Saturday, 28 July 2018

Turning

Things haven't been alright for the longest time. Perhaps it's unrealistic to yearn for the kind of simple conviction in the integrity of the world I was only able to hold on to in my first decade and a half. I'm not clear on what I'm fighting, half the time. I've lost sight of a little, and upped the ante a lot. I've relaxed into my inbuilt resistance - the impulse to sabotage the very thing I aim towards.

I've lost my bearings today. I turned a corner in the hospital and warmed to old selves, new selves, old meets new. What the hell am I going to do?

Disturbed but still swinging
Perturbed with periods of relaxation
Investigating the core cause
Sizing up the inscrutability
Of my kaleidoscope of secrets
I find my fallibility lacking

And who are you? 
The unknown reader
A hazy image of you
Becomes my inspiration

They say to write for yourself, but I'm informed by every soul that has had my mind wandering in their direction
I'm unable to stall, diligently angling for the next question


Monday, 28 May 2018

So I reported to the police, and...

The process shook me up. I was asked about my history of being abused, my mental health diagnosis, what I was wearing (which I'm not sure how to interpret, because the officer was female, and she also asked what the perpetrator was wearing), the victim-blaming "Why does this keep happening to you?" and the dismissive "What do you expect us to do about it?"

When I came home I just wanted to curl into a ball and stay there for hours.

Here are some positive outcomes:

- They believed me
- They filed a report, which means they can, amongst other things, check to see if this woman's behaviour is a trend
- I assume the report will have consequences for official statistics on criminal activity
- I was offered a lift back home (I declined)

Lessons learned:

- If something like this happens again, go to the police immediately. They said they would have been able to collect evidence from my clothing.
- They don't have access to CCTV train footage from a month ago.
- Don't expect the police to share your feminist values, compassion for victims of sexual violence or keen sense of justice. But tell them anyway.


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Towards binormativity

I have a saying about the small but virulent group of anti-GLBTIQ protesters who show up at the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade every year: "Those taking part in the parade are the happy queers, and those protesting are the unhappy queers." As homophobia fades in Western society, the unhappy queers become more self-accepting, and until such a point is reached that they're willing to come out to themselves (and others). One day, they will join the celebrations. While we wait for this cultural shift, we happy queers can enjoy our status as innovators of love.

The characters of the film I viewed today (Rabbit Without Ears) would not be protesting Pride parades. They're not that extreme. But they do constantly seek to differentiate themselves from gayness by making fun of people who represent this 'other'. In the final scene of this German film, the protagonist gets 'revenge' at a heartless taxi driver by making him look gay in front of his colleagues. The film then cuts to a shot of the happy heterosexual couple kissing triumphantly. But what is actually happening here? Gayness takes up so much space in the narrative, that it needs to be examined as inextricably complementary to the whole. For gay content to directly inform the 'fairytale ending', it must be associated with romance and sexuality.

We could say queerness is part of the shadow self in Rabbit Without Ears, as the male protagonist constantly accuses others of it (projection), but can never acknowledge the homoerotic undertones constantly present in his interactions with his close colleague, or even fleeting encounters based on antagonism.

As homophobia fades, we can expect to see gayness continue to take up ample space in public discourse, but in more and more favourable ways. The visibly out will only grow in number and influence, and I look forward to the disappearance of the currently ubiquitous 'gay jokes', and the conscious acknowledgement of desire.

Perhaps in fifty years time the West will have shifted enough so that very few identify as exclusively straight or gay. When there are so many options available out there, why limit yourself to any particular group? Binormativity (or pannormativity) would be a welcome change. 

Sunday, 6 May 2018

So, it happened again (#MeToo)

You would think there would be a limitation on how many times your body can get violated. Wishful thinking.

I was on my way to my best friend's house, in relatively good spirits. A woman sat down next to me on the train. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to her, but noticed she carried herself around with a fatalistic self-stigma. It vaguely occurred to me she belonged to some kind of marginalised group when my gaze wandered over to my left. Instinctively I worked on looking anonymous, unremarkable, but when I couldn't see which station we had arrived at, I blurted out: "Excuse me, is this Town Hall?" She turned her head and her gaze landed on me. Her face had a haunted look, and I noticed she was trans. There was something else in her look, which my unconscious registered as entitled, but I had a script for trans women, and I wanted this interaction to be made happy with my apt response. I thanked her for her surly answer, and wondered why it came out a bit like "I'm sorry." 

A trans woman! Surely all trans women are loveable, deep down! That was what part of me was thinking. The other part recognised that I might not be entirely safe as I passed by her on the way out. I visualised myself shuffling past, facing her disconcerting presence, hands over my crotch. I dismissed this. I didn't want to seem like I was afraid. Besides, what were the chances that a woman would assault me in a carriage full of people, where there would be dozens of witnesses? It seemed like the situation called for a kind of self-assurance I hadn't had to exercise for a long time. I couldn't summon it. I didn't want to believe that I was in this situation. I wanted to think about happy things. 

