Friday 28 December 2012

Space Station Politics

Posted by Iona (Guest Blogger)

One of my favourite Lashings sketches is their Science Fiction and Fantasy Theatre. What
I love about it is that it's a barbed critique that nevertheless comes from a place of love,
of wanting these stories to be better. I don't believe that the intersection between social
justice activists and science fiction fans is at all coincidental: I think science fiction gives us
the promise of just that, of doing and being and becoming better – the future worlds and
other worlds where things will be different.

And in that spirit, science fiction on television has given us women and non-white people
who are pioneers. I love the old, true story of Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played
Uhura on the original series of Star Trek, being persuaded not to leave the show by
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jnr, because of the role model she offered to young black girls and
women. (Wonderfully, astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-African woman in space,
reported decades later that she had been inspired to follow Lieutenant Uhura to the stars.)

Alongside Uhura, there was Leia Organa, who was a princess and a rebel; then came Kathryn
Janeway, who brought a crew home safely from the edge of known space; there was
Dana Scully, who didn't want to believe because she knew. And then, Kara Thrace,
Sam Carter, Zoe Washburne and Martha Jones, who were not just heroes but also pilots,
astrophysicists, soldiers and doctors – women who excelled in whatever they chose. (For
a not-exhaustive, but fabulous, depiction of women in sci-fi on screen through history, I
recommend "Space Girl" by Charmax. And Zoe and Martha, who aren't white, strike that further blow. The promise of what's to come is neatly encapsulated in this line from an otherwise rather dispiriting
episode of Doctor Who:

"Imagine it, Adelaide, if you began a journey that takes the human race all the way out to
the stars. It begins with you." 

And Adelaide Brooke, who is the leader of the first human mission to Mars, merely nods: she
knows what she needs to do without the Doctor's help, or anyone else's.

These women play the role that they have always played: they inspire us to greater things.
There are several different versions circulating of King and Nichols' conversation, which in
itself is encouraging to me – the value of the story is such that it has become a fable, told
and retold accordingly – and many report Dr. King as saying, "Once that door is opened by
someone, no one else can close it again."

Is it only white men who can take us into the future? No, and that door cannot be closed

But this post is not about that, exactly. This is a piece in praise of those who build that
future, once we have reached it. Because it isn't just the first steps into a new frontier that
are a feminist act, although of course they are: it is also the building of communities that
dismantles kyriarchies, the structures of oppressors and oppressed. And when we speak of
wonderful things to one another, when we tell these stories, we take another step towards
this total dismantling.

There hasn't ever been a Star Trek captain who is neither male nor white, alas. But let's
take a moment to consider Benjamin Sisko, captain of the space station Deep Space Nine.
In the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who is a
cultured, deeply cerebral archaeologist-turned-starship captain, the star of Star Trek: The
Next Generation
and all-around good guy, meets Sisko, the new commander, to hand
over his new orders. We know Picard very well, by this point; and in his familiar intensity, he
comes off much the better next to the gloomy, uncooperative, positively un-Starfleet Sisko.
Sisko is recently widowed, not concerned with Starfleet's orders or its ideals, nor its lauded
hero standing next to him giving him those orders; he's more concerned with his son, Jake,
and how what remains of their family will survive this grim space station posting. Picard
leaves Sisko unimpressed, and vice versa.

Sisko's second-in-command is Kira Nerys, a self-confessed terrorist and freedom fighter. Kira
(her family name comes first), is a militia officer emerging from spending her life fighting
in the resistance against an enemy occupation. She was fighting battles, killing the enemy,
living as a fugitive, from earliest childhood – and now the resistance battles are over but Kira
is still fighting a war: against the Federation, against the Cardassians, against everyone and
everything standing in the way of her people's self-determination.

Neither Sisko nor Kira is a hero, nor a pioneer: they have not struck out, like so many Star
Trek and general science fiction protagonists do, into the great unknown. Neither has Susan
Ivanova, the woman who is second-in-command of another space station, Babylon 5 –
among the greater wars, Ivanova fights her own battles, born of her history, her family, her
identity as a Russian Jew – and neither is Elizabeth Weir, the put-upon commander of the
Pegasus base Atlantis.

