diversity

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.

Feeling BADD ass

My friend Philip blogged today about Blogging Against Disablism Day – BADD (well worth reading) and I started to wonder a bit about the proliferation of events that try and raise consciousness through a catchy acronym and a single day focus. I worry sometimes that our year is too short to include all of the special days, maybe it’s time to move to Saturn (29:1 earth year – over 10 000 days should be about right). The feel good vibe runs hot and people love to get in on the action, hit ‘like’, have their thoughts challenged but if it is just through reading then I’m unsure about the actual engagement with the ‘real’ world (for want of a better word). Do people actually DO anything different? I’m skeptical.

Blogs also tend to reach those already interested or thinking about the same things, so sometimes it’s a case of ‘preaching to the converted’ or seeing your own thoughts rehashed through another lens but kind of the same ideas. Maybe that is the point of it, like Philip mentions ‘law of attraction’ perhaps that is how momentum is started, by sharing something, with a wider network of people.

Getting stories and voices ‘out there’ is not enough for change, and while consciousness might be raised for a moment the next click of the screen could be something that convinces you that there are more important things to worry about. That has been one of my frustrations recently – seeing the ‘transgender-bathroom’ debate be hijacked and minimised in the name of promoting bigger issues.

So my contribution to BADD day is this – you have a body – it has and always will be in a state of becoming differently functional ‘fluxtional’ is my new word. ‘Disability’ does not exist – complexity of functioning does. Therefore every day I am against the normative idea of ableism (again see Philips blog) because it denies the very real richness of diversity that infiltrates every level of connection we have to each other. Please let us see MORE body-function diversity in media, all forms. For a start can we please get someone signing the news? Because quite frankly I have one sign to give NZ television networks with their representation of diversity and it only needs one digit.

 

Sigh-Fi

Well I just binge watched Ascension on Netflix. Now I have been looking for a sci-fi series to follow for a while, something has to fill the gap until season two of Sense 8 starts, and this was shaping up to be it. There was even a hint at some queer characters, ok, one character was openly gay but she didn’t get to lock lips with anyone and drinking at a gay bar while reading conspiracy theories on her ipad was about as risqué as it got. But what I enjoyed was the plausible story line, unlike The 100 which drove me crazy – I made myself finish season two then wanted a refund on the time I’d wasted. At the end of the first series I had that look on my face after you watch The Matrix for the first time – like WTF just happened. I immediately went searching for the next series….nothing. I searched the internet…despair…anger….frustration mounting as I realised it probably didn’t match the mass consumption formula – apocalypse-youth-sex-dystopia-more sex.

It reminded me of The Truman Show but with a darker edge, maybe with a hint of Lost but without the drawn out back stories and left hanging in the same way you are at the end of The Quiet Earth (now there’s a Kiwi Sci-Fi classic). This had the ingredients for mixing a whole range of ethical dilemmas with a social, political and scientific realism that is sorely missing from the sci-fi genre at the moment. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the mainstream media however it should be a place where ideas are expanded and explored in more complex ways, particularly in relations to diversity and our concepts of relationships.

Yet the record seems stuck on the same track – white, heterosexual, common morphology (body shapes), military industrial complex saves the day. There is some dabbling in gender relationships but while women sometimes occupy powerful positions generally they seem to still need a male by their side to accomplish whatever ‘save the day’ mission is at the core of the story line. And while functionality is richly explored often through technology or enhanced neural capacity it is not generally open to diverse morphologies, the ‘perfect’ body is replicated more often even with technical enhancements. One of my favourite examples is The Borg queen from Star Trek First Contact, she is just a head and a spine that gets dropped into a custom made body – they clearly had done their homework.

I dunno, a whole universe of possibilities and the same old boring representations of human diversity. Sigh-fi indeed, maybe it is time to write my own script and send it to the Wachowski sisters.

Shoe in

It’s an oft used analogy to indicate perspective taking or developing empathy ‘to walk in someone else’s shoes’. I’ve been thinking more and more about why slipping into someone’s experience would be as simple or whether the familiarity of the idea is both why it works and fails miserably. Because I would go even further to say that excludes a wide range of people and other beings who either do not walk or don’t wear shoes.

So perhaps this way of helping short cut understanding has set up a rather unhelpful set of assumptions. We are all conceptually limited although at times we’d rather pretend to ‘know’ than deal with the uncomfortable realisation that we might just not ‘get it’. To ask the question ‘how do we know what we don’t know’ or ‘why did this form of knowing become accepted’ invites an alternative, agnotological approach to the shoe idea.

