Mapping Inner Conflict with Montaigne

Those who know me would probably find it unsurprising to know that my current favourite pop music artist, Montaigne, goes by a stage name inspired by the french philosopher who made essays popular, and wears shirts that say ANALYSE YOUR WEAKNESSES. As a literature nerd who aspires to emotional awareness, I’m aware that I can be something of a niche audience, and yet somehow, here I have been blessed with pop music of a broad appeal that actually ticks those boxes for me, and for that I am so incredibly stoked.

Montaigne is an absolute star, awarded as “Next Big Thing” by FBi Radio’s SMAC awards in 2015 and “Best Breakthrough Artist” in the 2016 ARIAs, a hype train that I’m sure will only gather even greater momentum as we see more from her. I very rarely resonate so strongly with a musician’s branding as much as I do with Montaigne’s right now, so it seems fitting to share my love for her music by writing an incredibly self-indulgent essay on one of her songs. Continue reading

Advertisements

Tierney’s Prologue

I’ve been roleplaying a lot lately. One ongoing game is a tabletop that uses the Masks system, and while creating a character for it, I wrote a little chapter of sorts to set the scene for my character’s individual plotline. In the end, while creating a hero to the template of “The Doomed” – an archetype in Masks in which a character has something of a clock worked into the mechanics, ticking down to a violent and untimely demise – I accidentally recreated Jet Li’s The One plot for myself in the game. So, I should actually sit down and watch that sometime before the end of this game and see what I do or don’t like about it so that I have a better idea of what I want out of playing through that concept. Considering how well-known it seems to be by everyone but myself, as well, I feel like I should have that cultural reference under my belt.

In the meantime I thought I’d upload what I wrote here. It was a fun exercise if nothing else, nice to be inspired by the roleplaying system so directly. Continue reading

Learning to Express Negativity and a Bad Relationship

Knowing what to say and whether it’s worth saying at all it is a challenge I don’t think I’ll ever be done with. It seems a good place to start with on this post, as the things I navigate in life often give me a sense of external pressure to not speak up about them from my own perspective, especially in recent times. I’ve been out of a bad relationship for about three months now, and though it felt like I was done with it from the day after it was over, I still find myself with a lot to say about it, and not sure who I want to say it to. Continue reading

The Invisible Discrimination in Sharehousing

Sharehousing is my life. Not by way of real choice; it’s all I can afford, ever since it was no longer viable to live at home. I love my family but it’s not an option for me, the same as it isn’t for many, many others. Increasingly through the last few years I’ve seen that necessity extend past the stereotype of student living. A growing number of people embrace it as a lifestyle choice, curating families away from family or to afford higher quality accommodation; while for others whose welfare or income no longer covers typical rent costs and who can’t find accommodation through the public housing system, it is the only way to afford a roof over one’s head.

This necessity in the face of a housing crisis, along with the normalisation of sharehousing as a “lifestyle choice”,  puts pressure on a system that has seemingly grown without regulation, and that pressure is exposing its flaws. It’s common for sharehouses to look for new tenants and subtenants through social media and specialised websites such as Flatmate Finders, and the same rules preventing real estate agents from discrimination (which already appear loosely regulated, if gentrification in Melbourne is any indication) don’t really apply here, as people seek to find someone with the right ‘culture fit’.

l6

Facebook screenshot of a housemate search. Reasonable-sounding on the surface, while the subtext reads to those wary of it: no one with social disabilities or depression, no one too different.

