The “G” Word

As a straight man, I don’t use the word “gay” lightly. To me, it refers to someone who is attracted to those of the same sex, and – perhaps more arcanely – those who are extremely joyful at the prospect. Although I would only say it in this last way while affecting a Victorian-era hifalutin accent.

It wasn’t always thus.

In my formative years “gay” and related words passed my lips in a disparaging way. I called other guys on the footy field “faggot” or “cocksucker” in an attempt to put them down; I claimed that my mates were “gay” for some perceived slight on their masculine contract; and I would have rather taken it “up the arse” than do something I didn’t want to do.

I didn’t really think much about what I was saying. It seemed normal, modern and par-for-the-course. Eventually I learned that what was I saying, the implications, the allusions I was conjuring, were offensive to people who identify as gay. And like many, this is something I learned from a gay person.

Something that is often argued in social debate, is that those who are unaffected by discriminatory speech, should not be self-appointed arbiters of what those that are should or should not find offensive. For the most part, I agree with this and live by it. (My reservations with this are minimal and do not impact on the way I interact. They are perhaps a topic for another piece.) If I hear from a gay person that using “gay” or associated words as pejoratives is offensive – as I did in this awesome video from the awesome Ash Beckham – then that’s good enough for me.

That could be the end of the story, and it’d be a lot easier if it were.

But like many things to do with social interaction, things are rarely that simple.

As some may know, I am a youth worker. In a former job I had, I was fortunate enough to start a social group for GLBTQI young people, the first of its kind in the regional city where I was living. The group met fortnightly to talk about issues that were relevant to them, and we even put on the inaugural Rainbow Fair Day, which still continues every year.

Mostly though, we just hung out. The service provided a safe space for the young people to come and be themselves, and it was my job to organise the nights so we were doing something fun and interesting. I would often put together a little program so we could look at specific issues and discuss them, and on one particular night, I wanted to look at homophobia.

While their stories of the prejudice they sometimes faced shocked me – one girl told me kids at school had thrown a chair at her – what probably shocked me more was the attitude they took toward the word “gay”.

Without exception, these young people told me that, to them, the word “gay” had two meanings: someone who is attracted to others of the same sex; and something or someone that is lame.

I protested. I asked them whether they thought it hurtful that a word used to describe a part of their identity was also used as an insult. This is what I had been told and what I had accepted.

Nah. They didn’t. They knew the difference between the sexuality-”gay” and the insult-”gay”, and accepted both in context. In fact, not only were they okay with hearing it, they used it a lot themselves. They told me that it was kind of like the word “shit”, which had for some time now been used to mean both something bad and good. They concluded by saying they thought the older generation worried too much about all this language stuff. It didn’t really bother them.

So, as a straight man, what am I supposed to think? From friends I have learnt using these words as pejoratives is not right. I accept that, and I wish I could personally apologise to all those I made feel less than, simply because I had a lack of empathy and a glut of ignorance.

Yet as a youth worker, I also believe that young people are just as entitled to their opinions and for these to be heard and heeded as everyone else is. I don’t accept the argument that because they’re young they don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, their views on a range of issues and ideas will undoubtedly change and grow with experience, but I’ve been around long enough to know that age has no bearing on how ignorant or full o’ shit you are.

Moreover, I also accept and acknowledge that word meanings morph and fracture over time, and regardless of origin, can be widely understood in a variety of contexts. I remember being a young tike, and my teacher ridiculing our use of the word “radical”. She seemed to be rejecting its new meaning, and as a consequence, we felt that she was rejecting us. The older generation would be wise to not reject out of principle the ideas and views of the young.

Now I’m not arguing for the right to say that something bad is “gay”, or to call the guy who cuts me off in traffic a “faggot”. I’m not precious enough to feel that my right to say what I want somehow supersedes my responsibility to give a shit about how my words and actions may impact on others.

What I am saying is nothing is black and white. Some in the GLBTQI community admonish the use of “gay” as a derogation. Others simply don’t care. As I am not a member of the community, it is up to me to neither add to, nor adjudicate the debate. I think erring on the side of caution is always best, and I think that absolutely nothing is lost by a straight man refraining from using potentially homophobic slurs.

