sexuality

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

Open Letter To Secondary School Principals

Dear school leader,

I have been working in schools for 20 years. I am also a product of the New Zealand school system. I am also proud to work with young people in the 21st century. I’m aware of the challenges of change, of change that is occurring rapidly and the desire to produce the best possible outcomes for those in our institutions.

The desire to move with the times in regard to future oriented/focussed education has seen modern learning environments and the integration of technology to grasp the new and complex ways of working and creating‘ ‘confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners’. Ensuring young people have a strong sense of who they, to be ‘positive in their own identity’. Therefore I ask one simple question. How can young people who are questioning their gender or sexuality experience ‘inclusion’ while they are outrightly denied opportunities to be who they are? How can New Zealand Secondary Schools call themselves ‘non-discriminatory’ when their very practices are designed to enforce discrimination, in order to maintain a sense of school identity? I’m confused, and I don’t think it’s a phase.

While it seems that MLE’s work hard to break down physical and pedagogical barriers there appears to be a counter move to maintain traditional ideas of gender. We have inherited a legacy of ‘single sex education’ from the early 20th century and these are perhaps caught between tradition and historical constructions, but is this a valid reason to maintain policies and practices that deny the existence of transgender or those students who’s sense of self falls outside prescribed normative notions of masculinity and femininity? Schools find ways to respect cultural diversity through inclusion of additions to uniform but refuse to allow students flexible options to express their gender regardless of sexuality.

If I could suggest one thing that might enable a new way of thinking, I’d invite school leaders to see this not as a moral issue, rather an opportunity to bring the concept and representation of diversity into the 21st century, it is actually about accessibility. But not just access to physical space, but to social, emotional, psychological and pedagogical access to knowledge, ideas, and practices that validate their identity. Yes this is a plea to be MORE PC – to Please Consider, Providing Choice.

Please phase in uniform choice and phase out outdated assumptions that require male and female bodies to be clearly identified by separate uniforms. Gender inclusive practices go beyond bathrooms and changing facilities (but these are still needed), staff training around use of language that helps young trans, gender and sexually diverse people (including staff) feel acknowledged needs to be part of ongoing professional development.

There are new sexuality guidelines for school, please do not ignore them or hope that ‘common sense’ will suffice, otherwise, schools rely on sense informed by fear, myths, and misconceptions. Respect for diversity requires ‘unique sense’, careful and thoughtful consideration BUT more important, courageous action. That is, to acknowledge these students exist in your community whether visible or not. Allow groups of young people to form support groups, do not force them ‘underground’ and into the shadows, to slam the closet door shut to protect the reputation of the school, or your own. To me, this is the ultimate indicator of a school that has yet to grasp the value of a more complex, uncertain and flexible concept of diversity. I’m still waiting to see Principals encourage and endorse these groups openly. I hope I don’t have to wait for my own child to get to High School (you have 5 years to get it sorted).

As an ex health teacher and a counsellor I ask that you consider the violence inflicted by denying and invalidating at least 10% of a school population. Then consider the violence that is normalised by society through homophobic and transphobic language and ask yourself if you are satisfied ‘common sense’ is working to make schools safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, fa’afafine, and takataapui young people.

Finally a personal reflection question -are you leading your community into the future of diversity or the past?

Diversity debate-able

I found it curious that a panel debating about diversity at a writers festival would be so defensive when challenged about their representation of the topic. Actually – it was more of an observation that was offered by Philip Patston, which was met with a swift series of awkward justifications.

I wondered about this as the panel seemed to care deeply about it from a cultural perspective and even the odd reference to gender. I’m remembering a comment about being tired of talking about identity and the sorts of ‘same-washing’ language that has started to plague conversations about difference and diversity in general. These statements are often couched as a form of acceptance or inclusivity by not noticing diversity at all, ‘we are all the same on the inside’ or ‘I don’t see race I just see the person’ discourse that renders deep and complex conversations inert. It’s like a double shot decaf late with extra milk approach to coffee – there in name only, or trying to discuss religion and people just say ‘each to their own’.

