Another Brick In The Wall

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I hesitate with this post because I’m reluctant to complain about a first world problem, especially since there are so many people in different parts of the world actively stopping girls and women from gaining an education

However, I have been reassured that it’s okay to give voice to our struggles, that when we do so, we reassure people that our problems are not as insurmountable as we once thought and that we are not alone.

All my life I have struggled within the Victorian Education system within Australia, and I have struggled not because I have a disability or an intellectual handicap, I could have one, in fact if I had a problem that doctors could label and supposedly therefore give me a solution/medication/therapy for it, I would probably would have had an easier time, however I doubt it very much. The problem is that I struggle to display and work within the Academic System of Education. It’s a domino effect problem, if a student fails to master or fails to properly learn the required skills in Secondary College, then it’s an obvious conclusion that the student in question will also fail to succeed at University. I failed in Secondary College, I ended up having 12 to 15 points taken off my enter score and sure my class grades had reasonable marks for class participation and general tests, but I was awful at exams (which in the end resulted in a poor average overall). Not because I didn’t study but because I couldn’t focus or truly understand what it was that my teacher was asking for. Although to be fair I could have tried harder, I could have traveled to the local library after school and studied there, I also have lazy hermit tendencies and poor time management skills (skills I am still trying to improve).

However, whenever a teacher sat down and explained the problem to me, I got it, I understood what I needed to do, I often think of myself as belonging in the special needs category because I need that extra time and attention to achieve a standard level. However, the secondary college that I attended refused to give that extra time and attention that I needed. I know the reason why of course, I didn’t throw chairs across the room, I didn’t tell people in class I was going to hunt them down and break into their house late at night and stab them in face, I didn’t break into school grounds and smash the school library windows every term holidays. Because while I might get involved in screaming matches with other girls in classes, I didn’t start them to begin with, I didn’t get into physical fights and I didn’t light fires in the toilets. It was easier for my secondary college to give me “Get of Class Free” card rather than deal with the fact that the school had an out of control bullying problem, that I was unable to learn in a classroom and regularly felt physically and mentally unsafe on school grounds the whole time I was there. I was always made to feel as though I was “The Problem Child” but wasn’t given any of the benefits that go along with that (like someone actively helping me to fix said problem). The secondary college figured that they ignored me, I’d eventually go away, and in a way they were right.

What I should have done was leave, if I had left that high school with all my great friends (who happened to not always be in my classes and were of mixed ages) and instead attended another school or perhaps opted to do VCE though the TAFE system instead, I probably would have been more successful and happier. However like most people suffering from Depression and other psychological issues, I already felt I was being a massive burden on my family (as if requesting a safe learning environment was too much to ask for) and that doing one of those options would make it harder for my family. However, there was another reason why I stayed, I couldn’t bear the idea of running away, of letting those who spent their time actively pushing me out of the classroom to get away with it, I didn’t want those girls to win, however in the end the only one who suffered was me, so who really won in the end? Throw yourself against an emotional and intellectual brick wall and the only one who breaks is you, I learned that the hard way.

So in end, it didn’t matter how many times I was tested, how many cat scans or ECG scans I undertook, or how many years in therapy with the under-payed and over-worked psychologists of Orygen Youth Services, after being made to feel as though there was something wrong with me, that I was different and therefore less, it turns out in the end there was nothing wrong with me, I just wasn’t as smart as I thought I was and that I just had to work harder to achieve that standard level. However on the other hand, I was a pretty obnoxious teenager, it wasn’t enough to know that I was right, I had to continuously prove it with “Facts” and “Evidence” and I still have Way-Below-Average Social Skills, as a result I learned a valuable lesson.

