An Email From the Australian Institute of Sport

AIS slid into my inbox this morning. Australian Institute of Sport, not Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Gotta watch the acronyms when you’re in trans and intersex space, FFS. (For fuck sake, not facial feminisation surgery.)

Back in 2007 a bunch of us dancers were part of the AIS SCOPE programme. I have no idea what that acronym means anymore. It was a pilot development programme for professional and elite dancers. Yup, ‘elite’. From memory they had one for athletes and realised our situation was basically the same. Part of it was about dancers who were transitioning. No, not trans dancers ffs. I swear cis people need to be blocked from using the word transition for about the rest of my life. Dancers who were considering moving out of — what is in Australia a very young person’s game.

I wanted to write about the email I got this morning. It’s the AIS response and apology to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s independent review of gymnastics in Australia. I don’t think the email’s really meant for me, just I happened to be connected to the AIS a long time ago and apparently my email is still in their system. I don’t think any of the support they’re offering is for me either. Lots of reasons. I’m tired and I don’t really want to frame how I’m feeling in the broader structural, institutional, colonial, racist, transphobic, normative blah right now.

End–2007 I was skipping back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, making work back-to-back in Europe, China, and Australia, but I was doing it hard. Mad hard. The kind of hard where I walk home at night in either of those two cities and had a spot in each where I’d check in with myself and have a realistic convo that went, “You know if it gets too much, you can.” A multi-storey carpark in the former and a bridge over a motorway in the latter. Just checking in and seeing how I was going, how far I could go. No shame if I couldn’t.

Because of the decades, generations of abuse athletes, coaches, and staff — mostly young girls and women — were on the receiving end of, the AIS created a support service called AIS Be Heard. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel engaging with that if I’d been seriously, as an athlete, part of the Institute and all. I dunno, shit got mad stirred up this morning.

I got sexually abused by a middle-aged man when I was a kid, start of my teens, every weekday after school for several months. I was already very much not coping with home and school life being a young trans femme back in the ’80s. That abuse broke me.

A few years later, I destroyed him. I went to the police and pressed charges. How that came about in retrospect was something I was pushed into and not in my best interests, but me going in and giving a statement started an avalanche. Turns out he was already known, but you know, same old, no one wanted to say anything; everyone wanted to forget. They found a list with something like a hundred names on it. In the end, I think only four or five actually gave statements and agreed to being witnesses.

I destroyed him. He lost his business, his wife, his home, his standing in the community, had heart attacks, and ended up in prison where, because of the people I knew back then, everyone knew what he was in for.

Those people, who supported me through years of the criminal proceedings on top of the shit in their lives they were coping with. They put up with a lot from me, I was well fucked up.

The case broke me again. It dragged on for four years. The first two I was in conversion therapy, which is a whole other story but deeply bound with all this. It was the direct result of me trying unsuccessfully to get into the gender clinic in Auckland to get on the surgery list after being on hormones for years, and being kicked through a string of therapists because I was a fucked up trans femme, homeless, on drugs, self-harming, eating disorder and whatever else. The second two I’d moved to Melbourne and was in some, what we’d call now, non-binary phase and using dance to survive. Burying everything thought and feeling in pushing myself physically as hard and far as I could go. Apparently I haven’t changed much.

The proceedings ended when I got a phone call. Ended for me, I mean. He got a plea bargain. I was told he would plead guilty to every charge except mine. I was told if I proceeded with the charges, it would go to trial and I would lose. They would use me being trans against me and he would get off. Thirteen year old child obviously asked for it and obviously untrustworthy and crazy ’cos she’s a tranny was their line. I said fuck whatever and bailed. I already destroyed him. He got two years.

He broke me, but those four years, the conversion therapy … I think I would have survived what he did if I’d had really good, caring support. I didn’t. I had very shit, abusive, transphobic, coercive therapy where the threat of being institutionalised was always in the background, and being constantly told I would never be a woman and no woman would ever love me was up front.

I survived that too. A lot more broken. I went to Victorian College of the Arts shortly after, sucked up the shit there, dished out some of my own too. I saw abuse there on the regular. Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse, body shaming, eating disorders, untreated mental health crises, skeevy older male teachers and staff doing all the same things the AHRC’s independent review talks about. Pretty sure a lot of us who went through professional dance training know all about that.

