diversity

Polly Put The Kettle On

Sometimes I’m just not sure how to read other peoples writing, especially when radio DJ’s have opinion pieces in the NZ Herald. I suspect the tongue in cheek style is meant to provoke a range of responses and more than likely, Polly Gillespie struck a chord with her piece yesterday.

It is a mixed rant about accessibility, or more to the point people playing on the ‘privilege’ of having a mobility card. But it doesn’t stop there she was shouted at for using a wheel chair accessible toilet my some irate guy in a chair when she was desperate to relieve herself (and was overly generous in her description).

So I reckon I might invite Polly for a cup of tea, but I might need to pop out and get some milk. I have the luxury of choosing how I get to the shops. More than likely I’ll walk or bike, coz I hate parking. If I was having tea at my friend Philips place (well, that’s highly unlikely but play along) we might go in his van to buy milk. So because I am in the van, does that disqualify him as a wheel chair user to park up in a mobility space while I nip in? Or should I wait in the van and play by Polly’s rules and make my mate prove his worth by dropping the ramp and winching his chair down? Then to realise the dairy is outa milk? Na I don’t think so.

My simple point is this. When people are in a position of privilege they sometimes grow a sense of entitlement to hold others to particular standards of playing by the rules. I do have sympathy over her toilet incident. When you’ve got that sense that no amount of sphincter squeezing is going to stop this thing breaking free, you just don’t care what toilet you’re in. But again I invite others like me who are functioning in common ways to consider this – calling out ‘I’ll only be a minute’ makes no sense. One minute for me is a long time in the toilet (sorry if that is TMI) however for those with diverse mobility – time is mediated by the need to co-ordinate a whole bunch of other steps in between getting in the door and doing the business. So it’s kind of like time dilation – think Interstellar only not quite as extreme (you wont come out and find the world has changed…sadly). So replay that statement for us common functioning folk to ‘I’ll only be 10 minutes’ and you get my point.

There will always be assholes and people pushing the limits. One of my favourites is the pram parking at shopping centres, I suspect at times there are a few people going ‘shit I’ve got the pram in the back, wonder if my 5 year old qualifies me’.

Polly, put the kettle on – I don’t have milk in it anyway.

Parental advisory

Warning – this blog will intentionally question the concept of parent. Some language will be unfamiliar and offense could be taken if you subscribe to narrowly prescribed notions of family. Viewing may lead to questions that may not have simple answers.

There is nothing more grating than the question ‘do you have children?’ I fall into some sort of suspended animation or alternative dimension when I hear it, where all possibilities are present for the correct answer but I have to pick the one that will satisfy the person asking because everyone has a different formula for the ‘right’ ratio of parents to children ranging from 0 to…. probably not an extremely high number perhaps the teens? I’m never sure how they will respond but EVERYONE has an opinion about it and they usually feel entitled to tell me, even if they know nothing else about who I am. This is because the universal experience of life is to have a family – however it is put together, what we ‘know’ about it from experience has more than likely influenced a default sense of ‘what works’.

Once you get to a particular age the question becomes more earnest or takes on different meaning depending on the context and probably gender and other intersections of time and space. I am able to take up the social position recognised as parent although I’m not sure that I’d say I fit the expected ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ role – that in itself will invite some consternation from people determined to make the one ‘giving birth’ mum and the complementary ‘Donator of DNA’ Dad. Parenting has become a bit like career planning, with plenty of guidelines, willing coaches, experts, advice, and shoulders to cry on if it doesn’t go well. The other alternative is parenting is like reality TV, where we get edited versions and scripts that appear natural but really aren’t. Either way it seems to be a little weird.

There are many people parenting children who are not recognised for this. I meet many ‘mumsters’ in my job, young women in their teens with many siblings who take on a significant parent role but have to navigate the delicate power dynamics with parents and maintaining a sense of themselves. Rather than talking about ‘half’ and ‘step’ I think it’s important to name the quality of the role and the unique positions they afford people. Kiwis love to use the words Cuz (cousin) and Bro (anyone of either gender for whom you feel affection) so it shouldn’t be so hard to spread that openness to parenting.

