Ripple Effects

A few weeks ago my 14 year old non binary child, Sol, went to a new doctor for the first time. The doctor was an older lady who clearly had not (knowingly) met a non binary person before, so she asked a lot of questions about identity, before getting stuck, as many do, on the pronouns. Sol’s pronouns are they/them, and the doctor was struggling with it.

“We really need a new word, don’t we? Because “they” is plural…”

With a small internal sigh, I launched into my “here’s one we prepared earlier” spiel about singular “they”.

“Actually, we use singular ‘they’ all the time. For example ‘oh, someone left their book on the train. I hope they get it back.'”

The doctor’s eyes widened as she took this in, and she paused for a moment before exclaiming how much sense it all made, and then we went on with the consultation.

Yesterday, we had a followup visit via telehealth, and the first thing she said, after the obligatory apology for being late, was “I have to thank you!”

Which was not where we were expecting this consultation to go, but she quickly explained herself.

“What you said about how we already use ‘they’ as singular made so much sense to me, and it immediately got rid of my whole discomfort with it. It wasn’t a problem anymore. Then I caught up with a teacher friend of mine who was really struggling with it, and I told her what you told me. She thought it was absolutely brilliant and she’s now telling everyone…”

This is a neat story, and I’m happy that it made sense to that doctor, but what it really slammed home for me is the power of the ripple effect. Every time you explain something in a way that makes sense to someone, you’re not just explaining it to them. You are potentially explaining it to everyone that person ever meets. And that everyone they explain it to potentially explains it to everyone they meet… And you don’t need to watch my video explainer on exponential growth to understand that the ripples of that explanation can spread a long way remarkably quickly.

So even though some explanations inevitably fall on deaf ears, who knows how many ripple effects there will be from every other time you take a deep breath and try to explain. And ripples can quietly change the world.

In other news, the Australian Ally Schools Network has been launched as a Facebook group, as a support for schools wanting to become better allies to their LGBTQI+ students. Schools can share best practice & resources, as well as talk about their challenges and find support for making progress. Searching for the name of the group should find it, but feel free to email if you need help.

Trans issues are everyone’s issues

A lot of cis het people feel like they can’t comment on issues involving queer people. It’s an anxious space, trying not to say the wrong thing, trying not to misrepresent the experience of a significantly marginalised and often harassed group, trying to be supportive and understanding, while desperately, desperately trying not to offend anyone.

For a public figure, that must be even more terrifying – to put your words, and your ignorance, out on full display, to tread in a sensitive area and not cause pain, with SO many people watching. Not to mention a hostile, conflict-loving media always waiting to pounce.

The trouble is, if queer people are the only people who ever advocate for queer people… well. It’s exhausting. To fight the bathroom fight every single day (what the heck is it with bathrooms, anyway??? geez). To get told to pick a side. To get told you’re unnatural. An abomination. Possessed by Satan. (These are all things my non binary child has had said to them.)

That’s why it was so glorious when we went to see Adam Hills last night. He used his privileged cis het voice to talk about trans issues, and he did it beautifully – because he admitted his ignorance. I’ve known and worked with a lot of people who feel like admitting ignorance is showing weakness, something we must never do. But exposing your own ignorance can be a phenomenally powerful thing.

I won’t appropriate Adam’s jokes (they were hilarious), but his central point deserves being shouted from the rooftops. Adam pointed out that he’s old (though I could take issue with him on that, because he’s only a year older than me!), and that there’s a lot of stuff he doesn’t get.

But here’s the thing, his central point: You don’t have to get it, in order to respect it.

That’s it. That’s the point. If someone tells you what they need, you don’t turn around and say “You don’t need that.” You try to help them get what they need.

And trans people just need respect. We all just need respect. But trans and other queer people have to fight every day just to be treated with basic human respect. It’s exhausting. It’s demoralising. It’s actively dehumanising.

So for Adam to turn up, stand up, stand proud, and say “I don’t get it. But here are a few things I’ve had explained to me, and I reckon we could all be nicer to each other.” was an immensely powerful thing. Especially when he relayed trans comedian Anna Piper Scott’s comment that the one thing she wanted was for people to know that trans people were never going to molest them in the bathroom. That all trans people want is to be able to use the bathroom in peace. I mean. Talk about basic human rights, eh?

