Friday, July 11

Your University Privilege. About that.

Having been a little bored, sick of being harassed by stupid teaching colleagues and in desperate need of a break…. where does a VCE teacher go for a holiday? It took a 18 months of planning, 3 months of harassing a possible supervisor and one year of saving. Now the experience unfolds, in quite a different way than expected.

The habitus is different. Working in a lab is really quite delightful. All the equipment. The machines…. for measuring protein content, taking images of glowing cells, little vials for storing DNA, RNA & protein, glycerol stocks of frozen princess agrobacterium, Benthmiana leaf infiltrations, glasshouses, protocols for experiments, freezers (lots and lots of freezers….wow), chemical rooms, making chemicals, chemical names and practical uses for molarity and quadratics, making plasmid constructs, using bacteria as a research tool, PCR, restriction enzymes, agarose gels, NuPage protein gels, DNA sequencing, online analysis tools….& on & on an on…. Its about gear. And stuff. And toys, really big toys that do stuff to really little things, like DNA and cells. Its really really cool.

Fellow students are young and the professors, postdocs and fellows are Sir's age. It's different. Everyone is shiny and hard. Other students are wary, devoid of any emotional energy or intelligence unless it's about winning favours or scoring points with supervisors or other postdocs that might help up the academic ladder.

Everyone thinks they are collegiate, considerate and work as a team. Sometimes they do, but mostly they don't. Not in the way that Sir has experienced teamwork and collegiality.

A quick run down on people….

Young PhD students are the most difficult and seem to fall into several categories. Firstly…. most commonly… the "I am superior to you in all ways, but mostly in that I am waaaay smarter than you and you should understand this before we have any conversation, at any time, about anything at all". These young people are smart, but they are also boring, arrogant and incredibly difficult to deal with, probably because their attitude is a living breathing entity that blocks any interaction with other people.
Secondly, and less commonly, the "what? am I am a PhD student? oh yes… I guess I am" rabbit in the headlights PhD student who will avoid interaction with anyone at any cost.
Thirdly, the wingeing PhD student. "OMG OMG its so haaard, do I have to do this? Why won't you help me, can you help me?…" etc etc. Initially pity inducing, pretty rapidly annoying.

Postdocs without permanent positions. Argh. Frighteningly anxious sometimes obnoxious young scientists trying to do research and be published. All the while thinking that they are the most hard done by young people who work the hardest for the least recognition. Often these people have never been in any environment other than either school or University. They have no idea about the world outside the lab and no need to have any idea. Licensed to be moody and irritable, tolerated and supported.

Lastly… the professors and fellows. Imagine years and year of being the above… either a PhD student or a Postdoc without permanency. Its bound to make people awful… and it does. Most people in academia are unapproachable, have horrible manners (if any at all) and are painfully rude. Not all. But most.

Soooo….Its been brutal on some levels. Being a student makes you vulnerable, that is just the way it is. You don't know where anything is, who anyone is, how to do anything in the lab or how to present your results when you get them. The learning curve is steep, but you hang on for the ride. Feedback from supervisors and other lab members is consistent, good for marks and developing writing skills, but ego smashing none the less. These people are not trained in giving feedback gently and kindness is not a priority. In a nutshell… these people are not teachers in the sense that Sir is a teacher.

But…unexpectedly delightful things have happened. Riding to Uni most days has been wonderful. Meeting new people without being emotionally drained by teaching has been a new experience. Sleeping in, working from home and come and go from the lab at any time, without the constant ringing of bells and harassment from students has been life altering.

Some things are not going to change, though. Life in the lab with such emotionally removed people has been uncomfortable, and this isn't improving. A timeline so far... the initial "yes I am butch, how do you do", then "oh, yes I am also queer, pleased to meet you", then "oops… did I mention I am a teacher with a working class background and your bullshit isn't going to fly? nice talking to you"… Lonely. Very very lonely.

And I miss young people. I miss being in my skin and being loved for that skin. I miss being really good at something, so good that I inspire confidence and questioning. I find that I feel like I might be infected by the shiny hard meanness that lies just under the skin and behind the eyes of these people I am spending time with and learning from, in a way that I never felt as a teacher in the wild west... even when I was covered in a seething swarm of students in a lab, or a maths classroom, or a school playground, or anywhere in a school or the community. I realise that I have already been moulded into a teacher and assimilated into the hive mind of working class education. I don't know if I want to be, or can be, remoulded into a researcher if it means that I will loose my capacity for joy.