That was my puzzlement. I don’t think this panel should have needed to be told to include these rich, layered aspects of diversity such as sexuality and disability, just acknowledge it and find ways to speak what you are not speaking to. It’s not about having a panel of 10 or more to represent all forms of diversity it is an ongoing awareness that it exist at all levels of communities, including ethnic ones, disability-unique functioning, sexuality exist yet seems unable to enter diversity conversations, this panel was symptomatic of the general normative diversity ideology sweeping through neo-liberal societies. Companies are happy to exploit diversity without engaging with it – but that is another conversation.

I like what Lana Wachowski says when it comes valuing difference, that people need to respect others not ‘in spite’ of their difference but because of it. Time to start a new conversation, rather than a debate.

Bi the way

I have been wondering how long it would take me to write this blog. It comes with some mixed feelings and apprehension, although I’m not sure why. So, I feel the need to come out…again…like start again with coming out. At the same time, I feel no need to yet the metaphor is so fun – like hide and go seek ‘in the closet, out, in another, in a bigger one, stuffier one…who will find me’. Maybe I just want a time machine and go back to 1986 and pass myself a note that says ‘do not tell your friend you think you might be a lesbian…DON’T DO IT’. I’ve never struggled with my sexuality, but I felt pressure to pick a side. In a binary system there isn’t a lot of choice. So way back in the heady days of androgyny and shoulder pads…(god…even singlets had them), if you were remotely attracted to the same sex you were gay. I was still into boys, liked them a lot, they liked me, and indeed I didn’t get to ummmm ‘test drive’ this same sex attraction for another 5 years. So…all that boy stuff in between was a phase?

So I want to re-out myself as more than likely bisexual. Although no-one really comes out as bisexual because it just doesn’t seem plausible to a lot of people who insist you must have a preference. Sure I do – sexy is sexy – done. Of course most people have their sexuality assumed by their relationship status. Which is why bisexuality itself doesn’t really ‘exist’ because monogamy insists on one partner at a time – the gender status of that person tends to define your sexuality publically. Except now I’m not even sure about my gender.

I’ve always been miss-gendered. Frankly that doesn’t bother me either. I have kind of handed over my gender status to the observer. If I’m seen as male that’s ok, except when I want to use a public toilet then I do feel grateful to be living in NZ where most people get that women sometimes have short hair and prefer shorts and jandals even in the middle of winter. But I do prefer unisex bathrooms, it just feels like anyone choosing to use them has their shit together.

Being a bisexual – bi-gendered person means I refuse to comply with most if not all usual norms around gender and sexuality however I am perpetually put into boxes, my identity is shaped by my relationships-family status and occupation. Labels serve others needs to make sense of the world, and especially themselves in relation to their own identity. The common normative assumptions form a comfortable zone of acceptance.

For the record ‘Bi’ is not a transitional sexuality, neither does it mean open to anything or anyone, at anytime, its not hypersexuality (sounds very sci-fi – like doing it at light speed). Bi women have a different experience than bi men, because of the implicit and explicit sexualisation of women for the pleasure of men, their bi status tends to be read more as sexual availability. The fear and misunderstanding for bisexual individuals comes from both gay and straight communities. People just can’t ‘figure it out’ and so make all sorts of strange and unusual statements to suggest there is something not quite right. Well – they couldn’t be more wrong. It feels pretty natural to me to be attracted to someone based on more than what they might or might not be packing in their undies.

But if I really could say anything to myself in 1986 it would be to not give myself a label and to trust my body to know and that shoulder pads do not look great when you already have actual shoulders.

Sigh-Fi

Well I just binge watched Ascension on Netflix. Now I have been looking for a sci-fi series to follow for a while, something has to fill the gap until season two of Sense 8 starts, and this was shaping up to be it. There was even a hint at some queer characters, ok, one character was openly gay but she didn’t get to lock lips with anyone and drinking at a gay bar while reading conspiracy theories on her ipad was about as risqué as it got. But what I enjoyed was the plausible story line, unlike The 100 which drove me crazy – I made myself finish season two then wanted a refund on the time I’d wasted. At the end of the first series I had that look on my face after you watch The Matrix for the first time – like WTF just happened. I immediately went searching for the next series….nothing. I searched the internet…despair…anger….frustration mounting as I realised it probably didn’t match the mass consumption formula – apocalypse-youth-sex-dystopia-more sex.

