In 1992, Carol J. Clover coined the term ‘The Final Girl’, and thus, one of horror’s most pervasive and ubiquitous tropes found a name.
For the uninitiated, although it’s fairly self-explanatory, The Final Girl is the last woman standing at the end of a horror movie.
The Final Girl is an avatar, a projection, a cliché. She is as virtuous as the cultural standards of the time demand she be. She is a trope so pervasive that she has been subverted and parodied to the point of obsolescence. She is to be identified with by the audience, objectified, but never vilified, rooted for, and marked out as unkillable early on, so that her torture can be enjoyed risk free (- we feel a rush of tension as the film reaches its climax and she battles it out with her evil arch-nemesis, but the tension is never too much, because we know she survives).
But The Final Girl has never interested me.
The Final Girl is pandering on a filmmaker’s behalf. She must be pretty, but not too pretty, funny, but not too funny, likeable, but not too likeable. Both masculine and feminine, but not in any radical or queer way. She represents a compromise on every axis. She is brave and somewhat rebellious, but usually square enough that she won’t alienate viewers. She almost always - even in her subversions - confirms to social and cultural standards, so that she will never offend. She is, to me at least, a little bland.
This is where The Penultimate Girl comes in, and this is the first and probably the last trope that I will ever coin. Whilst making my way through horror movies of years gone by, I discovered that for every ‘Final Girl’, there is a counterpart ‘Penultimate Girl’, but I couldn’t believe no one had used this term before or discussed the trope’s importance.
The Penultimate Girl is a symbol of everything that The Final Girl is not: she is slutty, sarcastic, brash. If the Final Girl is blonde, the Penultimate Girl will often be brunette, or vice versa. If there’s a sex scene in the film, she’s usually involved. She is loud, demanding, bossy, unapologetically femme or butch or scantily clad. She smokes, she drinks, maybe she does drugs. Sometimes, The Penultimate Girl is black, whereas The Final Girl never is. This, perhaps more than any other ‘quality’ I’ve listed, offers an insight into what The Penultimate Girl means: she embodies things we dislike or disapprove of in women, culturally, because we know she will die and we have to be ok with that. And who is more reviled culturally, by a structurally racist and misogynist culture, than the black girl? The Penultimate Girl is punished and she is a sacrifice.
The Penultimate Girl is a woman who is killed off and the audience shrugs. It’s fine, we say to ourselves. “She had it coming”. Or perhaps we don’t think along those violently misogynistic lines, we just accept her death because she seems shallow or badly written or annoying or we don’t care because she’s a plot point and her death is necessary in the greater scheme.
The Penultimate Girl is a far more feminist concept than the meek and often accidentally heroic Final Girl, because - in a small way -she represents everything our white supremacist, cisheteronormative, capitalist, patriarchy hates. She is a target for an audience’s collective misogyny. And this is why I love her. I’ve listed 10 of my favourite Penultimate Girls below, who were killed off for being too pretty, too black, too mouthy, too sarcastic, too clever, too sexy, too butch, too funny, too self-aware, too jealous, too inquisitive or combination of the above. What are your favourites?
10. Pam (Terri McMinn) - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
9. Hallie (Elise Neal) - Scream 2 (1997)
8. Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) - Black Christmas (1974)
7. Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) - I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
6. Megan (Greta Gerwig) - The House of the Devil (2009)
5. Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) - Alien (1979)
4. Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Walsh (Kasi Lemmons) - Candyman (1992)
3. Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles) - Halloween (1978)
2. Kirby Reed (Hayden Panetierre) - Scream 4 (2011)
1. Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan) - Scream (1999)
N.B. I resisted the urge to list Marion Crane as played by Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960). Although in some respects she confirms to the Penultimate Girl trope - she is a sexually active criminal and as such we are encouraged to judge her - she is not earmarked as a secondary character who will probably be killed of, nor is she portrayed as a counterpart to a more virtuous protagonist. In fact, we’re supposed to believe that she is the protagonist and her early death is supposed to be a surprise, not an audience-sanctioned sacrifice.
I get wildly angry bout the fact that mental health problems are predominantly portrayed and perceived as solely psychological: invisible diseases that manifest at best as a nuisance and at worst as inner turmoil.
I can’t speak for all sufferers - and I don’t want to insinuate that a lack of physical symptoms invalidates a mental illness - but in my experience, mental health problems are *innately physical*.
I’m not just talking about the chronic exhaustion and lethargy I experience, I’m talking the persistent headaches, the heaviness, like my bone marrow is lead, the hot flush of anxiety, like a rash of beetles chewing my guts, the all over body ache, the twitching, jiggling, shaking, pacing, tapping, juddering that result in a catalogue of aches, itches, pains, sores.
Whether any or all of these symptoms are imagined or not, they feel as unavoidably *physical* as if depression were a virus, a parasite, a bug, flesh eating, bacteria.
Even my psychological torment is so unrelenting, persistent and punishing that I feel like I am being constantly torched, tickled, eviscerated, choked. I wish I was exaggerating.
T’would be cool to have that acknowledged.
On the 4th of December, 2013, Buzzfeed published one of its celebrated and popular listicles entitled 26 Problems Only Anxious People Will Understand. Not long after, my Facebook feed was flooded with friends, acquaintances and people I’ve never met, posting a link to this listicle with a comment along the lines of ‘same’, ‘omg i can relate’ or ‘this is me’.
