24 March 2017

We are all the lady in the hijab

12 years ago, I was living in Dublin and my then boyfriend (now husband) was still living in London. We talked every morning. I'd be sitting at my desk in the Microsoft offices where I worked, and he'd be sitting on public transport running late for work, which was located just off Russell Square.

Yes. Every morning. Some things don't change no matter how many years pass.

This one morning, we were chatting as he got off the train to switch to the next one and he said that he had to dash as the train line was closed for some reason and he was going to head out, walk in the direction of the office and hopefully catch a bus if he could beat the crowds swarming out of the station.

Within minutes, my screen was full of the news about the tube being blown up, and shortly after there was the news about a bus being blown up in Russell Square. I still recall the physical nature of the fear that washed over me when I heard the news about the bus. I started to ring his mobile, on repeat, over and over and over again.

I couldn't get through to his mobile. Or his office. The logical part of my brain knew that the networks had been shut down but logic doesn't play a part in fear. I had told my colleagues what had happened and Seamus* across the partition was repeatedly trying the lines too, trying to locate his three younger siblings who were living in London.

Logic also tells you the odds are that the person you are worrying about is highly unlikely to be affected.

Despite our boss being appalled by our, and I quote, "unnecessary hysteria", no work got done. Seamus got a phone call from one sister. Then the other. They were both fine. He joked that his baby brother was probably so busy rubber necking it wouldn't occur to him to check in.

And then Nick called. He could only speak briefly, but he was okay, he was in the office, he never got on a bus.

I cried. Noisy, messy, relieved tears. I felt a bit embarrassed by worrying about him so much as if thinking that he could have been hurt in the bombings was somehow presumptuous. My boss said dismissively 'I knew it would be nothing'. I remember feeling ashamed for worrying.

The day kept going, the news out of London getting progressively worse. Emails started flying around, my friends and former colleagues in London reporting in safe and sharing news of friends that had been on the affected trains. One fellow had got off one bombed train and in a state of shock walked for two hours home because his shirt need a change due to the dust in the tunnel, before thinking to call his wife. Each of those stories made us feel that we'd got away with it, that on this most dreadful of days, none of ours had been hurt.

Then Seamus got a call from one of his sisters, his brother was in hospital. He'd been on one of the bombed trains, had gone through a window but from what was understood, the body of the person he'd been behind had largely protected him from super serious injury. He was hurt but alive.

All of a sudden, logic didn't matter. It was serious. It was very real. Out of the millions of people in London, someone we were connected to was hurt.

And all of a sudden, every single one of us in that office, whether they had family or not in London, were Seamus. 52 people killed, over 700 injured and one of them was Seamus' little brother.

It wasn't logical. But it was real. We hadn't been worrying for nothing.

Every single one of the people that were killed or injured in this week's terror attack in London are someone to somebody. They have family or friends who will be heartbroken. Some will be thankful it wasn't worse. Some of the affected will wish it had been.  Some will be living in limbo while they wait to see how injuries resolve. And for everybody that wasn't injured, there are hundreds, thousands of people who will have been frantically trying to get hold of family and friends in London to check they are okay.

Logic telling them that they are probably fine. But logic is not always reality.

Those that witnessed the event, they will be desperate to speak to family and friends to reassure them, to talk through the trauma they just witnessed.  Some might be in shock and just trying to get home. That is why there is a man in the photo walking with his dog. That is why there is a Muslim lady on her phone. That is why there are people standing by seemingly just watching, shocked.

Accidents and terror attacks have one thing in common. They take people going about the ordinary day completely by surprise.  One day it's a sunny day and you're crossing a bridge, or you are running late for a meeting, seeing the sights - nothing more and nothing less. And then boom. Your world and the world around you is changed.

We process things differently. But the one thing that we all crave when something horrific happens is human connection. And whether that's by holding the hand of an injured person, calling your partner, facebooking your mum, or taking the dog and hightailing it home to where you feel safe, we can't judge those reactions unless we are there and know the complete story.

And out of the 7 billion plus people on the planet, there were only a couple of hundred people on the bridge. Even less who will have seen it actually happen. Even less who would have been able to process what they were observing at the time.
Westminster Bridge.
Photo by Doug via Flickrpool

But every single person on that bridge matters to somebody. Somebody who logically knows they are highly unlikely to have been caught up in it. Some of the those somebodies will have been wrong.

