body

Hard to swallow

I often wonder if I met someone from another world or a parallel universe what I would find difficult explaining to them. It’s a nice yardstick for checking myself in relation to life. Competitive eating would rank pretty highly on my list. It might just be the weird head space I’m in currently but after a good night sleep I doubt my feelings will change much. I can only watch for a couple of seconds before I truly just want to scream ‘slow down you’re eating too fast’. Not only is the speed at which these ‘athletes’ eat outrageous the kind of food that is downed isn’t exactly nutritious. It might have a history of some kind heck most weird things can be traced to something if you find the right social anthropologist to share a pie with (or 40), but does that make it worthy of becoming a sport? Maybe the word eating needs to be dropped because it isn’t really consuming food for the purpose of fueling the body. Even the word ‘food’ could be dropped given most of the contents of a hot dog are not grown in any way shape or form.

What would I say if I had to explain it? Maybe I could just shrug my shoulders and say it is simply part of the strange and bizarre relationships human beings have with their bodies and the rituals we have invented to make our lives meaningful. Then I might politely guide my visitor to a local bar for their next lesson. I really need some sleep – now a competitive sleeper might be something I’d sign up for right now.

There’s some food for thought…just give it some time to digest.

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Teaching no lessen

There are some interesting intersections brought about by my journey in education. Going from a teacher to a counsellor has seen my perspective and values shift and move and from time to time come together. But I generally only get to teach two kinds of lessons these days. I either teach juggling and unicycling to year 11 sport science classes or a one off health class on consent and negotiation for year 12’s. Never both at the same time although some of the themes of risk, fear, going one step at a time and moving at your own pace do line up.

So on Friday I will be in front of a class I have no relationship with about to launch into the realm of sex and the complexity of desire mixed with cultural and social norms, family values and gendered assumptions without any real sense of what these young people might have already experienced. Actually, that is not entirely true. Because in my privileged position as a counsellor I will know some of them, and they will know what I know. So there will be a level of extra vulnerability attached to this conversation. It is a juggling act of sensitivities to confidentiality, privacy and accepting that within the space all sorts of beliefs, values, experiences and needs will be present. I know I am there in my capacity as a counsellor but what does that actually mean to these 16-17 year old young women that a counsellor is coming in to talk with them? It really is the definition of ‘awkward’.

Talking about consent invites the polarity of coercion. Society in general still needs to grapple with gendered assumptions of power and consent. I recently stumbled on a great cartoon likening consent to having ‘a cup of tea’. There are some limits to this as an analogy but I kind of like it for its simplici-tea, it’s also gender neutral , stick figures are good for that. But it’ll be me in the hot seat Friday. So…what can I bring? I can bring a non-judgemental stance, but is that enough? I can bring an openness about the competing needs and feelings, physical, emotional responses that might all happen at once when it comes to sex. I can bring a level of ‘unshockability’ while ensuring questions and statements do not position people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. My hope is that I can use some of my performance skills from juggling that are about setting a safe tone for exploring, renaming or relocating a sense of failure or loss of worth into something more respectful and takes into account the realities of diverse sexual experiences.

Leaving the door open for conversations at another time for those who might have more to process will be an ideal outcome. I intend not to leave a trail of guilt, self-doubt and fear. I intend to acknowledge the range of tensions and embodied realities of desire, pleasure and the contexts that can enable and disable actions or decisions. I will be intentional not to assume these young women will all be having sexual experiences or indeed be heterosexual. That to me is one way all teachers can support the well-being of LGBTIQ young people.

But perhaps more than anything to give them and experience of an adult who will not reject or shame them because they are young women talking about being/becoming sexually active – not just passive. I think that is enough things in the air for one lesson.

Vanity (un)Fair

With Caitlyn Jenner splashed all over the news tonight and awkward references to ‘not having had surgery yet’ there seemed to be an unnecessary personalised moment of attachment to the idea of no longer having a particular attachment from one male news reader. I’m not sure what his intentions were. I don’t think he would have even registered that drawing attention to the implications of ‘having surgery’ rendered transgendered identity in that moment to losing or gaining a piece of anatomy. Even mentioning this has yet to happen somehow suggests Caitlin is not a ‘real’ woman yet.

