Up Front by Emma Hart


Too Sexy for Your Site

Ever since the election, I’ve been pondering writing a column about the changes that would need to happen to MSD for us to be treating all our people like actual people. It goes much further than removing “excessive sanctions”. Thing is, I’m on a benefit, and I don’t think I can risk it. I haven’t done anything that would justify stopping my payments, but that’s hardly relevant.

In lieu of mine, read Catriona MacLennan’s blog instead. There are several things I would add even to this, but I don’t feel safe talking about them in public. I’d say, buy me a drink and we’ll talk, but that might be construed as financial support.

So let’s talk about something where I feel much safer: sex.

Last week, Twitter blocked the tag “bisexual” in image searches. It might have been a mistake, but it wasn’t a “technical issue”.

“One of the signals we use to identify sensitive media is a list of terms that frequently appear alongside adult content. Many of these words on the list are not inherently explicit, which is why they must be used alongside other signals to determine if content is sensitive.

“Our implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorised based solely on text, without taking other signals into account. Also, the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.”

It doesn’t matter how many times people use the word ‘bisexual’ in searches for porn, it should never be on this kind of list. Yet it’s not the first time a company with huge online influence has made this kind of “mistake”. Again, actual porn was easily accessible, but an LGBT term was not. Again, the erasure was a result of an attempt to ‘protect’ people, to solve a problem not properly understood by the company. Your defaults are not neutral, and neither are your algorithms.

Twitter at least swiftly put up their hand to the mistake. But it was fascinating for me watching the conversations unfold with the bisexual awareness accounts that raised the problem. There are two comments in particular that caught my attention like a broken nail snagging in your tights. I’m not going to name the people who made them, because it doesn’t matter and they don’t need the attention.

One was a dear man who said, “I don’t understand, why are people searching for their sexuality? I’m straight and I’ve never done a search for that.”

Of course you haven’t. You don’t have to. This is part of what you get for being the default: no hashtag. Your sexuality is so prevalent you can’t even see it. Nobody’s ever told you straights don’t exist. You’ve never had to come out. You don’t need to go searching to find people who look like you.

Then there was the person who, appalled at what Twitter had done, said, “It’s not like we’re a fetish!” Reader, my forehead thumped into my wrist-rest just as hard this second time, but for reasons perhaps more difficult to understand.

Here’s the thing everyone who is in some way not the straight-monogamous-vanilla-cissexual default has in common: our sex is somehow more powerful. It’s more dangerous, especially to children, and has to be more tightly controlled. Just walking down the street or going to a work event with your same-sex partner, or multiple partners, is somehow a sexual act. I’ve worked on a site where a same-sex kiss was banned on a PG-13 board, because it was just too damn sexual. Stupid sexy gays. I guess we just have to suck this up, right, because our Identity is Sexual. Not like straight people. They don’t have sexual identities, they just are.

And I know some of you are probably thinking, but kink is different, right? Kink is entirely about sex. It’s what you do, not who you are. How could kink not be sexual?

Here’s a thought experiment. It’s entirely hypothetical, of course, because there’s no way I could currently be in a D/s relationship, because despite it involving no financial support, that’s emotional support and I could lose my benefit if I was doing that. (Being made entirely financially dependent on a new partner could in no way enable relationship abuse, of course, and nobody’s MSD KPIs would give a shit if it did.)

So say, hypothetically, you got up for breakfast with your Dom and then his mum came in and you realised you’d forgotten you were still wearing your collar. I mean, that’s really embarrassing, right? God. So awkward. Imagine if that happened to someone who totally isn’t me.

So how is my collar more sexual than your wedding ring? They both symbolise a physical and emotional relationship. (The linked page is relatively Safe For Work. It contains the word ‘fuck’, but so does this column, now. The site as a whole is incredibly NSFW.) Why shouldn’t it be okay for me to wear my collar in public? It’s not sex.

I have a tattoo on my left arm. It unites a bisexual awareness symbol with a BDSM symbol. I’m always very cautious explaining it when people ask what it means. It’s a tattoo. It’s not sex. (It couldn’t be a vanilla symbol for the same reason it couldn’t be a straight pride symbol: those aren’t things.)

But no, we have to keep our heads down, because what if we polluted your children with our culture of explicit consent, with our nerdy spreadsheets and safety briefings and training sessions? Imagine. Straight vanilla sexual culture is doing such a sterling job of keeping people safe.

