An honest conversation

It is no big news that we have a terrible rate of suicide death in New Zealand. It’s even less news that it’s particularly epidemic in vulnerable communities, like among transgender youth. Charlotte Loh’s death is the most recent to have gotten publicity but it’s hardly unusual and none of the causes she cited in her suicide note are a surprise. Lack of parental support (extending to abuse, in her case and in many others), the difficulty in accessing appropriate health care, inadequate understanding and acceptance from institutions such as universities. The situation for trans people and especially trans women (even moreso when they’re not white, again as in Charlotte’s case) is dire in New Zealand. In many cases these deaths aren’t even seen. People are misgendered by their families in death, their identities squashed so that only those who accepted them in life ever remember them properly.

We have legislative restrictions on discussing suicide that are intended to prevent copycat deaths, but these are clearly not working. The idea that talking about the problem will just give people ideas is, frankly, a stupid one. People already have the idea. They are forced to it, bullied towards it day after day after day until they feel they have no other option. They will go to desperate lengths. In the last few days on Manus Island, people who have fled torture and hatred in their homes have been driven to such drastic lengths as drinking cleaning fluids because their situations were so bad. (Please never, ever do this. Even if it succeeds in killing you, it’s a horrific way to die.) I’m not equating the two situations – they’re different issues and both worthy of attention and compassion – my point is that preventing discussion of suicide that is complete, open and honest does nothing to prevent further deaths. In fact it can cause a great deal of harm as people try things that are unlikely to actually kill them but highly likely to cause serious injury and lifelong disability. If we are serious about preventing harm we can’t focus on hiding information, we need to fix causes. It’s not like we don’t know what they are, after all. We’ve been told.

Unfortunately the solutions cost money. It’s easier to just slap a $1000 fine on people who say that Charlotte killed herself before the coroner officially rules it as self-inflicted than it is to properly fund mental health services, trans health services, to educate public institutions on how to treat trans people with dignity and respect, to promote the idea that trans people are people who deserve dignity and respect so that the message might filter through to more families. It’s hard, I know. Some people will never hear that message no matter how loudly we say it and how many people say it with us. But some will. Over time, more will. And if we’re really serious about saving lives we need to commit to that, to actually talking about the problems and the lives lost and our failures. Not to hiding it all away like some shameful family secret. As long as we do that more people like Charlotte will continue to suffer and we will be complicit in their deaths.

Douches gonna douche

I don’t actually know all the details of this story. What I do know goes like this:

Boganette, who doesn’t use her real name on Twitter and has a locked account, warned her followers that Ben Rachinger is known for doxing women he disagrees with. This is based not only on evidence but on his own words where he brags about doxing women.

One of her followers went and told Ben what she’d said and he responded by doxing her. (Quick correction: it sounds like he didn’t actually dox her, but the fact that one of her followers told him what she had said justifiably unnerved her considering his history.) Yesterday Boganette deleted her Twitter account. She has one young kid and another one the way. Her account is already locked, so there’s not much more she can do.

A lot of people got pretty pissed off, because Boganette is awesome and shouldn’t have to leave social media because some douche can’t stand women revealing what a douche he is. During the discussion I made a tweet that basically said (I can’t recall the exact wording) “Ben Rachinger doxes people, he’s not a nice person.” and “I probably shouldn’t say #comeatmebruh but w/e. #comeatmebruh”

So apparently he did. Come at me, I mean. I got a DM today saying that Ben claims to have contacted my employer about what I said about him on Twitter. Several other people were also included in this, and a couple other women have deactivated their accounts.

Now, bear in mind, I don’t actually have an employer, and neither does at least one of the other people he claims to have gone after. I don’t know whether he’s just lying about it to look tough or whether he identified the wrong people and spoke to their bosses, and frankly it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that I made a factual statement that is nothing more than what he himself has said about what he’s done and he responded by attempting to scare me into compliance or retreat or something, I don’t know what.

This isn’t a problem with one person, either. Ben has talked many times about his activities and his followers have enabled him and joined in on bullying his victims. Others have sat by and watched under the guise of “not taking sides”.