As an ancient teacher colleague/friend said to me last year, while wishing me luck, with his particular lopsided grin and dry humour; "You might find that life outside teaching is amazing and never come back, or you might decide that you can't possibly live without teaching". At the time I thought he was giving me permission to leave the profession, but now I wonder if he was warning me gently that it might not be possible for me to be anything else.

Sunday, April 21

Baby Butch Grew Up

The fourth year death anniversary of my Mother dawns a bright beautiful sunny Autumn day in West Footscrazie. Having been driven batty by the intensity of work and the Wife's overwhelming feelings of being crushed into an inhumane blob by her lecturing position, we meditate... eat breakfast and decide to cycle down to Spotlight in Braybrook to feast on the wares On Sale.

A pleasant ride onto the edge of Braybrook... where one in 3 homes have burnt the grass in their front yard instead of mowing it. We cycle through the local parks where white children play hideous groups sports while nervous little Aths parents egg them on, then down streets where small brown people play in the streets, laughing and squealing with joy.

Spotlight is moving to Knifepoint.... oh what a hideous prospect. I have come in search of a new doona and Wife has decided we need new front curtains. All good, easy things to decide on. Also some lovely  Chinese print fabric. And some 750 count sheets... and, what about looking at the Vogue suit patterns for men? I think. Wonderful idea, say's Wife, being creative on your mother's anniversary.

I had seen recently, online, a pattern for Men's vests and suits that looked decent. I spoke to the sales lady behind the haberdashery counter. She directed me to the patterns area, with a look of slight concern, which I did not register until later. Happily I bounced off and chose some patterns, all looking a lot like this one....

I take them back to the haberdashery counter. You may not know what TheLadyBehindThe HaberdasheryCounter is like. They are a dying yet magnificent breed, found in these stores like Spotlight, Clegs, DJ's discount fabrics.... She is the Queen of this particular little Spotlight Kingdom. She cuts the fabric off the Bolt. She has the keys to the display cabinet that houses the Enamel Paint Spray and can ward off chromers without even talking to them. She knows exactly where a size 12 knitting needle would be and can tell you which elastic to buy for your elasticised Simplicity pants. She also gets the patterns from special filing cabinets and advises on size, fit and general accessibility of the pattern.

TheLadyBehindTheCounter is concerned. What size do I require? Will it fit? Is the pattern for me? (at this point, Wife pipes up with "Yes... and she's got the hourglass figure!! I'm the one who is straight up and down!!") TheLady begins to look very concerned. Perhaps I should have a look at some other patterns that might be more to my liking? No, I reply, I am happy to try this one and see how I go. TheLady's eyes widen, but for now, she lets me go.

At this stage, would understand if you are a little confused... lesbians don't know how to sew, do they?

And why is TheLady concerned?

The truth is, dear reader, that I had forgotten certain things about the gender required at these shops, and I made a fatal mistake. I am butch... a progression that happened fairly quickly between when I was 8...

to when I was 10 ...

to when I was 12... and wore this dress my grandfather made for me... it was the last dress I ever wore, and I decided this at the exact moment this photo was taken.

I forgot that I was butch. An easy thing to forget, I know. I also forgot that being butch, in a store like this, looking to buy men's suit patterns would be crossing a double line of femininity. Not making me more feminine, however I broke the rules. Twice.

This, TheLady knew down to her bones. When I returned the second time, to get yet another suit pattern... her distaste was showing in her eyes, her mouth had changed to an anus and she was sweating. She told me that I "shouldn't touch this pattern" and that it would "break my heart" if I tired to make it. The masculinity of the pattern would mean that I would need to  let out the fabric at the boobs and bring it in at my waist.

TheLady really didn't want me to have this pattern. I insisted. She grew angry. Sweat started to bead on her top lip and forehead as she locked eyes and wills with Sir's crazy bed haired flashing green eyes. I didn't back down. She ushered us over to the pattern book and shown a lovely backless shirt, a beautiful dress and some stylish pants that would go perfectly with a pussy bow shirt...

But I have never forgotten these things.

I grew up with home made clothes. I really did. Clothes from the Op Shop of hand me down clothes were a luxury. I convinced my grandparents to stop making my underwear by hand when I was 11. I stopped wearing the dresses that my grandfather made me when I was 12. I convinced my mother that I didn't need to wear MaryJanes to school after a horror first week in Yr 7.... I had just about passed as a boy (this involved only going to the toilets when no-one was around) and saved myself a year of torture by the class bullies, when she insisted that I wear a pair to school. This was not the queer friendly new century, this was the late 80's and there was no place for me. It would only be much much later that I would realise that my androgyny would make me desirable, that my cleverness and wit would make me fuckable and by wearing men's clothes I finally belong to a concrete, identifiable group... The Butch.