Suddenly, it seemed, every human being alive was an Anxious Person. By looking at the popularity of the listicle, which as of today has over 5.4 million views, two things can be surmised from its success:
- writer Erin La Rosa really gets anxiety, and can write about it in a succinct way that is so supremely relatable that it strikes a chord with readers
- anxiety is extremely widespread
Closer examination of the listicle (I’m sorry I refuse to call it an article) reveals that, in actual fact, at least one of those statements is not true.
The list starts with the entry “If you hear any kind of noise in your house whatsoever, you become convinced that you’re about to be murdered.” Apparently this is something only anxious people will understand, not just a general and legitimate primal human fear - like fear of darkness (this also gets an airing on the list) - that was vital, historically, for the survival of the species. It’s not natural to be scared of strange noises in your living space, only anxious people experience this, apparently.
The list continues with some entries fairly legit (the one about extended door-lock-checking rings especially true as a genuine and not-all-that-common anxious and obsessive compulsive tendency), but some entries are so tenuously linked to anxiety that it’s not even funny (“You automatically assume that other people’s passive-aggressive tweets are about you.”).
What I’m getting at here, in my imitable hungover meets sleep-deprived ineloquent style, is that Generalised Anxiety Disorder, like many other mental health problems, is not just a mental health problem any more, it’s been appropriated by people who are actually psychologically well adjusted, but, naturally, like all humans, experience nervousness and anxiety from time to time.
Just like people who declare themselves depressed for feeling short-term grief or sadness after an event - such as a break-up or death - that should, according to what we know about human behaviour, ordinarily trigger grief or sadness, Generalised Anxiety Disorder no longer belongs to the people who genuinely suffer from it, but is an internet meme, an excuse to relate with every person you know, and a million that you don’t, over incredibly common and natural human emotions, feelings and reactions.
The appropriation, watering down of, and glamorisation of anxiety, is just the latest entry in a long history of distorting mental illnesses to fit the agenda of neurotypical people.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder or being an anxious person, is not a relatable lark (and let’s be honest here, although the listicle never makes mention of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, its insistence on referring to Anxious People as if they are a special separate breed of human makes it pretty clear that they’re talking about mental illness and not just humans who are a bit skittish.)
Anxiety - even mild anxiety - is not something that can be easily conveyed via gifs and lists, mostly because it’s so different for every sufferer. Anxiety - not just natural nervousness or common guilts or paranoias - is difficult, horrible, unglamorous, unfunny and confusing, even to fellow sufferers.
My boyfriend gets anxious about things that I can’t understand and don’t bother me, and vice versa. The idea that being an Anxious Person can be distilled into a gif-filled list to be shared on Facebook that all anxious people will relate to, is insulting to the complexity of its reality.
Here is my own list of things that make me personally anxious. None of them are humorous, none of them can be illustrated with a sassy or funny gif, none of them will have people I know clicking ‘reblog’ and writing “this is so me”. Anxiety is horrible and embarrassing, and here are just FIVE examples of how it personally hampers my enjoyment of life:
- Every time I fart I genuinely worry that I’ve shit myself, even though I never have.
- I check that I’ve locked the door so many times before leaving the house - and the oven, and the heaters, and the windows - that I’m often late for important appointments and have to make sure I’m ready to leave at least half an hour earlier than anyone else would.
- Sometimes I type out a word that I have stuck in my head using my fingers as if I’m touch-typing on myself. I repeat this until my fingers ache and are sore.
- When I attend a party - even full of people I know and like - there comes a point in the evening where I have to go to sleep to stave off suicidal thoughts and the fact that even talking to someone else is such a chore - and so embarrassing - that I genuinely plan to kill myself.*
- Sometimes I legitimately forget how to breathe and have to force myself to remember - often this happens in the workplace and for absolutely no discernible reason.
*when I wake in the morning the plan evaporates like morning dew (POETIC IMAGERY KLAXON), but the night before, it is genuine and I intend to carry it out. This clarification has been added in case any of the irl or url people I know start to worry that I may need psychological intervention or something.
I always wanted to be cool, I have no trouble admitting that.
Although my notions of what coolness specifically entails have changed as constantly as my age, my desire to be declared it - officially - have been a constant for as long as I can remember.
Cool is that most ineffable of qualities, but it hasn’t stopped me trying to understand it. Even before I craved popularity at school, even before I was bullied or saw myself as an outcast, even before I had come to terms with my flagrant queerness, mixed heritage, mental illness and unconventional beauty, I knew that I wanted to be cool.
In those days it was in the context of wanting to be admired as a performer - a relatively simple desire - but in time, this morphed and merged with a desire to not solely be admired as a performer, but be reviled, lusted after, despised, exalted, lauded and feared.
Cool - and I shall boldly attempt to ‘eff’ the ineffable here - cannot, as most socially constructed modern concepts cannot, be described in specific terms, but I can explore its vague possibilities.
To be cool is to be divisive, first and foremost: to instantly make an impression no matter what impression that is. To instigate opinion, and strong opinions. To imprint. And yet, conversely, contrarily, in direct contradiction to cool’s premier instinct, it is also to be an enigma, to confuse, to elude judgement, to foster and harbour feelings of furrow-browed-longing, to dive headfirst into that ineffability and wear it proudly like a sequinned, fur-lined cloak.
If you are to be cool you must make an impact, but a mysterious impact: something I find almost comical to imagine, like a meteor shrouded in smoke and furs, slinking loudly to earth.
The only thing you are to be sure of with regards to cool, is that someone is it.
At the start of this essay I made a claim that almost immediately cancelled out any hopes I had of being cool: I openly admitted that it was something I had purposefully gone after. Cool is supposed to not just seem effortless, it’s supposed to be effortless. If it is not, then it immediately cancels itself out. If you make even one admission of affectation the entire effect is spoiled like sour milk.
