identity

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.

Our-dentity

And so tomorrow morning I will wake to my alarm for the first time in 5 weeks. My body will remember how to get to work and I hope my legs are ready for pumping pedals so early. I’ll shower and for the first time in 20 years I will not put my hair up. I will reach for my product and hope for the messiest look, one that will cause eyebrows to raise wondering if I intend it to look that way or maybe I am just off to the bathroom to fix it.

I’m now not sure what to wear. It would seem natural now I can almost pass for gender indifferent to go with my boyish (although I’m not sure at 43 that fits) short hair look and go all shorts and shirts. But I have found myself drawn to skirts and all things considered feminine including…a dress.

So I’m going to enjoy this week of reintroducing my-selves, in all genders and ages of expression. I’m struggling with this 40’s decade because I am way too old to be young and definitely too young to be considered old. In fact it is a strange way of locating people and putting them in a particular place this chronologically appropriate thing.

So maybe I need a skate board to go with the skirt and short hair and really mess things up. Think an orange skate board would look great beside my bike, with my plant and other more serious mature counsellor things like….ummmm…I’ll get back to you on that.

Back to the hair. It still interests me just how powerful hair length represents identity. But where is the ‘I’? Who is the ‘I’. So I’m ditching identity for ourdentity. Who’s with us?

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.

Land of the long well-endowed?

Let’s start with a joke to warm up.

How many Freudian analysts does it take to change a light bulb?

Two – one to turn the light bulb and the other to hold the penis – ladder! – I mean ladder.

Yes the penis has featured a little too frequently in my media sphere this week, and the NZ Herald chimed in twice. Puns and jokes aside, I’m a bit fed up with Freudian fences containing concepts of sexuality and scientists are earnestly backing this up by doing important research into penis size. It seems working out what is normal or statistically average took just 1500 participants to drop their pants and submit to the measuring tape, wonder what lucky research student got that job. I’m not sure whether it is women who have the envy because quite frankly it all seems a little (or largely) over rated.

But science is going a step further with the possibility of growing these essential organs in laboratories, so in the future people could get an upgrade. Maybe technology will merge with sexual functioning at some point as well. Perhaps sending ‘attachments’ might take on a whole new meaning.

For me a sign of an advanced civilization is one that doesn’t need to talk about who has what bits and how they look. For now we are left with Freuds phallic fence posts, well – this horse has bolted. So that’s it. What? you were expecting more? Well – it’s not the number of words that matter its how you use them.

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.

 

 

a-fend-did

I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.

So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.

I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.

She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.

Glory or gory days

A little red flag popped up on my facebook page last night terribly exciting for this digital introvert. I was in the middle of writing my previous post and I had momentary smirk as the strange synergy of the universe seemed to be toying with my sense of irony. Someone was inviting me to play a game of football tomorrow. Back to kicking balls, something I spent many hours doing in my youth and was pretty good at it. Of course this is all in the past, in fact my last real club game was last century. As I was pondering my response – which could only be a yes or a no, I wanted to understand the simultaneous excitement, dread, and curiosity. It’s a division 3 game and apparently won’t be that serious…yeah right. Problem is my default setting has always been extremely competitive at least when it comes to football/soccer. The other is my aging body that while reasonably fit has done nothing of the explosive kind in so long I am worried about my fragile scar tissued hamstrings blowing. I’m also not sure how I will feel playing for fun but I figure it will be a good litmus test of identity. The beautiful game brought out a bit of an ugly side of me long ago so perhaps I will allow myself to be reborn tomorrow. It’s a 10am kick off which in the old days would be like 6am, but will feel more like 3pm now, so at least I will be awake. I’ve dug out my boots, I did upgrade about 10 years ago for coaching so at least they are from this century!

Maybe I just need to remember why I started playing in the first place and why I fell in love with the game. It’s a team sport, it requires multiple skills and ways to use your body. It’s simple and you cannot hide behind your gear or equipment, if you make a mistake, you do everything you can to fix it yourself. The ball doesn’t pick sides, both teams are using the same ball.

If there is one other memory I hope stays the same then I hope it will be that the bar will be open after and asparagus rolls at the after match function. Stay tuned for the over exaggerated post match blog full of colourful hyperbole.

Getting the blues

I’m sensing a relationship might be about to end. It’s been 8 years since taking the plunge and sharing so much personal information. I don’t know why we clicked but it just seemed the right thing to do. But I’m no longer sure this is working there are no red flags, well, the odd one or two from time to time but mainly blue. So Facebook, I might be about done with you.

Perhaps I am part of an invisible group of social media users who are caught between worlds. Kind of like an amphibian, cumbersome on the land and a bit awkward in the water but basically not fully adapted to either environment. So I’m curious about my own responses to a frustrating sense of dis-location. I wonder if I might be a digital introvert. It’s not for a lack of competence or even curiosity but someone my social net-working has very few threads. Fishing for connections in 8 years has seen most past through the holes. Indeed, as I write this I wonder if any more than a handful of people will even read it! How ironic.

There are many people who seem more extroverted and willing to say and do things in the digital world; leading to a sense of double lives, introverts in the real world and extroverts online. My generation went through High School and University without social media, so if we are finding friends we look back and wondering where people ended up. So I suppose in 8 years having had less than a dozen friend requests I’ve realised just how much of fringe dweller I have been. I’ve tried not to take it personally but perhaps it is a bit indicative of some the phases of my life. I probably wasn’t all that fun to be around at times.

This isn’t a poor me story though, that would suggest my ego was craving some sort of recognition yet I cannot deny my disappointment that I just don’t get that many red flags on my page. I’d rather people want to be my friend because they like who I am in the real world or know something about me as a person. Maybe that is where my adaptations reveal their flaws. People are relating to concepts of friendship and intimacy differently and I am flailing.

Time to grow some wings perhaps and fly above it and feel the world with the most amazing technology – the body, or the joy and rush of ideas and imagination with my face in a book. Thumbs up to that.

Digital divide multiplied

There are times when I feel really out of touch with the pace of change in regard to technology. I can navigate my way around yet I still sense I am an imposter with a stick on moustache and bad wig. My relationship to all things digital is still as something external to me personally that operates more like a vehicle to get somewhere or access and communicate with others.

But things have moved well beyond passive receiving of data. The screen is no longer one way and identity as we have come to know and understand it is also rapidly shifting in multiple dimensions. The boarders and boundaries of self, other and even the notion of human bodies and connectivity have radically changed. There is a sense of disorientation exacerbated by the wide steep chasm of intergenerational dissonance of experience. Perhaps the rush of fluidity is carving out new spaces in the otherwise assumed bedrock of certain stable and uncontested taken for granted truths. Simple needs and common desires are swept into swirling complexity. This is something I am more aware of and where my hesitation is sitting at the moment is the vulnerability of children and young people forging a sense of themselves in these times.

Perhaps what is not different is the role of supportive adults – even if we ourselves have not been through it in the same ways. This will be the challenge for my generation as my folks talk about the first ever TV and I remember getting online for the first time at university and getting my first brick cell phone in my late 20’s I feel woefully inadequate at times to know what to do. So I’ve accepted my position as awkwardly old school trying to be onto it 40 something year old and decided my naive curiosity is in fact an asset. That I can ask questions from a place of genuine not knowing, suspends judgement of meaning allowing for young people to explore their own understanding of the journey they are on.

Tears and upset speak for themselves, as do smiles and laughter and that is definitely a timeless universal language.

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.