Dear Co-Operative Bank, Please Do Better

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Here is a letter I just sent to my bank:

Mx. Sally XXXX
XXXXX
XXXX
XXX
XX
XXX@XXX.com

The Co-operative Bank
complaints@co-operativebank.co.uk
25 January 2015

Dear Co-Operative Bank,

I’m writing to you to say I am planning to move my banking to RBS if certain issues are not resolved within one month of the date of this letter.

In July 2014 I phoned Telephone Banking to update my title from “Miss” to “Mx.”. This was done, and I started receiving statements, debit cards, and cheque books with my correct title. However, my title remained as “Miss” on Internet Banking and the Mobile Banking app, and whenever I phoned Telephone Banking I was addressed as “Miss”, even after correcting the person I was talking to. When I asked for this to be corrected, I was told your computer system did not allow it. I explained that calling me “Miss” misgenders me and that this hurts and asked for a request to be passed onto the IT department to allow the title “Mx.” To be used. Six moths on and I’m still being misgendered every time I phone you, log onto Internet Banking, or use your mobile app. This is not good enough and is wearing me down psychologically. You need to fix this by 25 February 2015 in order to keep me as a customer.

Several years ago, a person my then-partner and I were sharing a house and joint bank account with moved out. We filled in your form to apply to take their name off the account and they separately informed you of their change of address. They started receiving their own bank statements at their new address, as well as my then-partner’s and my own. We phoned to ask you to sort this out and you sent more forms to fill in and return. We did this and our addresses were corrected on your records. When I checked my credit record in August 2014, I found that I am now recorded as having lived at that old housemate’s new address. I never have: your incompetence has caused this error.

In August 2014, having broken up with the previously-mentioned then-partner, I moved out of the home we shared, and called you to request my name be taken off our joint accounts, and to change my address. You sent the forms, I filled them in, giving you the address I was moving to, as well as a friend’s address as my postal address (my post not being secure at my new address). Shortly after, my friend received bank statements and a credit card addressed to my ex-partner at my friend’s address. He phoned to explain how dangerous this is: fortunately, the break-up was reasonably amicable and my ex is not abusive, but didn’t know this. I could have been fleeing a violent relationship and your actions could have resulted in my ex finding out where to go in order to kill me. My friend explained this to you over the phone, and requested that you immediately correct my ex’s address details without informing him what of you had done, and to send us (my friend, and I) a letter confirming that you had done this, and explaining how you will ensure this never happens again. You agreed to do this. My friend didn’t receive any more post from you for my ex, but we are still waiting, five months later, for that letter.

Twice, several years apart, you have made the same error. This negligence could result in someone’s death and you would be directly responsible. I need to receive this letter, with a satisfactory explanation of how you are making sure you never do something like this again by 25 February 2015 if I am to stay with you.

I’ve been a Co-Operative Bank customer for 15 years. I chose you and have, so far, have stuck with you because you call yourselves an “ethical” bank. However, continuing to misgender me when I’ve explicitly asked you not to is not, in my opinion, ethical, and neither is putting customers at risk of violence through incompetence. RBS have announced that they now allow customers to use the title “Mx.” and I feel like we will bet on better.

I hope you can sort this out within the deadline I’ve given, as I’d like to stay with an “ethical” bank, but I don’t feel like staying with you is safe for me physically or mentally if these issues aren’t resolved.

Regards,

Mx. Sally XXXX

Edit 28/01/2015: it turns out RBS don’t actually call people by gender neutral titles either. All that trumpeting in the media back in November 2014 was just that, they were only “considering” it and, three months on, they’ve either dropped it or are still “considering”. It feels like all the media crowing about how they’re wonderful about equality was just to shut those silly queers up who keep pestering for trivial things like not being misgendered every time they call their bank. Here’s a screenshot of a reply from their customer service account saying it’s they’re “unable to offer this”:

IMG_0300

Leelah Alcorn: For Safe Keeping

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

***Trigger warnings for suicide and transphobia***

Tumblr have taken down Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note. Copies have popped up elsewhere online and it’s still available on Google cache but I’m not feeling confident they will last long before being taken down as well. Too many trans teens are dying because they are not heard and this has to stop. Leelah’s voice was silenced in life, and I feel strongly that her words are too important to be silenced in death too, so I’m trying to do my bit by re-publishing Leelah’s words here:

SUICIDE NOTE
If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
Goodbye,
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

If you are feeling suicidal, or just need to talk to someone in confidence, you can call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 116 123 (R.O.I) or email jo@samaritans.org.

