diversity

Did we think or just do pink?

The week of talking about bullying has now passed. Pink shirts have been hauled out of wardrobes and hung up again for another year and I am concerned about what comes next. I do wonder what sort of talking was actually done, if it was just talking, and just who was listening or was heard. I reckon there were probably more conversations about ‘yanny and laurel’ to be honest. So this coming week is youth week, with the theme of ‘be who you want to be’. I think we needed to talk about why we don’t let people be who they are last week.

For the sake of simplicity, bullying cannot be eradicated like some disease. There is no ‘social vaccination’ for bullying and it thrives in conditions where difference is feared. While we live in a world that is determined to make difference a problem, being who you want to be is not always going to be straight forward. I think it’s naïve to tell young people to simple ‘be yourself’ when then are very real risks for coming out as gay if you are from a culture or religious background that overtly hates, persecutes and punishes people for being gay. Or how about allowing young people to feel confident in their bodies, not shaming them for their size, shape, style. Maybe parents not freaking out when their 16 year old says ‘I don’t want to be a _______ (insert highly valued job/profession here) I want to _________(insert parents ultimate fear of failure or assumptions about less valued professions or careers).

Let’s actually have conversations about the ways we make it hard for people to feel included, valued, respected and cared for in this world rather than placing the onus on young people to ‘be’ something they might not be ready or willing to be.

And for the record it is ‘Laurel’ and if you think otherwise I can’t be your friend (please read as sarcasm).

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Ticked off

I currently work at Epsom Girls Grammar, a public school with a proud history and one that cannot sit in isolation from our brother school – Auckland Grammar (AGS). After celebrating its centenary last year, EGGS is looking to the future to consider what the next century will ‘look like’ for ‘girls education’ as will AGS for ‘boys’. Perhaps one of the starting points for any educational institution ‘looking to the future’ should be to locate its values and image, particularly ideas of ‘tradition’. By locate I mean what century these are drawn from. Which is why this article about AGS building unisex bathrooms in a bid to be more inclusive of transgender students raised my eyebrows in a way that might have given away my age more than the growing silvering of my hair.

So why the eyebrow raise? AGS has been on a journey toward the rainbow tick. The rainbow tick is a certification process to ensure work places are gender and sexual diversity inclusive. On the surface, this seems ideal and robust, having measurable outcomes sounds like progress. However, I do have some genuine questions for some of the implications of getting diversity ‘ticked off’ as compliance. I am not suggesting bathrooms are a token gesture, but I am a bit cynical about the meaningful impact these will have for becoming more ‘inclusive’. Maybe it raises some pertinent questions about the idea of single sex education.

For a start, why in the 21st century are we holding onto single sex education? The gendered ideas that excluded girls from education then ‘allowed’ them to access seem archaic yet are often still used to justify segregation. I’ve heard it first hand when EGGS staff discuss assumptions about how boys and girls learn differently .

One argument is that parents that want single sex schools and sometimes religious beliefs insist on segregation. I think there will always be a place in the private and special character schools. I wonder if a more accurate statement is one of style and culture. Discipline, hierarchy, power, punishment model and versus relational accountability and mutual respect. Neither is better, and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In their polarity form (sometimes mirrored in single sex schools but not always) they are clearly different models of learning. So I think the question of ‘who is peeing where with what plumbing’ becomes irrelevant in an school that defines it’s character on its ways of relating to other human beings. This paves the way for AGS and EGGS to drop their biological criteria for attendance in the future. These schools could then advertise these more openly and allow parents to choose what model of learning and relationships they would prefer their children-young people to be exposed to rather than ‘you have these bits – you go here’ (let’s not even go there for intersex young people…that would blow the sex/gender binary to bits).

When I discuss the idea of attending an ‘all-boys’ school with young trans guys at EGGS there is a lot of face pulling and shoulder shrugging. They seem unsure of the level of support they would feel and their sense is that the gender fluidity present around them would be lost and they would need to comply with a model of masculinity to be accepted. So providing gender neutral facilities does not ‘tick their boxes’ of an inclusive, safe, school. My suggestion for AGS (for what it’s worth) is ensuring you are providing for current trans AGS student needs. The denial of any current trans students is just as problematic for me and I would rather see energy put into ensuring mtf (male to female) trans students needs being addressed, or is that too challenging for notions of maleness and masculinity?