If you want cool you will never be it. Just like if you self-identify as a hipster, you cannot be one. If you proclaim yourself a star, you are a star no more. If you tell people you are confident, you’re trying too hard to fake it. If you need to explain that you have ‘the x factor’, you have the less desirable ‘why??? factor’.
These statements have passed from proverbs into universally accepted truths. Just as it is seems to be generally acknowledged amongst certain generations that if you feel hatred it is always, automatically jealousy in disguise, cool is only cool if you didn’t ask for it, didn’t try for it and wouldn’t know it if it slouched past you, hair streaming behind like ribbons.
I will probably never stop trying to be cool, and I will certainly never achieve it, at least to my own satisfaction. But I have been deceptive so far. I have spoken about cool as if it is concrete - or at least as concrete as a concept can be. But, here, my earlier suggestion that cool must be divisive, still holds.
There are people in the world who see me as cool, no matter what I do to persuade them otherwise. My behaviours, whether affected or not, read as cool to them because they cannot understand or replicate them. But there are just as many people who see through them because they’ve felt them themselves or they are simply. that. shrewd.
And like beauty - that other great ineffable quality that is so admired by white supremacist, capitalist, western patriarchy - cool will always remain, to slip briefly into cliché, in the eye of the beholder. My eyes, despite extensive analysis, remain wary and cynical and mistrusting. But maybe you read that as cool.
(picture via Vice's coverage of the recent London protest)
I didn’t want to write about the current Russian situation because it’s not about me. I am a white western queer man and really my opinion on the subject is not relevant. As a ‘community’ (lol), we queer people should be deferring and listening to LGBT Russians themselves: their wants, their opinions, their needs, their stories.
Believe it or not queer people in Russia have their own opinions and ideas (someone on twitter the other day suggested I was lucky to live in a country where I was allowed to have an opinion, as if in Russia, queer people’s minds are policed and they are forced to be opinionless automatons…).
But no. I had to break my well-intentioned silence because I have seen too much ignorance to keep quiet. If you find this too garbled and rantesque, there are plenty of great eloquent posts by people a lot smarter than me that explain these points in greater detail. Go on, search for them, western gays. Show that you actually give a damn.
The rest of this article will take the form a list because my anger is obscuring my ability to write in coherent, well-expressed sentences and paragraphs and also because then nobody can accuse me of being elitist in my attempts to disseminate information on the internet:
- There are two things that I have seen most western queers (and let’s be honest here, it’s mostly white cis gay men) getting really upset about: the recent homophobic laws and a slew of videos and photos of neo-nazi skinheads torturing and degrading ‘gay teens’.
- Both of these are troublesome to me.
- First of all, I get the sense that the only reason these anti-gay laws are particularly upsetting to western queers is because of recent American and British legislation regarding gay marriage (and let’s be honest, it’s not equal marriage if it throws trans people under the bus, is it? It’s marriage for cis gay people).
- This is problematic to me because legislation does not directly correlate to attitudes or behaviour of the people living in the country in which it is enacted.
- SO, whilst, legally, being queer in Russia might be a bigger problem, this doesn’t necessarily mean that things are worse for queer people. There is no evidence to suggest that homophobia and violent homophobia have worsened since these laws came in.
- In fact, my boyfriend who speaks Russian and has an interest in Russia that extends beyond social justice posturing, informed me of the announcement of some of these anti-gay laws up to a year ago. No one made a fuss or cared. Gay media was pretty much silent about it and if it was reported, there was no great outcry.
- My boyfriend has also spoken to actual gay Russian men themselves (yes they do exist, they’re not just symbols for you to make a fuss about on facebook) to ask what the current situation is like and one reported that, in actual fact, things have not changed, Russia is as homophobic as it always was, and things are not as bad as the western media is making out.
- This is anecdotal evidence and just the experience of one person, obviously, but should not be disregarded.
- I’m also troubled that nobody seems to be asking where these photos and videos of ‘gay teens’ (in fact a significant proportion of the men depicted are not teens, not even close) being tortured and degraded are coming from.
- As this article eloquently and thoroughly explains, the videos and images aren’t quite what they seem. They are depictions of skinheads torturing and degrading men, some of whom are gay, but they are not all teenagers and the movement is actually more complicated (it claims to target paedophiles and gerontophiles specifically, but actually seems simply to target anyone remotely effeminate or not heterosexual).
- Some of the videos and images have been online for a fair while but only received publicity recently, when they ‘went viral’.
- Some of the same people responsible for these videos and images were also responsible for a previous campaign of public hate and violence against people of colour in Russia on the basis that they were ‘immigrants’.
- Where was the public outcry about this? Extreme violence against ethnic minorities in Russia is not new, and it continues, but no one is pouring alcohol bottled in other countries down drains for these people of colour or screaming outside government buildings and embassies.
- And why the panic and outrage now? Is it specifically linked to the Winter Olympics? Are people ok with violent homophobia in a foreign land so long as that country isn’t allowed to host international sporting events?
- Buzzfeed recently posted a list of 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad As Or Worse Than Russia’s, but none of these countries are hosting the winter Olympics, and all of these countries have a majority population of people of colour, so are the queer people being locked up, beaten and killed in these 76 countries not as important as the white queer Russians currently being oppressed?
- As HowUpsetting explained in his excellent post on the subject, Russia is not the only country hosting an Olympic competition that is guilty of human rights abuses. China has a terrible track record with regards to human rights, but ignorant white western queers were not boycotting what they thought were Chinese exports, Dump Stoli-style, or protesting in Westminster.
