Category Archives: LGBTQ

International Meeting on Law and Society, Mexico City – Day 2

Here I am at the end of Day 2. It’s only about 10pm and my eyes are stinging I’m so tired. But, if I don’t get some thoughts down on Day 2 it’ll all muddle and blur and I won’t have a clue what’s what! I woke up at 1.23am because I was far too hot. I decided to turn the aircon on and just cope with the noise. I slept til 4am and pinged wide awake. I flicked through the news channels and then got up to go to the gym. I did a bit better than yesterday – I have got used to the altitude a bit more I think and on the treadmill just slowed down even more than I do normally. Then I had breakfast and was joined by the wonderful Chris Ashford (see his blog here) – and if you read my post about getting here you’ll know that him joining me was a good thing – it meant nobody else could as I was on a table for two and he is the one person here who I genuinely am happy to see even pre-coffee.

I’d decided to keep the queer theme going and went to a panel on Comparing Legal Categories Through the Lens of Same Sex Relationships and Transgender Identities. There were 4 really interesting papers and a good discussion afterwards. I then went to a panel on Women/Gender in the Legal Profession which I also enjoyed although I was flagging towards the end. The highlight was probably hearing Deborah Rhode speak about women in law in the context of her book Women and Leadership. Her slides we’re awesome and I think we’d do well to remember that ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’ as one of her slides said. She also said that we need to be relentlessly pleasant. I’m still thinking about that. I think she may be right but I’m not sure. I may come back to it.

After that my brain was full. There was another session but that was just too much and then the afternoon was free to explore Mexico City. Some lucky people went to the Supreme Court for a tour – you had to pre-book tickets and by the time I booked the conference they were all gone. There was also a tour at the National Museum of the Revolution which I would liked to have done but again I missed it. So I explored Mexico City on my own – separate post on that I think.

I’m still doing fine (apart from being stupidly tired but then I have been awake since 4am and I have, according to my fitbit walked 20km today). I nearly went to the LGBTQ mixer at a hotel just a few minutes from here. I was going to, then not, then Chris and I were going to go together and then not – I am quite glad we ended on not given that somewhere between 9pm and now I went from a bit tired to stinging eyes and I don’t know if I can be bothered getting undressed kind of tired. So I will curl up and sleep shortly but I need to get some conference niggles/complaints, ok whinges, off my chest

  1. Uncomfortable Chairs in rows – just no
  2. Arriving late to sessions, leaving early, coming in and out at random… it’s just rude. I was sat next to a woman yesterday who nipped out mid paper to get herself a coffee. Mid paper. FFS
  3. Running over time. Goodness you’d think figuring out time was the most complicated thing in the world. You have x number of minutes, prepare a paper that takes roughly x number of minutes not x plus 10. When the chair tells you you have 2 minutes left, wrap it up. When the chair tells you to stop, stop, don’t ramble on for another 5 minutes. When you are co-presenting you don’t have the time allocated for the paper each – you have to share it. Obviously. I don’t understand why this is sooooooo hard. (Watch me be way over tomorrow now – that would be embarrassing!)
  4. Chairs – it’s ok to tell people to shut up, it really is. You might lose a fan but you’ll gain one in me.
  5. Questions and Comments – they are just that. They are not ‘I will now ramble on about my work which is only vaguely related to yours for a few minutes’. There seem to be some academic traditions across the world where this hijacking of questions is commonplace and expected and maybe I’m just grumpy but it irritates the hell out of me. Ask a question (and no it doesn’t need a 5 minute introduction) or make a short observation or comment.
  6. Discussants. I am yet to be convinced by this format. For it to work the discussant has to be brilliant and quite honestly most of the ones I’ve heard so far fall a long way short of brilliant in that role. Not that I could do a better job, it’s hard BUT it seems to me that a discussant should not speak for longer than each speaker did. It also seems to me that the discussant should briefly offer a comment on each paper but then focus on drawing out themes or questions and opening the discussion up to the audience and panel having set that scene. It also seems clear to me that they should not use the time as discussant to tell people about their own work in any great detail  – their work is only relevant in so far as it relates directly to the panel’s papers and comments on them (and presumably to the fact that they are chosen as the discussant in the first place).

Anyway, I have nearly fallen alseep with my laptop on my knee twice now so I think it’s time to hit publish and go to bed. Day 2 has been good. Mexico City if fascinating and I will try and find the time to write about that tomorrow. For now, sleep tight.