Twitter has restored my ability to search for “bisexual” pictures. Thing is, the hashtag is full of hard-core anime porn. Well done.


The Surprisingly Sincere Up Front Guide to Voting Part 2: Everything Else

This is my second column about voting: the first, on advance voting, is here. Please note that I’m only talking about voting, not politics. Some of you are probably going to ask questions I simply can’t answer because of the restrictions while I’m working the voting period. Please also note, as if it’s not obvious, that any views expressed here are personal and not those of the Electoral Commission. Or at least, not those it can admit to in public while I’m not plying it with martinis.

These questions are all things I have previously been asked, or have seen people ask. To be fair, there are other, odder questions I’ve been asked about voting, and you can get those out of me by plying me with martinis.

Can I vote if I don’t have my EasyVote card?


Do I need ID to vote?

No. No. No you do not.

Are you sure?

*screams into a pillow*

I’ve voted heaps of times and I don’t have any questions, so I can completely ignore this, right?

Here’s what’s new this time around. You will be asked to state your full name, aloud. This is a legal requirement. If you refuse to do so, the Issuing Officer will send you to the polling place manager for a talking-to and a spanking. Okay, a form. And you’ll have to cast a special vote. I personally completely understand that this will make some people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. We should probably take it up with whoever it was who made the legal challenge that led to this change.

Where can I vote?

You can cast an ordinary vote at any polling place in your electorate. Some booths near electorate borders also do normal votes for multiple electorates. The booth I work in, for instance, is in Port Hills/Te Tai Tonga, but also takes ordinary votes for Christchurch East and Christchurch Central. Go here, select your electorate, and scroll down past the advance booths to find out where you can vote.

You can, of course, vote at any polling booth, but if it doesn’t hold the roll for your electorate, you’ll have to cast a special vote.

Who can I vote for?

Any person or party that’s on your ballot paper. That will include every party that’s contesting the election.

Are you sure? Because a dude said-

*smashing noise*

What if I make a mistake on my ballot paper?

If you have, say, ticked the wrong box, tick all the boxes, and then take the paper back to the person who issued it to you. They know what to do.

But. We will count any paper on which the voter’s intention is clear, no matter what else is written or drawn on it.

I thought drawing on a ballot paper spoiled it.

*sound of liquid pouring into a glass*

Listen. Last election someone had drawn a massive love heart on their ballot paper, with the name of a party in the middle of it. Because they had also neatly ticked two boxes, we counted that vote.

I’m living overseas and I want to vote. Where do I even start?

Go you. You rock. This is way too complex for me to into here. You go into it here. Overseas voting is already open.

What if I’m disabled or have mobility problems?

There is a telephone dictation service for the blind so they can vote anonymously from home. This has already opened. Instructions in NZSL are here. We have sit-down tables in polling places – if you can stand up to vote, please try to leave these for people who can’t. If you are in a rest home or hospital, someone should come to you to get your votes. You can have someone in the polling place to assist you, but they can’t vote for you or tell you how to vote.

Why can’t I take selfies in the polling place? It’s fun!

Largely, because you might catch someone else in the background, and it might not be fun for them. So maybe wait til you get your sticker, go outside, stick it on your pet or child, take a photo of that, and don’t be such a fucking dick.

What can scrutineers do?

They have to wear those little rosettes so you know they’re scrutineers. They’re largely there to watch the staff, not the voters. They’re allowed to write down anything we say aloud. They’re not allowed to touch anything on our desks. And, like the guards outside Buckingham Palace, they’re not allowed to speak to you. No matter what. Sayin’.

What can I do to make voting easier?


No, seriously. Read the fucking signs. Make sure you go to the right desk to start with. Listen to the issuing officer when they give you the instructions, no matter how many times you’ve voted before. This vastly increases your chances of putting your ballot paper in the right fucking ballot box. If we didn’t have to keep redirecting people, everyone would get to vote more quickly. If we didn’t have to spend half an hour sorting votes into their correct electorates and rescuing ballot papers from the Special Votes box, the count would be in faster at the end of the night. And I personally would probably drink less gin when I get home.

If there is a problem with your enrolment, it is absolutely in no way the fault of the person in front of you. That person is basically working a fourteen-hour day for a shiny nickel and a warm feeling of well-being, so maybe don’t yell at them?

Overall, though, issuing votes is an absolute joy. Yay Democracy and shit. Come vote. It’ll be great.