**Edited Statement** Allowing racists and homophobic to say whatever they want without consequence or recourse is unacceptable, Homophobic or Racist slurrs in a learning or work environment should never be tolerated or enabled, however be smart about it, know your rights and how to properly deal with situation, don’t take these shit-fights on by yourself**End of Edited Statement

To be honest, it’s taken me a while to learn that particular lesson, to let go of things that are beyond my control, to realise it’s not my job to right every single wrong (perceived or otherwise), how to recognize a toxic and bullying environment when I find myself in one. That last one, is the biggest reason why I feel the Victorian Education system is such a failure. When I left the realm of Secondary Education, I had no qualifications, I had no work experience, and no idea what to do about workplace bullying and workplace sexual harassment, who I could talk to about these problems, what to do if the manager was the one instigating these problems and while I don’t like to slander whole workplace industries, I don’t find it’s all that surprising that the Retail and Hospitality Industries are rife with workplace and administration abuse. The reasoning is that those industries are primarily geared towards women working in a customer service role, and very few people value a role which involves knowing how to interact with people within a certain contextual role, because apparently EVERYONE knows how to do that (no they really don’t, trust me, I’ve seen and experienced some terrible customer service skills). The fact remains that I had to endure two shitty jobs in order to obtain the experience I required in order to apply and gain employment in a stable and physically/mentally safe work environment I have now, one that provides access to a union who I can go to for help if I have problems with work. People underestimate the power and safety of a union presence in the workplace.

I suppose that’s why when I finally admitted to myself who I was (a Writer), what I really wanted out of life (to write novels), and enrolled in the Certificate IV and Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University, it was such a joy to finally walk into a classroom and feel welcome and relatively physically/mentally safe. As a result, I began to accept the possibility of not just doing what I’ve always wanted to do without apologies but also accept the possibility that Happiness could be an unconditional state of mind I didn’t need to be suspicious of. I’m not saying I didn’t continue to struggle, I did and still do, if anything my return into the realm of education has confirmed just how far behind I am in academic and social skills, just how lacking my secondary college was, that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised when I started to achieve good marks for assignments. Failure wasn’t just well known to me, it was expected, the expression “too good to be true” was my survival mantra, with success being a foreign concept I couldn’t quite grasp until I had I actually completed the Diploma, and even now I have yet still to receive it due to Victoria University administration problems.

I suppose that’s why my short story “Open Letter To A Teenager” published in PLATFORM 16 – VU holds such significance for me, at the time I could not imagine someone (especially myself) telling me those words and although I know it probably sounds narcissistic to promote a “It Gets Better” letter I wrote to myself, but I feel those words needed to be said, because for me it did get better, because for many people it doesn’t get better or it’s a constant battle. However, I have an awesome group of friends I have managed to hold onto from Secondary College, I have brilliant new friends I’ve somehow managed to mysteriously acquire through TAFE. I have a loving and devoted partner who loves and supports me despite how much a screw-up I am. Somehow, it seems selfish and greedy to ask for more, but I’m going to ask anyway, I want more.

Maybe this is the reason why I write, because people have tried so often to silence me, because people only paid attention when I screamed and shouted but still couldn’t hear what I trying to say, and while I don’t think spite is the best kind of self-motivation, it’ll have to do for now.

**Please let me know if I’ve made it worse, apologies in advance

5 comments

  1. Oh, you went to my high school!

    Maybe this is the reason why I write, because people have tried so often to silence me, because people only paid attention when I screamed and shouted but still couldn’t hear what I trying to say

    That’s … not spite. Nothing even close to it. Trust me. Why should we be silenced? Why shouldn’t we express ourselves?

    Arguing with racists and homophobic people is waste of time, I will never convince or persuade them otherwise, the only thing I can do is leave that toxic environment.

    I’m not saying you should compromise your mental health, but THAT ISN’T FUCKING TRUE. (Can I bold that as well? I can’t stress this enough.) If there is one queer person in the room – and remember that most of us don’t have ‘queer’ tattooed on our foreheads – you have done something to make the room a safer place for that queer person. You have told that queer person that there’s one person who’ll support them. You have made that queer person feel less alone, less vulnerable and less drastically unsafe if they decide to speak up. It’s different if you’re stuck with your family and you know for sure (do we ever really know for sure that nobody is queer, though) and it’s not worth your time, but if there’s even a half chance a queer person is in the room, even if you don’t win, the act of speaking up against homophobia means that homophobia isn’t allowed to ravage unchecked or questioned. It’s not about convincing. It’s not about persuading or wining the argument. It’s about standing up and saying to the queer people in the audience that this shit isn’t okay, and that means more to us than I can say. It makes our lives safer. Remember, it’s safer for you as an ally to fight homophobes than it is for me, and I’ll be honest: I don’t have a lot of patience for allies who back down from that fight.