International Meeting on Law and Society, Mexico City – Day 1

19397793_10155492387093923_1849034776_nFollowing on from the last post, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my Day 1 of the conference. The first thing to do was try and work out which sessions to go to. Easier said than done. Each time slot takes up over 10 pages in the programme and there are over 30 panels running at the same time. As usual things that look interesting all seem to be on at the same time. Nonetheless, the first session was a relatively easy choice. I went to Gender Identities: Beyond the Binary and heard 4 really interesting papers. I haven’t really engaged with gender identity issues much in my work or in my life, maybe because I just don’t get it. People are people, gender, sexuality, it’s all fluid and it’s also all irrelevant to how I think about people. I’m irritated because to me this is just a non-issue. I just don’t care if you’re male, female, both, neither or choose on any given day. But of course some people do care and the law cares and the law likes categories and categories are problematic because categories by definition create divisions… anyway, I enjoyed the session.

Next I went to a Round Table on Queer and the Inter/national where I tried to get my brain round a queer marxist theory of law, queer theory as a lens to think about extraterritorial relationships between states and people outside of those states and states as having gender, having sex with each other and undergoing gender reassignment. It was a good session even if not really roundtable like. It seemed more like a normal paper session really. It did make me want to do more queer theory stuff though. I’m coming to the conclusion that my aversion to theory isn’t real. Someone must have told me once that I was no good at theory (or maybe I just presumed that) and I have internalised that to such an extent that I don’t do theory – except that I do – just as long as I don’t realise I’m doing it.

Then it was lunch time and I realised my brain was quite full already. I decided to take the lunch break and the next session slot for some time out. I had a little walk, found some street food stalls and had some fruit and a drink (my frustration at my complete inability to say anything in Spanish continues) and spent some time zoning out and catching up with Facebook and Twitter.

At 2.45 I was going to go to the Salon session on Gendered Views of Judges, Courts and Lawyers. However, I couldn’t find the room for ages and by the time I did, the session would have started and I didn’t want to be that person. I came back to my room for a little while. That I think, was the only anxiety sort of moment where I just walked round in circles for a bit and then gave up and then accidentally came across the room on my way back to my room. I should have just joined the session but I couldn’t face it.

At 4.30 I headed back down for the plenary panels and went to one on Law in a Time of Populism: Brexit, Columbia and the US Elections. Brexit was covered by Paul Craig. I’d never heard him speak before and I’m not sure I want to again. I like his work, I’ve used it loads in mine. I rarely disagree with his assessment of EU law issues in particular but I didn’t really like his style – bit shouty and loud. This was in stark contrast to Jeff Dudas who followed Paul Craig and talked about the white working class in the US. I really enjoyed his presentation because he got the balance of research, story telling and the personal just right and he spoke softly which my ears very much welcomed. Certainly my favourite paper of the day. There were then two further presentations  – one on Colombia and one on the US. Then I was tired!

I dumped my things in my room and went down to the drinks reception – mainly to take a look at the books in the publishers’ area. There was some food (for which I queued for a disproportionate amount of time) and a free glass of wine. My plan had been to go for a quick drink, look at books and then maybe head out and grab some food from just round the corner but the bread and cheese nibbles at the reception filled me so I went to bed instead. Drinks receptions are impossible when you’re on your own. Most people aren’t so joining a group you don’t know is awkward. I was tired and peopled out and not really up for awkward so I just exchanged a few polite words with a couple of people also looking at books and with a couple of the publishers.

So, Day 1. How am I doing? I get tired more quickly than normal. Or no, actually that may not be true – I get tied more quickly than I want. This may be normal! My brain can manage 2 sessions but will start getting restless about 3/4 of the way through the second. I need to make notes, my brain isn’t in sponge mode, it doesn’t absorb all these thoughts and ideas, I need to write them down there and then. I used to be able to soak it all up and then distill some thoughts at the end of the day or even a few days later. I can’t do that now. I’m finding the sheer number of people tricky. I got the lift to the lobby when I went for my walk and when the lift doors opened there was a wall of people and almost unbearable noise. I had to force myself out of the lift. It’s nice to have a few people I know here so there’s no undue pressure to ‘make friends’. Day one was good. I have high hopes for Day 2

Taking a look at a glass closet

I have just finished John Browne’s ‘The Glass Closet – Why coming out is good for business‘ and I am irritated. I don’t like the book. I am irritated by it and I am irritated that it irritates me and at the same time I can’t quite pin down why I am so irritated.

