Census or Censor Us

(Disclaimer: second blog in as many days – still possibly a bit rusty/ranty)

I can time the census by the time it takes me to get around to clearing out my wardrobe. Five years already since the last one? But I’m unclear about being ‘counted’ because statistics is a strange process of deciding what matters, in other words it has the power to shape what is counted as real, important, ‘true’ representation of households in 2018. Here is the official blurb from stats NZ:

“Every five years, we run the census – the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. By asking everyone to complete a set of questions about themselves and their household, we can capture a snapshot of who is living in, and visiting, New Zealand.”

Sounds simple enough until you get to the kinds of questions being asked or in this case NOT being asked. This snapshot is going to be taken in …well…black and white and I’m not referring to ethnicity. This year they have decided to drop options around gender diversity and sexuality. Important information about people’s identities, something so fundamentally intrinsic to being human that in some countries you can be killed (legally…and not), is not being collected. This begs the question of the legality of the census. Everyone has to fill out the census accurately and it’s illegal not to complete. Not including gender identity and sexuality for me contradicts the purpose of a census – to collect an accurate picture.

The irony is how many other people seem invested in the existence of rainbow communities. The daily onslaught of abuse, violence, invisibility and persecution of queer people all around the world should make it plainly obvious that it matters! It’s weird to live in a country with marriage equality then not have that counted. Stats New Zealand have explained their position which basically boils down to ‘too hard basket’ and ‘it’s a bit personal for some people’. They won’t get ‘high quality data’ – yes we are a bit of a messy bunch and that is my point. When statistical modelling is privileged over representation the picture is ‘straightened’ out, focus sharpened, cropped neatly (painlessly – because we don’t want to cause offense) there is a cost – further marginalisation as the margins become exclusive rather than inclusive.

It’s good to know they are ‘working on it’ but FFS – it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. Religion is a bit messy as well but that is still included, so is ethnicity. Perhaps to keep it more in line with the heteronormative stance, they should just have ‘Christian and non-Christian’ – and how Christian do you have to be, to be counted as Christian – what is the criteria – church attendance, bible verses able to be recited? God knows. Why is someones faith or beliefs put ahead of the material being and reality of LGBTQIA+. Funny how LGBTQIA+ are over represented in other stats, suicide, hate crimes, mental health, lack of housing, but are somehow too difficult to count.

The really sad thing is enabling people to make a meaningful decision to identify. Imagine being a young person and this is your first census – You’ve just come out or you have become aware you are intersex – yes – someone who is statistically just as common as red heads – and you only get M or F as your sex (apparently they will let you tick both…how accommodating of them). How does that help a young person feel their identity is meaningful and valued, real and their existence matters? Or anyone for that matter finally having language to put their identity.

In light of it being Auckland Pride Festival, and all things rainbow are being covered, show me actual change, real life shit – not words, publicity stunts (rainbow police cars), platitudes, hand wringing angst about diversity.  Sam Orchard  points out the problem (probably more succinctly than I am) of how can services, support and funding be legitimately advocated for if diversity is not represented? Perhaps what this demonstrates is society has outgrown it’s comfortable containers (not that some of us ever really fitted – we had to be squeezed in).

Finally – the only legit way to avoid the census is to be out of the country. I’m thinking a cruise ship out in international waters on the 6th March, shit I could have hitched a sweet ride to Mars yesterday – riding a big rocket, playing David Bowie…pretty gay

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Spaced out – a blog rant because it’s been a while and I’m a bit rusty

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in a few months, I have dropped/sprinkled some f-bombs but I’m hoping they fit the ranty style)

I love all things to do with space; fact, fiction and everything that has yet to be classified. So I was there watching the live stream of SpaceX fist true payload test flight yesterday. Let’s just say it was more exciting than the cyro test for the James Webb telescope.

In years to come it will be interesting to see what people recall of Elon Musks – SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, more significantly the ‘dummy payload’. I used to be a bit meh about Musks plans of getting to Mars, I felt there were things we should tend to here first (like a lot of people I suspect). However I think once humanity gets to Mars and realises what a shit hole it is (sorry Mars, you lost your magnetic field, had your atmosphere stripped, your oceans boiled away and more than likely the only life is bacterial) it will hopefully be the wake-up call needed to stop shitting where we eat.

