So says Krusty the Clown’s father Rabbi Hymen Krustofsky (did you read that to yourself in his accent?) in the classic early “Simpsons” episode “Like Father, Like Clown.” Seriously, it’s a really important question when dealing with issues faced by discriminated-against groups in society and how to be an ally.
The AFLW is a good case in point. While the gist of the initiative is well and good and is getting (cisgender) women playing at a higher level than before, the idea has been and is being framed from a men’s perspective. The AFLW faces (unjustified) criticism because it’s “not the same” as the men’s style of playing. Male coaches now dominate womens’ teams. The male dominated AFL can’t look at their own unconscious bias as per the inadequacy of trans woman Hannah Mouncey’s treatment. It’s what happens when you don’t put the people in question in charge of their own destiny.
Interestingly, the late Trevor Grant, made similar comments on 3 CR on his show “What’s the Score, Sport?” re indigenous inclusion a few years ago. It’s all very well to have indigenous players; where are the indigenous coaches, administrators and board members?
I recently heard of an organisation that ran a panel discussion to promote trans and gender diverse issues. The cisgender facilitator apparently framed questions from her own point of reference meaning the trans people had to work harder to make their points. In positive contrast, (declaring any interest), as a trans person I had the joy of facilitating a panel of 3 trans and gender diverse people on a panel discussion earlier this year. Trans and gender diverse voices spoke about what we wanted and needed to say, rather than being reactive to tired old fictitious cisgender concerns. In plain language, the panel rocked it.
Similarly, who plays trans people in films, TV etc – and of course, trans people are best at playing trans people. We know there are scores of good TGD actors clamouring for work. Problem is, if the casting director and the script writer doesn’t look beyond their idea of what trans is and fail to empathise strongly with our needs, they can and most likely will cast the wrong performer.
In the same way, there is finally an increased focus on bisexual issues. Sadly, too many know-it-alls are rushing in without consulting bi people. I recently heard of someone who presented to a policy forum and said there were no differences between the needs of gays and lesbians compared to the needs of bisexuals. Seriously? I don’t know one bisexual who would agree with that. Did the presenter consult and listen – obviously not.
There’s lots of ideas on what makes a good ally. For me, it’s about asking people from the relevant group two questions. They are “what would you like us to do and what would you like us NOT to do?” Part of that means an ally needs to be humble. A true ally might need to put their ego aside, listen and learn. A true ally might need to share power and privilege rather than forcing their version of it onto other people.
And most of all, a true ally needs to let go of control and might not “be in charge here.” Remember the end of The Simpsons episode – the once-controlling Rabbi Krustofsky lovingly embraced Krusty as an equal. That’s a pretty good image to hold in mind. Go with it.
(As always, opinions on this blog are my own).
Recently, I attended the Thrive symposium, a fantastic weekend of workshops on self-care for those involved in the diversity of social justice campaigns. One great workshop was a visualisation across generations where history students seven generations (say 200 years) from now are able to talk to campaigners of 2017 and ask questions like “things looked a bit cactus in 2017, what kept you going? How did you do it?” It was just the tonic (no gin) I needed after the last 3 months. And led me to think: what will rainbow community look like in 200 years’ time? How do we start getting there? What do we need to do?
WE are the generation to start the progress to give those future students the history to study.
It’s hardly rocket science to say that the whole marriage campaign, especially the last 3 months –has been difficult for most if not all of rainbow people, families and allies. Thing is, there has been an extra layer of difficulty for bi, trans and gender diverse (TGD) people and family members of TGD, especially TGD minors. (It’s also probably been there for other parts of the rainbow with which I can’t directly identify; thoughts from others who do identify with these parts of the rainbow most welcome). I communicated with many bi, trans and families over this period and heard a common theme: erasure of bi and TGD by some prominent yes campaigners made this period even more difficult. We believe the treatment was less than equal; the feelings associated with that belief range from disappointment and sadness, through frustration, rejection, betrayal and abandonment to outright anger and indignation. We have a right to those opinions and those feelings; I have sadly had mine dismissed, no matter how “well-meaning” people were in so doing.
It’s not just bi, trans and families who expressed this viewpoint. As an example, I had a great conversation at the GLOBE awards 3 weeks ago with a guy – I’m not assuming gender because his first words to me were “I am a rich white gay man. 🙂 ” Seriously, he then went on to say that he felt sad about how we continually leave people behind in our communities. He also said he worked with refugees – and that what was happening on Manus Island was a disgrace. Hear hear. So it’s reassuring to find the true allies are there. A special thank you to those who spoke publicly about this aspect of the campaign over the last 3 months. Happily, it seems some in positions of prominence and influence are aware of this issue as acknowledged at the panel discussion Thursday 16 November: Equality – no exceptions (hosted by the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby).
I could spend a lot of keystrokes analysing the marriage campaign; I may do that later, but not now; that’s a separate topic. I bring this up now for one reason and only one reason: it gives us a pointer for the future. In the words of George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’m willing to leave the past in the past on one strict non-negotiable condition that the future is better – and the future begins now.
