Sunday, May 22, 2016

Marriage Equality, how did that happen?

It’s a year since we voted yes, for Marriage Equality. A mere year and what was once considered extraordinary is now ordinary. As the years pass, the pivotal importance of the Marriage Equality referendum will so fade from memory, children will see it in an exam, and get the year wrong. Even those children raised by LGBT parents or children who are themselves LGBT, will struggle to grasp how improbable it was for Marriage Equality to be so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland. It's been a year and I still don't understand how it happened.

When some future historian sits down to write their thesis on this referendum, I hope they decide to concentrate on Kerry. Not because Kerry was exceptional, it wasn't. All but one rural constituency voted yes. It merits further analysis because Kerry is geographically far-flung, has a population of approximately 145,000 and is considered to be very conservative. To this, Yes Equality Kerry brought less than a dozen regular canvassers, barely a handful of experienced activists, no trained media personnel, almost zero support from our elected representatives and very little money. Kerry said yes to the tune of 55%. I was there and I still don't understand how this happened.

Perhaps I am being unfair on the politicians. They did put up posters in Kerry and apparently they canvassed enthusiastically in Dublin. I remember growing heartily sick of the hearing about the canvassing in Dublin. Teams of over fifty people at a time. Twice a day my wife and I would head to Listowel and more often than not, we'd be knocking on doors by ourselves. Every box from Listowel was tallied, every box was a yes. My ego is such that I would love to take credit for that. But I didn't have to change that many minds and I didn't endure that much abuse to allow me think anything other than I was pushing at an already open door. I still don't understand why that was the case.

I loved being part of the campaign, but remain utterly convinced that its apparent necessity was hateful. I often tried to imagine what it would be like to be gay or bi and have to ask and beg strangers to please treat me as an equal. My wife is bi, I saw the toll canvassing took on her, but to this day I cannot approach the empathy required to fully experience the emotion of asking a stranger to vote for my equality. The arguments I heard against Marriage Equality ranged from the facile to the bigoted, yet they convinced 45% of Kerry people to reject equality. I still haven't got my head round that.

I hope that future historian examines the role of the Roman Catholic Church during the campaign. Yes, it was implacably opposed to equality, but implacably wasn't all that implacable. The institution may have lost a great deal of its influence for having sheltered so many paedophiles and rapists, but that still doesn't explain how it mattered so little in the campaign. Attendance at Mass is still high. People still like to get married in churches. Parents go all out for First Communions and Confirmations. The schools remain almost exclusively Roman Catholic and there's a crucifix in the Kerry County Council chambers. Perhaps too many individual priests, too used to meeting LGBT people, couldn't bring themselves to go all out against members of their community? I'd like to know for sure.

Our local and national media merits a mention. Its cowardice is something I haven't yet come to terms with. So lacking in any sense of its role as trumpeters of truth, it relegated itself to mere time keepers. It never sought to examine the veracity of the content spewed, only making sure that each side got equal coverage, equal time, an equal say. No matter what witless bullshit was spouted, it was treated as having merit because it was part of one side's 50%. A week in, I stopped following the debates. How did one of the most important institutions of our civilisation become so reduced?

How did Kerry so change without me noticing? I suspect it still isn't safe for two men to walk down a street in Tralee at night, holding hands. But now I believe it will eventually happen. I know Kerry didn't suddenly become a paradise for the LGBT community, but they are now, for the first time in the history of this State, equal to me, before the law. I'd always thought I had a finger on the pulse, but then this glorious thing occurred a year ago and I still don't know how it happened.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Still Hating (Part 2)

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 2 March, 2015 edition

For some background, please read this post. I am also including a picture of the letters' page from last week. There were three letters published criticising my previous letter.

I noted, with great interest, the number of letters (The Kerryman, February 24) condemning surrogacy for gay men. Surrogacy is a complicated subject that deserves careful consideration.

There are four basic stances one can take on surrogacy. First, one can oppose it in all circumstances. Second, agree with it, but only in limited circumstances e.g. when a close relative serves as the surrogate and no money involved. Thirdly, one may see commercial surrogacy, tightly regulated, as perfectly justifiable. Finally there are those who view surrogacy as a private enterprise that does not require State intervention.

