Up Front by Emma Hart


The Little Things

So you know that thing where you’re using up all your Coping on dealing with international political coverage without going mad, and then your city literally catches fire? And you find you’re again waking up to the ambient sound of helicopters, and then some fucker stands in front of a TV camera and calls Christchurch people “resilient” and you yell even louder than you do during the last two overs of a one-dayer?


The Port Hills matter to a lot of Christchurch people who don’t live on them. They’re where we go to breathe, particularly since the quakes. We walk and bike and run, we say ‘hi’ to each other when we pass on the tracks. We get our heads above it all for a while. Watching them burn has been exquisitely painful.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you all about my cat. It’s what the internet is for, after all.

This is Min. He’s an arsehole. “Oh, but he’s adorable!” Yes, but he’s an arsehole. Right now, he’s on my desk pretending to be asleep, but I’ve had to move his paw off the function keys four times since I started typing.

Last year, our beloved old ginger tom Wooster died, leaving the ageing and FIV-positive Jeeves all alone. So after a while, we decided to get a new kitten. Min is short for “Satan’s Little Minion”, and we still didn’t expect him to be this bad.

To be fair, I’ve recently realised he’s not as stupid as I thought he was. Not ‘driving up the hill to look at the fires getting in the way of emergency services’ stupid. He’s just reckless. ‘Being the Prime Minister on TV suggesting both fires might be arson’ reckless. Turns out he likes it when the box he repeatedly jumps on falls over. He views getting accidentally kicked when he attacks people’s feet as basically an amusement-park ride.

Things I have tried to teach him are not Food For Cats:

-          Marmite

-          Muesli

-          Coffee

-          Human flesh

-          Bees

He’s still not exactly bright. For the last couple of days, I’ve been trying to teach him how to use the cat door, and failing. I bolster my flagging spirit by reminding myself that I did eventually get through to him on the matter of object permanence.

Owning Min has been remarkably like having a toddler again. The constant supervision is exhausting, and you find yourself yelling things you’d never expect anyone to have to say, like “Get out of the toaster!”

And he’s vicious. This is where I feel like I’m failing most spectacularly. He’s nearly five months old, and he’s still as scratchy and bitey and Jeeves-bullying as he was when we got him. When he was four months old, he brought me his first dead sparrow. The other day he pulled a monarch butterfly to pieces in the lounge.

It’s a comfort to me to know that it’s not really my fault my cat is such an arsehole. Every now and then I get updates from the people who own his brother, who is also, as it turns out, kind of an arsehole.

But here’s the thing. Min is also the first cat I’ve known who has a teddy bear.

He loves Unicorn. Well, he’s attached to it. He took it to the vet when he was neutered – early, because we got a special My Cat is an Arsehole dispensation. He likes to cuddle Unicorn’s throat with his teeth, and tickle its tummy with raking strokes of his back legs.

He’s also attached to me. He loves me, I guess. He likes to sleep on my pillow. When I lie down to go to sleep, he likes to run his claws through my hair, and knead my scalp. To be fair, I have slept with people with less respect for my boundaries. I’m finding I’m actually losing the ability to sleep without someone pinning down my head and purring really loudly in my ear.

The thing is, he really is fricking adorable. He’s soft and lovely and cute as all shit and a cat, and I love him. He’s going to continue to be a murdery disaster his whole life, but at least he’ll never learn to use matches.


Walk This Way

It’s been a couple of weeks since we all stopped pretending that 2017 was going to be any better than 2016. I mean, yeah, it was shitty that all those much-loved celebrities died, but what made last year such a shitter was that it was the year so many people decided to Choose Hate. Brexit. Trump. Those decisions were made, but we haven’t started to feel the real effects yet. And now, it’s nearly Inauguration Day.

What I’m seeing now is such a feeling of helplessness. What can we do? A number of people have told me that they are, basically, climbing into their internet bunkers. Setting up keyword blocks, avoiding news, hiding from things that make them feel angry and sad, because there’s nothing you can do. And I understand this. You have to pick your battles.