What do they do, then, these people standing outside the dominance of white, male
television sci-fi? They build: they create and build communities, they step forth towards
a better world in the small things of daily life. In part I think this is a happy intersection
of two things: the television series format, the slow progression of a story week by week,
year by year, slowing their character development into almost real time, layer by layer to
a three-dimensional whole; and the space station setting, that by necessity must contain
and continue all its narratives and conflicts, rather than leaving them behind every week in
pursuit of new worlds to conquer.

Michael Piller, one of the writers for Deep Space Nine, commented: "Sisko was a
builder, a man who built things, stayed with projects, as opposed to the driver, the captain
of a starship who went off and moved from place to place." In "Explorers", the main plot
is about Sisko persuading Jake to help him build a replica of an ancient spaceship and fly it
together, but it's not just the building of the ship. The conversations that they have inside
the ship they built – about how Jake has resolved to be a writer when he grows up, how he
thinks his father ought to start dating again – are characteristic of their relationship and of
the show. Deep Space Nine is their home and it's where their families and futures are built.
In "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang", Sisko's girlfriend, Kasidy, attempts to persuade him to take
part in a holodeck heist caper set in 1960s Las Vegas; Sisko is dead against romanticising the
past, noting that in the real time and place, "our people" would not have been allowed – in
other words, two non-white characters are talking about race, and disagreeing. That internal
discord, that plurality of opinion, is the key feature of a real community. The converse
situation where one character speaks for their entire group is tokenism rather than real

And it isn't just Sisko. Kira in her early twenties is learning for the first time how to live
as a civilian, how to live in peace. She's building her own life, day by day through work,
friendships, romance, the things that real people do. In "The Circle", following Kira's
unexpected loss of her job on the space station, she attempts to pack. Dax arrives to return

some hand cream that she borrowed; O'Brien comes to say he'll miss her; Quark comes to
try and throw her a leaving party; Odo wants to yell at her for leaving; Bashir comes along
because everyone else has; they argue, raise a ruckus, drive Kira visibly up the wall, and
when the religious leader Vedek Bareil comes to see her, she says, hugely irritated, for the
first time: "These are my… friends." It's a short scene that does a beautiful job of depicting
a woman who has built a life for herself without consciously knowing it: a life, a circle of
friends, a community. Kira will end up running Deep Space Nine and knowing its people
inside out, but the route she takes to get there, through romances and friendships (notably
with Dax; there is a running joke throughout the show about Dax's various attempts to get
Kira to have fun) is what is fascinating about her, that path from being part of a resistance
cell to running a community of free people, with no regrets on the way for anything she's

In a season 2 episode of Babylon 5, "There All The Honour Lies", various notable things
happen, but central to our purposes is that Ivanova is put in charge of the Babylon 5 gift
shop. This sounds like it will be hilarious and is, in fact, hilarious. There are teddy bears
with "Ba-bear-lon 5" embroidered on them. There are masks of various alien life-forms you
can try on. A number of aliens come and try on "human" masks, whipping them off in front
of a mirror with a flourish. And of course it's delightful, and a sharp piece of satire -
as anyone who has cringed at someone wearing a feather headdress or a sari as a
Hallowe'en costume may have noticed – but it ties into that broader theme. Babylon 5,
that "last great hope for peace", a space station on which aliens and humans live, work,
do business and learn together, is a fictional community that has a lot to say about real
communities: it has its gift shop, it has its leaders, its religions, its trades, its clashes,
its love affairs, its unions, politics and riots. From the starting-point of this community,
Ivanova is working to become a better officer, a better human being. Its doctor, Stephen
Franklin, another man of colour, fights his daily battles with those that stand in the way of
his Hippocratic Oath and, later, with his own addictions. And these are not the first steps
towards an unknown frontier, but they nevertheless are feminist, anti-racist story arcs.
They are about moving towards a science-fictional world where these battles are taken
as seriously and thoughtfully as the battle of the chisel-jawed white man against the alien

