Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swenglish puns

I've been learning Swedish over the past half-year, in a way that can best be described as whimsical. I started by copying the comments my Swedish friends made on Facebook and pasting them onto Google Translate, then progressed to following Swedish speakers on Twitter and translating their Tweets. Google Translate then allowed me to listen to an automatic interpretation of the text, and I could imitate away... These days I listen to Sverigesradio.se when I can, and have even taught myself to sing one or two Swedish songs. With little else but techniques like these, I've reached the point where I can understand a small but growing amount of the texts I daily come across. So, with no further ado, here's a few puns you can make to a speaker of both Swedish and English.

'Sounds kul!' - Kul means fun in Swedish, and sounds like cool in English, which means you can gently subvert its meaning for a subtle twist.

'I be so glad' - Glad means happy, so you can pretend to understate your sense of happiness. Only works with a UK or Irish accent.

'Vi went up with a hiss' - Hiss means elevator; vi means we

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It's a lot easier than I thought to learn a new language. If you have an interest in doing so, I suggest finding really fun, interesting texts to sink your teeth into. Watch videos on Youtube.com, devour all the foreign language films you can find, dig up the lyrics to your favourite songs on the web, and befriend someone on Skype who you can practice with (I'm still working up the courage to do the last one - Benny at www.fluentin3months.com highly recommends this!).

Here's Benny Lewis speaking at TEDxSanAntonio, which motivates me to keep turning my inspiration into action...


Monday, October 29, 2012

For the Americans


If the rest of the world could vote, they would undoubtedly re-elect Obama. But all Aussies like me can really do is remind our progressive American buddies that every vote counts; especially in a race as tight as this one. I understand many of you find it hard to get enthusiastic about Obama, but imagine if Romney were allowed to ride into into the white house due to voter apathy... things would deteriorate not only for America but for the rest of the world. So I say, if the idea of voting for Obama makes you sick, think of it more as a vote against Romney... let's leave the zombie apocalypse idea where it belongs, on Halloween (and Whedon's films)!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Alliances of the oppressed

There are a lot of oppressed people around: 50% of the world's population who perform the gender of 'female', all the people who are differentiated from the mainstream in terms of racial or ethnic identity and not given equal status or rights because of it, GLBTI people who innovate romantic, sexual and other forms of relationships and are detested by the heterosexualist status quo for it, physically or mentally disabled people who rail against the very definition they are made to align themselves with (some advocate for 'differently abled' or more empowering terms) and are regularly demonised or dehumanised, and so on. This is just one way of thinking about oppression, perhaps the most common - placing people in these groups that have a place in the landscape of popular activism. But it is not the only one.

Anyone who elects to be different, or cannot help but be relegated 'lesser than' the rigid confines of 'white, heterosexualist male,' can expect to have something to fight for. As a Slavic, pansexual female, I am one of the oppressed. And in being oppressed, I am part of the majority. The majority of us aren't white, heterosexualist males who are happy with the shoes they are expected to fill in oppressing others (and, in doing so, oppressing themselves). If we look for similarities between us long enough, we will find them, and it is this radical empathy - the ability to put aside the fear that other minority groups cannot understand us or won't come to our aid - that creates the beneficial relationships across different social worlds and fosters an environment in which 'my empowerment is your empowerment'.

I will always be thankful for the circumstances of my schooling, in which Eastern European immigrants were such a minority that I didn't have access to people who reinforced my birth culture to conform to during the teenage years. The majority of the people in my first high school class were Asian, and so I learned early on to question my formative cultural beliefs and relate to backgrounds different to my own. Unlike my parents, who grew up in a homogenous environment where extreme entrenched racism was the norm, I feel comfortable within a multicultural environment and like my social worlds to be informed by cultural and-or racial diversity. It feels like something is missing if there aren't at least a few different backgrounds in the mix. The most common instance of this is white people clustering together, and reinforcing the ignorance they have about non-whites in the process. Put simply, white people in the West need the lessons that come by the way of non-white socialising. We are letting the potentially most innovative people in our environments pass us by without reaching out and learning from them all we can.

When we forget to feel threatened by other groups, the most wonderful things can happen. New friendships can form, new ideas can be exchanged, new businesses can spring up, a new politics of transracial affiliation is given room to grow. We are changing the culture, one relationship at a time. Changing the nation from a segregated, fearful structure of clinging to old, tired, unproductive norms, to a new dynamic that prioritises openness and inclusiveness.