Yes building bathrooms is a step and I want to be hopeful about AGS’s journey toward being more open and accepting of gender and sexual diversity, and I still think EGGS has work to do (uniform especially). My experience tells me one important step for students is to have a support/social group up and running – supported by the principal, student leaders and to have ongoing, genuine consultation happening of the queer AGS/EGGS community – including parents.

Redefining men and masculinity in the 21st Century is potentially the greatest and most challenging building project – the blueprints are all there but if people are determined to keep with the traditional bricks and mortar approach then those bathrooms will be about as inclusive as saying ‘we have ramps so we are inclusive of disabilities’ and I’m not even sure if AGS has ramps.

Part time critic

Six weeks at home (recovering from surgery) in the middle of a Kiwi summer (which at any minute could be winter) I’ve been trying to manage having a foggy brain with pain management and keeping myself occupied (hence the sudden splurge of ranty blogs). Now it is 99% humidity and I am missing my air-conditioned office at work – but not the work yet.

So after finally reading Brave New World so that I could actually say ‘I had read it’ (was glad I had read under a cloud of opiates – amazing but seriously depressing) I returned to Netflix to catch up on some sci-fi. Lying at home, trying to ‘be good’ (the idea of not being able to ride my single speed for nearly 3months is torture) I’m going to entertain you with my amateur attempt at being a critic.

Yet again – a disclaimer. I do not see myself as an expert, or even someone who has read and seen everything in the sci-fi genre. I’m a bit fussy and hard to please and I have a tendency to change my mind after viewing or reading things multiple times. I will limit myself to those shows/movies where I have some clarity about my position. I also do not want to be negative, as I think all writers and producers have a particular vision they are bringing to life and my lack of connection with something does not detract from this.

First up – Star Trek Discovery

I am first and foremost NOT a Trekkie. That should immediately disqualify me from commenting. But I love this series. Some fans lament the detour from what they see as they heart of the ST stories. I see it as a refreshing ‘posthumanism’ exploration of deeper philosophical concepts. I like the break from traditional scientific models of life, where quantum physics and biology are not separate entities. STD (unfortunate acronym) pushes scientific concepts to the edge rather than reproducing the ‘same old’. There are the familiar players – Clingons, Vulcans, Humans and The Federation. So much is familiar and also different. Leading women, gay characters and cultural diversity are not there for cannon fodder (red shirt syndrome). And if it’s ‘too PC’ for some – just load up on the original series and JJ Abrams reboots.

Second – Altered Carbon

Initially, I was swept away by this series. But once the honeymoon was over (probably after the 4th episode) it started to feel a bit like a Marvel series; Man has traumatic past – loses parents and sister – loves a woman – loses woman – tortured man has new identity – has a mission. It’s sexy, slick, and again pushes posthuman ideas (an area I am particularly interested in). The key concept of AC centers on technology (‘stack’) that enables consciousness to be moved to another body with ease means there can be a lot of room to ‘play’ with concepts of identity, connection, love, intimacy. To be ‘spun up’ into the body of the opposite sex is seen through mainly through the experience of women becoming men, it’s pretty phallocentric. There is a lot of nudity, violence and sexual violence in AC. So whilst I appreciate some of the ideas I’m left with an uneasy sense of misogyny masquerading as equality. There is no genuine shift in gendered relationships in AC – but it is still a great ride.

Third – The Cloverfield Movies

Confession – I HATED the first Cloverfield movie. The shaky camera work (yes I know it was intentional) and the ending had me wanting a refund on my time. So I was really hesitant to see 10Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. I gave Paradox a go first and because it was more about quantum physics I got excited. It worked well and there was enough humour in it to smooth out some of the familiar sci-fi limits. Bit of a spoiler – but I loved the amputation scene and the hand continuing to live as a separate entity trying to send a message. This movie makes the original plausible by opening up the idea that rips in dimensions and space/time could occur. 10Cloverfield Lane therefore sits somewhere in the middle of all this more as a psychological thriller. And here comes the ‘BUT’ – why the monsters. It’s like kids telling a scary story but they get lost on how to finish it so they say ‘and then A MONSTER’. I guess I am wondering how that adds to the tension, for me it was a huge deflation.