Today marked 8 years of sharing life with this amazing and beautiful young being and what I appreciate about that is the young person who allows me to take up this role has an opportunity to see that regardless of the body parts I may or may not have I am genuinely interested in their life and how I can support them to feel confident, open, and curious about the world. If I can do that well and keep a sense of perspective on my role and how important I am/not while allowing for mistakes, falls, upsets and apologies (me included), then I might consider I’m doing an ok job.

Blood is thicker than water, it dries up, cracks, gets diseases and stains if you get it on your clothes. Water is part of everything and can exist in many forms – I’ll take water over blood any time.

Lightening up the dark side

I was there at midnight to see The Force Awakens with all the other generations of Star Wars fans. I remember 1977 (just) – Paeroa, 5 years old and being awestruck with the story jolting some philosophical curiosity lose. Returning in my 40’s with my storm trooper t-shirt I felt right at home, like my tribe had converged from all walks of life. The approving nods, one liners that offer a secret hand shake of sorts. My expectations were muted and whilst I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia my heart wasn’t moved, it was a little too deja vu. No spoilers here but perhaps what I do feel sad about is the mystery of The Force. I’m also a bit perplexed about this galaxy far far away and it’s parenting practices. If there were social services of any kind they should have targeted that skywalker line and done some serious family therapy. Perhaps a family group conference for the Solo/Skywalker clan is needed with a few ghostly ring ins – Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and maybe Anakin – if he is over his whining. Hollywood could do with ending its dependence on Freudian psychoanalysis to develop its plots and character development. Actually there was a character played by Max von Sydow who looked remarkably like Freud…but he was shafted by a blade of light.

It’s a bit of a romp down memory lane, like a high school reunion of sorts. Where memories of the past are jumbled with the present but the familiarity is comforting to a degree. But here are a couple of strengths of star wars that are worth mentioning:

  • Diversity is the norm – people don’t question each other if they seem to be able to understand another species or even a droid/robot.
  • Age is a relative thing – some live thousands of years others much shorter and there aren’t long winded lectures to young’uns about it.
  • Difference is expected but if you are at the pub – respect the rules and the patrons or you will be out on your ass – or asses.
  • Technology hand-me-downs are ok – light sabres for example seem to be fine – no-one says ‘are you kidding? I’m not taking that old thing’.

 

My new hope is to recapture that mysterious wonder for The Force but maybe it will be about awakening my own senses and perhaps returning to my inner Jedi.

Inside Out and Upside Down

Although I retired from the classroom years ago, I still dabble in teaching the occasional health class. It is an honour and a privilege to have conversations with 16-17 year olds about sexuality and there are new resources to go with more language to describe the wide spectrum of identity. One of the newest is Inside Out and if anything people’s vocabulary will broaden when it comes to diversity. For any health teacher needing a solid start in coming to grips with some of more hidden aspects of sex, gender and sexuality – intersex and transgender in particular it would be good to take a look at. For those who feel more settled or stuck in a rut it might just freshen things up.

My hesitation is not with resource so much. I agree with the intention of the need to create more awareness or acceptance of ‘difference’. My narrative counselling lens is finely tuned so I’m a little sensitive to language, power and discourse. As such, I’m a bit irritating to those who hold more traditional humanistic ideas about ‘self’. This is pretty much the underpinning philosophy of all education. So back to my nagging uncertainty, it’s about the ability of teachers to facilitate conversations, questions and hold an open ethical space for ideas to be shared. I do not doubt the depth of knowledge and skill some teachers have, but I’ve heard enough students comment about their shock and disbelief, confusion and unease. One recent example was a class who were asked to stand and to sit down if they had talked to one gay person that day (or week?), and gradually it was the last person standing. I’m not sure how accurate this is to what actually happened, but if it is even partially true it is disconcerting. Sort of wondering if you get extra points for gay people of different cultures, ages, disabilities (yes people with disabilities experience sexuality!)…

I’d ask one thing of teachers using this resource – do not disclose your sexuality (particularly if you identify as heterosexual) if asked and especially if you are a cisgendered male. These resources will have the greatest influence if teachers are aware of the privilege/power of heteronormativity and how every interaction, utterance, expression, hesitation, avoidance or inability to comfortably facilitate complex notions of identity will determine what young people ‘learn’.