All very simple and straightforward. Except it isn't. To those four positions we must add the issue of gametes. Specifically, whose gametes? Do you support surrogacy if the commissioning parent(s) has no genetic link to the child or does that matter? On top of that we have the issue of genetic history for medical reasons. Does a child have a right to know their genetic progenitors, and if so, when? Does someone who acts as a surrogate or who donates their gametes have a right to anonymity? Do they have parenting rights?

Then there are the issues of economic necessity and economic exploitation. There are inter and intra jurisdictional issues. Passports and birth certificates might become problematic. And there are biological and constitutional imperatives to consider.

All that and then we have to think about IVF. This is the most common method of facilitating pregnancy in surrogacy. It is expensive and stressful. Who pays for it? What happens in situations where there are multiple foetuses? And in today's world we now need to ponder genetic manipulation.

Surrogacy is a wondrous gift, but a gift fraught with practical concerns. Dealing with it requires an engagement on an intellectual, scientific, philosophical and moral level. It requires the full weight of our informed attention. It is an issue of supreme complexity and emotion. But there is a way out. There is a way to avoid contention and compromise. We can simply say, gay men can't do it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

On Being A Single Issue Voter

I've never had much time for 'single issue voters.' They've always struck me as irredeemably parochial, worthy even of contempt. An unfortunate point of view, considering I now find myself choosing to be a single issue voter. Yes, in this general election I'm voting on a candidate's position on repealing the Eighth Amendment and their pro-choice credentials. I'm not comfortable about it. I know it's an issue that affects 51% of the population, all across the country, so technically it isn't merely a local issue, but it still feels strange to be that voter. 

It is especially weird as I am still in Fine Gael. I supported them at the last election and had envisaged canvassing for them in this election. And truth be told, there is part of me that hopes they still end up leading the next government. Though that is based more on the paucity of credible alternatives than any affection or faith in Fine Gael.  

I joined and supported Fine Gael as I trusted them to two things if in power. I expected them to, ploddingly and unimaginatively, (and in tandem with Labour, less viciously than would be preferred by many in the party) rescue the economy from the abyss that Fianna Fáil had consigned it to. And secondly I expected then to not be Fianna Fáil. They managed the first part. Yes, there were international factors, but Fine Gael played a part. They failed on the second part. They did nothing to make politics in this country anything other than the tawdry mess that was once the near exclusive preserve of Fianna Fáil.   

In fairness to Fine Gael, my disaffection is not all on them. I have experienced a gradual change in political perspective over the last few years. Where once I was a 'true blue' Progressive Democrat, I now find myself wondering again about the State. I have begun to wonder if my mistrust of the State's ability to play any sort of useful role in society was less an ideological stance and more a contempt based on my experiences with habitually under resourced and dreadfully led services. 

It is an uncomfortable experience, rethinking one's ideology, one I would prefer to avoid. But contact with reality is terribly educational. I have worked in what is sometimes pejoratively described as the 'poverty industry' all my adult life. That's over twenty years dealing with people who require huge wads of other people's money to just survive, never mind thrive. The first portion of my career was spent getting over the fact that I didn't know what poor was. I thought I'd grown up poor, but fuck me I didn't have a clue. The next part of my career coincided with the 'property bubble.' That was a great time for me. There was so much money being thrown at services that my salary shot up and I had my pick of jobs. Of course it never occurred to me at the time that while I was getting better pay, more options and more colleagues, nothing was actually changing.    

It took me a long time to realise that. I can be very slow at times. Reading 'Oliver Twist' for the first time, helped a bit. Seeing the differing experiences of my middle class friends and my working class friends helped. Owning a house and being strapped for cash helped. Getting older and having to pay for regular dentistry and GP visits helped. Twitter helped. And writing helped. 

I have had to finally accept that for all its egregious shortcomings, only the State has the resources, reach and breadth to replace charity with rights. To ultimately make me redundant. 

For many people that is not a startling realisation. To many it's actually a truism, but for someone who still retains a certain sympathy for libertarianism it's like losing a religion. It is very unsettling as one's political beliefs do become part of one's identity. Perhaps I now understand why so many people still voted for Fianna Fáil at the last election, or who remain within the Roman Catholic Church, despite everything. 