Protip: tracking down someone’s identity over the internet and publicising their personal info or using it to contact their employers because you don’t like them standing up to you is not an okay move. Even if you’ve done it in the past. Even if your mate does it. Even if you look up to someone e-famous who does it. The good news is people aren’t black or white, which means that admitting that someone has done something bad doesn’t mean they’re 100% bad and you can’t be friends with them. It does mean that you should probably tell them it’s not cool though. It also means there is literally so such thing as not taking sides, because doxing is objectively wrong. You can’t be like “Oh well this guy is making threats that are scaring people into leaving Twitter so he won’t get them fired or have dangerous people track down their houses, but how can you really say who’s in the wrong here?

Now, to be real, the cops are not going to care that some guy on the internet said he rang people’s bosses. But legally it’s still at the very least a grey area with regards to harassment laws. I can’t be bothered tracking down exact legislation, so I won’t say definitively that it’s illegal, but it’s definitively shitty, and you shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t encourage your friends to do it, and you shouldn’t ignore it.

Plans for the future

So in somewhat exciting news, I may be able to afford to do post-grad after all. This involves, essentially, a private grant to cover part of my living costs (the rest taken from the living costs portion of the student loan) which would increase my income to a little bit more than it is now.

Given that I hadn’t really been expecting to be able to do post-grad this leaves me with a lot of questions to answer.

  • Do I want to continue straight into post-grad?
  • Do I want to do a particular project I’m interested in regarding those who are cut off from immediate whanau and how this affects their sense of “Maoriness”?
  • Can I justify that as a social policy post-grad?
  • Is the fact that it will be quite heavy on interpersonal communication and interviews going to cause me problems and stress?
  • Am I likely to be able to come up with an alternative topic that interests me as much but doesn’t involve so much interpersonal communication?
  • If I do this, should I continue where I live now, or move?
  • Should I go to Palmerston North to be closer to the uni’s resources and my supervisor?
  • Should I try to live alone, either in halls, in a share house, or a tiny tiny flat?
  • Should I stay in Wellington but maybe move closer in to the city and the Wellington Massey campus?
  • Can I get through another X years of studying without a break, without flipping out?
That’s quite a lot of questions I don’t really have answers for.

(White) men are destroying the left

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read that someone is destroying the left. Almost universally, it’s because they’re criticising someone else’s behaviour. Almost universally, they’re a woman, often Maori or Pasifika though not necessarily, criticising a well-known left wing man for trampling over others. Sometimes it’s rape or abuse apologism. Sometimes it’s sexism, or racism, or transphobia. Sometimes it’s the violation of boundaries of someone in a minority group, the assumption that they’re owed attention and time and hand-holding.

I’ve seen the effects of two incidents in the last week that play into this framework. One friend feeling so disillusioned with the left she felt she could no longer be a part of it after being gaslighted and harassed over a simple request not to make an offensive comparison. Another receiving an incredibly creepy and unwanted contact from someone whose fauxpology she’d criticised in a single tweet earlier in the week. Also this week has been discussion of a protest planned in Auckland in solidarity with #Ferguson which attempted to link events there with democracy protests in Hong Kong as part of some vast global movement, specifically claimed to not be a criticism of police, and is linked to organisations that are known for protecting rapists.

As a slight diversion from the topic, I was studying for my economics paper this morning and reading about production possibilities frontiers, essentially a model representing the trade offs that can be made when you can put your resources into two different outcomes. The example was an economy that produces cars and computers – you can make, say, 2200 computers and 600 cars, or 2000 computers and 700 cars, or you could go to an extreme and produce 1000 cars but no computers at all. The thing is, when you do that the opportunity cost of a car is high. A lot of your autoworkers are actually really good at making computers and not very good at making cars – if you move a few of them into computer production, you’re going to gain a lot more completed computers than you’ll lose completed cars.

This is actually a pretty good analogy for the left. We put so many of our resources into <s>cars</s> men that our opportunity costs in <s>computers</s> really effective, strong, capable women is skyrocketing. Protecting one rapist drives away dozens of women. Defending one guy who doesn’t understand boundaries silences dozens of women who now have to protect themselves against the risk of being stalked in real life for even the slightest criticism.

This system is not rational. It’s not reasonable. It’s not stable or efficient or effective. Instead of policing women’s reactions to bad behaviour, we need to police that behaviour. We need to teach people that if you have to track down someone’s contact information, you probably shouldn’t be using it. If they wanted you to call them they’d give you their phone number and there are very few situations that warrant an exception. The mindset that lets men (and the occasional woman) think they can ignore the boundaries of people who disagree with them is baffling in its arrogance and absolutely not conducive to the long-term success of the left. And particularly when it is a man, there is an existing context in which women have to constantly guard themselves against the possibility that that man is not just an annoyance, but outright dangerous. It’s a context in which calling someone at work to argue about the legitimacy of your apology is in the same category as domestic and intimate partner violence that kills and injures far too many women and girls. Is it the same thing? No. But the men who murder also stalk. When you receive that intrusive phone call, you don’t know how far it might go if you make him angry, and when we put our resources into coddling men who act like this and defending their behaviour we allow them to continue to act in ways that are destructive and harmful to everyone.

Financial assistance for tertiary students

I’ve gotten my final assignment back for the 300-level Policy Research & Evaluation paper I did last semester, and earned another A+ and another teacher telling me to do post-grad if I can afford it without starving. The only way to do that would be to amass enough grants and scholarships to live on until I’m finished, because I can’t live on the amount you can borrow from the living costs component of a student loan.

(If I could do post-grad, I would love to do something looking at Maori youth who are estranged from their immediate family and how that impacts on their connection to Maoritanga/Maori culture, history, etc. All the readings I’ve been doing there’s this constant repeating theme of immediate family being the link to culture, and I can’t help but think about situations where there’s been abuse, familial rejection, toxic environments that people just can’t deal with and stay healthy…)

Financial Assistance for Tertiary Students: A Review

From state housing to social housing

There’s a lot of discussion going on about the announcements that contracts for social housing will be sold to NGOs/community sector organisations. Coincidentally, I just did an essay on this. Or, more specifically, I did an essay on the social housing sector and potential for Maori development, so it doesn’t discuss the Salvation Army so much as groups like Tamaki Trust etc. Still, I thought it might be of some interest.

Update 3/11: I just got the feedback on this essay, I got an A+ (bringing my average for this paper to, well, A+, at least until I sit the exam on Saturday).

Maori housing development



Who’s to blame for National

After the huge number of advance votes placed in the lead-up to election day, the overall turnout was shockingly low. It’s easy to imagine that this would follow pre-existing trends in favouring the right. National actually got fewer votes than they did last election, despite winning more seats, but the Greens drastically underperformed even in comparison to the landline polls.

People’s response is naturally to blame non-voters. It’s understandable, but incredibly simplistic and I ended up having to quit Twitter yesterday because of how prevalent it was. The thing is, it’s easy for actively political people to see the link between voting and quality of life. It’s much harder when you’re alienated from politics entirely and just trying to make ends meet. The consequences of not voting are entirely abstract, while the consequences of paying for bus fare or using petrol aren’t. Other things that aren’t abstract: trying to find childcare, the risk of illness if you take small children out in that miserable cold rain we had, the cost of a doctor’s visit if they do get sick, the fact that none of you have raincoats, the length of time it takes to dry clothes out when you don’t have a dryer. And while the Greens particularly had some good policy for those really low income families, knowing that is not necessarily widespread. Most people still think of Labour as the real left wing party – and Labour hasn’t exactly been endearing itself to the vulnerable and needy.

That’s not to say that all non-voters are in this situation. Some of them presumably just couldn’t be bothered, or were put off by Dirty Politics, or whatever. But blaming all non-voters for National’s win feels really fucking gross when a huge number of them are struggling to survive and being failed by the rest of society. We (as a group) can’t treat people like shit and then get pissed off at them when they don’t engage in society in the way we’d wish. That’s bullshit. Blame Slater and Collins and Key. Blame the media. Blame Labour. Blame whoever you want, just don’t blame our victims.

Age is a number

The polls have closed in Scotland and the count has started. Aside from the excitement of a nation voting on whether or not to become independent (peacefully!), there are a few other quirks about the referendum that have drawn notice. One is that 16 year olds were eligible to vote.

Some people think this is a bad idea. Some think it’s “insane”, even. Typically the argument is that the brain of a 16 year old isn’t fully developed enough to understand the consequences of their actions.

I am extremely uncomfortable with that argument for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that that’s exactly the same argument that was used to deny women and various ethnic groups suffrage in the past (and in a couple of places even today). This will be rebutted with the assumption that our knowledge of the brain is better now, but during those previous debates they assumed their knowledge of the brain was correct too. The fact is, we know very little about the brain. They’ve just found a woman in China who’s 24 years old and has no cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for fine motor control, balance, motor learning and speech. Normally when this happens, the person dies quite young. In her case she had the symptoms of a minor to moderate impairment – difficulty walking, slurred speech, late development of both (speaking at 6, walking at 7). Why? Science doesn’t fucking know. The assumption is that other parts of the brain took up the slack. The brain is the least understood part of the human body.

