gender

Doing the (in)decent thing

Ok, I need to make a disclaimer. This blog contains sexual content, and some really bad puns. However it may or may not be indecent depending on where you are reading this. ‘Where’ doesn’t necessarily mean what country or location. ‘Where’ is your moral and ethical values base located? So what to make of a case in the United Kingdom where a couple have been changed with an ‘indecent act’ during a concert at Hyde Park. I nearly required the heimlich maneuver while reading and eating toast – was not a great time to be masticating.

Briefly: A couple in their late 40’s had imbibed a lot of alcohol and while they guy ‘slept it off’ unconscious his partner decided the music sucked, so took that theme and ran with it so to speak. Apparently when finally interrupted by being arrested there was surprise from the woman that the rules were different in England. I’m wondering how many Welsh folk right now are checking with their local council to see if the grass has been cut recently so they can make grass angels. But this isn’t really what shocked me. What caught my attention was the response from the lawyer defender her in court. He believes even if it did happen it was a bit funny and “did not outrage public decency”. His summation and I quote (unfortunately).

“Let’s think actually there was sucking the penis, nobody is condoning it,”
“Of course it must have upset the sensibilities of some there, it must have caused annoyance”.

I don’t know about you but since when does ‘finding it a laugh’ become the yardstick for whether or not something crosses the line of decency? Because that is pretty much his argument. Here are some of the questions I have:

  • Had they been in their teens, how might their behaviour been perceived?
  • Why didn’t bystanders have concern for the level of consent of the guy involved (assuming there was no indication of a relationship)?
  • Is evidence of ‘arousal’ assumed to be an indication of consent?
  • Would a guy performing the same act on a woman receive the same level of permissive dismissive humour in court?
    If someone of the same gender was performing the act would they have been treated differently by observers and the court?
  • Is filming someone doing something, when in a state of impairment and possibly a vulnerable situation decent? Who should be being charged here?
  • Why is performing a similar act on yourself in public (I’m guessing with the hands rather than the mouth – but hey I suppose there are some who could pull it off) considered indecent, if someone performing on someone else isn’t??

I’m not sure what the outcome of this case will be but it is certainly an interesting situation to explore the complexity of the performing of sexuality in public and how context might permit certain interpretations of pleasure, power, desire and consent. Perhaps a look at the new guidelines for sexuality education from little old Aotearoa could be helpful here, maybe this couple could benefit from being sentenced to a few night classes…maybe not…certainly wouldn’t want them taking too many bathroom breaks.

I just hope whatever the outcome that no-one in that courtroom mouths ‘you’re going down’.

(Many puns were sacrificed in this blog).

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.

Having a Ball

It’s that time of year again. The school uniforms are ditched for suits and frocks. Forget no nail polish and jewellery it’s a chance to flaunt every rule schools have on hair, make up and shoes. So I still feel a bit like the school ball is a bit of an archaic ritual. I wrote about my feelings last year therefore I want to change tact, because last night I did the 10-12 shift at the ball and recognised the importance of these events as a kind of social rupture.

The opportunity to express an alternative identity for a night is like time travel or a dimension shift. Young people can decide how to present themselves and might even choose to express cultural or gender challenges that signal to others a sense of unique identity in contrast to the sameness school uniforms imply. I enjoyed the game of ‘who was that who just said Hi Miss Grant’? As I tried to do my own cumbersome version of facial recognition software. Sometimes it came down to voice before a name would drop in. The fact that the oldest song I heard was from the late 90’s helped me to acknowledge that I am finally awkwardly aware of my age.

Who knows what happened after the ball, and actually – it is none of my business. That is the door that needs to be shut once and for all. School staff and to some degree parents of 18 year olds might do well to remember we were once that age, and we need to play our part in the ritual ‘ignorance’ of the other ‘right of passage’ (post ball shenanigans) that might be a little less formal and perhaps a lot more messy.

Of course no-one wants anyone to get seriously hurt, but some will take more risks that others and expect it as part of the package deal. Cinderella lost her glass slipper and I saw a few young women learned from that – exiting the building one arm linked with her date, the other on her shoes, and on her feet a pair of jandals.

Oh the simplicity of a layer of rubber and the wonder of double entendre.

touchy subject

Hair we go again part2. Right so Mr Key says any ponytail is up for grabs – even a dudes. I find that hard to believe but can respect his belief that he’s an equal opportunity kind of guy. So long as we have no discrimination personal space violation is ok. Once served up on an equality platter it can go with a side of ‘overreaction’ and ‘woops I did it again’.