Now what to do with this new found and still grudging acceptance of the State as a necessary vehicle for positive change? I'm not sure. 

I like being in a political party. I'm one of those weirdos who enjoys political activism. But I look at what's out there and I'm left cold. I can see why independents are so popular. In a country where politics is so degraded, voting for the local guy who'll talk tough to them there people in Dublin, but who really only succeeds in fucking over the people in the next county, is an attractive prospect. In my county, Kerry, there's a very real prospect of two Healy-Raes winning seats. That's what we get for Fine Gael failing to not be like Fianna Fáil. That's what we get when Labour destroys itself trying to prove themselves to everyone except their core vote.     

I want to be in a party and it'll have to be left of centre but as close to the centre as possible. A party that is brave enough to say that people can have world class services or low taxes, but they can't have both. Obviously that leads me to the Social Democrats. I like a lot of what they have on offer. But I have a problem. The big beast of the left is Sinn Féin. If I live to be a hundred, I will not vote for that party nor lend them any support, direct or indirect. And being in a party of the left may lead to that eventuality. 

So I'm stuck. I hope to have gotten myself out of this bind by the time the next election is called, but for now I am left trying to decide who to vote for in this election. Voting pro-choice is at least using my vote positively, but it is an unsatisfactory solution. 

To that end I contacted all but two of the candidates standing in Kerry. I didn't bother with Mary FitzGibbon, because, well why bother. And I'd already contacted Michael Healy-Rae so I know where Healy-Rae éile stands.        

I emailed fourteen of the sixteen candidates. Seven chose to reply. Of them, independents, Michael Healy-Rae and Henry Gaynor were avowedly anti-choice. Independent Kevin Murphy, Renua's Donal Corcoran, Grace O'Donnell (FG) and Norma Moriarty (FF) have all said they are pro-choice. Martin Ferris (SF) managed, in one sentence, to convey his unenthusiastic adherence to his party's policy of repealing the Eighth.  

I got no reply from AJ Spring (Lab), but from his radio appearances he appears to be an unenthusiastic supporter of a woman's choices, but only in very limited circumstances. Same goes for Jimmy Deenihan (FG) and Brendan Griffin (FG). John Brassil (FF) is anti-choice, I know this as he canvassed me. Brian Finucane (PBP) is as far as I know, pro-choice. And the local Green is anti-choice (only in Kerry would that happen). Michael O'Gorman, Independent, no reply and no idea. 

And therein lies the biggest problem with being a single issue voter. Based on my knowledge of the  candidates views on repealing the Eighth Amendment and their support for a woman's right to choose, I will be voting for a Fianna Fáil candidate, a Fine Gael candidate, a Renua candidate, two anti-water charges candidates, with a grudging lower preference to the Labour candidate and possibly my two lowest preferences for the two sitting FGers. Not a single one of them, bar the two FG candidates, has the slightest chance winning a seat. What's the point of that? 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Still Hating

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 17
February, 2015 edition

Usually when I add a published letter to my blog I just put up whatever text was actually published. I don't include the original letter or even mention how an editor may have chosen to edit it. It is always their prerogative to change a letter, either for brevity or to avoid a libel. I think that's a frustrating but perfectly understandable policy. I've also never felt it necessary to refer to the letter (if there was one) that I was replying to.

In this instance however I feel the need to do things differently. The letter I replied to, was so ugly, so nakedly discriminatory that even ten days later it is picking away at me. I only wish The Kerryman had more of an online presence so I could link to it. Instead I will quote from the letter.

It was about surrogacy, addressed to Kerry's election candidates and was signed by over 40 people. Yep, over forty.

"...the Bill would enable male couples to 'have' a child using the services of a surrogate. That child...would be left without a mother to love and care for him.."

"...he may struggle with feelings of loss and abandonment.."

"...this painful outcome...would be the inevitable consequence of two men calmly deciding to conceive a child in that way."

"...this heartbreaking scenario..."

"...the child will suffer in her absence."