Before you do this, though, please make absolutely sure that there really is nothing you can do.

I don’t have all the answers. The answer I have this summer seems to be the answer to, “That guy, what’s his name?”, which is “Andrew Little.” Most of us don’t have the reach of, say, Carrie Fisher. We don’t have big platforms. And we’re all the way over in New Zealand. It doesn’t really directly affect us, right, for the same reasons there isn’t much we can do.

One thing the internet means, though, is that our communities of interest aren’t often geographical. I care about what happens to LGBT people no matter where they live. Women. Refugees. Racial minorities. Religious minorities. Disabled people. Some of us feel more connected as members or allies of those groups than we do as New Zealanders.

We all have platforms, too. All that differs is the size, the reach. An internet acquaintance of mine was heavily involved in the effort to get Jennifer Holliday to withdraw from performing at the inauguration. He got called some interesting things for this, and I personally had never heard the term “necknuts” before. But it worked.

Please know that I HEAR YOU and I feel your pain. The LGBT Community was mostly responsible for birthing my career and I am deeply indebted to you… You have loved me faithfully and unconditionally and for so many years you provided me with work even though my star had long since faded.

Thank you for communicating with me, I had no idea that I still meant so much to all of you.

I was telling a friend the other day that, while I couldn’t join in the Women’s March on Washington, I could make sure that at least people knew it was happening. People were standing up. The least I could do was say, “Look, over there, people are standing up.”

Except it turns out now that I can go. There are marches in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. I will be there. It’s something I can do.

All are welcome. The march is for any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights, that diversity is the strength of our communities, that all voices deserve to be heard & that we are stronger together.

Yes, that’s this Saturday, and that’s not much notice, but it’s also not all that much effort. And what a thing to be part of. The people knitting the Pussy Hats for it in the States have caused a wide-spread shortage of pink wool. And who knows, it might do some good here, in an election year, to show that women will stand up, that we care. The thing is, when you add all those marginalised groups together? There are more of us than there are of them.


The Up Front Guide to Internet Dating

Six months ago, I decided I’d write a column on internet dating. I’d been dating for a couple of years, and boy did I have some Reckons. Still, the people I’d been out with deserved their privacy. What I needed was for other people to tell me their stories. I’d anonymise them, and then sneak my own in among them. They’d be the sort of stories that made you laugh while saying, “Oh god, that’s awful.”

So I asked. Then after a couple of days, I specifically asked men to send me their stories about women, because I wasn’t getting any. Meanwhile, the stories from women kept coming. And they were increasingly awful. They were so awful I put this column on indefinite hold.

I was reminded of it again at the National Writers Forum, when Chris Cleave was talking about how he does character research. One of the things he admitted to doing was signing up to dating sites and reading people’s profiles. They do two things there, he said, that people don’t do elsewhere. They describe themselves, and they describe what they want. Given my profile includes the phrase “If you're smart, funny, and kind and you like cricket and kinky sex and have an opinion on the Oxford Comma, you should get in touch urgently,” I conceded he had a point. And I really should write this column, despite its intrinsic difficulties.

(I once had a guy message me to say, “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen cricket and kink mentioned together.” Bless.)

Here’s my advice for women. I’m bi, so obviously I’ve dated some women. Keep doing what you’re doing, women, it’s excellent. Straight women, I do have some advice:

-          Don’t talk about how much you hate your children

-          Don’t endlessly bitch about your ex

-          Don’t bring the ghost of your ex-husband on dates with you

Men. Sit down, men, you’re a bloody tragedy.

Look, I’m sorry you still have to do most of the initial approaches. Seems mad. All this time and women are still sitting back waiting. And I guess sending the same message to forty or fifty women seems like a time-saving measure, but stop it.

Hey gorgeous, how are you?

hoooowdy bombshell........ how are you today?

