadvantage. I don't know... is it? I think this "patriarchal culture" I heard about on the news tonight again, needs a swift kick up the caboose - a reminder to hubby dearest that respect has to be earned, not just given on say-so - and that if he wants to sleep peacefully at night he needs to remember that peaceful sleep is a condition of fair and equal treatment of the other. It's time there was an end to the incompetence and corruption leading to rape and hate-crime cases being postponed repeatedly and delayed for up to three years and court documents and dockets conveniently disappearing while the rights of people - of all sexualities and genders - are trampled.

Yes, most companies are employing more females, even in roles traditionally occupied by males - but not because they are better workers, but because on average, they pay us less. Sad but true. Equity? Really? Equal pay for equal work, I say. Now that's equality. What does the equipment between your legs have to do with the quality or quantity of work a person can deliver? Unless we are speaking about the sex industry, I can't see how it matters half a damn. Can you? Fix that before bragging about how women have been advanced every single Women's Day, okay? It's getting repetitive.

The Emperors of Rome feared the power of the common citizen, and they feared they would be toppled by uprisings or other political forces fueled by dissatisfaction with their rule. They placated the mob by providing distractions - wars, campaigns - but more importantly, entertainment. They laid on expensive games in the arena, lavish events - and this entertainment saved their rule on many occasions. Free bread and circuses lulled and sussed the noisy infants upon whom the ruling classes depended back to their somnambulant existence. I can't help but wonder at the similarity between this ancient principle and current events such as Women's Day, Freedom Day, Youth Day. Make a few of the right noises, and the crying baby goes back to sleep and all is right with the world for a while again.

The next thing on my list of peeves is our friend Juliaas. Yesterday was supposed to be "D-Day for Juju" - at least, according to the ANC and all the papers too - and what happened? Nothing. N - O - thing. "Postponed indefinitely" they said on the news last night.

This past few days, the ANC made a big thing about Malema being brought to book for his loose-canon activities, running his mouth off and generally acting as if he was an actual government figure etc, before senior party leadership yesterday - and in the evening news a spokesperson said it was "postponed, perhaps indefinitely" supposedly in the interests of party unity. Right.

Of course, he's won. How else could this blatant and obvious capitulation be interpreted? Friend Zuma doesn't dare go against him - because he realizes that if he does, Juliaas could just start his very own little political party - and all the crazy, ignorant and racist youth supporting the ANC would follow him, making it even more obvious that the ruling party is an apartment block being carved up and sold ala sectional title to the highest bidder. Check mate.

The simple truth is that the senior party members cannot go against him or be seen to put him in his place, because they will risk disunity in the party, or a complete breakaway of the youth league and his supporters from the main body of the ANC and the tripartite alliance. The COPE breakaway in 2009 was a costly lesson to the ruling party, one they clearly do not wish to repeat. It might seem to them after all, to be an even bigger embarrassment to the ANC than hurling racist abuse at a journalist in front of TV cameras.

It seems that Juliaas has pretty much won this battle - he's defied calls by reasonable people to have him removed as leader of the ANC Youth League for several years now. Despite every shenanigan this chap gets up to, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how insensitive, he still weathers the storms he creates - and in his post as youth leader too. What's to stop his rise to leadership of the ANC, and even the presidency? And then clinging to power for 30 years? We know how it works on our continent by now, don't we? Barnacles clinging to the hull of the ship, stealing streamlining and energy from its progress through the oceans of common sense. He is after all, Bob Mugabe's understudy, isn't he? His overtly fanatic, communist and racist followers have already cried they will stop at nothing to see that he is allowed to continue sowing chaos and discord wherever he goes, making idiotic, irresponsible and divisive comments about nationalizing mines and farms and banks. It seems they actually believe they will be better off for it if it happens. Poor fools.

Enjoy the last days of democracy in SA folks. Communism and socialism are on their way, barring a miracle or two. Before long, things like "there's no such thing as transgender or gay in Sepedi" may become slogans, then policy.