Category Archives: Homosexuality

Barbara Band’s links on diversity and inclusion

barbaraLast week I spoke at the South African Librarian’s Conference at Highbury in KZN (presentation one and presentation two) and heard Barbara Band speak about how the library can be a vital tool to make schools more inclusive and help all students thrive. It struck a cord for me because in high school I basically lived in the library during breaks for three years. My librarians weren’t especially empathetic or insightful but it was still a safe place in an unsafe school. As always we can’t forget that South Africa is a deeply unequal country and that only 37% of learners are in a school with a library (Page 20 from this DBE report).

In Barbara’s address she mentioned a bunch of different sites and resources and I asked her to email them to me so I could share the mall with you, so here they are:

Booklists and bookshops:

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List of organisations that support diversity and inclusion:

  • Ditch The Label – anti-bullying charity supporting 12 – 25 year olds
    www.ditchthelabel.org
  • EACH – Educational Action Challenging Homophobia: provides training, support and resources.
    http://www.each.education/
  • Educate and Celebrate – Ofsted and DFE recognised programme to implement LGBTQ/inclusive curriculum
    www.educateandcelebrate.org
  • Gendered Intelligence – a not-for-profit company whose aim is to increase understandings of gender diversity.
    http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/
  • GIRES – Gender Identity Research and Education Society: aim is to improve lives of trans and gender non-conforming people. Lots of links to articles, research, legal advice, etc.
    http://www.gires.org.uk/
  • 6IGLYO – International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation: works with over 95 LGBTQ groups, run by and for young people.
    http://www.iglyo.com/
  • Inclusive Minds – a group of consultants and campaigners working to improve diversity in children’s literature.
    http://www.inclusiveminds.com/
  • Kidscape – deals with anti-bullying and child protection
    www.kidscape.org.uk
  • Mermaids – Family and individual support for children and teens with Gender Identity Issues.
    http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
  • 4Metro – Equality and diversity charity, focusing mainly around London and South East.
    www.metrocentreonline.org
  • Rewind – works in education to challenge racism and extremism
    http://rewind.org.uk
  • Schools Out UK – aim is to make schools safe and inclusive for everyone: lots of links to resources and other relevant websites.
    www.schools-out.org.uk
  • Stonewall – help and advice, carries out research, partners with schools and organisations, lots of resources.
    http://www.stonewall.org.uk/
  • Welcoming Schools – aimed at US elementary schools but has useful information, advice, etc.
    http://www.welcomingschools.org/

ALSO USEFUL:

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CS Lewis on the Church’s response to its gay members

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“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” From C.S. Lewis “God in the Dock”

When I read this quote from C.S. Lewis I could not help but think that this was an apt description of the relationship between the church and its gay members. I have often tried to understand how it is that patient, loving, and compassionate people – like those that I encountered in the church – can cause so much unintentional harm. I have never thought that there is some sort of conspiracy of horrible people aiming to exclude and marginalize gay people, yet this is the effect of conservative theology – intended or not. With a tilt of the head, and an earnest facial expression the pastor sighs, “It’s for your own good.” How much pain and suffering has been justified and morally rationalized under that treacherous slogan? How do pastors wash their hands of the blood of suicidal teenagers or the tears of their parents? The answer is that they do not claim responsibility even as they walk away culpable as fuck. This is the thing that makes me really angry. When confused children and youngsters seek help from their well-intentioned pastors and all they get is a subtle re-shaming cloaked as pastoral advice. “It’s perhaps best not to tell too many people about this” he says, trying to spare his charge some pain or public humiliation. Yet he does not think what this advice actually accomplishes. This suggestion to cover-up, to hide, to conceal only confirms to his charge that somehow he is to blame for this. This is his fault. So he walks away internalizing the guilt and shame with every step. The next session the pastor will re-assure his charge of God’s unconditional love and acceptance while he utters the words “There is nothing to be ashamed of”, as if these seven words could somehow counteract all the things he has heard or felt both inside and outside his church. As if it could negate all the things that have been insinuated and suggested by friends and family and pastors and preachers. No, it is not that easy to negate the secrecy and self-denial promoted by the evangelical church. You really have to be wilfully ignorant or just plain stupid not to see how the church’s current approach leads to self-loathing and shame for those who cannot match up to the unworkable and inhumane expectations placed on them.