Hi, how are you today? Love your smile and your profile

Hello pretty how are you doing

These are from the top of my OKCupid inbox. I’ve received literally hundreds of these. I’ve never responded to any of them. Read a woman’s profile. Mention something from her profile when you message her. Pretend you give a shit.

Dudes my age? You are probably not George Clooney. What the hell is wrong with women your own age that isn’t wrong with, y’know, you? Your 18-35 ‘looking for’ age range is just fucking creepy.

Dudes my son’s age? Bless. But stop it. You’re my son’s age. It’s creepy.

But mostly, guys, STOP LYING. I’ve had guys turn up to first dates and been unable to recognise them from their profile pics and description. Don’t lie about being single: it’s really awkward when your wife calls during our date wondering where you are. Don’t lie about being Scottish, FFS. And you, the three guys I heard about who faked their own deaths? I don’t even know what to say to you.

Don’t abuse a woman for not replying to your messages. You’re just proving her right.

If a woman asks you to stop contacting her, do it. Then. Not seven months later.

If a woman lets you give her a ride home after a date, don’t go back and break into her house when she’s sleeping.

Yeah. It got awful.

There’s a lot I still don’t know about dating. It wasn’t a Thing when I was single the first time. I don’t know how long I’m allowed to simultaneously date multiple people for. I’m not sure when there’s a commitment. I find the difference between vanilla dates and FetLife dates fascinatingly tricky. In one case, at some point I need to bring up kink, and it’s always awkward. In the other, we’re sitting there knowing each other’s kinks and probably having seen intimate photos of each other, but not knowing each other’s jobs or names or hobbies.

There is a lot I have learned, though. I can, as it turns out, hold a conversation with absolutely anyone. I’ve dated lawyers, lecturers, programmers, truck drivers, machinists, artists, people of six different nationalities. I’ve learned really interesting things.

I’ve also learned I have very high standards. If I want someone who hogs my bed, ignores my needs, and doesn’t respect my boundaries, I have a new kitten.


Giving It the Bish

About ten days ago, I was in a pretty good mood. There was going to be this U.S. election that Hillary Clinton was going to win. A couple of days after that, my best friend was going to visit, and we were going to head out to a nice winery north of Christchurch for lunch.

Things didn’t quite go as planned, obviously. What we got instead was evacuating our house in the middle of the night, because it turns out there are more problems living this close to an estuary than the occasional smell.

And then, when I was fugged with exhaustion and worried that my friend wouldn’t be able to get back to her home in the Wairarapa, Brian Tamaki. And you must understand that I started drinking last Wednesday.

Yes, I hear all the people saying, “Just ignore him. He wants the publicity. Don’t give him the attention.” But when you’re seeing tweets about it from England, I’m pretty sure that ship has well and truly sailed. People have heard his voice. Young queer people have heard his voice. If you ignore him, they haven’t heard yours.

After what I’ve now seen, in the U.S. and the U.K., it doesn’t look to me like not calling this shit out is a viable option.

No, I don’t expect that calling someone racist will stop that person from being racist. That’s not the point. These people have followers. All those people at one point were just starting to listen, and thinking about getting on board. Them, we can reach. And we can take away the support system for bigotry:

What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance. Deny them this reassurance and solidarity. Deny them evidence that “everyone” thinks that way. That is your power here, and it’s a pretty big one

Also, when we speak up, we support the people who suffer very real harms from this kind of speech. If there’s one thing this last week has taught us, surely it’s that no statement is so crushingly stupid that it’s harmless.

And if it is too ridiculous to take seriously, ridicule it. That’s what Jefferson would do. What Tamaki is saying is that his God, whom he claims to love and believe in, occasionally mass-murders some people because of what some other people have done. Let that settle in for a bit. He has tantrums, and kills people. And baby seals. Baby Fucking Seals.

Tell me again why ‘the advancement of religion’ is a charitable purpose?