Whitewashing the Blues: Why Music is Anything but “Colourblind”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Pottering about at home earlier this evening with BBC Radio 4 on in the background, I was half-listening to an interview on arts programme Front Row, featuring an interview with singer Annie Lennox who was promoting her blues album, Nostalgia.

I wasn’t paying much attention when she was talking about how she feels an affinity for the blues, but then my ears suddenly pricked up when she declared “music is colourblind”. Really? Had I heard correctly? She was talking about her affinity for the blues, a musical genre born of racial oppression, and in three little words, she completely whitewashed that history, that entire reason the genre was born in the first place, erasing and appropriating it. Then, they played a clip of her singing Strange Fruit. Strange Fruit?! Does she have the slightest clue what that song is about? It’s not like the lyrics are some cryptic metaphor: they describe in detail lynched bodies hanging from trees; and they locate these bodies in a time and place where this type of murder was all about colour and race.

Lennox’s comment about music being “colourblind” was especially white-washing in the context of the blues, but it would be inappropriate whatever the context. I wrote about several examples of race creeping into music from my own work as a musician and music teacher here, but I’d like to discuss a couple of examples from my own experience now, in the hope of demonstrating that Lennox’s attitude doesn’t have a place anywhere in music, blues or otherwise.

Not long after I started teaching in London schools, I was working in a school with an almost entirely Bangladeshi Muslim population. One day, I was chatting to one of my students as she helped me prepare the classroom for the afternoon’s violin and cello lessons. She was telling me about an ornament she has at home, describing it as “a white man with a cello”. I was completely unprepared for what she said next: she looked me in the eye and said “cello is for white people really, isn’t it?”. I didn’t know what to say. I feel strongly that the cello is for anyone who wants to give it a go, whatever their race, but there wasn’t anything I could say to back that up. There are no Bangladeshi cellists on the international concert soloist circuit. And there’s no-one wearing a hijab in the London Symphony Orchestra. There was no-one I could point to and say “no, cello is for people like you too”. That kid played the cello, she did it every week in school and she clearly enjoyed it, and yet she didn’t own playing the cello: it was something she did, but it wasn’t something she did that defined her. I play the cello wasn’t part of her identity in the way it had always been part of my identity right from the very first time I sat down to try out my first instrument at the age of four. I’d worked to give her and her classmates a sense of ownership of their weekly violin or cello playing, using terms like “musician”, “cellist” and “violinist” to describe them, but I realised I’d failed because of race: the white cellists on TV, the white china cellist on my student’s mantelpiece, and my own whiteness as their principle role model, had all conspired to shut them out.

When I was doing my ethnomusicology degree, I undertook a short fieldwork project with a musician and fiddle restorer friend. In one of our rambling conversations — I still have the tape somewhere — he told me about his experience as a working class Scot attending a Glasgow state school staffed by English teachers. “How they snobbed at us”, he said, and described how music lessons had consisted of the teacher lecturing the kids on how the traditional Scottish music (at which my friend was proficient) they played wasn’t “real music”, then shoved “real” classical music down their throats to the point where my friend was still, some 50+ years later, in awe of and intimidated by classically trained musicians such as myself. Again, music is polarised along racial lines, with the English teachers using a combination of musical genre and race to belittle their Scottish students.

In my examples, the racial divide of who plays what and how, and whether they feel a real ownership of that music so that it becomes part of their identity or not, is somewhat subtle: you could, if you didn’t think too hard about it, overlook the dominance of white faces — they are, after all, the default “normal” face we are presented with in the media — in our professional orchestras; and, in these post-independence referendum times, it’s perhaps easy to forget that a few generations back, Scottish traditional music wasn’t valued as highly as it is today in Scotland’s education system. But erasing the racial aspects of the blues, especially when you’re singing such overtly racially-charged songs as Strange Fruit, takes a special level of white privilege.