William Easterly has written a fantastic paper about the ill effects of foreign aid on developing countries and refers to the situation as a “Cartel of good intentions.” A great description of what I am talking about here. “Cartels thrive when customers have little opportunity to complain or to find alternative suppliers.” And these facts together – Lewis’ tyranny exercised for the recipient’s benefit and Easterly’s lack of voice or exit means that we are stuck with a horrible equilibrium. More blood and more tears even as the church prays more fervently and tries to “help” to “care” to “pastor.” What they do not realize is that they are the solution to their own problems, indeed they are the problem.

Things will change, they always do. “The arc of history is long but it is bent towards justice.” We have more precedent than we have need for – slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, what more do you need? I believe two things are changing and they will be the straw that breaks this obstinate camel’s back: changing attitudes and beliefs of church members and increased compassion from pastors themselves. I have yet to see a pastor who has kicked his own child out of the church for being gay. Funny that, how one’s firmly held theological beliefs change so radically when the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law collide, as they sometimes do.

Obviously most people do not lead churches or mosques or synagogues. They are not the bastion of intolerance and rejection that gay people regularly come up against. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing they can do. There is always something you can do. Speak. Act. Listen. Advocate. Vote. Empathize.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ” ― Paulo Freire

On being celebrated, not tolerated.

authentic

Right now I am sitting in a café in San Francisco and contemplating life listening to Asaf Avidan and Passenger Official. Generally speaking I normally love psycho-analysis and probing questions, but when I’m travelling this past-time takes on new forms of intensity – it feels like I cannot escape the onslaught of questions about things like the meaning of life, the definitions of culture, the sources of creativity, and finding one’s vocation. Personally I find inherent joy in reflecting on my life and experiences and trying to understand who I am and why. Today the questions were of the punchy variety, questions like:

  • What do you want to be?” (happy);
  • Who do you want to be?” (myself),
  • What do you want to do?” (fix education).
  • Where do you want to live?(…)

But the last one stumped me for a while. The first three were really easy to answer if only because I’ve reflected on them at length before. But the location one took a while. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to decide between a bunch of post-PhD (2015) options at the moment, ranging from a single post-doc in the U.S. to research visits at multiple universities in America (Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Michigan), a fellowship in Paris or staying on in Cape Town. I know my work will always focus on Africa and ultimately I couldn’t live long-term outside of South Africa (or at the very least a developing country) but the question was still quite puzzling for me. Then I remembered a quote that instantly became my answer:

Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.

This quote has been a guiding motif in my life ever since I embraced the fact that I am gay. It helped me make one of the most difficult, defining, and important decisions in my life: leaving the church, which I did around this time last year. Thank God I did – I would’ve died if I stayed in it. As most people already know, growing up gay in a hegemonically straight world can be difficult, no matter where you are born. To do so in a country where colonial patriarchy is systemic and ignorance fuels the fire of homophobia is even worse. But the real trifecta is if you get all three: (1) straight hegemony, (2) colonial patriarchy and (3) religiously-induced homophobia. Then you are fucked (proverbially speaking). Of course none of this holds a flame to those who have all of these and also the compounding factors of  poverty, an intolerant culture or familial rejection. Theirs are the stories that make us shake our heads in horror and shame, wondering how in 21st century South Africa a girl can be “correctively raped” by straight men, strangled to death and left with a toilet-brush in her vagina for the horrific crime of being lesbian.