As we arrived in Central I turned my back to her and turned into the aisle, and just when I thought everything was alright I felt my pad pressing up into my nether regions. It lasted maybe 5-10 seconds,  until I walked away, and I couldn't believe that a *woman* would molest me in plain view of all the people on that train, so I started imagining it was something unlikely: my pad had scrunched up uncomfortably while I was sitting, and had temporarily caused me discomfort. The other option was to look back, look at her, witness her extended limb, witness her face. What could I do? Stop in my tracks and yell at her, humiliating her in public? "How dare you violate me, you fucking asshole?" But I would miss my stop (which would further ruin my day). Should I head directly for the closest police station? I knew that I would not. Even though there was probably camera footage of the event. (Hmm.) At the time I thought the odds of her getting caught were very slim. I have already reported a rape to the police, and they weren't able to help me. More recently, I had written to a police department in the US, trying to give them enough information to do a raid on my pedophile ex-boyfriend's computer. It didn't work. I didn't want to have to think of my history of dealing with the police. I didn't want to have to think of my #MeToo history. I had the right to be safe from malicious practices, after all I've been through. My weight should be enough to deter those who prey on women (or people who can pass for them). But I wasn't, and it wasn't. So, here we are. 

So maybe I *will* go to the police. Next time I get up the nerve. 

*

Writing this out has helped me clarify some things. I deserve to fight for my right to access justice. If you're reading this and have your own #MeToo story, you deserve justice too. You deserve to live without anyone crossing your boundaries. So if they won't let you live in peace, give 'em hell. Speak up. You will encourage the rest of us to do speak up in turn. Together, we can overthrow the power imbalances that lead to sexual assault. Anything is possible in this world. We would do well to awaken the possibilities within. <3

Finally, just because my abuser was a trans woman, doesn't say anything about trans women in general. Most of the trans women I know are loveable. My generalisation (about their lovability) was the thing that kept me from processing the full weight of my perception of her as predatory. If there's something to be learnt from this, it's to refrain from generalisation. (Not that her behaviour is in any way my fault.) But anyway, I will continue to fight for trans rights, because one bad apple doesn't speak for the rest. Trans people are a disadvantaged group that are worthy of our empathy, inclusion and protection - just like anybody else in this world. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Beyond the echo chamber

I'm part of a Facebook group on postmodernism, the creator and admin of which is an American conservative. This initially puzzled me, but by now I'm used to his fearful political stances. I spent some time feeling despondent over one practice of his in particular: posting up misogynistic portrayals of women in cartoon or meme form. A number of his loyal contributors bonded with him and each other over these images. I felt like the group wasn't a safe space, and for a long time I regarded it with high ambivalence. 

Then, one day, I realised that I had to say something, even if it was just screaming into the void that I would effectively be doing. My comment was simple: under the latest creepy video, I wrote 'Stop hating on women!' A complex discussion followed. Not many people supported me. I was accused of playing the victim. A non-binary feminist de-lurked to tell me to 'choose my battles'. They didn't realise that that's exactly what I was doing: I wanted badly to participate in an active, thought-provoking discussion on postmodernism. But I could only hold the space for it, if it made some effort to nurture me. 

The creator posted exactly one more pic in the mean-spirited tradition of past. From then on the discussion shifted from ridiculing women to more palatable topics, and at one point he and I agreed to disagree on the subject of racism, keeping the tone respectful. Later he would thank 'everybody' who responded to his prompt on abortion, myself included, for their contribution. We continue to move along, exploring ideas and deconstructing our assumptions. 

If I hadn't spoken up I would still be gritting my teeth, paralysed with fear, doubting myself at too many turns. This experience has emboldened me to share my views to whatever extent I dare, always mindful of the need to create a safe space within myself first. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

An exercise in hope

You can be my new Obama
Be the things he never was to me
Softly assembling new sense unspoken
Abolishing much hierarchy

Meanwhile I'm moving through theme parks
In a [fun/scary]scape of my own making
Recollecting vital pieces of information
Summoning avenues not yet taken

And so I think you're lovely
You keep inspiring me
Thank you for the things you share
They've got me reinventing me

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The power of permitting discussion

Once upon a time, back in the early days of Sydney Girls High, I decided to 'enlighten' one of my classmates on the topic of homosexuality. She emitted silent disapproval and kept her distance from me (until a few years later, when I came out as queer). I was pretty surprised at the time that this Anglo-Saxon Australian didn't agree with my homophobic views, but being exposed to a stance different than mine made me curious as to what in the world she was thinking.
It was through a process of continual engagement with the people and texts around me that I decided to change my mind. It was through empathising with a black American lesbian fictional character at fifteen, that I realised I could relate to her romantic and sexual experiences. Empathising with a black person wouldn't have happened without a sensitive and curious response to the study of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and having peer groups predominantly made up of Asian girls. Australian liberal democracy took me on, and we won together. Now it's my job to keep the dialogue ongoing. There are people who are full of fear like I used to be, who are struggling to make sense of this multi-faceted world. They lash out, they speak with greater certainty than they feel, they perform hate, because they don't know any different. And yet, we democracy fans make a space for them. At first ensuring our own safety, we then open up a space for their views to be debated, discussed. We engage with as much respect as possible. We allow for difference of opinion. Not because we are weak, but because we can be role models in our open-mindedness. We can help others learn from us.
Homophobic views are intolerant, but intolerance isn't going away. The only way to change someone is to engage with their views, and give them the freedom to come around to your way of thinking in their own time. You'd be surprised how many people change their mind when they realise that there's little incentive to be a hate-monger, and you can live a happier and more peaceful life by opening your mind. But for that to happen, we have to be open to a public sphere where we may at any moment encounter something which hurts our feelings, or undermines our values. There is no easy solution for this, but self-love/self-care practices go a long way. :)