Small Change

Today I was at my local supermarket. It’s a small local one and it reminds me of home. I love how food shopping is an opportunity to see diversity at work in the community.

On my way in I stopped at the dairy section and I pondered cheese with a woman, who was equally baffled by the price of 1kg block. While a man walked through crying and talking to himself, I looked up and he had found what he needed, happy again. Onto the checkout and I nearly run into the same guy, but he’s talking to one of the assistants who is trying to figure out what he needs. Children look up at me perplexed by this loud grown up, I just smile like its no big deal. As I pay for my chocolate and broccoli (not planning on cooking them together), I overhear the checkout person behind me say ‘you are short $1.20. I turn and ask ‘you a bit short man, can I help? The look of gratitude transcended words, as I handed over the money I notice the complete lack of acknowledgement of my gesture of kindness…which is exactly what I hoped for.

No flash mob cheering me, no hashtag, just a nod to the checkout operator, a smile back at the same kids who smile up at the loud guy with a beard who cried. In the end it wasn’t about me and my offering of small change to make up the deficit, it was the small changes I saw in people that makes a difference, that erases any deficit.

Advertisements

Face Facts

I’m confident most people will realise that puberty brings on changes, and one of those is growing body hair. It should be a choice to shave or not shave body hair. When I say ‘choice’ I also understand there is pressure to present your body in a socially acceptable way, I wish it wasn’t that way. There are also cultural aspects to body hair and some if has very significant meaning. Given our multi-cultural society here in NZ and being in the 21st Century, I do find it strange that schools can have rules about where hair is permitted to grow. Students in New Zealand still face strict uniform requirements around hair length and facial hair (if male…I’ll come back to this).

So I was heartened to hear of a petition started by Kapiti College student Antony McEwan to allow year 13 students to have beards (if they can grow them). The students there can wear mufti and make up but not allow their bodies to do their thing. It got me pondering the meaning of facial hair that is perhaps different to leg hair, or arm hair, even arm pit hair! I’m not sure but I have a feeling it is to do with actually becoming a ‘Man’. It’s a form of body uniforming – keeping all males looking ‘the same’ – even if they are in mufti. I think it achieves this by keeping young men/males appearing like prepubescent boys. They can’t stop voices deepening and besides no-one ‘sees’ a voice, this is about the body and how it is viewed in school.

That also got me wondering about transgender guys. Let’s say someone starts testosterone at 15-16, they’re ready to ‘bro up’ and they are on it for a while and they finally get to facial hair growing (let’s say they are genetically gifted). The last thing he’s probably not going to want to do is shave off that hard earned beard, no matter how patchy it is.

Which is why this is more than just a fight for cisgendered teen guys getting to sport the latest fashion accessory. This is about an expression of biological, social, cultural, and gender diversity. It is time for schools to face facts about facial hair, it happens and it is completely harmless. Razor cuts and burns however – not so much fun, possibly harmful I’m guessing.

Good luck Anthony, and I hope you get your 500 signatures – it could be a close shave.

 

 

P(rov)okemon

Pokemon Go has really gone crazy. People are racing all over the place chasing digital characters. Personally, I just don’t get it, I’m just a bit baffled that people care so much. But I respect that others will have a completely different perspective.

While I was trying to figure out my own confusion I started wondering about the idea of augmented reality and whether there could be some seriously practical, perhaps life-saving applications of this amazing technology. It really struck me when I read about an African American guy who was also hearing impaired needing a sticker on his car so that police would know not to shoot him if he didn’t do ‘as they said’. Wow – I mean, I cannot even imagine thinking about making sure the police do not see me as a threat, simply by being me. Could a form of augmented identification be a way of creating a reality where responding to assumptions and fears could be mediated by technology? Not that this is a solution for racism but if it is going to save the life of someone, is that not a good thing?

So here is where I think augmented tech could really help: If people have unique functioning or needs they could wear a bracelet – or some other transmitter – that, as soon as scanned by police, would flash up important information before they even got out of their car. It could even work at airports and other transport agencies, to ease access. To make it more personal and less like some dystopian form of ‘big brother’, maybe people could make up their own digital character that shares important facts, with a bit of their own humour or personality.

