language

Imaged Bodies

It was great watching the Paralympics, so many sets of wheels and carbon fibre in various shapes it was feast of material multiplicities. If there was ever a time to watch a rich, complex version of the diversity of human physical performance, this was it. But I am bothered by the fact that the only time functionally diverse bodies become noticed and appreciated is every 4 years through sport. Which begs a question about body image. Is it more what images of bodies we see that helps certain bodies be seen as acceptable, or more ‘normal’? Our usual programming of common functioning sport with the narrow choices normally offered is disrupted momentarily – for the novelty of both the Olympics and Paralympics. Which is why I view the Paralympics with mixed feelings. Body image is more like body stories, it’s the words and meanings that describe and give value to who we are – how our body matter ‘matters’ or doesn’t.

I can appreciate the achievement and skill of Sophie Pascoe and Liam Malone, but I also notice how their bodies function at a level that is almost identical to common functioning. Their athletic achievements are phenomenal and the camera loves them both – they are both (in my opinion) extremely photogenic people, with muscular, athletic physiques that few people can ever achieve. So they are perfect representatives with the perfection of lean mean body machines.

The irony then is these bodies break stereotypes and maintain stereotypes. Their stories of success and triumph in sport offer alternative ideas about what people can or cannot do. But not everyone with a disability wants to participate in sport or even likes sport! It sets up the ‘they are so inspirational’ theme, that while on the surface seems harmless, it confines disability as a lens through which people can maintain their sense of privilege. If that sounds a bit weird, this is a good explanation. But where are their images of success of disabled/functionally unique people doing other stuff? Because it’s not just the image it’s the stories we need to hear and share with each other about our own bodies that matter as well.

I’m also interested in the aesthetic of movement, and I love seeing the ways the physical can merge with the technological in new combinations. A future Olympics that genuinely celebrated human performance of the body might include a range of ages and function, I can imagine the games broken up into elements like ‘wheels’ ‘water’ and the 5 continents each hosting an element simultaneously. I’d like to see arts, music and creative festivals follow to break down the separation of mind and body, the arts and sciences. Unfortunately that might mean pruning back the number of sports, but I think I’d rather see more diversity of people than sport. But if I had the choose, if it involves wheels – it should be in there. Well, maybe wheelbarrow racing might be be pushing it.

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.

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.

 

 

No brainer

Could someone please explain to me why giving a biological molecule to a person who is having a perpetual seizure (so is in an induced coma) that is likely to result in some form of permanent brain damage in the very least is somehow an issue about drug use? Or that in order to ‘preserve life’ and ‘do no harm’ doing nothing is better than taking a risk with something ‘unproven’. Alex Renton is 19 and had been in this state since April and the angst around him receiving cannabis oil blows my mind.

I’ve have had enough of doses of morphine to know how it works on my body. I don’t generally use substances in quantities that radically alter my senses. But when you have a kidney stone that wonderful poppy extract that is also a form of opiate is medicine! To not be passing out with pain and screaming in agony is good for me and everyone around me.

It’s time we treated cannabis with a lens other than recreational drug use. The default association of substance use and addiction is part of the problem. One reason for this is the history and social construction of what becomes ‘popular’ knowledge. This reinforces polarising so the general social discourses and culture repeat this through all media and discussion. Our language is limited to describe things so we fall into binaries that lock our understanding down for good. Many people only have to see an image of a marijuana leaf on tv and they spin out when they should just take a chill pill.

But why stop with just cannabis? LSD is already back on the research list for assisting people to feel at peace when death is immanent (whatever death is). So to be quite frank, it shouldn’t have needed so much effort for this oil to be given. Enough hand wringing Peter Dunne, we know you aren’t out flogging tinnies to teenagers. Just keep your shoes on, you probably can’t throw that high anyway. But I know a guy who can get you some stuff for that.

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?

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.

Sequins of events

When I wrote about learning restorative practices being like learning to unicycle the analogy worked for the individual. But I think in terms of systems shifting it is a bit more like ballroom dancing. When you learn the steps and pattern of the foxtrot and understand who will lead there is movement across the floor. There might be the occasional toe step but if both partners understand the sequence falling back into a cohesive flow is relatively easy. If we needed to switch to a quick step we knew what that meant, it was a shared language.

I did ballroom dancing lessons in cow cocky land so occasionally clarification was needed around the meaning of particular words – such as ‘dip’ being largely dairy farmers, I might have been in danger of a drenching. If one of us was trying to waltz while the other some other step it would look like a bunch of 5 year olds playing football, lots of legs and no sight of the ball, plenty of enthusiasm and vigour but more shin kicking and tripping with little direction. Regardless of the skill level and experience the steps would not align, the movements of one will inevitably disrupt the flow of the other. A good lead can often help a weaker dancer by being firm, so long as there is trust and basic understanding of what to do, but two different styles will just be ugly. I love to dance but it’s been a while since I busted out the cha cha, so would definitely go back to basics and I wouldn’t claim to be an expert. I’d happily follow rather than take the lead, I know the limits of my skills, knowledge and experience.