What got me thinking about this again was my experience of starting bare foot running, not exactly, but the ‘shoes’ I wear are simply a piece of rubber and some rope (the silver toe nail polish is optional but I reckon it makes me run better). Peoples responses were intriguing, no-one believed they were running shoes. The model of the shoe did not fit, a preconceived idea had already defined how my feet should be covered for the purposes of training. My shoes were wrong according to the dominant knowledge available from the various scientifically based truths about human physiology and biomechanics. Therefore the idea of trying to run in my shoes was so against popular knowledge my decision seemed incomprehensible, illogical and irrational. Judging from some of the condescending comments and Spock like eyebrow raises, I was deemed a little bit cray cray, a sort of ‘these aren’t the shoes you’re looking for’ Jedi mind trick was even tried.

It’s taken my body a while to adjust to a different style of running, but I love it. All the concern about what harm I might do running in a more natural way seem a little cray cray to me. Some lives are like my new running ‘shoes’. They are incomprehensible because of the ideas used to construct them. When people imagine wearing them they have already decided how it might feel, how painful and uncomfortable and awkward they’d be. It might not cross their mind that they could feel light, free, sensitive and liberating. I suspect people who identify as transgender or are seen as ‘disabled’ have their lives miss-imagined or only framed in pejorative ways.

But I think if we can become open to the idea that we might be wrong, to be curious and prepared to recognise the ways our own vulnerability shapes our perception, that is, to understand our own shoes, why they feel comfortable, where they fit best, what terrain they give traction on and where they become unstuck could be more useful. But again, from the outside our ideas simply reflect our own fears, doubts and insecurities and not necessarily the lived experience of others.

And as for seeing through the eyes of another? Well that is no mean feet.

International zombie day

Today is international happiness day (no link to my previous blog). Watch out for the smiling zombies. I’m cool with that, but if I fail to be demonstrating my happiness in ways that others approve of then I’ll probably be deemed aloof, surly, detached or depressed. Why does happiness get it’s own day? I don’t think that is fair on all the other emotions, the full spectrum that is. They are all part of a normal healthy balanced life. To be honest I find happy people scary, I get a little freaked out by what I call the ‘happiness evangelists’. It comes via their profound sense of happiness always being a choice and that positive thinking is the antidote for negative feelings. At the ‘evangelical’ end of the spectrum anyone who is suffering, feeling down, alone worried, sad, angry are promptly told to appreciate life, be grateful and turn that frown upside down.

For me, this disavowal of the full range of feelings and states of mind is like a psychic genocide, where we segregate people who do not comply with the stated acceptable ways of being in the world and do all we can to ensure they do not contaminate society. There are other ways to quarantine these people in society, we diagnose them with disorders, put them in support groups to talk to each other so they can fit back in when they are ready.

It’s not that I don’t want people to experience being happy, crikey it’s not a great look for a counsellor. What I worry about is how these special days of celebration fragment our understanding of life. Why not a day of sadness? That might be more productive and meaningful, to talk about the things that hurt, that are about the darker places people go and do not get permission to share. Opening the door to empathy is about being alongside people in their moment of pain. We need more of this from society rather than the sugar coated pill of positivity.

If you are celebrating today take a moment also to recognise that happiness can only be known in relation to it’s opposite and that our lives are richer when we are able to be more authentic with emotions. Perhaps a day of vulnerability?

Will have a beer later and think it over – that makes me happy.

A wack hack

I’m perplexed. We’ve had a dildo chucked at a politician and now high tech dildos that could be hacked.There is a new industry called cyberdildonics and is set to be the next ‘big thing’ that could make that long distance relationship all the more intimate. Wow…sex toys in the media with no talk about sex or sexuality.

But much like the virtual absence of condoms being seen when depicting particular sexual acts (I think I can count the number of times I have seen a condom add on one hand) dildos as well seem to be almost desexualised by media, good for a face slap and maybe a door stop. Could be an interesting cyber safety topic in schools or a creative cross curriculum topic? The mind boggles as it googles with new goggles into a future of cyber enhanced sexualities.

Seriously, how has ordinary sex become so invisible – by ordinary I don’t simply mean heterosexual, I’m talking about the messy, complex, awkward, funny, negotiated, interrupted moments with bodily fluids and equipment like dildos and vibrators in the context of sex. It seems contradictory when considering the hyper sexualisation in a lot of media. Almost like the over-saturation closes down these spaces so that real experiences in the lives of people become shocking and beyond the normative spectrum coloured by the graphic representation of sex portrayed.