    My job as a white person is to call out racist shit; my job is to make a statement that this dialogue is not okay. (I shouldn’t ever be speaking for people of colour, but I have no right to let racist shit stand.) My job is to make people of colour (not all people of colour are obviously people of colour given our tendency to whitewash everything) in the room not feel like racist shit will go unquestioned – and they have good reasons, remember, to not speak up themselves. (Aside from the danger, it’s so hard to make any kind of rational response when someone has punched you personally in the teeth. Racist bullshit angers me, but it is nowhere close to the same feeling as someone speaking homophobia to my face, and that’s why I need to get over that anger and speak up: I can make coherent arguments, when faced with racism, that I just can’t – and never will – with regards homophobia.) I don’t have to win. I don’t have to debate. I can say one comment and leave the hellhole (and this is the recommended approach). I do need to speak, though. The people I support deserve that much. I just have to ask: what if a person of colour heard that? How must it feel to get that smack to the face and stand by as everyone lets it go? And that tells me what I need to do.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in a room, on my own, defending my right to exist … while even cishets who I know support my right to exist say nothing. There is nothing more gruelling and isolating than being alone in such a battle, and it’s happened to me more times than I can count. I can’t tell you what a difference it would have made for someone to stand up and call bullshit by it’s real name – to not stand alone while I get smacked in the face. Again, we don’t have to win, and we can leave the room once we’ve said our single line, but it changes my life immeasurably to not be alone in my hell.

    I am strong, but I need people to stand with me. People like you. And I know that mental health doesn’t always put us in a position to fight for or with the people we support, but I don’t see it as a justification for not taking up arms at all if we can do it with any amount of safety (or go elsewhere after we’ve said our single line).

    (I feel that this could be upsetting to read, and I’m sorry for upsetting you, but I really couldn’t let that comment go past.)

    • (I feel that this could be upsetting to read, and I’m sorry for upsetting you, but I really couldn’t let that comment go past.)

      You haven’t upset me, you’re absolutely right and I should have given that comment greater thought and more context (I’ll probably edit that statement as well). I don’t want to sound as though I advocate the idea of enabling Racists and Homophobic people, because I don’t want to do that, especially in classrooms for the very reasons you’ve written. Everyone has the right to a safe working and learning environment. As a teenager, I never wanted to be that person who sat in the corner and said nothing while these terrible awful people said terrible and awful things that only showed just how ignorant they were of how the real world worked. So I stood up in my own little corner by myself and told those ignorant hateful little girls just how wrong and stupid they were, however it did occur to me later when I had left that environment that maybe they were saying things like that just to get a rise out of me, it didn’t occur to me at that time that they were doing it on purpose, because it had to be more entertaining to pick a verbal troll-logic argument with me than do school work.

      What I should have been saying was that we as a society need to call people out on their bullshit but we also have to stop feeding into the egomaniac attention seeking mentality that homophobic fuckwits and racist idiots posses, we need to stop paying attention to them, we need to stop allowing them access to public platforms. Why should their hatred and ignorance be validated? Do I regret standing up for what I believed in those classrooms? No I don’t, but I should have realised I needed to change my tactics, that I should have tried a different approach. Do I resent the fact that grown adult stood/sat in those very same classrooms and did sweet fuck all? You bet I do.

      Not once did any teacher correct those girls and say I was right to not tolerate that kind of conversation, not once did any of them tell those girls what they were saying was not only offensive but completely wrong, because it’s not like they were being secretive about the whole process, bigots are rarely shy about their feelings. It’s why I have an obnoxious tendency to take over a classroom, I so used to be surrounded by incompetent teachers who either don’t know how (or don’t want to know how) to keep a class in order, it’s a habit I need to let go of. I suppose my biggest problem with the whole thing was that while you may be right, maybe I did unknowingly help someone, I very much doubt I made a difference or helped anyone at all. Which I know sounds fucking awful, I know I don’t need a gold star or a damn cookie for doing the right thing. I’m not so good at putting together the words and stuff but as a writer I should be held accountable for my words.

      • Context does help, yes. 🙂

        Believe me, I have been that kid in the classroom where the teachers did nothing and let their students spew hatred. Believe me. I have been the kid in the classroom where the teachers themselves gave the kids reason to harass me. There’s a reason why I didn’t come out until I was twenty-three.