My conversations with trans people over the last few years and especially young people beginning their own questioning and working through making sense of not fitting the pre-set mould they have been assigned, have helped me to see that focusing on the physical changes limits and diminishes the complexity and adds to the invisibility.
There are so many excuses made for not including diverse representations in collecting socially significant data such as a census. When you are not given a box to tick, or have to tick a box you do not fit that is a moment of disavowal that does as much harm as bullying, harassment or hate speech. We can expect extreme religious views to take a particular stance – that shouldn’t shock anyone really. But to be quietly denied your existence or forced to pretend that you are something you are not that is a form of identity cleansing or gendercide.

It might not seem like a big deal changing pro-nouns for those of us trucking along with the same old same old, but for the young trans people I know – asking and then using their preferred name and pronoun is like being re-cognised and real-ised. They become, they matter and when someone matters they can find a foothold on the precarious landscape of validation.

Caitlyn Jenner has done more than gain a foothold, she has thrown pointed passion and bounded with track spikes of truth over many hurdles. Well she did have a bit of a head start, who is going to ‘keep up with’ her now?

Busting for neutral territory

Animals don’t wear clothes, we are the only animals who have constructed such intense meanings around the coverings we wear. All animals excrete (actually so do plants, not sure about rocks and minerals) and we also have insane rules over who can excrete where and how. I’m a bit perplexed at the responses to the new guidelines around sexuality education and the insistence that unless we have separate bathrooms and gendered uniforms in schools young people will enter the ‘real world’ confused and unable to know how to conform and play by the (gendered) rules of life.

But I’ve been beaten to it by Philip Patston, his blog is well worth reading. The issue for me is when do we say ‘woops let’s leave those assumptions in the past’. I think gender is screaming out for a need to move on, or an extreme make over. Something like the androgynous 80’s but without the shoulder pads! Schools as social institutions have been shaping young minds and bodies, beating any resistance into shape by shoving young people into set uniforms, and other rules designed to identify them clearly for a particular gendered role in society. I’m not going to run through the tired justifications for uniforms particularly the myth that they create some ‘fairness’ or sense of ‘equality’ or ‘school pride’. However schools are more like brands these days – and parents as ‘consumers’ rate brands according to criteria perceived as valuable. Uniforms are part of the branding.

Toilets however are part of life. We have actually divided the world by excretory plumbling specs – mainly how our kidneys expel waste. How weird is that? I love the ridiculous paranoid rantings of the likes of Bob McCoskrie, the hand wringing over students playing for one team one day and another the next because they can’t decide what gender they are is laughable. Actually, it would be a question of reliability and commitment Bob – absolutely it is about picking a team because the wrath of the ditched players due to someones fluid identity would not be worth bringing upon yourself.

mind over matter

I’m going to muscle in on the fitness business, because it’s ever-bodies business. Since the inception of this peculiar separation of mind and body a vast industry has created such an array of devices to work out that beds have evolved to be at least 10 inches taller. I remember as a kid seeing spring hand grips at home, wall springs from the 1950’s (which doubled as face slammers and hair pinchers), then came the bull-worker – I still don’t get it. The thirst for the next thing or hit was eagerly taken up by a culture sold on a diet of ‘healthy body healthy mind’. Has the pendulum swung too far? While there is a growing ‘brain gym’ world I’m not convinced this bridges an ever growing gap. But I think I have a novel solution if there is a budding entrepreneur out there willing to take a punt.

For those who still want the full gym experience such as treadmills and stationary bikes: When deciding what level to set, speed, intensity why not chose an interactive thinking conversation or challenging idea. Your personal trainer could be there to ask or if you don’t have one a programme pre-set that allows you to watch clips or movies that push the boundaries of concepts. I’m thinking there might need to be some upgrades such as catch nets for those moments where someone stops running while their imagination and wondering expands and forgets they have a conveyer belt under them.

There could even be specialist thinking and conversation gyms. Posters of philosophers, visionaries and paradigm challenging ideas litter the walls. Racks of art magazines and classical music blaring. Imagine, philosophy ‘spin’, cross science fit, creativity wrestling, and yoga – yeah just normal yoga. Spotters might correct your line of questioning or keep conversations well balanced. I can imagine gym gossip going something like:

‘Have you seen Sam’s line of question?’
‘yeah wonder what s/he’s on?’
‘dunno think I spotted a red pill.’

