heteronormative

Hard conversations start in silence

I sat with a young person today as they processed what was probably one of the hardest stories I have heard about sexual assault. The young person had the courage to speak up but they are doubtful the offender will plead guilty and they will have to testify in court, reliving the trauma and distress… justice? And after a week of watching the media salivate over the Stanford University – Brock Turner rape case I can’t help wondering if the very systems constructed in deliver ‘justice’ disable rather than enable change, both on a personal, societal and cultural level.

On a more pragmatic level, how is that alcohol is still getting off scot free? Here is a substance that has enabled so much harm to occur and yet it remains somehow immune to suspicion as a mind altering chemical. I’d like to put alcohol on trial. There is so much evidence against it but it must have a pretty good defence team.

It has managed to maintain its innocence while enabling other substances to be demonised, to the point where any conversation that aligns it with non-legal chemicals is ridiculed. Our culture demands the right to intoxication by alcohol. Nearly every event, celebration, social occasion uses it. With its harmless qualities being promoted, accepted and endorsed and sex being such an awkward encounter – thanks to our collective embarrassment, shame and insistence on outdated gendered notions of entitlement around desire, we’ve got the perfect conditions for what occurred. To be clear though, I don’t think alcohol is the reason for what happened, I’m trying to understand the process of normalisation that seems to occur around its use/abuse. I wonder if we treated alcohol in the same way as any other drug – not separating it out for a start, we might be able to ask different kinds of questions about its effects.

And while it might be in another country I don’t think New Zealand should be doing any ‘tut tutting’, Roast Busters anyone? Here is a random thought – what if we had as many drink-sex adds on TV as drink drive ones? Why not? And why not throw condom use in there while we are going with the ‘hard’ topics. The other really difficult conversation is navigating transitional experiences for young people (anyone up to the age of at least 25 I reckon). Teaching sex-sexuality without a context of mediating desire, vulnerability and other expectations or constraints including heteronormative ones will simply drive the same old assumptions along, rehash them and enable justifications based on gendered entitlements to continue.

I’m not holding my breath for change, because we simply refuse to put ourselves on trial, our own attitudes, beliefs and values. Hard conversations with ourselves.

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.

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.

 

 

Flagging change

If I was an entrepreneur I would be thinking seriously about getting into the flag industry. From the passionate to the privileged, patriotic to political there is a growing movement toward marking territory along lines of separation in the present that flow into the past and future of which all happen now with real effects that can be felt in persecution, disavowal, and fear. There is a new flag on the block and it’s got nothing to do with NZ trying to decide how to resignify our place such that the rest of the world finally knows we are not the east island of Australia.

The Russians are all in a flap about family values and have decided they need to help people pick a side. This flag is meant to be a counter to the increasing profile of the rainbow one used as a visible representation of the invisibility of those falling outside heteronormativity. The idea of ‘straight pride’ being captured by a flag with a family on it reveals other invisibility. Clearly unless you have three ‘able bodied’ children of clear gender expression (based on clothing and marginal hair length differences) and two parents you are not a good model of heterosexuality. They might have gone with a simpler version that both mirrors and contrasts the rainbow. A simple black and white with no shades of grey, although they might want to refrain from using any symbols – been a bit of confusion with regard to black and white flags recently. Alternatively Russians themselves could fly all sorts of family flags without deviating from a man and woman being the parents. Mixed race couples, people with varying body shapes and functional uniqueness, and the obligatory alternative numbers of children that could make for a family unit – including 0.

South Carolina could consider adopting its state flag for public display, how many people know what it looks like? It’s one that might help cast off the shackles of mixed meaning because regardless of now the past lives and replays certain acts and scenes if given the chance under particular signs that have been etched in the fabric of time itself. We need to remember that rallying under a banner has been an effective propaganda technique for centuries and symbols can be turned from one meaning to another just ask any Hindu about the Svastika.

So to Russia with love – being heterosexual is not a crime in any country, you cannot be sent to jail, killed or denied basic human rights simply for being straight. Pride is only possible against a background of shame, the blood of those lost to hate crimes might make a good backdrop for your new flag – red…somehow I think that has other connotations.

Back to the drawing board.

Teaching no lessen

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Can’t even play gay – oh Mii oh my!

I’m not a gamer, I don’t own any sort of ‘box’ or ‘station’ or whatever. My initiation into the gaming world is about where I stayed – Atari PongSpace InvadersDonkey Kong, I am stuck in a time bubble. I throw the odd coin in a pinball machine from time to time and that’s enough excitement for me – low entertainment threshold – its a good thing.

Social commentaries have explored the densensitising aspects of some of the more modern digital gaming worlds, and critiqued ways identity is constructed and expressed particularly gender, culture but less so sexuality. Just as an aside, I do think whenever we talk about gender, sexuality has to be present so it would be nice to see some creative and challenging conversations about that. Back on track then. What is clear is the move toward the gaming world providing an alternative space for people to ‘live life’ and so it is common for people to talk about their ‘online life.’ So who plays these games? That was a trick question – all sorts of people do. And there we have the ‘A’ for Awkward – rather than Awesome. You see – the problem is ‘choice’ – or more to the point – the limits of choice.

Nintendo have developed a new called life simulator game called Tomodachi Life this games producers biline for the game roughly translates as “your friends, your drama, your life.” You get to create your own avatar or Mii and live on an island with celebrities, I can just see gamers living on actual islands feeling a little short changed. Great! so what if you want to flirt or date someone of the same sex….ahhhh….no you can’t do that. The reasons given are disappointing and really reflect how pervasive heteronormativity is. They do not need an excuse because the games developers feel there is nothing to defend. If the relationships ‘option’ is supposed to represent a ‘playful alternate’ rather than ‘real life’ surely that is the perfect opportunity to explore alternate sexuality and relationships,and lets not get started on ‘real life.’ The act of excluding the choice effectively renders that aspect of identity as invalid. I know there are games where more options are available but the fact it still requires ‘thought’ and ‘inclusion’ means the default settings are geared towards Male-Female distinction rolling into Male-Female relationships. We seem to be happy to include more and more violence, choices of weapons, and other ways to hurt, maim, kill but not to love.

Apparently it is written into the code and can’t be undone – good grief…really? Shades of biological determinism much? Perhaps this is more about the limits of technology to capture and reflect the reality of a diverse, multi-layered, complex, unique and dynamic expression of self.
‘Sigh’ I’m definitely no Pinball Wizard but no need to console, just grab a joy-stick and game on!