Tuesday 26 June 2012

Attempted rape of US submariner - officer sacked

Today's breaking news from the US is that, following eight months of anti-gay bullying (hazing) and attempted rape of sailor on the USS Florida, a Georgia-based nuclear submarine, a US Naval officer was sacked.

Associated Press has a leaked investigative report. It reveals that the US Navy relieved Charles Berry as "chief of the boat” due to dereliction of duty, in March. The investigators found that Berry was not involved in the hazing, but had knowledge of it and failed to inform his chain of command.

The story is published today at http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2012/06/anti-gay-hazing-attempted-rape-of-sailor-leads-to-firing-of-top-navy-officer/

LGBTQ Nation explains that 'Aboard a submarine, the chief of the boat advises the commanding officer of issues involving enlisted sailors.

'The hazing was directed at a sailor who reported that another man pulled a knife and tried to rape him in the port at Diego Garcia.'

Diego Garcia is one of the joint UK-US military facilities, in the Chagos Islands, which are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. We (the UK) evicted Chagossians in the early 1970s to allow the US establish this military base the largest island.

The victim can't be named, but 'According to the report, the victim was generally well-liked on the ship.'

This is the bit I find heart-breaking - not least because I know harassed women and black people who've tried the same strategy: Grit your teeth and wait it out, act pleasant. The submariner 'endured the anti-gay torment for months because he thought it would eventually stop'

It didn't.

It didn't because bullying becomes systemic and expressive of many complex and buried feelings. This collective aggression is a focus of many personal grievances and insecurities, including, perhaps, the crew's feelings about how they themselves are respected or not by the US Navy. It's got to be partly a product of how they are trained to hate 'the enemy' Other.

'Among other things, this submariner was called a derogatory term for a gay person and referred to as Brokeback, a reference to the gay-themed movie Brokeback Mountain. In addition, someone posted a drawing of a stick figure being sexually assaulted.

'Before a group training session on the repeal of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the sailor was subjected to comments about coming out of the closet...

'Other sailors asked when they could meet his boyfriend. They asked whether his boyfriend was Filipino, the nationality of the person he said tried to rape him.

'After eight months of harassment in 2011, the sailor eventually wrote a note saying he had suicidal thoughts ... that he could snap and hurt himself or someone else.

'The report says there was a culture of hazing and sexual harassment aboard the submarine...There was inadequate knowledge about the Navy’s policies against it to stop the behavior before the sailor reached that point.'

Among the posts responding to this article are:
# one that hopes that this revelation will now mean women's complaints about being harassed will be taken more seriously
# John D Cox, a veteran who'd been bullied in the Vietnam era who says 'Please see link: http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123140293 for information regarding sexual assaults according to the Dept of Defense.
'A higher percentage of females in the military admit to sexual assaults than males. However, due to the much greater numbers of males in the US military when compared to females, many, many more males are sexually assaulted in the American military.
'It is mostly an invisible fact which most Americans don't want to know. And yet, supposedly, "We Support The Troops."
'I didn't report the ... harassment and...assault on me, nor the accompanying depression and my suicidal thinking because I knew ... the US Army would blame me for the incidents which occurred back during the Vietnam War Era...the 1st sergeant of my company not only knew of the sexual and physical assaults on my person, he also participated. It's taken years of intense psychotherapy... and I know that, regardless, I'll never be "cured." '
# Debbie Brady: 'As a Vietnam era Navy veteran, I am glad to see justice in this harassment case. As a transgendered woman I know the level of harassment that can occur on board a Navy ship.'

The point is not to make a scapegoat out of Berry. It's to ensure no-one bullies, and that at all officer ensure people, whatever their gender, sexual orientation or race, can get on with their job in relative peace.

That's especially important on a sea-going vessel, which is also a worker's accommodation. Submarines and ships are not places that victims can escape from at night and do some recuperating at home. This is home'.

Saturday 23 June 2012

WW1 Women seafarers captured by Germans: anniversary

Pic;Brussels stewardess at Holzminden internment camp, summer 1916.

Today, in 1916, five British seawomen were captured by the enemy. Despite wartime dangers women crew were still sailing. These stewardesses were on the Great Eastern Railway ferry Brussels looking after Belgian refugees.

After leaving the Hook of Holland for Britain on a routine trip their ship was captured after Captain Fryatt was accused of sinking a U-boat.It was Friday 23 June 1916.

German crew who boarded the ship wondered at the women’s calmness. ‘Aren’t you afraid of being shot?’ they asked. After all, Edith Cavell had been executed by firing squad just seven months earlier. ‘“We are Englishwomen” was considered sufficient reply,’ claimed the women’s company magazine afterwards.