"...heart-rending outcomes..."

"...children will suffer."

"We ask now that the possibility of 'surrogacy for men' definitively ruled out..."

"...this unconscionable policy."

I don't think this letter can be interpreted as anything other than the 'h' word, but as we are not allowed to use that word anymore, homophobes being famously thin skinned and litigious, we must settle for discriminatory. Calling for gay men to be excluded from accessing a particular service because you know, gay men, strikes me as being the dictionary definition of discriminatory.

Despite my anger and disgust, I penned what I consider to be a very mild rebuke. It pained me to be so retrained, but I didn't want to give the newspaper any excuse not to publish it. I do support free speech, so I have no problem with the above letter being published, but I am aware that free speech in this country only extends to saying homophobic things, but not to calling someone a homophobe.

This is the letter I sent:

--I was surprised to read (Letters 10 Feb) a letter urging our TDs to discriminate against gay men. Many people had perhaps assumed such naked prejudice was a thing of the past. Obviously this is not the case. Fortunately, as with most demands for discrimination, there's little in the way of facts in support of this call.

As was repeatedly stated during the Marriage Equality Referendum, every study to date has shown children raised by same-sex couples thrive in the same way as their peers raised by opposite-sex couples. This evidence was presented to the people of Kerry during the referendum. They overwhelmingly accepted it. Rejecting the unfounded scaremongering of those opposed to equality.

Surrogacy is a complex and sensitive issue, worthy of informed debate. It should not be used as a ploy to rehash Marriage Equality. That argument has been won and those who lost, should find the courage to move on.--

This is what was published:

--I was surprised to read (Letters 10 Feb) a letter urging our TDs to "publicly oppose" "surrogacy for men". Many people had perhaps assumed such views were a thing of the past. Obviously this is not the case.

As was repeatedly stated during the Marriage Equality Referendum, every study to date has shown children raised by same-sex couples thrive in the same way as their peers raised by opposite-sex couples. This evidence was presented to the people of Kerry during the referendum. They overwhelmingly accepted it, rejecting the unfounded scaremongering of those opposed to equality.

Surrogacy is a complex and sensitive issue, worthy of informed debate. It should not be used as a ploy to rehash Marriage Equality. That argument has been won and those who lost, should move on.--

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Not All Men

I have been trying to get my head around the concept of 'consent.' I don't mean to imply it's difficult to understand. More, I'm perturbed I've managed to get past 40 without having to give it much thought. I could probably go the rest of my life without thinking about it. But I live in the twitterverse, I like to read, I like to write and I like to reflect. Even then I might have avoided consent if my wife hadn't made me read a book called 'Asking For It' by Louise O'Neill.

A man, on reading that book, has but two options. He can either get to his feet and declaim in a clear steady voice, 'Not All Men.' Or he can reflect on the almost improbably large gaps in his education. Gaps that are searingly addressed in this heartbreaking book.

I chose the latter simply because I am a middle-aged man who is gradually getting better at being wrong about a lot of things.

But I retain a certain empathy for the Not All Men merchants. Not sympathy, empathy. Ignorance is as much a special kind of not knowing as it is an almost impenetrable suit of armour. It is an armour I donned for large periods of my life. I wasn't aware of it, of course, because it is a special kind of not knowing. When I was in college, at 19, I'm certain I'd have railed against compulsory consent classes. If the technology had been as prevalent would I have taken pictures and shared them too? I don't know. Would I have called a friend on it?

I received next to no sex-education in school or at home, but I knew right from wrong. Rape was wrong, always wrong, it was an evil act. My parents and teachers at least got that part right. Don't commit rape. In my day it was also don't wear a condom and if you get pregnant there's the door, but don't rape was easy. Of course no one explained what rape meant, so one tended to assume rape was some degenerate dragging a woman down a dark alley and having his way with her. And no one explained consent.

I had begun to think myself some sort of antediluvian artefact, who had been thrust into the world, denied the most basic understanding of sex and the inherent role consent had in sex. No one had thought to explain sex as being at once exciting, overwhelming, joyous, possibly fraught but always an ongoing negotiation. And by the time I got to college sure I knew everything. Ignorance is a special kind of not knowing.

