Monday, 29 July 2013

Remembering You

On Friday I got news that a close friend at work had died. Tomorrow I go to his funeral, where students and staff will try to be strong for the rest of what must be a wonderful family. I felt like remembering him tonight. 

So you’re dead now, which is pretty rough. 52 seems far too young for that sort of thing. I heard today that you were texting one of the girls from the ambulance, and were midway through a conversation when all contact suddenly ceased. You always had a flair for the dramatic pause. 

I remember standing in your classroom as you held your coat for me to try on. Original World War 1, you told me. Proper flying aces coat that you wore with a white scarf. You were ever the gentleman and there was real joy in your eyes as you watched me swish the heavy thing around you, humming the tune to Dambusters. 

We sat once in midsummer, surrounded by children and shared a moment of chaste intimacy. You told me that you really weren’t looking for a relationship right now, I laughed and said you fundamentally weren’t my type anyway. I think we became friends that day.

I made you a spider out of pipecleaners so you could use it in your stop motion class. You had a stop motion class, of course you did. I loved that it made you laugh. 

You shared with me the stresses and the highs of buying my house, and made all the right noises when I showed you tiny pictures of living rooms and wallpaper swatches on my smartphone. I was going to cook for you, I really was. 

Listening to you talk about your children. You talked about them the way every child hopes their parents talk about them when they're not around. 

You made me iced tea, regular tea, tomato soup and the most evil little cups of black coffee using a vintage coffee press that looked designed by the Marquis de Sade. Rocket fuel, you called it. You weren’t kidding.

Sitting on low seats, hands wrapped around mugs of tea as you showed me the work your students had done. Listening to prog rock with the volume up to give those students inspiration. Together showing our charges that being uncool and geeky and silly is one of the coolest things you can be. No wonder they loved you. 

Talking in the middle of a busy staffroom as though it was midnight and the fire was burning low in the grate. It sometimes felt like you had so much you wanted to teach me and not the time to do it. You were that purest of teachers, one who has risen in the ranks and realised they were born for the classroom, not the boardroom. You knew where you needed to be. 

I stood in the doorway of your room this morning and looked into your domain. Your appropriately quirky mugs. The tiny yellow fridge where you kept your beverages. Your posters. Your handwriting still on the board, complete with silly quotes and admonishments to your various media crew. It seemed impossible, seeing the chaos  in that room, that you would not be returning to it. I was going to go in, but I can't. Not yet.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Lady Gaga and the Missing Vulva

The internetwebs (or at least the bits that aren’t swooning over/getting annoyed by royal babies or the X Factor) have been getting excited by the latest photoshoot from the Diet Coke of queerness herself, Lady Gaga. “Is this Lady Gaga’s Most Shocking Shoot?" asks the august organ of news and opinion that is (good god, I live in a country where one of the major news websites sounds like it was named by a terminally bored 14 year old), their clickthrough photo showing Ms Gaga naked on a stool, hands covering breasts and vulva. Apparently, the photo “shows the slender singer without any makeup” which suggests the author thinks make-up only comes in primary colours and glitter, suggesting they are either a drag queen or desperately naive. 

In a career marked by exciting/plagiarising-Leigh-Bowery-and-most-of-the-80s photoshoots, at first glance it’s easy to see why this one may be a little controversial. She’s nekkid! She’s only wearing three layers of makeup (which to our journalist is equal to “no” makeup)! Her legs are open! 

However, on closer inspection owners of vulvas may grow concerned for the woman, beyond her fatal lack of blue eyeshadow. Upon reflection I now have nothing but sympathy for her. 

She has no external sexual organs. Her slender paw is placed in such a way where a peek of clitoris of labia minora would surely be visible, or at the very least a suggestion of labia majora. And yet, between finger and thumb there is nothing but smooth, airbrushed flesh. No hair, or even suggestion of follicle, can be seen.

This is where I get annoyed. Clearly this is meant to show a “natural” “real” side to an artist built on artifice, probably preceding some major personal revelation or power ballad about just being free to be her. And yet the image is built on the same lies that lead to teenagers saving up for labial plastic surgery and women not letting their partners see them naked with the lights on. An artist who’s major hit was about being born this way has photoshopped out the fundamental human structures that allow most people to be born at all. 

What message does this send? I appreciate that it may sound like I'm finding things to be annoyed about, won't someone think of the children but this isn't about "ERMAGHERD NUDIE LADY!" Regardless of my personal feelings for the woman she is looked up to by many and to have this image touted as what a natural body looks like continues to reinforce the horrendous problems women and girls have with their own bodies. If she truly wishes to be a role model and be "empowering" then she can start by not airbrushing out a part of the body that most people seem to wish did not exist at all. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

High-Pressure Navel Gazing: The 24 Hour Zine Challenge

At 6pm. We look, er, ready? Maybe?
As someone who's used the written word all my life to make sense of things it seems a bit odd that the world of zines has until now been a mystery to me. Aside from attending the Auckland Zinefest on a date with someone a couple of years ago I had dismissed zines as being a bit, well, hipster. A throwback to the days before blogs and the internet that were now the bastion of people with too much time on their hands and a penchant for gingham. So when I was invited to take part in the 24 Hour Zine challenge last Friday, the lure of trying something different proved irresistible. For me, it was more the writing side that appealed. Sitting down for a night and a day in a new environment where I could just write? Sounded pretty great. The whole idea of typing, drawing, laying out and creating a 24-page booklet seemed almost an afterthought.

