Monday, February 10, 2014

Waters Under the Bridge

One odd thing about the coverage of the recent Iona/John Waters controversy is that it has been, pretty much entirely, Internet-led. Each new development has made the rounds of the blogs, Twitter, Broadsheet and maybe The Journal, before being grudgingly, if at all, picked up by the major media outlets.

Witness the horrifying John Waters tape released by Broadsheet. As far as I can see, none of the traditional media outlets have gone near it, but it's all over the Internet; there's a lot of public interest. Of course, a certain amount of this is "haw, haw, John Waters is even more terrible than we thought", but it really is quite important. This is a man who has a tremendous platform to talk about society, who is referred to as a 'public intellectual', who has a column in the Irish Times, who is a go-to whenever a right-wing opinion on a social issue is required. Until very recently, he was a government appointee to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. His views on gay people, and on women, as revealed on the tape, are absolutely relevant to these roles. The question of what words it is proper to use when discussing these opinions is also, it seems to me, fairly important.

He also, really, is entitled to a reply on this. It's so awful that if there's any extenuating circumstance, that needs to be made plain. Has anyone even asked him about it, at this point? It's really very strange.

Of course, there are conflicts of interest. The RTE is engaged in a dispute with their former regulator over the question of which apologies and settlements were and weren't offered, and Waters writes for the Irish Times (though, he has at time of writing vanished from their columnists page; Iona's Breda O'Brien also briefly disappeared, before returning triumphant with a lovely piece on stifling of dissent through unkind descriptions, finishing with a bit about "commissioned" children, presumably to emphasise that the stifling isn't working very well). I'm not sure what the Independent's excuse is, though.

Perhaps, the media hopes that this will all blow over, and that they can have him back writing his reactionary columns and ruminating pretentiously on other peoples' rights. I can see why they might want this. It is convenient to have someone to take on unpopular positions; we used to have great trouble getting prominent speakers to argue against gay rights in college debates, back in the day. I can't really see it working out for them, though, if that's what they want.

I may be being too optimistic, though. It's not like Waters' prior dubious opinions have torpedoed his public role; this is a man who has used the term 'feminazis', in the paper. Note the date, by the way; in 2002, Dermot Ahern appointed someone who uses the term 'feminazis' to the BCI, the predecessor of the BAI. Perhaps there's just something badly broken in how we handle our media in this country...

The Wisdom of the Waters

So, this has come to light, some important new information on the Gay Menace from John Waters, patron saint of not paying parking fines (seen here in his natural habitat). Have a read, it's utterly horrifying.

Yeah, that's totally a thing that will happen.

If there's anything which really makes a reasoned argument about gay marriage complete, it's implied incest. Thanks for that, Mr Waters.

Yeah, the Irish Times, the newspaper where John Waters is a columnist, is pretty much no-go for opinions like John Waters'. Important opinions like the fantasy child-stealing scenario outlined here, and arrangements to be made.

I'm... not actually sure what this bit is supposed to be about. Is he implying that us gays have a poor sense of fashion, or something?

Twitter is full of cries that Waters should give back the money, and even people assuming that he will have to do so. And, yet, there likely is no legal reason that he must. It's not like there was a trial where it was declared that John Waters is not homophobic, and this new evidence will re-open the matter. RTE chose to settle. It's not even as if they didn't have access to parts of this interview; while the most spectacularly awful stuff is absent, well, you'd think that this would be quite damning enough.

Please note that John Waters really likes the word 'satire'

If Waters has any decency, he will give the money to a neutral charity, or return it, and apologise to RTE, to O'Neill, and to the general public. Of course, if he had any decency, he wouldn't have taken the money in the first place. It's highly unlikely that he has to, though.

We really should be considering, in the aftermath of this, if our defamation laws are actually doing the job that they're supposed to do.

Bonus important insight from Waters:

Oh, no, that UKIP guy was right! Gays cause floods!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Homophobia Question

If you live in Ireland and haven't been actively avoiding all forms of media over the last couple of weeks,  you'll be aware of the current fuss over homophobia. Or, at least, not over homophobia itself, but over the word 'homophobia'. Of course, I could go over the whole question of the appropriateness of RTE's actions, and so forth, but that has more or less been done to death. I'm more interested in the calls, not just from the anti-gay-rights crowd, but from neutral parties and even some on the pro-gay-rights side, to eliminate the word from discussion of gay rights issues. This seems to me to be a grave mistake, and a dangerous concession to those opposed to equal rights.

