This blog has been about identity. More correctly, it’s about the various types of identity which compete for prominence in all of us from time to time. It’s about the fact that people feel differently about who they are in different contexts. It’s also about the fact that identities change.
I’m from Northern Ireland and a major part of my identity is British, but along with that is an understanding that being from Northern Ireland also makes me a big bit Irish. Not only am I comfortable with that but I embrace it – completing my beginner’s Gaeilge course at Conradh na Gaeilge was almost as proud a moment as the day I addressed Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éireann as its President-elect years ago. In Irish.
Almost everyone who grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s has baggage – most carry it through their lives, expressed every so often in the sectarianism of the place. Some people choose rather to throw their baggage away and engage with the world around them. I like to think that I am one of those people. I moved to Dublin in 2008 and I love the place.
Some people have looked at this blog and concluded that I must be anti-Irish, mostly down to one blog post entitled ‘Overcoming anti-Irishness through music therapy’, where I said I was. Three things quickly become apparent:
- The post is about overcoming a dismissal of Irish music and culture
- The post describes how the mission was achieved
- When you say you’re going to do a second part to a two part blog post, do it
I don’t think it’s possible for me to think of myself in any way which doesn’t acknowledge and embrace the aspect of my identity which is my Irishness, but equally my love for the UK. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to be described as ‘anti-Irish’ – which would be simply a form of racism; though I understand how I left myself open to the charge. All my adult life, from the Community Relations programme I was part of and then led within the Student Movement, through to the work I did with USI and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, right through to the work I do now, I have worked in anti-racism. it’s a cause I believe in fervently.
“Everybody here”, sings Michael Stipe in REM’s ‘Supernatural Superserious‘, “comes from somewhere that they would just as soon forget and disguise”. The place I’d like to forget is not Northern Ireland, but fear, jingoism and ignorance, which I’ve certainly been guilty of in the past. I picked up all of them from my early life in the divided and contested society that is Northern Ireland. I learned of the need to shed them all in Ireland, and I learned of the need to end the self-absorption of this blog from the events of the last few days.
This blog in its current form will close in the next week.
The absence of genuinely accessible commentary on what it is to be a man is sometimes a delight, sometimes a sore. It’s a delight because it means I occupy a niche space with this blog, and it’s a sore because I have no idea how underdeveloped my own viewpoints are. It makes me very jealous sometimes that websites like AntiRoom exist, channeling some genuinely challenging and exquisitely conveyed thought into a readily accessible space. And some of it as as funny as all hell.
Men’s blogging tends not to focus on that element of their identity – partially because, for reasons set out before, there is no need to vindicate the male spirit or to claim anything for the sex taken until very recently to be intellectually and economically dominant in our society. So men write about eveything but being men, because the very act of existence is so often male-defined. Pint for the gentleman, fruit based drink for the lady.
As a result, a google search for blogs on male identity will chuck up a huge number of pieces talking about a male identity crisis which may or may not exist, and which, if it does, may simply be a failure to instantly adapt to changing economic, educational and social circumstances – depressingly, men may simply be reconstructing their identity without reading the manual or stopping to ask for directions.
There does need to be a non-reactionary space for men to write without cant or cliche about the experiences shared between the sexes but about which it is traditionally the role of women (!) to be pissed off. There does need to be a space for the diversity of men to write about sexism – not from a sexuality but an equality standpoint, and from a standpoint opposed to the cultural pollution that most public sexism represents.
There needs to be a space for straight, red-blooded men to say that sex is awesome, but the Hunky Dorys ads with women in underwear smeared in mud catching rugby or GAA balls is utter bollocks, objectification and as likely to make us buy corn snacks as being vomited over in Copperface Jacks.
There needs too, to be a space for straight, red-blooded men and gay men and women alike all to point out that ‘bits’ traditionally refers to the genitalia, not the breasts of a woman, and that a 45 second cinema advert seeking to conflate squeezing breasts with squeezing oranges actually creates brief congnitive dissonance and reminds us that we really want a Coke.
The ether is the space, of course, and people are free to tilt at windmills to their hearts’ content on blogs and facebooks and Twitter, but the one thing the chicks have on us is that AntiRoom already exists and is exquisite, and the danger of having men write about their experience of sexism and gender identity is that someone will seek to write some gubbins about domestic violence against men on the rise and women getting all the top jobs.
This then, is a call to something approaching action. I am prepared to set up and host a web page for men not to write shit on, to serve as an outlet but never a reaction to sites like AntiRoom. If I can get a small group of men – straight, gay, bisexual, whatever – to write what they want to say rather than what they think they ought to say, then I will do so. If I have overlooked such an outlet, please let me know.
firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Yesterday, I had orbited the Sun 30.977 times. Today, I have orbited the Sun 31 times. The sense of elation at having been centrifuged around our closest star so often, of having been alive through what has been an essentially charmed life is interspersed with deep disappointment at the meaninglessness of the mind boggling numbers surrounding my age.