So myself and a friend (do check out her website- some of it very NSFW) loaded ourselves up with caffeine drinks and jellybeans and hit the town centre, really not knowing what to expect. She and I both had a rough idea of what we wanted to do. She wanted to do something queer, sexy and femme-filthy, filled with glitter and claws, and I had the idea of writing 30 letters to various people, places and things that had impacted on me in some way over the last 30 years and would be filled with anger, love, soul-baring and honesty. Basically, our ideas are this photo in zine form:

I'll leave you to work out which is which.

They said "ass"
We arrived at the Auckland Old Folks' Association (wonderfully shortened to the Auckland Old Folk's Ass on the wall outside) and were unfashionably early. In our defense we thought the place was going to be MUCH busier than it turned out to be so we wanted a table to spread out all our junk brilliant ideas on.

Ground Zero for the next 20 or so hours
I got into the writing side almost straight away, just writing out the first 30 things I could think of. They're not necessarily the most important but throwing in the first 30 seemed appropriate. Fuelled by jellybeans and V I managed to write my 30 in an impressive 4 hours, even stopping for a quick vegan pizza break. I thought I'd managed 3000 words which seemed pretty good, only to find that it clocked in at a cool 5,135. Clearly, I had no idea how zines worked. I had decided to write at least part of this opus on a typewriter because, well, they were there and it was a zine, right? I mean, that's what they're like. I think. Typewriters and whimsy.

I now hate typewriters. Hate them hate them hate them. There is a reason why my parents ditched the golfball typewriter almost as soon as they could when word processors came out. They're horrible. My romantic notions of taking an hour or so to copy stuff over turned into an EIGHT HOUR marathon as I grappled with my machine, called Enid for reason other than I needed to give my nemesis an identity beyond "you bastard". They keys were heavy. The tape for the ink needed dicking around with almost every ten minutes as my hard-earned words faded in and out like pirate radio. Apostrophes became 8s about 50% of the time. It was horrible. Unfortunately, by the time I fully realised just how monumental this ordeal would be I felt like I'd done too much to just print off the rest and be damned, and I couldn't just bin the work I had already done. the long dark Night of the Typewriter had begun.

"But how does it WORK?"
It was about this time that most of the other people in the hall left, and there was about five of us still working, not including the "security guard" who came in, found a comfy seat and promptly passed out for the next seven hours, snoring loudly enough to be incredibly irritating. There was nothing but typing now. As my friend grappled with her (much more sensible) laptop, finding photos and content, I sat and laboriously copied out my work, taking twice as long to copy what had been original content. 

While I typed, I got to thinking about that content. It was very raw. I've not had the easiest of lives (though I understand that on the global scale I've had it easy yes I know) and there's been some really nasty points. Why the hell did I want to write about them, much less write about them, type them up, photocopy them into a little booklet and distribute for free? I found myself getting annoyed with the whole idea, round about 4am, feeling like I'd reached almost Amanda Palmer levels of self-obsession. That somehow this little booklet would come back and bite me on the arse. That I should be, what, ashamed of this stuff? It was an interesting thought train. At this point I was listening to some Slayer in order to push on through to the end, which may have done little for my mood but at least it kept me awake. 
I hate you.
And then, suddenly, it was done. At around 6am I put the date on the final letter and sat looking at the pile of paper I'd created. And then, reading through what I'd written, realised I'd have to take some of it out. I'm quite protective of my work and trying not to mix personal with professional so my big piece about my career might not mix in too well with stories of abuse and violence. I took it out, looked at the typewriter in horror, wrote a short apology and drew a picture of a guinea pig in a space suit to compensate. 

By around 7am I'd been staring slack-jawed at my booklet, sticky with glue and still not looking like much in particular when we decided that breakfast and some time outside was in order. Sitting in a cafe eating food that wasn't day-glo helped a lot, as we dissected the process and questioned our sanity. Re-entering the ass was not easy, especially as the sun was up and it looked to be a hell of a good day. 

I'd had vague rules when I sat down at 6pm. No handwriting (my handwriting is comically awful). Sensible photographs from magazines, no computer printing. My art skills are almost as bad as my handwriting, so that was out too. 

Best teapot ever.
By 9am, these rules had been dropkicked out the window. Letrasets were beyond the comprehension of a brain that had been awake for 24 hours on nothing stronger than caffeine and had been staring at the same 24 pages for 15 hours. Collages were beyond my ability to  spell, let alone create. Between us we developed a siege mentality, the need to get the thing done outweighing pretty much anything else. I hand wrote. I drew pictures that a 6 year old would pat me condescendingly on the head for. After half an hour of failing to find a picture of a shark (the closest I came in my 5th edition of National Geographic had the only photo of a shark ripped out. I nearly screamed) I ended up photocopying a photo of some ground squirrels and drawing on a fin with a sharpie. At this point I detested everything I had written, not just tonight but ever, and looked with rage at the lass who'd finished hers hours ago and was now sleeping peacefully in a chair. Finally, there was just a centrefold left. All of my text was stuck in place, everything else was completed and just this centrefold remained. Two pages. With a stroke of manic genius I turned it into an interlude, the halfway point bookended by a recount of some of the hideous things an ex had said and done to me, and a short piece about abortion. I figured any poor sod reading it would need a break as much as I did. 

"You look tired"
At 11am, 17 hours after I'd sat down at a blank screen, it was done. My zine "30430" (see what I did there?) was complete. I felt a bit odd. All that effort, all that time, and for what? Did I ever want anyone to read it? Why had I written it in the first place? I photocopied it a few times and pondered what the hell to do with it. It seemed like a massive waste to just bin it, or take it home and leave it in a drawer somewhere, but did I really want people to read it? Eventually my friend persuaded me that it should be read at least by somebody, and it's now in the zine library at Alphabet City. My friend's was brilliant, a gutsy, gleefully offensive introduction to hot sex and femme fabulousness. Mine looked absolutely depressing next to it, but at least it was done. We high-fived, had our photos taken, and went to our respective beds to try not to screw up our body clocks too much. 