Schools simply need more PD on LGBTQIA….and not just rainbow scrabble.

 

 

Got you by the gubernaculum

I’m fascinated by the complexity of everything and it baffles me that we want to keep simplifying, generalising and categorising life into the most basic compartments. I know most people believe that there are two sexes. There are definitely two, but there are more. My brush with embryology at uni many years ago was an eye opener and a mind opener. The amazing interplay of chromosomes and cell-division revealed the wide range of variations leading to more than just a possible boy or girl baby.

The curious thing is that all humans begin the same with their reproductive and sexual organs looking the same. Then differentiation happens leading to gene expression, much like any other aspect of biology. But we’ve filtered out these variations for so long they appear invisible, unrepresented in our consciousness of the spectrum of diversity. The polarity of sexual organs most visibly represented in text books is not the full story. We’ve been ripped off! At a certain point in our embryonic development the structures that will later go on to develop into sex organs are pulled downward by a chord like structure and as they do they continue to develop into specific roles, testes or ovaries. It’s kind of cool because it explains the ways we can end up with other combinations of sexual organs, that it is actually not uncommon or unexpected. More to the point is not ‘un-natural’.

So I think we need more conversations about gubernaculums, and other great reproductive scrabble words to baffle your mates with. We need to see more diagrams with a range of possible outward and inward arrangements of organs without the word normal anywhere. Education could do more looking at some of the queer ways nature has got around binary genders or even the senses as we know them – such as the amazing brittlestar, it senses light with no eyes and ingests and egests through the same orifice…yip kind of glad we got a different deal there (although it might explain why some people talk excrement). There is also the whiptail lizard who don’t seem to need males to reproduce. And there are those sea horse dudes who look great being pregnant.

If the distribution and arrangement of organs is like part a branching expanding unfolding phenomenon it makes sense that some will stop at various points and form in unique ways much like a fractal, repeating the same familiar patterns with slight variations. Beautiful and perfect as they are.

Actually, looking more closely at the most famous of fractals, the Mandelbrot set  it makes me wonder what Freud might see. Shouldn’t be too hard.

Playing political football

I remember a time when the idea of sport and politics mixing was about as palatable as the concept of raspberry beer. We were split as a nation over playing rugby against South Africa in the late 1970’s and early 80’s due to the countries apartheid policies. I was old enough to remember the images but not old enough to understand the significance. New Zealand wanted the sanctity of its national sport to be untainted by the social policies of other countries that denied certain citizens their dignity and human rights. But many did see the contradiction and through the conflict and protest the public were forced to confront the possibility that there might being an ‘All Black’ in some parts of the world didn’t get you a free drink at the pub.

Fast forward to 2015 and apartheid as a policy has been dissolved. Our love of rugby is no less diminished and Richie McCaw is gearing up to defend the Webb Ellis Cup. There are even calls for our esteem AB captain to enter politics, with whispers of him becoming the next PM. So much for oil and water not mixing. But I suppose it comes down to branding in the end. Richie is perfect, most people either want to be him or do him…well…it’s true – I think there are plenty of people who suddenly find themselves not believing sexuality is fixed.

But if we are going to go down the path of Kiwi athletes having political potential well then lets throw this around a bit a see what happens. I’ve got a few other contenders for the top job:

Cameron Brown is first on my list. This guy knows how to go the distance. 10x NZ Ironman Champ. I’ve seen him run down his opposition in clinical form. If a political party wanted someone who knows how to come from behind and knows it isn’t over until you cross the line.

Lauren Boyle. One of our most understated athletes. As a swimmer she has to do the hard yards in training and again has to squeeze every ounce of potential out of her body in every event. I also get the feeling the best is yet to come from this amazing athlete.

How about Nathan Fa’avae? Here is a multisport guy who can find his way if dropped into the middle of no-where (maybe one of the minor parties could grab him). He can make do with basics and won’t mind burning the midnight oil and running on empty. Throw him a couple of barley sugars and he’ll be good to go.

Any of our rowers – sure they go backwards but when you are out in front you can keep an eye on the opposition and counter any moves. Mahe would do.

