Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Writing While Queer: It Matters

nude1_oct_2016

art: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

Over at The Atlantic, Gabrielle Bellot reminds us, now during the Trump age, of how important it is, it continues to be, to raise our voices as queer writers. “The killing of trans women,” she reminds us, “is in the news so often I’ve come to expect it.” We have always pushed against bullwarks of oppression. Early writers had their texts challenged–publishers wouldn’t publish them, communities banned and burned them, writers went to jail for them. And yet when I was trying to come out in the late seventies and early eighties, these books became lifelines, like rope swings I could jump on into the possibility of a different future. We’re not there in that future yet, as any queer writer will tell you. Not even in Canada. Our books are not published and celebrated in the way that books by other communities are. How we are side-lined has changed and grown more subtle and our rights and visibility has increased, but side-lined we still are.

I published a novel this year that was called a “tour de force” by the Vancouver Sun, yet dismissed by the Globe by centering the sex in it. Do I claim it as great literature? No. No other Cdn sources reviewed it despite it appearing in NY’s Time Out as a best summer book. It can’t actually exist as both a tour de force and not worth reviewing.

The dissonance is wearily familiar to queer writers. I’m exhausted by the rejection, by my traditional lack of access to this country’s power structure. The little sniff, the little nose wrinkle, the burying, is an historically common reaction to queer texts. Not on merit you don’t, straights seem to say. The “we published queer writer X last issue” comments (we’ve used up our quota, sorry). We have come a long way but oh, we have a long long way to go.

Bellot says, “But at its best, and often in times of the deepest challenges and uncertainties, our literature has offered a vision to the world of the possibilities that may exist within each person, of our ability to resist and persist, of our ability to make and remake ourselves, even in the face of unspeakable pain.”

Queer Writers in the Age of Trump

“Friends don’t let friends drive rape culture”

I am embarrassed and ashamed of my colleagues who’ve signed a letter called “An Open Letter To UBC: Steven Galloway’s Right To Due Process.” They say this is not about Steven Galloway, but a complaint about “process” at UBC, although its title belies this.

As I have stated, I don’t know the particulars of this case and I don’t know Mr Galloway, but what I do know is rape culture. What I’ve said on FB and repeat here now is: Just because someone is nice in your presence does not mean anything about their behaviour when you’re not around. It is not a ninety percent indicator of the unlikeliness of a crime or misdeed. It is not even a one percent indicator of an unlikeliness of a crime or misdeed. If you think you can disprove, say, battering, because a certain person was really kind when your mom died, or loaned you money for your dog’s surgery, or was your friend since childhood, or wrote a great book, or is warm and friendly around you, and you know them to be compassionate and giving, and funny, you are naive. I understand the impulse–you love or like or admire somebody. But you don’t know them around the complainant unless you are the complainant or a first-hand witness. Period. You don’t.

I’ve heard a lot of statements similar to “We just need to give him/her/them the benefit of the doubt. The process was bad and they’re a friend.” I hear “Innocent until proven guilty.” But this was and is not a court of law. This was and is an employment contract. I hear “Due process,” but the right to due process doesn’t actually exist outside the legal system. I hear grave concerns about UBC process but then I discovered UBC process is actually underway now, and not complete.

Women have been proved to lie about sexual assault in fewer numbers than those that lie about house break ins or thefts; depending on the study, between two to eight percent, which means of course that about ninety-five percent of sexual assault allegations are true, and statistically, it would very much beggar belief if in cases with multiple complainants there appeared multiple liars. Margaret Atwood’s comment, over at The Walrus, in saying that “To think that members of a group called “women” are always right and never lie does a great disservice to accusing women and abuse survivors is bloody insulting–to vulnerable peoples’ struggles to be heard when they speak against abuse of power, and to intelligence.” For Margaret Atwood to say, “If it’s a matter of rape, then it should be a matter of jail,” flies in the face of all knowledge about Canada’s dangerously flawed sexual assault system–more than a half million assaults yearly with 1400 convictions. It’s against everything that feminism, no matter your brand of it, stands for. And to say an “unsubstantiated” complaint is necessarily untrue? Have we learned nothing? Is this the Twilight Zone? This letter yanks Canada’s understanding of rape culture back fifty years. I ask again, as others ask: Why on earth doesn’t the presumption of honesty follow complainants?

Please. Disagreeing with signatories is not a “witch hunt” and not a “lynching.” How disgusted and livid would I be if I had had an ancestor burned at the stake or hung from a tree? How trivializing. Her rants are on Twitter. With the real threats to the marginalized coming fast and furious in the US, and more slowly here, you’d expect hyperbole like this would be met with aghast outcries from signatories. That Atwood further makes a veiled threat about the “consequences” of disagreeing with the signatories in her Walrus letter is unsettling. How are marginalized/dissenting writers supposed to trust, now, that their manuscripts will be adjudicated by these signatories on merit?

Thankfully, more than a dozen people have pulled their names from that letter, and Camilla Gibb has done so with thoughtful, genuine remorse while speaking of painful assaults in her academic career. She sees that the letter’s intent did not match its damage. Her efforts are appreciated.

If you are looking for more information, you can consult the Globe and Mail, Twitter, Quill and Quire, Bookriot, FB and The Walrus. Dorothy Palmer has written important FB posts explaining process at UBC that I suggest everyone avail themselves of.

Context

In thinking how to help with my limited resources, I noticed Doretta Lau’s generous offer to mentor UBC students. I never went to UBC, or indeed to any writing program, but I can throw my skills into the hat, in order that I am doing something and not just yapping, and offer to mentor a queer/disabled UBC student (or someone who yearns to be one) working in short forms. Someone, please, who couldn’t afford such consultations on their own. There won’t be a charge. Please pass that around.

There are more of us in the rest of CanLit than there are in the signatory list of the CanBully letter. That letter is just the last gasp of an ossified system–you can hear the thing wheezing. We support you, complainants, and we salute your bravery and courage, and we apologize for all the pain and repercussions you’ve had to suffer.

“Friends don’t let friends drive rape culture.” -Dorothy Palmer

In the words of Nancy Lee:

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