Next up – Legion

If you were to smash The Twighlight Zone, XMen, and Inception together you have Legion. It is full on, like a darker, creepier XMen. In fact it is part of the XMen universe. Definitely do not let your kids see this – it is more horror than sci-fi and while I’m looking forward to season 2 I hope they can dial back on some of the surges between layers of reality. If you like Twilight Zone and mutant stuff – this is great. Just sleep with the light on after.

Finally – Dark

Not all sci-fi needs a space backdrop. Actually, I struggle to classify some series (The OA in a similar vein). Dark has been a shining light for me and is more a time travel, esoteric drama than sci-fi. Comparisons to Stranger Things seem inevitable but it is nothing like ST except for some of the story settings (small town and young people with mysterious things going on). Brilliant acting is undone by terrible dubbing into English and at times it’s like watching English dubbing of Kungfu movies. I did watch it a second time in German with subtitles. If you can focus on the eyes rather than the mouths it works – but I hope they can rectify it before season 2.

Dark is an aesthetic series. It is beautifully shot and the sound track creates right tone throughout – you feel Dark as it spans three timelines (with a 4th being touched on – no spoilers). The characters are not over cooked, there is a lovely balance of diversity and a genuine sense that these characters are there not just to ‘fill the diversity quotient’ as many others feel. This is a good vrs evil story as well but it is much more subtle and mysterious, the simplicity of the story does not do justice to the complexity of the plot. There is so much going on you need a second go at it as some characters span 3-4 timelines and there is an economy of dialogue that means every line potentially hides a clue. Another way to think about it is to see Stranger Things as a ‘half-strength soy latte’ compared to Dark – an espresso (short black), it’s possible to like both flavours but most people will have a preference.

I’m also really excited about Annihilation. This isn’t being released in on the big screen in NZ, the studio was concerned it was ‘too intellectual’ for the masses. Netflix scored it and I don’t think they’ll regret it.

Well – that was fun, I don’t envy people who do this for a living, knowing regardless of your opinion people will shred you. There are a bunch of other shows I could comment on…save it for another rainy day, there seem to be enough of them at the moment.

 

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

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.

Time out! What century is it?

A couple of days ago I blogged about Mental Health Awareness week and schools. I vowed to stop reading the Herald online on account of the atrocious grammar, like someone had their cat walk on their keyboard and randomly cut and paste things half the time, but I risk it now and again. The article I read had my head in a spin, a surge of adrenaline as the fury rose in my body indicated I should not read on, but I did.

This time the grammar held up, it was the content. Children being locked in a small, dark time out room for behaviour management, put into isolation. Now that had me burning for a start, then to find out some of those put into that space were on the Autistic spectrum just turned my anger into a form of transcendent hysteria. To finish me off the dismissive minimising language and rhetoric claiming it was not illegal just ‘outmoded’ and the Ministry of Educations response was about as strong as Donald Trumps credibility as a feminist.

Honestly I have absolutely no hesitation is stating this is nothing but abuse disguised as behaviour management. There is nothing about this practice that is about reducing distress, learning, care or compassion. It speaks to the gross lack of training, understanding and resourcing of education for complex needs. I’m sure some of those teachers thought there was nothing wrong with what they were doing, that is what worries me. There are students who will have challenges regulating emotions and behaviour because of abusive backgrounds or unique neurocognitive functioning, that’s called diversity. Being locked in dark spaces as punishment to experience more distress, fear and isolation is barbaric and totally deplorable. The MOE needed to say that, rather than its ‘monitoring the situation’. WTF is that? We’ll, pay someone, to interview some people to hire a consultant to write a report…

Meanwhile what about that room? I say, it needs to be turned into the only thing it is good for at this point, given its size is fish tank and Lego room. Students might happily go there to find some peace and quiet away from the crazy chaotic over stimulating real world. They might even paint a ‘do not disturb’ sign. I need that room now.

 

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.