And while that is necessary and good for the sake of building a safe and trustworthy home in which all occupants feel they belong, something which everyone has a right to, it does beg some amount of scrutiny and questioning; because when you make a choice about who or what kind of person you invite into a sharehouse, you are also making choices and rules about who is excluded, and why. That is unavoidably a choice which affects the people left stranded without alternative, options, people who end up on the streets, something which is notably skewed against people with varying disabilities or mental illnesses.

l9

Subtext: no one depressed or socially anxious or with mobility issues, no poor people who struggle to fit into capitalism and ‘productivity’

This isn’t a matter of expecting anyone to drop their own considerations for the sake of combating an unfair system. One cannot make oneself vulnerable or in danger in the intimate environment of one’s own home merely for the sake of politics. But it is worth challenging one’s assumptions. There are many things I can only speculate at, as there have not been many studies done on the structures and effects of sharehousing, but gender-based assumptions come up as one example that may colour housing availability with a surprising amount of regularity and acceptability; I’ve seen houses prioritise women as residents under the assumption that women are cleaner or more socially considerate, and given that men are slightly more likely to be homeless and much more so to be sleeping rough, one has to wonder where that interacts with the sharehousing system. That is nothing more than conjecture as it stands, but I would be remiss in my role as a feminist if I didn’t identify that idea as a troubling one.

l51

If you struggle to cook food or have interesting artisinal edible hobbies due to being too poor to afford to learn it, too mentally ill or have other disabilities or time demands that make cooking or gardening difficult, congrats! You now qualify as an undesirable “ghost”

Cleanliness is highly prioritised as a requirement of housemates, and as someone who is picky about cleanliness in the kitchen, I can definitely sympathise. But there is a difference between forming active processes for good quality living regardless of ability, and simply not considering when ableism is colouring your expectations.

l7.PNG

“No depression or disabilities that interfere with cleanliness”

I’ve only spoken to one woman who changed the way she advertised for housemates to reflect this; she also had quite regular expectations of contributing to a household, but she opened herself up to more diverse applications by making it known that they had come to past arrangements with dividing labour according to what people were actually capable of doing. Some people would sweep and mop more often in exchange for passing on their dishes to another housemate, as an example. That simple change in expectations can shift the household dynamic from one of rigidity and in-built ableism to a warm and welcoming one. The division of domestic labour in a sharehouse is often not a static or straightforwards thing anyway, changing according to differing skills and comfort levels and unique house demands, so it can be beneficial to treat those expectations like an ongoing dialogue, a project to work on together, rather than a box that gets ticked on an application.

l81.PNG

“no one with depression or social/food-related anxiety”

It might seem like a really small and normal request to seek someone who can fit in with a house’s culture, and that’s actually really important, but I do have to wonder when people are putting out requests for housemates—how many people realise that what they are saying is not just, ‘we want someone reasonably easy to live with’, but, ‘we want someone who isn’t mentally ill’? Given the context of Australia’s issues combating mental health problems, the home needs to be a space in which harmful attitudes cannot be ignored.

sharehousing expec.PNG

The pinned rules on a public Housemate search group on Facebook. The intent when it comes to caveats like gender and orientation usually come from an attempt to protect vulnerable minorities looking for people with whom they’ll be safe, but the idea that these rule sets devoid of anti-discriminatory regulation won’t cause an “impact” is worth examining.

Sharehousing is a big social minefield. Everyone’s ideas of responsibility and respectability are loaded with their own histories, privileges and shortcomings. I’ve heard more horror stories from sharehouses than I have from any other type of accommodation, tales of mental and emotional abuse, even physical threats, stealing and stalking. Ultimately, sharing your personal space with others is a pretty big risk. It makes sense to try to reduce that risk in any way possible. But we try to reduce this risk on such an individualistic basis that it seems to shut down any community-wide discussions on how we can actually tackle those risks and create a system that actually looks out for us. Despite all advertising for housemates being centralised to particular websites and forum spaces, little of that social space is used to talk about any of these horror stories and bad housemates. Instead we continue trying to vet everyone one by one, with only the loosest recommendation systems, empty of police checks or pro-social, anti-discriminatory rules.

l21.1.png

An application to a house owned by a single mother with a child. “That’s fine” being uttered next to enquiring about levels of queer acceptance may seem rather accommodating towards homophobia, but it is sometimes a useful defence mechanism against moving into a home only to discover hidden and potentially dangerous levels of homophobia later.

