Author: jeanniegrant

Imaged Bodies

It was great watching the Paralympics, so many sets of wheels and carbon fibre in various shapes it was feast of material multiplicities. If there was ever a time to watch a rich, complex version of the diversity of human physical performance, this was it. But I am bothered by the fact that the only time functionally diverse bodies become noticed and appreciated is every 4 years through sport. Which begs a question about body image. Is it more what images of bodies we see that helps certain bodies be seen as acceptable, or more ‘normal’? Our usual programming of common functioning sport with the narrow choices normally offered is disrupted momentarily – for the novelty of both the Olympics and Paralympics. Which is why I view the Paralympics with mixed feelings. Body image is more like body stories, it’s the words and meanings that describe and give value to who we are – how our body matter ‘matters’ or doesn’t.

I can appreciate the achievement and skill of Sophie Pascoe and Liam Malone, but I also notice how their bodies function at a level that is almost identical to common functioning. Their athletic achievements are phenomenal and the camera loves them both – they are both (in my opinion) extremely photogenic people, with muscular, athletic physiques that few people can ever achieve. So they are perfect representatives with the perfection of lean mean body machines.

The irony then is these bodies break stereotypes and maintain stereotypes. Their stories of success and triumph in sport offer alternative ideas about what people can or cannot do. But not everyone with a disability wants to participate in sport or even likes sport! It sets up the ‘they are so inspirational’ theme, that while on the surface seems harmless, it confines disability as a lens through which people can maintain their sense of privilege. If that sounds a bit weird, this is a good explanation. But where are their images of success of disabled/functionally unique people doing other stuff? Because it’s not just the image it’s the stories we need to hear and share with each other about our own bodies that matter as well.

I’m also interested in the aesthetic of movement, and I love seeing the ways the physical can merge with the technological in new combinations. A future Olympics that genuinely celebrated human performance of the body might include a range of ages and function, I can imagine the games broken up into elements like ‘wheels’ ‘water’ and the 5 continents each hosting an element simultaneously. I’d like to see arts, music and creative festivals follow to break down the separation of mind and body, the arts and sciences. Unfortunately that might mean pruning back the number of sports, but I think I’d rather see more diversity of people than sport. But if I had the choose, if it involves wheels – it should be in there. Well, maybe wheelbarrow racing might be be pushing it.

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Fabricated fear

I think I have found the impasse of single sex education in New Zealand. There is a piece of fabric that is commonly known as pants that seems to send some single sex (girls) schools into a hysteria over gender. This piece of clothing has been worn by women for a long time, yet girls schools in the 21st century maintain skirts and culottes and tunics (WTF…seriously…) as the only way for young ‘women’ to be recognised in public as belonging to a ‘girls school’.

I have already expressed my frustration with an open letter to secondary principals, but this one is particularly for girls schools. I thought feminism (in all its fraught, contested and colonised ways) enabled women to express a freedom of embodiment that was not reduced to a singular way of being female that is ‘feminine’ via dressing in coded uniforms, effectively cancelling out feminism. All this talk about empowering women while disabling their freedom to be uniquely powerful with their individuality. The paranoia about the public perception of ‘girls in pants’.

If young women are questioning their gender identity or expression at a girls school, are they ‘betraying feminism’? Do trans guys at girls schools represent some sort of confused status of ‘growing strong young women’? Does the public image of a school outweigh the mental health of transguys – who might be experiencing extreme dysphoria, anxiety, depression and possibly feel suicidal? How is that schools can give medical dispensation for students undergoing other forms of medical treatment to wear modified uniforms yet transguys cant wear pants to help them feel safe, secure and relieve the anxiety of the dysphoria that is exacerbated by being forced into femininity!

What is the point of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) if the ‘universe’ it proclaims to design for ignores the margins, or pretends they don’t go out that far here (i.e. but there are no transgender students here).