Schools systems are much like dancing, some might say there is plenty of head banging at times. But without a common shared agreement on what steps we are doing and what some like ‘restorative quick step’ or ‘punitive tango’ are – more than toes are at stake. Stopping the movement might need to happen in order to clarify and offer a hand up off the floor if there is a bit of a tumble.

So if you are starting to do the ‘swing’ or you feel your ‘jazz hands’ flying up in self defense, then stop-drop and ‘rock n roll’. Dust off and start again, put your best foot forward.

Ministry of silly journalism

I’ve been reading the New Zealand Herald for years. It was considered one of the local broadsheets of choice for those wanting to keep abreast of local and world events. Oh how times have changed. Flicking through The Herald online recently I thought I was reading a script for Monty Python skit!

At first glance the headlines and opening paragraph looked reasonably familiar – following patterns of acceptable reporting. Details generally describe incident with basic facts such as location, type of event, who ‘might’ be involved and what follow up there could be. The general slant is tentative and neutral. Then it degenerates and morphs into some strange montage of social media bites, spurious ‘expert’ opinions, local knowledge, speculation and enough spin to induce (e)motion sickness. To add to the roller coaster there is ghastly spelling and grammar, accentuated by the inclusion of verbatim bystander accounts, I genuinely think if you asked these reporters what they think a semi-colon is; they would say it was part of the intestinal tract.

I’m generally up for a laugh, but I don’t find much of this amusing as many deeply personal events are played out publicly stripping back the concept of private and sensitive to be replaced with primitive and sensational. So here is my concern, we are rapidly creating a tabloid version of life that we accept as real. If something were to happen to any of my close friends and family my distress would be magnified. Like circling sharks we have ditched our higher faculties to go searching for the small drops of blood and we are fed all sorts of ‘offal’ information to keep the frenzy going.

The other conundrum is I love Monty Python for it’s absurdity. If that starts translating into my view of the world I’d prefer to slap myself in the face with a fish. But just in case none of this makes sense I’d like to create a piece of fiction, mirroring the patterns I have alluded to above. I don’t want to offend anyone currently grieving over a loved one, and also understand the media do a good job at helping people stay connected and does generate support and compassion. I’m not against the human side of journalism but there is a thick line that has been well and truly pushed through:

Man dies in tiger attack

A 42 year old man from Colon near Oscopy on the coast of Sphincter was mauled by Tiger that had escaped from the local Zoo. The as yet unnamed man is local and is survived by his son Anaal. Authorities are hunting the Tiger who goes by the name of Pussy Goremore.

CCTV footage shows he had been shopping earlier that day but friends say he had not intended to be in that part of town however there was a Manbag sale on. Shop assistant Peter Bowel said stock had backed up and had been grateful to see it turdover.

Eye witnesses say he had browsed through a number of shops that day and had coffee. Cafe owner Lisa Flatu-lance said he often had a bagel with his coffee but didn’t that day so had left early. She believed the man would not have died if he had kept to his routine and had a bagel. Bagel suppliers have now put warnings on their products about the risk of tiger attacks.

Family of the Man are yet to be informed but police have posted information on Facebook and invited members of the public to help piece together his last moments, people with a morbid sense of self-importance are urged to come forward. Tributes have been flowing online including his former high school wood work teacher who had this to say.

“He was a natural on the lathe, nice long strokes on the plane and always put safety first. Sad day for us – we will erect a memorial”

Zoo authorities were keeping caged lipped today but say it is the first incident of an animal escaping. However a self appointed spokesperson who was closely linked to a former employee, a tea lady and local domino champion, claimed the Tiger had no intention of mauling the man but the bag he purchased was made out of Leopard Skin and was probably just protesting.

Animal rights groups have rallied online to ensure the fair trial of Pussy Goremore, who some believe is not actually a Tiger. The society for the prevention of cruelty to people who like to dress up as animals urged for restraint and asked for calm and that retaliation against those wearing animal products was not necessary. The Tiger is believed to have connections in Sumatra, not Africa as some have speculated.

And now for something completely different – the world shoe horn crisis has been linked to global warming.

….Yup I’m done.
cue flying circus music.