When the captured ship was taken to Zeebrugge then Bruges the women's blue uniforms with brass buttons caused a confusion about identity. Germans took them for fighting women: England’s last hope.

Their male shipmates were sent to Ruhleben, a civilian detention camp near Berlin, As females, the stewardesses were interned at the Holzminden camp, near Hanover.

Hungry and miserable, they must also have been worried. Internment meant the women lost earnings. Many seawomen were family breadwinners so their dependents were at risk.

No shipping company paid crew who were not working. Wages stopped the day after shipwreck. For the Brussels women this meant six months without an income.

They were only released in October. One of them, Edith Smith, went straight back to marry her fiancée by special licence, just before his unit left for Egypt.[3]

During their incarceration a high-profile publicity campaign was waged. Diplomatic initiatives attempted to free the women. Indeed, they got more publicity than any other seawomen in that entire war. Media headlines spun the story into another shocking tale of Hunnish brutality.

Surprisingly no newspaper ever suggested the women should not have been working at sea.

This is just one of the surprising stories of courageous women at sea to be found in my new book, Risk! Women on the Wartime Seas, which will be published next year by Yale University Press

Sunday 17 June 2012

Norland Crew celebrate Falklands anniversary in Hull

Friday June 15 2012. It was raining, on Hull’s furiously busy Hessle Road. It was teaming down like a wintry day in the Falklands. And Frankie’s Vauxhall Tavern was crowded and jolly with the previous week’s jubilee bunting. You could almost fail to spot the inflatable phalluses, scarlet furry willies, and cutely grinning silicone mega-dicks under all the Union Jacks still festooning its raunchy walls.

But this was a special day with serious intent – to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falkland’s conflict and in particular the role of the Norland, the former Hull-Rotterdam ferry that took part in it. Indeed some of the photos of drag queens and favoured divas and - surely not – Her Maj were temporarily covered over with photocopied snaps and battered newspaper cuttings about the Norland’s extraordinary voyages to the South Atlantic in late Spring 1982.

Frankie, the pub’s co-landlord, had been the Captain’s Tiger on the Norland. And now he was hosting this event that would bring not only his old shipmates through the doors of the campest pub in the East Riding. It would also bring, from all over Britain, the former Paratroopers whom the ship had carried. They’d be stepping into this cross between an Anne Summers sex shop en fete and a BDSM dungeon that seems to float on ignoring that heterosexuality exists.
Shipmates: Frankie Green (Captain's Tiger) and Jean Woodcock (Stewardess)

It was to start at 12 midday. The prelude was quiet and the former crew kept to their own little group. Now mainly retired, their long tousled hair and droopy moustaches were long gone and replaced by blue blazers. The biggest absence was the beloved captain, Don Ellerby, who has passed away.

Everyone was waiting for Wendy. Wendy the most famous gay men in the Falklands War. Roy ‘Wendy’ Gibson for whom they’d hired the joanna. (It wasn’t his favourite piano shade, pink, but heigh-ho, it had resilient keys and an impressive loud pedal.) Wendy, who would, in his glitzy waistcoat, do his Liberace numbers as always and bring morale up higher than Dusty’ Springfield’s beehive hairdo.

When he arrived at two, frazzled from a morning’s tedious domestic tasks but in a suit so immaculate he could have been a Premier league football manager, he greeted everyone. At last, it could start, properly.

His old shipmates thought the rest of us nutters for being avid for the Gibson touch on the waiting keys. No man is a hero to his valet and no queen is a hero to his/her shipmates. They’d become over-sanguine about his abilities to entertain. But the Paras, it seemed, wanted that old sound that had accompanied them to war.

And oh boy could he belt it out. Wendy played con brio and in brief sessions. The crowd noise grew louder as men downed their ale, and the rain outside grew more torrential. People passed round albums gone sticky with age and started to tell stories about their connection with the Norland. At the tops of their voices, standing, happy, buffeting by others weaving their way through the melee selling raffle tickets for the South Atlantic fund, they told each other their chunk of the story.

Happy to connect. Happy to remember. Happy to be almost-back-there, revelling in the preferred version without the deaths, the Argies, the privation, the mixed feelings about the war’s rightness and the unvoiceable doubts about Mrs T’s gung-ho defence of these ‘somewhere-off-Scotland-surely?’ islands.

Each time Wendy stopped playing (yes, roll-out-the-barrel-you-are-my-sunshine-my-old-man-said- follow-the-blue birds-over) some brawny young man would come up to him, often in a Para t-shirt, with an album extended and say ‘My dad sailed with you. He’s always talking about you. Still. You made his war.’ And Wendy would get excited and honoured and think he remembered. It was his day. But not only his.
Wendy (left) and shipmate.