It reminded me of The Truman Show but with a darker edge, maybe with a hint of Lost but without the drawn out back stories and left hanging in the same way you are at the end of The Quiet Earth (now there’s a Kiwi Sci-Fi classic). This had the ingredients for mixing a whole range of ethical dilemmas with a social, political and scientific realism that is sorely missing from the sci-fi genre at the moment. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the mainstream media however it should be a place where ideas are expanded and explored in more complex ways, particularly in relations to diversity and our concepts of relationships.

Yet the record seems stuck on the same track – white, heterosexual, common morphology (body shapes), military industrial complex saves the day. There is some dabbling in gender relationships but while women sometimes occupy powerful positions generally they seem to still need a male by their side to accomplish whatever ‘save the day’ mission is at the core of the story line. And while functionality is richly explored often through technology or enhanced neural capacity it is not generally open to diverse morphologies, the ‘perfect’ body is replicated more often even with technical enhancements. One of my favourite examples is The Borg queen from Star Trek First Contact, she is just a head and a spine that gets dropped into a custom made body – they clearly had done their homework.

I dunno, a whole universe of possibilities and the same old boring representations of human diversity. Sigh-fi indeed, maybe it is time to write my own script and send it to the Wachowski sisters.

Schools skirting around issue of uniform

I’ve been waiting for the media to respond to the recent school uniform hysteria with Henderson High School’s unfortunate justification for the enforcement of knee length skirts. I was interested to read a response today and while it touched on some of the issues I was going to raise I became more interested in the comments from the public. It fell into a predictable pattern of ideas about sexual differences between males and females based on their physiological materiality, notions of responsibility and choice as a result of the inevitable outcomes of ‘natural’ male desire and the role of schools to police young bodies in order to mute or eliminate this contamination of learning environments. I have four challenges or provocation to put forward:

First a reality check – all teenager are sexual beings. Schools need to accept that cladding bodies in a uniform will not prevent young people seeing each other in these ways, they will be attracted to each other, and it won’t just be opposites attracting. Sexuality is always present, not at a particular year level, not when certain body parts develop, its part of being a human – even in accounting.

Second – schools emphasise sexual difference through clothing deemed appropriate for males and females. If schools are serious about de-sexualising young people as best they can they would all be in long pants or long skirts – or skirt like attire. There is also the issue of female bodies and breasts – will a school dare to say over a certain size they must be bound or that an over garment will be shapeless and baggy like a sheet. But we might not be able to stop there because people find lips, necks and hair sexual – so we might need to cover them as well (hang on – I have a familiar image entering my head).

Third (and perhaps my most provocative point) – of course teens are experimenting and taking risks sexually and experiencing desire with their bodies. Figuring out sexuality however doesn’t begin and end at high school. High school are places where lot of sexual beings exist, including adults – and some teachers are barely out of high school themselves. Schools and teacher training institute need to be more proactive in talking about the very real phenomenon of teacher-student attraction without fear of it dissolving into a moral panic. Our shame about sex and sexuality in general as well as the real power imbalances between adults and young people should be more open to discussion. However I fear we’d rather maintain the institutional paranoia around sex that maintains silence and gendered assumptions which make the teaching environment a vulnerable space particularly for male teachers who’s interactions and behaviour will always be under scrutiny for ‘inappropriate’ interactions.

Finally. Rape is a violation – a violation of respect and is often an act of extreme violence with traumatic outcomes for survivors. But we need to stop linking uncontrollable sexual desire in men and the sexual provocation of women to some predetermined natural outcome of sexual difference that rape is part of. It enables and maintains justification of date rape, sexual conquest a a right of passage and a ‘scoring’ of masculinity points. While sexual difference has largely focussed on male desire, female desire and sexuality has largely been ignored or misrepresented. Finding out more about how male and female bodies are similar in spite of the more obvious differences will not stop rape but might begin to open space for challenging the assumptions that support rape as a natural outcome of sexual difference.