My experiences of micro-aggressions are negligible by comparison. Yet for me they are real. It’s not fun having the church strip away what little dignity the world has left you. In any event, it was this time last year that I got the mental composure to ask myself why the hell I was willingly subjecting myself to the ongoing disdain of the religious establishment. The fact that church leaders have “good intentions” doesn’t change the fact that they made me feel like a second rate citizen who was depraved and sick for something over which I have no control. As CS Lewis has said “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” Sometimes outright hate is preferable to pious pity.

So now I don’t stick around if I’m tolerated. Why would anyone do that? This has been an important factor in deciding to live in Cape Town rather than Stellenbosch, even though I’m still studying at Stellenbosch. The dominant culture in Stellenbosch is conservative, White, Afrikaans culture that is subversively and insidiously homophobic (and White). I work with amazing people who I love and feel completely accepted by, but we live in cities, not offices.  I think everyone should – as far as it depends on them – try and find the place where they are celebrated, not just tolerated. I never felt that in the church. Ever. So I left and I’m so so happy I did. I’d encourage anyone else who is in the same position I was to do the same. Yes, you will have existential angst and many of the cards come toppling down with the move, but they really aren’t cards you want to build your life on – conditional acceptance, cloaked-disdain, false certainty. Sometimes you have to go with the truth, even though there is less certainty

Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated. 

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“Becoming a man” – Paul Monette [Book reflection]

becoming a man

Last month, while browsing through the second-hand bookstore opposite the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town I came across this autobiography by Paul Monette and quickly added it to the growing pile of books I ended up leaving with. I’m very glad I did. In reading it I’ve had more than my fair share of chortles, tears and chokes – it is as moving as it is funny. I don’t think straight people will find it as meaningful given that it is written by a gay man, to gay people about gay men. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in either autobiographies or the struggles of gay men in straight America.

When I write, either personally or professionally, I find that my natural style – that which comes most easily to me – is to write polemically with splashes of vitriol. Moderation is not my thing. It doesn’t come easily and with prose it’s no different. There’s a joke in our Department that the bulk of my supervisor’s editing  during the first year of my PhD was simply to delete (or at the very least tame) any adjective I used in reports for government. So where I wrote about “egregious inefficiencies” or ”wholesale ineptitude” this was pacified to “clear inefficiencies” and “systemic capacity deficits”. Words like ‘heinous’, ‘sclerotic’ and ‘unfathomable’ simply had to go, and rightly so I suppose. It would seem that writing in registers is something that is learnt but never taught. In any event I’m getting carried away here. The point is that I loved this book because I identified not only with the content but also with the emotionally-rich prose. Let me give you a chunk from the first page and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about:

“I speak for no one else here, if only because I don’t want to saddle the women and men of my tribe with the lead weight of my self-hatred, the particular doorless room of my internal exile. Yet I’ve come to learn that all our stories add up to the same imprisonment. The self-delusion of uniqueness. The festering pretense that we are the same as they are. The gutting of all our passions till we are a bunch of eunuchs, our zones of pleasure in enemy hands. Most of all, the ventriloquism, the learning how to pass for straight. Such obedient slaves we make, with such tidy rooms.

Forty-six now and dying by inches, I finally see how our lives align at the core, if not in the sorry details. I still shiver with a kind of astonished delight when a gay brother or sister tells of that narrow escape from the coffin world of the closet. Yes yes yes, goes a voice in my head, it was just like that for me. When we laugh together and dance in the giddy circle of freedom, we are children for real, at last, because we have finally grown up. And every time we dance, our enemies writhe like the Witch in Oz, melting, melting – the Nazi Popes and all their brocaded minions, the rat-brain politicians, the wacko fundamentalists and their Book of Lies…So whether or not I was ever a child is a matter of very small moment. But every memoir now is a kind of manifesto, as we piece together the tale of the tribe. Our stories have died with us long enough. We mean to leave behind some map, some key, for the gay and lesbian people who follow – that they may not drown in the lies, in the hate that pools and foams like pus on the carcass of America.” (p1)