Finished products
 So I still have seven copies of "30430" in my bag and I'm still at a bit of a loss. Personally, it was a great exercise. I find writing incredibly cathartic and there's something quite satisfying about all of these thoughts, experiences and recollections in a physical form, like now they're out there it feels easier for me in here. I feel a little apprehensive reading this stuff, but I rationalise it by thinking that people write and act and sing and perform their experiences and real lives all the time. There's nothing in there that I'm ashamed of, after all. Some might argue the truth of it, but it's experiences as remembered by me so it's as true for me as it ever will be. Maybe someone reading it some day will take something positive from it, or maybe they'll think I'm a self-indulgent asshole. Whatever. It's done.

Will I do it again? Maybe. It was a brilliant exercise in creating something new and stretching myself, but I did make my friend promise that if I said I'd do it again she was to hit me. Though that was at about 5am and I said a lot of things around that time.

I am damned if I'm ever using a typewriter again though.
The few, the proud, the bloody exhausted

Auckland Zine fest is on at St Kevin's Arcade on the 27th July 12-5. I might be there. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

No Justice for Trayvon

I'm sitting here shaking and it's not from the cold. I'm shaking with disbelief, with rage. You don't need to hear from me about the acquittal of George Zimmerman. You don't need me to tell you details of how a young black man was stalked and shot by a man who was only arrested six weeks after the killing, and only after protests. You don't need me to tell you how utterly, utterly fucked all this is.

Or do you? I've talked about white privilege on here before, but today we see what white privilege really is. White privilege is not fearing for your family members whenever they leave the house, in case they are shot dead just for the colour of their skin. It's not watching in horror as the killer of your unarmed child walks free, as in the eyes of the law his right to defend himself is enshrined in law, as your son's right to defend himself ended with him lying dying in the road as your killer calls you a fucking punk. White privilege is having a legal system that defends your rights above those of others.

I have this privilege and tonight it makes me sick to my stomach. It sickens me to hear people talk about how this "isn't a race issue". That Zimmerman, being a POC himself (just fucking google it if POC is too complex for you), couldn't possibly have been racially motivated when he decided a young black man armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea was enough of a threat to stalk him, confront him and shoot him dead shows a level of wilful ignorance that you can only have if you're white enough to think this does not affect you.

It should.

You shouldn't have to be black to see immediately, clearly, that this was about Trayvon's blackness. You can be white and be absolutely horrified at this verdict. In fact, you can't be human and see this as anything other than the absolute proof, if any were needed, that we live in a deeply racist, unequal society.

If you read this story and don't feel that desperate, clutching urge to do something, anything to change this verdict and the world we live in, to offer some shred of comfort to Trayvon's family, to move the immovable objects, then you are as much a part of the problem as Zimmerman, the jury, and the lawyers who stood there and argued that Zimmerman's right to kill an unarmed teenager was much greater than Trayvon Martin's right to live, breathe and have a future.

There is no excuse. Educate yourself. Read. Don't sit there and shake your head about how this can't be about race, or that it couldn't happen here, or any of the other excuses that mean this can happen in our society. If you're not furious then go and learn until you are furious.

Justice for some of us means there is no justice at all.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why liking the Pakeha Party makes you a douche.

Warning: The following post contains buzzwords like "privilege" "racism" and "arsehole". Read with caution. 

I am a white person. Always have been, always will be. I can't help that any more than I can help being an opinionated know-all or liking boobs. Having this skin colour has brought with it several benefits.

  • I can approach a police officer in the safe knowledge that they will listen to what I have to say and take care to ensure that my problem is taken seriously! (unless I get drunk and end up raped that is. But burglary? Mugging? I got 111 on my side!)
  • Petrol stations will unlock the petrol pump for me before I prepay if I ask nicely, because I'm not perceived as a criminal purely because of my skin!
  • I can talk about racism without people telling me I'm overreacting!
Of course, with the perks of being seen as having earned my degree fair and square and being a useful member of society, comes some downsides. The lord giveth, and the lord taketh away. 
He's British you know. We're practically cousins
  • I can't use the word "nigga" without people maybe thinking that's a bit racist, despite having watched The Wire twice through and owning several Public Enemy songs
  • I'll never get stopped and searched by a police officer for no reason other than walking down the road
  • I feel a bit uncomfortable when confronted with the terrible legacy of centuries of oppression and violence committed by people with my skin colour. 
That last one. How dare I be made to feel slightly awkward when I read a tumblr post titled "Fuck white people"? How dare I, a homeowner with the money for an overpriced haircut to go with my latte, even have to conceive of the idea of institutionalised racism and my own white privilege?


I live in a world that is almost entirely geared towards my kind. My ancestors were never treated like animals, worked till they died, or shot for sport purely on the basis of skin colour. Sure, as a woman I can expect to earn less than a man. But as a white woman I can expect to earn more than a woman of colour.  As a queer woman I experience intersectionality of orientation and gender, but I'm still of the race that has ruled been a fucking disaster to most of the rest of the planet since before that dude got nailed to that thing. That carries a lot of cachet, you know. 
T-shirt design by Mr Vintage

So when I see massive injustices and examples of bigotry that don't affect me directly, it'd be easy to go back to my knitting or listening to whimsical guitar music. However, I am learning not to be an arsehole. Just because I am aware of the fact that being white gives me an automatic cheat code in the computer game of life doesn't mean anything unless I am willing to do something about the fact others aren't given the same cheat code. So if you find yourself nodding as you read the examples of Maori "privilege" on The Facebook, or furrowing your pale brow to some frothing bigot on Seven Sharp...