I’d planned to film it for posterity. At the last minute the crew weren’t able to come but I still felt obliged to get to know what I could. I sidled round the pub wondering who I could ask about what, and would that be alright.

What was impressive for me, an outsider, was the irrelevance of my question, ‘But how come you could accept all the pouffery?’ I asked the military guys ‘How is it, given the armed forces’ homophobia then, that you could tolerate someone camping it up on your way to war?’. They said I’d got it wrong. They weren’t anti-gay. They were just against furtive closeted types who wouldn’t stand up like men and brandish their happiness at being more Martha than Arthur.

I asked the members of his former crew how they copied with the queens on board - as queens were on most late twentieth century ships, war or not, creating gay mini-heavens. They too said I’d got it wrong. On ship everyone accepts everyone else. ‘See, you’ve got to get on, in that enclosed space. You’ve got to accept people whatever they are. And you do.’

So … It was bonhomerie all round. And yet I knew that armed forces guys had gay-bashed one camp ship’s steward. And I knew, because I’d lived through the 1980s, that homophobia ashore could be vicious and that therefore no ship could be entirely exempt from that. From my interviews with other gay seafarers I knew that camp man had deliberately toned themselves down so as not to antagonise their military passengers. A ship is never an entirely heterotopic space. It’s never that Other, especially when it’s a vessel that’s home several times a week , unlike the deep-sea gypsies touring the globe for weeks and months.

When at 5 I left the party was in full swing. In fact the swing was getting fuller and louder. The Norland crew seemed to be pretty much still gathered in their own small groups and not mixing with the other revellers. But certainly they were doing plenty of their own collective revelling.

Wendy was the one who wove in between, linking them all. And certainly his nieces were happy to look at the albums shown them by a proud Para’s son. Certainly there was no ostensible secrecy about his or Frank’s sexual orientation. Not a hair was turned about the exuberantly cheeky décor in this knees-up. The hundred-strong crowd were as glorying in their way as revellers at VE day celebrations in Trafalgar Square’s fountain.

It was a party, and a re-remembering. And of course the spectacles we like to wear are the rosiest ones possible. And for once it’s a shade of pink that every man was wearing happily in that changed ex-maritime heart of the entire east coast. It was the good old days, again, for at least a day, and not unlike the party they'd just had for that other queen, Elizabeth R.
Frankie and colleagues behind the bar in the Vauxhall Tavern, Hull.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Feminist sea shanties and music for the people

'Before I die one thing I crave
To round the Horn on a microwave
' (Pat Wilson, Housework Shanty)

Cleaning, date rape, pubic hair,career vs kids dilemmas, shopping: they're all there with heave-ho choruses, in the highly amusing sea shanties that feminists appropriated in the 1970s and 80s.

Catch my illustrated talk on this genre at an exciting Un-Convention on Sat June 27 2012. A women's choir will accompany it, singing the songs sailor boys never did as they rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Spanish Main singing of rum, yella gals and Spanish ladies, terrible storms and Bucko mates.

Un-Convention is a radical and innovative international organisation that aims 'to bring together like-minded individuals to discuss the future of independent'. http://www.unconventionhub.org/ music.hub.org.

In the past three years alone 'Un-Convention has happened 35 times around the globe, in over five continents,and from Swansea to Sao Paulo.It annually involves 1,500 artists and bands, 16,400 participants, 36,000 gig goers and 140,000 people online. Of those attending Un-Convention, 40% of people are from disadvantaged backgrounds.'

This month on Sat June 27 2012 Un-Convention(36) is at Teesside in Middlesborough, North East England. Hosts are Shipyard Songwriters, a collective of songwriters, musicians and other artists interested in exploring how songwriting can be used today as a positive force for change. http://www.shipyardsongwriters.com/#/festival/4564635425.

If you want a taste of a (funny and astute) women's reworking of a feminist shanty listen to Sisters Unlimited's song, Childbirth's no Bed of Roses. You can do so via https://www.spotify.com.

Friday 1 June 2012

Polari-ing all the way to the Malvinas/Falklands conflict

Photo courtesy of Hull Daily Mail, showing the most iconic gay man of the war, Roy 'Wendy' Gibson, a steward on the Norland.

If you want to read about gay seafarers' role, see my just-posted article in Polari magazine: http://www.polarimagazine.com/features/polari-ing-malvinas-falklands-conflict

It's a lite version of a paper I gave on May 20 at the National Museum of the Royal Navy conference: The Falklands War, 30 years on. That version also showed the extent of women seafarer's participation in that conflict.