It is the responsibility of our government to tackle the housing crisis, on problems of regulating real estate agencies’ discrimination and artificial price hikes, on ‘investment properties’, on the gap between public and private housing availability, and so on. That is out of our control. But the sharehousing sphere is ours. It is an odd, rapidly-growing community without a real sense of community, a broad social demographic and force to be reckoned with that seemingly lacks any internal dialogue. As time goes on, the need for change in that system will only grow. Typically, when self-regulation fails, that’s when the law needs to expand to fill that space. It seems honestly unlikely any time soon that the government will begin enforcing higher standards on the sharehousing system, since there is so much else that politicians are refusing to tackle right now. But without regulation, the number of vulnerable people for whom sharehousing becomes less and less of a viable method of living will only grow.

So, we need to ask the kinds of questions that must be asked to form a functioning and ethical society; if sharehousing is the most accessible form of housing for most people, one of the only things keeping thousands of people off the streets, how do we deal with the conflicting needs of access to a home for everybody, and control over one’s home space?

This is not a question that needs to come at the cost of our quality of living, that asks you to compromise on who you invite into your home. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of changing advertising methods so that equally capable and viable potential housemates aren’t put off applying, as companies do when they want to hire more diverse candidates. Perhaps many people are already doing what they can, in which case asking these questions can be a positive self-affirmation process for those who are, and a potentially rewarding way for others to challenge themselves and broaden their social horizons. Perhaps there is no real solution that can come from the sharehousing space, but as a community we can be aware of where we sit in the face of a housing crisis, so that we know where resources to fix it must be pointed. This is not about being a charity case, but about being thoughtful, questioning potentially harmful biases, and opening a dialogue. At the end of the day, we can’t solve problems that we don’t talk about.

Why the Xena Reboot Should be Queer, not Just Gay

As an avid, lifelong Xena fan, news of the reboot fills me with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Casting choices and possible Hollywood industry problems with ageing female actors aside, there’s a lot to look forwards to. Xena is camp, fun, dark at times but a love story that always comes to back to its core: that of one of the most beautiful, enduring relationships to ever grace the small screen. Xena and Gabrielle’s love is bright as day, despite the censorship they had to fight past and the wacky plot lines necessary to provide enough plausible deniability for on-screen kisses to get through that. Seriously, how anyone interpreted those longing looks, romantic affirmations of love and kisses as heterosexual is beyond me; but even if it was obvious to me it’s still exciting to consider a reboot where even that flimsy shyness could be discarded, where Gabrielle and Xena could show affection/flirt outrageously more openly and even outright, explicitly tell characters that this is my girlfriend and we’re in love. Gabrielle and Xena are already enough of a hallmark in the history of on-screen gay pride. Getting to admit what everyone already knows while bringing that relationship into this century would be an absolute dream.

But those conservative studio limitations, while they attempted to obscure true love in their fear, did unintentionally do something even more progressive than many other queer shows do today; they showed a successful, long-term queer and polyamorous couple. The characters of Hercules and Iolaus, amongst others, weave in and out of Gabrielle’s and Xena’s love lives with little to no interruption to their own relationship. One of the best examples of this is in Gabrielle’s marriage to Perdicus in Return of Callisto.

Her ex-betrothed from the village she left at the start of the series rocks up at Troy, makes moon eyes at her before she runs off with Xena again, and a while later resurfaces to ask her to marry him. Admittedly, tragedy can be seen a mile away, as the show has an established pattern of introducing love interests only to have them be killed or otherwise removed from the story so that they don’t get in-between Xena and Gabrielle. Still, the most interesting part about these events before Perdicus’ part in it ends are the ways in which Gabrielle navigates a marriage with him while remaining loyal to Xena.