Seriously – denying young people the right to feel comfortable and safe in their own bodies sickens me. It is an institutional form of abuse I am tired of hearing wrapped up in rhetoric around community consultation, and tradition. I’m tired and fed up with platitudes of caring about student well-being and requiring them to be exposed to a dis-ease infested environment. I sometimes wonder if the 21st century fell out of the spacetime continuum and they had to pick up something to replace it so we got bits of the 20th up until about 1950 because I’m not seeing a lot of shift in schools towards freedom of individuality – but the complete opposite.

So if you are a doctor or medical professional who is supporting a young trans guy attending an all girls school, please write them a medical certificate that reads – ‘administer systemic change to your schools uniform policy, but in the mean time give this student pants’ – wear daily, wash regularly.

A mo(ve)ment in time

A man runs through a crowd

A vehicle in pursuit, chasing him down, looking behind

Bodies parting like a zip, closing behind in disbelief

Shattered bodies, desperate screams for help, adrenaline surging seeking a path through the chaos

Broken pieces of time and space

A man drives through a crowd bodies scatter, disbelief, a surreal juxtaposition

Two men in different places

Steal the attention they have split the masses

The man in yellow will share this day forever with another an entanglement of torment, of pain and of suffering

No celebration at the end

Time closes in on the other his race is over

It is not over…

(In memory of Bastille Day attack 2016 – with the Tour de France leg on the same day where Chris Froome had to run with his bike)

Splain splaining

How do you know you are getting to that precarious edge of too old to be using phrases like ‘splaining’ and too young not to know what it means? Maybe it’s that feeling of intrigued annoyance, like you know its out there, but you just can’t bring yourself to get on the band wagon. Many people have heard of ‘mansplaining’ but aside from the patronising or condescending aspect of splaining that is about a sense of entitlement or authority to speak ‘the truth’ as others are clearly unable to comprehend things (such as women in the case of mansplaining) I wonder if there is more to it?

What got me wondering was looking at the comments related to the Pulse nightclub attack, and the recent shootings of African American Men, and a side dish of other splains related to rape, racial assimilation and body shaming. I do take breaks to watch cat videos and things without comments – yay for Netflix. But do splainers realise they are splaining? I was thinking about my own privilege, particularly my whiteness (purple-ness in winter) and this very move of awareness and acceptance is different to splainers, I recognise and acknowledge I have white privilege – and a whole bunch of other privileges at any one moment in time…although that youth one might have passed me by now. Power and entitlement to speak on behalf of others is a form of narcissim and that is like an ego shield.

But going to another perhaps more simple idea is that splaining is an example of fear of being wrong. And maybe with that an unwillingness to feel pain, vulnerability, grief and shame – the kind of emotions that enable seeing someone as yourself, regardless of time and space. like  Ego shield neutralisers.

Splainers are adept at avoiding vulnerability and feeling wrong. I like what Kathryn Schultz has to say about being wong, ‘it’s not being wrong that feels bad, it is realising you are wrong that feels bad’. We are also used to the idea of there being one objective reality that  is ‘The Truth’ and splaining is an attempt (I think) to manage uncertainty, to fiercely defend a reality that maintains being right, by ensuring any alternative is shut down before it is uttered – silencing the potential validity of that perspective, thought, idea or truth. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few good splainings and  I’ve got a bit of a recipe for splain repellant-retardent. I hope some of them are useful or at least adaptable to suit the needs of different situations.

So here are some of things that have worked for me:

Usually I try and listen, and ask genuine questions from a ‘not knowing’ stance. I fish for as much detail as I can. Staying curious and aloof, but not directly challenging. If I am thinking about challenging a splainer I try and find a way of enabling them to stay ‘right’ – I know it sounds counter intuitive, but holding open their perspective and keeping uncertainty in play can break down the ego shield enough for thinking to take place.  I also like to apply a good dose of exaggeration or taking things into another context – I’ve resorted to alien invasions as metaphors or taken the most basic of fears and reactions and kept them going to their limits. Exposing the rediculousness is a bit risky might not always work. One of my favourites at the moment is to call things ‘a conspiracy’ – respect, non-violence, consent, housing, income gap.