The Surprisingly Sincere Up Front Guide to Voting Part 1: Advance Voting

So I can’t talk about politics at the moment, and not just because my family want a break from the shouting and swearing. What I can talk about, however, is voting. Endlessly. Try to stop me.

This is the first of two highly informative guides to voting I’ll be publishing this week. This one is specific to advance voting, and it doesn’t cover ordinary election day voting which is why I haven’t mentioned all those things I haven’t mentioned. And yes. I know the comments are turned off. I’ll turn them on for the second column so everything’s in one place. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions, you can email them to me.


Do I need my EasyVote Card to cast an advance vote?


If I don’t have my EasyVote Card, do I need ID?


Are you sure?


That can’t be right. Someone told me…

Well, you find that someone and tell him, preferably in front of as large an audience as possible, that I said he was incorrect. If he’s a decent person I’m sure he’ll want to know that he’s been putting people wrong.

When can I advance vote?

From Monday 11th September, until the day before Election Day. You may not have received your EasyVote Card before advance voting opens. See above.

Where can I advance vote?

Go here, select your electorate, and you’ll get a list of advance voting sites. They’re different from Election Day sites, and there are more of them than there were last year. Note that the days and hours of opening are very different across different sites.

Do I need a reason to cast an advance vote instead of a normal one?

No. Anyone can cast an advance vote. We don’t even ask.

Do I have to be enrolled?

No. We can enrol you in the advance voting booth and you can cast your vote at the same time. The only time you can’t enrol is on Election Day.

What if I’m not sure if I’m enrolled or what electorate I’m in or which roll I’m on?

You should definitely come in and advance vote. For advance voting only, we have a tablet – A TABLET* – with the electoral roll on it, and we can just look up your name on that, instead of finding your address in one massive book, and then looking through the roll for that electorate. It’ll be so much faster. And if it turns out you’re not on a roll, or your details are wrong, we can fix that on the spot and you can cast a valid vote.

What if I cast an advance vote, and before Election Day, something happens and I change my mind about my vote?

Yeah. That’d suck.

Oh, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

What if I advance vote for a candidate and then they die?

Probably a bigger bummer for them than you, to be honest.

Will it be quicker to advance vote, or to vote on Election Day?

So, interesting question. This year, the Electoral Commission is expecting that advance voting might top 50% of votes cast, for the first time. But they have to staff for all likely scenarios. So if that many people advance vote, it’ll be quicker to vote on Election Day. If fewer do, it’ll be quicker to advance vote. So, who knows?


Most people who advance vote do it on the last three days. Those and Election Day will definitely be the busiest. And maybe the 19th, which is the anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.

If you have any uncertainty about any aspect of your enrolment, you should cast an advance vote.

If you’re going to be out of your electorate on Election Day, you should advance vote, because it is HEAPS quicker to do a normal advance vote than a special vote.

If you’re on the unpublished roll, maybe advance vote, because there’ll be fewer people around. Or do whatever the fuck makes you most comfortable. You’ve earned it.

If you really love the sense of occasion and community of voting, then fuck it, vote on Election Day, and more power to you.


*Not even a stone tablet. But imagine how big that sucker would be. 


What's the Big Idea?

The other day, I was looking at my younger son sitting on the couch watching the news predict imminent nuclear war, and thinking, “This 80s revival is going a bit far.” But surely, it’s my generation who’ve been there before. Gen X, we’re the ones who grew up in the shadow of nuclear winter. I should have some advice for dealing with this level of existential dread. Perhaps Sting could write a song speculating that maybe North Koreans love their children.

Then I remembered. We’re Gen X. The only thing we know is that we know nothing, and nobody’s ever going to ask us. Our job is to keep the peace between our parents and our adult children who still live at home.

Then Theresa May called a snap election, and we were all, “Sure. Fine. This is just what happens now, in this world where everything is shit all the time, there’ll be another bit of utter crazy along in a minute, there it goes.” I was trying to work out who I would vote for in England, what with Labour being your basic omnishambles and the LibDems apparently run by a confused homophobe. Then I remembered that they don’t have any kind of PR, and all English people can do is vote for their local MP, and I ran a bath and drank wine in it.

We’re having an election this year, and I feel no more sanguine about that than any of this other bullshit.