- Even the UK, which Stephen Fry had the GALL to refer to as part of ‘the civilised world’ in his simpering, self-centered open letter to David Cameron (which I refuse to link to) is guilty of human rights abuses: disabled people thrown onto the street, driven to commit suicide with unfair tax legislation, the unemployed forced to work for free, rape and hate crimes still prevalent, enforced eviction to make way for corporate-sponsored sports events…
- And yet any cry of outrage with regards to the summer 2012 Olympics held in London was met with silencing, derailing and derision.
- Much of the rhetoric surrounding homophobia in Russia from white, western queers seems to be centred on the idea that something must be done and that we have the power to change things for those poor trampled foreigners.
- Neither of these things are true. Like most countries and human beings, Russia and Russians are very proud. They are an enormous country, a superpower in their own right. They are not going to bow to international pressure or internet petitions or boycotts, and even if they did, and legislation was changed, this would do nothing to stem the violence against queer people in that country or anywhere.
- And what then? Are these white westerners going to dedicate their lives to eradicating homophobic violence in Russia specifically? Or will they forget about it in the next couple of months, when or if something is done, and turn their attention to a different slacktivist cause?
- Russian LGBT people are capable of organising their own protests, of activism themselves, they do not need privileged white people in New York pouring Latvian-made-vodka down drains or printing tshirts and signs in their honour or reenacting abuse outside embassies or signing boycotts that they have not asked for or whose goals contravene their own
- My boyfriend got into an argument with someone he knows on facebook where he told them they were in full White Saviour Complex mode, to which they replied that this was patronising.
- White Saviour Complex is ingrained in white people and pointing it out is not patronising, it is necessary. It is the first port of call for white westerners in any situation regarding the rights and lives of people in other countries and of other cultures.
- The fact that people are reposting images, videos, petitions, calls to boycott, open letters and whipping themselves up into a frenzied panic without even doing the minimal amount of research into the subject is indicative of just how deeply entrenched this White Saviour Complex is.
- The first port of call should be to read the stories and opinions of queer Russians themselves, to offer support if it’s asked for, to pressure or boycott or petition if Russian people call for it, to do research and try to discover what is actually going on instead of diving head first into morally superior panic.
- I have seen people who do not give two shits about social justice the other 363 days of the year suddenly don tshirts and go protesting as if their life depends on it. I tweeted before the protest “don’t be surprised if all you end up with is a new facebook profile pic”, and sure enough, the people I know who attended achieved nothing more than a new profile pic, smugly brandished as if this is irrefutable evidence of their moral character.
Finally: do not misunderstand me. I am wildly angry about the homophobia in Russia and the anti-gay laws that are attempting to silence and repress queer people, just as I am equally wildly angry about ALL human rights abuses and all homophobia.
BUT, it is not my job, or your job, as western white queers, to step in and decide what’s best for Russian LGBT people, ESPECIALLY not without having done the minimal amount of research. It is not responsible to misrepresent evidence or media in the name of appearing on-the-button and socially conscious. It is not ok to ignore the opinions and stories of Russian queer people - to not even consider them or bother searching them out - because it might inconvenience your moral crusade.
Finally, as an intersectional queer feminist, it disturbs me to see the ‘gay community’ (that hierarchical, racist, transphobic, misogynistic, slut-shaming, fatphobic bastion of morality) focussing so specifically on the human rights abuses facing people like them. I know human beings are shallow and selfish and they often need to be able to relate to something to get enthused about it, but if you are a decent human being and you purport to care about the lives of oppressed people, stop averting your gaze and turning your back on other forms of violence against marginalised people just because it doesn’t suit your narrative and agenda.
This blog comes with a Trigger Warning so large it had to be written by blue whales with enormous jumbo underwater paintbrushes. A trigger warning for suicidal ideation, suicide and self-harm.
Equally importantly: I do not wish anyone reading this (whether they know me or not) to worry or panic that I may be in danger of hurting myself. I have a strong support network and even at my lowest, I have never planned or attempted to take my own life and I do not anticipate this changing.
For most of my life, suicidal thoughts existed behind a steel-reinforced door. This door was set into a steel-reinforced wall, impossible to scale. I had no desire to access the thoughts that lay beyond, although occasionally curiosity - curiosity about everything I could imagine, and everything I could not - led me to try and heave the door ajar and peak through. I was unsuccessful in my attempts. The door stayed closed and not a crowbar, not a sledgehammer, not a soldering iron, nor a wrecking ball, would open it.
At the age of 18, the mild depression that had bothered me in short waves, set up shop in my head, sunk its rancid claws in and refused to budge: my parasite… I, its host. It took me 3 years of denial to even acknowledge its existence - I was desperate, desperate, not to admit I might be mentally ill - but when I did, I found that, magically this mighty, impenetrable door was now wide open as if it had never been shut.
Last year, at the age of 21, I suffered a nervous breakdown. I didn’t have a support network the way I do now. I didn’t understand my own illness and neither, despite their best efforts, did any of my friends or loved ones. During this time, as suddenly as I’d found The Door open, I found myself, waking, groggily, blurry-eyed, on the other side, wheezing as I struggled to acclimatise to the smog of a new atmosphere.
For about a year now, I have been able to exist on both sides of the door: it has remained open. I could only visit the smog for short periods of time - any longer and I struggled to breathe - but for the most part, I allowed myself free passage to come and go. But again, without any warning or explanation, the set up changed, and now I find myself, happier, healthier, with a support network and in recovery, no longer self-harming or sleeping 75% of the day, on medication and in therapy, locked on the other side of that impossible wall.