So what’s it all about. John Browne resigned from BP where he was Chief Exec in 2007 because he was about to be outed by the press. The book is about his story and about why gay employees should do what he didn’t – come out; and why business should encourage and embrace diversity.

I feel like I’m missing something. And maybe I am. I don’t work in business. I’m also a fair bit younger than Lord Browne and have made any decisions about coming out or being out in a different context. I’m also a woman. I get that for some people coming out is a really difficult and painful journey/experience and it certainly seems to have been that way for John Browne. The fact that he didn’t come out on his own terms but was outed compounds that pain. I agree that people should be able to come out on their own terms (sort of anyway). I agree with quite a lot he says in the book actually. Hm. Still irritated.

So, here’s the thing, well two things. I don’t think anyone should have to come out of any closet. The whole idea of coming out suggests that heterosexuality is the norm and we need to announce that we are not normal. How many straight people come out? When straight people feel the need to come out as straight I’ll happily announce my sexuality right along with them. Until then, I’m just me.  But even if we think people should come out then I don’t give a toss as to whether that’s good for business. In fact, saying ‘come on you gay lot, get your backsides out of that closet of yours, business needs a bit of a boost and needs to be able to get the most out of you’ or ‘come on gay people, your leaving too much of what you should be committing to your employer in the closet, get out of there’ makes we want to punch something.

Lord Browne addresses his audience well and tells his story well. I am assuming that his intended audience is other business leaders and he speaks their language and maybe it will make a difference and create more welcoming environment. Maybe. But I wonder how many gay and lesbian young people, still in education or emabarking on their business career, read his book and reconise themselves in the stories. The stories he tells, including his own, start from an incredibly privileged position which brings with it its own set of problems but mostly is just, well, privileged. I think I am irritated by the privilege and the lack of recognition for other stories. It seems that if you want a business career now it might be ok to be gay but it porbalby still isn’t ok to be from inner city Bradford with a strong West Yorkshire accent. I’m not sure that helps much, I am not sure business is really anywhere near to really valuing diversity – just privileged diversity.

I want to be able to celebrate this book, to say: read it, listen to the message, diversity is important, gay people should be able to come out (oh hang on, that’s it in’t it, should be able to – not should) and if you create an atmosphere where difference is valued, people will be happier but I can’t quite bring myself to say that. I know I should like it more than I do. I know I should admire John Browne for telling the story and trying to drive change; I know that maybe business can be a real driver for change but I am struggling to get past the feeling that it’s always the privileged that get to tell the story, define it and set the agenda. While we are distracted by a former BP Chief Exec, what storeis are we not hearing? Let’s not allow this book to be the only story we hear about coming out in business or at all, let’s listen, let’s talk and let’s come out if we want to – for us, not for business!