When he initially proposes to Gabrielle, you see her hesitate very clearly, and it’s not her feelings for him that are the problem. She plans on rejecting him, but Xena, seeing how clearly happy Gabrielle is with him, tells her:

“Look, Gabrielle—if it’s me you’re worried about, let me set your mind at rest. Seeing you happy will make me happy. And if that means settling down with Perdicus, then… you have my blessing.”

Not too long afterwards, Gabrielle decides to accept, and Xena stands right by her side as she’s wed to Perdicus. There’s a flicker of seriousness on her face as she watches them; perhaps she’s less certain than before, worried things with Gabrielle will change too much or that she might lose her, but still, she’s there to support her all the way, and once the ceremony is complete they take a moment aside to reaffirm their own bond before Gabrielle leaves for her honeymoon.

xena4.PNG

Of course, this includes a very non-platonic kiss whilst Perdicus waits patiently only metres away from them.

This entire journey is a really important, excellent example of compersion, a common part of the polyamorous experience. Seeing you happy will make me happy. Though this theme is never again explored as explicitly as it is in this episode, it is one that runs on throughout the series as both ladies find closeness and intimacy with others. Things are not always perfect, metamours are sometimes villains or pose threats, but Gabrielle and Xena support each other throughout it all and work on their problems and signs of jealousy as adults and as a team, no matter how hard it gets. As Xena once advised to Joxer as he sought advice from her on how to seek Gabrielle’s affection: love unwavering and unconditional, “no strings attached”.

Why is Polyamory Important?

In an article on Polyamory and Queer Anarchism, Susan Song wrote:

Queer theory resists heteronormativity and recognizes the limits of identity politics. The term “queer” implies resistance to the “normal,” where “normal” is what seems natural and intrinsic. Heteronormativity is a term describing a set of norms based on the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, gendered as male/female and monogamous, along with the assumed and implied permanency and stability of these identities. Queer theory also critiques homonormativity, in which non-heterosexual relationships are expected to resemble heteronormative ones, for instance in being gender-normative, monogamous, and rooted in possession of a partner.

Xena and Gabrielle are not heterosexual or monogamous, or even homosexual. They are both bisexual women (Although despite constant uses of anachronistic languages, never use this word despite definitionally falling under that umbrella). They are unerringly loyal and committed to each other, but they do not possess each other. Xena does have a certain amount of seniority in the relationship based on having roughly ten years of experience in relationships and adventuring over Gabrielle, but she defers to Gabrielle’s wisdom more and more as the series goes on and they reach an even par with each other. This creates a relationship based off equality which defies the usual attempts to fit same-sex relationships into boxes of traditional gender roles of who ‘wears the pants in the relationship’ (regardless of how many ‘butch’ jokes are tossed Xena’s way, she still also engages with traditional femininity on a regular enough basis to undermine that stereotype). Though they are both portrayed as cisgender, in many other ways they are radically queer, something which is astonishing to see from a show as old as it is. In our modern context, there is so much opportunity for that queerness to be embraced even further, for there to further rejections of gender-normative expectations and ideas of what relationships are ‘meant’ to look like underneath the current hetero-normative paradigm.

That visibility of counter-culture queer relationships is incredibly important, especially around the topic of same-sex marriage. As our culture moves closer to that becoming a reality, pressure builds up from both queer and straight communities to understand what gay marriage means for society and make it seem as non-threatening as possible. People seek to make gay marriage look just the same as straight marriages, to make it seem more and more ridiculous that it could be denied as a right.

Unfortunately, that goal often means throwing polyamorous queer relationships under the bus. Polyamory is hardly as common as monogamy, and many people in polyamorous relationships aren’t interested in marriage as an institution at all, but the process of alienating polyamory from gay communities, saying that gay marriage is not a “slippery slope” that will lead to multiple people in a marriage, is one of demonization, creating new borders of sexual diversity so that homonormative gays are now part of the acceptable “in-group” and everyone else is in the unacceptable “out-group”, quite literally dividing the LGBTQIA community.