For me, suicidal thoughts are like snippets of catchy songs. Even when I beg them to leave, they circle round my brain like shorn stubble refusing to swill down a basin drain. The more I try to rid myself of them, the more insistently repetitive they become. They are the stray dogs that I indulged and fed as a child, living in Nepal, who followed me even when I tired of their attention, who I showed an interest in a handful of times, with their white, glassy eyes and dusty coats, stroked to sleep on my lap on my parents’ porch, snuck scraps of food to, against my parents’ advice, and then was pestered by for succeeding weeks.
Last month I started a new day job, so emotionally taxing, draining and demeaning that these suicidal thoughts have redoubled their efforts. Every time I come within 100 metres of that building I start to imagine walking off the 7th floor. No amount of willpower or self control can keep the shuddering reel of images at bay. I have tried to make peace with the smog, but it refuses to abate and I now wish to be back where I had started, not just in an atmosphere I can breathe, but in blissful ignorance of what lies beyond My Door.
Fortunately I have started to talk about my suicidal ideation, the alluring dreams of death, the relief I associate with ‘ending it all’, the attractive qualities I see in an endless sleep, my desperate craving for unconsciousness, so I’m starting to see my way back out of the smog. But for now, every day is a struggle to convince myself that I don’t have the guts to do it, that these thoughts are betraying me, they are trying to trick me: I may be on the wrong side of the door, but, at least, at least, I tell myself, I don’t wish to be there.
DISCLAIMER: this blog post is in no way an attempt to denigrate or criticise the work of charities, lobby groups or activists who genuinely do take into account or prioritise the needs of more vulnerable LGBT people or legitimately do foster or strive to create a sense of community for disenfranchised LGBT human beings. This writer understands that most (or at least a lot of) queer people are not lucky enough to have a loving or understanding family and genuinely do experience and/or rely on queer community/ies or outreach groups on a small scale. This blog post is, instead, simply a critique of the concept of a ‘gay community’ at large, as presented and upheld by mainstream media and the popular imagination.
When I first came out, I felt excited to be a member of a community: ‘the gay community’. I’d never felt that I had belonged before, despite my loving and understanding family. I didn’t fit in at school, I didn’t fit in at music school and I didn’t fit in at my ballet class. I felt perpetually that I was ‘other’ and nobody would embrace me.
Of course I soon came to understand that ‘the gay community’ was not only not a community: it doesn’t exist. Its existence as a phrase and concept only serves to advance the rights of the most privileged members of the minority it purports to represent and is, at best, blind, self-serving, selfish and elitist.
The concept exists only to provide a false sense of camaraderie and belonging to disenfranchised youth in order to help them further the chosen causes of the privileged few white, cis, gay men at the forefront of queer rights.
I want no part of it.
The gay community cares nothing for violence aimed at non-queer people, has done nothing to address the vile rot of misogyny, racism and internalized homophobia at its core, and wants to exist in a vacuum, charging towards liberation on their specific and impossible terms: maintaining a ruthless, and - by nature - oppressive, capitalist, patriarchy, whilst achieving nominal and superficial rights. It wants to be invited to sit at the adult’s table, instead of dismantling or smashing the metaphorical table hierarchy itself.
Much like many feminists will insist that the only acceptable feminism to them is intersectional, the only acceptable queer rights activism, advocacy and theory to me are intersectional.
Enough of white, cis gay, men ignoring the plight and rights of trans people of colour, sex workers, immigrants and ethnic or religious minorities. Enough of white, cis, gay men siding with conservative or fascist parties in the name of ‘LGBT’ rights. Enough.
'The gay community' is a sham, a mirage built on white supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal values. As a twitter friend recently reminded me, gay people are not exempt from patriarchy conditioning. Members of 'the gay community' have sexually harassed, sexually abused, emotionally and physically abused, bullied, shamed, slut-shamed, excluded and degraded me.
There is no gay community.
Yesterday I had to visit the Jobcentre, as I am required to do every week, despite the fact that I have a job, despite the fact that I have a degree, despite the fact that I am qualified to do a range of unskilled, skilled and specialist jobs, professionally. I don’t really mind attending these weekly meetings in exchange for government benefits to help me pay for food and make meagre contributions to rent and bills. I’d probably walk over hot coals nightly for that small amount of money, just so I could keep my husband and I off the streets. But I still leave that horrid green office every wednesday feeling suicidal, my will to live sapped from me as if the place is manned by Dementors.
I understand that this is part of the process. If the Jobcentre was a joyous place to visit, no one would ever bother becoming gainfully employed. It has to be utilitarian and oppressive, to encourage you to better your situation. To encourage you to get off your supposedly fat, lazy, good-for-nothing leech of an arse and get a job and stop wasting the taxpayer’s money. Or at least I imagine this must be the thinking behind making it so depressing.
But still, how could I not be depressed, how could I not be disheartened when I have to sit opposite a kind but patronising woman, making me increasingly late for my wonderful (but unpaid) internship, as she types with two fingers, misspells words like ‘skills’ and ‘employment’, misspells my name, despite it being written in front of her, refers to me as Nigel, despite having my name written in front of her, tears apart the CV I have carefully crafted, that got me my last two jobs, simplifies it, removes the formatting, puts it all in Arial font, size 12, cutting out my official job positions and replacing them with simplified terms, telling me that I haven’t done enough because it doesn’t look like I’ve spent 3 hours every night searching for a job, despite knowing that I work 3 days a week for an independent record label, that I am a freelance violinist, composer and arranger, that I am an unsigned singer and musician, that I have mental health problems that affect my motivation and prevent me from getting out of bed most mornings, let alone sitting at a computer for 3. goddamned. hours every night and applying for menial jobs I will never get because I am either considered underqualified or overqualified. How could I not feel depressed.