I could dismiss my ignorance as a sign of the times, but no matter how hard I try I can't see the 80s and 90s as that long ago. And when I look back and try to excuse my parents and teachers for their neglect of my education, I find myself thinking, what the fuck, it wasn't the bloody Dark Ages. But I also know, that not having it explained to me in primary school and then again in secondary school, meant it would have required an especially thick stick to beat that knowledge into my head once I'd arrived in college.

But I appear to not be a relic. It is increasingly apparent that I am, typical. Boy and girls, this century, are managing to get to college wholly unprepared for that ongoing negotiation that would temper their mad rush into each other's beds and smartphones.

It appears many of us think it unnecessary to explain to a teenage boy why it is wrong to share nude pictures of someone they've been intimate with. So why wouldn't a boy or indeed a man share a nude picture? Without parents and teachers explaining, in detail, over many years, why it's akin to a sexual assault, we are left to hope he'll work it out for himself. And some do. Yet we don't allow children to work out for themselves where to piss, what to eat, how to brush their teeth or even to speak with their mouths full. But why a private intimate moment doesn't imply consent to further intimacy or a right to broadcast pictures of that moment over the Internet, well that is something they'll just have to work out for themselves.

And sure why wouldn't a horny fella have sex with his passed out girlfriend, when he hasn't been bored to tears by parents and teachers with increasingly complex discussions about consent, that include diagrams, piecharts, case studies and Louise O'Neill's wonderful book?

I thought I was a relic. I ought to be a relic. I used to think the worst part of my inadequate education was a 'Father Trendy' type priest telling a class of sixteen year olds to never use condoms. In retrospect that was the least stupid thing about my time in school, because even then his special kind of not knowing was treated with the contempt it deserved. But we were also immersed in our own ignorance. I hadn't realised how little has changed.

Ignorance is a suit of armour and a special kind of not knowing. Thus we have grown men, still boys in my eyes, but adults nonetheless, sharing pictures they should not be sharing or being insulted by the idea they have still so much to learn.

I feel sorry for them because words may no longer be enough. Hard consequences; permanent records and careers ruined before they've even begun, might have to be deployed to pierce the ignorance bestowed on them by their parents and teachers. Parents and teachers who neglected and who appear to be continuing to neglect their responsibility to understand consent enough to be able to teach it to a five year old.

Rape and sexual assault are rarely that degenerate dragging someone down a dark alley. But that is the only story told. Not all men are degenerate, but all men are subject to the values they've been imbued with and the understanding they've been taught. Not all men manage to escape causing harm if that education has been deficient.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Arwen at the Vet

I had quite the unpleasant experience today. Arwen, my dog, was at the vet's for an X-ray of her right foreleg. She has been experiencing lameness and I wanted to get a definitive answer as to why. Based on a previous X-ray, the vet suspected a bone chip in one of her toes was the cause. So it was expected that a simple X-ray followed by amputating the toe, would have Arwen back to her mad cap self.

This is one of her X-rays.

As I was eating, a delicious curry as it happens, he rang with the results. It turns out that Arwen has rather bad arthritis in the both of her elbows. I was shocked, but then, dogs do get arthritis. Surely this was not an insurmountable problem? According to the vet however, elbows present a particular problem as does Arwen's relatively young age. She is approximately six years old. This is a guesstimate as she was an abandoned little thing.

Medications that are usually used to treat joints are not as efficacious with elbows. I think I began to cry at this point. It was likely that she'd require long term anti-inflammatories, which would shorten her life. And eventually she'd need very strong pain killers. Her quality of life would be so reduced that I'd be faced with a difficult decision, sooner rather than later.

I had thought it was going to be all so straightforward.

It became difficult for me to speak. My curry began to disgust me. Had I perhaps over-exercised her? No. This stems from the first few months of her life, when diet and exercise have to be carefully managed to ensure the correct development of her joints. Apparently dogs aren't born with their joints fully formed. They are mostly cartilage, which over time ossifies into joint bone, joining with the surrounding legs bones.