Because honestly, seeing the obsession over Pokemon Go is a bit creepy and I’m a bit scared the digital zombie apocalypse has begun. Unplug people, you don’t need Pikachu to help you explore the outdoors, because, are you really there if you’re staring at a screen? I have a new challenge –how many different forms of wheels can you transport yourself on?

That’s my ‘provoke-mon’.

 

Olympics – time for a new game

I’ve always loved sport and grew up watching the Olympic Games and in New Zealand it is like the curtains being pulled back so we can know there are sports other than Rugby, Netball, Cricket and Rugby. Part of the mystique is the tradition and we see some of that in bits of ceremony like the lighting of the torch. When Pierre de Coubertin brought the ancient games into the modern era in 1894 with the establishment of the International Olympic Committee it was hoped the spirit would live on.

I suppose some of that spirit would be the ideals of peace, where the games are meant to help strive for a more peaceful world, the notion of the Olympic Truce where countries allow safe passage of athletes and the people stop killing each other while the games take place. Part of the modern ideal is that the games should not be used for political means, that is athletes are just there to do their thing and should not bring attention to controversial issues such as racism, social injustice or abuse. So basically the Olympics is global amnesia and carefully stage managed illusion of ‘everything is awesome, everything is cool when your part of a team’ (sing along).

So as someone who loves sport and cares about social justice I’m conflicted. There are three basic reasons:

1: The commercial aspect of the games – it’s big business, real big business, huge business (and it’s probably none of my business). The athletes are really unpaid billboards and marketing opportunities. Advertising during the games is worth mega bucks.

2: Gender – the modern games is still playing gender catch up but worse than that – they are gender policing the binary. So women can be ‘sex tested’ if they are deemed ‘too masculine’ to be female which might be a natural effect of their unique bodies, but the games defines ‘normal’ female and has the right to exclude intersex people but only after subjecting them to humiliating and degrading tests.

3: The silencing of protest – when representing ‘your country’ you best keep your opinion about other things to yourself so that the illusion of ‘peace on earth’ is maintained. But there have been protests, and I salute the individuals who have stood up and drawn attention to issues. But these days athletes risk being sent home if they speak up.

Therefore I have a vision of a 21st century games, for a start let’s ditch the Greeks as the model for ethical competition. Why not use the concept of Ubuntu from Southern Africa“the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Second why not completely ditch competing for a country. Each Athlete could choose a cause to draw attention to, and to make it more transparent each corporate sponsor would have to contribute a portion of their global profit to that cause. Rather than a truce, the media would have to report the current state of world war. Because I think we are in the middle of one and it just hasn’t been called that. As my final revitalisation, I would like all athletes competing at the same time, that is, the Paralympics being run simultaneously at the same time, yeah that’s right – actual diversity inclusion. The para games as an add-on is another way of token inclusion (another reason to drop the Greeks – Aristotle wasn’t all that cool with disabilities).

One last point on the gender thing. Intersex people are not cheating. They are themselves competing. If we are looking at the 21st century understanding of physiology and integrated technology are we simply looking at new categories of human performance, one that makes space for diversity complexity and difference.

Bring on the Ubuntu games, not The Hunger Games.

Concentration contraception

If it sells newspapers or gets people to click a link, it’s usually got something to do with sex. Then if you add teenagers into the mix, everyone has an opinion, especially adults who like to claim ‘they were teenagers once’.

So when I found myself reading a headline today that said, ‘Teens and sex: what’s going on in our schools,’ I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to click the link or keep scrolling. Nothing surprised me about the research, eg. those who have easier access to contraception are more likely to use it and there is a socioeconomic link to those not able to access. But I also wonder about the kinds of conversations that communities and schools with strong beliefs around sex are having.

One of the research ideas that really stood out for me was this:

“Youth development literature suggested one of the best ways to reduce teen pregnancy was by making sure young people were engaged in school and had goals for the future.”

