Thursday, March 27, 2014

More comfortable with the other

We all have some kind of racial prejudice going on, simply because very few of us (if any) have been in contact with every single ethnicity in the world. In the absence of direct experience, we have to rely on secondary sources, and they are full of generalisations and other prejudices.

Those of us lucky to live in multicultural environments have a head start, as we are, more often than not, familiar with the sense of discovery that accompanies getting rapidly to know someone from a different culture. Perhaps I should talk about myself only - I'm aware that my friend in Bulgaria will probably not experience the kind of openness to 'others' that I have made an aspect of my experience, in her lifetime, simply because she lives in a country with very little immigration. Meanwhile, I have made close friends and dated people who had a different skin colour, who have been born in places I haven't travelled to and will probably never get the chance to see. They in turn have multicultural social circles which differ to mine. We have been shaped to be more open than most.

While window shopping in Zurich city I met a woman from Tibet who told me that she had learned to tell which African country visitors to her shop were from. I wondered if I would get the chance to accumulate such knowledge, seeing as most of Australia's immigrants weren't from Africa. She had the unique opportunity to get to know a certain section of the world due to its proximity to Europe, and her circumstances of being an immigrant herself, perhaps relating to them more easily as a result. There aren't too many outsiders in Tibet, I have been told, though there are more now than there were before (due to a relatively new railway). I feel like I can tell different East Asians apart after just a little time spent with them, though, and perhaps I can do the same for many Europeans.

I guess the best we can do is try to be open to each new experience. Take in as few assumptions as possible, and remain conscious that the ones we do carry may be wrong. Search for ways to be more curious, to ask more questions. Remember the old saying that a stranger is a friend waiting to happen, and that there was a time when you weren't friends with the people you're friends with now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No time for paralysis

People come and people go / We create contours in each other / With each other / We savour the negative space
Some bring peace and others war / The abrasive never stay for long /
I've been searching six continents' worth of grass and concrete / they spring up within each other like the yin and yang / lining each other, encroaching on each other's spaces / the beings upon them with their varied faces / I yearn for the flow yet to come / Long for this current stretch to come undone / For it offers little, and I seek a lot / There's serenity to be found in searching / Recurring pain matters not / As long as I keep learning / As long as I keep moving / Rearranging patterns before they start to lock in / But I won't be shut down or shut in 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Well-intentioned insults

Today my friendly waitress referred to me and my female friend as 'guys' as we sat down. This happens to me a lot, and it's supposed to be a sign of respect - likening a couple of women to their male counterparts. In our society men receive more respect than women - they earn more money and are almost completely responsible for running the Fortune 500 companies (or whatever the Australian equivalent is), have a long history of being the political leaders (from Edmund Barton [the first Prime Minister] to Tony Abbott [the first PM after the first female PM]) and so on. The waitress wants to indicate that my stature is somehow like a man's so as to seem more likeable, and it's hard to know how to respond. I'm there to relax and have a good time, not to give her a lecture on gender politics. Yet every time I let it go it occurs to me that this is one more instance of casual sexism I've let slide, and it all builds up to oppress me and everybody else. Perhaps a single, co-conspirational 'but I'm a woman' might work in some cases, but I'm yet to try it. Am I too concerned about hurting the feelings of strangers? I'm constantly being told that I'm overly political correct (as if it's possible to be too much so), so that comes into play.

But it is an insult. It shows that my 'mere' female state is not good enough, is somehow 'lesser than'. But if I seem confident and powerful, I am associated with maleness. Surely we can all do better.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

An intersectionality of my own

I now have the phrase 'intersectional feminist' woven into my Twitter profile, so I thought I'd take a post to describe what that means to me.

No two intersectionalities are alike. My practice is no doubt informed by the many years I've been consuming anti-discrimination narratives on feminism, glbti rights and the rights of people of colour. (I use the term people of colour because I like the sense of solidarity it implies.) I'm not as used to incorporating disability narratives into my work, even though I could be said to fall under this category as well. (It's just hard to view developing extreme distaste for the majority of humanity as a disability. It's more like an acquired taste which doesn't lend itself to optimal social relations.) I'm also not used to theorising about class; I am privileged enough to have access to a university education, and I am privileged enough to travel every year, but my disposable income is very low and when I eat out I do so at inexpensive restaurants. I can't afford to see many concerts or performances, so most of my entertainment is in the form of movies or books. When I do spend, that is - my parents have paid for the internet, so I spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and The Guardian instead.