But back to that payload – the cherry red Tesla Roadster with Starman at the wheel, blasting out David Bowie I have to say ‘classy dude…nice choice’. For everyone wringing hands about ‘space junk’ (here comes the rant) CHECK THE FUCKING TRAJECTORY! It is metaphorically the same as me going to a river picking up a stick and chucking it in a stream to see where it might end up out at sea, then people screaming about polluting the river. It is (was!) headed for Mars, not orbiting earth, but overshot (too much power Elon – I feel myself channelling Scotty from Star Trek ‘I’ve given it all I’ve got captain’) and is going to make it to the asteroid belt – yes a massive collection of debris. They had to put a payload on the end to test it. Picking a car as others have said is a better representation of actual payloads – not the usual block of concrete or steel. Why not test and have a bit of fun? The Starman suit is also a genuine suit soon to be used so – yeah – it also serves a purpose…and it’s FUN! It should not have to be an ‘either/or’ choice when it comes to science and technology pushing ideas or the environment. Tesla has invested research into alternative energy – again – how about checking with other big companies about their commitment to sustainability.

Speaking of sustainable, the rockets – reusable. So to all those complaining about pollution, space-junk etc, how’s your recycling going? Sure Tesla might get some marketing out of it – and why the fuck not! He took a huge gamble.

No – of course the car is fucking next to useless in space, orbiting Mars – wherever – so is a massive piece of steel and concrete. Oh and let’s not forget there are meteors bigger than The Roadster hurtling toward daily, so please (to those concerned hand wringers) STFU about shit from space – space is full of stuff, all sorts of stuff and who knows some of that stuff might have come from previous Mars civilisation wondering if it could send someone to Earth….ponder that.

Next stop – the Flat Earthers…not sure when I will get ‘round’ to that. I sphere I may go round in circles.

 

Image difference

The longer I work in a secondary school, the more I realise how much the public image of a school matters. I’m really fascinated at how diversity fits with a schools image. Many schools report they ‘value diversity’ or ‘celebrate diversity’. More often than not they mean cultural diversity, actually I would say almost exclusively (thanks to the New Zealand Curriculum statement) diversity really just means ethnicity. But this is where things get interesting and a little perplexing.

Alongside this schools are charged with supporting young people to develop a strong sense of their identity. Again this seems on the surface to be just fine, except when other forms of diversity start to ‘contaminate’ the pristine, clean cultural definitions. This is the most popular image used in school advertising across the county, a picture of smiling faces of various ethnicities. For simplification, the rhetoric goes something like this:

  • We love diversity – so you need to all wear a uniform, and wear the correct one for your assigned sex, oh and no other outward signs of individuality like piercings or hair colour, style, length…but we want you to be yourself.
  • We celebrate diversity – but not pride week, no you can’t have an LGBTQ+ group – people might object and that would make the school look bad. But we will do pink shirt day because being anti-bullying looks good for our image.
  • We value diversity – but let’s make sure students with unique needs are siloed off so they don’t disrupt the learning of others.
  • We are inclusive of diversity – but our common room isn’t accessible.
  • We encourage diversity – so long as you’re not failing NCEA and making our stats look bad.
  • We welcome diversity – but we are a single sex school so you have to have the right body parts to attend.
  • We embrace diversity – so long as you manage your anger, fear, sadness and frustration and behave the same as everyone else.
  • We recognise diversity – but if you are bullied for being transgender this might not be the school for you, you’re asking for special treatment and it’s just too hard for us to adapt to the 21st Century, bathrooms have always been this way, actually we’d prefer not to know you exist at all.
  • We support diversity – only if you behave in ways that keep everyone comfortable, so don’t be too gay…
  • Basically – we accept diversity – so long as you’re not different.

None of this is ever blatant, it is a quiet dismissive attitude, an omission in policy, an intentional avoidance, an awkward silence, or a flustered defensiveness. Because schools are now brands with an image to uphold (sounds a bit like political parties). Diversity is messy and complex and while education is locked into the neo-liberal politics of advanced capitalism, a schools image will often be prioritised at the expense of a fuller definition and recognition of diversity.

WAMU – a new political force…farce

Weeks on from the Green Party leadership kerfuffle, I’m still reeling and wondering about the deeper philosophical implications for future politics. Naaah fuck it…time to take (hypothetical) action.