So schools are a form of contraception? Concentrate on getting NCEA and staying in school is as good as going on the pill? Plan your career and you won’t be interested in sex? I’m confused.

Something that has changed since I started high school 30 years ago is the age most students leave school. When I went to school, most of my mates left at 15 and went to work, so they were seen as adults once they left school. Now to get into university you have to finish year 13 (7th form for anyone older than 35) so more youth are ‘adults’ at school.

I’m also still struggling to understand why shame is used as an excuse for not talking about sex. It’s just so lame in the 21st century. Teen sex happens, so how about some media focus on addressing the cultural and social assumptions, fears and beliefs that prevent open healthy experiences of sex and sexuality, rather than statistics and freaking out.

It’s the thought that counts

I’ve been divinqing with groups of young people for nearly 10 years. I remember my first divinq, it was special. I watched Philip Patston transform a  nervous giggling of year 9-10 students into a thoughtful reflective exploration of difference. That was the moment I knew I was seeing something unique.

But every divinq since then has been amazing, each and every conversation. Even if similar ideas repeat, they come back in new ways, through different people. And the laughter shared, when trying to understand the incomprehensible and knowing what we don’t know, keeps me feeling thankful for 10 years of thinking with so many creative, intuitive and brilliant young people and gives me hope for The Matrix to be reprogrammed.

Every thought is energy and matter is energy, thinking is movement and divinq is a dance in the universe. I’m enjoying the music, each idea a note. I want to thank all of my dance partners over the last 10 years – we’ve all learned new steps, tripped on ideas and perhaps stood on each others’ toes from time to time, but kept going.

If divinq has taught me one thing, it’s that people talking and being with each other is important. The clumsy, chaotic, random, real world of difference is beautiful and delicious.

Humour me

Language is interesting. Humour is something we all might recognise in the modern world as describing something amusing, that might make us laugh. But understanding where the word humour comes from gives insight to how language is connected to the ways knowledge is constructed.

Humour comes from Latin and means ‘moisture’ which then passed into English to mean bodily fluids – humours, of which there were 4 and were connected to moods and functions of different organ systems.

For a long time, there was no distinction between the sexes, there was one human template. There were variations on humours and degrees of temperature that defined the spectrum of difference. Male was at the hot end and female at the colder end of the spectrum.

The science and medical profession of the time found ‘evidence’ of the inferiority of women and other cultures and used it to maintain social order. What I find interesting, I suppose, is while modern anatomy and physiology have moved on since the 17th and 18th century, some of the assumptions and ideas live on. I mean, just look at how hard women had to fight just to be able to compete at the Olympics –they weren’t able to run in the marathon until 1984, nearly 100 years after the start of the modern games. You can’t tell me that it was a misprint in the programme.

Scientific knowledge has a level of power to it, to define the truth about something and this is what is interesting to think about and notice. That is, how various branches of science over time have categorised people and other species, given them particular qualities, limits and justified practices of exclusion, exploitation and mistreatment.

I wonder what science will look like in 300 years. What truths and facts will be as laughable to that generation as the idea of blood being turned into semen by body heat. Now that is humorous.

Violent acts not always deadly

16-year-old transgender student Stefani Rose Muollo-Gray had a pretty rough ride at her school when she tried to use the girls bathroom. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but I kind of imagined the bathroom policing was for countries like the USA, so I’m a bit shocked it is so close to home. She started a petition which has drawn attention to the issue.

While it’s hard to put it alongside the horrific events in Orlando, this is probably a worse kind of violence, one that society sometimes condones and supports. Policing where you pee these days seems to be the new way to ensure we stick with binary genders based on the most important part of being a human – how you excrete kidney waste. Sorry to get all anatomical but, frankly, that is what is being questioned.

I think the issue is with teacher education actually. Heck, you get one year to become a teacher at a high school – what portion is spent looking at the complexity of diversity, gender, sexuality, culture, functioning? Not much. but Principals could do more to support LGBTQI+ young people. The violence of silence is what bothers me. To not even recognise that a school they will have Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Fa’afafine, Takataapui students and teachers in them.