The Power of Socks

Tags

,

On a recent Friday evening I was knitting the second sock of a pair on my commute to work on a rush hour train. A woman who looked to be in her 70s or 80s sat down next to me and asked if I was knitting gloves or socks. I told her I was making socks and she was clearly interested, so I took out the completed sock to show her.

IMG_0280.JPG

“Oh,” she said, taking the sock, “it’s years since I turned a heel.”

For the 15 minutes or so the journey took, she held the sock in both hands, examining it, and a flood of reminiscences poured forth: how she’d learned to turn a heel at school (I’m guessing this school was in Ireland in the 1940s or ’50s judging from her accent and age); the darning she did; and how, after she’d mastered socks, she graduated to knitting jumpers. She examined the ribbing and complimented me on how it wasn’t too tight, then retreated into her own thoughts, still staring at the sock. When we got to my station I was rather reluctant to take the sock back as she was still engrossed in it.

I feel honoured that she shared this glimpse into her life with me, and awed that something mundane as a sock could provoke such strong memories. Knitting really is a feminist activity that connects people (still mainly women) through the generations.

BiCon-Inspired Nine Worlds Handbook Blackout Poetry

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

There was a session I missed at BiCon run by the wonderful bisexual actIvist and poet Jacq Applebee called Blackout Poetry that I’d really have loved to have attended but couldn’t because it took place before I was able to arrive. So, inspired by images Jacq tweeted of some of the poems composed during the session, I had a go at my own using my Nine Worlds programme as a way to ease myself back into the wider world after leaving the con.

The technique is simple: you pick an existing page of text and black out certain words in order to draw new meaning from those remaining.

Here is my first attempt, using the Creative Writing track page to express some of my criteria when searching for a good Sherlock fan fiction or, if that time ever comes, when writing one myself.

20140811-180917-65357197.jpg

I also like my Sherlock ace and good ace Sherlock fics are really scarce. There’s loads out there that promises asexual!Sherlock in the description, but then just have to go and completely erase his asexuality (and asexuality in general –how patronising is that “you’re only ace because the right person hasn’t come along yet” attitude?–) because the author doesn’t really get asexuality or platonic love and finds that when they’ve built a relationship that may be deeply romantic and brimming over with love between two or more characters they can’t possibly see how they can’t have sex and right at the very end Sherlock’s involved in a fuckfest (which I don’t mind at all and sometimes seek out, but I hate this when I’ve deliberately sought out an asexual incarnation of Sherlock and invested in this particular version of Sherlock being ace as I read the story. [Sherlock rant over now]. Now, there was an “asexual” on the page I could have used, but I’m not ace myself whereas I am bi and GQ and I liked the idea of writing a Sherlock who reflects me. Blue pen rather than black left the other words half-seen, which I like, but I should have chosen a pen that wasn’t running out!

***Trigger warnings for transmisogyny, harassment, assault and sexual assault below***

My second poem was actually the first one I thought about, but didn’t make until I’d finished Writing. During the con I had a good read of the weapons policy on the Cosplay page. The words that jumped out at me resonated with what I’ve read and heard from trans women about their experiences of be harassed, assaulted and/or sexually assaulted for, in the eyes of perpetrators, not passing or passing too much.

20140811-183927-67167157.jpg

I hope I haven’t fucked up here, being not a trans woman writing about trans women’s experience. If you are a trans woman and you think I have fucked up I’d appreciate you calling me out, thanks.

A (working!) black pen makes the original meaning illegible and draws the eye more to the highlighted words than the blue did. I used a black water-based felt tip so had to be careful not to smudge it on the glossy paper before it was dry.

Geek Poetry 2: “If Anyone Ever Asked, I Would Like to Say, Yes, Somewhere Out There”

Tags

, , ,

Another piece from the Nine Worlds Geek Poetry workshop with Dan Simpson.

The exercise was to take the random line If anyone ever asked, I would like to say, yes, somewhere out there from the anthology Where Rockets Burn Through edited by Russell Jones as a prompt. Mine took an apocalyptic turn. Here it is:

Somewhere out there it was alright.
The bleak reality,
Or telling yourself a lie
Because the truth is too–.