Basing civil rights on mental abilities is really gross. It’s lead to intelligence tests that were rigged for failure. It’s lead to people with any sort of mental impairment being barred from voting (and the history of insanity is pretty fascinating for how mental impairment has been assessed over the years). There are plenty of adults who don’t grasp consequences very well who are nonetheless strongly encouraged to vote. You can vote with a concussion if you want. You can vote no matter what your educational level. There’s no obligation to even read up on the candidates or parties, you can go in there drunk with absolutely zero clues about any of it, pick two options at random, and it’s still a legitimate vote. The fact that we have a tradition of satirical political parties should be some indication that this is not some holy rite that only the most worthy should be blessed enough to take part in.

Meanwhile we let 16 year olds make all sorts of decisions that affect their future in dramatic ways. Pick school subjects, drop out, have children, leave home (in certain circumstances), drive. Car crashes are a major killer, particularly affecting Maori youth, especially rurally.

If 16 year olds are allowed to participate in adult society, and be quite strongly affected by decisions made there (eg youth wages, employment law, tertiary policy, apprenticeship schemes), I think it’s a little outlandish to consider the idea of allowing them to vote to be “insane”. 16 year olds are fairly likely to be taking or have taken civics classes fairly recently, and still have that information fresh in their minds. They are a lot more intelligent than people give them credit for. Not all of them will want to vote, and when you look at the places where they’re allowed to you’ll usually find that at 16 you’re able, but at 18 it becomes compulsory (either to just enrol or also vote), or 16 year olds are only able to vote in particular kinds of election but not all of them. But 16 year olds are right on the cusp of entering the adult world and the decisions people make here tomorrow will affect them strongly. Very strongly, considering some of the areas that have been policy focuses lately. Someone who’s in Year 13 this year and hasn’t turned 18 yet won’t have a chance to vote until they’ve already been in the workforce or higher education (ideally), raising a small child (also pretty hard work), or stuck on a benefit (increasingly more realistically) for two and a half years. That would have been me if you shifted my birth year – I didn’t turn 18 until just after I started university. And yet they have no say whatsoever on who gets to define the terms of their participation for those nearly three years. Looking at it through a civil rights framework, I just don’t think that’s fair. I want to encourage young people to take an interest in politics early. Maybe if we can catch these 16 year olds, it will be one of the factors we need to improve youth engagement. That can’t be a bad thing.

State of the Pakeha

God, I know, I still exist. Fourth anniversary of the first quake and all.

This has been a busy semester for me so far and with my contact courses over I’m using the rest of the break to attempt to catch up on naps. Soon I’ll be starting to look at the next round of assignments due in the first half of October – research projects, research proposals, long essays. I’m also supposed to get a journal and start jotting down ideas for a Masters dissertation. Not because I’m enrolled in a Masters, just because I’ve been told that I will be.

Anyway, I’m working the election again, so the usual “not allowed to discuss politics” rules apply. But hey, money!

Home again

I arrived in Christchurch this evening for a week visiting home, basically completely due to my sister deciding that Matariki should be a time the family is together and booking flights. Our flight landed here at 6.30, which at this time of year means night time, the first time I’ve overflown the city at night since the earthquakes. There are… some significant patches of certain areas where no lights are on.

So far it’s just been readjusting to how my family socialises together, which involves a lot of talking over each other, meandering trains of thought, and increasing numbers of conversations about the buying of property, getting the best rate of return on money, tax reduction, and how you should be putting a quarter of your income away for retirement from your early 30s. Even on my meagre income that’s about twice what I spend on food, so I feel that’s not a thing I’ll be doing quite yet (though technically I have about eight months until I’m 30). In the morning we’re getting picked up by our kaiako to go to market, and then we’ll probably end up at her house where I can get some dog cuddles and we may work on the old practice tukutuku panel that we had left unfinished for some other weavers to do. They never really did, so we’re going to get it finished for an exhibition of the group’s work that’s going to be on soon. Tentatively we might hit Orana Park on Wednesday, and one weekday I’ll head into town for some photos of the rebuild changes. Apart from that we’ll see.