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.

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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.