I can only imagine how much worse it is for people who don’t have a degree, who don’t have a colourful CV full of menial job experiences, who don’t have the option of moving back to their parents’ if things went really, really badly, people with children to support, people with physical disabilities or mental health problems so bad that leaving the house isn’t a question, people who have travelled from other countries to find a better quality of life and yet find themselves demonised, stigmatised, considered unemployable because of the colour of their skin or their choice of dress or their lack of experience.
Really, despite my blatant homosexuality and mental health problems, I exist at the top end of the spectrum, privilege-wise, with regards to benefit-claimants. I am the luckiest of all the unlucky souls who, for whatever reason, have found themselves ‘signing on’, or filling out endless, intrusive, confusing forms, performing pointless tasks just to satisfy goals and targets set by people who know nothing about joblessness.
So if the Jobcentre depresses me, if signing on is embarrassing for me, if admitting that - despite everything my parents have given me, despite the host of talents and skills I’ve honed over my short life, despite my bursts of occasional confidence, workplace competence and hungry ambition, despite my white privilege, male privilege, middle-class upbringing, able-bodied privilege - I am claiming benefits, I cannot fathom how soul-crushing it is for everyone else. I cannot fathom how horrifying it is to see disgusting national institutions like The Daily Mail and The Telegraph senselessly and falsely smear people who haven’t had the good fortune they have, to tar all vulnerable people with the same, vile brush, to use words like ‘scroungers’ and ‘leeches’ to describe them, to use the example of one evil, amoral, abusive human turd who murdered his six children in a fire and HAPPENED to be claiming benefits to draw the conclusion that this is the behaviour of ALL benefit claimants.
I cannot fathom.
For a long time I considered writing an essay about why Gilmore Girls has become my favourite tv show of all time, eclipsing even Buffy. This essay never materialised because it dawned on me that it’s exactly the kind of show that you CAN’T persuade people to watch, no matter how well you evanglise it or espouse its many merits. Most people already know what they think of Gilmore Girls (if they’ve heard of it) and they already know that they hate it. You can only change their minds by forcing them to watch it (and even then… it’s hit and miss). So I came to the realisation that no matter how eloquently I sold the show to its many detractors, I would just be preaching to the choir, the converted and the eternally skeptical.
In its place, I offer to you a recap of my observations on watching Season 1 (for what must be the 7th or 8th time). I recently retrieved my dvd boxsets from my parents’ house and am watching it through with John, who is a Gilmore virgin. He was skeptical at first but it has slowly won him over and I even catch him singing the theme tune sometimes. It probably won’t ever be his favourite show of all time (I wouldn’t want it to be, we’re not identical people) but I’m really glad that he’s enjoying it so much.
Anyways. Just for fun. Here are some things I noticed this time round (warning: MANY SPOILERS HERE):
- Even though Dean is introduced as a potential love interest in the first episode, he doesn’t really reappear properly for another 3 or 4 episodes.
- Despite the cast insisting in interviews that the pilot episode is so different from the rest of the show, tonally, it’s really not. They talk just as fast, they’re just as pop-culture and coffee-obsessed. It’s fairly consistent compared to a lot of other pilots/first seasons.
- It’s actually really really weird that we never meet Lane’s dad.
- It’s a lot raunchier than I remembered. I mean, for a ‘family’ tv show. Sex is implied fairly often and Lorelai once jokes that she’s gonna buy Rory a bong (!).
- I know Drella the harpist is supposed to be a consolation prize for Alex Bornstein not being able to take the role of Sookie (she was the original casting choice and played her in the first pilot shot) but SHE IS SO ANNOYING AND I WISH THEY’D JUST NOT BOTHERED.
- Now that Melissa McCarthy is a box-office comedy giant and Oscar-nominated thespian, I can really see just how great an actor she is. I always just assumed that she was sort of playing herself as Sookie, but having since seen her in other roles, I can tell that she’s not, she’s just really talented and really fucking funny.
- Just as Xander is my least favourite Buffy character and I would gladly wipe him from the entire series, Kirk and Michel make me want to die and as much as I personally think Gilmore Girls is the greatest tv show ever made (SUCK ON THAT The Wire), I could really do without ‘em.
- Dean really, really changes as a character throughout the series. In the pilot episode he’s made out to be this edgy outsider dreamboat, perfect for Rory. They discuss literature and he’s reported to have excellent taste in music (feminist singer/guitarist Liz Phair is mentioned). Even by the end of season 1, though, he’s morphed into a different guy. He’s shown to be simpler, more traditional, he voices wildly sexist views in one episode. Rory tries to get him to read Anna Karenina but he complains that it’s too long. By the time Jess turns up, he’s become a caveman, redneck monstertruck enthusiast. I realise why they did this - they had to to work beatnik rebel Jess into the love triangle - but I think it was also because, to sustain a show for that long, you have to create obstacles to happiness or the show becomes boring. If Rory had met her dream guy in episode 1 - an edgy, tall, literate, outsider rebel with boyband hair - where could she have gone from there?
