representation

Census or Censor Us

(Disclaimer: second blog in as many days – still possibly a bit rusty/ranty)

I can time the census by the time it takes me to get around to clearing out my wardrobe. Five years already since the last one? But I’m unclear about being ‘counted’ because statistics is a strange process of deciding what matters, in other words it has the power to shape what is counted as real, important, ‘true’ representation of households in 2018. Here is the official blurb from stats NZ:

“Every five years, we run the census – the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. By asking everyone to complete a set of questions about themselves and their household, we can capture a snapshot of who is living in, and visiting, New Zealand.”

Sounds simple enough until you get to the kinds of questions being asked or in this case NOT being asked. This snapshot is going to be taken in …well…black and white and I’m not referring to ethnicity. This year they have decided to drop options around gender diversity and sexuality. Important information about people’s identities, something so fundamentally intrinsic to being human that in some countries you can be killed (legally…and not), is not being collected. This begs the question of the legality of the census. Everyone has to fill out the census accurately and it’s illegal not to complete. Not including gender identity and sexuality for me contradicts the purpose of a census – to collect an accurate picture.

The irony is how many other people seem invested in the existence of rainbow communities. The daily onslaught of abuse, violence, invisibility and persecution of queer people all around the world should make it plainly obvious that it matters! It’s weird to live in a country with marriage equality then not have that counted. Stats New Zealand have explained their position which basically boils down to ‘too hard basket’ and ‘it’s a bit personal for some people’. They won’t get ‘high quality data’ – yes we are a bit of a messy bunch and that is my point. When statistical modelling is privileged over representation the picture is ‘straightened’ out, focus sharpened, cropped neatly (painlessly – because we don’t want to cause offense) there is a cost – further marginalisation as the margins become exclusive rather than inclusive.

It’s good to know they are ‘working on it’ but FFS – it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. Religion is a bit messy as well but that is still included, so is ethnicity. Perhaps to keep it more in line with the heteronormative stance, they should just have ‘Christian and non-Christian’ – and how Christian do you have to be, to be counted as Christian – what is the criteria – church attendance, bible verses able to be recited? God knows. Why is someones faith or beliefs put ahead of the material being and reality of LGBTQIA+. Funny how LGBTQIA+ are over represented in other stats, suicide, hate crimes, mental health, lack of housing, but are somehow too difficult to count.

The really sad thing is enabling people to make a meaningful decision to identify. Imagine being a young person and this is your first census – You’ve just come out or you have become aware you are intersex – yes – someone who is statistically just as common as red heads – and you only get M or F as your sex (apparently they will let you tick both…how accommodating of them). How does that help a young person feel their identity is meaningful and valued, real and their existence matters? Or anyone for that matter finally having language to put their identity.

In light of it being Auckland Pride Festival, and all things rainbow are being covered, show me actual change, real life shit – not words, publicity stunts (rainbow police cars), platitudes, hand wringing angst about diversity.  Sam Orchard  points out the problem (probably more succinctly than I am) of how can services, support and funding be legitimately advocated for if diversity is not represented? Perhaps what this demonstrates is society has outgrown it’s comfortable containers (not that some of us ever really fitted – we had to be squeezed in).

Finally – the only legit way to avoid the census is to be out of the country. I’m thinking a cruise ship out in international waters on the 6th March, shit I could have hitched a sweet ride to Mars yesterday – riding a big rocket, playing David Bowie…pretty gay

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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.

Feeling BADD ass

My friend Philip blogged today about Blogging Against Disablism Day – BADD (well worth reading) and I started to wonder a bit about the proliferation of events that try and raise consciousness through a catchy acronym and a single day focus. I worry sometimes that our year is too short to include all of the special days, maybe it’s time to move to Saturn (29:1 earth year – over 10 000 days should be about right). The feel good vibe runs hot and people love to get in on the action, hit ‘like’, have their thoughts challenged but if it is just through reading then I’m unsure about the actual engagement with the ‘real’ world (for want of a better word). Do people actually DO anything different? I’m skeptical.

Blogs also tend to reach those already interested or thinking about the same things, so sometimes it’s a case of ‘preaching to the converted’ or seeing your own thoughts rehashed through another lens but kind of the same ideas. Maybe that is the point of it, like Philip mentions ‘law of attraction’ perhaps that is how momentum is started, by sharing something, with a wider network of people.

Getting stories and voices ‘out there’ is not enough for change, and while consciousness might be raised for a moment the next click of the screen could be something that convinces you that there are more important things to worry about. That has been one of my frustrations recently – seeing the ‘transgender-bathroom’ debate be hijacked and minimised in the name of promoting bigger issues.

