Friday, 27 February 2015

Oh My God, There's A Word For It

Some people like labels, and some people don’t. I’ve found that the majority of people who don’t are people who’ve never worried about what theirs might be.

It’s true; we do have many labels used to describe gender and sexuality. But that’s not a bad thing. It means that people can keep searching until they find a word that fits them. And if you’ve never struggled with your own labels, you can’t understand the relief that provides.

You probably know the basics – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender. They’re easy. But you might not know pansexual, polysexual, the whole spectrum under the term asexual, and the even bigger spectrum under the term genderqueer. And that’s not even starting on romantic orientations.

So allow me to explain.

Pansexual means attraction regardless of gender identity. You have the physical capability to be attracted to anyone (but not everyone).

The difference between pansexual and bisexual is a common question, and everyone has a different answer. But really, all you need to know is that if someone identifies as either pansexual or bisexual, then that is what they are and you need to respect that.

Polysexual is similar. It means attraction to multiple genders (so someone who previously called themselves a lesbian may change to polysexual to include anyone with a vagina, regardless of gender identity).

If a person is asexual, it means they don’t experience sexual attraction at all. There’s a whole host of terms under the asexual umbrella, including demisexual (sexual attraction only when a strong romantic bond has been formed) and grey-asexual (sexual attraction only in specific cases, perhaps only towards one person). Asexual people can still be in fulfilling romantic relationships.

Then, of course, there’s romantic attraction, which is entirely different. Romantic attraction refers to people you are interested in dating. A person can be panromantic (romantic attraction to all genders regardless of gender identity), biromantic (romantic attraction to all genders, but not regardless of gender identity), polyromantic (romantic attraction to multiple genders), homoromantic (romantic attraction to the same gender), heteroromantic (romantic attraction to the opposite gender), or aromantic (no romantic attraction at all). Romantic attraction doesn’t necessarily line up with sexual attraction – it is possible for a bisexual person to be heteroromantic, for example.

Now we’ve covered sexuality, we have to start on gender. Cisgender is the term for people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender is the opposite. Genderqueer covers a whole host of terms, listed below.

An agender person doesn’t identify as any gender at all. A bigender person identifies as two genders, sometimes at the same time and sometimes switching between. A genderfluid person identifies as all genders, often changing throughout the day. This can lead to dysphoria (discomfort with physical appearance, mindset, or how you are perceived socially). Dysphoria is common amongst transgender and genderfluid people, but if a person doesn’t experience it, their identity is no less valid.

The important thing to remember is that transgender people are the gender they identify as, and they always have been. A transwoman doesn’t want to be a woman. She isn’t changing from a man to a woman, and she wasn’t born a boy or in a boy’s body. She just happened to be assigned male at birth.

The important thing to remember as a cisgender, heterosexual person, is to always be respectful of someone’s identity and personal pronouns, and never ask any questions about their gender or sexuality that you wouldn’t expect to be asked about your own.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Straight Boy Problem

I'm a bisexual girl, and as my brain frequently points out to me, I am so, so very bisexual. I'll be lusting after Scarlett Johansson, and five minutes later drooling over Samuel Larsen. But (and this has caused me some worry over the last few months), attractive as they are, I actually have no interest in dating men.

Or, at least, I have little interest in dating only very few. For lack of a better word, I'm going to call this the straight boy problem.

Being privileged makes people annoying to other, less privileged people. White people, able-bodied people, rich people, cisgender people. Straight people. Irritating as hell if you're not one of them.

Particularly straight men. Particularly straight boys. They are so wrapped up in their own privilege they can't see two metres in front of them, and attractive though they might be, this makes them profoundly annoying. And it only takes five minutes of hanging out with someone profoundly annoying before they're about as attractive as three week old unrefrigerated pizza.

I like men. They're cute. They have the jaws that do the thing and the hair that does the thing and the hip bones that do the thing. But god, I can barely spend five minutes with them anymore.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

I'm not a child!

When I was in my mid teens, every time I read a character protesting that they're 'not a child!' I'd scoff and think 'only a child says that'. I promised myself that I'd never say that, and by that, prove my own adulthood.