It all starts with a smile and a conversation, a genuine curiosity and some good-will. Sooner or later, if you make enough connections, you will find the emergence of new allies in your world. That girl who seemed vaguely alien may come up with just the right idea to get you out of your writer's block. That guy who you worried might be homophobic due to his cultural background might have a pivotal insight into your relationship problem. The gender-nonconforming individual you had been slightly avoiding could turn out to be your new best friend if you give them a chance to share their world with you. In difference lies beauty, inspiration, innovation.

Maybe, if you're like me, you feel that there aren't many people out there who can understand you. One thing I try my best to do is not to shut myself off from meeting new people. I don't want to let my sense of isolation prevent me from being open to whoever the day may bring my way. It can be difficult at times, but I know that only a willingness to communicate with others will lead to new the kind of breakthroughs I cannot make on my own.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Admirable Australians

This is a tribute to wonderful Australians who have inspired me in a multitude of ways over the years. 

Let's hear it for...

Germaine Greer - one of the world's most renowned feminists




Michael White - the creator of narrative therapy, a poststructuralist counselling practice


Julia Gillard - the first female Prime Minister of Australia, who recently made headlines around the world for speaking out against the sexist and misogynistic attacks typical of the leader of the Opposition


Cordelia Fine - a pioneering neurologist who claims that women and men aren't hardwired to be different, but that social conditioning accounts for their differences


Darren Hayes - formerly the more melodious half of Savage Garden, Darren came out as gay after their split and has stayed on the music scene. This is a guy who dares to expose the darker side of his experience, defying the homophobic criticism songs like this will inevitably attract in this day and age


The Veronicas - at the cutting edge of pop, the twin sisters have continued to fuse innovative music, provocative lyrics and delicious vocals over the years


Sexism and Misogyny

Seeing as the modus operandi of those who hate women and seek to prevent them from empowering themselves to a status that is equal to men is often to deny that sexism and misogyny exist, the very presence of the words is a sign of feminist thought being written into the language (at various levels of intensity). As long as we're discussing misogyny and sexism, the philosophy that there is inequality between those who identify as female and those who identify as male has currency. My goal is to make feminist discourses proliferate, as a strategy to empower both women and men through collapsing the gender binary. In an ideal world, we are all gender-free.

So keep the conversation going, folks.

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Two and a half weeks ago I unsubscribed from most of my feminist groups online. I needed a bit of space to think things over. The debate that occurs within feminist spaces is vital to the creation and creative development of the movement, but sometimes too much antagonism can get me down. I've been following feminist rhetoric closely for what feels like many years, and I feel like I've grown a lot during that time. I expect more from the people I associate with now, and in reading the thoughts of activists around the globe I've found strengths within myself I hadn't imagined possible.

If you're thinking of getting involved in feminism or related activities but aren't sure it's right for you, I suggest you give it a chance. I guarantee that you'll find a spot within the feminist community that is both uniquely your own, and supported by many.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Disarmed

A few years ago I watched BBC or CNN footage of Stephen Fry trying to persuade Chinese authorities to pardon a bipolar UK citizen from his death penalty sentence. He reluctantly put his arms behind his back and clasped his hands together, recognising that the man he was speaking to was aware the he identified as gay, and was under the mistaken impression that Stephen might come on to him. This gesture felt familiar to me - I too am a forceful personality and people mistrust their own instincts when aware of my bisexuality. I felt sad that people couldn't accept us non-heterosexuals as a natural part of the attraction economy and compelled us to 'disarm' ourselves so that we don't seem so very threatening.

Last weekend, at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I made straight for the bookshop in between speeches, and this was how I came face to face with the image of Benjamin Law, one of Australia's most prominent new writers, on the cover of his latest book, Gaysia.

The popularity of this pose amongst prominent gay men seems to speak to the expectations mainstream society places upon them. They are allowed to be entertaining, quirky, witty and charming, just so long as they keep out of sight the kind of sensuality that informs many everyday relations, even though most people wouldn't own to their day-to-day communications having an sexual undertone.

Let me put it this way: You know how there are some shops you return to often? How some of the people working there are more pleasant to deal with than others? Think of your favourite shop assistant, and I guarantee that if you look hard enough (and are honest with yourself), you'll notice that both of you send each other subtle sexual signals. They may not lead to anything (usually this sort of subliminal flirting is just a light social lubricant, signifying nothing in particular), but they're there. You smile at each other, you exchange mutual messages about each others' worth, you subtly affirm their sexuality, and they yours. Most people aren't aware of this on a conscious level, but it registers in the subconscious, and that is why the homophobia of the mainstream bullies people like Stephen Fry and Benjamin Law into voluntarily 'disarming' the subtle sexual messages they send - messages that homophobes are simultaneously drawn to and repelled by, because they can't admit to their own attractions.