Searching the horizon;
Wishful thinking;
It is improbable but…
What if…?

Optimism:
Dreaming of a journey
To a time and place where
Somewhere out there it was alright.

Geek Poetry 1: Mantle Hood

Tags

, , , , , ,

This weekend sees me at Nine Worlds Geekfest where I attended a workshop entitled Putting the Geek into Portry, Putting the Poetry into Geek. It was excellent and I came out with one piece I’m very happy with, one that’s on the way to being something I’m happy with, and a third that may or may not get bashed into shape.

Anyway, here is the piece I’m most happy with which would probably benefit from a bit of context. The exercise was to write an extended metaphor piece based on geeky subject matter of our choice. I chose ethnomusicology as I have a masters degree in the subject so I know it well enough and it’s rich with language. This came out of pondering the name of the ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood who coined the term bi-musicality which became a metaphor for the transgender experience, especially the (my?) nonbinary experience of not fitting in a binary gender cis world.

Mantle Hood

A disguise:
The cartoon villain
In cape and hat.
So I can pass as an insider
In this post-colonial age
Where the emic/etic binary
Leaves no space for the bi-musical.

“Some People Are Bi…”: Observations on S(t)onewall, Bierasure, Biphobia, Transphobia, Summerskill and Hunt Through the Medium of Stickers

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trigger warnings: biphobia, bierasure, transphobia, transerasure.

Last weekend I went to my first BiCon, a weekend convention for bisexuals and our allies, where I picked up this sticker:

20140806-170703-61623184.jpg

I’ve heard from attendees about LG(B) charity Stonewall showing up at previous BiCons to distribute leaflets and sign up new members without offering anything in return. This was when Stonewall was under the direction of Ben Summerskill, who has been criticised for being out of touch with the younger LGBT generations. His biphobic position has been well documented, as has Stonewall’s erasure of the bisexual identity under his tenure (Stonewall’s official response to the UK Government Equal Marriage consultation question on whether Civil Partnerships should be available to opposite-sex couples was that it’s “a matter for heterosexual people and Stonewall would recommend consulting with them and stakeholder organisations representing them” [emphasis mine]. Hello? There are no bi people in opposite-sex relationships who want a Civil Partnership? No? You asked every last one of them?).

Given this history, I was cautiously optimistic when Summerskill resigned in January 2014 and was replaced by Ruth Hunt. My optimism was further shored-up when Hunt attended Pride in London wearing a “Some People are Bi” shirt (Hunt is at the far left of the photo at the top of the page in the hyperlink), sending a clear message that she’s open to dialogue with the bi community (although I think she would do well to listen more and talk less).

Anyway, to return to BiCon now we have a bit of background: this year Stonewall didn’t have an embarrassing little stall, but instead sent two employees (I won’t link to profiles: that would be a bit doxxy but you can find out who with a bit of Googling), at least one of whom identified themselves as bi, to facilitate workshops, one of which —Getting Bi at Work— I attended. The session description in the handbook promised an “interactive session […] aimed at empowering delegates to create a more inclusive workplace for bisexual staff and to become bi role models [giving] attendees a chance to reflect on what it means to be a role model and give practical tips on how to approach their employer, what to ask for and how they can contribute as representatives of the bi community”. It actually turned out to be a recruiting session for Stonewall’s Role Models Leadership Programme, which put my back up somewhat: given that Stonewall have just announced their willingness to engage with the bi community and take us seriously after years of being really shit to us, I feel Stonewall need to earn my trust before they can ask for my time as an activist, “role model” or whatever, and/or money. They did, however, listen to what we had to say about Stonewall’s behaviour around bi issues, Hunt, Summerskill, and what we’d like to see them doing (which could be summarised as “listen”), and appeared visibly embarrassed by and apologetic for Stonewall’s previous bierasure. I got the impression that these two, at least, were genuinely interested in making Stonewall work for bisexuals too and were relieved the organisation was now allowing them to begin that work.

Stonewall also have a history of being shit to trans people (hence “S(t)onewall”, not “Stonewall” in the title of this piece), insisting they are an LGB not and LGBT organisation, and using this to avoid engaging trans people whilst making a film sent to all secondary schools that states “tr*nny” is short for “transgender” (that engagement they were so keen to avoid with trans people would have told them how inappropriate using the “tr*nny” slur in a film intended to tackle bullying is).