Or:

‘Wow that was some heaving thinking being pushed.’
‘Definitely, but was it natural, reckon there might be some illicit conscious performance enhancing substances involved, I suspect DMT.’

And perhaps:

‘Hey what’s your programme?’
‘Well did some heavy chess yesterday, so just going to hit the art’s today.’
‘Ok, well watch out for those DOM’S – delayed onset of mental soreness.’
‘Nah, all good – will just have a long Bach.’

And I’m pumped out.

It’s life gym…

“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.

Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.

Hair we go again

I don’t want to split hairs over John Key and what he does with his hands, but pontytail-gate needs a good combing for a fresh angle and I believe Alison Mau does better than most than simply blowing hot air onto it. It’s about entitlement and power. I wouldn’t pull my best friends hair let alone someone else’s, even as a ‘joke’ its patronising and demeaning, like patting someone on the head. The meaning of respect for personal space seems to be debatable, and if I may hazard a guess – it is still a gendered space. Had it been a young dude with a pony tail I’m pretty confident Mr Key wouldn’t have gone there, maybe a flippant homophobic comment – in jest of course, and he would probably say he has gay friends, knows a gay MP, and remember he did bring in marriage equality…

We don’t like making mountains out of mole hills, Kiwis are skilled minimisers in the name of ‘keeping things in perspective’. Therefore most of the debate is shut down by the default to ‘real issues’ ‘serious concerns’. But there is a lazy permissiveness around sexism particularly shades of misogyny and there are probably way more than 50. To me it’s a blurring of boundaries around ethics so that black and white becomes the only setting where outrage overwhelms indifference. Unless it is a sexual assault, crossing the serious line is never seen as a gradual process, a filtering of normative standards and carefully constructed defences to dismiss behaviours. Responsibility is transferred and hidden in tones of humour and blame.

His skills could come in handy if he teamed up with Shelley Bridgeman for school uniform and hair policing. It could also be a simple case that given Mr Key’s awkwardness around ordinary greetings such as handshakes that hair pulling seems a better option. Perhaps he could try it out on Ma’a Nonu. I think we’ll see the dreads then…snare-base-cymbal crash.

Pools apart

Inside a building two pools side by side separated by glass. But looking is not the same as seeing. There is a sense of separation and a dissolution of barriers. It is a beautiful contradiction hidden to most but the curving corners of my mouth betray the fluid intensity before me and the surge of joy and appreciation at witnessing so many bodies in various states of motion and becoming.

Young bodies expand and explore the depths of movement with eagerness and energy while larger bodies next door also move with purpose and focus. Technique and a desire to improve and become a better swimmer the shared experience. Feedback from coaches refining the co-ordination of limbs in various combinations, careful additions, subtractions correcting strokes of a body with spokes. Goggles on, prosthetics off and time running the same for everyone. Standing in the shallow water those beginning to appreciate and assemble the skills to move through this alien medium peer through to the other side with a mix of awe and respect. No, it is ‘not over their heads’, they know intuitively the work and effort that is perhaps the only thing that might represent a distinction between them. Perhaps from the others side, there is an awareness, a sense of the mirror and recognising the journey taken. The simple act of a smile, a wave crossing time and space to reach through illusions of separation rendering a fluidity of now and exacting a perfect moment of immanence.

Like superheroes without capes casting aside previous limits and rescuing role model images from the clutches of neurotic gendered stereotypes that prevail through more traditional sports. Not a body hair in sight yet no masculinity was in question or of concern to these guys in tight fitting body wear. Women as broad and powerful with their physicality and proudly sporting body art displaying achievements. But none were immune to goggle eyes and cap hair. These finely tuned biological machines and machines within machines, metallic eyes and cybernetic limbs assembled together as aquatic mammals.

A place where butterflies exist without a chrysalis. Although there might just be a hint of caterpillar at times.

[Written after watching the New Zealand Open Swimming Champs from the confines of the learn to swim pool next door – best free sports viewing ever, although it is rather steamy and hot…the air temperature!]

Spectuality

Sex…sexuality, one only has to say the word out loud in a room at a party to know how loaded it is, feel the eyes turn in your direction with a mix of curiosity, intrigue, fear, interest, disgust or suspicion. Perhaps it depends on the kind of party you’re at. Anyway, we like to think our words simply describe our reality they do so much more. Sexuality it is not free human experience it is a captured beast – fenced in linguistically and through various systems such as biology, religion and perhaps one of the more unfortunate containment fields – psychoanalysis.