I’m keen to start a new political party, but I have some strong beliefs about what it will take for anyone to join me. The We’ve All Messed Up (WAMU) is not for the faint hearted. While other parties frantically bury their indiscretions, anyone wishing to represent WAMU will be expected to have fucked up in the past. In fact if your history shows a squeaky clean record from your late teens to early 30’s I’d be suspicious.

WAMU is focussed on playing the issues not the person (the equivalent of playing the ball not the player in football – it’s a dirty tactic). Our fuck ups will be the first thing the public will know about us. As its possible leader, I am proud to say my shenanigans did lead to be booked by police, protesting. We put up flyers before a big rugby game in Dunedin indicating the link between domestic violence, alcohol use and rugby. I was involved in numerus fees protests, in the early 90’s. I took out a student loan and spent some of it on a mountain bike! I gave people free hair-cuts with my clippers with absolutely no training. I smoked marijuana and yes I did bloody inhale and it was fantastic – just really bad for the food budget. One flat had a kids play house out the back and a friend stayed in it for a few months, and yeah the landlord found out and wasn’t happy. I also lied about my religion in the census one year, I said I was a jedi but I have to confess, I’m only a padawan – busted! So there – plenty of stuff that would tarnish my potential to run for any current political party.

WAMU understands that taking risks, pushing the rules and at times breaking them is healthy. Being afraid to get it wrong and always obeying authority is not freedom – it is totalitarianism. Much like all those people salivating over the demise of Meteria Turei calling for her to be tarred and feathered or hung drawn and quartered – well – maybe the 21st century version, it’s the same mentality – fear based politics.

WAMU is calling out to ordinary people and those up there on their high horses to climb down for a moment and get real about the messiness of life. I feel sorry for young politicians – trapped having to keep that squeaky clean image up, fear not – WAMU will be there when your rebellious phase finally hits, we will embrace you should your party turn its back. Our party mandate will be simple: The past present and future all matter but only two of these we have the ability to influence while the other serves as a platform to launch from. The best foundations for this platform are life experiences that push the normative codes of society.

WAMU – giving the middle finger to petty personal politics and promoting palm in face practices to prevent pathetic pompus pricks perpetuating pretentious policies.

(disclaimer…I needed to ‘p’).

Not another statistic

It’s been a sobering week. I love my job, but it is bloody hard sometimes. It’s one of those moments I dread  as a school counsellor, hearing that a young person you have supported has taken their own life. I’ve been through this before, thankfully not a lot but it never gets easier. I’m sad, angry and frustrated – sometimes things do not get better! Yet this is what we tend to tell people, it will get better…what if it doesn’t? I reflected all week, trying not to give in to despair. I think something left unanswered is just how much emphasis there is on the individual ‘getting help’. I’ve said it before – expecting people to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is not the answer. Somehow – my grief is more a profound sense of inevitability, a hollow aching grief that ‘it didn’t get better’ – we were served notice, but will anyone take notice of the larger systemic and societal shifts that need to enable people to want to stay checked in to this life.

We live in a time where showing compassion, love and vulnerability are seen as weakness. Where harshness, hate, separation, fear and rejection are normal. It is especially sad when these ideas become part of systems meant to support our most vulnerable – in an election year, this seems even more evident and strangely indicative of a profoundly sick system, more intent on point scoring.

While it never gets easy hearing about young people checking out, I know that suffering and feeling in continual pain is no quality of life. The tragedy is we have yet to create an abundance of love, acceptance, inclusion, safety and respect for children and young people. This is a level of social and cultural poverty that I find deeply offensive and will continue to challenge.

Joining the dots

I’ve been following the NZ herald series on suicide, not closely, working as a school counsellor gives me some insight to the phenomenon but I am always cautious about my own understanding, even with close to 15yrs experience. But the Herald series is a bit like throwing out a series of dots from which people can join to form a picture. Here is where I’m a little unsure just which dots are standing out, how they are being joined and what picture/s are emerging. It’s tragic, compelling, emotive and unfortunately political. The dots could be seen as key ideas, some backed by research, others personal experiences, experts like (Sir) Peter Gluckman are mixed in with Mike King. Much like a join the dots activity I did as a kid, if there are just a few dots they have to be joined carefully and in the correct order to get the picture, more dots gives more detail. Sometimes you didn’t need to see the numbers to join them correctly – but at other times connecting the 2 with 8 really threw things off and you got a duck instead of a bunny. And this is where I think some of the discussion on suicide has gone – into duckbunny land.