So I bought the McCall's pattern. along with the Men's suit patterns from Vogue, I sat through TheLady's lecture on Lady suits, because I knew she was angry and confused about my identity. My gender wasn't right, and certainly not right for a women who could make her own clothes!!

Wife was astonished. I have spoken often enough about heteronormativity and how it effects me, as a butch women. How I am denied service, looked at strangely, asked to leave women's toilets and frighten women already in there (because I look male I guess) eyed up on the street, avoided on public transport, chatted to by drunken men on buses because they think I am a male... or an accessible she-beast... etc etc etc. On it goes. But this morning at Spotlight certainly took the cake!! I wonder what would have happened if I had told her my first name.

So, Baby Butch grew up. To the delight of many.

I will continue to buy Men's Suit patterns, knit, sew and embroider and create whenever I can. TheLady's and many other's ideas on Gender can try to bind us, but the definitions of Masculine and Feminine are still pliable.

And as Wife said.... "A tremendous relief that you are no longer in a lacy collar... though I'd still love you if you were..."

Friday, December 2

101 reasons not to go to the Year 12 Formal

It's been a crazy crazy year. Lots of things have happened (as a whole year might expect). One of the following anecdotes may well be true.

Sir teaches Senior children these days. Being In the outskirts of Western Mlebourne, these children DO NOT HAVE A DEBUTANTE BALL. Thank goodness you may cry. Not so fast. What we DO have is THE FORMAL. Cringe.

Why so cringeworthy. An excellent question.

Some background information. Sir did attend hir own Formal occasion... In a tux, without her girlfriend. An interesting position to be in, surrounded by a pocket of queers,also dressed in heteronormative attire. Surrounded again by the homophobic year level from hell. Sir guesses it was a miracle that we came in and went out being who we were. But wait.... Who else was non heteronormative? Also... strangely enough, Sir was approached by the Dyke Clan of students at school... Told Sir that they would be going and then a joke about topless Virgins (to do with the new mobile plan Sir guesses).

What is wrong with the school formal? So much that it is hard to describe. But Sir will try.

Imagine the whole school, laid out in money and fluffy white or sleek black with bow ties. Imagine a helicopter landing, a Hummer ("go Hummer hummer" MIA) or a Limo approaching some seedy backwater bright lit Northern suburbs reception centre. By 'whole school' Sir means students & teachers. Then imagine the only lady suit in the room... That is, Sir.

Could it not be presumed that the Formal is a heteronormative cult setting? Who sets out these affairs that are, in their intirety, all about straightdom? One could imagine that they should be called Straightmals, made for straight people doing straight things. Sir does not speak of the actual behavior at these events, but the structure to which they aree based on.

So Sir did not go. Not a great surprise, you may assume, Sir hopes you assume. But is it not the actual Straightmal that is commented on, but often the LACK OF PRESENCE at the Straighmal that Sir finds totally horrifying. The recently freed young adults do not comment, as they are not at school for one, but also know quite definitely that Sir isnot straight, 2, so do not question. But the teachers do. This this the Most vomitous section.

One comment would be" I didn't see you at the formal!!! Were you there?'. Another would be 'We had a great night!'. Another ' I have to go home to make myself beautiful! Yes, you guessed it...all from teachers.

Why this is so offensive is obvious. From a getting out and getting dressed up point of view Sir doesn't need to elaborate on hir DRESS SENSE especially FORMAL. One has been Married and been Immaculate.

The most offensive angle is that these teachers are so invested in their own journey with the children that are (arriving in helicopters, hummers, limos) celebrating their own coming out...Unfortunately Sir cannot say that she saw the 'coming out' Hopefully it was good. But the rest of the connections are not so painfully obvious.

What if the Hummer guy was a girl? What if the two dykes were in full straight boy drag? What if there were two gay boys that wanted to dance with each other? What if there was a gay boy, dressed as a girl? Or a gay girl dressed as a whore? What if there was a hir, other than Sir? What if there was a hir dressed as a hir? All of these thoughts make Sir sick to the stomach.

Sir must apologize. She should be much more proactive and defend these young creatures by being Hirself. However the mass straighdom of the teacher population does not make this a possible event. This year.