God I was naive.

I was a child. And I still am. If given the choice between the fun and the sensible decision, I will always make the fun one. I can't save money to save my life. I still eat three magnums a day, just because I can. I don't wash my clothes until I'm literally having to dig through the laundry basket to find the cleanest pair of underwear. I don't wash the dishes until we've run out of forks. My room has been cleaned once in the almost two years I've lived here and it wasn't even me who did it. My desk is piled with more rubbish than a skip outside a building site. I claim to want to write as a career, but I actually write fuck-all because watching How I Met Your Mother is easier.

I probably moved out of home way too early. I keep telling myself that if I moved into my very own place I'd keep it tidy because it would be my space, and mine alone, but that's probably bullshit. I didn't just get pushed into the deep end without taking swimming lessons. I jumped, willingly and happily, and had the audacity to be shocked when I couldn't touch the bottom. Sometimes I want to swim to the shallow end, or even just climb out of the pool entirely, and only my bone-deep pigheadedness is stopping me.

I'm not sure how to end this. Do I make some sort of sarcastically witty quip and leave you dejected, or do I dig into my store of optimism, which feels like it's running lower every day, and tell you that of course I'll get better - I'll publish a book, or get a better job, or learn how to save money, or finally be able to live completely on my own without any assistance from my parents, or move to Melbourne or London or New York and become a superstar?

I don't know if any of that will happen. I have no idea what the next five or ten or fifty years will bring. But I'll be damned if I let them be boring.

Next time I'm feeling discouraged, next time I'm clicking from my Google docs tab over to Netflix, and next time I sigh in self-loathing and go to the freezer for that third magnum, I need to get out this post, dust it off, and remind myself that I promised the internet, and more importantly myself, that I wasn't going to be boring any more. And then I need to close down Netflix, ignore the call of that magnum, and write the damn novel. Because the only way I'm going to have the life I want is if I get off my arse and fight for it.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Why Representation Matters

We all like to see ourselves in the books we read and the movies we watch. And if you're a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender person with no serious mental or physical illness then you're just fine. You're everywhere.

If you've got anything about you that makes a character difficult or unusual, then you're basically screwed. Gay? You might get to be the Gay Best Friend if you're lucky. Bisexual, pansexual, or asexual? Forget it. No one, apparently, wants to write about you. Black, Latina, or Asian? No one, apparently, wants to write about or cast you. Transgender, genderfluid, or agender? No one, apparently, wants to write about you either. Unless the story is all about your Unusual Gender Alignment. Disabled or sick? Apparently it's no fun to read about someone who maybe can't do quite everything an able-bodied or healthy person can do.

Well I can tell you it's fun for the person reading. If you're the kind of person who's commonly written about then you can't possibly understand the blinding, heady relief of finding a character who's just like you. A month or so ago, I picked up a book called Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I'd heard good things about it. I thought I'd give it a try.

The main character has social anxiety. Do you know how incredible it was for me to realise that characters could have that? I'm a writer and even I've never given my characters social anxiety because I never thought that someone with it could be the heroine of a story. Every decision that character made was something I would have done, and she was influenced by the same thing that plagues me every single day. I couldn't believe that she could have that illness and still manage to be the heroine of a story.

She made me believe I could do that too.

When you write or cast yet another straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender person, you're telling everyone who doesn't fit into those criteria that you don't want to write a story about them. That you can't be bothered stepping out of your comfort zone to give them a character who's just like them. You're telling them that they're not worth being the hero/heroine of their story. And maybe you're not doing that intentionally. Probably you aren't. But that's the message they get anyway.

It will only cost you a little bit of effort to drastically improve your writing and to make someone else's day.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Weirdest Things About Growing Up

I moved out of home a bit over a year ago, and to be honest, the weirdest thing (which I am still yet to get used to) is probably buying things. Not like bread and milk - my parents sent me out for that. It wasn't that odd an experience. Plus, I was expecting to have to buy that.

The weirdest things to buy are the things that always just kind of appeared back with mum and dad. Deodorant; shampoo; flour; sugar. Toilet paper! Those things that had always been in the pantry when you needed them aren't anymore.