        I have been that kid who told bullies how they sucked and got bullied all the worse for it, and I became that kid who said nothing and still got bullied, and I’m now having to figure out how to be that adult that stands up and asserts myself (and to know the difference between people who respond with manipulative/emotionally-abusive bullshit because they can’t handle an assertive adult and me being an arsehole). I’m not going to say I don’t struggle to be that assertive hero type, because I do. I really, really do, and a lot of people don’t thank me for when I go from nice, laid-back, easy going Kim to actually assertive. Funny, that. Everybody likes the nice person. Nobody likes the few times I stand up for myself.

        I don’t recommend telling people they’re arseholes, though. I fully ascribe to the Captain Awkward process of ‘Um, what did you just say?’ or ‘Aunty, you realise that these people were born in Australia and are therefore Australians, right?’ or ‘That’s such a white thing to say, Mum’ or ‘No. I do not feel unsafe walking the streets of Footscray at night, and any implications otherwise must be racist’. These are all responses I seldom can actually manage when it comes to homophobia. (I usually run from the room and cry in the closest toilet block, scratch up my wrists to handle returning to the space where someone said shit, cry some more at the railway station, then go home and write about it. Yes, it’s happened often enough that I have a process down pat.) Those sorts of comments, though, usually silence people pretty effectively (or get comments like ‘You know what I meant, right? It’s just that Footscray is so different!’ to which I say nothing, which leaves the speaker stewing in the implication that they’re racist, and by not arguing with them I don’t give them a chance to show themselves as the totally-not-racist people they want to be). I don’t need anyone to pick up a sword and call these hateful arseholes (which they are) hateful arseholes before clobbering off heads. Really, this kind of thing isn’t for the speaker as it is the audience, and if it teaches the people around said racist aunt that I’m not going to listen to racist bullshit without calling it what it is, it is a victory.

        the egomaniac attention seeking mentality that homophobic fuckwits and racist idiots posses, we need to stop paying attention to them, we need to stop allowing them access to public platforms.

        I agree that they shouldn’t be allowed access to public platforms, oh yes, but I most passionately disagree with the first. Silence lets hate flourish. I hate the ‘don’t feed the trolls’ mentality. NO. What if someone hears those words and is hurt? What if someone hears those trolls and never hears the words that the trolls are fucked up and wrong? I’d rather waste time than let that happen, not when we live in a world where trolls still aren’t universally considered wrong.

        Silence (which is too easily interpreted as indifference) in my opinion, is giving the trolls a free pass to say hateful things. We don’t need to debate them. We don’t need to crush them. We don’t need to answer everything they say; we shouldn’t. One quiet statement that they are saying hurtful things is enough before we turn away, but we do need to say it. Otherwise, who has won? Not the people the trolls are hurting.

        There’s no victory, at all, in this kind of fight for us, but we don’t fight for victory. We fight knowing we’re going to lose because the game was always weighted against us. Such is privilege.

        I suppose my biggest problem with the whole thing was that while you may be right, maybe I did unknowingly help someone, I very much doubt I made a difference or helped anyone at all.

        I’m a somewhat-masculine-dressing DFAB person, yeah? You’d think I at least look like a butch lesbian? Well, the vast majority of cishet people don’t think I’m queer. People still react with surprise. (And when I had long hair and looked like a girl? Well, people told me to my face that there was no way I could possibly be queer. Lovely.) I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of cishet people have shocking gaydar – never mind the fact that coming out is still risky and something on which we might hesitate or delay – and therefore they have no way of telling who is and isn’t queer in the room. Since I assume you (general you) have no way of knowing, you (specific you) have no way of knowing what kind of impact your words had or if there were any queer people to hear them (high chance there was – they just weren’t out yet). You could have said something that made someone else, who was silent, think twice about voicing homophobia to others. You could have made a queer person feel safer. You could have made someone rethink their position. You can’t know for sure, and that’s true, but the feeling that you maybe didn’t help versus the chance that your words might help (if you can do so safely)? Even if you only make a difference one time in ten? That’s enough.

