More letter writing, this time to the council

There’s a proposed development for a plot of land with a house currently on it in our area. I read the application, and I was very much “don’t care either way”. Then yesterday, a flyer found its way into our mailbox that was littered with racism and NIMBYism, and that pushed me very quickly from “don’t care” to “fully support”.

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SAY NO! – TO 28 ROOM BOARDING HOUSE

Chinese developer, Jiankai Pty Ltd wants to demolish the historic old home and gardens at 154 Welbank St, North Strathfield and replace it with a huge 28 room boarding house.

The boarding house, designed by architect firm Ghazi Al Ali, could be housing 60 or more renters on this small residential block.

This boarding house would be on an unprecedented scale for this area and if allowed could be the beginning of a tidal wave of similar developments destroying the value of our homes and the character of our beautiful and safe suburb.

Please contact Canada Bay council to submit your objection to this proposed development.

I was unable – and unwilling – to respond to this directly, as it did not say who it was from, and in any case it seemed more productive to take action against these people rather than engaging them in an ultimately pointless argument. But here are my objections to their objections:

  • Highlighting the Chinese name of the developer and Arabic name of the architect (when those details really are irrelevant) is out-and-out racism. We should oppose racism whenever we see it, even (and especially) when it causes some inconvenience to us.
  • The house and gardens are not historic. Neuschwanstein is historic. Taj Mahal is historic. Westminster Abbey is historic. An unremarkable three-bedroom house built on stolen land is not. The history of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation (of which I am, woefully, largely ignorant) is the history of this piece of land, and this house plays no real part in that history.
  • Change is good. The house is old and tired, and the architect’s previous projects are beautiful.
  • House prices falling would be a good thing for this area. More families being able to afford to live here.
  • This area is perfect for this sort of development. It has good transport links and is perfectly situated for access to Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.
  • This area is modern and multicultural, and this sort of development is in-keeping with that. Opposition to it is not.

In honesty, the development will cause a bit of inconvenience. It’ll be noisy and annoying, and the people who end up living or staying there might be noisy, rowdy or generally irritating. But the choice between that and supporting the cause of people who push a NIMBY agenda using racist rhetoric is a very very easy one.

So I wrote to the council to register my support for this project.

Dear General Manager
I write regarding the development proposal for 154 Wellbank Street, North Strathfield, and and I would like to register my full support of the proposal.
I have lived in the vicinity of this property with my boyfriend for three years, and I have never been particularly fond of the appearance of the 20th Century house that is on the block and I am irritated by claims from some in the local community that it has any historic value.
The property was sold last year for $2.25m, which is an outrageous price for a family home in any area. Some members of the local community have said that this development will lead to a drop in the value of homes in the area: given the astronomical price of this property at its last sale, a drop in house prices is certainly a good thing. Further, a $2.25m property being occupied by a single family seems to me to be a case of excessive under-occupation and I welcome the proposal to use the land more economically to house more people.
Although I have not seen the type of intended occupants of the proposed boarding house, developments of this kind tend to be marketed to either students or tourists. The location of this property is a perfect location to house either students or tourists. Its proximity to North Strathfield station would make it attractive to intended residents, giving a boost to the economy of the area.
There have been other developments in Wellbank Street recently, some of which are ongoing, and disruption and disturbance has been minimal. I am confident that the proposed development would not cause any excessive disruption to me or to other residents in the area.
I have researched the architect linked to the proposal, Ghazi Al Ali, and have found the other projects they have worked on, especially Omar Mosque in Auburn, to be modern and beautiful. The proposed development would be a welcome replacement to the tired, ugly building which is currently on the block.
North Strathfield is a modern, multi-cultural, and forward-looking suburb, and this development is exactly in keeping with its character. I hope council will recognize this and approve this proposed development.
Yours,
John Avocado

Here’s a fact sheet about the Wangal People, produced by Canada Bay Council. [PDF]

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Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.

Migrant is not a dirty word

Images of drowned children are horrible to look at. Images of people fleeing war, desperate, scared. It’s painful to look at. And ever more of us want to do something about it. We want to help, and we want to welcome these people – to offer safety.

But on the condition that they are refugees.

It’s certainly not a condition I would impose. I’ve seen countless Facebook posts and tweets reminding us that these people fleeing Syria are refugees and not migrants. And while it’s true that these people are refugees (and really we should use that term – certainly from a legal perspective refugees are entitled to protections that are not offered to migrants), we’re talking as though migrant is a dirty word, as though migration is a shameful thing.

But migration is not a shameful thing. Migration is a good thing, and migration is a human thing. People move about, across all areas and for so many different reasons. Nomadic tribes, family migration, study abroad – and, of course, fleeing war and political persecution. People cross borders, and there is no “invalid” reason.

During the last few weeks, the people who I have seen correcting “migrant” to “refugee” have left me wondering – what if they weren’t refugees? Would we support letting them drown? Would their dead children not matter? Could we justify the cruel and inhumane treatment we are seeing? It saddens me to think how some of us would answer.

Seeking a better life is not a crime. Seeking a better life should not be punishable. We’re not the gatekeepers of The Good Life, and it’s not for us to decide who deserves a better life, and whose life isn’t quite bad enough already. Most of us live where we do by coincidence and circumstance, and that’s no basis to deny others the privileges we enjoy.

I support all forms of migration, and all reasons for migration. Right now there is a crisis in the Mediterranean, with people fleeing war. We urgently need to help them. But because they need help; not because they’re “not migrants”.