Usually, when a group is being given more, it's because they started with less. Well actually, they had plenty but then some bugger with a flag and a lot of soldiers nicked it. Which is actually worse when you think about it. Political organisations like the Maori and Mana parties may not get it right all the time but they exist because we are a society build on injustice and until that is righted there is a need for those who have less to be given a louder voice. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Thank you Wendy Davis

You already know who she is right now. The senator who spoke for a monumental 10 hours and 45 minutes to prevent a law that would severely restrict women's access to abortion in Texas. The liberal press (and wikipedia) are calling her "The LeBron James of filibustering" and, whilst the war to keep nasty misogynistic little bastards out of women's rights to their own bodies isn't won, a battle has been hard (and publicly) won. Thank you Wendy, and the women around the world on social media who stood with her.
Rejoicing as the vote is blocked. Photo: the guardian

There's not a lot of searing social commentary I can add to this that isn't all over the internet, but I felt it needed mentioned. Like a lot of people, I've needed to access family planning services. Usually, that access is casual, friendly and in the form of a three-month prescription pick-up (and don't I thank medical science that that's an option). Sometimes, though, it's been more frantic, more tearstained. Each time I've walked through the doors of a family planning centre, I've been greeted by the most sympathetic, caring women who've listened to my tale of woe with no raised eyebrows, no judgement, no hate. They've checked me out and given me tissues. They've held my hand and given me hope at times when it felt like life would never be the same again.

Speaking truth to power for nearly half a goddamn day

Until you've been in the middle of that sheer, gut-twisting panic (and I can only imagine how few white, middle-aged and middle-class male Republican senators have) you can't really understand how it feels to know that help is there. Not just any help, but safe, clean, knowledgeable and non-judgemental help. Help that won't shun you or phone your parents. Help that won't call you a whore. Help that will actually move you forward, whether that's in the short-term glow of the test result you were hoping for, or the longer-term help of whatever treatment, prescription or further action that might be needed to move you past that terrifying intersection you find yourself at.

Family planning, and the right for access to legal, medical procedures, is a fundamental part of a civilized society and one that I am eternally grateful that I have. That we still have to fight like this to hang on to this basic right sickens me, but I'm given hope that there are strong men and women across the governments and clinics of the world taking on the struggle.

New Zealand family planning:
UK Family Planning Association:

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Iain Banks, and books out windows.

The great Scottish author, leftie and all round good yin Iain (M) Banks died last week at the far-too-cruel an age of 59. Much has been made in the press of his wonderfully wry April announcement that he was dying of cancer ("I'm officially Very Poorly"), his contribution to literary and science fiction, and the fact he thought the Tories could well, the story about the monogrammed t-shirt is a lesson to any leftie writer who makes it big enough for the book circuit.
Everyone apart from me seems to have met him. Usually in a pub.

I confess right now that I didn't read that many of his books while he was alive. A couple of the Culture novels, a few of the ones without the M on the cover, some memorable lines from Complicity and Player of Games sticking out like silhouettes on my personal cultural landscape amid half-buried narratives. But there's one book for which is a big reason why I'm still writing and for which I always thought I owed the man both a pint and some therapists bills.

I wish I still had my original copy of The Wasp Factory, Banks' first published work that came out the year after I was born. That copy is riddled with yellow highlighter and the margins infected with note after note, written in sharp black propelling pencil. I haven't seen my first copy in about a decade, but I still remember the braille feel of those scraps of thoughts on nearly every one of the 184 pages (I'm including the pages with reviews and the title). It's The Book. You know, the one that you read that changes things.

As an English assignment in what was to be my last year of high school, we had to select a novel and write a critical essay on it. As one of those alienated weirdo kids who spent too much time in the library and who took English seriously, I used the two-page suggested book list like I was food shopping. In the space of two weeks I read voraciously, that little list opening me up to novels and authors that I didn't know existed. I inhaled Brave New World, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Periodic Table/If This Is A Man, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Of Mice and Men, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and, uh the collected thinkings of Whoopi Goldberg (it was called Book). I came out of this orgy of ideas, politics and stories of human deprivation feeling simultaneously inspired, angry, depressed and cynical, and that was before I read Whoopi.

However, none of these great works (and I've since re-read them all, apart from Book) really resonated with me enough that I thought I could write a 2000 word report on it (how word count expectations change, eh?). However, my travels through the adult literature section led me to the B's, and a slim black-bound paperback with a cover that looked like Nine Inch Nails albums sounded. I have a copy of the same edition now, and reading the cover blurb again takes me right back to the brown carpets and beige shelves of that public library in Scotland:

"Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my younger brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anyone in years and I don't intend to ever again.
"It was just a stage I was going through."
The moment when I saw the symbolism on the cover. Good god.

I read it in a day, sitting in a bright green box room. I remember it was a sunny afternoon when I read page 142, the sun low in the sky. I remember that because I vividly recall that the little black cover looked almost like a bird when I vehemently threw it across the room in horror on reading the end of the first paragraph (I just re-read it, hairs on my neck and bile in my throat rising in tandem).  Of the thousands of books I've read, that one paragraph is the only one to have caused me to react like I'd touched a live wire.

It wasn't just That Bit that caused The Wasp Factory to worm its way into my brain. I'd be doing the washing up years after the essay was written (top marks as you'd imagine; those notes in the margins were for something) and suddenly the image of a kite circling the world would fly across my peripheral vision. I'd look at the labels in my clothes and for a fleeting second consider cutting them out. For the first time in my life I realised the raw power of language and just what could be achieved with a well-timed punch to the medulla. Iain Banks succeeded where Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn failed as far as one sixteen year old was concerned, and whilst I'm sure the comparison would leave him laughing into his dram, I'd like to think he'd appreciate the sentiment.