Sticking with the water, how about Lisa Carrington – her races might not last all that long but she knows how to win no matter what the margin. Her shoulders are big enough for an entire political party to cry on and have room to spare.

Speaking of powerful women. Valerie Adams has been at the top of a world class event and taken down the cheats. She’ll deal to any dirty politics. Val can also deal with dead weights and would ‘put’ anyone who doubted her out her inner circle.

William Trubridge – the guy going for the world record for swimming to great depths on a single breath. For a political party on their last gasp he could probably help get them out of a dark hole.

Notable exclusions: anyone from Team NZ – Dean Barker might have been an alternative to Richie but no – sorry Dean that epic fail will probably take some serious work to forget. Too soon for the political winds of change Dean.

A couple more who could fit the bill are any of our top cyclists over the years – tactical bunch riding, hiding and then attacking. Cyclists also know at some point they will crash and it will hurt. Maybe someone like Anton Cooper our Olympic mountain bike champ. He would know how to take the spills and deal with varying terrain and conditions. Even better his last name is ‘Cooper’ so it will tap into the deep unconscious of those who know their beer brewing history and so the intimate psychic link to the celebratory consumption of alcohol will fit like a hand in a sweaty glove.

So there you go, some other pickings and perhaps a bit of a reminder that we are successful at other sports not involving balls. And as we learned this week, it’s not always good to be too pumped. If someone puts the boot in and you come apart at the seams well your career might end in a bang. But if Richie had been PM when that rugby ball exploded I am sure there would have a national press conference, referendum on the use of Adidas as a sponsor and perhaps a piece of legislation to ensure no other balls would be deflated under his watch.

Two little bits of advice, practice your handshakes Richie and stay away from pony tails.

inclusive exclusion

Throwing money at schools to provide more support for students with unique functioning says something about a profound discomfort in schools with any form of diversity beyond culture. When writing about the ‘cost’ of providing support for disabled students the needs of the majority of students who ‘might miss out on teachers time’ are privileged. The threat to the normative learning environment is what is represented when it comes to promoting increased funding and my concern is this moves schools further away from inclusive and more toward exclusive concepts of special needs. One of the reasons I think is a general dis-ease with any form of emotional, social, physical difference. The need to manage diversity by erasing undersirable outward expressions of uniqueness means schools have lost one of their most powerful functions, to provide young people with experiences with others who may ‘be’ un-like them to allow this unsettling to play an role in forging a genuine appreciation of the vast range of humanbeingness. Maybe this has something to do with the insanity behind assessment driven pedagogy, I’m not sure, but the dominant concerns indicate this might be part of the reason.

Another pressure point is the growing parental entitlement creeping into education. I don’t begrudge parents wanting the ‘best for their children’. However neoliberal forces seem to have condensed and concentrated this into a drive to demand that schools remove all barriers to their child achieving their best. It seems as though ‘accessibility’ has been hijacked as an idea to some degree. If litigation or media exposure is threatened, Principals can be backed into a corner to preserve their brand. These are some of the contextual influences skipped over by media in a bid to focus on economies of identity – financial bottom lines and the ever growing business management approach to education and pedagogy.

A concept I find increasingly needed but missing in schools is de-expertising. That is, you can actually ask young people themselves what they need! And be careful to allow for some space to just them to be teenagers, de-pathologising youth in general would be a good start. Getting frustrated, angry, emotional and struggling to communicate feelings is not uncommon for teachers…or young people. Let’s remember that and get back to basics – the 3 r’s – 1: Are assumptions disabling students more than their actual disabilities, 2: Are young people consulted when developing IEP’s? (especially year 11 and beyond but even before this), 3: Are the needs of the many really that different to the needs of the few?