Should the fact I have witnessed 11322 days and nights (actually there was a while in 2004 after a particularly untidy break-up where I mostly saw evenings, and then through a haze) be of any consequence to me? 271,728 hours, mostly of waiting for trains, buses or my girlfriend. 978,220,800 seconds, ticking noisesomely on my much treasured swatch, have passed since I was wrested from my mother and succumbed to life.
Not every tick of my pretty little wristwatch passed me by, of course. Bulls have in the past been grabbed by the goolies, diems have been carpéd, so to speak. The path of true love has run smoother than I might have had resaonable cause to expect – which is to day I have an iPad, a MacBook Pro and the latest update to Formula 1 racing games, and if my headphones are in I can’t hear women denouncing me.
I have fought and won elections – happily, the only one I ever lost was for Secretary of my school’s debating society. I have supported others in elections. This was more a mixed bag. Rosaleen McDonagh was not elevetated to an Seanad Éireann. Kenneth Clarke did not become leader of the Conservative party on any of the occasions I offered my support, but William Hague did, and let’s face it, I picked a good ‘un with Cameron.
Abiding obsessions abide, as abiding obsessions tend to do. I still revel in tautology, I still listen with awe to Robert Palmer, and I still program in BASIC when I get the chance. I recently rediscovered a love of cycling, and re-rediscovered my joy at going a little too fast to be completely safe – the 45km/h barrier was broken briefly yesterday morning, when I still cycled as a thirty year old.
I have rejected religion, assuming any philosophy which asserts the existence of anything more significant than myself to be not worth the candle by which its icons are illuminated. In place of God I established the higher churches of cricket and rugby – no match of either I have ever listened to on the radio has been lost by England. Both sports I was given the opportunity to excel at while at school – both sports I was unambiguously fucking terrible at.
I took some good advice. More often than not it was ‘fuck off’ but sometimes it was weightier, things like ‘wait for the green man’ or ‘take a couple of weeks off University so nobody actually shoots you’. Once it was ‘even people like you can get a shag at NUS or USI’. I ignored some brilliant advice. Brian McLaughlin, then my PE teacher, told me ‘keep exercising or you’ll get fat’. I stopped exercising and I got fat. I ignored some crap advice. Someone told me to get into IT.
I still haven’t learned to drive, though I’m taking lessons. I still haven’t finished the book I started almost three years ago.
But all in all, taking a holistic view, with a due sense of perspective, taking everything into account, in the round, at the end of the day, all things being considered, it’s been good. My family and those not disgusted to be counted friends have been frequently wonderful – they, and probably you, have made individual seconds, minutes, hours and days so glitteringly wonderful that all my immediately available memories are of happy events filled with laughter, schadenfreude or martinis. Let’s have some more, and let’s see how they mix.
Next year in Jerusalem.
A friend, now probably a former friend, described me as mean spirited. As it happens, I’m generally not, or I try not to be. It’s a thing, like the other parts of identity, simply to be worked through and understood, and, possibly banished to interactions with people who don’t matter, or people who deserve it.
Rarely, but pungently, I allow my mind to wander into abstractions of nastiness – to write and say something calculated to upset or shock. As it happens, notwithstanding my intellectual limitations and gaps in cultural and general knowledge, I am sometimes really good at it. Then, when I’ve come up with it, I put it to use. My objective, almost always, is to come up with something which is, in the end, rounded and amusing – to establish through a mix of sharp unpleasantness and self-deprecation a comment within which my readers and I can join in a smirk about how awful it is to come out and say such things. It’s a part of who I am.
Sometimes, hopefully more rarely, through clumsiness in writing rather than design, the disc of my sense of humour herniates, leaving the article lopsided and lacking the integrity with which I sought to have it imbued. The piece which would probably be quite amusing if it were not for the flitting will-o’-the-wisp of my mean spiritedness singeing it, is bollocksed.
And so, a previous article for this site was today withdrawn, because it did something it was never consciously intended to do. It was intended to amuse one person, and the person was not amused. It was mostly because my poor writing gave it a sorry birth, but more likely because it was misconceived in the first place. I should have followed my first instinct and aborted it.
I’m an antitheist; simply put, I don’t believe in a god or creator, much less an interventionist one who cares about what I think or do. I subscribe to much of what Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have to say on religion, and I will probably cover this a little later.
Not believing in a god or creator has some clear impacts on my perspectives on life and death. Some of these are philosophical, many are potentially controversial, and some are shifting even now. Don’t expect consistency.