You want a snack when you get home? Too bad. You and your housemate ate all the Jatz last night because you couldn't be bothered cooking dinner and now all you've got is some questionably edible dip in the fridge and a couple of sad schnitzels in the freezer, which you suppose you'll have to eat tonight. Maybe you'll have it with mashed potato, although you don't have any butter so it won't be very nice.

Moving out of home is probably 50% staying up until 3am watching Harry Potter and eating ice cream for breakfast, and 50% using tissues instead of toilet paper because you're too lazy to buy some, and putting cream in your Milo because you have some left over from baking scones but you're out of milk (actually, even if you aren't, cream is very good in Milo).

You realise why your parents have a plethora of those weird cards that get you points you can exchange for rewards when you go grocery shopping, but you're disappointed when they fail to yield results because you don't buy that much. You realise just how expensive shampoo really is. And seriously, that razor will last you a month, max. How can it cost that much? The mail doesn't appear on the bench anymore and it's really quite a distance to the mailbox from your front door. The bins get fuller and fuller because really there's no point going to the effort of opening the gate and dragging them to the kerb when they're only half full. You eat out of take away containers because you haven't washed the dishes. You resent every cent public transport zaps from your concession card and longingly wish you had a car, even though money will be even tighter when you do. At the beginning, you marveled over how cheap your rent was. Now you wonder why your landlady needs quite that much for just a bedroom. The bathrooms get dirtier and dirtier and cleaning them gets a more and more daunting task. Your bedroom hasn't been vacuumed in months because the floor is never tidy for long enough.

If you're thinking of moving out, all I can say is good luck, and for God's sake don't choose take away pizza over recharging your bus card. You'll really regret it when your paying the fare with scraps of change from your desk drawer.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Ferguson events

Last Saturday afternoon, two young men were walking home from the grocery store. They were yelled at by a policeman to 'get the fuck back on the sidewalk' as they were walking on the road. They didn't, stating that they were 'nearly at their destination'. If they had been white, that would have been the end of the discussion, if it had even started.

It wasn't. The policeman shot Michael Brown several times at close range, and chased he and his friend when they ran.

Disappointed with the police and government response to the shooting, the black community in Ferguson, Missouri (which makes up 67% of the town's population, despite 94% of the police force and government officials being white) began a peaceful protest. Despite the lack of violence, this was met with a hugely violent response from the Ferguson police force, including tear gas. Mya Aaten-White was shot in the head during these proceedings, and police are now trying to pass it off as a drive-by shooting by two black men. Aaten-White is in critical condition.

Despite this, there has been very little media coverage. Media vans were explicitly told to leave the scene of the protest when they arrived. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable for the police to treat people like this, but not perfectly acceptable for anyone to know about it. That shows that they know something is wrong with what they're doing, and they just don't care.

The blatant display of institutionalised racism shown by police in Ferguson is disgusting and horrifying.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Why You Will Never Get Away with a Rape Joke in Front of Me

I’m an anxious person, which means that even though I like to argue, I don’t like conflict. I tend to let things go, even if they irritate me. However, I will never let you get away with making a rape joke in front of me. Do you know why?

In America, 97% of rapists will not go to gaol. Only 40% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. Your oh-so-funny jokes have helped lead the world to believe that rape is an ordinary part of day-to-day life, to be expected and not dramatised. But there are two kinds of people likely to hear your joke – rape victims, and their rapists. You making that joke tells the victim that their pain is funny to you; that their trauma is the stuff of humour. You making that joke tells the rapist that their actions are okay; that they are justifiable; that they are acceptable. You making that joke spreads the exact opposite of the right message.

I’m sure you are a fine, upstanding person. I’m sure you would never do that to another person. But the person standing next to you might. And you making that joke sends the message that you accept them. The person standing across from you who has been raped hears that message too, and to them it means that their rapist is accepted while they are laughed at.

So next time you go to make a joke; next time you go to say something you think is funny; next time you go to make fun of a crime: look around you. Wonder who standing within earshot might be a potential rapist, an actual rapist, or a rape victim. Wonder this, and then, for pete’s sake, keep your mouth shut.