Having said all this however I am acutely aware that parents are covering the costs of teacher aids and shouldn’t be. I’m also grateful for the work RTLB’s and TA’s do, an often invisible and underappreciated part of the fabric of teaching. To the Ministry Of Education, put your money where your mouth is but don’t let it suffocate a wider discussion of inclusion, belonging and feeling valued by everyday practices in schools.

chasing rainbows

The USA is awash in colours today. The orange, white and blue of the stars and bars put aside for a moment for some to fly the rainbow flag as the Supreme Court delivered marriage equality. Not everyone will be celebrating and I’m sure within hours or even minutes the moral panic theories will be unleashed with all sorts of dire warnings of the slippery slope into legalised paedophelia, the marrying of animals or that children will now grow up deeply confused about the meaning of life, and possibly the human race will die out from lack of procreation…think we’re ok for now on that front. I welcome this kind of hysteria as it allows for the irrationality of fear to be exposed.

Here is the curious thing. We see a very small fraction of the light spectrum and assume that what is seen represents the world and what is real and true. So while the rainbow flag symbolises diversity it also reminds us that colour can be both definitive and illusory, unifying and dividing. And some might be on the same wavelength in one spectrum of life a small shift in frequency sends understanding into an invisible realm of the unknown. In the absence of visibility the invisible becomes mysterious and prone to darker shadowy uncertainty.

When flags are no longer needed to declare or announce a separation of people then love will open its doors to unseen realms. Let there be light.

All puffed up

Now forget the back in my day we all wore shorts and t-shirts in the middle of winter and sandals when it was snowing, ate dry bread and rotten milk and were grateful speech. Puffer jackets are warm and toasty little numbers. They are also wind breakers and water proof and pack down so don’t take up space. But they are generally not school uniform. I’m well aware of the tedious and protracted consultation that goes on for schools to agree to a uniform. A part of me is very curious to see just how many schools manage to grasp the concept of gender neutral (shhhhh there is no such thing! Just a version that is not feminine really). But that has nothing to do with conundrums about keeping warm. Are puffer jackets just a fashion statement? Well to some they might be but they are kind of practical if you are living in places that rarely get into double didgits in the winter. I can’t wear puffer jackets – they have the effect of making me look like Mr Stay Puff the marshmallow guy from Ghost Busters (maybe less angry and apocalyptic). I prefer my warmth to come from layers close to my skin, but that is just my preference. Why schools are not willing to roll with more than one or two options for warmth says more about the need for uniformity that is created with uniform, it’s not multiform or unique-form (mufti). So Motueka High and any other school trying to beat down the down. Don’t sweat it – toasty teens are less likely to seek body heat from each other. So if you want to reduce teen pregnancies, let them wear puffer jackets. And if they want to share jackets it needs to be consensual.

Shouting-silence ‘just’ be-cause

I wrote recently about the diversity inquiry group and how humour works to disarm fear and create rupture points in cyclical self-perpetuating dualisms. Yesterday DIVINQ took on the Day Of Silence (DOS) with some curious effects emerging, most unexpectedly media interest. We took an alternative stance of being loud and overt about taking a stance about diversity and fear of difference in connection with bullying of LGBTIQ* young people (*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning).

The questions we were raising were only made possible because the DOS exists and I respect the initiative and what it stands for. I understand the intention of bringing awareness to issues through public action. But I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in schools hoping to develop social justice consciousness amongst students and I’m not convinced they necessarily create the change or move beyond the immediacy of the action on that day. Typically the gusto and energy swirls around a small number of passionate individuals. There is planning, ribbon cutting, poster making, assemblies, concerts, banner waving, and all other explosions of coming together. It feels good to take part in something powerful and joining the ‘in crowd’ of the moment is easy to do. In fact not it’s a little like Derek Sivers analogy of the first follower – once there is enough momentum you stand out for not joining in.

But what about the day after? And the day after that? What silence and shouting both do is make a statement – it draws attention. The uncomfortable difficult and ongoing work however needs a lot more than spontaneous combustion of injustice and emotive flashpoints such as ‘bullying’ ‘suicide’ ‘depression’. Worse than that, we can end up representing groups only in those terms of ‘victim’ ‘survivor’ ‘marginalised’ and inadvertently trap identity in these ‘cages of causes’.

DIVINQ is an ongoing conversation, not just a day of action so I hope if the media wish to lend a genuine voice to conversations about bullying that they put their own sensational agenda aside and engage in dialogue with schools or communities in a way that fully respects the context and commitment to the work people are doing.