So here's to you Iain, you taught me more in a novel that's scarcely longer than the introductory preamble to some of the Big Classics on my shelves, and you taught my while making me want to throw your book out a window after setting it on fire so it could never get back in the house again.

Frank Cauldhame would approve.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The topsy-turvy world of roller derby

In a previous life I was a skater, committee dogsbody and coach for an established roller derby league. I was privileged to be a part of an exciting, positive sport for women that seemed a world away from the perceived image of more "conventional" sport. Injury, both mine and those of others, eventually caused me to quit skating but I have stayed on the fringes, attending games and recently MCing bouts. In the last three years I've come to know and talk to a lot of players and, alarmingly, a LOT of former skaters and people who got started but quit for one reason or another. One of the most common complaints or reasons for leaving is that of time. Of not having enough to make skating attendance requirements, let alone the various off-skate meetings, fundraising events, organising and running bouts, the list goes on. Add in coaching and an experienced skater could be on skates for up to twelve hours a week, not including off-skates commitments. Even an "average" skater, skating in a home team, could be expected to skate for six hours every week.

That's a lot of your waking moments.

Then there's the bouts. Big events requiring liquor licenses, catering, organising venues with seating for a thousand (in some places in Aotearoa up to four times that many!), ticketing, flyering, afterparties (a whole other event!), half time entertainment, and all on a Saturday night when they're in competition with all the other gigs and entertainment that happen in a big city at that time. It all has to be organised while all that skating is going on. And these huge entertainment evenings are held every month, sometimes even more regularly. For a group of women and men with jobs, partners, kids and a sport to play, it's a huge commitment.

"I just couldn't commit" is one of the most common reasons why people quit. Not because they didn't like playing, not because they found the sport too hard. Because they couldn't commit.

Roller derby, to me, is being run upside down.

Who wouldn't want to play a sport where you got to wear these?

Let's compare. Take ice hockey, a skills-heavy, similarly dangerous sport so I think it's a reasonable basis for rough comparison. Ice hockey is a triangle. At the bottom, you have a huge base of casual players. The Tuesday night social leagues. The kids playing after school. the work teams. No stress, just pay your weekly subs and turn up to a rec centre to play. No glitz, no aspirations to play in the Maple Leafs (mostly). Then you have the more serious players, who'll train more regularly, hit the gym to play better, will spend time watching matches for strategy ideas, but for whom it's a serious hobby to go along with their real lives. Some big games might have a small audience. At the peak of the triangle, you have your Ice Blacks, your NFL, your Olympic hopefuls. Those at the bottom go to games to support the players at the top, they admire them and learn from them. The game is accessible to all and there is the possibility of progression up the triangle, but it's not expected. 

Roller derby? Roller derby inverts the triangle. Every aspiring skater is told from the word go that they are making a huge commitment. Every skater in a league is expected to train as hard as they can, to go further. Every bout is a big event. Every skater is told that if they try really hard they can be the next Bonnie Thunders (the LeBron James of roller derby according to ESPN), and skaters who say that they "just want to play derby" are seen as anomalies, of letting others down, of not pulling their weight.

I've done it myself. On the nights where I'd be replying to emails at 2am I'd shake a fist at the skaters who turned up, skated, packed up and just left again. I made the passive-aggressive comments about the ones who didn't make the meetings. At the time, I thought I was annoyed at their "laziness" or lack of "commitment". Now I realise I was just a bit jealous. A lot of skaters like me are unable to strike the balance between skating and life, and quit. The skaters who stay will invariably have legitimate complaints about their work rate, exhaustion, and stress. It's not a good way to be.

From experience, the main issues that cause player attrition and burnout are attendance requirements, bouts, and fundraising pressures.

Attendance: How often is the league asking skaters to attend, and how is this time justified? Let's go back to ice hockey. Mackenzie ice hockey have their player code of conduct on their website. All players are expected to "Be on time and properly equipped for all practices and games." Sound familiar? Then you see how often teams  have practice: Once a week. For an hour. I've no doubt that there will be other practices, skate sessions, and the like, but an hour a week sounds a lot more reasonable than four, or six, or ten. Doesn't it? How often is reasonable for those who really just want to skate? Which brings me on to....

Bouts: Who are they for, really? They're fun, sure. Good entertainment, usually. But surely asking thirty or so women, most of whom work full-time or in further education and have family commitments, to stage a huge Saturday-night event every month on top of their skating commitments is a bit masochistic? Roller derby has her roots in sports entertainment but if it is to be seen as a sport in 2013, why spend the hours and the tears on the entertainment as well? Here's a challenge. Imagine your league with no home fixtures for an entire year. No bout committee. Your intra-league competition is a once-a-month special scrimmage, with winners announced at the end of the year. Competitive? Sure, just like your Saturday hockey games. Nothing to stop your other half and the kids coming to cheer support, but no tickets, no flyering, no panic over where the chip fryer is for the hot food stand. Maybe you have one or two big bouts a year, an exhibition bout or the final or an inter-league. It's a big deal. It's stressful, but not rushed. Everyone's got the energy, as it's your big celebration. People will go as it's an event, not a regular fixture battling for attention on a crowded weekend. It would pay for itself, which leads me onto.....

Fundraising: So, you drop your attendance requirements. Maybe your league has one skills night a week, and one scrimmage. If you don't make skills you sit out the scrimmage. Your subs decrease as you have fewer venue fees. You host one or two big bouts a year, they're big-ticket events and a fixture on the calendar. So what is left to fundraise for? I'll answer before you do:


Your best players. They represent you at WFTDA bouts, who are further up the triangle. They work hard for their jersey and let's face it, travel costs, right? Shouldn't we be fundraising for them? 