Tuesday, September 13

measuring by frog, dear god, on meditation

Sir found, to her great delight, a frog tape measure. In a box. Sir looked some more, and found many other comforting delights.... an un-picker, a pair of tiny tweezers. In a box. More investigation. Tiny love heart jewellery. Hanging green curtains. A green bedside table cloth. Goth gloves and a tiny black cat calling her name. A large caramel tart with fur grinning on her scratching post, waving an inviting mischevious tail.

Long time between righting the psyche means a long time between writing. Things are changing and have been challenging. But which Sir can come home and find these beautiful gifts of presence? The knowledge that loved ones and loved creatures have been in and inhabited a space is such a treasure. Allowing time to pass, existence to be, creatures to inhabit a space and leave their trail of being like a waft of the pure scent of love.

Good change is hard work. Starting from the bare psyche and forging into the unknown of more howling windswept thoughts. Trying to be present in the moment while listening to guided meditations. Making appointments and keeping them. Talking honestly. Wondering if there will be any change... to the mind, to the heart, to the pattern of thoughts that lie in ones brain. Sitting with feelings. Wondering, in desperation if one really has the capacity for change and creation at all.


Teaching evolution again has made Sir's day. Convergent, divergent, analogous, homologous. Homo Erectus, Homo Habilis, Australopithecines, Homo Sapiens sapiens. homo homo homo homo. Ha! HOMO!!


Trying to create an new space is not hard... if you have the tools. The tools come from the work of knowing one's self. Plug in the new revelations that have been discovered and see what happens. A new script, however, means an unknown future. The potential for joy can be expressed as a function, f(j)= w.a/p, where j = joy, w= mind & body work, a=awareness and p=being present. Confused? Sir too.

Sunday, May 29

Constipated May, Haunted June

It feels like walking through water.... then through jelly.... then through honey. Then it feels like one stops and cannot move, just catch the things that are hurling through the end of semester towards one's head. SAC corrections, lesson preparations, student teacher, VCAA assessment training, revision Seminars, practice exams, more correction, AEU leadership training. The sense of reality very quickly travels from "yes, amazing work, of course I'm on top of it" to "aaaaaaaarrrgh!!!, leave me alone!!!"

Overwhelmed? Slightly. Wanting to escape? Absolutely!! Feeling pressure to be the reliable sensible looking after fur children co-parent? Hmmmmm

Sir has been slowing exposing and peeling back the layers of her onion heart. The smell is sharp and tears prick easily onto her cheeks. Knifework is dangerous... mother always said so. Except that "don't lick the knife!'' always made Sir really want to lick that sharp edge and feel the numb edges around a sharp cut.

Before the start of this journey, Sir thought that being able to cut out one's heart and look at it in the kitchen table would be good enough, a good solution to a little problem. Easy enough to see where the black holes were, where the fatty tissue could be scraped, where the silly putty should be applied. Now, Sir realises that therapy changes things.

When one is aware of self, aware of pain and no longer looking through alcohol goggles, things hurt more or less, relatively.

However, the heart that has been cut out of the body for minute examination and repair suddenly seems both irreparable and unbearably beautiful. The hole where Sir's heart was starts to ache as she looks at the journey described, the pathways from the past, the parallel tracks of reality that Sir has been existing in and travelling on. The fragments of self that trauma created have grown and survived in this bleak barren landscape of self hatred and loathing. My god! How is it that such a place exists, let alone allows growth in Sir's psyche?

So. What to do with the heart?

Sunday, May 1

Not walking, floating.

This is my favourite time of the week. Sunday evening.

The sun is just setting. The smell of roast weaves its way around the soft sounds of sleeping wife and snoring felines. Ah how things have changed.

We made it. Here to this home that is nothing like the last. Time can be spent here in many ways... but most importantly it can be spent in the ways of the living. Occupied by moments of hearts of pulsing and life affirming creativity. It is peaceful here. Because we make it this way. Our interactions and thoughts are positive and loving. The direction of our love and affirmation in toward the future. Our movement is bound forward together but not too tightly.

Sir has found the strength to unclasp her hands. So fearfully clutching the things that defined her being, so desperately being afraid. Letting go of the fear of being unworthy and unloved has been like turning on an electric lamp in a candle lit room. Suddenly all is so clear and defined.... including the shadows and the dark places.

But more importantly, the light has shown the good things. The way to stand alone but know one is not alone. The ability to walk in the parallel pathways of healing and loving. That the doors made of pain can be opened those dusty dark rooms aired... movement and settling where before there has been only tight constriction.

Relief. Comfort. Sleep. Love.