But Principals could do more to support LGBTQI+ young people. The violence of silence is what bothers me – to not even recognise that a school  will have Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Fa’afafine, Takataapui students and teachers in them.

Events like the school ball can be places where schools become more aggressive by asking for proof of gayness. Or for young transgender people trying to attend a school that fits their gender identity having to go through psychological interrogations to prove they are who they are. A serious lack of uniform options for High School students enforces gender norms – it is like wearing a straight jacket (great pun). Schools make life unnecessarily hard for people on the rainbow spectrum. School leaders need to take the lead.

I hope Stefani reaches the 7500 signatures she needs and I hope it starts some hard conversations among other schools about how to genuinely make schools a safe place for everyone.

 

Finding Pulse

The mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando USA, has likely stirred many conversations. I wonder how we make sense of these sorts of events here in New Zealand. The thing is, while I can imagine the terror of being at the venue, I can’t comprehend that level of violence based on some form of fear.

It’s important to keep perspective and recognise our own judgements and assumptions. Three communities are in the spotlight: the LGBTQI+ and Latinx communities; and those of strong religious faiths, particularly Muslim and Christian.

So we might not have the kind of violence other countries seem to experience, but maybe we have other forms of violence that do not get recognised. Like making groups of people ‘disappear’ so they don’t exist.

When I talked to a bunch of counsellors recently, some of whom worked in schools, they shared with me how Principals do not see LGBTQI+ students as needing any form of recognition or place of safety. Some schools seem concerned that acknowledging this community existed would potentially bring protests from parents or others.

Uniforms forcing young people to fit specific gender roles also stop diversity being expressed and, if you want to identify as something other than your assigned sex, then you have to submit to the violence of a psychiatric diagnosis.

So – no mass shootings in NZ, just mass ‘shooings’ – like, “Shoo, you pesky rainbow people, you are messing with our perfectly heteronormative, gender defined image.”

But right now my thoughts are with the LGBTQI+ community in Orlando. Sending messages of support could be a way to bring visibility to our own community and discuss the other forms of violence going on in our schools.

Let’s also open up discussions about religion. I think schools need to do this because pretending people ditch their beliefs at the gate closes down opportunities to look at the complexity of identity.

Coded dress

I have blogged about school balls before. I thought I was over it. But it just keeps popping up like a painful blister from wearing high heels (apparently – I don’t wear heels – I get altitude sickness – and I never passed my femininity licence).

A school has decided it can veto the style of dress worn. The main issue is the amount of skin being shown. Now on the face of it, that does sound a little OTT. However, it is a Catholic school. Why should that make a difference? Well, it is about what values the school is upholding. This is a religious school, with a particular set of ideologies and beliefs about modesty and the body. So I am not shocked that they have taken this stance. I’m more shocked that people attending the school would be. I think some people forget that Christianity is a religion.

Schools already have a sense of ownership around policing bodies, uniforms do that well and this is a school event.It kind of fits with representing the school image, like sports teams. What I do take issue with is not being able to take shoes off if they are hurting. Those wearing high heels have to suffer in order to maintain the forced gender code of femininity even if it results in excruciating pain and discomfort. I can see that being a fun night on the dance floor. My tip – just don’t wear heels or take two pairs of shoes, one for show and one for go! Another solution is to have uniform ball dresses, now there’s an idea – along with uniform ball jewellery. Let’s go all the way and have set hair styles and makeup. For guys lets say they must keep their tie and jacket on all night, gotta have some gender equality somewhere.

So as all schools head into ball season lets get a bit of a reality check. It is an old tradition we haven’t quite integrated into the 21st-century ideas of diversity and difference. It is the ‘Straightrix’ – like The Matrix that codes all forms of gender and sexuality norms. If you know that you can choose to take the blue pill for the night (no I am not encouraging drug use – see the movie!) go for it and have a fun night.