I had a couple of full-on breakdowns while I was there. The pressure between trying to find a way be true to my trans femme self in an environment entirely structured on white, cisgender heteronormativity burnt the fuck out of me. And the un-dealt with damage from my teens.

On their website, the AIS says, “We owe it to every athlete who has been part of the AIS, to feel supported and to get help if, and when, they need it.” Nice sentiment. Cool.

There’s this pervasive, verbalised belief that if you don’t get therapy, or rather what AIS call ‘wellbeing support’ when you need it, shit’s on you. Like all we need to do is make the decision and magically there will be a perfect therapist just for us. The vast majority of therapists are simply not equipped to provide care for the kind of complex trauma trans people have often experienced. Or people who have lived through child abuse.

Speaking from long, long experience here, at best the majority of therapists are useless, and very regularly they cause more harm. I had a therapist tell me he was scared for his own safety when I start talking my history. Bruh. Others have tried to frame me in a way that fits their world, like that lesbian conversion therapist. But mostly there’s just a vast, empty space where good therapists for people like us should be.

Yallah, all of this was also about a therapist I saw because of the AIS.

Back in late–2007 again, I asked the person at SCOPE if there was any counsellors available as part of the programme. I ended up seeing someone who worked with professional athletes as a sports psychologist and saw her maybe 5 or 6 times. The first time — and all this is hazy retelling of memory now — I laid out where I was at, which was a pretty fucking bad place ’cos all that untreated abuse was making me ask that serious question every night I walked home over that bridge or past that carpark. She said something like … I dunno, it’s more of a feeling now, something about it wasn’t what she specialised in, but she worked with a lot of athletes who were struggling to cope with the insanely high pressure of elite-level competition, and somehow she persuaded me to come back and got me talking. And she saved my life.

This isn’t about how the AIS supported me, or how therapy can save lives. It shouldn’t have been on a sports psychologist to deal with a very fucked up person because the entire culture of society failed her. I think about all those counsellors and support staff in sport and dance over the generations who had to become trauma specialists because kids and young adults would and still do show up at their door every day with no one else to turn to.

I had a bit of a cry on the way to the supermarket this morning thinking about all this, how that email hit. Lucky it was raining. I still haven’t found a therapist. Not for lack of trying, but fuck me there is a poverty of healthcare for trans people. And I was thinking how that email wasn’t really for me because I’m trans. We’re pretty much legislated out of professional sport and there’s fuck all space in professional dance for us either.

When I talk about being broken, it didn’t go away. I rarely get into intimate relationships with people (that’s also a euphemism for fucking, just to be clear) because of all that shit on top of the already hostile environment of living while trans. Therapy is supposed to help with the broken part, but we already covered that failure. I was thinking about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against that skeeve during his Supreme Court nomination. She talked about memory, how “… the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

He’s always there. Intermittent. He interrupts and is here more real than any thought or feeling I was having. More real than the room I’m in. I know it’s not me ‘having’ these thoughts, there’s a difference between me thinking about this stuff and experiencing him like this. Him for those months and him later for those years, all bound together with abusive therapists.

Every single one of those athletes somehow has to deal with this, in some way or another. They, along with their friends, lovers, families, communities all have been diminished. The athletes who came forward, who spoke out alone, have done it so hard. We do those things, so indifferently, blandly held in ‘move on’, or ‘put it behind’, until it isn’t. Until we’re reminded and remember it all again.

Last thing. I wanna be really clear on this: everyone knew. Everyone knew way back. Just like everyone knew about my abuser. And wasn’t like no one was speaking about it.

All strength and love to those gymnasts and athletes and dancers who are having an especially tough day of it today.

bechdel’s law

A couple of days ago I was reading Thus Spake Zuska, one of the many science blogs I consume most days. Some mornings while reading, it’s as if I wake up wondering what that rough sensation is on my face and discover my head is being rubbed forcefully into the synthetic carpet. Oh sexism…

The followup the her first piece, displayed both an American regionalism that comes up in feminism often, which I find difficult, but ignoring my own provincialism for a moment, the problems she brings up of straight white males who whine, “Where is the [meeting/retreat/study room/pizza party/program] for white men?” and the overt sexism, racism and homophobia behind it is one that is a thread through far too much of my own life and those around me.