And with prose like that I can’t help but understand his struggle and feel his pain, even as I begin to better understand my own struggles and pains. I think one of the reasons why I was drawn to this autobiography was because it is not only one man’s autobiography, but one particular refraction of a common theme – living as a gay man in a straight world. Yet the plot and narrative also show a clear development and acquired nuance in his understanding of homosexuality – masterfully written to echo his own chronological realizations. What started out as a biological understanding of sexuality, explaining who likes whom and why, morphs into a far more abstract and realistic understanding that being gay is far more than simply sexual preference. It is also a sensibility, a disposition to meaning acquired through socialization and shared experience. Interestingly educational sociologists use the term “orientation to meaning” in their discussions about the propagation of class inequalities in society. It would be interesting to explore this notion with respect to gay meaning-making in contrast to straight meaning-making in a hegemonically heterosexual world.  But again I digress. Monette – a poet by training and profession – is also a brilliant social commentator with the flair befitting his orientation. In his writing he mixes equal parts of self-awareness, sorrow, literary genius and social commentary:

“I don’t come from the past, I come from now, here in the cauldron of the plague. When the doors to the camps were finally beaten down, the Jews of Europe no longer came from Poland and Holland and France. They came from Auschwitz and Buchenwald. But I will never understand how the straights could have let us die like this – year after year, collaborating by indifference – except by sifting through the evidence of my queer journey. Why do they hate us? Why do they fear us? Why do they want us invisible? I don’t trust my own answers anymore. I’m too twisted up with rage, too hooked on the millennium. But I find myself combing the past these days, dreaming dreams without sleep, puzzling over my guys, the gay and the straight and the inbetween. Somewhere in there is a horror of love, and to try to kill the beast in them, they take it out on us. Which is not to say I don’t chastise myself for halving the world into us and them. I know that the good guys aren’t all gay, or the bad all straight. That is what I am sifting for, to know what a man is finally, no matter the tribe or gender.”

And this is where Monette comes into his own – where he reaches the peak of his literary prowess – his visceral descriptions of a life well contemplated. He is not shy to include the sordid details of his sex life, but neither is he shy to expose the heart-ache and insecurity of an approval-seeking narcissist. He helped me to see that all of life is experience – the good, the bad and the ugly. This all stands in stark contrast to the religious dogma of fundamentalists whose petty priorities can only pass for legitimate by masquerading as absolute truth. I still have not managed to reconcile how otherwise intelligent people are so uncritical of the half-baked ideas of their religious superiors.

This book also helped me to realize just how far we are from the just treatment of gay people in society. As an educational evangelist I wonder if we will ever be able to unteach and unlearn the homophobia acquired over generations of prejudice and ignorance. How do you reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason their way into? You can’t. And this is where the parallels with feminism and gender become unmistakable. Contrary to popular belief, all people have received an education about gender. The vast majority receive their education by socialization into a sexist, gendered patriarchal environment. Unfortunately most never realize they’ve been taught or that they’ve learned anything as they continue with their hum-drum lives. For the enlightened few who can think enough and empathize enough to realize that women are truly oppressed – even in ‘liberated’ Western society – the task then becomes how we orchestrate change. Like true economists, those in positions of power realize that it is not good enough to only correct the cloaked-misogynists at the dinner table, but rather that the forces of markets, politics and religion must converge on a new truth – that men and women – heterosexual and homosexual – black and white – are all fully human and thus equally entitled to the full spectrum of rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Until that day we have work to do.