Reviewing ‘Straight Expectations’ by Julie Bindel

Curled up in our summerhouse on a giant beanbag in middle class sort of suburbia not a million miles away from Hebden Bridge I have just finished reading Julie Bindel’s new book ‘Straight Expectations’. Before I had finished the book Professor Chris Ashford published his review of the text on his blog. Initially I thought I didn’t really have anything to add to his thoughts. I agree with everything he says in that post so blogging a review repeating what he has already said seemed pointless. However, having finished the book now, I think I do have something to say.
Bindel’s book was on my list to read urgently (I have various lists!) for a number of reasons. I contributed to one of her surveys and was interested to see the results of that survey, I am strangely fascinated by identity; often disagree profoundly with Bindel and was slightly irritated by the subtitle ‘What Does it Mean to be Gay Today’ because surely that depends on a whole host of factors and I also thought the book might help me also develop my own research on LGBTQ legal academics.
Let me start by saying that I think you should read the book. It is an amazingly honest and open book and we need more of those. Ashford is right in calling it a very personal book and it is a book that certainly made me reflect, think, laugh cry, get angry and think a bit more. It’s a few hours since I finished the book and I can’t shake off the feeling that, as a lesbian, I must be such a disappointment to Bindel. But let me try and do this in some kind of order.
One of Bindel’s key arguments is that the campaign for equality and in particular marriage equality as well as the right to ‘acquire’ (her words) children is actually inherently conservative. I don’t really disagree with her. I have never been at all interested in marriage, gay or straight. I don’t particularly like weddings, I don’t get the point, the significance or why anyone would want to get married – actually particularly women. However, what I do get is that it is really really important to some people and that these people are not being screwed by the patriarchy, they don’t need liberating, they have thought about it and the implications and made the decision to get married. That of course doesn’t always hold true and I remain deeply suspicious of the institution of marriage but I just don’t believe that everyone entering into wedded bliss has been brainwashed into supporting the patriarchy.
It may surprise some people that the sections in Bindel’s book about children and the increasing trend amongst gay men and lesbians to have children irritated me the most. I don’t like kids. There are very few children I tolerate, even fewer that I like. I have friends with children and in spite of the joy that their offspring clearly bring them, I fail to see why anyone would want to put themselves through all of that. Quite frankly I find having cats stressful enough, I don’t have a biological clock (and strongly suspect it’s a societal clock rather than a biological one anyway), I have no maternal instincts… and even if I did I am not sure I understand this urge to have biologically related children. There are so many kids out there who would benefit from a loving stable home – why not look at adoption/fostering etc, particularly now the legal barriers have been removed (I do agree with Bindel here though that the law is way ahead of societal attitudes here). So, so far I have agreed with the narrative in the book – so why the irritation. Well, I feel deeply uncomfortable about making claims about what is and isn’t right for people. Personally I can’t really think of anything worse in my life than pregnancy and having a sprog but I have also seen a lot of people who have genuinely blossomed and come alive once they had children. Why criticise that? Why suggest that if they are gay or lesbian and have the desire to have children of their own, they are somehow letting the side down by wanting to become just like ‘them’ (meaning straight folk). I also felt a little uneasy about the distinction made (implicitly) between lesbians who had kids from straight relationships which they had left (good lesbian) and lesbians who decide to have children as single lesbians or in lesbian couples (bad or at least not so good lesbian). I just do not think that Bindel, me or indeed anyone else are in a position to tell people what they should or shouldn’t want from their lives, be that babies or marriage
This brings me to the points she makes about marriage and marriage equality. I was genuinely excited about the change in the law that allows same-sex couples to marry. Why? Because I believe in equality. Do I think it takes the gay rights agenda any further forward – well no not really. Gay culture is about much much more and just because we have achieved equal rights does not mean the fight is over. There is a long ling way to go and Bindel captures this well. I am not sure I agree with her that we shouldn’t have bothered with marriage rights but should have always worked to overthrow the patriarchy though – maybe the patriarchy can still be dismantled! But the thing is, I have never been particularly activist or political. I have never been radical in that sense. I have never dressed ‘lesbian’ (whatever that means), I have always just been me and that me has never had a particularly lesbian identity. My sexual orientation has never been a big deal. I have no coming out story, at some point in my life I started having sex with women that was that, then I fell in love with one, that didn’t work out, then I fell in love with another. No dramas, no big political statement, no big personal statement. Did I choose to be a lesbian or was I born this way (another key debate Bindel picks up on). I don’t know, I don’t care, I don’t see why we should get so hung up about this. I understand the arguments Bindel makes here but I don’t find them that interesting and do not think they help us further. I am who I am and I have always been open about my personal life but I have never made that personal political in the sense that Bindel clearly has. Part of me admires her for that.
So I said towards the beginning of this post that I felt Bindel would surely be disappointed in me as a lesbian. I am not an activist, I am not radical, I do not speak out against the patriarchy all that much, my life can hardly be described as alternative. I am not even hippy enough to feel comfortable in Hebden Bridge, I don’t often go to gay/lesbian events and the last Pride I went to was a few years ago in Halifax. I don’t wear cocktail dresses or high heels but I also don’t express my identity as a lesbian through what I wear. I live in a pretty middle class area in domestic bliss… The only two things that might make me an acceptable lesbian in Bindel’s eyes is that I am suspicious of the institution of marriage and that I don’t want kids. But I guess to Bindel I am still letting the side down, I am still striving to be too much like ‘them’ and am still too much of a respectable face of lesbianism.
Or am I? I say I’m just me but that just being me isn’t always easy. I challenge my students to think differently, to challenge the patriarchy, to accept me for me as a professional, as a woman and as a lesbian. Sometimes what I say and do in the classroom is radical. Sometimes what my friends with children do is radical, sometimes being just like them is radical… Bindel’ hints at some of this and I welcomed that acknowledgement even though she is quite dismissive of it in the end. So, I am aware that I am now just rambling – you should read Bindel’s book, it’s thought provoking and it gives a snapshot of what it means to be gay for some of us today – actually I don’t mean ‘us’ here because even though I responded to her survey and even though there are some sections with which I absolutely agree, I just don’t see myself in the book, I don’t fit and that is bothering me.