I’m reading a lot of work by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the moment (obvious if you read my last post). They have a lot to say and a unique way of saying it, about the limits of psychoanalysis, especially the work of Freud. Without beating about the bush too much it’s a theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century about the role of the unconscious and in particular the development of sexuality giving western society most of its taken for granted (paranoia) notions of sexual behaviour. I mean really – why are we stuck with concepts developed by a guy who really was obsessed with the role a certain organ while studying people in asylums? In Psychoanalysis everything about human development and human sexuality is defined on whether you have the phallus or ‘lack one’ (female), this more or less fits with the misogynistic ideas around women at the time but we could move on. In the 21st Century, there might be additional words to add to the collection of definitions but as yet the basic assumptions about human sexuality referenced and coded by reproduction (heterosexuality by default), the couple as the central healthy representation of adult sexuality, and bodies must be distinct units with all parts functioning ‘normally’. Desire is also framed as a lack – this needs to go. It simply perpetuates a state of searching for wholeness.

Breaking free requires a radical recoding to break through these well constructed containers. Most people believe in them so strongly that they will fight to maintain them in order to ensure their own security. But I’d like to see them rupture and I have an idea it could come via technology – but not as we know it. What I think needs to happen is a redefinition, a move to ‘spec-tuality’. If bodies were seen more as a set of specifications ‘specs’ like you would with any other machine such as a bike (yeah, sorry had to get that in there) or a computer or other system then the question could become ‘what specs are you running?’ – see it’s way cooler already. We seem really comfortable talking about hardware and software, plug ins, apps, add ons and upgrades with technology. People expect change and try things in combinations without too much angst – ok so there might be some apple vrs the rest of the world kind of thing going on, but there is no electronic bible saying an ipod for and ipod perhaps I am a bit of a pan(asonic)theist.

Human Spec-tuality would enable any combination of intimacy to form without the need to then hold that as the only combination they may experience for the rest of their lives for fear of damaging the brand. There would be no closet – it would have nothing to contain or hide. Specs can change but that does not mean something is missing necessarily or will reduce the functionality of the assemblage of intensity of desire and how that can be experienced.

So whoever is hooking up whether they are bringing the hardware, software or both all that should really matter is the quality of the connection. If it’s any good you should be in the cloud.

Metamorphosis – Deleuze not Kafka

I never cease to be moved intensely by nature in all its forms. Watching a caterpillar munching a leaf hanging upside down while beside another begins to form a chrysalis I wondered if our default understandings of nature needed an overhaul, certainly the ways we incorporate ‘growth’ metaphors into the language of life. We love to talk about roots, trees, branches and leaves all leading to a linear hierarchical system of reference. Even the over worn caterpillar to butterfly invites a sense of transformation in a preferred direction, the end point being the goal or aim. The caterpillar is lacking until it becomes the butterfly – it is incomplete. Inside the chrysalis something incredible takes place and for years I imagined the caterpillar turning ‘into’ a butterfly – that somehow it ‘sprouted wings, legs etc. Well – here is the kicker, that doesn’t quite describe what happens. There is a reconstitution a breaking down, dissolving, redrawing the map of life. For a time it is no-thing – a veritable Body Without Organs on its way to becoming something we recognise and can signify with the word ‘butterfly’. It is this juicy mess inside the chrysalis that fascinates me for thinking about change, transformation and purpose. Contained inside the private world of the small green pod, colours change indicating the assembled parts are now close to the taxonomy of the familiar, the categorised. Breaking free and extending the delicate new appendages our sense of completion falls on the first flight. We look for the cycle to begin – repetitive and always coming back on itself, forever stepping over or past that no-thing unrecognisable plane of reference. But this is where I want to be, not ‘trapped’ inside a chrysalis waiting, hoping and striving to become a butterfly. Here behind the veil of the known, seen and unseen, forming and unforming. Not lacking or desiring to be anything, but allowing my form to shape with desire, for it to allow for the coalescing and connecting of matter so that I might take shape for a moment of recognition and join with other Bodies Without Organs.

Actually I wouldn’t mind a proboscis for a while, make poking tongues just a bit more interesting. Shades of Kafka? Might have to read The Metamorphosis again.