- Paris is also a character who morphs massively. When she’s introduced she comes off like a boffin Regina George: Hermione Granger crossed with a Heather. She’s got two faithful vapid minions and she seems to rule the school with an iron, perfectly manicured nail. But by several episodes later she has metamorphosed into a much dowdier, uncooler butterfly. A moth rather. Madeleine and Louise, her two lackeys, change from equally academically precocious rich bitches in plaid into ditzy, sex-obsessed bimbos. I realise that it’s possible to be both wildly clever and wildly sexy. I am a sex-positive intersectional feminist. But the flipsides of these three characters are very 2 dimensional and rigid. Their postures change, their attitude, their dialogue, their tones of voice. Throughout the rest of the 7 seasons, Paris Gellar becomes an overambitious joke. She simply exists to annoy Rory and give her someone to compete against. In season 1 they attempt to make her an interesting textured character by playing her obsession with Tristan against Rory’s ambivalence, but it feels too soap opera-ish to really be interesting. Paris has the potential to be one of the most multifaceted, intriguing characters of the entire show, but within the first half of the first season she’s already dramatically altered, changing from a confident, vain dictator into an insecure, frumpy wannabe.
- I really cannot express in words how much I detest and resent Tristan as a character.
- Even though it’s perhaps my last favourite, season 1 still has some really fucking funny lines and great, snappy dialogue.
- I forgot how early they plant the seeds that bloom over the next 7 years. I knew that the Lorelai and Luke romance is hinted at RIGHT from the beginning, but I thought it was ignored from hence forth. I WAS WRONG. Season the First is LITTERED with awkward Luke and Lorelai chemistry. They come so close to dating, kissing and professing their attraction in so many scenarios that you’d think their relationship was sure to happen in season 2 (it doesn’t start until Season 5, really).
- Also the inn that Lorelai and Sookie buy up and transform into the magnificent Dragonfly makes its first appearance in season 1! I forgot that it took them THAT LONG to do anything with it.
- I completely forgot Rachel even existed as a character, she’s so bland and such a poorly rendered cliché.
- I really wish Rory had been rewritten as a gay boy or Lorelai had been a lesbian or something. The show has such a dearth of queer characters, it’s embarrassing and upsetting. I realise the creators probably had nothing to do with this, it was surely the prudish American network. But it really bugs me. I feel like I relate so much to so many of the characters and they’re all fucking straight (except Michel and Gypsy but it’s NEVER MENTIONED).
- Also, why we’re on the subject, there are NO PEOPLE OF COLOUR EXCEPT THE TWO GAY PEOPLE: MICHEL AND THE ABSENT-SO-FAR GYPSY. And the Kims.) I know this is small-town America, but really. This show is almost as white as Girls.’
I understand that that was probably DEEPLY boring for anyone who hasn’t watched the show obsessively over the years like me, but I had to get it off my chest *shrug*
“It’s time to take the word back / fag is now a compliment / a sexy ass homo who runnin’ shit and confident.” - Brooke Candy, paraphrased
This is going to be my first, last and final post on the word ‘faggot’, but I really want to say something and whether or not anyone wants to read or listen, I’m going to pour out my meagre, unimportant views into tumblr.
I really don’t have a problem with people using the word ‘faggot’. In my head it’s a compliment, and that’s not just a coping method to combat homophobia, I really feel that way. When someone calls me a faggot, I think “yeah, I am, and so proud I could burst at the seams”. When someone uses the word ‘faggot’ as a slur to describe someone they hate, I think: “wow, that person is not using the word ‘faggot’ correctly”.
At the risk of patronising my clever followers and readers, there are queer and LGBT people the world over being beaten, teased into committing suicide, set on fire, imprisoned, separated from their partners and disowned, thrown onto the streets. Being called ‘faggot’ by someone ignorant does not seem worth getting upset about. It’s ONE small opportunity to reclaim ground by reclaiming a slur and it should be seized wherever people feel able.
I haven’t always felt this way, as a younger, more sensitive individual, I felt the broad, vile sting of being called that word. But the older I got, the more I understood that being called ‘faggot’ had nothing to do with me. When a person hatefully or ignorantly deploys that word or aims it at a queer person, it says a bible-ful of things about them and nothing about you. It reflects poorly on their choices and their lack of intelligence and the society that taught them that bigotry is acceptable. I realised that I didn’t have energy to waste feeling sorry for these people, so it had nothing to do with me. It was a freeing moment.
I’m not mad at Azealia for using the word ‘faggot’. I think it should be used more often, I think it should be totally disarmed until it’s as useless as smallpox post-1979.
I’m mad because she implied, quite clearly, that femininity in men is something to feel ashamed about and something to be chastised for. This is so beyond total bullshit that I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even think she meant it. I’m not an apologist, but I genuinely believe she didn’t really know what she’s saying. I don’t think she seriously equates femininity with grossness or yuckiness, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. But she said it. And in clarifying it she made it worse. And she still hasn’t apologised.
By all means call me a faggot, call Perez Hilton a faggot (although I don’t think he deserves that accolade) but don’t suggest to an army of impressionable young followers that men who act like women are to be abused in a public forum. Don’t be that bigot. The problem with Perez Hilton is not that he acts like a woman, or that he’s a faggot, it’s that he’s life-sucking, hypocritical pond scum without a shred of human decency. Express yourself (clearly) don’t repress yourself.
CLARIFICATION: I don’t want, nor do I wish, to shame anyone about their reaction to homophobia. I didn’t intend in my piece to make queer people who DO find the word ‘faggot’ offensive feel shit. That’s your choice and I don’t judge you for it. Also I’m aware that being called ‘faggot’ can be part of the ‘teasing that leads to suicide’ that I mentioned. It’s all about context, obviously, and context varies wildly.
However if you’re a straight person who’s butthurt at the word ‘faggot’, fuck off, I literally do not care what you have to say.
Right I just want to get this out of my system NOW before I relapse into a deep depression and don’t see the point any more.