Note: for the sake of full clarity, those who seek to smear refugees, and use the term migrant as a slur disgust me. There are people who need our help urgently, and we must help them, urgently. It’s clear that the Syrian refugees in the news right now are not economic migrants, but really – so what if they were.

Prepaid Welfare Cards, Drugs, Alcohol, and Fish & Chips

Talk of paying welfare benefits via pre-paid cards comes up again and again. The idea is to ensure that welfare recipients spend their money on “essentials” rather than drugs, alcohol and gambling. I hate the idea.

I think back to when I was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the UK, maybe ten years ago. Money was very, very tight, but I still liked to have fish and chips on a Friday night and a couple of pints in the pub. To me, that was essential: some enjoyment in life, rather than simply meaninglessly existing was essential – essential to my sanity. So for some people it’s fish and chips and a pint in the pub. For some it’s a joint at the weekend, or perhaps playing the pokies, or going out to a nightclub every now and then and doing tequila shots and maybe a couple of pills. For some it’s scraping together whatever money they can to buy some low-quality heroin because it’s a fucking mammoth addiction that the fucking health service is too underfunded to help them with in any way. But whatever, different people have different essentials, but for everyone it is essential for their life to mean something, and not simply to exist.

I think part of the problem is people who have never claimed benefits making decisions on – and passing comment on – welfare policy without consideration of the experiences of the people it affects. For all people, leisure and entertainment are essentials. Yes, not needed for basic survival, but essential nonetheless. To suggest that the poorest in society deserve nothing but survival is unfair and extremely misguided. It’s cruel and unjust. For many, a period claiming welfare benefits comes either after or before a long period in work, paying tax and contributing in a full way to society. If it’s taxpayers’ money it is then by definition their money. They are, were, or will be taxpayers. There are a small minority – a tiny minority – who are chronic welfare recipients (and it really is a tiny minority, despite perceptions caused by media focus). Some consider that to be problematic (I don’t) and something that should be punished. I disagree even there, but either way we have to let that go – otherwise we are punishing the majority simply out of spite.

When I was claiming JSA, the money I received was mine. I didn’t need permission for how to spend it. I needed serious and meticulous budgeting skills, but the money was mine, and mine to spend as I pleased. Often I spent the money on alcohol. Sometimes on drugs. Sometimes existence was painfully hard, and balls to anyone who would have denied me a little pleasure and a little entertainment.

Welfare is not a “lifeline to survive” – it’s a package to ensure that people who find themselves in financially impossible situations are able to maintain a decent and dignified quality of life. By denying those people all but the bare minimum to survive as living organisms, you would deny them dignity and the freedom to exist as humans and valued members of a functioning society. Welfare is there to prevent that – not cause it.

A Piece that isn’t about Male Feminists

Thanks to an interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Bianca Hall and an excellent piece in Spook Magazine by Kate Iselin the subject of male feminists has been the topic en vogue this long weekend. To be perfectly honest I’m sick of hearing about self-identified male feminists, even sicker of hearing from self-identified male feminists, and frankly disappointed that self-identified male feminists have been trying so desperately to dominate that respected feminists have had to take time out from writing about making things better for women to write pieces asking men to back off a little.

So I’m not going to be writing about male feminists today. What I am doing, however, is issuing a call to men who would like to be feminists but keep forgetting that women make quite good feminists actually to think about trying to help clean up our side of society a little.

[Aside: quite a bit of this, I realise, is going to be pretty cisnormative, and for that I apologize. Binary gender norms are crappy and really are part of the problem, but really it’s cis men that seem to be a major part of the problem, so that’s kind of the problem I want to see addressed.]

It would be good, wouldn’t it, if instead of trying to be feminists, we gave a bit of respectability to men’s rights activism. Tidied things up there a bit. At the moment the MRA world is a hotbed of misogyny and racism, so let’s tear that down and see if we can re-brand. Let’s give a voice to men who were sexually abused as children and who (as I was distraught to have to read today) wait, on average, twenty-three years before they feel able to speak up about it. Let’s work on making that history; creating a world where men have the voice to speak about abuse they faced as children so we can do something about that abuse.

Let’s talk about how we can create spaces for men that include trans men. Because, let’s face it, cis men are really not good at welcoming trans men into our spaces. Let’s turn organisations like Fathers 4 Justice into groups that advocate helping trans men who are fathers embrace fatherhood instead of trying to screw over women who have had the misfortune of being impregnated by us.

Let’s work on truly eradicating homophobia from sport – because homophobia in sport, and definitely in men’s sport – is a problem. Queer men are denied at every stage the opportunity to be the best at what they do, either as a result of direct abuse, or as the result of a toxic environment that tries so desperately to exclude us that we shy away in compliance.

In short, let’s work on making men better. Let’s fix ourselves. Let’s make the male voice not the one that silences women, but the one that gently speaks for fairness and respect from ourselves. Perhaps if we can put our own house in order we can make the world a better place without needing to declare ourselves feminists to try to look good. Maybe we can create a world we can look good by declaring ourselves men.

Update: MRA is certainly not a term I would even embrace or even attempt to reclaim. As @swearyanthony points out “MRA in its current form is utterly unsaveable, and the term is tainted beyond usefulness”, and I completely agree. I just like the juxtaposition of current Men’s Rights Activism with the idea of men who really need some activism. JA