However, I take equal heed of the view that words matter, as I do that older people worry too much about language. Maybe the young people in the social group were just naive, and there is an absolute truth in Ash Beckham’s words. But then again, maybe for the young people, names don’t hurt nearly as much as sticks and stones do. What I do know for sure, is that the girl in the group would’ve preferred people project the word “gay” around as a pejorative throwaway, than throw a chair at her as a homophobic projectile.

I want to conclude this piece by saying that I wholeheartedly and unconditionally support organisations and movements such as FCKH8, It Gets Better, PFLAG, GLHV, and Open Doors. Homophobia is very real problem in our society, and young GLBTQI people are more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, and to engage in other risk taking behaviour. I believe there is a connection, and I worry and care deeply about that. If you’ve had time to read my piece, then please take the time to give those links a gander and support anti-homophobia.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

 

 

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The Pot Calling the Kettle Red

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It is popular for those that align themselves with the “Right” in the Australian political landscape to ratchet up fear by associating those on the “Left” with communists, socialists, and all other assorted enemies of capitalism and democracy. A seemingly unending war was waged against Julia Gillard for what some saw as her nefarious past, with questions being raised as to her suitability to lead a democratic nation. Andrew Bolt, clearly no fan of communist ideas existing in his country, has related the environmental movement to communism on a number of occasions.

When the previous Labor government announced plans to hold media regulators to account, The Daily Telegraph superimposed a picture of then Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, on the body of Joseph OzStalin, and came up with this witty front page (above). (They later issued an apology…to Stalin.) Not wanting to be outdone on “clever” covers, The Australian created this pearler  (left) in response to the Gillard government’s proposed increase on taxes for big business and high income earners.

It would seem that much of this commentary has filtered down to the masses. One only needs to take a glance at online forums and comments sections to see that, to many, “Left”, Labor, Greens, universities, activism, support for gay marriage, criticism of government, and the ABC are all synonyms for “communism”.

What all this represents is a clear lack of understanding of what communism actually is. This became personally apparent to me as I was discussing our election system with a family member and bemoaning the lack of plurality in our two-party system. He thought my suggestion that we should become more accepting of other parties and strive for minority governments was tantamount to communism. I didn’t then, and I’m not going to now, attempt an explanation, as this isn’t the piece for it, nor is it my place. After studying sociology and politics at university, I know enough about communist theories to realise I don’t know enough to pontificate on them. Yet even a cursory knowledge of these political, economic, and social theories is enough to realise that conflating Marxism with the Australian Labor Party, and Mao Zedong with Bob Brown is blatantly misguided.

Still, writers, commentators, politicians, and the general public like to cherry-pick anecdotes from communist history and run tenuous links to the belief system and actions of Australia’s political Left. This is an effort to denigrate without engagement; an attempt to win an argument by associating the other side with a movement that has in turn become inaccurately synonymous with totalitarianism, fascism, and even socialism. For many, “communist” is a useful pejorative; an attack that is as ad hominem as calling them a “cunt”.

The thing I have been thinking more and more about recently, is how ironic this all seems. For while the Right is desperate to tar the Left with the dreaded Red brush, it is their ideology, their policies, and their practices that most closely resemble 20th Century communism. This isn’t to suggest that they are communist. But it does suggest that they should have a good hard look at themselves, before they try to denigrate others.

PROTESTS

The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 revealed the unflinching resolve of a communist state to suppress the protests of its people. In the lead up, the CCP attempted to dissuade the protesters by denouncing the demonstrations as a revolt, and those involved as rioters. Similar responses to protests in communist states occurred across Europe, Vietnam, and South America, and it would be reasonable to expect that democratic nations would not only celebrate protests, but also ensure that laws reflected a right of dissent.

However, various protests in Australia have attracted the ire of Right-leaning newspapers and commentators with representations of protests as “clear assault” and “riots”, and protesters as “thugs”, “ferals” (see picture)ferals, an “incoherent, impotent muddle”, and (my favourite) “small pods of malcontents”.