With this milling around my mind, on my next trip to the BiCon registration desk, the little pile of Stonewall’s “Some People are Bi. Get Over it!” stickers caught my eye amongst the clutter of leaflets, stickers, sweets and jewellery. I picked one up with the intention of defacing it. I did a bit of consultation over Twitter, had a good think, and came up with/collected several alternative endings to “Some people are bi…”. My original intention was to choose one phrase and stick a plain sticker over the bottom of Stonewall’s sticker and write it on, but I couldn’t decide on my favourite so instead I laboriously cut out little paper “shields” for the sticker and tweeted them under the hashtag #somepeoplearebivandalism. Here, in no particular order, are the results (mine unless credited):

1)

20140806-185909-68349080.jpg
credit: @cisnotdirty
This one’s simple and neatly summarises the shift in attitude between Summerskill and Hunt’s tenure and out of all the options is, in my opinion, the one most likely to be understood by people outside bi activism.

2)

20140806-191017-69017205.jpg

This is a snarkier variation on 1).

3)

20140806-184501-67501361.jpg
Again, a variation on 1) with more snark.

4)

20140806-184652-67612073.jpg
This one expresses hope for a new era of bi-inclusivity under Hunt’s tenure, and a plea for it to be so.

5)

20140806-185014-67814361.jpg
This is a bit of a companion to 4): we need them to listen and by listening earn our trust.

6)

20140806-185151-67911648.jpg
Stonewall are really shit to trans/* people. I want this to change too.

7)

20140806-185326-68006920.jpg
A variation on 6).

8)

20140806-185413-68053396.jpg
credit: Jamie
A comment on how bierasure often boils down to “you’re too complicated” or “you’re just a type of gay really”.

9)

20140806-190112-68472452.jpg
credit: Jamie
Time will tell if Stonewall are just paying lip service or not…

10)

20140806-190304-68584531.jpg
credit: anon. (for now)
A variation on 4).

11)

20140806-190455-68695738.jpg
Holding Hunt to her promises.

12)

20140806-190622-68782220.jpg
credit: @nanayasleeps
This one is important: @nanayasleeps pointed out that years ago a bi activist modified a Stonewall “Some people are gay…” Sticker to read “Some people are bi…” in protest at Stonewall’s bierasure. Isn’t it nice that Stonewall have appropriated it without credit?

***I have no desire to engage with Stonewall until they have proved themselves to be truly bi- and trans*- inclusive. Therefore, I ask you NOT TO DRAW STONEWALL’S ATTENTION TO THIS POST and refrain from Tweeting/emailing/whatever this post to Stonewall or its employees. Thanks.

Moon Music

Tags

, , , , ,

As I was leaving a five-year-old student’s house after her lesson last week, she presented me with a sheet of paper divided into nine squares with the instructions “make a story with pictures on this side and words on the back”, a sort of part-comic, part-prose piece. I agreed and said I would bring the result to her lesson next week.

I set off for home pondering what sort of story to write: here was an opportunity to create something bespoke for my student. It had to be child-friendly, so I began by considering topics suitable for children and hit on space travel: how about a trip to the moon? Next, to my protagonist: an adult…? No, this is for a child, it should be a child, a girl like my student… It should be my student. So, my student goes to the moon. Why? This had me stuck for a bit, but then it suddenly hit me: she goes to the moon to play the cello, obviously, because this is story is by me for her, and what we do is play the cello together. Throw in a female NASA scientist for good gender stereotype-busting measure, and here is the result* (as you can see, I’m no artist but I hope the text below makes up for that):

Moon Music

20140620-145212-53532269.jpg

1) A scientist was walking through London when she heard beautiful music coming from a nearby house. “This could be just the thing for our next space programme,” she thought.

2) She knocked at the door and was answered by a young girl. “Who was playing that lovely music please?”
“That was me.” was the reply.

3) “I have a proposition for you,” said the scientist, “I work for NASA and we are looking for a musician to give the first ever concert on the moon. The training will be hard, but if you can do it your name will go down in history”.

