Monday, September 13, 2010

The World of the Local

Constructing Intricacies >

Is there a place in the world which is most strongly suited to my needs? Although my needs keep changing, sometimes in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways, is there still a city or town which is a 'best fit' for my personality? If I keep asking these questions I am forced to conclude that I don't really want to live in any one place very long; and yet, my parents are home owners and I will be a home owner myself someday... since I do own property, should I keep it in Australia, live off the rent elsewhere as suits me and return to Sydney only for my medical needs (and the annual urge to consult my library?)?

Before I forget:
Yesterday I saw the end of a documentary on transgendered people in Denmark called Nobody Passes Perfectly, followed up by another Danish doc, Hello, my name is Lesbian. Both films were a celebration of living your life outside the binary constructions which pass for comforting in society. The second documentary finished with a woman rejecting the question "What is a typical lesbian like?" both verbally (her face scrunching up, not engaging with the thoughts she expected to hold in order to reproduce the worth of the question) and non-verbally (saying something along the lines of 'I don't even know how what that means'. Her refusal to engage with the discourse of cultural stereotypes is evident in her lack of compartmentalisation of self - she considers the questions and finds it ultimately irrelevant to her search for self, and that of others.

In Nobody Passes Perfectly, a man who has had numerous heterosexual relations rejects the concept of masculinity, feeling that he doesn't want to conceal his existential crises or his vulnerability. He can't appreciate why his dinner mate, a female who longs for a male identity physically as well as mentally-emotionally, would want to take on a greater degree of masculinity, and suffer the emotional distress of the trappings of mainstream male behaviour.

Recently The Guardian published this very important article. It presents recent findings that it's conditioning, not genetics, that determines how men and women behave. I believe that while the article is out there, the implications of it are largely ignored or under-unpacked, negligibly conceived or too vague to mention. There is no norm for female behaviour as distinct from male. I find that men and women are equally responsible from stepping back from stereotyping each other and finding new ways to respect the vulnerable individuals that we all happen to be. Men might say 'women are too emotional' or women might say 'men don't discuss their feelings' - well, it's all in the way people have been brought up to follow the acceptable social codes of the gender society recognises them to be.

I feel comfortable enough with my gender to feel uncomfortable with it at times. I have been mistaken for male both physically and mentally on two very different occasions. (When I was about seven or so I was mistaken by a group of kids I was playing with for being male... they asked for 'proof' of my lack of penis, so I unzipped my jeans and quickly revealed the lack of a bump through my undies; in conversation with an older Hispanic male who had few examples of strong, intelligent women in his life, it came out that he was coding my online presence as one he couldn't reconcile with my female identity... in his a Freudian slips, he referred to me as a 'boy'.

Back to the notion of Place...

Yesterday I made a little table in the hope of illuminating my search for a permanent home outside Australia further...

I came up with 12 countries which attracted me, 9 of which I have been to and 3 of which I anticipate I would enjoy (places I haven't been to are with a star). Below I list the communities that interest me within each nation.

*Argentina: Rosario
Denmark: Copenhagen, *Aarhus, *Aalborg
France: Paris, *Lyon
Greece: Santorini
*Iceland: Reykjavik
Italy: Rome, *Calcata
Japan: Kamakura, *Kyoto
*Portugal: undecided (not enough information)
Spain: Barcelona, *Sitges
Sweden: *Goteborg (Gothenburg), *a university town, Stockholm
Thailand: undecided (possible candidates: Phuket, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Hua Hin, *Pai)
United States: San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, *Boston

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that Iceland was the perfect place to spend, say half the year (I would be traveling the rest). It doesn't seem to have Tall Poppy Syndrome / Janteloven, it's sort of in the middle of New York City and London, (or, perhaps more importantly, Barcelona/Paris/Copenhagen and Boston/Toronto) it's been unofficially recognised as 'the most feminist country in the world' due to its banning of strip clubs and its gay female president, its capital city is both small and very innovative (in fact the Global Innovation Index 2009-2010 found that Iceland is the world's most innovative country, a tiny bit above Sweden), it doesn't have a large Muslim immigrant community (unlike Sweden, Denmark and the rest of Europe), it doesn't get too freezing due to the country's unique weather, the population is very artistic, educated, and harbours its fair share of eccentrics, it legalised same-sex marriage earlier this year with no opposition (actually the mayor of Reykjavik dressed up as a drag queen for the Pride event), it didn't participate in the 'war on terror' and hence has few enemies, and it's the most atheist nation in the world.

Although Thailand has a lower standard of life than most of the other nations I have listed, it ranks high on my list of desirable places to go away to every now and again. It also provides a much needed reminder that most of the world works unflinchingly hard for a pay packet Westerners see as embarrassingly low, and how a developing economy can be very satisfying in everything from infrastructure to customer service to food quality. What I love about Thailand is the friendliness and openness of the people, the enormous variety of tasty food available everywhere, the abundance of natural beauty (beaches, greenery, rivers, flowers and more), the beauty of the ubiquitous temples, the liberal use of colour everywhere and the tolerance of non-heterosexual identities (even though the legal system hasn't caught up with the global gay rights advancements). To finish on a somewhat surprising note, I recently discovered that Thailand has greater gender equality than South Korea or Japan, although these nations have a much higher quality of life and economic prosperity. There's just something about Thailand; the 'lucky country' of Asia?

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