I also accept that technology has made sex and sexuality more accessible and fluid for many. Perhaps the digital age has simply taken hardware to a new level. Personally I can’t imagine wanting to hack anything that is being used by someone else in an intimate act, voyeurism could get interactive. I’d like to see greater representation of sexuality but not just the usual token gay or lesbian character, people of mixed ages, cultures, body shapes and functions flirting, getting it on and keeping each other safe, caring about the health comfort and pleasure of their partner.

Maybe there is a bit of re-branding to be done in silicon valley.

docile rating

I’ve never been a huge fan of the decile rating system of schools in New Zealand. So when the government announced it is considering doing away with them I was a quietly optimistic for about a 10th of a second. Decile ratings are divisive and should be reviewed.  But I’m not convinced the idea of individual risk factors being used to target funding on an individual level is going to turn the tide of under achievement. It is yet another move to distance the stated intentions of economic and social policy from its effects. It’s another clever example of neo-liberal policy wrapped up in rhetoric around targeted funding. There are some pretty interesting criteria being proposed for defining those students ‘at risk’. Some are a little baffling, but probably are statistically accurate as I am sure there have been people crunching numbers in order to bring us such revelations.

Even if the decile rating system is disbanded it won’t change socio-economic segregation and stigmatising of particular schools based on demographic and dare I say it assumptions based on ethnicity. Education is precariously place in the society and the landscape of political manoeuvres.

However I wonder if we could replace the decile rating with a docile rating. Schools that teach to a 19th and 20th century curriculum and maintain a ‘bums in seats’ compliance model of learning would rate highly for docile learning. Those taking risks, enabling all kinds of energetic expressions and the presence of emotions with a valuing of novel and unique approaches to relationships would rate low in docile.

Businesses and employers would know what kind of ideas young people had experienced and how their thinking and ways of relating to diversity might have enabled or constrained their perspective. Docile ratings would be independent of the incomes of families and would reflect the commitment of a school to break free of traditional models and modes of learning.

Extra negative points for not having a uniform and having a play-ground at high school.

Close shave

It’s something of a gender marker body hair and I’ve written about it a number of times. Facial hair and grooming is part of that with some services exclusively catering for men. I say men rather than male as in order to pass as a man publicly requires a whole body performance not just what combination of nuts and bolts make up your ‘hardware’. In such places masculinity finds a haven in being shaven. I imagine they enable a sense of relaxation and comfort and comradery. The branding and marketing and product sold is based around a gendered performance of masculinity. Being female and feminine does not fit.

So I suppose what I am wondering is why any woman would claim discrimination for being told she is not able to be employed due to her disrupting the space that is on offer. What if that female employee was previously male as in the case of Dakota Hemmingson? I’m thinking this is not so cut and dry. Transitioning from male to female comes with more than just material changes in morphology or embodied expression of gender, becoming female means to enter a new position in the social order (not withstanding other layers such as race, class, functioning). My reading of this scenario leaves me with a sense of disquiet about the polarising nature of rights and discrimination accusations and the defensive position it invites for employers. Rather than opening discussion on the complexities the standard ‘no comment’ lines or bland dismissive rhetoric passes over what could be a valuable dialogue around diversity.

But being reasonably cis gendered myself I don’t feel well qualified to speak about experiences of ‘being-becoming’ trans. There are plenty of trans men and women writers talking about the changes in social status and ways others relate to them that reveal much more of the ways society affords privilege or denies and excludes people on the basis of gender. In many ways I wish New Zealand had a version of Huffington Post rather than the cut and paste journalism of The New Zealand Herald as some of these stories might gain a bit more traction to tease out the nuances of gender and sexuality, rights and entitlements.

Of course LGBTQI people experience prejudice, harassment, bullying, and feeling accepted, respected and valued are absolutely vital for all young people on any journey on the rainbow spectrum. But while binary gendered roles exist these protected, gender defined, spaces will as well and not meeting the criteria is sometimes simply that. I hope Dakota finds her way into new employment as she clearly has valuable skills that people need not split hairs over.

Please Rain On My Parade – It’s Lost Its Rainbow

On a warm sunny evening in central Auckland two celebrations were under way, the lantern festival and pride parade. Tough choice for some but great to have colour, culture, light and celebration taking centre stage.