I also finished Charles Stross’ Palimpsest today, (spoiling my later this week reading when Wireless arrives). I was thinking, while reading Saturn’s Children earlier this week on why he is one of my favourite writers, and in no small part it’s because he creates convincing, believable, female lead characters. That he does this in science-fiction is doubly impressive. He also writes on the importance of such female roles, citing Bechdel’s Law, a post I often think of.

My last time in Vienna, staying in a woman’s apartment whom I never met, I plundered her books. Much excitement. I was rather tired in the evenings though, and amused myself with comic book lesbian porn and Dykes to Watch Out For. There is a rule, which should be a standard, not just in writing or film, but as the bare minimum for judging whether an effort is being made to stymie the monotonous objectification of women. Charles uses it to critique his own writing, and reading it should be mandatory, either in words or in comic form

1. Does it have at least two women in it,
2. Who [at some point] talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

Some time ago – almost three months in fact – Smashing Magazine published a piece called Group Interview: Expert Advice for Young Web Designers, sixteen ‘industry leaders’ brought together and none of them female. (Not so) anonymous (berlinerin) said,

Couldn’t you find even one female designer for your panel? While they may be exceptional at design, there are few enough role models for young female designers and students as it is.

Secondly, there is no way of discerning how the experience for a female designer might differ simply because there is a complete lack of representation.

Please try harder.

Today, much to my delight, appeared: Women in Web Design: Group Interview. Much enjoyable reading and some new designers to follow, one who is an ex-dancer even.

A strange question asked of the women but not of the comparable previous interview with the men, How do you handle the pressure of deadlines and find time for your family? The use of headshots to illustrate the article instead of the usual design portfolio shots (though the editor did explain his reasons for doing this, which I don’t find fault with), and… suddenly I am back thinking of Zuska and in complete sympathy with her when she says, “I’m fucking angry”.

I would rather spend the next half hour getting ready for yoga than analysing all the comments to this article from sexist hetero males, so better to go and read Zuska and Charles and Alison. It is an endless tedious oppression having to share the planet with a minority who ruin it for the rest of us.

So what does a comic book author and a rule about which movies to see as a feminist dyke have to do with web design, underrepresentation of women and harassment in the workplace?

Hint: it’s not about comparing women to minorities, it’s about examining the systematic disempowerment of half the human population on the basis of an accident of birth.

— Charles Stross

i shit on ya – sheik taj aldin

Someone recently said about a United States school kid who got hauled up by the FBI for sedition over a blog post with something like “Kill Bush” in it that it was just her way of expressing frustrated sentiments that she couldn’t find the words for. The implication is that once we get educated and shit, we can denounce imbeciles and pissy despots like Big W in suitably damning and eloquent libels.

Mostly I think a well-turned slander is one of the indicators of intelligent life, but for some people it’s just not worth it, and no amount of dialogue, discussion, and language niceness can hide the truth or change it that they are simply bigoted, nasty, vile, crepulous slime and while I don’t advocate capital punishment, their unending public humiliation should be something we all aspire to.

I’ve been reading several different blogs lately that all seem to have simultaneously come to the conclusion (again) that there is something seriously fucked up about a lot of men. Domestic violence, rape, abuse, mundane objectification, gay bashing, an endless compendium of taking a human, a person with a name and erasing them, turning them into shit.

What difference is there between torture, rape, genocide during a war in which the Geneva Convention makes it abundantly clear this is a crime, and the infernal background noise of sexual violence? A violence so common in the choice of victim as to be boring and un-newsworthy.

Which is to say I don’t want to listen to another rapper dissing ‘his bitches’. I don’t want to have to look at another football player trying to squirm out of another bit of fun that got out of hand. I don’t want to ever hear of Iraqi women being abducted, raped and murdered. I am so fucking sick of listening to you stupid dickheads talk about a person as an absolute alien, who is part of this vast and identical blob you feel you can make the most asinine and offensive generalisations about just because you have a cock and they don’t. If you can’t grow up and start treating people with respect, why don’t you fuck off and die.

All of which is an introduction, welcome and salaam to Sheik Taj Aldin.

Like another well-known bigot, this particularly noxious scum thinks he can always weasel out of a social faux pas of a one-liner with an apology and ‘reaching out to the community’. Mel I-hate-Jews Gibson tries this frequently after overdoing huffing on methylated spirits and it’s always rather nauseating to see how willing people are to forgive sentiments that belong in the mouths of nazis.

