Guest Post by Philippa Price, Librarian, Information Services
You’ll find a great choice of fiction, non-fiction and journals (and even some DVDs if you’re not much of a reader!) in the library’s LGBT+ inclusive reading selection. These recommendations were originally inspired by fiction lists from Stonewall and have since been added to by members of library staff. All the titles in the library’s list are available from Swansea University Libraries. If the book you are interested in isn’t available at your campus library, you can sign in to iFind and Request that it is sent for you. We are always looking to develop this list, so if the book you love isn’t on there, let us know! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #SUBetterRead on Twitter or Instagram.
As library staff, we appreciate a love of literature, but reading has a wider benefit too. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expresses this far better than I ever could in here TED Talk, ‘The danger of a single story’. In it, she shows how easily a lack of understanding can arise if we only hear one narrative about a group of people or a country. It’s so important for us to be able to find ourselves in literature, but it’s also valuable to find an understanding of other people through fiction. Our LGBT+ reading list is a great resource if you want to find out more about the issues which have been marked by LGBT+ History Month, but it’s also a brilliant place to go if you’re looking for your next good read, whoever you are!
Alys Einion February 25th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
There’s a kind of sadness in accepting that we still have a long way to go. Today I have been preparing lectures on equality, diversity, oppression and power, and the historical resistance to oppression. I have been reviewing information, case studies and TED talks on racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and these have raised some important issues for me relating to the history of LGBT+ identities and our own resistance to oppression. When we examine the lives and resistance of LGBT+ people, the concept of social devaluation emerges strongly, and this resonates powerfully with me when considering my life, and the lives of colleagues, friends and family.
According to Nzira and Williams (2009, p. 34), “our identity… is defined not only by ourselves but by others. When our identity is defined negatively by those in power, oppressive experiences are highly likely to result. The social process involved has been called ‘social devaluation.’” The experience of oppression is not new to many individuals, but perhaps those who are not accustomed to fighting for the legitimacy of their identities so forcefully, perhaps those people may not be so aware of the impact of social devaluation on people, on their wellbeing, on their ability to survive and to thrive in this vastly complex world. Social devaluation means that aspects of a person’s identity are viewed negatively, and that negativity is widely socially accepted because it derives from a dominant ideology. This can, commonly, be seen for example in groups of society being viewed as ‘second class’ or ‘less than.’ This in term limits opportunity for such people. It limits their voices. Our history of LGBT+ identities, for example, is complicated because history has been written by dominant forces which continue to argue against the assertions of our communities. A common argument for the lack of existence of LGBT+ people or identities in the past is the lack of ‘proof.’ For example, there is no ‘proof’ the Ladies of Llangollen had a sexual relationship – therefore it cannot be asserted that they did. This is an interesting approach. There is no proof that a whole raft of famous ‘straight’ people had sex either, yet it is assumed that there was a sexual, or heterosexual foundation to their marriages, despite there being no proof that they actually had sex. It is assumed that, because for example, they were married, that they had a sexual relationship, or at the least, a romantic relationship. The same measure is not applied to same-sex relationships of people in the past.
My response to that, of course, is ‘if it walks a like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.’ If an historical figure has a close, same-sex relationship with a person and it looks like an intimate relationship, is viewed by others and by the people themselves as an intimate relationship, then it is safe to assume it IS an intimate relationship. This is just one example of social devaluation, the undermining of same-sex relationships in the past because of a lack of legal or social legitimacy.
But the nearer past also contains other examples of how this might happen. A personal example of this is a comment made to me once by a very senior manager in a healthcare organisation, who had accused me of lying about being off sick. I had had a GP sickness letter confirming my sickness, and had followed protocol by ringing up and asking when to bring this in on the day that sickness began, the day I had secured the sick note. I was told by an administrative colleague that it was ‘fine to bring it in the day you come back’ because I lived so far from my place of work and one of the reasons I wasn’t in work was because I wasn’t well enough to drive. When I arrived back at work I was told that I would not be paid for the sick time because I hadn’t got the ‘sick note.’ Producing it and my argument, I was accused of lying (about the illness, about the phonecall to the administrative colleague) and getting a sick note in retrospect. This is what the senior manager said. “We all know you people can’t be trusted.” She was, of course, referring to the fact that I was in a lesbian relationship. This was before 2005 and so I had little legal redress for her behaviour. I argued strongly and was told that she “would let me get away with it this time”. My anger was such that I could barely articulate it, and I left the organisation some time later after systematic bullying for which there was no redress because of social devaluation. I was deemed to deserve the ostracism and outright bullying I experienced because of my deviance. I use this personal example but am surrounded by others’ examples of similar experiences, most of which I will not share in a public forum because they are their own stories, not mine to expose.