This tends to be a fairly harmful process. The bottom line of this mindset is that, no matter how positive and consensual and harmless your orientation and expression thereof may be, so long as it’s not performed according to other people’s rigid expectations of normality, you deserve to have your rights as a human being taken away, to be shunned and treated with revulsion. If we as a society can only accept “gays” but not “queers”, we have not evolved past sexuality-based discrimination, or even shown much of an understanding as a society on why that was wrong in the first place. We’ve simply continued to assimilate without changing society for the better.

It follows a similar line of slut-shaming that gets applied on a daily basis to people with multisexual orientations: that if you are “greedy” or “promiscuous” you deserve to be treated badly and abused, a dark undercurrent of thought that already leads to higher rates of domestic abuse against bi women, amongst other issues. Bi and pansexual people are often directly challenged in their identities through expectations of monogamy; if you’re monogamous, your sexuality is frequently erased by way of defining it by your partner’s gender, while you are forced to choose between communities, excluded and have your unique experiences of discrimination silenced; if you’re polyamorous, you are rejected by society, reinforcing “bad” stereotypes of greedy/disloyal bisexuality, hypersexualised, forced to keep multiple relationships in the closet for fear of being shunned by loved ones, and so forth. Either way, it’s a paradigm in which multisexual people are forever being questioned and judged for their choices. And perhaps it’s that constant pressure which makes it easier for people who aren’t monosexual or cis or otherwise not part of the growing LG ‘mainstream’ to question the real necessity of monogamy and whether or not it actually suits them, and conduct the relationships regardless of external approval. Asexuality adds even more dimensions to the queer polyamory experience, defying the lie that polyamory is only ever about sex. The queer side to polyamory is undeniable.

So, in making Xena and Gabrielle have ongoing relationships with men and other women in the context of the show, even though that move grew from lesbophobia/homophobia, it was one that ultimately created an incredibly progressive, even queerer relationship than they meant to, an expression of queerness that people still struggle to accept in the mainstream today. Their polyamory and their bisexuality build upon each other to defy stereotypes in a beautiful celebration of women loving on their own terms.

Who Cares About Losing That When We Stand To Gain Something, Anyway?

This is the most common response that mainstream gays have to queerer parts of the community when we point out our rights being left behind in the Same Sex Marriage debate. And it shows just how far we really have to go before attitudes, even left wing ones, have to progress.

If Xena and Gabrielle continue to have histories with men but do not openly identify with queer or multisexual labels, then their bisexuality risks being erased altogether, allowing the lesbian community to once again co-opt bi stories and experiences into their narratives while simultaneously rejecting bi women and leaving them out. And even if they manage to get past the stigma in media against the B word, we still risk selling other aspects of their queerness down the river.

It is incredibly likely that their relationship will be recreated as a monogamous one. I have little hope to the contrary. But Gabrielle and Xena have always been a non-monogamous bisexual couple. If that’s changed, we aren’t just making them what they were ‘always meant to be’. We’re taking away what they are. This means we are making a value judgement on facets of their love and identities and what they should be. Do we really want to redefine Xena by legitimisation through assimilation? Or do we want Xena to be defined by accepting people and loving relationships for what they turned out to be even when that isn’t what we want them to be?

The queer and polyamorous community may very well have to say goodbye to one of the few instances of positive representation that they have access to in western media, with barely a nod of acknowledgement from the parts of the community which stand to benefit from this instance of exclusion. And you know what? I’m ready to deal with that. I’m ready to love the reboot and see the best in it. In many ways, those mainstream voices are right: the state of queer representation is so poor that I will take what I can get and still love it ten times more than most heteronormative media. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that we dont all stand to lose something precious along the way. The old show gave us all something bright and beautiful. The reboot will either carry that over, and be true to Xena, or it will be a show of the same franchise that tries to be but is not Xena. I will not stop loving the old series and what it gave me. I just hope that the new one will show love to me and mine, and the parts of us reflected in the original.