These kind of denouncements are in line with the philosophy of the Right, which generally promotes a dislike for protests and protesters. In this one report, The Daily Telegraph notes that one protester is “unemployed”, and another as working for the SBS, a government-funded broadcaster. This selective reporting of protests is designed to enrage the audience of hardworking taxpayers. What’s more, it is common. Check out this video from The Bolt Report, a masterclass in bias that aims – and no doubt succeeds – to paint all protesters as impediments to progress and prosperity. (Bolt conveniently ignores the fact the protest was attended by members of the community from all walks of life, and resulted in a local plebiscite which rejected the mining company’s proposal).

Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, also dismissed the existence of protests against his leadership in March of this year, laughing them off as unimportant. Meanwhile, his Education minister, Christopher Pyne, has stated that protesting students should be thanking people who don’t have a university degree for subsidising their education through tax, and that he takes “protests with a pinch of salt”. (His first point spectacularly misses the fact that university graduates also pay tax, and thus also subsidise tertiary education, but facts are not his strong suit.) In print, The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen claims protesters “don’t want to miss out on a free feed”.

1111_0Perhaps most startling of all, Tim Wilson, current Human Rights Commissioner, tweeted in 2011 that Occupy Melbourne protesters are “time wasters” who should be subjected to “the water cannons”.

The implications are clear: protesters are lazy, ungrateful good-fer-nuthins’, who are a drain on the taxpayer, and need to shut up, shape up, and chip in.

And it’s not just in media and political commentary, with the Right-leaning Victorian state government recently passing legislation that will make it more difficult for protests to occur. The amendments to the Summary Offences Act give the police enhanced powers to move on protesters if they believe the protest is obstructing businesses or there is a reasonable belief that it will become violent. It all sounds rather subjective, and even the Victorian attorney general, Robert Clark, has stated that the new laws “limit the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and freedom of association.”

MEDIA FREEDOM

It is often noted that communist states exhibit a fervent denial of freedom of speech and of the press. It stands to reason then that any Red-phobic individual or institution would completely reject any notion of the state controlling the flow of information. Right?

Yet in Australia, the current Right-leaning federal government’s policy against people smuggling – named Operation Sovereign Borders – has been shrouded in secrecy since day one. While the government does have a plausible reason for this secrecy, it doesn’t change the fact that it is controlling the flow of information to the people about the implementation of one of its most controversial and flagship policies.

However, that is nothing compared to the stink that was kicked up by the Right-media in relation to so-called “whistleblower”, Edward Snowden. Earlier this year, the ABC reported that Snowden leaks revealed that the Australian government, under the stewardship of former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, spied on the Indonesian president and his wife. In the aftermath, Janet Albrechtsen called for ABC managing director, Mark Scott’s resignation for his choosing to “undermine…immigration policy”, Piers Akerman mocked Q&A host, Tony Jones, for defending freedom of the press, and PM Tony Abbott stated that the ABC should not “leap to be critical of your own country” and called on it to show some “affection for the home team”.

POLITICAL PARTIES

In modern communist states, citizens enjoy little to no option in who leads them. Elections are few and far between, and often when they do occur – as is the way in North Korea – they are orchestrated shams. However, in a democracy, political participation of the populace is its most fundamental aspect. Yet it would seem that there are many on the Right who would rather that a single party (presumably the Liberals) have complete control.

One of the biggest indicators of this was the response after the election of a minority government at the 2010 federal election. Firstly, there’s the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry with its statement that a minority government is bad for business. Then there’s Tony Abbott trashing minority government as “an experiment that failed”, despite the fact that the Gillard minority government was the most productive in terms of passing legislation, as well as passing the most bill amendments and private members’ bills in our federation’s history. You would think that this is sign of democratic health, but it seems our Right-leaning Liberal Party would prefer that only one party had full control, where legislation could be controlled and passed without significant debate or discussion. Such is the case currently in Queensland, where the Liberal party hold a massive majority in a unicameral parliamentary system. This is seen as a good thing, and (apparently) good for democracy.

Of course, plurality is something the Right seems to fear. Not only did Tony Abbott pledge to not lead a minority government, but he also made a move to wipe the Australian Greens Party from the Lower House at the last election. The move failed, but Abbott is clearly antagonistic towards political beliefs that differ wildly from his. But then, the Greens have been punching bags of the Right for awhile, with Senator George Brandis famously delivering a pitiful speech to parliament relating the party to the Nazis. His intention was clearly to smash them from existence. Similarly Barnaby Joyce’s statement that the Palmer United Party is a “cult” appears to be designed to discredit the minor party, lest it impede on the political dominance to which the Right feel they are entitled. And it’s not just the minor parties, with The Courier Mail suggesting that Tony Abbott could “annihilate Labor”, as if a federal government requiring no external approval of its proposed legislation is a good thing. Indeed, as one commentator has noted, such an arrangement would create a parliament where “majority government slams legislation through and creates a situation where only one side wins and all the others are alienated.”