To exploit other people’s suffering to further your own bigotry and get people to throw more money at your feet is repulsive. I don’t know if he believes what he says, and I absolutely don’t care. I’ve never wanted to go to Heaven: none of my friends will be there. I’m pretty sure he and I both know there is no number of women I could have sex with that would destroy someone’s house.

Fortunately, we can stand up for the things and the people we believe in without taking this feckless shit-gibbon and his leather-conditioned face seriously.

Also, I’m not saying this is something you should do, but apparently people are donating to Rainbow Youth in Brian Tamaki’s name, using the publicly-available email address. That’s a thing that’s happening. Just saying.

One of the things we can do for our young people in these terrible times is to be the change we want them to see. 


Wonder Bi

Recently the head writer of the Wonder Woman comic outed her. She’s bi, he said. Duh, I thought. Who didn’t know that?

Lots of people, apparently. The comments on that article are Quite Something. And yes, I know they’re Stuff comments, and people aren’t suddenly going to start not commenting on things they know nothing about. They’re not going to Do a Google.

I've been reading comics ever since I was a child and not once has Wonder Woman ever been hinted as bi-sexual so it's weird that this writer now has the ability to change a 75 year old character's sexual orientation just because it makes sense to him.

I bet the original writers never thought for one moment that years in the future she would be looked on as bisexual.

Now, I’m not a big comics fan. I’m willing to bet some of you are. And these universes get rebooted all the time. Would the creators be horrified? Who knows, right? Well, we can make a pretty educated guess. Here, I’ll let Jonathan Ross explain. It’ll take thirty seconds.

Wonder Woman’s chief creator was William Moulton Marston, who lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne, who was the niece of Margaret Sanger. After William’s death, the two women continued to live together for decades. It’s just possible the concept of bisexual women existing had not escaped Marston’s notice.

But also, how many times does a female character living on a female-only island have to exclaim “Suffering Sappho” before you think something might be up?

On to the other side of the coin. Why wasn’t Wonder Woman more explicitly bisexual? Well, she was created in 1941, when the Hays Code and its companion the Comics Code were saving the youth of the United States from such depravity as women having their feet off the floor while kissing and married couples sharing the same bed.

Topics considered "perverse" could not be discussed or depicted in any way. Such topics included—but were not limited to—homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases.

Anything that’s formally published or broadcast has to get past gate-keepers. Those gate-keepers made sure that, whatever Marston and his successors wanted in terms of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, it wasn’t getting through. (There are existing memos from Marston to illustrators giving astonishingly precise directions as to how the character was to be chained up which have the ring of experience.)

What they were left with is what TV Tropes calls Getting Crap Past the Radar. It’s like dog-whistling for non-arseholes. You put things in in a way that’ll get past the gatekeepers, but some of your audience will still pick up on. Probably the most famous example is the use of Polari in Round the Horne.

And this is why slash-fic is just so gosh-darned important in LGBT history. When it really got going in the 70s, even if a character had been conceived as gay or bi, they could not be overtly portrayed that way. To experience those stories, people had to write them themselves, without the interference of gate-keepers.

Things are different now, though, right? We’re all out of the closet and tiresomely shouting from the rooftops all the time and we’ve all got so PC you can’t move without LGBT characters getting their gay all over you.

Yeah. Not really. I mean, obviously things have improved vastly. But there’s still a way to go. It was great that in Star Trek Beyond, Sulu was shown as raising a daughter in a same-sex relationship. Not so great that the kiss they filmed was cut.

Independence Day: Resurgence had a gay couple. You can tell this because at one point, they hold hands.

Should studios and publishers be doing better? Of course they should. Right now it still feels like a buck each way – the publicity for saying there are going to be LGBT characters, and then they turn out to be presented in such a way that the Million Moms aren’t going to notice.

We want bi characters to be identifiably bi. In the meantime, perhaps there’s some consolation in this: there is nothing a character can do that proves they’re NOT bi. That’s why we’re such dangerous ninjas: you cannot see us coming.