I don’t agree with capital punishment for capital crimes. A reasonable society is one which treats breaches in the law, and breaches in the standards set by the society, in a manner consistent with those standards. If we believe it is in general wrong to kill, it is not consistent with those standards to use capital punishment to punish even capital crimes. The correct solution in capital crimes must be a mixture of punishment-as-deterrent, rehabilitation and punishment-as-retribution.
I do agree with legal termination of pregnancy. I believe it is a reasonable view that a woman must have the right and ability to own and control her own body, and I believe that the rights of the woman are superior to the purported rights of an embryo or foetus. My reason for the distinction between the woman and an embryo/foetus is philosophical; a woman has rights as a human and a consequent right and capacity to exercise those rights; the embryo or foetus has no such capacity, though it accepted that when the embryo or foetus reaches viability, it develops rights.
An argument which states that ‘life begins at conception’ is pretty meaningless to me; we kill live plants and animals all the time. Does this mean that I equate a human embryo with a carrot? Yes, it does. That is my philosophical position entirely.
The quite lovely Caroline Farrow (@blondpidge), a catholic thinker whose views I generally like a lot, is concerned to argue that a human life has more value than a carrot. She may well post below. I should clarify that I don’t like the argument that ‘life begins at conception’ because it seems to me to devalue life to argue that. If we are to believe that a human embryo’s ‘life’ as a group of cells is valuable, then surely there has to be a reason for the assertion. Once you accept that I do not believe in a god, creator or life force, you’ll see how I cannot be swayed to believe that a group of cells embedded in the womb of a woman has an equal value or set of rights to its host.
Note to new readers: This article was written to be, and is, the first part of a two parter wherein I establish the causal link between Irish music and a rejection of anti-Irishness which is endemic in Northern Ireland, where I am from. It should be obvious (but it apparently isn’t) that the end point of the article is the end-point of anti-Irishness, a rejection of it and an acceptance that Bell X1 is one of the best bands on Earth. Sorry some people didn’t get that.
Some of my guilty secrets are really secrets I’m proud of; marching through life as a member of what I like to imagine is a dwindling cognoscenti, sometimes the best music just seems to pass other people by. The stunning thing, however, comes when discovering something wonderful everybody else has known about for years. Stunning in the same way as being hit between the eyes with a tyre iron.
For me, Bell X1 was a perfect example. Due to my vaunted anti-Irishness, I had decided all bands were as bad as U2. I consider U2 execrable, with the exception of ‘Stay (Far Away, So Close!)’ from the derided Zooropa album, and ‘If God Will Send His Angels’ from ‘Pop’.
I am nonplussed by Mundy, consider Glenn Hansard an unwelcome negative connotation to the official Parliamentary record and think the film ‘Once’ works best as a silent film. With the TV turned off. Other Irish bands may as well not exist. I am able to walk past posters for Electric Picnic and Oxygen (which I am told are ‘music festivals) and not recognise 60% of the acts. Which is fine by me, and unnoticed by their legions of happy and adoring fans. Everyone’s happy.
Truly, I was a sub-human wretch. Xenophobic even to the nerve endings in my ears, I wore my mental block as a wonderful badge. I was (and remain, to a large extent) an active opponent of Irish culture and music. But when I first heard ‘Flame’, driving through Wicklow’s hills, I was actually annoyed to discover that it was by an Irish band. Which caused consternation.
The reason you have never read any decent books on male identity is that very few have been written which aren’t simple appeals or apologies. It’s also probably because women have defined men in the popular discourse, mostly in negative terms. Historically, western men didn’t have to define themselves because they simply were the dominant force, and dominant forces don’t need too much introspection to continue dominating. Brute force and ignorance works, in the circumstances in which men are allowed to operate with freedom.
I will make two assumptions. Primarily, I will assume that the reader accepts that men and women are intellectually and morally equal, and secondarily, that the reader understands that glib bullshit like ‘all men are potential rapists’ should have gotten the coiner of the phrase a good solid gin and tonic over their head for offensive drivel. The cretin in question might equally as usefully have said ‘all men are potential trampolinists’ or ‘all men are potential mountaineers’. Just because I am physically capable of something does not mean that I have the potential will to actually do it.
So, I am a man, and the main result of that is that Y-chromosome is that people won’t trust me to look after their kids (sometimes gender discrimination is awesome) and toilet queues are shorter. It also means that I am allowed to pretend my shopping is utilitarian and mission-focused, even if I do spend an inordinate amount of time looking at colognes and linen suits. Finally, I get to be taller than most women and relied upon to understand why a builder would drill holes in walls at stupid angles. I have an excuse for not going to the doctor, because I have nothing needing swabbed or smeared, and if I am in pain, there are pills for that.