We don't yet live in a world of space station politics. Except, of course, that we do: most
of us live in small spaces, with other humans who are different from us, and some of those
spaces are inside our own heads. We cannot be women, or queer, or people of colour,
without knowing that we can be all those things at once, layer upon layer; we cannot live
in discrete blocks apart from one another, and we cannot live as communities of one. Me,
I love science fiction because of the worlds it opens up – and here's to Kira and Sisko and
Ivanova and Weir and all the quotidian heroes, the people like us in the places we hope to

Friday 21 December 2012

Gavin de Becker: The Gift of Fear

kaberettPosted by kaberett

[content notes: misogyny, abuse, violence, rape, murder, suicide]

Gavin de Becker is a security specialist based in Los Angeles; he's the founder of the eponymous private security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates, whose clients include many celebrities and - over its lifetime - an awfully large proportion of US Presidents, Governors, Supreme Justices and other politicians. He's evidently very effective; based on his experiences, he's written a number of books that have made it onto worldwide bestseller lists.

There's one in particular I see recommended all over the place, particularly in anti-abuse activism or counselling. The Gift of Fear is mentioned over and over again, whether it's in comments on the fantastic advice column run by Captain Awkward or in the course of my work at VaginaPagina. There's one name that comes up, over and over, more than any other that I can recall: Gavin de Becker.

And so! And so. I finally got around to reading it.

Before we go any further, I want to say this: The Gift of Fear was first published in 1997. In England and Wales, the legal exemption for marital rape was only abolished in 1991. He (note, please, the irony) was among the first people to get the issue of predominantly gendered violence into the public consciousness. His assertion that "women always have the choice to leave" abusive relationships is horrifying, but he was possibly - possibly - writing that in a context where saying "leave" was radical, against a backdrop of even greater social pressure to "keep working on the relationship". But even if that's true? He's had 15 years to update the book (he wrote a new foreword for the eBook edition!), and the statistics he cites make it abundantly clear that people were trying to leave, all the way back in 1997.

Bearing all that in mind, here is my one-sentence summary of The Gift of Fear: Gavin de Becker makes a fundamentally reasonable point in the shittiest and most self-aggrandising way he can without having it be immediately obvious to everyone.

(Also? he's a misogynist who doesn't understand geology.)

In slightly more detail, have a series of excerpts and my keysmashing about why HE IS WRONG ABOUT ALL THINGS.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Links round-up Dec 18

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

An e-petition has been going around to extend the Civil Partnership to polyamorous relationships. The idea of an e-petition is that a high enough (10,000) number of signatures would force Parliament to table and discuss the issue. This is an important petition not for the number of votes that the petition currently has, but the notion that Parliament could have the potential to recognise non-monogamy in the context of Human Rights, in the background of a relative mainstream invisibility around non-monogamy.

Here is an amazing post all about pre-WWII science fiction and fantasy by African-American and African writers. We want to read them all!

Lashings doesn't always agree with everything that is posted at Shakesville, but this post  about privilege, the stigmatisation of mental illness and the ways in which both are used to shut down conversations about gun control is very strongly-written, and says a lot of things that needed to be said.

Another insightful post from Sikivu Hutchinson: Nice White Boys Next Door and Mass Murder

From the 'Oh, FFS' files: TV Meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired from her job for responding to negative Facebook comments about her natural hairstyle. If you can, please click through the link to sign the petition asking for her to be re-instated.

Here is a very entertaining gif featuring Hilary Clinton.

The Secret Histories Project profiles Dr James Barry: child genius, medical reformer, military surgeon and possessor of a very interesting gender history.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Wake Up Call

Posted by Theodor Bishop

Lately I’ve felt pretty down. Real life has been getting to me and the more I reflect on my life the more I feel out of control, despite everything I have achieved in my life and every personal challenge, I still have the challenge of overcoming judgmental others. I’d like to talk to you about something that I would like to describe as the wake up call.

The wake up call describes the moment in which you realise you are being discriminated against or oppressed in some subtle or non-subtle way. The moment when you realise that despite the successes or privileges one may have; or despite the social and legal conversation about an equal society; there is something about you that other people want to put you down for.