Adam has a profile, a platform, and hordes of adoring fans. And he chose to use that platform to take a risk, to expose his ignorance, and in doing so, to advocate for trans people. That means a lot to me, and to my family.

And here’s the thing, which I tend to forget, and I needed a friend to point out to me: This is not a trans issue. Just as domestic violence is not a womens’ problem. Trans people are not the problem. This is society’s problem. It’s not trans people who need to change. It’s us. This about taking “us and them,” and making it all about us. All of us.

Love, vulnerability, and the Aussie man

If there’s one thing that has become clear in these bizarre pandemic times, it’s that love is essential to keep us alive and functional. And also that love is a larger, more complex beast than our language can possible allow for.

I’ve just finished reading Rick Morton’s immensely powerful and eloquent treatise on love, “My Year of Living Vulnerably,” and, gosh! It sparked some intense reflections in this pandemic-addled brain of mine. The impact of isolation, the long, long shadow of childhood trauma and all of the ways we don’t recognise its effect… and the overwhelming need for connection. I probably need to read it again to make proper sense of it because, honestly, I kept having to put it down to go “oh my god, that’s why I …” which was quite distracting at the time, though extraordinarily useful. But it also poked some extremely raw nerves about love.

I love intensely. It’s hard to measure that against how intensely others love, because I can’t see the inside of anyone else’s head (dammit). But I’ve watched my kids, and when they love, they love with their whole beings. Every fibre of themselves. And they don’t back down from that easily. And… let’s just say… they probably get that from me.

But I have issues with telling men (other than my husband) that I love them. I don’t think they’re my issues. I think they belong to an awful lot of Australian men, to be honest. Some of my male friends flinch a little, or look edgy, or just plain uncomfortable when I do tell them I love them. They’ll change the subject, or make a joke, or just pretend it never happened. With some of my closest male friends I often try not to tell them I love them, because I’m quite confident it would make them uncomfortable. But I do, oh! I do. I love them with my whole heart.

My closest female friends are fine with it. We speak our love with gay abandon (so to speak), and say “I love you” all the time. And it’s a glorious thing. But it’s different where men are concerned.

Though I’m frightened by the word,
Think it’s time I made it heard.
No more empty self possession,
Visions swept under the mat.
It’s no New Years resolution,
It’s more than that.

Message to My Girl, Split Enz

So what’s with the men? I think there are two problems here. One is that Australian men are trained in a quite visceral and emphatic way not to have emotions, and certainly not to express them. Since the former is obviously impossible, many men go all in on the latter, in an attempt to pretend that they are successfully being actual robots. If they can’t stop having emotions, then preventing them from showing is surely the next best thing, right?

The second problem is that, for my generation at least, men and women are still not supposed to be friends. I used to go to parties where the men went to one room and the women to another, and it did my head in, because I typically felt much more comfortable hanging out with the men. Now I just don’t go to those kinds of parties. But there’s still this perceived divide. That men get men, and women get women, and friendships that cross the divide are impossible without sex getting in the way (except for the gay male bestie. That’s allowed.)… it still seems like that’s taken as a fundamental truth, despite being terribly, terribly damaging and divisive.

I have a close gay male friend who I share “I love you”s with, but I also have a dear gay male friend who would, I suspect, be hugely uncomfortable with that, so it’s not just the potential-attraction dynamic. Now, maybe this is me presuming things that aren’t true, or maybe I am correctly picking up on a vibe, but there’s no doubt that saying “I love you” can be tricky between the sexes. It seems like younger generations are more sensible about this. I’ll be 50 this year, and it’s still the exception rather than the norm, when I look around, for women my age to have male best friends, but my kids and their friends often seem to cross the divide without even knowing it was ever there.

But this time of isolation, of being cut off from so many loved ones, of having our level of people contact, hugging, and casual affection drastically cut down, has had a far reaching impact. As one friend said to me recently, “they’ll be writing PhDs about this for decades”. And for me, at least, it has made me profoundly, painfully aware of my love, and desperate to express it. And when the internet is all we have, and hugs mostly off the table still, how can we express the intensity of our feelings in this moment without saying I love you?

At all times, but especially in these times, we could all use more love, and more expressions of love. Forget flowers and chocolates. Tell your friends you love them. When someone I love tells me that they love me, it’s like a wave of joy that lifts me over the rough road of every day life. It’s like a heated blanket on a cold day. It’s the closest we can get to a hug without actually hugging. And I love that. Don’t you?