But I am all up for someone explaining Pokémon Go to me, any time coz I just don’t get it – no splain no gain.

 

 

Open Letter To Secondary School Principals

Dear school leader,

I have been working in schools for 20 years. I am also a product of the New Zealand school system. I am also proud to work with young people in the 21st century. I’m aware of the challenges of change, of change that is occurring rapidly and the desire to produce the best possible outcomes for those in our institutions.

The desire to move with the times in regard to future oriented/focussed education has seen modern learning environments and the integration of technology to grasp the new and complex ways of working and creating‘ ‘confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners’. Ensuring young people have a strong sense of who they, to be ‘positive in their own identity’. Therefore I ask one simple question. How can young people who are questioning their gender or sexuality experience ‘inclusion’ while they are outrightly denied opportunities to be who they are? How can New Zealand Secondary Schools call themselves ‘non-discriminatory’ when their very practices are designed to enforce discrimination, in order to maintain a sense of school identity? I’m confused, and I don’t think it’s a phase.

While it seems that MLE’s work hard to break down physical and pedagogical barriers there appears to be a counter move to maintain traditional ideas of gender. We have inherited a legacy of ‘single sex education’ from the early 20th century and these are perhaps caught between tradition and historical constructions, but is this a valid reason to maintain policies and practices that deny the existence of transgender or those students who’s sense of self falls outside prescribed normative notions of masculinity and femininity? Schools find ways to respect cultural diversity through inclusion of additions to uniform but refuse to allow students flexible options to express their gender regardless of sexuality.

If I could suggest one thing that might enable a new way of thinking, I’d invite school leaders to see this not as a moral issue, rather an opportunity to bring the concept and representation of diversity into the 21st century, it is actually about accessibility. But not just access to physical space, but to social, emotional, psychological and pedagogical access to knowledge, ideas, and practices that validate their identity. Yes this is a plea to be MORE PC – to Please Consider, Providing Choice.

Please phase in uniform choice and phase out outdated assumptions that require male and female bodies to be clearly identified by separate uniforms. Gender inclusive practices go beyond bathrooms and changing facilities (but these are still needed), staff training around use of language that helps young trans, gender and sexually diverse people (including staff) feel acknowledged needs to be part of ongoing professional development.

There are new sexuality guidelines for school, please do not ignore them or hope that ‘common sense’ will suffice, otherwise, schools rely on sense informed by fear, myths, and misconceptions. Respect for diversity requires ‘unique sense’, careful and thoughtful consideration BUT more important, courageous action. That is, to acknowledge these students exist in your community whether visible or not. Allow groups of young people to form support groups, do not force them ‘underground’ and into the shadows, to slam the closet door shut to protect the reputation of the school, or your own. To me, this is the ultimate indicator of a school that has yet to grasp the value of a more complex, uncertain and flexible concept of diversity. I’m still waiting to see Principals encourage and endorse these groups openly. I hope I don’t have to wait for my own child to get to High School (you have 5 years to get it sorted).

As an ex health teacher and a counsellor I ask that you consider the violence inflicted by denying and invalidating at least 10% of a school population. Then consider the violence that is normalised by society through homophobic and transphobic language and ask yourself if you are satisfied ‘common sense’ is working to make schools safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, fa’afafine, and takataapui young people.

Finally a personal reflection question -are you leading your community into the future of diversity or the past?