Unfortunately the past of the rainbow world often boils down to the reality that some people (I’m including organisations as well as individuals here) in positions of prominence and influence, when it boils down to it, demonstrate by their actions, that, at the rock bottom core of their beliefs is a belief that groups such as bi and trans are less than equal. We try to build a queer house and we paper over the cracks that appear as a result of building on shaky foundations. (We don’t even try to fill the cracks – that would involve using POLYfilla – and we erase polyamory as well :)). And then we wonder why the queer house falls down rather than having more rooms and more levels.
Rather than paper over the cracks we need to properly fix the foundations so this doesn’t happen EVER again – using the theme of the VGLRL panel discussion – no exceptions.
We need to start from the basis of shared values – and equality, respect and inclusivity could be part of that. The absolutely critical factor is walking the talk rather than just having nice words that are all very warm and fuzzy but are used tokenistically and inconsistently.
Before, going further, I am all for the concept of there are things that we “don’t know that we don’t know.” That includes diversity. If it’s pointed out that a statement or belief may be inappropriate re diversity, then, the same as any mistake: admit it, fix it, learn from it and prevent it happening again. I’m happy to educate and “call in” people.
What are some mistakes that happen?:
Like any realignment of values, it is a change process which may have its tensions. That is a tiny price to pay for a more effective community that can achieve more results. I looove the words of trans woman of colour Andrea Jenkins, elected recently to Minneapolis City Council “We don’t just want a seat at the table, we want to set the table.” I’ll take those words further: “I want a full carte blanche menu of equality and equity on which to dine.” We need to work out a common base to translate the agreed values into practical language so we can work on multiple campaigns simultaneously. The “supermarket delicatessen” approach of “take a number and wait for your human rights” – the human rights that are our birthright that were stolen from so many of us – never worked and certainly can’t work now. To name only a few groups: I am both trans and bi. I am acutely aware of the abuse still faced by people experiencing intersex and the blatant discrimination faced by those working in the sex industry. Going beyond the rainbow and into the broader community, how do we work effectively on racial respect and respect for youth?
Thing is, when we do it right, the difference is tangible. At an event at Collingwood town hall this year the process was set up well with encouragement to speak up even things may have been “unpopular”– and the difference was blatantly obvious. To quote that great Australian philosopher – Dennis Denauto from “The Castle – the “vibe” was tangible. Ideas flowed easily. When implemented lives will be saved and changed.
There would be other broader benefits: if we start it in one place, it could boost other parts of the country and go worldwide. We also shut down a line of attack from the far right (not that we need to be reactive to them, rather we do this because it benefits us) about “you lot are divided.”
Let’s do it all the time. Let’s be the generation that starts that change in November 2017. Let’s be on the right side of rainbow history – starting now.
September 23 is Celebrate Bisexuality Day. Hooray hooray it’s a great big huge bi day!! (acknowledging copyright to Boney M)
There’s so many advantages to being multi-gender attracted. You can move past the arbitrary limitations imposed by a largely either/or society on you…gender schmender. You get the cream of the crop for your relationships without being limited by gender…remember, though, bi…but fussy. Your ability to pun is greatly enhanced (ok, open for some debate there re that as an advantage). Celebrate bi awesomeness in all its forms.
I find it paradoxical that we need a bi visibility day. After all, bi is the numerically largest sexual orientation as confirmed by research and logically by the Kinsey scale. Yet so often bi peeps are erased: in research, policy and in other ways e.g. a couple walking down the street who appear to be male and female are both assumed to be heterosexual based on appearance alone.
There are numerous explanations e.g. political, social conditioning, for the erasure; thing is there are no valid excuses. None. Zero. Zappo. Zilch.
So how to move to 20/20 bi vision?
Use inclusive language such as LGBTI and not gay and lesbian. This especially applies in Australia right now during the paper-wasting exercise on marriage. Bi (and trans/gender diverse and intersex) need total support and for us, that inclusive language communicates unconditional support. It won’t be to borrow from Martin Niemöller “first they came for the bisexuals” because we just won’t let them come for anyone. Case closed.
Allies, please stand up against biphobia/bi-erasure. For example, when someone says “bi doesn’t exist” a possible response is “wasn’t that said in the past about gays and lesbians – and we realised it was bunkum?”
And to bi+ people who have faced erasure or prejudice: remember to keep saying “I am equal.”
This is our day…wave your pink, lavender and blue flags high and proud. And dare I say it: get ON the fence, the view’s better.
(PS: whatever label you use or none at all…that’s ok too. We can all be in the melting-pan together)
I thought I’d share a speech/presentation I gave last year at Health in Difference 8. Unfortunately, the audio recording didn’t quite work; I hope the words can at least give the sense of sense of vision and possibility. And a few things have changed since, but I’ll post it as it was delivered.
I started writing this the morning after…really early morning after two days of the MindOUT Conference. The fact that that I was awake and starting my creation of this piece at 530 AM after two days of the usual rainbow conference combination of adrenaline and brain drain speaks volumes at volume about how deeply I’m feeling what I’m feeling. More…