I’ve read Gluckman’s report, it’s worth reading but how many people will actually bother to pick up his dots? He suggests the key work needs to be done much earlier than secondary schools, but also that adolescents is a vulnerable period regardless. There is a link between communities that have a low sense of worth, less hope for a future. I am saddened at the risk for Maori and other communities such as LGBTQI+ youth, this is where I think schools continue to ignore the dots and avoid responsibility for creating safe, genuinely inclusive (including bi-cultural values) environments. When principals deny queer young people safe places to meet (i.e. not allowing students to form gay-straight alliances), be valued members of the community– they increase risk. When schools fail to provide trained, qualified counsellors because pastoral care is not seen as valued – risk increases.

You see a couple of dots that people keep ignoring or leaving off the page, is the spike in suicide with the rolling out of ‘Tomorrows Schools’ when secondary schools could opt to not have counsellors in favour of the rather vague idea of ‘providing adequate guidance’ – and there are so many weird, vague interpretations of this. Key also is the gradual rising of the school leaving age, with university entrance now requiring completing level 3 (7th form for old school people). So if a young person is able to consent to their own medical treatment at 16, surely we should be enabling them to access mental health support as well, and schools that do not employ trained counsellors deny young people a potential lifeline.

Because every day, I talk to young people who have lost hope, who feel adults they have turned to have freaked out, got angry, dismissed, not believed them or blamed them for what is going on. They have thought about suicide, might be ready to die, but they somehow managed to get to my office. They aren’t making this shit up, they are survivors of bullying, sexual abuse, rape, family violence, they are from all cultures, they are LGBTQI+ and they had a free resource available, a fence at the top of the cliff – a trained, qualified, professionally affiliated counsellor.

It’s election year though, so I say this to all politicians – Stop ignoring these dots because they do not fit your convenient picture. Make a commitment to resourcing schools and agencies at the coal face of this work. Stop political point scoring around education, especially with vulnerable populations. No more dots are needed, just draw the lines FFS.

Choice Uniform

Ok, its been a while since I blogged and I am probably going to piss people off or take the warm fuzzy glow off something that most people are seeing as a move in the right direction when it comes to enabling flexibility of gender expression in schools. My Facebook feed went crazy a few days ago with the story of the Dunedin intermediate school that was eliminating gendered uniforms. This move is seen as revolutionary, some sort of highland fling needs doing as kilts and skirts blend boys and girls in a new gender neutral utopia that allows students to freely express themselves.

I want to be excited ‘yay’. I want to be optimistic ‘maybe other schools will do it now’, I want to be supportive ‘it’s important’. Right, now that I’ve got that out of the way – time to get realistic and bit more critical for the sake of actual change. So stop reading now if you want the warm fuzzy version.

Has this school actually done anything earth shattering? No. They are talking about adding long pants as an option and culottes, which are about as functional as stubbies. If guys choose to wear a kilt…it’s a kilt, not a skirt…duh. This is the same as wearing any other form of cultural dress. Get guys in culottes and then I’ll be impressed.

There is no such thing as gender neutral – because neutral is masculinised – pants or shorts. So what we are talking about is not feminising or enabling feminine expression. KILTS ARE NOT SKIRTS!

It is an intermediate – these are still ‘kids’ – show me a high school – or better a single sex school that does this and I will be convinced, more so if it’s a boys school.

If people think students now have ‘freedom’ to choose – think again, the gender norms still apply and when boys can grow their hair long, girls can cut theirs short and not shave their legs and it be ok – THAT is the other uniform rule that has to be broken. When a girl can wear short hair and not be asked if she is a boy or a girl that will be the sign of change.

Finally – a truly radical move from schools in New Zealand these days is to NOT have a uniform. I went through primary and intermediate without a uniform, I think I am ok as a result. Show me a school that moves from uniform to no uniform and that will be radical and ground breaking

Uniforms perpetuate the idea of gender, regardless of flexibility – there is still an absent but implicit assumption that there are feminine and masculine uniforms.But good on ya Dunedin North Intermediate for listening to students, that is worth celebrating. but wait until you guys get a good southerly up those kilts and I reckon there will be a quick run at the uniform shop for pants. And no modern uniform should have culottes they are worse than gender neutral they are gender dysfunctional.