I have had my wake up call. I’ve been in many job interviews where I’ve been asked overly technical questions that are inevitably supposed to trip me up. I thought it was notable when I know that other candidates (after speaking with them) were not asked about when a chi-square test was needed. Instead they were asked more general questions that are hard to ‘fail’. There was time when I was interviewed by a BAFTA winning media company. I applied as a researcher to help make a client list for an arts festival. I was asked about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason for 40 minutes.

The interviewer who by strange incident had a PhD in the Philosophy of character asked me questions completely irrelevant to the skills associated with the advertised job: organising bookings for an arts festival. The interview thought it might be nice to ask me hard philosophy questions to test my abilities. I just didn’t feel that being asked about the Transcendental Deduction in Kant’s B-version of the Critique tested my ability to make a client list and and organise meetings. It made me feel very unwelcome when I was told that this was an interview for a non existent role as a previous intern with the company had already been selected and shortlisting other candidates was merely a technicality to avoid the appearance of nepotism. The wake up call is when I realise how interview panels treat me with antagonism, and expect me to give ‘better’ answers. The wake up call is when I realise how I’m the only non-white person sitting among the other interview candidates and I’m intruding into their native cultural space. I get the distinct impression of discrimination when the reasons I am given for rejections contradicts what was said in an interview. I’m told I have not enough relevant experience, when I was explicitly told that experience is not essential. I’m told in person descriptions and job descriptions that I’m judged by my ability, and not by the degree to which one assents approval by a hiring panel.

I am unemployable because of some perceived ‘otherness’ about me. I absolutely hated when I talked to other interview candidates after an interview with a certain progressive thinktank and heard that the Arts grads were asked simplistic questions such as’ what is your greatest weakness?’ or ‘why do you want to work for us?’. By the same panel I was asked different questions, such as:  ‘can you tell me the relevance of ecological validity on the study of poverty?’ or ‘What’s the best margin of error percentage for a sample size of 500’ for the same role. It’s odd how they ended up as social researchers in a thinktankwithout having to study Quantitative Research Methods in an English Degree. But I’m turned down because of my ‘lack of familiarity’ about a question that wasn’t featured in the job description. These non-transparent hiring processes are a front for discrimination and  I distinctly feel that I’m given harder challenges by employers so that I am meant to fail. It eats at me in ways more than words can describe. It also makes me painfully aware that when I’m going into their office, and seeing the faces of the other candidates, I’m the only non white person there, and I definitely felt that was relevant to the questions they put at me.

As well as being an ethnic minority, I also have a minor disability which I never thought would be a big issue as an adult. I have dyspraxia*, I have vague memories as a child going through occupational therapy, speech therapy and being taken out of mainstream schooling for a day every week. I now realise as an adult how stigmatising it was among my peers and other adults. I realised how different I was percieved when I had difficulty speaking or doing ordinary tasks.

School friends years later told me how they were made aware of my disability when I wasn’t present in assemblies, and that I shouldn’t be treated any differently because I used a computer to do classwork, or had to be taken out of classes from time to time. I must admit that helped with my peers letting me get on when I did school work in ways different to them: when they were using pens and pencils: I had a 90s laptop with a loud dot matrix printer.

I had a great amount of specialist support through most of my education, even when during the mental health issues of my undergraduate years. Many of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) specialists did tell me that I had to be more than what every other candidate had to be in order to get half of their success, and that my ability wasn’t judged. I was told that I would be judged on things like the way I walk or speak, or the way I walk into a room and sit on a chair before an interview panel, or if I have trouble pulling back a table it will be interpreted as clumsiness and a lack of attention. I should have taken that advice more seriously. I also feel a victim to a self fulfilling prophecy, namely that knowing people would judge me harder I have had to work all the more harder in everything I’ve done. As a result many use disproportionately higher standards to rate me negatively than they would for others who are rewarded for less effort. An unintended consequence of the attitude I’ve fostered from the SEN staff’s advice.