It took me about 25 seconds to find another image of Stephen Fry with his hands behind his back.


I say, we need to 'turn this around'. Let non-heterosexual people reclaim their freedom of movement. Most people are sensually aroused by most people on some subtle, barely conscious level. Let it be. Get over it. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cascading

Rain like pepper from the sky
I watch with fondness as it falls


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 The weather in Sydney has been becoming rainier and rainier... and I've learned to like it. Perhaps it's no co-incidence that Woody Allen romanticised ¨Paris in the rain¨ in Midnight in Paris at a time when we are seeing more rainfall than ever, around the world. Whatever happens climatically, we are adapting quickly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

`What if we trusted you?´

There were many worthwhile talks at TEDxCopenhagen (I watched the live feed), but this one stood out for me as the most revolutionary:


Ambient sound and awesome feminists

Earlier this year I plunged a q-tip into my left ear without care and created a new dynamic there, whereby I experience a constant low-level ringing in that ear. At times I accept it, and at others I desperately want to forget about its presence, and surround myself with loud sounds (preferably music) to drown out the monotonous symphony that will probably never fade out of my background.

It upsets me that I may never again hear true silence. I have a referral to see a hearing specialist, but I'm too scared of the most likely conclusion they will be forced to deliver: I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do.

Nevertheless, I'm determined to see the bright side. It's a neutral sound, not unpleasant. I'm trying to relax into it, instead of making myself a bit on edge every time I become consciously aware of it again. Maybe I will coax myself into being extra nice to myself to compensate for any stress this new condition may cause me.

Last weekend was pretty intense - freshly sans the silvery wrapping that protected my severely burnt limb from possible infection, and looking forward to shaking off the blues that had accumulated from two weeks' confinement to the couch, I stepped out in style and attended a series of talks at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas before chilling out at Sydney's Parklife music festival.

Germaine

It was my second Germaine Greer talk. She's been described as brilliant, eccentric, elegant, sensible and looms large amongst my role models. At FODI she spoke on how 15% of women in the (I assume American) military had been evaluated as suffering from sexual trauma, and how while the solution was not to discourage women from entering the military, it was to discourage anyone from being part of the military. It's no place for a human being, she asserted with her typical inspired gravity.

Greer claimed that academics were impotent and later advised one of the audience members not to take on extra responsibilities within it because it was easy to get overloaded. She made me uncomfortable by ascribing to women who knit pervasive loneliness and an attempt to convey their deep affection for their families, even as their home-made produce would be most likely neglected, and admitted that she was describing her own practice.

Germaine's next book is supposed to be on her life in a rainforest, which sounds both like bliss and a nightmare - so many creatures around you, yet few people to talk to as you benefit from communing with nature.

The foremost feminist is an advocate of The Real, and while her achievements within that frame are superlatively immense, as a postmodernist I can't help but wish she shared my views on the social construction of reality. Then again, I could say the same for anyone.

My criticism of the idea of womens' liberation from a feminist perspective is that equality is not a weak concept. When given the space it deserves, I believe it emerges as the most radical stance of all. I do believe that women and men have relatively few biological differences, and much of what is popularly perceived to be biological difference in 2012 is actually social conditioning. Women are conditioned to be more emotionally expressive, men are conditioned to be more technically astute. If women make better counsellors and nurses, it's because they've been given millenia to grow into the roles of care-takers and providers of emotional support. If men are overrepresented in the hard sciences it's because this has been a traditionally male arena ever since it was first performed. Unconscious bias and phobia shapes much of our career choices and personality formation. Equality would necessitate we think of ourselves in a gender-neutral way, even make the concept of gender obsolete... It took me a trip to Scandinavia to realise that, at that moment in time, I had no idea what equality might look like. The gender binaries are so deeply embedded into our conceptual frameworks that I would be lying if I said I could imagine a world in which they didn't exist. This epiphany led me to stay open-minded about how I might change in the future, as I continue to innovate at the edges of my societies. I could grow in so many ways completely unforseen at present. Anything remains possible, and unprecedented subversions need to occur to get us closer to equality, so I'm just trying to stay connected to the constant flow of radical women and men making their visions of gender politics the next new thing.