Homophobia. It's a harsh, unpleasant word. It looks like a medical/psychological term, and indeed had its origins as one. And yet, in common usage, 'homophobia' is essentially to persons of non-majority sexuality and/or gender identity as 'sexism' is to women, and 'racism' is to ethnic minorities. 'Islamophobia' sounds nastier than 'anti-Semitism', with the word 'phobia' and the vague clinical feel, but it is, in general, just as offensive to call a person anti-Semitic as it is to call them Islamophobic. Xenophobia is sometimes actually used as a euphemism for racism, when talking about rabidly anti-immigrant far-right politicians, for instance. There's nothing special about the use of the 'phobia' postfix in describing certain bigotries; it's an accident of history.

Perhaps it would be better if a softer-sounding word had come to mean prejudice against gays, and a desire to deny them the rights enjoyed by the majority. Would the anti-civil-rights crowd prefer, for instance, to be called cis-hetero chauvinists, or gayists? However, it's about 50 years too late for that, now; 'homophobia' is well understood to be colloquially used in this way.

And yet, there is an apparent drive to define 'homophobia' to a stricter standard. If you propose, for instance, that black people should not be allowed to marry white people, then you will be called a racist, and few would have an issue with that, even if your reasoning is based on religion (as was the reasoning of some American proponents of the interracial marriage bans in the 60s) or on misunderstanding academic research (again, common in anti-racial-equality arguments), or on nebulous fears of the effects on society (again, not uncommon). Racism, here, extends to opposition to equal rights, even when the opposition is ostensibly based on something other than fear or hatred.

And this is about the narrowest definition of racism in common use. Even those people who argue that sexism and racism no longer exist in society because women and non-whites have legal equality (and there are people who will argue this) would typically have difficulty as seeing a proposed ban on inter-racial marriage, or a law removing the right of women to retain property in marriage, as anything other than racist and sexist respectively, regardless of the justifications.

I can see why some people, who oppose equality for gay people, would want to see the word 'homophobia' removed from discourse. It would lend a respectability to their wish to deny gay people civil rights over and above, say, the old attempts to deny women and racial minorities equal rights; it would make opposition to gay rights different and more credible in the eyes of the public.

It's hard to see the justification for doing so, though. What, after all, are their arguments? There's the religious argument, of course, but then that was used to oppose inter-racial marriage in America, too, and we don't treat that opposition as special and non-bigoted. There's the argument that marriage is for the production of children, but given that we allow infertile people to marry this one is lacking in credibility. There's the argument that gay marriage will somehow harm society, generally in a rather vague way, but this surely falls into the fear bracket. And there's the argument that homosexuals want to destroy marriage, for some reason, but this falls clearly into the fear bracket, and very paranoid at that.

I think part of the reason for this drive to avoid the h-word is that gay marriage is currently not legal, and thus opposition to it seems a little less obviously mean-spirited than, say, opposition to interracial marriage, or to married women being allowed to own property. You'll have significant difficulty today finding many people who claim to have opposed civil partnerships, and even fewer who'll admit to having opposed the legalisation of homosexuality, and yet both passed to considerable opposition. It is to the great advantage of opponents of gay marriage to be seen to be opposing it for principled reasons, and words which highlight that they're against civil rights damage this perception.

I'm not seeking to stop people voicing their opposition to gay marriage, and very few other people are, either. I'm just cautious of the attempt to set opposition to gay rights fundamentally apart from opposition to womens' and racial minorities' rights. If you wish to say, in public, that gay people want to destroy marriage, then more power to you, but you shouldn't expect this opinion to be held as somehow more reasonable and respectable than any other conspiracy theory about a minority group.

I don't think very many people in the anti-civil-rights camp really hate gays; for that matter, most racists don't hate black people. There is, clearly, however, a lot of fear, irrational fear of what granting equal rights would mean. I see no reason that this shouldn't be described as homophobia. It is, for some reason, terribly important to these people to deny me the rights that they (mostly; there are gay people opposed to gay marriage) have; I see no reason to sugar-coat their denial of my rights or the fear that drives them to it.

And the idea that the opponents of gay rights are being somehow silenced by the use of the word, or the allegations of 'heterophobia' (a word which should be treated with the same contempt as 'misandry' and 'anti-white bigotry') is absurd. Opponents of gay rights have a substantial platform in this country. If they choose to use it to say things which people criticise, this is not silencing.