The high end- WFTDA

Let's try another way. The All-Stars run in parallel to the regular league. They pay extra for their training venues, they run their own trainings. They're higher up the triangle. Before a major away fixture, skaters on the All-Stars agree to a funding contract, to raise x amount towards the cost of travel and expenses. They can either pay it directly, or they can fundraise, find some sponsorship, or a mixture of all three. Many schools and groups run on this system for overseas trips worth thousands. It becomes the responsibility of the player to raise their funds in the best way they can. Players could work together on initiatives, other skaters could help with time or donations or whatever, but their assistance would not be mandatory. Working together to fundraise would help foster team spirit. The skaters who "just want to skate" aren't asked to commit time to raise money for others to travel the country/the world, and if your place on the squad depends on your ability to fundraise you're going to make the effort, aren't you? The first fifteen of your local high school go on week-long trips to Australia because they work hard to raise the money for themselves and their team, and you can bet your ass their training commitments are huge. 

This way, we flip the triangle. The wedge at the bottom are the twice-a-week players who rock the sports court and get a yearly shot at an audience. The better players form almost a sister league, training hard and playing harder. Progression if you want it, a fun sport to play if you don't. And hell, maybe we get our own Bonnie Thunders at the top. 

I know this doesn't address all the problems and issues around the sport, and I know that some people might be reading this and wondering how easy it'll be to cut my brake lines, but I love the sport, the women who play it and the women who want to play it and think that maybe, just maybe, there could be a place for all of us on the track. But I know there isn't space for all of us on the point of a triangle.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Faggotry and footy

Sorry for the radio silence, in the last few weeks I moved house, had a big thing on at work and was lucky enough to have my mum come for a visit from overseas so blogging took not so much a back seat as relegated to the boot with a tartan rug over the top. 

My whole family are rugby fans and one of the perks of moving to New Zealand is that I can now experience the thrill of supporting a team that wins things other than wooden spoons and certificates saying they tried hard. With this in mind what better way to spend last Saturday than at Eden Park, watching the might of the All Blacks (TM) take on Les Bleus, for the first time since that hold-your-breath-for-twenty-minutes exercise in terror that was the 2011 World Cup Final. I was looking forward to seeing the ABs on home turf for the first time (North Harbour doesn't count, sorry), and mama Glitter was keen to experience the atmosphere of a sold-out international test between two old rivals, and we chattered excitedly about how it would measure up to matches she'd been to at the Millenium Stadium and the Stade de France. She even wore her French supporters hat in the shape of a wonderfully fluffy tricolored chicken. 

photo: Paul Estcourt/The New Zealand Herald

The rugby itself had little to commend it. The French played rugby for about an hour, the All Blacks gave just enough of a performance to justify the next round of MasterCard adverts. The crowd, however, were another matter. French supporters got abused and stared down every time they opened their mouths, the AB fans around us screamed that the referee was a motherfucking cunt when a penalty went the other way, and the inebriated good old boys in front of us decided that as Scottish people we should be supporting New Zealand and had no place chanting "Allez les Bleus" (in language that was slightly less polysyllabic)  Our celebrating the French try was given short shrift indeed. 

I appreciate the strength of feeling that surrounds rugby, but to tell a complete stranger they're not allowed to support a team? To yell and scream abuse at the opposition's #10 when he's about to take a penalty? Mama Glitter and I left with a nasty taste in the mouth at the level of bitterness and aggro on display by the local supporters. We felt grateful that the worst they had on us was the wearing of a comedy hat.

So I was not in the least bit surprised when I read Hannah Spyksma's open letter to the "fans" at the same match, who, when she called them out on their repeated use of homophobic slurs, replied with "If you don't like us using the word faggot then don't come to the footy - because it's just part of the game".   The NZ Herald published the letter, and an article on the response it had received. The venerable Radio New Zealand's afternoon panel show also had a discussion about it, where Finlay Macdonald and Karl du Fresne agreed that while nasty language can get excessive, rugby fans "...shouldn't have to change their language just to mollify someone who might be offended". 

This opinion does not seem limited to middle-aged white male columnists who like to think they can be edgy whilst simultaneously appealing to the kind of rugby fan who thinks abusing a young woman in public is acceptable. A spokeswoman for Eden Park said that it's not the job of the stadium to "be the PC Police"

And here is where the wheels come off the bullshit bus. Finlay, Karl and all the small-minded bigots that night miss the point that it's not about someone being offended. It's about someone feeling unwelcome. Threatened. To sit surrounded by people using a word that describes a fundamental part of who you are as an aggressive slur doesn't make you feel a bit peeved- it makes you feel unsafe. At risk. And to have hundreds of people sit around while you are made to feel threatened and unsafe makes you feel that should that threat be realised then nobody will step in. How are you supposed to enjoy the match when you're fearing for your own safety?

Standing up to homophobia, racism or any other kind of bigotry isn't just mindless busybodying. It's saying that making people feel threatened is not acceptable. The sooner the "PC gone mad" brigade understand that the safer I and many others will feel to be who we are, wherever we are.

Monday, 13 May 2013

How to be a mate when your mate is leaving

Twenty and thirtysomethings like to emigrate. This year alone four friends of mine have upped sticks and left Aotearoa for colder if more prosperous shores. Four and a half years ago I decided the UK was a grey, grumpy, miserable little island and decided to up sticks to Auckland and never looked back. As a result I like to think I know a bit about leaving all you hold dear and reinventing yourself in pastures new, and present for your consideration some tips on how to be a good mate when your mate is abandoning you for the bright lights of the big hemisphere.
I typed "Departure" into google images. Er......