For Mel, no better punishment I can think up as I veer close to narcolepsy than to have the starring role in ‘Schlong Shabbat’ – a jewish fag Friday night hardcore gangbang porno, where his hole he so pompously declared was only for shitting gets a lubricated reaming by the traitors of Jesus.

As for Sheik Taj Aldin, hater of women who likens us to meat, and meat left out for the animals to feed on, your punishment – in which I hope the humiliation lingers until your death and changes you into a person who doesn’t vilify people on the spurious basis of what’s between their legs, that is to say makes you human – is to be stripped naked and basted with honey and other yummy tasting condiments and staked out in front of your mosque where the local animals, cats, possums, kangaroos, can feast on you to their delight and satiation.

Sheik Taj Aldin, I shit on you.

fuck off little britain

It was so much a part of Zürich, along with Jam, The Mighty Boosh, brot, kasse, and living in the Dachstock, Little Britain was part of our every day life. And tonight watching the new series I was really just disgusted and thought what these assholes need is a fucking bat in the face. There’s lethal satire, vindictive black humour, gut-heaving toilet humour, and then there’s just a pack of wankers who are trying to get cheap laughs out of hatred of people who aren’t like them.

One of my favourite blogs, in a solid Zizek-quoting, Socialist Worker “blah blah will be first against the wall when the revolution comes” kinda way, that last year’s big favourite of mine China Mieville occasionally writes for is Lenin’s Tomb, and though in my all-pervasive nihilism I have about as much time for socialism in any form as I do for capitalism (I think I’m reverting to a shitty anarchist …), there’s nothing like a bit of hard-arse polemic to make me have some hope in humanity. So back when I thought Little Britain was kinda alright – after all it’s Dr Who doing the voiceover – and Lenin and Co. really went up to the hilt in an unrestrained assassination I thought, ” … well, maybe, but maybe it’s just humour too, and let’s not get too serious about this”.

That was until tonight and while I was watching this odious piece of crap, I kept on thinking of the post, “Chavs”, and when it got to that really fucking nasty lady-boy ‘skit’, well let’s just make this really clear: if anyone thinks that doing the Little Britain “I’m a laaady’ line around me is somehow funny, original, or bespeaks favourably of your intelligence, and I respond by say, telling you to fuck off back to suburbia you smart arse little middle-class prick, don’t take offense, coz it’s just comedy, right?

If such a woman dyes her hair and pulls it back in a pony tail, this is known either as a ‘Croydon facelift’ or a ‘council house facelift’. If she pushes a pram along, she is a ‘pramface’. This naked and unadorned hatred for the working class could not be made more apparent by adornment, and yet it is accepted because the stilleto knife is coated with the unction of ‘satire’ before slid between the ribs. Poisonous as it is, the main point is that someone who isn’t me is having the piss taken out of them. Shit comics like Jimmy Carr make a living out of that. You can be as vile as you like about fat women, mother-in-laws and even members of your audience, provided it is presented on the prettifying chopping board of irony. ‘Little Britain’, similarly, provides an ‘ironic’ veneer for social resentment (of ‘chavs’, wheelchair layabouts, gays etc), validating the undercurrents of hatred that it purports to satirise.

— Lenin’s Tomb

where are all the good looking chinese girls?

The Straits Times has a bunch of filler between ads on the wild world of beauty contests that are rampant in China these days. It includes this wonderful list for single males in search of their perfect match, which the article declares is not to be taken as too much of a joke by providing case studies of recent competition winners who fit the criteria.

SELLING POINTS

Dalian: Flawless complexion and height.

Chongqing: Long and sexy legs.

Chengdu: Fine and smooth skin.

Suzhou: Beautiful and delicate hands.

Changsha: Women here are said to possess the best of both their northern and southern cousins, as the province is located in central China.

Nanjing: Women here carry themselves with ease and are especially elegant and graceful.

Shanghai: Trendy, high EQ, romantic.

Beijing: Capable, keen-witted, understanding.

Hong Kong: Trendsetters and fashion leaders.

Guangzhou: Besides being great cooks, women here are known to be gentle and considerate.

Zhang xiaomei, publisher of China Beauty Fashion goes on to say “Of course, one cannot claim that the listing is 100 per cent accurate”. But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of objectification in a country where domestic violence is ramapant, and boys are prized over girls with monotonous regularity.