Un-rant Pulse lowered

I’m still angry – it is my body protesting

My Pulse still races with a frustration and despair I cannot name or that words fail to capture

It’s interesting how the world suddenly sees diversity and attempts to explain it away, so many lenses refracting light, colours strong and bright, rainbows lost in the white, no longer in-sight

Not one family member or straight friend checking in – asking – wondering about my well-being, invisible in front of them

Who I am, outwardly concealing a truth that dare not speak its own name, let me remind those who do not get it:

It is a crime to be me in parts of the world, I can be legally put to death, I can be arrested, tortured or sent to a conversion camp. In the past I could have been institutionalised, had shock therapy, deemed mentally unwell

I can be me at a price – always a price – always – but I like me and I refuse to be afraid, but I am wary, cautious, alert, my heightened sensitivity a gift one I would never give up

This event was not bullying, harassment or some bad taste joke to get a few laughs or mock – it is not a misunderstanding. It was an act of genocide

It is what it is – it should not be denied and yet the media continue to side step into the shadows that ignorance casts

But light is always moving, and so is my grief and the patterns of my thinking shift to supporting my community – everywhere.

Pulse Racing

DISCLAIMER: A momentary unfiltered rant – for the sake of my sanity:

More shocking headlines from the USA – which I think by default is now the capital of the world, at least in the eyes of the media.

Another mass shooting, 50 dead, 53 injured in Orlando at Pulse night club. But let’s be clear from the start, this was not a random night club. It was a LGBTQI+ social venue. Guns – course they bloody kill people, if you can buy an assault rifle next to your corn flakes no questions asked, that’s sick – why is there any need for debate around this anymore, constitution or not.

This guy could have been Christian but he is Muslim – so we are in for the rainbow flag being torn to shreds over gun laws, religious fanaticism and mental instability. People will stand in solidarity for a moment then go back to separation. This guy invaded a place of sanctuary, a place where regardless of the music and price of the drinks you can pee where you like and flirt with someone of the same, opposite or unknown sex.

The shooting is a reminder that being on the rainbow spectrum means you can be killed for existing – to be deemed fit for annihilation for simply being in the world. The gun man seen as delivering Gods justice by some. Stop already with trying to make sense of this Jeannie – it is utterly sense-less. For once I just want religion to face facts – your fear toting version of God sucks. And people wonder why young LGBTQI+ people suffer from anxiety…coz some people want to hurt them or kill them! Surrounded by rejection or the possibility of losing your life…hmmmm…hows that working out for your mental health?

Then there will be the other violence – the one that says ‘be grateful you live in NZ’, there is no hate here. Yes NZ you are so inclusive your schools can’t figure out what to do with transgender students – just pretend they don’t exist, or prove their existence through the violence of medical diagnosis. Yes the violence of sanctioned invisibility by inclusion, be gay just don’t don’t be too gay. Being angry will be seen as reactionary, we must ‘love’ in response to the hate – well F-that for the moment, I’m sick of white light washing the rainbow. Getting out my own guns to let my middle finger do the talking.

I’m done – and going to pray to a higher power to beam me off this gorgeous planet with psychopathic care takers. And please don’t think changing your FB filter to rainbow helps – deal with your own shit – that helps.

Managing self – by others

Managing self. It’s a Key Competency in the New Zealand Curriculum. I sat in a meeting recently that left me in a state of hysteria – quite literally – complete failure to manage myself. The battle to ensure young people focus, manage their time, ideas, thoughts, emotions, bodies. To fit into the expected regimes of performance, presentation, and to stay inside the lines at all times. But where battle lines of power are drawn there is resistance. Break-away and rogue moments of irony.

This was a particularly intriguing intra-active moment. The diffractive medium was Attention Deficit Disorder and its pharmaceutical solution, Ritalin. There was concern some students were accessing medication they should not have, while others were not able to access it. Evidence was produced that some needed it and that dosages might need increasing. Parents were contacted to address the potential harm of taking it, not taking it, not taking enough of it. Medical authority, school authority, parent authority making decisions on behalf of young people, talked about and not to. Contexts and relational meaning, making way for the grand narratives of individual responsibility, harm and expert knowledge. Juridicial and biopower teaming up. Discipline decided, doctors diagnose and dispense, docile bodies must be fully engaged.