Cultural loci and African intellectuals…

star-wars-pop-art1

A little while ago a friend of mine and I were discussing the recent increase in the number of countries and American States that have now legalized gay marriage or are in the process of doing so. I argued then, and maintain now, that this increase will continue indefinitely in a monotonic fashion and will most probably also accelerate after reaching a tipping point sometime in the next decade. My friend, being the sensible lad that he is, agreed that this does seem to be an increasing trend rather than just a momentary spurt, but also suggested that perhaps the tolerance and acceptance of gay marriage is really just a function of economic power which is clearly changing and that perhaps the new powers won’t be as tolerant. The economic trajectory of the West is plateauing even as BRIC countries find their feet and begin their speedy ascent. Interesting, I thought, since the changing of the guard could well mean a change in norms and values, and China and Russia (!) certainly do have a different set of values to the U.S on a variety of things, including gay marriage. But the more I got thinking about this I realized that we are nowhere near the zenith of the West’s power and influence as a hundred different examples easily show. I think if we did a global survey of brands, TV shows, celebrities, intellectuals, politicians etc., we would find the West dominates the list by 100 to 1. Of course there are some celebrities from India and Brazil that we all know – Ashwaria Rai, Tendulka, Pele, Ronaldo etc., but I can’t think of any Chinese or Russian celebrities offhand? Does that make me a bad person? Am I just a consumerist cog in the capitalist American machine succumbing to exploitation by patriarchal imperialists?! OK, perhaps a little. But the point remains that the West, and within it largely America, set the tone for the world. Economically yes, politically, yes and most important for this current discussion, America is the global trend-setter and the cultural locus of the world. A cultural version of America sneezing and the rest of the world catching a cold. Chinese elites wear American clothes and aspire to American symbols of status, wealth and power. American elites do not aspire to Chinese anything as far as I can tell. American cultural influence (and more generally Western sensibility) is here to stay, as far as I can tell. Something I am quite happy about as far as gay marriage is concerned.

The reason why I like thinking about these types of questions is that they come back to broader ones about modernization and westernization. In Africa especially, it is difficult to find textbook examples of countries that have managed to modernize rather than Westernize. I think this is probably because the path to Westernization is so well sign-posted and well travelled, with trains leaving every hour on the hour heading towards a clearly articulated and visible goal. In contrast, the path to African modernization in an African way is like bundu-bashing towards a mirage that no one has really seen before. Does the Utopian vision of an African Renaissance include things like democracy, capitalism and gender-equality? Or are these just un-African Western impositions? Some say that Africa needs these things but it needs Africanised versions of them. OK great, but how do you decide what to keep and what to scrap? Inevitably people end up asking: “Why don’t we just adopt the whole package? They look pretty happy over there in America, let’s just do what they do?” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, no? If you dig a little deeper there are many reasons why we can’t and shouldn’t “just do what they do” ranging from national pride, personal dignity and cultural heritage, all the way to linguistic diversity and genuine social, economic and political freedom. But the only people capable of formulating and articulating the African ideals to which Africans can aspire are African intellectuals. They are necessary catalysts. Unfortunately they are in short supply. Where did all the Khama’s and Mandela’s and Nyerere’s go? Where are our 40-year-old public intellectuals challenging Western ideas and (importantly) proposing African one’s to fill their place? We have a few big mouths that love to bash the West but don’t fill the vacuum that their criticism creates. Perhaps they do exist and I don’t know about them? If you know of any young, inspiring African intellectuals please write a comment and post a link to some of their work. This is one time I hope to be wrong…

Choice, data, assessments and success…

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  • A wonderfully-witty article on liberty, choice and ranting manifestos about public versus private education. This is no surprise to you but it turns out I’m a bad person. (Thanks @HendrikvanB)
  • Wentworth Miller declines an invitation to be guest of honor at the St Petersberg Film Festival in Russia because he is gay. That’s certainly one way to come out 🙂
  • A NYT article that every academic in an education faculty should read (and every politician for that matter) titled “Guesses and hype give way to data in study of education” [as an aside – this is pretty funny 🙂 )
  • Motshekga announced this week that teacher assessments will go ahead, not that I think my article had anything to do with this, but I did publish an article only one week ago on this exact topic – “Teacher’s can’t teach what they don’t know
  • Quote of the week is by Victor Frankl via BrainPickings: “Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.

We read, we lead…

batteries

Some great course outlines for those of you eager to find comprehensive reading lists on curriculum, education in developing countries and the economics of education: