Thursday, February 03, 2011

Old ghosts or Why I missed Tom Cho's Midsumma reading

Since posting my kitten video, I've decided that cutesy animal videos are the way to start blog rants.

For some reason youtube videos are harder to embed in blog posts - but hopefully any readers have already clicked on it and seen the birdy dancing to it's reflection- which kind of sums up my life right now....

Anyway - I've been provoked by recent things I've read (in LobOTL of all things) and seen on Facebook - and of course - having a moment to reflect on recent life events.

So I'll start with a story about last wednesday.

It was bogan day. We were at home hibernating from the bogan hords. doing a kind of weird passive mourning thing. Feeling too lazy to go to the invasion day concert and feeling too confused by the apparent disputed land claims around western Melbourne to put up our plaque acknowledging that we are on Wurundjeri land.

I think I was tidying my room for some guests to visit. Renaissance wife was catching up on some quality - end of the school holidays - snooze time, before our planned venture out to Kaye Sera's Bizarre.

Of course - we were vague and flakey and I faffed and Renaissance wife snoozed till 5.30 or 6 or something and then we were in a mad dash - driving across town at the last minute instead of having some kind of leisurely wholesome cycle along, across and around the Bay...Renaissance wife drove across the westgate while I texted to our friend to hold the tickets, or leave them at the door, or something,

We made it across town in 15 minutes flat, and cruised past the venue, counting the building numbers along St. Kilda Road while sussing out the nearest carspace.... I was in serious squinty myopia, and missed the screaming yellow alarm bells, but Renaissance wife didn't. We turned a corner and she pulled into a parking spot.

"that's _______'s car. shit. I just saw it, parked out the front."

"Oh shit! are you sure?"

"We can go past again, I saw the number plates. It's definitely her car."

"Shit" So I texted my friend an apology as Renaissance wife shook.

"Listen, I just can't be in an enclosed space with her right now. You can go in if you like"

"What? and leave you here?"

"Well, I know you really wanted to hear Tom Cho..."

I showed her my text:

Shit shit shit! We've had to abort. Renaissance wife (OK I wrote her real name in the text)'s psycho stalker wife-beating ex's car is parked outside. We've got an AVO out against her. If you see some ugly old white skank from hell drop a turd on her from us.

"Now babe, is this factually correct?" I asked.

"YEah" she said, chuckling, "but maybe you could still go in, it's just me that has the problem"

"Okay, but let's reverse the situation: I see some evil psycho stalking bashing ex's car outside a venue and don't want to go in. Would you let me go off and freak out alone while you go in along and sit there, looking at some monster, knowing that your lover is alone and upset outside?"



So then we went and watched the sunset from that funny mound between St Kilda and Elsternwick. And even though I hate Melbourne a hell of a lot less than before, and watching a perfect sunset over the water with a view over the bay is divine, I still don't agree with Paul Kelly that it beats Sydney Harbour, but that's another point.

There were young white topless youf blaring triplejay's whitest 100 from their radios, so we scowled on the edge of the hill with some Indian families, feeling grateful we weren't in Boganborough at least. And then we drove back to footscray and had dinner, delighting in the refreshing absence of bogan flags on flesh, raiments or edifices.

Now the point of this posting is not to make me look like some sapphic snag (or SNAD), holding and healing my poor recovering wife away from the horrors of her ugly vile ex. Not at all.

I just want to make a mention of how Domestic Violence does happen within queer relationships, and how it has massive impacts YEARS later. Renaissance wife's psycho stalker wife-beating ex is also known as Nurse Ratshit. They broke up 4 years ago after 6 years of hell, and Nurse Ratshit was still randomly turning up to Renaissance girls house 3 years later. That's why we got the AVO. Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I don't suffer stalkers easily.

So four years later - we still can't go out and enjoy ourselves without steeling our guts against some anticipated yuck factor from a freak with no boundaries. Queer social spaces are so few and far between - that it IS harder to completely breakaway and avoid an ex without moving cities.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I spent quite a few years battling my own demons in the ex department. Next month will be 5 years since we broke up. Woohoo! Bits of it still hurt though. Abusive relationships have a way of digging themselves into social worlds, that make digging ourselves out of them a hell of a lot harder.

A few things provoked my recollection of this, recently.

ONe was reading an ad in LBOTL for the inner city legal centre's Same Sex Abuse campaign.The ad shows two femmes wearing what look like castoffs from Raewyn Connell's wardrobe (but who am I to judge the fashions of young sapphists?) with the following bunny boiler narrative:

One Our first date she was funny.
On Valentines day she was sweet.
At Easter she told me I couldn't see my friends anymore.
On Mother's day she screamed at me and kicked my cat.
On my birthday she took my credit cards and didn't pay me back.
At Sleaze Ball she had sex with other girls and said it was my fault

Now this is a bit of a hyperbolic condensation of all the types of abuse that are neatly described in the ICLC resource on Same Sex Abuse. Renaissance wife said that seeing one of their posters at a queer event finally made the penny drop for her and make her see that Nurse Ratshit was a girls own Bluebeard that had to be escaped from. So she did it. Yay.

If only things were always so clear. When I think of my own story, there are many nasty feelings of yuck and discomfort and squirminess - about my own behaviour as well as hers.

So here is my Oprah Winfrey moment where I publicly confess that I was physically violent to my ex. The ex. The big fat married ex. I was physically violent on two occasions. One was in public at a Squatspace opening - where I grabbed her by the clothing and ripped a button off her overalls. The second time was in private - when I threw a punch at her. She defended herself in the latter case, but grabbing my wrist and telling me that she would leave straight away if I ever tried anything like that again. More kudos to her. She was completely pissed and staggering around, but was lucid enough to protect herself

Now I'm not even going to try to defend or excuse my behaviour. In both cases it was an unconsented, unrequested, totally unexpected, shocking angry outburst that completely distressed the other party. the victim. who was half my size, and financially dependent on me.

Even though the physical impact was minimal (mainly due to my incompetence)- these were physical acts of rage that were intended to control or subdue another person - no safe words, no happy slaps, none of the niceness that distinguishes a push of a grab made in anger from the loving fist of consenting kink.

Much therapy and anger management therapy later, I can say that I've learned to manage this monstrous part of myself, but it is still there. I manage it by not staying in situations that make me so enraged, that I do lash out. This part is hard. REally hard.

Part of that involves acknowledging that the previous relationships was really really bad and abusive, and that it shouldn't have continued as long as it did. Blind Freddy can see that. But a big part of this for me, has been about learning to acknowledge my own needs - in a relationship - and then learning how to articulate them to the other person, early on, and trust that they will be respected, or trust that I can state how I feel when they aren't and things will get better.

It's really really hard for any ex-catholic to acknowledge that we are entitled to anything. But I realise now that I need to insist on certain 'bottom lines' if I want to be in a trusting relationship with someone. Like that they aren't self destructive. that they don't get completely shitfaced. That they don't drink alone in our home. that we don't have sex while drunk. That neither of us put pressure on the other one to have sex - even if that means months of no pussy action. That they don't crack onto my friends, or end up in sexually unsafe/sleazy situations where their own boundaries come unstuck.

The other crazy crap that occurred in previous marriages like drunk driving, threatening to jump out high windows, running off in the middle of the night, yelling abuse at me - well - that is painfully obvious even to me - that it is not what I want. I just wish I'd walked away the first time it happened....

I've been looking back at old CD's of photos of us both and realised how often Abel recoiled while I was kissing her, and I wonder how I could have been so blind. So many brilliant words uttered in so many languages cannot disguise the fact that there wasn't a physical connection, there wasn't trust on my part or desire on hers. and that was nearly 8 years of my life. bugger.

And then there's the other nasty icky mudstick stuff that occurs still. Stupid old patterns of sociality that were built into how I did coupledom. Despite moving cities, leaving the commune that was my home for 10 years and breaking off contact with whole worlds of mutual friends and circles - I still have people that reinforce/trigger the way things were with Abel. The way I was. Friends who keep wanting to talk about her. Saying "oh... yeah, she was so bad you know.... you're much better off". Hmmm - bringing up my rage and humiliation about being with someone who didn't give a shit about me. Great stuff. Or people who want to get completely shitfaced in my home - with my partner - even though I've been pretty transparent about the trauma that living with an Alcoholic partner has caused me.

So - slowly, slowly, I'm learning how to set some boundaries - to ask for what I need. To be clear and straightforward with edge players rather than just running away from them.

With Renaissance wife - this has been a hard, challenging and yet healing time for us both. But we're slowly working on what it means to be together and build sustainable bonds of trust. The genuine support of our friends; the ones who aspire for similr things in their own relationships: straight/gay/whatever really helps too.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Feeding the hand that bites me?

I've come to a rather banal epiphany. Possibly.

I'm going to shamelessly confess that I was one of those PhD students in love with Academia. Academia was my dream - being part of the ivory/sandstone tower of intelligentsia - discussing obscure things and sharing them in a kindly way with colleagues and hungry young minds was the dream that sustained me through all of the life disasters, writing blocks and sleepless nights of the TOME.

Now I'm finally out the other end of it, sitting in my not quite secure but not as precarious as most academic posting I'm coming to realise thatyes! surprise surprise -that Academia is not all it's cracked up to be.... I mean, it's even less of a space for contestation and intellectual challenge and engagement than I had thought.

I'm not dissing it entirely - and Sarah Ahmed's facebook updates about teaching AMAZING courses on phenomenology and identity at goldsmiths and how like hell I wish I was there doing something with or like or around that - are totally and incredibly inspiring... but....but.....

Maybe it was Tom Ellard's post that did it.

Maybe it was the 2 days spent by myself and another research fellow - printing, photocopying tidying, filing, arranging the research centre while our esteemed admin colleagues sat around at their desks doing whatever they do - or interrupting us to gossip about their daily lives that did it. Maybe it was the visit of the Provost, resembling just a bit too much the tour of Catherine the Great to the Russian Peasantry and her dissmissive comments about the research centre where I work - stressing quite rightly that the only thing that mattered were research outputs.

Maybe it is the agonising frustration of trying to generate any research outcomes in an institution that has a journal subscription level of a 3rd rate wester suburbs state highschool, the most unnavigable Website of an institution I've ever come across (try an find your's truly's name on the institutions website! I've been working there as a researcher for 18 months!), maybe it is the supercilious empire building approach of the vast majority of ancilliary - and yes - I am going to describe resource/HR/admin/management/PR colleagues in an institution ostensibly dedicated to teaching and research as ancilliary staff - where they treat academic work as a sideline activity, and academic staff and students as annoying obstacles to their corporatised dream world.....


Maybe it's the numerous stories of friends in Academia of the depressing, cut throat bitchy competitiveness of institutional departmental wrangling. Maybe it's the lack of smiles.

It's definitely the lack of time and energy I have to read, to write, to think about anything more substantial than a gant chart.

I don't regret my PhD. I don't regret allowing myself to expand and make it the unwieldy immense, interdisciplinary, unmarketable wrangling erudite 100,000 word and 6 year beast that it was. Six years is a DECENT amount of time to spend immersed in a PhD, and I'm so proud I did it in an immersive, process oriented, mind blowing way - and didn't get sucked into the absurd product oriented 3 year post-doc fishing research report model that we all have to dissimulate to anyway.

So glad.

And - now - I'm not going to jump on the ECR train. I'm going to look for quality of life in my own life, and return to pursuing oppen ended engaging practices - not a research 'career'. Not any 'career', just a life that may continue to be rich and rewarding.

Maybe the art-market versus art practice dichotomy is a more productive way of thinking about the 'tension' between genuine research and academia. Just as the 'art-market' forces the creative play of the studio into a goal oriented production that is NOT creative, so too finally and bluntly, academia can be described as something that does actively thwart research.

And hasn't it always been thus? I mean surely even in the good old days of free education and whatnot - the majority of lecturers (if not students) were white/middle class/straight/male, and the resulting epistemologies and knoweldges were prfoundly biased and narrow?

Intellectual creation is always contested and precarious. I'm glad as hell to see and support students of colour, women students, queers, working class people and ratbags have access to the learning. I'm still intending to do what I can to make the walls of the institution as porous as possible.

but I don't dream that this is where I can pursue my life's work or love work either. I don't want to lose my centre and chase a career dream anymore. I want to be present and ethical, but free enough to be genuinely creative somewhere.