And at the end of the week a bunch of us went for self-medication for ADD – Adult Disillusion Disorder at the pub. Where our conversation bounced all over the place, attention was lost in moments of distraction until more medication was needed.

Hard conversations start in silence

I sat with a young person today as they processed what was probably one of the hardest stories I have heard about sexual assault. The young person had the courage to speak up but they are doubtful the offender will plead guilty and they will have to testify in court, reliving the trauma and distress… justice? And after a week of watching the media salivate over the Stanford University – Brock Turner rape case I can’t help wondering if the very systems constructed in deliver ‘justice’ disable rather than enable change, both on a personal, societal and cultural level.

On a more pragmatic level, how is that alcohol is still getting off scot free? Here is a substance that has enabled so much harm to occur and yet it remains somehow immune to suspicion as a mind altering chemical. I’d like to put alcohol on trial. There is so much evidence against it but it must have a pretty good defence team.

It has managed to maintain its innocence while enabling other substances to be demonised, to the point where any conversation that aligns it with non-legal chemicals is ridiculed. Our culture demands the right to intoxication by alcohol. Nearly every event, celebration, social occasion uses it. With its harmless qualities being promoted, accepted and endorsed and sex being such an awkward encounter – thanks to our collective embarrassment, shame and insistence on outdated gendered notions of entitlement around desire, we’ve got the perfect conditions for what occurred. To be clear though, I don’t think alcohol is the reason for what happened, I’m trying to understand the process of normalisation that seems to occur around its use/abuse. I wonder if we treated alcohol in the same way as any other drug – not separating it out for a start, we might be able to ask different kinds of questions about its effects.

And while it might be in another country I don’t think New Zealand should be doing any ‘tut tutting’, Roast Busters anyone? Here is a random thought – what if we had as many drink-sex adds on TV as drink drive ones? Why not? And why not throw condom use in there while we are going with the ‘hard’ topics. The other really difficult conversation is navigating transitional experiences for young people (anyone up to the age of at least 25 I reckon). Teaching sex-sexuality without a context of mediating desire, vulnerability and other expectations or constraints including heteronormative ones will simply drive the same old assumptions along, rehash them and enable justifications based on gendered entitlements to continue.

I’m not holding my breath for change, because we simply refuse to put ourselves on trial, our own attitudes, beliefs and values. Hard conversations with ourselves.

Diversity debate-able

I found it curious that a panel debating about diversity at a writers festival would be so defensive when challenged about their representation of the topic. Actually – it was more of an observation that was offered by Philip Patston, which was met with a swift series of awkward justifications.

I wondered about this as the panel seemed to care deeply about it from a cultural perspective and even the odd reference to gender. I’m remembering a comment about being tired of talking about identity and the sorts of ‘same-washing’ language that has started to plague conversations about difference and diversity in general. These statements are often couched as a form of acceptance or inclusivity by not noticing diversity at all, ‘we are all the same on the inside’ or ‘I don’t see race I just see the person’ discourse that renders deep and complex conversations inert. It’s like a double shot decaf late with extra milk approach to coffee – there in name only, or trying to discuss religion and people just say ‘each to their own’.

That was my puzzlement. I don’t think this panel should have needed to be told to include these rich, layered aspects of diversity such as sexuality and disability, just acknowledge it and find ways to speak what you are not speaking to. It’s not about having a panel of 10 or more to represent all forms of diversity it is an ongoing awareness that it exist at all levels of communities, including ethnic ones, disability-unique functioning, sexuality exist yet seems unable to enter diversity conversations, this panel was symptomatic of the general normative diversity ideology sweeping through neo-liberal societies. Companies are happy to exploit diversity without engaging with it – but that is another conversation.

I like what Lana Wachowski says when it comes valuing difference, that people need to respect others not ‘in spite’ of their difference but because of it. Time to start a new conversation, rather than a debate.