In desperation I asked about surgery, mentioning Arwen was insured. There was an abrupt change of tone. In that case, if the therapies failed to solve the issue, she could see a specialist in Cork and have elbow replacement surgery. It would cost in excess of €1000, but she'd be almost as good as new.

I should have mentioned the insurance when I dropped her for the X-ray. I would have avoided feeling shattered for those few minutes. On the other hand, I am now more relaxed than I have a right to be about the possibly of her having both her elbows replaced with metal joints. Now there is still a possibility that drugs, therapies and losing a bit of weight will do the trick and she won't need to have two major surgeries, followed by difficult recuperation, but I'm fortunate enough to not have to make any decisions based on affordability.

Now, I have thrown away her ball and her treats. So has my mother, who delighted in spoiling her. She'll need more running but no more chasing. Her diet will be strict and perhaps that'll be enough. But if it isn't, I know she will be taken care of.

Monday, January 18, 2016

That Charlie Hebdo Cartoon

What can I say about that latest controversy provoked by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo? Further comment seems futile. So many have spoken on the topic already. Nothing new or exceptional has been said. It has been a case of the usual suspects saying the usual things. Every ideologue has made their case entirely in keeping with their ideology. 

I will not deviate from that pattern. I am (despite a recent wobble) a free-speech absolutist so I maintain the ideologue's belief in Charlie Hebdo's right to say whatever it wishes about whomever it wishes. I am not however in any position to say if that particular cartoon was racist or not. I'm a straight, white, European male. The only privilege I don't have is the right to say if something is racist or not. 

I did have a visceral reaction to the cartoon. I thought it brilliant, searing and piercing. Perhaps some context. I first saw the cartoon (with a translation) a few days after I had listened to Brenda Power speak on the radio about the threat to women's rights that may be posed by the influx of so many refugees (Muslim men to be precise) from the Middle East. 

The interview made me uncomfortable because I felt some sympathy for her argument. It's a discomfort caused by a clash of principles. I am happy (well not happy, more prepared) to pay extra taxes to allow however many millions of refugees need asylum in Europe, to be allowed in. (And if you notice, in the previous paragraph I said influx. I cringe at it, being in a country that will only accept a pathetic few thousand refugees.) I justify this stance because I regard it as common human decency, to save the life of another. 

Taking in five or ten million refugees should be our first action. Then we deal with all the problems that this will entail. And those troubles should not be downplayed. It will cause social tension, it will inspire a rise in the far-right, there will be incidents. This is inevitable. But lives will have been saved and in time, Europe will be all the richer for the experience. 

Germany has taken in about a million refugees. It is now dealing with the consequences. If it mismanages this opportunity then whatever remaining enthusiasm there exists in Europe for welcoming refugees will disappear entirely. And that is where the cartoon comes in.   

European public opinion is disgustingly fickle. By purest chance, I was vaguely aware of the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean a few years ago. A particular blog I read, mentioned it, but it piqued my interest only peripherally. Then Pope Francis visited Lampedusa, a landing spot for many refugees and where the bodies of many of those who died on the trip are brought ashore. He managed to generate some publicity, but few people were moved. The walls of Fortress Europe remained standing, with the wholehearted support and/or indifference of public opinion. Then that little boy's body washed ashore just where a camera was conveniently present. Everything changed. The wall was breached and we (some of us) cheered the refugees in. 

Syrian passports were discovered on some of the men who perpetuated the Paris massacre. On New Year's Eve, in Cologne, several women were sexually assaulted.

I love that cartoon because in a single image, with a tiny amount of text, it perfectly encapsulates European public opinion. Thousands of people dying doesn't matter. A pope pointing at the dying doesn't matter. A good picture of a dead child, ooh let's help. Oh no it's complicated, fuck them. 

And that's probably the saddest thing about the cartoon. Those who are its target, people very much like me, mostly don't realise they are its target. As brutal and accurate as the cartoon is, it has failed to penetrate the armour of ignorance most Europeans wear. I care not one jot for those who have chosen to be offended by the cartoon. I care only that the lumpen masses whose dimwitted opinions and feelings can be so easily manipulated are too stupid to realise they are being mocked. 

And Ireland is patting itself on the back for taking a paltry few thousand people. I despair.