It’s been my determination this year to somehow get through it without building a Merlot Bunker under my desk. That’s probably why I’ve been drinking so much wine in the bath. I don’t want to hide away and ignore all the shit, but it’s so hard. It’s easy to get distracted by how unoriginal Eminem’s music is, or just how afraid Paula Bennet is of dildos. Or how to spell the plural of ‘dildo’.

Just like any time you find yourself in the middle of something overwhelmingly complex, it pays to take a step back and say, “What’s the big picture? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What’s the ultimate goal? With that in mind, does what I’m doing make any fucking sense? How great are screwcaps?”

I know it’s got nothing to do with me, and the last thing the parties on the Left need is more Advice on the Internet, but here’s what I’d like to see in the lead-up to the election: big ideas. “What do we stand for?” “Who do we want to be?” They’re not the last questions we should be asking, ‘how’ has to come in there somewhere for sure, but we should still be asking them.

I feel like the left has got scared of big, ‘feeling’ words. We’re liberal social justice warrior snowflake virtue-signallers. But you know, who didn’t fucking cry watching “Pride”? We get big words like Justice and Equality and Diversity. They get jumping out from behind the couch and yelling “BOO! IMMIGRANTS all up in your ECONOMIC INSECURITY!”

I believe in big things, because small things are big things. The political is personal, if you will. I’m not afraid to say that, in part because I’ve demonstrated that I can throw down in the policy-wonk stakes, at least in my own areas. I hold my position on public access to electoral rolls because I believe in Democracy and Fairness.

Even so, just writing this column is making me squirm, just a bit. It’s awkward. It makes me want my bath. I understand how hard this would be, and how much mocking. But I want a country where everyone can feel safe, no matter their race or sex or orientation or gender identity. I want a country with clean water and protected environments for native species. I want a country where everyone has somewhere to live, that’s safe and warm and healthy. I want a government that wants those things too, and I do not have one.

Yes, govern in prose. But maybe we could do a little bit of that campaigning in poetry first?


For Your Own Safety

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a cricket game at Hagley Oval, because that’s what I do in summer. The oddest thing about it wasn’t that the Black Caps won, it was the toilets. For the second time in a game I’d been to, the portaloos were gender-segregated.

It’s an odd thing to do because it takes more work. You have to estimate how many women are going to attend, in order to work out how many pink (not even kidding) loos you’re going to need. The first time around, it appears they got it horribly wrong, and the queues for the toilets were horrendous. The second time was better, but even so, it has to be more inefficient. For reasons that I hope are obvious, having (for instance) five pink loos for fifty women and ten green loos for 100 men is less efficient than having 15 loos for 150 people. So why do it?

People made mistakes all day. I watched a man wander into the women’s side just in front of me and then realise what he’d done. “It’s free,” I said. “Just use it.” But he couldn’t, because all his friends were just outside laughing at him.

And he was a cis man. He wasn’t being forced to make a fraught decision about where to pee that might risk his own safety.

Can’t we just have unisex toilets everywhere? And if, for some weird reason we can’t, can’t we let all women use the women’s, and all men use the men’s, instead of trying to force some men to use the women’s and some women to use the men’s?

People are concerned, apparently, for the safety of women. Not all women, of course, and not the women at most risk in toilets. Just cis women. Who are apparently at risk of an epidemic of violence from trans women.

When I was eight years old, I was attacked in a women’s toilet by a man. Weirdly, there were no Gender Police on the door to stop him coming in.

If you genuinely care about people’s safety, maybe concentrate a bit less on imaginary threats, and get behind measures to protect us from real threats.

I was heartened, in this time of Political Armageddon, to see that the National Party has changed its mind and decided to support Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill through to Select Committee.

The most dangerous time for someone in a violent relationship is immediately after they leave. Even going into a refuge doesn’t keep someone safe if they still have to go to work. Their abusive partner knows where they work. They know where the children go to school. If you can’t take a few days off without risking your job and your economic independence, you might die. It’s a real threat.

And yes, I know there’s a cost to employers. But do they really want to say, “Paying for someone to take leave on next to no notice and arranging cover for them, like I’d have to do if someone in their family died, is just too much trouble. I’d rather they got beaten up on my doorstep.”

It’s not even just about taking leave. As the bill explicitly states, it might be about letting the employee work from home, or at a different branch, or for different hours. Reading the bill, I found it pragmatic and actually quite conservative.

I’ve no idea what Family First’s position on it is, and here’s a tip for the Herald: I don’t give a shit.