Four Seasons – Yeah right

It’s October – mid spring apparently, with snow falling, temperatures plummeting and winds that turn precipitation of any kind into needles according to the pain receptors in my skin, it’s just not…well…springy enough! I think we have been short changed on the naming of the seasons. NZ weather is far from a predictable or comfortable 4 phase cycle and I think many would agree we should really get on with adjusting our language to fit the reality. Our weather is confusing at the best of times and that is why I think in the spirit of Kiwi DIY we ditch the traditional 4 seasons and go for a realistic 6. Here they are:

December-January – ‘Springmer’: Ok this is when it is definitely lighter but not necessarily warmer. Christmas could be shorts and t’shirts or blizzard wear, or both. Try sitting on the beach during this time and you are likely to be sandblasted or need a beanie and jacket close by. It’s definitely not the time to ‘oil up’ unless you like being a sand magnet.

Feb-March ‘summer’: School holidays end and the weather gets hot, humidity rises and finally the sun actually packs a punch beyond searing your skin and rather than being at the beach, cooling off we pack our children off to bake and sweat in our sauna like schools buildings.

April-May ‘Simper’: I like this time of the year, it’s the old ‘autumn but I like Simper because it’s like summer doesn’t want to let go but it’s darker earlier and the humidity disappears.

June-July ‘Winter’: Here it is finally but not necessarily cold – it is dark, chillier, snow arrives.

August-September ‘Wetner’: Winter with lashings of rain with cold. Often colder than June and July.

October-November ‘Windner’: Another winter theme but equinox winds are added to the mix and as I have already mentioned pack a real punch.

I’m not sure if it will catch on but we have far more seasonal diversity than is represented in the limited quarterly divisions suggest by conventional categories. But there is a fundamental flaw in my perspective as any Southerner will know – the South Island has it’s own twist on the above, depending again on which side of the Alps you are. Perhaps the mystery of the weather is matched by our bizarre knack for building houses with reverse insulation. It wouldn’t be a Kiwi home if you didn’t put a jacket on when you got inside. Come to think of it, maybe the expression ‘yeah-na’ is weather related, because if you want to know if it’s going to rain the answer has to be both.

The only real fall out I can foresee could be with the music industry…sorry Crowded House you might have to re-write Four Seasons In One Day.

Courageous conversations and contagious curiosity

I’ve recently found myself listening to two inspiring women about their lives and learnings around identity and how this is worked within social and political constructs. Ash Beckham speaks openly about the need for more honesty and less pedantic policing of needing to get diversity right all the time. Her call is to ‘loosen up’ some of the self-protective mechanisms that hold others to ransom over every utterance they make without holding the possiblitly that perhaps people are not always intentionally biggoted or homophobic. I agree it is important to recognise good will and trying to ‘get it’ needs to be acknowledged, but is often not valued as a legitimate form of connection. Her openess about herself is refreshing as is Lana Wachowski’s private world and in naming the protective power of anonymity. It’s ironic that we seem to have gone from ensuring the world remained black and white with any rainbow descriptions of sexuality, gender identity, pushed into silent void of heteronormative public discourse to one where there is almost an expectation of openness at all times. This might be in part to large shifts in recognition through marriage equality or potentially the polar opposite depending a bit on where you are in the world. But while it would be easy to assume that in general society appears more ‘accepting and inclusive’ and visibility is perhaps preferred to complete invisibility there are some strange and unusual interpretations of how to engage with diversity.

Perhaps my breath holding is more to do with what appears to be a label grab – like some crazy sale once someone is known to have added a sense of ‘colour’ to their identity the protection of invisibilitiy and anonymity is lost. There can be a frenzy of meaning making, a rush to ask personal questions, and lascivious voyeuristic entitlemtent of displaying this label to others. Yet we do need conversations and dialogue if things are to change, but the quality of those conversations needs framing and the misappropriation of curiosity should be challenged. A good example is Anna Paquins recent interview with Larry King where Paquin continually resisted his attempt to grab hold of ‘non-practicing bisexual’ as a label. Her response was eloquent and gives us a great lens to view how the light of private, intimate parts of our identity can be split, redirected and claimed in ways that serve to uneasily represent peoples lives in ways that reinforce harmful alienating assumptions and stereotypes. No she didn’t bite (haha – only funny if you watch True Blood).

The danger is for defensiveness and silence to return to our landscape of knowledge of gender and sexuality to a rearticulation of the binary dualistic matrix. This isn’t necessary or desirable – we need to keep going down the rabbit hole. Where I think is a good place to start is asking about the role of anonymity and privacy and valuing this as much as we value public disclosure. Being critical and sensitive to how language both reveals and constructs us without always needing to censor ourselves can help reflect some of the ways limiting beliefs are constructed. For example the persistent use of prefixes for describing women based on their marital status Miss Mrs Ms – think I might start using ‘M’ on its own, sounds contemplative if you say it out loud.

I am grateful to have the likes of Ash Beckham and Lana Wachowski touch my consciousness. Rainbows both reveal the nature of light but our knowledge has been channelled by the most popular ideas of physics at the time (Newton). Few people know about Goeth who also had a theory about light and challenged Newton. I wonder what he might have to say about the above? Now that would be an interesting conversation.