Anybody with any sort of vague involvement with twitter should know that Caitlin Moran, Times-columnist and sort of professional tweeter, seems to be putting her foot in it an awful lot lately. It seems like only yesterday that she was the darling of, not just the ‘progressive’ (*cough*) left, but journalism and the internet at large. She’s the kind of quick-witted, silly person who has thrived in the age of TWITTER but who was previously kind of not very well known.
Some of the stuff Caitlin Moran has said has been Really Fucking Awful And Unhelpful (the high heels debacle instantly springs to mind), whereas some of the stuff she’s said (gay seamonkeys, Intersectionalitygate, and her most recent gaffe “all of the ethnics”) is just really badly worded or very misguided or an unfunny joke or ignorant.
Today I woke up to an article by Helen Lewis which quotes and aims to dissect each of these individual blunders, basically writing off any blame levelled at Moran because she didn’t mean what she said, or it was misinterpreted, or she said sorry later and none of us is perfect. I mean, fair point, no one is perfect, everyone makes blunders, and certainly, I am as guilty of this as anybody (I briefly wore bindis as a fashion accessory earlier this year, before realising I was being an offensive culturally appropriating cunt, par example).
But let’s look at who Moran is, or purports to be. She’s often heralded as the face and voice of modern feminism, mostly down to a well-intentioned book, How To Be a Woman. I’m not saying Caitlin ASKED to be The Face of Modern Feminism (I don’t think she did) but whether or not she, or anyone else, likes it (and I don’t like it very much) she keeps being tossed this accolade and with this perceived role comes lots of VERY REAL responsibility.
Let me tell you a story. When I was doing A Level Music, my teacher told me about a concept which she referred to as ‘avant garl’. My teacher made me write down ‘avant garl’ with that spelling in my notebook. I was 17 at the time, preparing to start a music degree in a year’s time, and quite aware of the ‘avant garde’ movement, so I challenged her and had to show her that she’d spelt it disastrously wrong.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing how to spell ‘avant garde’. I would never hold it against someone. UNLESS they were my A Level Music teacher and responsible for helping me get into university. THEN I would judge someone for not knowing how to spell it. THEN I would start to get nitpicky and start to hold it against someone.
Caitlin, in many ways, is very much like that music teacher. She’s in a position of power (with which comes responsibility). She has an enormous platform, not just on twitter, but in her newspaper column as well. She wants to use this platform for good, which is admirable. But she doesn’t have the knowledge to back it up. She bandied the words ‘retard’ and ‘tranny’ around (she’s since apologised, which is good) seemingly without realising that she’d done anything wrong. That’s ok. Lots of people unwittingly use slurs, and realising this and then apologising is a great thing to do. But if you have written what (unfortunately), to many people, is the most important feminist tome ever because it’s the only one they’ve ever heard of, you have a responsibility to KNOW what is a slur and what is not without having to be educated on the matter.
If you purport to fight on the side of Equality For Everyone and you have one of the most widely-read columns and twitter feeds in the world, you have a responsibility not to shamelessly victim blame (as she did with her comment that women clicking along the street at night in high heels were attracting rapists, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of rapes are NOT perpetrated by strangers in dark alleys). You have a responsibility not to refer to gays as your army of extremely well-groomed tiny brine shrimp pets, even jokingly (because you should know that this sort of thing is taken at face value by lots of people on the internet, where it’s difficult to infer tone, and that implying that all gay men are grooming obsessed Ken Dolls, even as a joke, is really fucking unhelpful).
You have a responsibility not to effectively brush the needs and interests of LEGIONS of already under-represented women and feminists of colour under the carpet with a rude, flippant, swear-riddled tweet. You have a responsibility to express yourself clearly, and if you’re going to be humorous or deploy ‘parody’ or satire, to do so intelligently. When you’re Caitlin Moran, having your Heart In The Right Place and bumbling along making cock-ups and learning as you go along, is not quite enough.
Not everyone has these responsibilities - certainly, I’m not expecting everyone to be an academically proficient, thoroughly well-read expert - but Caitlin does, and she routinely flouts her power and platform with great ladles of ignorance and badly or unclearly expressed blunders. This is My Problem With Caitlin Moran. I’m not suggesting that every feminist, or even every person, needs to come with a degree in gender studies and an advanced grasp of semantics. But if you’re Caitlin Moran, and you’ve had this position thrust on you, you should at least have a modicum.
When social justice bloggers on tumblr (who have basically taught me all I know) are better-read, more eloquent and, yes, FUNNIER, than the supposed Face of Modern Feminism, you know you have a problem.
(picture via The master’s tools)
As you may already know, I met my boyfriend through tumblr. I fancied him for ages but didn’t have the courage to tell him because I didn’t think he felt the same. Altho we used to reblog from each other all the time, he started reblogging me less and less, and altho I’d made contact on Facebook, my attempt at flirting had fallen flat on its face. I sent him some anon messages professing my attraction and he was quite rude and sassy cuz he had no idea who it was.
Eventually thru the magic of twitter we talked more and more until I plucked up the courage to tell him I *really* had a huge crush on him. To my surprise, he felt the same way about me, but hadn’t had the courage to say anything! Eventually we met up and the rest is history and now we live together.
To think of all the time I could’ve saved if I’d just professed my feelings off anon! It worked out in the end, but basically what I’m saying is: if you crush on someone, tell them, they may well crush on you back!*
*I cannot be held responsible for what happens if it turns out the person you fancy doesn’t like you that way. Sorry. Also I realise that just because I took a chance and it worked out for the best, doesn’t mean the same will happen to you. But I guess what I’m saying is, in a very roundabout way, you never know.