My disability wake up call came when I had an interview for a Central Government Department (*cough* Home Office), in which I pointed out on the application form that I required reasonable adjustments in order to do the assessment/interview. I was told that this was acknowledged and I was to write a handwritten test. I made a call to an HR Assistant who dealt with public sector recruitment to clarify if there was a problem with what I told them about my disability. I then reminded the HR Assistant that my disability was related to my handwriting abilities and the individual seemed unconcerned as if I just brought up a non-point or a sentence of silence. The HR assistant was unwilling to make any changes to my application. I asked simply for clarification: “Are you going to put me into a handwritten test when I’ve put on the online form that I require reasonable adjustments because of a condition which affects my handwriting?”. The HR Assistant’s answer: “Yes”.

That was my disability wake up call. This was the moment when all the times when I was told as a child and a teenager about how society’s attitude to disability is changing throughout the 1990s and 2000s to the point that eventually my dyspraxia wouldn’t be an issue. Despite being able to play Bach, despite being able to deadlift my own body weight in Iron; or overcoming severe depression and all my other adversities and achievements; I’ll still always be labelled and made to feel like that kid who was taken out of school to have occupational therapy. At that moment I exploded in anger.

My response was a sense of indignation and my refusal to simply accept this situation quietly. I responded to the HR assistant and said a lot of words that were definitely not safe for work. I said (in cleaned up version): “If you put me into a handwritten test, then I am being discriminated against and you are knowingly doing nothing about this”. It was only after I called their organisation a privatised-outsourced-HR-service-working-for-public-sector-to-cut-costs-hypocrite-organisation-adhering-to-the-farce-of-two-tick-employer-in-the-guise-of-inclusivity-*$*£!!!!!1, that they decided to make some changes to my interview/assessment. Also maybe its more relevant that I threatened to tell his manager and let him know that my smartphone is set to record all my calls and I will find out his name and shame him publically. I can’t complain as to how nice they were afterwards. I’d like to think that their commitment to equality of opportunity (one of the traits listed on the person description for the job I was applying for) rather than their fear of being caught out, that led them to be more amenable to my interview adjustments.

Sometimes my wake up call happens in strange ways, which are less upsetting to me than..bizarre. On some occasions my Indian appearance and long hair with the combination that I have an academic background in philosophy makes some people (notably of the patronising hippie spiritual type) to think that I’m some kind of spiritual guru or mystical wise man because of my ancestry, and bizarrely enough, sexually exotic to certain parties (aforementioned hippie type). I find this patronising that my ethnicity should ever considered a ‘sexy’ thing as if it were to be considered as ‘other’ or a novelty. These things have been less offensive wake up calls but more bemusing when it reveals the kinds of weird assumptions people want to have about me!

Another wake up call I recall was when I joined the LGBT society at university during my undergraduate years. The LGBT soc had a mentorship scheme for those who were opening up more to their sexual identity such as myself at the time. The ‘mentor’ I had was very friendly and pointing out how important it was for homosexuals to be represented in all different areas of society and how wonderful it is to embrace one’s sexuality. However at the moment when he asked ‘you aren’t bisexual are you?’  which followed a disapproving monologue on his views on bisexuality, I felt very uncomfortable about opening up to him and a little bit confused as he seemed so positive about sexual difference. Wake up calls can be weird, and the kinds of oppressions we experience can come from unexpected places.

It’s my uncomfortable truth to realise that I have been discriminated in small ways and large ways. I’ve also experienced privileges which also intersect in weird ways with disadvantage. I’ve heard many other wake up call accounts which differ to my experience. I’ve heard from people who have had wake up calls on things like the prejudice against single parents, non-male gamers, gay airsofters (where homophobic language is commonplace) or religious secularists. When I first heard stories about the antagonism that my friend experiences as a single mother, I had a wake up call about an issue I never really thought about. Sometimes its the casual things that hurt. Sometimes its the institutional things like a lack of role models in our industry or sphere of interest, or a lack of positive media representation of the group that we identify with.  I also recognise that many oppressed people aren’t in a position to take a stand against their discrimination, sometimes that is because they have other struggles such as making ends meet financially, health issues, childcare obligations, or the intolerance of others to listen to an oppressed group.