I want to be clear that I am in no way suggesting that the Australian Right are exponents of, or draw their inspiration from, communist doctrine. Yet when making comparisons, it would appear that there are some common features in the way our current government, and their supporters, go about things.

In print and in policy the Australian Right appear to view protests as an impediment and annoyance to the status quo. Whilst the response to protest may not be a violent crackdown, it is clear that they would rather there be no protests at all. Some corners of the media eternally paint protesters as non-normative denizens who fail to do their bit for the community, while those in leadership positions encourage the populace to resent demonstrations, and use legislation to make it more difficult for them to occur.

The way in which the current government has controlled information – starkly different to the former government – and responses to Edward Snowden are interesting to consider in relation to key facets of media control in communist states. These seek to control what information about government is released to the people and take steps to ensure that it is always painted in a good light. As noted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, North Korea consistently promotes only positive news, whilst the government in Uzbekistan shows a complete intolerance for negative press.

In what has become a bit of a bugbear for me, the lack of diversity in our political landscape is not only ignored, but appears to be celebrated by those on the Right. But look, I’m just a lowly community youth worker and don’t understand the machinations of political power. Although a political ideology that seeks a legislative environment where only their voice is heard doesn’t sound very democratic to me. Sounds more like what we’ve come to expect from modern communist states.

Above all else, I think the ignorance of those who hypocritically point the finger at others, whilst failing to examine themselves, is perhaps best summed up with a quote. Taken from the comments section of an Andrew Bolt piece, it is written in support of Bolt’s seething at the apparent Marxist-inspired educators that are rampant in our schools.

“Parents should stand up and demand their eradication from our education system.” 

That’s right. In order to free ourselves of an ideology that (supposedly) seeks to control thought and impinge on personal freedoms, we must “eradicate” those who think differently from us.

The irony slays me.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

My rant about Australia Day

I guess this piece will be one of hundreds from us Aussies, reflecting on this, our “most special of days”. But I feel like I want to write it out, so I can properly understand my thoughts on it all.

So, on 26th January 1788, 11 ships – loaded with English convicts, military, and a few free settlers, arrived at a part of Sydney now known as Botany Bay. This was the First Fleet, and it marked the beginning of the colonisation of Australia by the British.

There was, of course, a native population. Indigenous peoples that had a curious (ethnocentrically speaking) way of living. They were grouped into many different and linguistically unique “nations”, had little concept of notions like property and possessions, no understanding of western ideas of individualism, and lacked awareness of agriculture and cultivation.

To the arriving colonists and convicts, these people were savages; and although at first, efforts were made to establish a simpatico relationship, as the months became years, the years flowed into decades, and the decades bled into centuries, the treatment of Australia’s first peoples has been typified by slaughter, kidnapping, cultural genocide, land misappropriation, and racist policy.

Because the transgressions are so many, the subjugation so prolonged, it has been common to cite the day of arrival – of invasion – as the day that symbolises when all the shit began hitting the proverbial fan. It has led to a call by many for the 26th of January to be observed as a national day of mourning, a chance to to not celebrate our achievements, but to reflect on our past wrongs. To focus not on national pride, but rather national reconciliation.

I couldn’t agree more.

This is not to say that there is not a lot to be proud of and celebrate. There absolutely is. I love my country. I love living here, and (most of the time) I love calling myself an Australian. But my pride is not unconditional, and it is certainly not blind to the facts of our history, and the realities of our present.

Our understanding and attitudes towards Indigenous people are still quite paternalistic at best, and downright racist at worst. I am not going to lay all blame for all of Australia’s wrongs at the feet of white Australia. I find that view narrow-minded and failing at balanced judgement. But what I will argue, is that it seems rather incongruous with our national qualities of egalitarianism and mateship to celebrate a day that to a section of our communities, represents the beginning of the dissolution of their way of life.

