identity

Gun control just flag it

Guns have one purpose to shoot bullets. Those bullets are intended to kill something living. I grew up with guns, Dad was a hunter and his collection of rifles and shot guns never had any other meaning to me as a kid. When I spent a year in North Carolina in my late teens I had a bit of a reality check around the relationship between guns and bullets and how they are used. My first week of high school a student was shot outside a football game and this small town Kiwi kid suddenly had to grapple with the idea that people intentionally shoot people outside of war. When I heard a loud bang in Thames I just assumed it was a car back firing as it wasn’t uncommon. But back in Charlotte NC, I remember being pulled away from the window at my friends place when I went to see what kind of ‘car’ was having such a hard time. My education for a year introduced me to US history and US literature and other unintended experiences and learnings, such as how segregation still existed as a form of internalised practice. When we went to class all the ‘white’ students sat on one side of the class and all the ‘black’ students sat on the other and two rows of desks were left in the middle. This empty space spoke volumes, more than the rushed and superficial attempt to teach the history of the USA from ice age to current in one year. There were no discussions, or conversations about those awkward things like slavery just a pure memorising of facts and standardised tests of true false or multiple choice. I got a taste of the fear and mistrust that is born out of a history of colonisation that has been ‘white washed’ – at least that was my lasting impression. It certainly helped me to reflect more on our own history and whose voices are privileged in the documenting and accounting for the meaning of particular events.

Walking into a church and shooting 9 people could easily be made into an argument about gun control but perhaps the conversations that need to be had are about what fuels fear, supports it and gets in the way of seeing others as more ‘like us’ than different from us. Notions of purity and contamination, threat and danger generate the conditions for justifying extreme actions and sanctions.

I wonder if those two rows still sit empty at Myers Park High School? I wonder how many other ways rows of separation happen to segregate communities, those indirect yet quietly divisive modes of power. Kiwis might resonate more with the debate around the use of the confederate flag as a symbol of identity given our current musing on changing our national flag. That while not lethal in itself serves as an icon signifying particular values and beliefs belonging in another time. That in taking down unites people in other ways and enable a new story to emerge to be blown in the wind rather than blown away.

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.

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.

Dying for change

I have just read the funniest thing that wasn’t meant to be so hair-leer-ious. Shelley Bridgeman has declared war on non-conformity. Young people it seems have a simple choice of follow the rules or go to another school. I hear you Sally but there is a flaw with your logic about students being able to ‘choose’ another school, because we still have a ‘one size fits all’ model. There is an obvious solution, build more schools to give students choice that offer a truly MODERN learning ENVIRONMENT. Schools that are actually trying to break out of the 19th century prison model of discipline and punishment and live in a world where how we dress, and look does not reflect a ‘lowering’ of standards, but where the quality of the relationships is reflected in how people talk and interact with each other, to allow for individuality to be expressed in colourful ways and genuinely hold people to account on things that matter. Conformity and obedience to authority are far from ‘quaint values’ surely a good history teacher should be able to give you a lesson on that Mrs Bridgeman – make sure you sit down with your arm crossed and don’t ask any questions.

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.

Metamorphosis – Deleuze not Kafka

I never cease to be moved intensely by nature in all its forms. Watching a caterpillar munching a leaf hanging upside down while beside another begins to form a chrysalis I wondered if our default understandings of nature needed an overhaul, certainly the ways we incorporate ‘growth’ metaphors into the language of life. We love to talk about roots, trees, branches and leaves all leading to a linear hierarchical system of reference. Even the over worn caterpillar to butterfly invites a sense of transformation in a preferred direction, the end point being the goal or aim. The caterpillar is lacking until it becomes the butterfly – it is incomplete. Inside the chrysalis something incredible takes place and for years I imagined the caterpillar turning ‘into’ a butterfly – that somehow it ‘sprouted wings, legs etc. Well – here is the kicker, that doesn’t quite describe what happens. There is a reconstitution a breaking down, dissolving, redrawing the map of life. For a time it is no-thing – a veritable Body Without Organs on its way to becoming something we recognise and can signify with the word ‘butterfly’. It is this juicy mess inside the chrysalis that fascinates me for thinking about change, transformation and purpose. Contained inside the private world of the small green pod, colours change indicating the assembled parts are now close to the taxonomy of the familiar, the categorised. Breaking free and extending the delicate new appendages our sense of completion falls on the first flight. We look for the cycle to begin – repetitive and always coming back on itself, forever stepping over or past that no-thing unrecognisable plane of reference. But this is where I want to be, not ‘trapped’ inside a chrysalis waiting, hoping and striving to become a butterfly. Here behind the veil of the known, seen and unseen, forming and unforming. Not lacking or desiring to be anything, but allowing my form to shape with desire, for it to allow for the coalescing and connecting of matter so that I might take shape for a moment of recognition and join with other Bodies Without Organs.

Actually I wouldn’t mind a proboscis for a while, make poking tongues just a bit more interesting. Shades of Kafka? Might have to read The Metamorphosis again.