So maybe I should talk about class and mental 'disability' some more, particularly their cross-section. I take medication which makes me doubt that I'm living my life to the full. With my income in mind, it could be said that I am living in poverty. However, I'm housed in a middle-class abode, there's always food in the fridge and I even live in a relatively good area. I can sometimes afford little luxuries, if I save up enough. If I had the means to go out to events several times a week it would probably be better for my mental health. If I had the means to travel around the world non-stop it would probably be better for my mental health. I would really love to relocate to Scandinavia, but as I don't have the means I have had to abandon that idea for now.

My mental health has been better since I accepted my limitations financially, and stopped thinking that the grass was always greener in Sweden. There are many ways in which Australia is a preferable place to be. I've allowed myself to be more content in the present moment. I take comfort in my new friends and life by the beach. I don't take the weather for granted, nor the high levels of education and optimism around me (typical of both my neighbourhood and Australia in general). 

I have the opportunity to go out to eat or drink every day of the week, and what with the making of a new friend who has a lot of time for me, I am sometimes finding myself doing just that. This perks me up and keeps me from dwelling on things too much. However, my self esteem remains lower than most people's. I often feel like I'm being excluded in some way by the publications I should be looking at hosting my work. When one's open to glbti voices it announces itself as representing 'queer' voices, and this term doesn't represent me at all. When another reaches out to women it is holding back opportunities for people with mental health issues. And so on. I'm invariably in some kind of minority group that the publication marginalises. I don't have faith in any of them. Maybe I should start my own, but I'm too disorganised.

I envy the feminist I met some months ago who had concluded that he needed to spend less time on feminism and more time on other engagements. I would love that kind of break from being constantly miffed, disgruntled or angry. Apparently there is a lot of burn-out amongst feminists. I'm not surprised. I guess I need to pick my fights more carefully. To be informed is to be irate, but what other choice is there? Ignorance is bliss?

I don't even focus on glbti struggles (not exclusively) that much these days, even though the issues remain important to me. Ditto PoC rights. I follow bell hooks on Twitter and keep up to date on whatever Zadie Smith is doing, stay aware of the popular discourses surrounding all these issues because it's rewarding. And while being an intersectional feminist remains close to my heart, I cannot do all these issues justice. I don't have the energy.

There is an upcoming 'All about women' event in Sydney, and I can't really afford to go. If I could, I would probably feel more of a credit to the feminist movement. I would also feel more informed and entertained. As it is I'll have to go back to reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on my Kindle Fire. I feel like I'm learning about Nigeria in doing so, even though my Nigerian friend thinks her works are BS.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Authentic

In Europe there's a long history of ideas to keep your mind from rolling around in the gutter. Here, there's only endless deference to your futility to lean back on.
Australian culture can be identified by the presence of self-loathing that manifests itself in toilet humour, amongst other things.

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Interaction that makes me feel airy
Is what I'm currently searching for

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Authentic. I used to hate that word. I was self-consciously postmodernist at the time. Today context is more important than any one signifier, and 'authentic' is as good place to start as any. But I'm not feeling very authentic these days. I start posts and don't finish them. I break off in the middle of a sentence. I feel like returning to some previous writing techniques, such as 'stream of consciousness' or prose poem.

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"I was never looking for approval / from anyone but you" - P!nk

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A rosy face and a handful of dollars.

I cannot stop saying the word 'fellow' as in 'my fellow Australians' even though it's sexist.

A royal blue handbag, with the cloth handles slightly coming off. A picture of three women and two bicycles, the only text which reads Viet Nam. It dangles off her wrist. She invests a lot into the uneven surface. She thinks it identifies her as a traveller to an unpopular destination. She's armed - with silk. But Viet Nam also signals her fear that she may somehow lapse back into Bulgarian modes of thinking, feeling, being. They have collectivism and Communism in common. The country in which she wears her bag makes all the difference. She can even forgive Australia its lack of cultural sophistication.