However, when we consider how far we have come, in terms of legal protections, we cannot forget that we are, many of us, still compelled to be activists for equality simply because we still see this social devaluation around us. When lesbian characters in mainstream dramas are consistently killed off, this suggests that being a lesbian ultimately leads to an early death. When gay characters are only known by and through their sexual behaviours, this devalues gay identity and limits it to sex, suggesting that this is the most important thing about being gay, which in turn undervalues the complexity of gay culture. When bisexuality is either invisible or discounted as ‘confusion’ then social devaluation comes into play, as if there is some great authority stating that every individual must define themselves according to social norms and make a ‘choice’ to be something that society has given a particular value to. When trans* people experience violence daily, and experience constant negative press in the UK media, this reinforces the false idea that they are ‘other’ and somehow deserve what they get, which is the antithesis of an inclusive, egalitarian society. When women are still judged primarily on their appearance and their willingness to starve themselves to meet social ideals of body size, and men are encouraged to denigrate and sexualise women as part of ‘male culture’. When all of these things continue, we have no choice but to resist.
Like many others, I have experienced people dismissing the fight for LGBT+ equality. “You’ve got equality now,” they say, because we have equal marriage. Yet this is far from an equal society, and far from an equal experience. We are free now to join the normative form of marriage and spend huge amounts of money on a socially validating event to celebrate and legitimise our relationships, yet it is impossible to get a gender neutral passport or a gender neutral birth certificate. And raising these questions, these legitimate, socio-legal issues, still makes people uncomfortable, just as seeing the rainbow flag and being faced with LGBT+ people in public life still makes people uncomfortable.
How can we respond to this? By asking what it is that we ascribe value to in our social lives. And who ascribes that value. Pose these questions, and start to unpick from where we derive our social value and the validation of our identities. Who owns the media that represents us in these ways? Who channels the information that we view? Who challenges the rampant sexism that is still inextricably linked to the pervasive homophobia and unconscious bias in our social worlds, the discomfort with trans* identities or non-binary gender? Do we even challenge these things ourselves? Where does our power lie in resisting the social devaluation of ourselves and our identities? Perhaps when we examine these questions we can start to see how to make the change real, and pervasive, right here where it matters the most, in our day to day reality. Or at least, we can recognise the oppression we all experience, and the multiple dimensions and intersections of inequality, and start to look to each other to bring about change, learning the lessons of the past and defining a different kind of future.
Alys Einion, February 2018.
Alys Einion February 5th, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
Today I had the great pleasure of staffing an information stall on Singleton campus, raising awareness of LGBT History month and the activities we have planned here at the network to mark this month and celebrate diversity. This was a great opportunity for me to go out and ‘Bang my Rainbow Drum’ as I found myself describing it to a passing colleague. Ably assisted by another network member, we waved rainbow flags and shared information with a wide range of people. Victim support had also left some information with us on reporting Hate Crime. This was a sobering reminder of the current social and political climate and I was saddened by the number of people who immediately took that information and commented on how relevant it was for them, their work or their clients. It reminded me how important it is to keep doing the work that we do, proudly and publicly.
I was already fired up from having attended the Stonewall Top 100 Employers Awards in London the previous evening, delighted to hear Swansea University’s name read aloud as one of their top 11 employers for trans inclusion, and to have climbed up to 29th in their list of Top 100. Wales gave a great showing and dominated the ratings, with the National Assembly for Wales being the Top Employer out of the top 100. Despite an interminable late night train ride and only a few hours sleep, I still felt elated to be out and about, visible and doing my bit to raise the profile of LGBT+ equality here at Swansea university today.
What made it most worthwhile was the response of the people we spoke to. I was able to make contact with students who had experienced homophobia and discrimination, students who were looking for support, staff who were looking to support us, people who wanted to learn more, and people who were really interested in our events. I was particularly enthusiastic about our upcoming Storytelling Evening, with live music, comedy, poetry and an open mic. We rarely arrange something so eclectic and fun, and it was a real pleasure to invite people along.
Banging my rainbow drum – it seems like a potential for a lot of noise, perhaps driving people away. I prefer to see it as a call – a call to all who simply want to work and study in a place that is making equality a reality. My fatigue melted away as I shared rainbow stickers with passers-by and reminded everyone that here at the network we are a source of information, support and signposting for staff AND students. I had so many positive, warm responses and felt sad to take the stall down – still talking to people – because it was clear to me that simply being visible, being present, banging that drum for just an hour, has made some kind of difference to some people.
To reiterate, this month we are hosting some events which aim to celebrate the lives and histories of LGBT+ people, including those in the public eye and those whose stories may be less well known. A link to our events is below – come along, join in and we look forward to seeing you there.
Alys Einion February 1st, 2018
Posted In: Uncategorized
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