It is time to stop skirting around the bigger questions and for educators to boldly step into a genuine critique of the purpose of uniforms and what ides schools hang onto in order to justify their continual gender normative policing.

 

 

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.

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.

Head On Viral Challenge

Ok so I am never fond of viral challenges or viral anything for that matter. Whether it be for charity or not you can keep your ice in your bucket. If you want me to play along put some beers in it. But what to make of the latest round of the latest ‘have you done it yet’ annoying memes on facebook and other social media – the condom challenge.

It consists of filling a condom with water and dropping it on someones head. Some suggest it’s about raising awareness of condom use. I find that a stretch. On a more serious note, how many people will be aware that December 1st is World AIDS Day. Now that should go viral on so many levels. If you are intending to do the condom challenge how about making that statement and making a donation if you want to make a real difference to the awareness around the actual function of condoms. The real challenge is to get people to use condoms. Yes they are supposed to go on someones head but it’s just located a little further south. Time for a bit of anatomical orientation for some I think.

On the upside it’s never been a better time to rock up to a supermarket and casually buy a packet or 4 and simply smile and wink and say hashtag condomchallenge. Great opportunity to stock up without parents suspecting anything, just show them, they might even join in! Bit of family bonding, lubricate the conversations about safe sex?

If you are a sucker for a viral challenge, good on you – go hard, I wouldn’t want to burst your bubble.

The Porn Identity

It’s a delicate subject considering many adults can barely talk to their children about any form of sexual activity. It’s hard enough recognising children as sexual beings for most people, then we think teenagers will somehow ignore these strange wonderful feelings. While some hope that a simple biology lesson should cover it with frequent coughing and rushed syllables it’s clear we can still feel awkward about all forms of sexuality and pleasure in particular. There – I said it – desire and pleasure and warm fuzzy feelings. Human beings are drawn to these experiences like moths to flames and sometimes we get a bit singed and burnt, but we keep coming back for more (hmmm awkward pun). We’ve tended to keep pleasure conversations secret and couched in dodgy metaphors or colloquialisms and education has generally steered clear preferring the reproductive-heterosexual-preventing disease and/or pregnancy focus. Respectful relationships, negotiation and consent might show up however these still fit into a bit of a mechanistic process of sexual activity.

Porn is part of that complex mix of desire which has traditionally been built around male sexuality. It might just be luck but I have never accidentally found porn online or been sent any and I intend to keep it that way. However it is time for a reality check when it comes to young people and the rapid expansion of visual media and online communication. Working as a counsellor in a secondary school I see the first hand effects of the porn on young people. I know older people are impacted as well, but if children and young people are exposed to graphic sexual content from an early age it will inevitably impact on their understanding of sex and sexuality as well as how bodies should look and be during sex. There are also questionable messages communicated about dominance power and submission and ‘men’ and ‘women’ like. Porn can also be used as a form of grooming for abuse. So it is really important we think carefully about where things are at. Time for a deep breath.

The digital age has made both the making and distributing of sexual content easier and accessing it as simple as a google/oggle search, even if unintended. Back in the day it was pretty hard to accidentally purchase magazine or rent a video from the back room and convince someone you were 21. Thankfully there are people like Maree Crabbe who has been researching and working with young people since 1993. I’m pleased someone has done this work and put together some really great resources that have been thoroughly tested and youth approved. Perhaps what might surprise people is the openness about desire and enjoyment of sexual experiences as well as thinking critically about the gendered stereotypes and assumptions it can create. Which inevitably confuse and blur understandings of consent without creating a one sized fits all model. Sexuality is in there to so they have covered all bases…so to speak.

Parents might not want to know but they need to know this stuff. Again there is a generation gap, so let’s not just fill it with fear and avoidance or blame and shame. Fill it with knowledge and understanding – it really is time we talked.