        And if someone voices homophobia just to bully someone, even a cishet, they are homophobic (arseholes). End of. They are giving voice to hate crimes. They are hurting more than you; they are contributing to a society where hate is okay. They are using their hate to punish someone who doesn’t even merit that hate, and that’s absolutely despicable twice over. They are voicing their hatred of me to hurt you. We shouldn’t live in a world where that is able to happen. Sure, you’re not going to win, but calling that shit for what it is isn’t, in my opinion, anything close to a failure.

        Silence lets hate flourish. That’s why we need to write.

      • I’m a somewhat-masculine-dressing DFAB person, yeah? You’d think I at least look like a butch lesbian? Well, the vast majority of cishet people don’t think I’m queer. People still react with surprise. (And when I had long hair and looked like a girl? Well, people told me to my face that there was no way I could possibly be queer. Lovely.)

        First of all, people are fucking awful, I can not understand what would possess someone to say that to another person, and this is coming from someone like me who has limited social skills and lacks subtle and finesse. However, it is because of my lack of subtly and finesse which is why I hesitate to write, post and publish stuff like this, I know I’m going to screw it up and I know there are people like yourself, who have a much more eloquent way of handling the situation and giving a reasonable solution to the problem. Yes, I was very much the angry white girl calling people arseholes with my imaginary flaming Sword-Pen, anger was my go to weapon of choice, ah the follies of youth.

        But I understand where you’re coming from, by not posting anything at all, I’m preventing the situation where discussions like this occur and discussions like these need to occur. I suppose my experience with homophobia is different, at the time I didn’t perceive Silence as the enemy, but rather a lack of Silence, however a blunt force weapon causes more damage than a sharp one. These conversations also need to happen for perhaps a more self-absorbed reason, these discussions with you remind me of just how far I have yet to go, how much I need to improve as a Writer and that’s a good thing, we all need an ego/privilege check.

  2. You realise it’s a pretty awesome thing that you are receptive to conversations like this and I feel safe enough to open my mouth/type away, right? There are people who have commented on my blog who have said some dodgy things that I’ve side-stepped around a little – responded with much less openness – simply because I don’t feel safe. The fact I feel it is okay to come here and speak as I do says a great deal about the person you are, and I hope you know that. I’ve lost online friends because when I tried to talk about why something they said was kind of heterocentric they’d want to take it to a debate, and I really appreciate the fact you never require me to debate my existence and experiences. (The amount of times I’ve had people force a debate? I’d be rich if I got paid for it.) Instead we just get to talk and have some super-interesting conversations that make me think about how I feel and what I do. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate why silence bothers me so much without this conversation: I’m getting to know myself better with a person who allows me to talk like this. That’s massively important, and I truly appreciate it. Most people don’t do this..

    And these conversations are super interesting! I’m not typing out of hurt or anger. I just want to talk. That’s also a pretty rare thing and I value the friends who allow me to do have rich, meaningful conversations.

    *nods*

    I understand people saying those sorts of comments – privilege combined with the narrow/limited portrayals of queer people in mainstream media – but yeah, it is horrific if you stop and think about it for half a second. Problem is that people don’t actually do that.

    I’ll be honest: I have almost no anger response. That is both good and bad (at times I shouldn’t be hurt; I should be angry, but I’m only hurt). But I’d choose an angry white girl sticking up for me any day, because I think one of the major problems with Western society is that it doesn’t get angry enough. Anger isn’t always effective in terms of communication (and can be more toxic to us), while angry women in particular are belittled and put down in ways we need to challenge and confront, but it’s not a bad thing to be angry. Not if anger breaks down silence. Sure, people are going to decide that anger (or tears or any emotional response in a woman) means you’re not worth listening to, but that anger isn’t ineffective. It just isn’t. (Tumblr is paved with minority anger, and that makes Tumblr awesome, IMO.)

    You know what? I believe everyone should be able to write anything, as long as we’re open to being wrong. Then there’s no problem. We’re human. We’re going to fuck up, we’re going to say something problematic (my earlier posts have some massive conflation of homophobia and transphobia because I tend to experience both simultaneously, but that doesn’t make for good communication about either topic, and it’s fair for someone to call me out on that, which I was) or poorly thought-out, and that’s okay, as long as we’re prepared to apologise or correct ourselves or reassess. The people who say things without that openness are the problem, not you.

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