My wakeup call is unique to me and I realise there are many others who have their own kinds of wake up calls to oppression. Such oppression can manifest in grossly obvious ways while others are more subtle and coded. I also accept that the wake up call can happen within contexts where a person may enjoy relative social privileges in other aspects of their life. I found it really hard to talk about my wake up call, I feel that it might be so much easier to pretend it doesn’t exist or that there are other reasons to explain discrimination. My wake up call was the realisation that decades of disability awareness and real changes in social attitudes have not really gotten far enough, my wake up call was the realisation that the struggle for equality on many fronts is still relevant.

Have you ever had a wake up call? If so, what was it, and how did you react to it? 

**You can learn more about dyspraxia here

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Links round-up 11th Dec

Lashings of Ginger Bee Timer
Posted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

Foz Meadows at the Huffington Post hits it right out of the park on the topic of Sex, Desire and Fan-Fiction:
These aren't just strangers we're perving on purely because we like their bodies (although that can certainly still be part of it); they're characters to whom we feel a strong emotional connection and in whose relationships we're invested, such that watching them have sex, regardless of the quality of the prose, is guaranteed to be about a thousand times more arousing than the sight of yet another anonymous blonde get screwed by some faceless, grunting goon on the internet. Sex in fan fiction matters because it's a glaring representation of everything that's missing from mainstream porn, and because it stands as evidence of the wealth of female desire -- and particularly young female desire -- that's barely being acknowledged elsewhere, let alone catered to.

Recent conversations in the Lashings tour bus have included sign interpreters at scientific conferences - and whether that's something that could really happen in the same way that major fannish conventions increasingly have interpreters on stage. And then we found an article about developing new signs to facilitate scientific discussions!

This is an old link, but a useful one: Did you know that legality/illegality actually has remarkably little effect on the number of women who obtain abortions? (What legality does strongly affect, of course, is how safe those abortions are...).

This just in for the Poly History files: Amelia Earhart insisted that her second marriage be open.

And finally, don't forget... LASHINGS OF AFTERNOON TEA TIME this Sunday afternoon! 3.30pm, East Oxford Community Centre, £5/3. Meet the new Lashers and see old and new acts, plus enjoy tea and cakes lovingly baked/bought by Lashings (or please feel free to bring your own food if you'd like!). 

Friday 7 December 2012

The self-definition problem

Posted by Ganymede

A version of this post originally appeared in two parts at

Ganymede here, a newly-acquired apprentice Lasher, and very excited to be on board. I'm a kinky, andro-romantic, trans-masculine asexual who's thrilled to become part of such an awesome queer feminist collective...

That's a lot of labels for such a small sentence, isn't it? And if you've hung around this blog for a while, you'll have noticed that we're rather keen on matters of labelling and self-identity. In this post, I'm going to give my take on why they're so important: the problems they can cause when they don't work, and why, when they do work, they're so liberating.

Consider this interesting situation: as the notion of asexuality is gaining ground, so too is the need to find a word for people who aren't asexual. This is a controversial subject, where all of the possible candidates have unfortunate connotations (which is, of course, almost unavoidable when coining or using labels). But, whatever word we settle on, we still find ourselves with a fascinating problem: when faced with the concept that asexual people exist and therefore by process of elimination they belong to the group described as "sexual", or "consexual", or "allosexual", some people suddenly realise that they're not comfortable with the way their group - the majority group - is portrayed in the media.

Usually this only happens with minority groups; one parallel is gay men in earlier decades potentially feeling dissuaded from coming out because of media-based assumptions that all gay men are ridiculously effeminate. But... you can't not come out as experiencing sexual attraction, because the default assumption is that everyone experiences sexual attraction. And the default portrayal of, well, everyone in the media is that they're really rather obsessed with sex. And if you don't define as asexual, explicitly rejecting this portrayal, does that mean you're implicitly accepting it?