4) Jasmine accepted the scientist’s offer. She underwent exhausting training six hours a day for two whole years as well as making sure she played her cello daily so that when the big day came she would play her best ever in the moon concert.

5) One month before the concert, Mum, Dad, Anisa and Milo waved Jasmine and her cello off on a flight to Washington DC to meet the other astronauts on her mission and complete final training exercises before blasting off for the moon.

6) On the morning of the concert, Jasmine and the other astronauts woke early. They did a final safety inspection of the shuttle, strapped Jasmine’s cello securely inside, and donned their space suits before giving the crowd a final wave goodbye and preparing the shuttle for take-off.

7) The countdown seemed to last for hours, but at last they were off. The G-force was like nothing she had ever experienced before and Jasmine thought she might melt through her space suit, the seat and the floor of the shuttle before crashing back to Earth.

8) They landed safely on the moon and Jasmine unpacked her cello while the other astronauts set up the cameras and microphones for the live TV link back to Earth. Meanwhile, in London the Smith family switched on their TV in eager anticipation…

9) The moment had come: millions were glued to their TVs back on Earth. Jasmine took a deep, calming breath, put her bow to the strings, closed her eyes, and began the first lunar concert ever.

So, now my student has a bespoke story about an adventure with her cello, and I have a useful pedagogical tool to pull out the bag when she’s tired and can’t be bothered of being able to say “play your best because a scientist might be listening”. Everyone wins :)

*Names and location have been changed.

An Open Letter to the National Diversity Awards

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Diversity Group,

It is with great concern that I write to draw your attention to statements made by Tara Hewitt, who is listed as a Diversity Group Award nominee. They suggest strongly that, far from encouraging diversity, she encourages diversity in a few areas but also has strong views that other diversities have no legitimacy and should be rejected. Her personal statements seem grossly inappropriate for anyone in a position of standing, much less someone suitable for consideration as a face of UK diversity.

I ask that you examine whether this behaviour makes Tara a suitable candidate for a Diversity Award, would showcase diversity work, or would reflect well on the work you yourselves do.
The comments are from her Twitter account (@Tara_Hewitt) over the last week. They relate to people who are not in traditional monogamous relationships – for example people who live in a three-way relationship, or have committed long term outside partners with their partners’ agreement. Such relationships, their parenting, their social welfare, and their needs and care, are known as “polyamory”, and are long-established although often tacitly and without fanfare. [Note: Wikipedia defines polyamory as “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved”.] Relationships like this are surprisingly common, especially in the LGBT communities, and are what Tara Hewitt directly states are illegitimate, and uses grotesque parenting stereotypes to smear and to declare she does not consider acceptable. With them, she delegitimises a great many diverse relationships across a great many communities.

The Tweets are attached as a separate document of screenshots, all from her account (@Tara_Hewitt), and were all posted between 24 – 27 April 2014.

In her Tweets, Tara states that people who wish to have children in the context of a polyamorous relationship, are “selfish” and “part of societies [sic] obsession with doing something because we can regardless of if we should” (24/04/14 at 22:49). She disregards that people may wish for children for far more profound reasons than just “what they can do”.

Tara next asserts that to her, polyamory isn’t a valid relationship “identity” (24/04/14 at 23:35) – although hers is by no means the view of many polyamorous people themselves. She states that the view of the people themselves whose personal sense of identity is discussed, is illegitimate (if they see polyamory as an identity) and that her blunt denial of their sense of identity is what is correct. Telling a person in any minority that they are wrong about their identity is grossly disrespectful and damaging.

Tara in effect tacitly marginalises all such relationships as illegitimate even while stating she “ha[s] no judgment” (24/04/14 at 23:49). For example, she claims that her only concern is parenting (24/04/14 at 23:49), but then almost immediately she states elsewhere “I do not support the new emerging “polyamorous” rights campaign” whether or not children are involved at all (24/04/14 at 23:25) and generally attacks all polyamorous relationships indiscriminately even if those without children (“You choose to be in a polyamorous relationship”: 24/04/14 at 23:20).