It is also the very meaning of irony, that a day intended to bring all of us together with a shared sense of national pride in the fact that we are all Australian, essentially distances the First Australians.

Calls for our national day of celebration to be moved to a different date are on the money. Such proposals are often misunderstood – or have their intentions bastardised – and interpreted to mean that we should not be proud of our heritage and our country. This is a furphy. We need an Australia Day. We deserve a day off. It is essential for us to celebrate our nationality and be thankful for living in a country, which – on a comparative international scale – is pretty fucking good. But why 26th January?

For as many years as I can remember, my Australia Day has been the last Saturday in September. (For any non-Melbournians or people with no taste in sport, this is the day of the AFL Grand Final.) Nothing makes me prouder than watching the year’s best teams playing the greatest sport in the world. It’s a day when I get together with my mates, drink a lot of beer, cheer, high-five, and get really, really excited.

I can understand that heaps of people couldn’t give a rats about footy, and I’m not seriously suggesting that this become our national holiday. It’s a Saturday after all; I don’t want to miss out on a day off. But it does highlight the bloody obvious fact that patriotic celebrations are not eternally linked to any certain date. There is nothing we do on 26th January that cannot also be done on a different day. We can still eat lamb, drink beer, and listen to Triple J count down the 100 most overrated songs of the previous year on any day of the calendar. It needn’t be a day that is so hurtful to Indigenous Australians.

So today, as on other Australia Days, I will take the time to reflect on how much further we have to go as a nation to repairing the cultural rifts that still fracture our communities. I will not think about what it means to be Australian; I’ll save that for another day. For to do it today, on the 26th of January, would force me to conclude that being an Australian means taking what I want and doing what I want, no matter who gets hurt. It means encroaching onto land already occupied, and then designating it free land. It means assigning an intrinsic value to a people that places them on the same level as koalas and bottlebrush. It means having such an extreme sense of ethnocentrism, that I would kidnap children from their parents, under the ruse of offering them a better life. I don’t want to celebrate these things. I want to mourn them. I want to be sorry for them.

I am proud to be an Australian. But not today.

Carn the Bombers.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

The problem with American gun freedom

(I wish to direct people to What A Witch, who also blogged on this matter a couple of days ago. As an American, she perhaps gives a more grounded and rounded interpretation of the issue than I can.)

And so again we are faced with the news of yet another mass shooting in America. As it stands at the moment, The Age newspaper in Australia is reporting that 20 children (aged between 5 and 10 years), and eight adults are dead. Killed at a primary school in Connecticut by a single assailant wielding two handguns and a rifle.

When I heard about this, my first thought was, “oh, not again”, because I wonder how a seemingly intelligent people can continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Pondering this found me arriving at a cross-roads of three conclusions in relation to the unending gun violence in the States: either Americans are more violent by nature; Americans “enjoy” greater access to guns than others; or Americans are so enamoured with their “rights”, that they feel it is their patriotic imperative to possess a gun. Continue reading

Gender stereotyping in an Australian advertising campaign

I have been wanting to vent on this for some time and a prompt from slendermeans has given me the excuse I needed. (It’s a really good blog and I suggest you all get over and check it out.) Gendered advertising has always kind of irked me, even when I didn’t really understand what those irksome feelings were all about. But once you are switched onto it, the amount of advertising that attempts to wrap us up into nice, warm little binary-gendered nuggets is extremely frustrating.

I call all your attentions to a K-Mart TV advertising campaign that was launched earlier this year in Australia. I’ve made things easy for you to understand the context of this post, simply by clicking here and here. You’re welcome. Now I’ll just grab a beer while you have a look.

The perceptive of you may have noticed that the commercials are a little dominated by women shoppers. And by “a little”, I mean “fucking totally”. These two ads are completely representative of the whole campaign, where 95% of those depicted as patrons of K-Mart are women. As you can see from the second video, this is even true when the products being marketed are intended for use by men. I mean, they’re men’s t-shirts! We can buy our own fucking t-shirts, thank-you very much, and we don’t need to be fed the bullshit that it’s up to the women in our lives to dress us up in our big-boy pants. I find the ads stupid and offensive both as a man, and as someone who supports feminism and gender equality. Continue reading