So my contribution to BADD day is this – you have a body – it has and always will be in a state of becoming differently functional ‘fluxtional’ is my new word. ‘Disability’ does not exist – complexity of functioning does. Therefore every day I am against the normative idea of ableism (again see Philips blog) because it denies the very real richness of diversity that infiltrates every level of connection we have to each other. Please let us see MORE body-function diversity in media, all forms. For a start can we please get someone signing the news? Because quite frankly I have one sign to give NZ television networks with their representation of diversity and it only needs one digit.

 

A wack hack

I’m perplexed. We’ve had a dildo chucked at a politician and now high tech dildos that could be hacked.There is a new industry called cyberdildonics and is set to be the next ‘big thing’ that could make that long distance relationship all the more intimate. Wow…sex toys in the media with no talk about sex or sexuality.

But much like the virtual absence of condoms being seen when depicting particular sexual acts (I think I can count the number of times I have seen a condom add on one hand) dildos as well seem to be almost desexualised by media, good for a face slap and maybe a door stop. Could be an interesting cyber safety topic in schools or a creative cross curriculum topic? The mind boggles as it googles with new goggles into a future of cyber enhanced sexualities.

Seriously, how has ordinary sex become so invisible – by ordinary I don’t simply mean heterosexual, I’m talking about the messy, complex, awkward, funny, negotiated, interrupted moments with bodily fluids and equipment like dildos and vibrators in the context of sex. It seems contradictory when considering the hyper sexualisation in a lot of media. Almost like the over-saturation closes down these spaces so that real experiences in the lives of people become shocking and beyond the normative spectrum coloured by the graphic representation of sex portrayed.

I also accept that technology has made sex and sexuality more accessible and fluid for many. Perhaps the digital age has simply taken hardware to a new level. Personally I can’t imagine wanting to hack anything that is being used by someone else in an intimate act, voyeurism could get interactive. I’d like to see greater representation of sexuality but not just the usual token gay or lesbian character, people of mixed ages, cultures, body shapes and functions flirting, getting it on and keeping each other safe, caring about the health comfort and pleasure of their partner.

Maybe there is a bit of re-branding to be done in silicon valley.

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.

when the only answer is ‘yeah-na’

I promise this is my last flag blog. It’s hard not to be taken by the colours red white and blue at the moment. I was all for change up until recently. But I’m not so sure anymore because I no longer know why I want change. My deep ambivalence is disconcerting and refreshing. Going through the process has given New Zealanders a chance to ask what we stand for it has started conversations beyond sport and the weather, truly remarkable. If one of the driving forces is to distinguish between the Australian flag and ours then I have a simpler solution just change the background colour. Heck there is nothing more distinctive than the green/gold vrs black/white rivalry why not just make it official. If I’m truly honest, my attachment to colours and symbols is waning in the face of a world divided by fear. This was a good dress rehearsal, a first draft of sorts and perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board. It would be cool if we could get a flag that changed depending on the angle or perspective you had of it. That might speak more broadly of our colonial heritage and the hidden stories and identities as a nation.

Got you by the gubernaculum

I’m fascinated by the complexity of everything and it baffles me that we want to keep simplifying, generalising and categorising life into the most basic compartments. I know most people believe that there are two sexes. There are definitely two, but there are more. My brush with embryology at uni many years ago was an eye opener and a mind opener. The amazing interplay of chromosomes and cell-division revealed the wide range of variations leading to more than just a possible boy or girl baby.

The curious thing is that all humans begin the same with their reproductive and sexual organs looking the same. Then differentiation happens leading to gene expression, much like any other aspect of biology. But we’ve filtered out these variations for so long they appear invisible, unrepresented in our consciousness of the spectrum of diversity. The polarity of sexual organs most visibly represented in text books is not the full story. We’ve been ripped off! At a certain point in our embryonic development the structures that will later go on to develop into sex organs are pulled downward by a chord like structure and as they do they continue to develop into specific roles, testes or ovaries. It’s kind of cool because it explains the ways we can end up with other combinations of sexual organs, that it is actually not uncommon or unexpected. More to the point is not ‘un-natural’.

So I think we need more conversations about gubernaculums, and other great reproductive scrabble words to baffle your mates with. We need to see more diagrams with a range of possible outward and inward arrangements of organs without the word normal anywhere. Education could do more looking at some of the queer ways nature has got around binary genders or even the senses as we know them – such as the amazing brittlestar, it senses light with no eyes and ingests and egests through the same orifice…yip kind of glad we got a different deal there (although it might explain why some people talk excrement). There is also the whiptail lizard who don’t seem to need males to reproduce. And there are those sea horse dudes who look great being pregnant.

If the distribution and arrangement of organs is like part a branching expanding unfolding phenomenon it makes sense that some will stop at various points and form in unique ways much like a fractal, repeating the same familiar patterns with slight variations. Beautiful and perfect as they are.

Actually, looking more closely at the most famous of fractals, the Mandelbrot set  it makes me wonder what Freud might see. Shouldn’t be too hard.