‘Wandering hands’ aren’t a new phenomenon. The names Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris represent the tip of the iceberg but we all know what is under the water that goes unnoticed and can do significant damage. But because these cases are so extreme our consciousness defaults to a pony tail pull as ‘harmless’ and I can see that in comparison, it seems trivial. But what is lost in all of this is the experience of the person on the receiving end – gender irrelevant. You don’t have to look too far to see the insidious way ‘just being friendly’ and a certain level of power enable people to go unquestioned and those who are upset, offended, become fodder for ridicule and shame. People stop coming forward to report incidents of harassment, abuse or bullying because of precisely what has happened hair.

My sense is we are moving more towards ‘blaming the victim’ culture, by ensuring context is overplayed and individual feelings count for nothing other than to direct them to ‘what they should have done’ instead. The onus is on those who are hurt to ‘get over it’ and this is a dangerous message. Taking responsibility is still watered down and diluted to the point where those on the receiving end are painted as asking for blood rather than a simple human to human acknowledgement that I hurt you and understand why you are hurt. Understanding this as strength rather than weakness is an under appreciated ethic.

Whenever I talk with people who have been abused one thing has always stood out. The person who did the abuse (I’m not about to debate what counts as ‘serious’) was always someone who had respect of others, was viewed as friendly, usually funny and outgoing (but not always), and often maintained a level of esteem in the community. Why? Because it creates a shield of trust.

I’m not saying Mr Key is one of these people, nor am I saying he couldn’t be. That is the point and it needs to pierce the shield.

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.

Funny bone of contention

I love a good laugh but few women are taken seriously when it comes to comedy and I’m ‘bovvered’ by it. If anything shows up how stuck we are with gendered assumptions, then the near extinction of female representation on the comedy front should be noted. There are a few older birds left but looking through the line-up for the NZ Comedy festival, they were as rare as hens teeth, it was a sea of…male chickens.

They are an endangered species female comedians, and short of a captive breeding programme I think we should be asking what is happening to the native habitat and how to protect it. What kinds of pest eradication need to take place.

Funnily enough NZ media is in a bit of a conundrum about taking women seriously. OK sure, but maybe the place to start is actually at the other end of the spectrum by challenging the prevailing idea that guys are ‘jokers’ and women are well – just not that funny. Getting more women visibly performing comedy could be a way to lighten the way.

Humour is transformative especially the kind that provokes thinking. For me it is the reflective irony that captures my imagination and pushes back the veil of norms and dislodges or jolts me from the mundane revealing a new perspective and helping to open space for questioning things.

All this happens in a few seconds underneath raucous laughter, usually accompanied by snorts and possibly slight loss of bladder control. Laughter is the best medicine unless you are incontinent.

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.

Shapeshifting – its morphi-fying

I remember dressing up as a kid, I was convinced my red skellerup gumboots were magic but feeling incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t fly and didn’t have super strength no matter what towel I tied around my neck. That was the 70’s and curiously enough superman has had more reboots than my old 486. The interesting thing is the embodiment of superman from Christopher Reeves slightly androgynous but not so muscular to the mesomorphic Henry Cavill who might easily have passed for the Hulk in the 1970’s. Everyone at some point has a fantasy about superpowers – not necessarily involving masks and capes or other stuff.

My favourite game is choosing an X-Men character. So many options and cool amazing abilities but there is one I overlooked for ages – Mystique. She is a shapeshifter and has the ability to alter her physique to be either gender. But she was always either or – never both/and. So although every other character seems to push the limits of physicality, the one person who could ultimately explore and represent alternative gendered embodiments gets stuck in polarity! The irony is in her ‘natural state’ aside from the deep indigo skin, scales and yellow eyes she has a ‘perfect body’.

So while X-Men push the idea of fear of difference, needing to control, eliminate or assimilate expressions of otherness there are some subtle messages that reinforce usual gendered stereotypes and mystique is a very good example. She is also told people should ‘love her in her natural state’ that she should not alter herself. On one level I agree however why on earth would you stick with one experience of your body if you have the ability to be anyone! Containing her fluidity to me is the ultimate act of disempowerment.

There are probably some other as yet unimagined benefits of shapeshifting. Just imagine how easy it would make shopping for jeans! You could choose any style and morph on into them. Then there is travelling! Gosh you could navigate all sorts of tricky culturally bound gendered norms, or other stereotypes that are currently a barrier to suspicion free international travel. Caught in a fight and someone goes to kick you between the legs – it’s probably going to hurt either way but maybe less in one body.

The only other downer about super heroes is they all so self-absorbed, tragic, angsty and tortured. No amount of shapeshifting is going to make that attractive.