  • Make time. They'll be busy. There's a million things that need sold, moved, filled out and signed in the weeks before they leave, and tensions run high. Be the one to make time. Check in with them, ask how it's going, offer to help. Meet for a quick coffee. There's something quite depressing about your closest mates treating you like you've already left when you still have to plan the leaving do. 
  • Go to the leaving do, and don't be a dick. It's their leaving do. Go to it. Unless you really have something important on (or they're just not that good a mate), at least pop in for a bit. But remember that heaps of other people will be doing the same, and they'll all want to say goodbye too. Don't follow them around the whole night, and if you feel the urge to clutch them weeping about how awful it'll be without them it might be time to get a cab home
  • Don't smother them. Emigrating is a full-on business. They'll be busy as hell. Your mate will be up to their eyeballs and trying to see as many of their friends and family as they can. Check in, ask when they're free, be flexible around them but don't try and do the emigrating for them. 
  • Whatever they're feeling is how they should be feeling. It's a big deal, leaving. Excitement at all the awesome shopping/hiking/walrus polishing they have there, terror at leaving everything they know behind, panic at all the goddamn forms, frustration that they're not gone yet, worry that they're going too soon. Often all at once. If you manage to catch up with them for a coffee/moving the coffee table to auntie Caroline's, let them talk it out. They might be full of excitement and waxing lyrical about the hamster racing festival held in their new town, the next crying over how they'll miss kumara. Be patient with the mood swinginess.
  • Try not to make them feel worse. Asking lots of questions about what they'll miss most, or if they're worried about never seeing their grandad again? Don't be that person.
  • Check in when they leave. Send them the update about their local cafe getting a facelift. Ask about how it's going. Let them know they still exist in your universe! Just don't expect them to reply immediately and at length, what with all that exciting new stuff they're doing. Without you.
  • Move on. I found once I left that the most random people from the motherland were getting in touch a lot and talking about our acquaintanceship like we'd been in the trenches together. They'd make constant references to visiting despite never making the effort to catch up when I lived down the road. It's nice to let your friend know they're missed but don't give the idea that you've followed them and are hiding under the house. That behaviour only works in '80s romcoms before restraining orders were a thing.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Defining Violence

Meet James Robertson Parker.

James was a deputy principal at Pamapuria School near the Northland town of Kaitaia. He ran the kapa haka group.  He'd have been a role model, a hard-working member of the education machine.

He's also a convicted paedophile, pleading guilty on 74 charges of indecent assault, 25 of which he pled guilty to today. The charges included indecent assault, performing indecent acts and sexual violation on young boys (source).

During the trial details about how he had got away with it for so long seeped out, including his close relationship with the principal, how sharing a bed with the boys in his care was passed off as "sleeping marae style", and his having an adult girlfriend which was seen as putting him above suspicion. In his fifteen year tenure at the school concerns were raised several times, but allegations were retracted or never taken further than a "strongly-worded letter" sent by Kaiaia police to Parker telling him to stop the sleepovers (source)

If you're a sane, decent human being you'll be reading the details of this case with the bile rising at the back of the throat and a feeling of horrified familiarity. The position of trust. The close links with the families of the abused. The casual attitude of the police. One would assume that, now his brutality and deception had been uncovered, a long jail term would be a certainty, where he could sit and consider all the lives he had destroyed at his leisure. Surely no-one, not even a defence lawyer, could argue otherwise?

I was sitting getting some work done and watching the news when I heard one of the most despicable utterances ever said on TV (and the bar is pretty damn high, let's face it). Parker's counsel, Alex Witten-Hannah, stood on the court steps after the verdict today and made this pronouncement:

"It has to be borne in mind that the charges James Parker has pleaded guilty to are not charges that involve violence or brutality. He is not a Beast of Blenheim. He breached the trust of the boys, but it didn't involve intimidation or violence," (source)

Uh, what? Sexual violation is not brutal or violent? The legal definition of sexual violation in New Zealand is:

“Person A has unlawful sexual connection with person B if person A has sexual connection with person B –(a) without person B’s consent to the connection ;and(b) without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.”This means that unlawful sexual connection covers any sexual contact that happens without consent: ie. Male to female, female to male, male to male, and female to female.  Sexual connection includes anal and genital penetration of one person by any part of another or by an object held or manipulated.  It also includes oral sex, which is the touching of the lips to the genitals (either giving or receiving). (source)

I'm not reading anything in that definition that is neither brutal nor violent. Penetration without consent is never, will never, be anything other than a brutal, violent act. Breaching the trust between an adult and a child in there care is an act of deep emotional brutality, let alone the violence of the act itself. 

One expects very little in terms of empathy from defence lawyers, but this deeply disturbed me. Could he truly, really believe this? And if he does, do others? Just how widespread is this notion that sexual violence is somehow "less bad" than causing non-sexual physical harm? 

Judge Greg Davis obviously doesn't agree, having passed sentencing from the District to the High Court as they have the ability to pass a sentence of preventative detention, which could keep him locked up indefinitely. Whilst I am not of the Sensible Sentencing Trust in their "Jail for everyone!" campaign, but for someone who had orchestrated a horrendous, prolonged campaign of violence and brutality against vulnerable young people whose stories were unheard because he was seen as beyond reproach, it seems only right that he spends a long time away from society. It won't make everything better, but some closure if better than no closure at all. 