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about parenting in any minority. But this is not that legitimate discussion; it is a disenfranchising, narrow, rigid, prejudicial view, unrelated to legitimate research or personal experience.

I feel these Tweets are at odds with the aims of the Diversity Awards, as set out on your website, especially the aim to honour “outstanding devotion to enhancing equality, diversity and inclusion; thus embracing the excellence of all our citizens, irrespective of race, faith, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability and culture“, and the purpose of the specific award, the Positive Role Model Award, she has been nominated for, which is to “know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and […] understand all the threads of the tapestry are of equal value“.

Tara’s comments made me, a polyamorous person, feel that my thread in the tapestry was not of equal value, in comparison to, for example, the “gay” thread (her Tweet: “gay people are gay they dont [sic] choose to be gay. You choose to be in a polyamorous relationship” 24/04/14 at 23:20).

As someone who identifies as polyamorous, I feel hurt, erased and alienated by Tara’s comments. I feel like she has made a judgement, having never met me, nor spoken with me on the topic of how I live my life, about my suitability to parent based solely on who I am intimate with and how. I feel she has erased my polyamorous identity, treating me as a second-class citizen whose rights are unimportant compared to those of other minority groups, and assumed my ability to function in society is somehow impaired by this identity.

I was also concerned by Tara’s Tweet stating “[i]t would appear I have developed some lib dem [sic] stalkers” (27/04/14 at 11:59). This was in response to Liberal Democrat Twitter users expressing their concern to her about her Tweets regarding polyamorous parenting. It concerns me greatly that someone holding the position of Diversity Consultant, who is nominated for a Diversity Award should casually throw around words like “stalker”, much less use it to discuss people who object to her asserting their lives are not valid. I feel this trivialises the seriousness of the experience of victims of genuine stalking, shows her disregard for concerns that should, rightly, be addressed, and her unwillingness to enter dialogue about those concerns.

As a Diversity Consultant, Tara advocates on behalf of vulnerable groups, and I feel her use of language such as this erases with disturbing lack of conscience, the lives of the very people she is supposed to advocate for. I would hope that the Diversity Awards expects its nominees to be demonstrably inclusive and thoughtful, to measure their speech carefully when discussing experiences outside their own, to have private views that match their public stances, and to walk their talk in dialogue about diversity.

I am concerned that in her eagerness to strengthen the rights of certain minority groups, Tara’s behaviour, rather than creating a level playing field where all are judged on their merits, is reinforcing the current two-tier system where some groups are recognised as full members of society, and granted rights accordingly, and others are not. Who falls into which if these two categories may change, but the categories themselves, and the unfair way people are placed in one or the other based on prejudiced assumptions, remain. I would hope that the Diversity Awards seek to level the playing field rather than perpetuate the current two-tier system.

I am not raising this concern out of malice, vindictiveness, or a desire for party-political point-scoring (I am not affiliated to any political party), but because I am genuinely concerned that Tara’s nomination may undermine the credibility of the Diversity Awards, and signal that even within diversity, it’s permissible to delegitimise an entire diverse group on spurious grounds.

I look forward to your confirmation that this is taken with utmost seriousness, and your reply.

Regards,

Sally R***

Selected Tweets from account @Tara_Hewitt:

“Polyamorous lovers having a child is selfish and part of societies obsession with doing something because we can regardless of if we should” 24/04/14 at 22:49

“@stealthmunchkin because simply choosing to have lots of partners is not a identity” 24/04/14 at 23:35

“.@pseudomonas not at all I have no judgement about people in poly relationships. Its when that impacts on a child I have an issue with it” 24/04/14 at 23:49

“@AaronLSpense polyamorous is a relasionship choice and will create confusion and impact on a childs development…” 24/04/14 at 23:16

“@AaronLSpense gay people are gay they dont choose to be gay. You choose to be in a polyamorous relationship” 24/04/14 at 23:20

“I do not support the new emerging “polyamorous” rights campaign that seems to be emerging” 24/04/14 at 23:25

“It would appear I have developed some lib dem stalkers. Its nice they’re taking an interest in the Conservative party our doors are always open” 27/04/14 at 11:59

20140427-182939.jpg

Tara has been made aware of this post and has been offered the right to reply either here or elsewhere.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers