Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Clouds on the Tyne

In England's far northeast there is a river. Its waters are calm, not pristine but not particularly befouled. The air is silent. From heart to mouth there is little traffic upon it: perhaps a little patrol boat nosing around, or a massive tanker asleep on its banks. Someone, at some moment, might be fishing in it. It is far removed from the crowded, noisy, money-spinning concentration of madness that is London and England's southeast, in the cold, the wet and the wind of what one Conservative MP recently disdained as the 'desolate north'.

Keep opinions like that out of the earshot of the thousands of ghosts on this river, or their still-living descendents, for the heritage of that region defines their identities, their fears and their hopes to this day. This river, as they know it, is the river that made them who they are: a river of life and of death, teeming with ships – trade vessels, tankers, battleships of the royal fleet, birthed in its never-sleeping docks and set forth upon the waves, or ploughing in from or out to the sea, a maritime network connecting this region inextricably to the world. A river that was once one of Europe's mightiest industrial heartlands, whose people broke their backs to contribute to their society, and endured, in turn, far more than their fair share of its injustices and pains. Its story is a paradox of pride and sorrow, its waters a reflection of some of England's bitterest struggles of sustainability, of development and of peace, throughout the past and to this day. It is – of course – the River Tyne.

The former Baltic flour mills, now a museum of contemporary art.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Struggle to Establish Sexual Diversity on the United Nations Agenda (Master's Thesis)

The primary result of my two years' research at the United Nations University in Tokyo, which I am making public here as promised. It is too long to post here in full, so if the abstract and contents attract your interest, you can view the complete text by clicking here.

I am not an academic, and write things like this with the sole purpose of making a contribution to a better world. So though I am aware my written English is a bit of a minefield at times, I deliberately do my best to reject academic jargon and politically-motivated euphemisms throughout this kind of work; write without any consideration for the effect on my own prospects; and will make no pretence at impartiality, for sometimes there is no such thing. So if you are not of an academic background but still take interest in the subject matter, then please do not feel daunted by the scale of this work, and feel free to ask me if you want anything explained more clearly.

The great diversity of human sexual and gender identities, senses, behaviours and feelings is a central part of the human experience. Hostility to this diversity, along with the prejudicial violence, discrimination and ostracization that hostility produces worldwide, constitutes today one of the gravest challenges to the United Nations's founding pursuit of the rights and dignity of the human person. Nonetheless, this issue has been marginalized and misunderstood in international politics until recent decades, becoming recognized and addressed only during the 1990s and 2000s, primarily on the human rights agenda: and then only through a painstaking struggle that still endures against hostile forces who seek its exclusion. This study thus inquires into the current state of sexual diversity as a human rights concern in international policy discourse and practice, particularly in the United Nations agenda. It examines the recent history of sexual diversity as a complex political and human rights issue; the movement whose efforts have advanced it; and the hostile counter-movement's drivers, methods and contexts. Ultimately, in pursuit of an international system free of heteronormative biases and the recognition of the full relevance of sexual diversity across all its major policy fields, the thesis explores and asserts the significance of sexual diversity for the vision and practice of the United Nations – and above all for the integrity and prospects of universal human rights.

Chapter 1 – The UN Agenda: Overcoming Exclusion
a) Human Rights
b) Development
c) Peace and Security
d) Convergence
i) Gender
ii) Sustainability
iii) Health
iv) Towards Sexual Diversity Rights

Chapter 2 – Sexual Diversity: The History and Movement
a) Sexual Diversity as Politics
b) Sexual Diversity as a Human Right
c) The Sexual Diversity Rights Movement: Academics
d) The Sexual Diversity Rights Movement: NGOs and Social Activists
e) A Case Study: Gaya Nusantara, and the Sexual Diversity Rights Movement in Indonesia

Chapter 3 – Hostility to Sexual Diversity: The Counter-Movement
a) Counter-Discourse and Counter-Practice
b) Analysing Hostility
i) Cultural Relativism
ii) Construction of History
iii) Moral and Medical Pathologization

Chapter 4 – Sexual Diversity Rights: The Challenge
a) Conclusion: Universal and Diverse – Not One or the Other, but Both
b) Recommendations
i) The UN
ii) Activists
iii) Moral Authorities
iv) Academics
c) An Exhortation

Again, you can access the full text here. In addition, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), one of the foremost international sexual diversity rights organizations bringing together over 750 groups around the world, has also made the text available on their website here (angry photo included!).

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Repressive Culture of the Necktie

A curious observation.

There is one particular freedom, like most freedoms as old as humanity itself, which keeps a suspiciously low profile in everyday concern. Like freedoms of speech and expression, of belief, association, or the fulfilment of social and economic needs, this one has been commonly ripped from us by tyrannical governments, institutonalized prejudices, social pressure, or ideologies that try to convince us it's for our own good. But unlike those other freedoms, we find ourselves far less inclined to mobilize to try and get this one back.

Why is it that in almost every land, we have allowed the complete suppression of the freedom to wear what we choose?

One piece of sundry clothing has become today's ultimate embodiment of this suppression: the necktie. From its obscure origins in early-modern European militarism and fashion, ties have since become globalized across the societies of every continent as a standard, exclusive, pan-professional marker of serious respectability.