I'm optimistic that the High Court will do the right thing on May 2nd and locks him up, with one would hope the chance at counselling and the opportunity to understand just how deeply his crimes will have affected his victims and their families. However, that a member of the bar is willing to espouse this view of sexual assault leaves me with less to feel optimistic about. I just hope he's the only one.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

“For 3 million you could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we could dig a hole so deep we could hand her over to Satan in person” 
― Frankie Boyle

Unless you were hiding under the duvet in case of missiles from Pyongyang today you'll have caught the news that infamous Tory and hater of all humanity (at least, all humanity that lacked a vast fortune and a standing army) Margaret Thatcher has regrettably died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. I found out when I turned facebook on this morning to find a newsfeed of popped champagne corks, photos of street parties in Brixton and Glasgow, and various quotes like the ones above. It was the first Good Thing to happen on a day of Many Good Things (the others being personal victories, and worthy of a street party of one).

I confess to feeling slightly uneasy about the celebrations, despite joining in online and in person. There's a deep cultural idea of not speaking "ill of the dead", as though we've historically been terrified of a zombie attack where walking corpses are not out for brains but a desire to give you a ticking off for making some joke about the miner's strike.

One fantastic little response to the merriment popped up on an online dating website of all places, which crystallised this argument perfectly for me. After chucking up a really quite neutral status update there ("Margaret Thatcher is dead! What a way to start the day!") came this tremendous response from a young lady who shall remain nameless.
You know her family more so her grandchildren will be more affected over people rejoicing her death. Hate her sure rejoice a death she was not a monster 
It was then that my internal moral-o-meter ticked into "Nah, fuck it". Glenn Greenwald in this brilliant piece for the Guardian makes the case that public figures are exempt from the traditional respect that would be awarded to friends and family members, and makes it better than me. But it got me thinking about the very idea of "speaking ill".

If you had come through abuse by a family member, famous or no, why should you hang back on fist-pumping the air when news of their demise reached your ears? If there was an individual who had caused you hurt, treated you without humanity, then why should you afford them any kind of respect once they'd died? I can think of one person (happily only one) who, upon discovering they have passed away, I intend on buying a bottle of something delicious and toasting him on his way to whatever hell my atheistic sensibilities will allow him. And I won't feel any shame about that. Why should I? My feelings of relief and joy will be just as valid as the feelings of grief others may feel. 

As for "Oh noes, the children", surely in that case there should be absolutely no opinion when someone famous dies? Say a famous man who secretly committed domestic violence, who terrorised his children and made their life hell, dies peacefully. The plaudits about what a wonderful man he is are plastered all over the media. Nothing but love for the man who caused them hurt. Sounds pretty horrendous for those who knew him personally, no? 

The woman committed abuses both at home and abroad. Almost everyone I know in Scotland was affected negatively by her actions and policies. She came to power before I was born but I grew up in a landscape shaped by her notions of fucking over the poor, greed being the only thing that mattered, and that community wasn't worth a damn. I'm still living in that landscape as those ideas are hard to shift.

So I'm going to feel good about the fact she's gone, and I'll do it without guilt. I'm going to sit around a table with friends and eat home-made food and raise a glass with a smile on my face that someone who stood for everything I don't is no longer with us.

"A culture of fairness"

So I'm sitting in my living room watching one of my favourite TV presenters from my childhood piss me off. Even worse, I'm watching Tony Robinson present a documentary series and I'm still pissed off. 

Tony Robinson Down Under follows Not-Baldrick-Any-More around the history of the UK's former social experiment. Whilst I admit to not watching the whole series, after several episodes, I finally felt like my TMJ-inducing jaw-clench throughout has been justified. They've missed something rather fundamental out. 

Where are all the Aborigines? 

Like, really. Where are they all? A history of Australia that promises "From the search to identify the Great Southern Land, through the Colonial trials and tribulations, right up to the establishment of a dynamic modern Australia, Tony Robinson uncovers the key events and major influences that define Australia and Australians today" which seems to extend only to white Australians. In episode five, which focuses on immigration, in particularly the massive waves of Eastern European and Asian immigration after World War 2, there is not one mention of the impact of that immigration on the native population. Not one. The episode I'm watching now, on the development of modern Australia, there's still no mention of the people who called Australia home for millennia. Not the stolen generations. Nothing. 

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on Aboriginal history or culture. At all. Or Australia, really. I've been there a total of two days and one flight transfer. But that's why I'm watching a documentary! I'm watching to learn about a country. A country that was not uninhabited when my people decided to go subjugate somewhere new with lots of lovely natural resources to thief. It makes me angry. Angry and embarrassed that an entire nation can be so cheerfully rubbed out of a history documentary that was made in 2011.

Oh, actually, I tell a lie. With five minutes to go until the ads, Tony looks sad while an Aboriginal historian tells him that it took until the late 60s before Aboriginal people were recognised in the census. They play Kevin Rudd's apology from 2008. There's minor key piano and footage of protesters hugging. Applause, cut to commercial. Let's all feel better about how we apologised.

I remember seeing that apology at the time, and feeling a lovely warmth from it. We were sorry! That's good, right? 

We're back from commercial. Footage of white people at a cafe, shopping, at the beach. His series conclusion takes place on a sailing ship. Apparently transportation worked out well for Australia in the long run. Stirring string music, photos of early white settlers. Kevin Rudd talks about Australia's "culture of fairness".

If you didn't know any better you'd feel all warm inside.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


So, here we are then. It's midnight and after much thought, discussion and a frantic late-night pissing about session on google, Glitter and Spite is now a blog.

I'm nearly 30. I work in the public sector in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm a lesbian, and take my feminism seriously. I'm going to use this space as an opportunity to discuss news, politics, media, and whatever else comes my way that I think's worthy of comment. Feel free to disagree.

I'll also be on twitter as @glitterandspite so if you exist in a state of tl;dr then go there.