That's one reason why I'm incredibly excited to see asexuality being discussed in the mainstream media. Those who wouldn't self-define as asexual will be prompted to think more deeply about their orientation, and perhaps start to question the way sex is dealt with in the media, and perhaps feel less ashamed to speak out as "different" the next time they're stuck in a game of nervous, exaggerated, face-saving sexual one-upmanship with friends who worry that not thinking about sex every seven seconds will make them look "gay".

But for every label, there will be lots of people who feel discomfort with using it, because of the people they're then implicitly associated with. Some deal with this problem by calling themselves something new (like "equalist" instead of "feminist"), which doesn't have the baggage of the past, but will never have the weight of history. Some react by declaring themselves to be "real" or "proper" [insert label here]s, not like those other [insert label here]s who shouldn't be allowed to use the word; that never ends well. Another way of dealing with it is to sub-categorise yourself: if you're not sure you're asexual but you don't want to associate yourself with sex-obsessed media portrayals, you can co-opt a term like demisexual or grey-asexual to help you narrow down your potential network of peers even further. Or, just don't label yourself at all... which works fine, until you find yourself labelled by implication ("if you aren't asexual, you must be sexual/allosexual/consexual").

Fact #1: people will always try to label you. Fact #2: whatever label you end up with, you'll always be sharing it with a certain proportion of dickheads. In my opinion, the best thing you can do is choose your labels with care, and then BE AWESOME so loudly that you drown out the dickheads.

For every "label" you can think of, there are a million people using it who come in a million different shapes and sizes. Our society is starting to recognise inter-group variation to a much greater extent than only a few years previously (adding and accepting new labels like "asexual", "heteroromantic", "genderqueer", "neurotypical"), and this is frickin' awesome, but it's just the beginning. The much-needed next step is to come to recognise intra-group variation: whatever labels we take, we flavour them with our own uniquenesses.

But then, are labels still needed at all? A friend of mine commented that ey thought the world would be better all round if people spent less time banging on about What They Like To Do In Bed (or similar), and more time just doing it.

Ey has a point. It prompted me to wonder why so many of these self-identification labels do revolve around What People Like To Do In Bed (bisexual, asexual, pansexual, panromantic, aromantic, polyamorous, monogamous, sex-positive, kinky, vanilla, heteroromantic, gynesexual...). Why should What One Likes To Do In Bed be of anyone else's concern apart from the other person[s] in the bed?

The ones that don't (genderqueer, transmasculine, butch, femme, neuro-atypical, cisgender, feminist, neurotypical...) seem to have the broadly unifying characteristic of describing What You Are Like. Presumably, if these labels describe What One Is Like, one spends most of one's time being like that - so why should one need to wave around a label proclaiming that One Is Like That?

The answer I came up with:

Actually, the sexuality labels don't just tell you what the person likes to do in bed. They tell you how ey negotiates some of the most intense and complex relationships someone can possibly have with [an]other human being[s]. They tell you, through eir choice of label (pansexual over bisexual, gyneromantic over homoromantic), how ey views these other human beings, on what levels ey chooses to interact with them, and how ey responds to the ways eir sexuality is perceived in society at large.

In short, they tell you an awful lot about the most intimate facets of the person's character. In this way, they're just like the What You Are Like labels. If someone chooses to identify as genderqueer, ey's making clear the angle from which ey approaches interactions with other people, the way in which ey responds to the pressures and perceptions of society at large. If someone identifies (positively) as cisgender, ey's sending a message to other people that ey recognises the diversity of human experience and identity, and is willing to engage with them on a deeper level than would, say, Simon Hoggart.

It's funny that these issues of (largely) gender and sexuality are, essentially, the last great taboos - in that even in These Enlightened Times TM, the vocabulary to describe them is mushrooming year on year, as people finally find the courage to try and express who they are. And, no, they shouldn't need to, it should be obvious from "what they're like". But it's not. If people don't stand up and wave their labels around, their true personalities will be ignored, drowned out by the default white noise of Everyone Is A Monogamous Heterosexual Man/Woman Who Behaves Exactly Like This [In Bed].

Sure, it saves time and effort. You're more than welcome to go with it. But personally, I prefer my interactions with other human beings to be more intense, complex, and rewarding - cos, y'know, people are fascinating!