So we, sitting at our screens are not the people to be judging the people we see in photographs. Or who are being interviewed. We can not begin to imagine how we will react in any given situation unless we were there.

Putting aside the fact that Pauline Hanson clearly doesn't know that hashtags don't have spaces, preaching hate or trying to push people into making this a general 'muslim' problem does nothing but make you an accomplice of ISIL. You do their work for them by spreading hatred. You do their work for them by isolating your fellow citizens on the basis of religion. You do their work by alienating their youth and having them live in fear.

ISIL is not Islam.

ISIL is not every Muslim.

But everyone of us is Seamus.

Everyone of us is the lady in the hijab.

We are ordinary people who will be desperate to connect with the people we love when the world makes no sense, no sense at all.

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*Seamus is not his real name. 

8 March 2017

Dream the impossible dream #iwd

This morning I was explaining to my daughters that today is International Women's Day.

I ramped them up a little on the walk to school, calling out "WHO RUNS THE WORLD?" and they would yell back "GIRLS!".

"But why do we have a girls day?" says Cassidy.

"Because women united can not be divided," replies Tully knowledgeably.  No prizes for guessing who came along to the Women's March with me in January.

I explained to them that today was about celebrating all the great things women have achieved all over the world, but also bringing attention to areas that women don't have it so great. I tried to explain inequality as simply as possible, but Cassidy wasn't having a bar of it.

"But girls can do everything! Everything!"

And right there, that very moment, was why we have International Women's Day.  Somewhere between when we are almost five years old and later on in life, that simple belief in our capabilities and our opportunities, becomes eroded.

It's not just men. Women do it to other women. Most damagingly, we learn to do it ourselves by modelling our own thoughts and behaviours on the people around us.

We can discuss and challenge the external factors that contribute to inequality, misogyny and sexism. And we should. Repeatedly. Tirelessly. Relentlessly.

But we need to ask ourselves what role we play individually in perpetuating inequality.

I mean it's not like people haven't been putting in the hard yards for us in previous years.  From Emmeline Pankhurst to Malala to Katherine Johnson we have a plethora of determined, intelligent and hellacious women to inspire us.

But our children - both daughters and sons - don't need them to start with. They need us to step up and be mindful of our own behaviours and attitudes and how they impact the small people around us.

They need us to treat them the same way we want the rest of the people in the world to treat each other.  Irrespective of gender.

We need to be the change of which we speak. We need to be bold. We need to be unrelenting and fierce in the championing of our children - so that they know they are valued, respected and that there is nothing to fear in difference.

We need to be an example of how to live humanely, compassionately and fairly.

We need to speak kindly and encouragingly to our children.

We need to give them boundaries without crushing them.

We need to believe in them before they know to doubt themselves.

We need to love them.  Unconditionally.

We need to give them an education so that they are not only taught to read but to think.

We need to avoid labelling them based on their behaviours or bad days.

We need to fight for them so they are not alone.

We need to show them how to apologise without living apologetically.

We need them to know that what they think is more important than how they look.

We need to teach them to judge a person by their character and not by their shoes.

We need to allow them to be their own person irrespective of gender norms or our own comfort zones.

We need to teach them to stand up for others.

We need to teach them to stand up for themselves.

We need them to learn to articulate their emotions.

We need to show them how to proactively change the world around them.

We have to show them how to shout, how to rage and how to be angry.

We have to allow them to call us out when we don't act as we ask them to act.

We need to teach them to be defiant.

We need to give them the respect we expect them to give others.

We need them to learn how to be wrong by being open when we are wrong.

We need them to know that hitting somebody for any reason at all is wrong. It is definitely not love.

We need to fill them full of confidence and not arrogance.

We need to teach them to challenge the status quo.

We should never utter the words 'What will people think?'

We should let them be loud.

We should never say "boys will be boys" or "that is not very ladylike".

We should encourage them to ask questions.

Most of all,

We need to love them so much that even when they doubt themselves, they don't doubt that they are loveable, worthy and capable.

And then, tomorrow?

Tomorrow, we need to do it again. And then again.

We dream the impossible dream.

Until we live the life we imagined.

(Well get on with then....)

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2 March 2017

Coming out straight

I'm not really sure how old I was when I realised that I was into boys but judging by my obsession with Mel Gibson and the fact that Patrick Swayze wrinkling his nose in 'Dirty Dancing' gave me butterflies in my tummy,  I think we can safely assume that by 1987 I was firmly in the "I like bad boys" phase of my development.
He was hot in Dirty Dancing but
absolutely divine in Point Break!