The thing most irritating about the identity of a man, and the implications of that identity, is the way in which woolly-brained suppositions and assumptions about what that actually makes me are allowed to propagate. Like typhoons of pop-ignorance stalking the public discourse, if Germaine Greer says it, some utter dimwits will think that it holds a grain of truth, particularly if it’s about men. Never mind that she and I both run at the mouth almost as much as we run at the typewriter.
Being British is an accident of birth, of course, but a peculiarly happy accident. It’s strange and essentially silly to be proud of something over which one has no control, but it is an immutable and important fact of life. It’s a macro identity in a sea of characteristics which compete to define us by turns though our lives.
Imagine, then, being born and brought up British in a place where recognition of that identity was denied by almost half the population, not simply to themselves, but to others as well.
“You’re not British. You were born on the island of Ireland, so you’re Irish”, went the infuriatingly daft argument, which could be argued by six year old and adult alike, and usually followed up with “Where were you born?”, which could be relished as an opportunity to describe my city of birth as their anathema: I was born in Londonderry. And thus is a competition debater born.
To be told constantly by those whose pride lay in another nation that one’s identity is simply a figment of one’s imagination is galling and extremely cruel for a child. In hindsight, the concepts are confusing in their very simplicity; in addition, it’s very clear that the misunderstanding that my Irish friends had was a mirror image of my own. Identity is presented to a child by their parents or their society as an absolute, not as the flux it is. And nowhere was identity more set in stone than Britishness or Irishness in 1980′s Northern Ireland.
Kerbstones in cities and even in isolated country villages were painted red, white and blue or green, white and orange. The word ‘orange’ was contested too: those of the Orange tradition to which I was thankfully never really exposed hated the idea that their colour could be displayed on the flag of the Republic. To them, the Irish tricolour was green, white and ‘gold’, a happily alliterative concept.
At the time, of course, that this alienation from untrammelled pride in one’s identity was available as an equal opportunity to catholics and protestants, and that I was not alone tossed about in the rank stupidity of the circumstance was not a fact available to me. Nor would it have been mitigated by the knowledge: if it was stupid to me as a neophyte prod, there were neophyte taigs somewhere feeling the same, but, alas, their feelings were discountable, because they were, by right of who they were, wrong.
Identity is a flux, but we tend to see the identity of the other as set in stone or preserved in aspic – we give a person a tag and see in every action they perform the validation of our initial impression. I will return to this theme again.
In 2002 Jonathon Keats held a petition drive to pass ‘A = A’ as statutory law in Berkeley, California. Specifically, the proposed law stated that, “every entity shall be identical to itself”. Any entity caught being non-identical to itself was to be subject to a fine of up to one tenth of a cent. The law did not pass, and Jonathon Keats, having made an appeal to the public to affirm a point which ought to be axiomatic, missed the point and didn’t become a true Randian Hero.
Thus, I am who (and what) I am, even though the thing that I am at any point in time may be as fleeting as the point in time itself. Philosophically, of course, this is very basic stuff and not particularly helpful. But the shifts in identity as time passes are a cause of extreme interest to me, as I shift and split the facets of my being. As a whole, every new experience I have, every thing I newly learn, makes me anew. In a sense, therefore, I am not the same person I was yesterday.
Before I disappear up my own arse, let’s move on. I want to consider the competing and complementary ‘identities’ I have. Let’s start with the essentially immutable ones.
- I’m a thirty year old. (Time makes this less immutable, but there’s bugger all I can do about it)
- I’m male
- I am heterosexual
- I’m White British, from Northern Ireland, therefore I am, logically, a bit Irish as well
- I’m a primary language anglophone
- I have no apparent disabilities
The order of these is immaterial, since they assume different levels of importance according to the prevailing discrimination of the circumstances. The fact I’m male is of course a major part of my identity, but it only causes me trouble in the limited circumstances where that matters; searching for a lavatory, respecting the boundary of the lingerie section in M&S, not accidentally gatecrashing feminist meetings.
Again, my heterosexuality just means I get less bullshit from the society around me. I still get the basics of homophobia, thanks to my love of the colour pink. I can handle it, accepting as I am that some people don’t analyse and blog about their identity so much as I do. Forgive them, they know not what they do.
My anglophonism is pretty useful in an English speaking society, which Ireland is. It’s also pretty awesome everywhere else, because, you know, English pwns all languages.
My age is an impediment. I’m not old and wise, but neither am I young and creditable every time I have a good idea. Age is really a bugger, and it shifts inexorably without my consent. By the time I have a really good idea to get extremely rich with, I won’t get in Time Magazine because it’s expected of thirty-somethings.
The element I have conceptual difficulty with is my national and cultural identity; I intend to give it serious probing on these pages over the next few months. I’d welcome your views.