This year I was in Ponsonby road, hoping to capture some of the pride vibe. However the vibe didn’t exactly resonate with me and the dissonance perhaps spoke more about the complexity of claiming spaces and rituals to define communities and identities within these. In the space of a couple of hours I moved through time, battled history and oppression, grappled with politics and ate ice-cream. It was an evening where morphing and refracting power through a socio-cultural-political-economic-historical-gendered lens offered a mixed perspective. And at times I lost focus, had things enlarged, split, minimised and dispersed.

Leaning up against the barricade in the sunshine took me back to a time when the parade was called Hero and it was a night time event. Large, vibrant loud and provocative. Church groups protesting with catchy phrases such as ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’. It wasn’t a family affair. But with the sun on my face, a 6pm start and children scooting along the footpath the sexual part of sexuality was toned down to the point of wondering if Santa might even show up. Church groups now IN the parade, Adam and Steve are now married and all political parties are suddenly claiming playing a part in the homosexual law reform bill.

Dykes on bikes and Miss Ribena – thank goodness for a queer constant in the rainbow tinted multi-verse leading the way. Then stopping, music from 1986 blaring at me, I can’t hear myself think as I am transported back to being 13 and catching a glimpse of myself in a shop window with almost the same haircut as I had then, but the sunglasses can’t hide the crows feet. Reflections and refractions of time. The parade has come to a halt. Protesters? What not the TPP again? Wait? No Pride In Prisons – a group peacefully disrupting the flow to bring focus to the treatment of transgendered people in prisons. I’m now dancing to distract myself from my own thoughts of violence and abuse, fear and hatred and the fact that Miss Ribena has been parked in front of me for 5 minutes music still blaring.

The police come through and the Minister smirking…then political parties…smirking….then Banks?….Tertiary Institutions?…Coke?…wait is this a corporate branding mission? There are a couple of vegans and some surfers from Raglan, where are the Tangata Whenua? A quiet truck goes past, beautiful bird sounds and I fear that is it for a bi-cultural presence. Pacific beats thrumb and a steel drum band pass by – back to party vibe finally.

But it just feels awkward, the barriers seem to magnify the incongruity. Dazed and bemused, I wonder who’s parade is it? Remembering the years I marched in body paint spinning and breathing fire, charged with adrenaline and endorphins and feeling life was an ever expanding fractal. I search for faces with that same look on the other side of the barriers. Zombies. Some people marching look thoroughly confused, like they are not sure why they are there, ‘what is this flag in my hand?’ I’m now cheering them on to reduce their obvious discomfort – this isn’t pride!

Fletcher building bringing up the rear with Grey Lynn Tyres – well at least there was rubber in there somewhere.

Diversity is not in the equation

I’m not sure why I feel shaken. While the media will likely focus on the quake in Christchurch today, with good reason, my morning started with a different kind of movement. The jolt came from reading about another residency being declined on the basis of disability or more accurately the ‘costs’ attached to the care that might be needed for a family member. This time it is a maths professor being turned down because his step son has autism.

Not feeling the love today, maybe our government is taking this 100% pure campaign to the next level. But with my general distain for Valentines day mixing with a pervasive sense of deja vu, I had to stop myself being torn apart with a visceral sense we have reached the point of dispassionate valuing of people based on the capitalist model of production.

What is really clever about neo liberal, advanced capitalism is just how absolutely mesmerising and hypnotic the ideology that manipulates deep fears to promote individual responsibility, freedom of choice, competition and productivity in the name of ‘best interests of everyone’. People hate the idea they aren’t thinking for themselves. It pushes values that appear on the surface to be good such as competition while quietly ensuring people remain just a bit on edge with a sense of vulnerability. It invites people to reduce life and worth into modes of being that play along with normative structures. When you are born into this global community you are plugged into this value system based on production and consumption. Forget all that stuff about diversity – unless it suits your advertising campaign. Perhaps as Bronwyn Davies suggests, the ultimate power of neo liberalism is it is founded on the assumption that there is no alternative – therefore making it impervious to critique.

It is the ultimate version of The Matrix people are so attached to the system that they will fight to protect it. The logic is sound – if someone is a drain on the health system (that is ‘your hard earned tax dollars are going to be poured down the drain) people will back the system that looks after them every time and agree ‘that’s fair’. New Zealand your ‘pure’ brand is starting to feel like a past regime without the overt propaganda just a quiet take-over of our fear of difference. I’m no maths professor but this really doesn’t add up to any form of humane and just society.

In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, ‘we need to disturb difference rather than be disturbed by difference’. Wake up New Zealand – the neo liberal matrix has you and it makes us look ugly and really shaky on human rights. Watch out for silver spoons.