Despite my parents being hauled into school during Year 6 to explain why I talked about Jack ejaculating* in my English assignment, I was a pretty naive kid.  I don't think I even knew that I had options about my sexuality until I was about 15.

So coming out straight was pretty easy for me. And my family was very accepting of my sexuality. Not always so enthusiastic about my choice of boyfriends but they didn't have a problem with me dating males.

If I'm honest, when I was much much younger, I didn't even know that I had gay friends. The male friends of mine who were decidedly camp just assumed I knew, and I just assumed they were taking the piss when they said they were 'drama queens' just like me.  Since I had no female friends who shaved their heads, wore black leather and rode motorcycles - I clearly knew no lesbians. It made being straight so much easier being surrounded by people who were just like me.

By the time I had a shaved head, wore leathers and rode a motorcycle, I knew that what a 'sexual stereotype' was so was didn't give a flying f#*k when people thought I was gay nor offended by being hit on by lesbians who snuck around just wearing jeans and tops like everybody else and obviously had been brought up surrounded by the same sexual stereotypes as me.  I knew by then that I had quite a number of male gay friends and it just never seemed a problem for them that I wasn't. In fact, I have to say they were very accepting of my sexuality. So much we never talked about it.

It took me a while for me to realise that I had a number of gay female friends as well, as they were never interested in shagging me even though I was a girl. Which is how you know people of the same gender are gay - they just want to shag you all the time.  These girlfriends never called me on being overtly straight around them either, or accused me of it being a stage or tell me I'd be just fine once I met the right girl. It was very nice to be accepted for who I was.

My gay friends even like hanging out with me because I'm SO FUN. Though they don't like being called a 'straight mate' as they are friends with me because I'm awesome not because I'm straight. Plus labels are so last century.

For those new to me, I'm being a sarky cow. I've never had to come out as straight. My sexuality is of no interest to anybody. Nor should it be.

I have never chosen a friend based on their sexuality nor rejected them on that basis.

None of my friends have chosen me because I'm straight.

If I need to declare myself politically - I'm an ally.

I personally find the word 'ally' odd because of it's military associations. But I acknowledge it is absolutely the right word as the LGBTIQA community are still battling to have access to the same human rights as most of us.

However, we shouldn't need a word to describe treating our fellow humans as fellow humans. I shouldn't need a word with military associations to describe my friendships. I shouldn't need to be agitating for equality for some of my friends. I shouldn't have some friends who won't hold hands in public or snog inappropriately in public places because they are afraid for their safety. I shouldn't be having to stop people using homosexual slurs as punctuation. I shouldn't need to add my voice to the cacophony of voices around the world that are getting so tired of articulating why they are worthy humans just because they love somebody of the same gender.

But I do. I absolutely need to say vocal and active. And not because I'm a good person.

You see inequality doesn't just affect those against whom we discriminate. Bigotry is insidious. Inequality is insidious. Hate corrodes. That's not the kind of world I want to live in.

So being pro-equality is not altruistic. It's not bleeding heart leftie activism. It makes the world better for me too. Being pro-equality is actually pretty self serving if you think about it.

I get that Australia (and the world) has come a long way since the heartbreaking march of the 78ers. I love that the march has transformed into Mardi Gras, a joyful celebration of all things queer. But I am very aware that the public acceptance of Mardi Gras as a fixture on the social calendar in Sydney every year is a very different thing to having your human rights recognised by the country you were born in.

So while I will enjoy celebrating all things queer, via a parade that combines pageantry, people and politics and the associated parties, I remain firmly committed to adding my voice and actions to an Australia that proactively recognises the human rights of all my friends irrespective of their sexual preferences.

I remain committed to a world where my daughters' and all their friends just love whoever they love without needing to label it.

I remain committed to speaking up and speaking out out until all Australians' have the same human rights as me.

Near enough is not good enough.

Human rights are for all humans.

Love is love.

This isn't a sponsored post but if you're a selfish arse like me and are looking at ways of sorting the world out so we can get on with important things like watching Reality TV and bagging Trump - this link gives you all sorts of options - including sending faxes like they did in the olden days. I know right - so retro!  

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* To ejaculate means to utter something quickly and suddenly. ["Watch out!" Jack ejaculated] - is a perfectly acceptable use of the verb in a story. It wasn't me with the dirty mind.