Saturday, August 26, 2006

Goulburn Revisited

Last week I visited the Southern Highlands of New South Wales and, in particular, the rural city of Goulburn – Australia’s oldest inland city.

Before my relocation to the United States, I lived in Goulburn from 1988 to 1993, teaching (and, in many ways, learning) at Sts. Peter and Paul’s Primary School.

Leaving my friend Garth's place in Wollongong on Monday, August 21, I drove a Budget rental car to the township of Exeter – 50 km northwest of Goulburn. Here I visited and stayed with my friend Kerry, who lives on a small acreage on the outskirts of Exeter.

Exeter is quite close to the beautiful
Morton National Park and, in particular, Fitzroy Falls.

One of Kerry’s numerous creative talents is her ability to capture the beauty of Australia’s unique flora through photography. Below is an example.

Tuesday, August 22 and Wednesday, August 23 were spent in Goulburn, the “Wool Capital” of Australia.

While in Goulburn I caught up with a number of friends from my teaching days.

Above: With friends Annie and Joe, their daughter, Ingrid, and Cathy. I taught Ingrid when she was in both fourth and fifth class (1990 and 1991 respectively). She now has a successful career in law in nearby Canberra.

Above: With Gerry and Cathy. Gerry was a friend and colleague at Sts. Peter and Paul’s Primary School. He continues to dedicate his time and gifts to the young people at the school. Cathy is a good friend with whom I studied part-time at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra in 1990-91. When teaching at Sts. Peter and Paul's, I taught two of Gerry and Cathy's three children, Jacinta and Bernard.

Another good friend I caught up with while in Goulburn was Jackie, who served as assistant principal at Sts Peter and Paul’s when I was teaching there. Jackie’s now retired though keeps busy, in part, with her involvement in “Spirituality in the Pub” (SIP).

Founded in 1994 by Catalyst for Renewal, a group of Australian Catholics working for renewal within the Church, SIP has been described as informal dinner, speaker and conversation events held in suburban and country pubs.

As Muriel Potter of The Age notes, the SIP movement began in Sydney and is “quietly on the rise.” And the reason for this? “SIP,” writes Potter, “gives Catholics a safe and welcoming place where they can listen to each other’s ‘longings, insights, questions, needs and aspirations’.” Such a description reminds me of the ministry work of CPCSM back in Minnesota.

The growing Spirituality in the Pub movement , observes Potter, is also one more example of a version of “religionless Christianity” developing on the margins of the institutional church (or kyriarchy*) as it faces increasing numerical decline.

In Goulburn, my friend Jackie and others are planning a SIP event for September 12 – one which will feature theologian, author and broadcaster Paul Collins. I plan on returning to Goulburn for this event.

NEXT: Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton.

See also: Goulburn Landmarks, Goulburn Reunion, and Remnants of a Past Life.

* Notes Catholic theologian Mary Hunt, “ ‘Kyriarchy’ is a term coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. It means, literally, structures of lordship. It denotes the interstructured forms of oppression – gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality and the like – that result in power differences and injustice. Kyriarchy is used to distinguish the hierarchical, clerical model of church from the larger Catholic community. Fiorenza includes a useful discussion of kyriocentrism in her Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.”

Friday, August 25, 2006

R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics

In the July/August issue of Adbusters, Paul Ormerod interviews a number of economists outside of the neoclassical school.

One of those Ormerod interviews is Joshua Farley, a prominent ecological economist working in the department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont.

Here’s a little of what Farley has to say:

At my university, there are students who are engaged enough to say “wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense.” They often organize dialogues or debates between ecological and neoclassical economists. They’ve done ones on fair trade and globalization and a comparison of the overall disciplines. Through these debates I think both sides get to air their views and students get to hear both sides together. Of course, it’s fairly clear to me what side generally makes the better case. And I think the students feel that way too. We simply have a much better argument then the neoclassical economists.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are so bought into the neoclassical model, they can’t imagine anything else. We call it the Washington Consensus because it has the full weight of Washington behind it. Developing countries are told, “If you’re having an economic slow down, you should increase taxes, slash government expenditure, and raise interest rates.” Whereas when we have a slow down here in the United States we do precisely the opposite. We force other countries to do the exact opposite of what we do and demand insane requirements such as privatizing water supplies; which essentially means creating private monopolies . . .

The World Bank has tried to address poverty by introducing fees for public school and basic healthcare, which proves that economists don’t even understand their own discipline that well. If you introduce fees for public healthcare and people can’t afford basic prevention from contagious diseases, you increase the reservoir of contagious diseases in your society, and that actually increases expenditures on the part of the government. Same with the privatization of water. If you privatize water and people can’t afford to buy it, they drink cholera-laden river water and you create an epidemic that takes more resources to deal with.

Economists have such a narrow vision and they’ve bought into this faith-based assumption that markets are always best. So it’s not a science anymore, it’s a theology.

Right now, our society's major goal is to increase consumption. But there’s very little evidence that increasing consumption does anything to make us better off anymore. In the US, every generation consumes twice as much as the generation before. So, if our GDP fell by fifty percent that would put us back to the 1970s standard of living. Big deal! People were not living in misery then. I would argue that in spite of all our economic growth, the poverty rate has not fallen, so it has done nothing to make us better off.

Consumption cannot remain the core of our economic measures. We need something more like what Bhutan is doing. Try to measure the things that make people happy. There are fundamental human needs that are consistent across cultures. Things like affection, creativity, protection/security, independence, etc. Trying to measure these things would be a little sloppy, but it’s something we should at least be thinking about and pursuing.

For more information about Adbusters, click here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Garth's Big Day

I'm back in Wollongong visting my friend Garth, who today bought himself a new motor bike, a Honda CBR 600 RR.

I went with him up to Sydney where he purchased "the beast" from a dealership in the western suburb of Blacktown. He rode it back to Wollongong while I drove back in his utility truck.

It was a big day, but at the end of it, Garth was one satisfied man!

And he looks good in leather, too!

See also the previous Wild Reed post: Travelin' South (Part I).

Classic Dusty

Okay, I’m a bit late, but August 7 marked the 9th anniversary of Woman of Repute, my website dedicated to the late, great British pop and soul singer, Dusty Springfield.

To mark this milestone, here’s a clip of Dusty in all her ’60s, black & white glory! . . . Enjoy.

See also the Wild Reed posts:
Soul Deep
Remembering a Great Soul Singer

More Propaganda Than Plot?

In a recent article on the World Socialist Web Site, Kate Randall writes that, "more than a week after the US and UK announcements that an alleged terror plot to blow up commercial airliners flying from Britain to the US had been foiled, the official claims are unraveling."

"Authorities," notes Randall, "have been unable to provide any concrete evidence to back up the story that police raids and mass arrests in Britain thwarted an imminent attack that would have taken the lives of thousands of transatlantic travelers. Significant details, in fact, have come to light that indicate the opposite. Not only has it been revealed that no bombs were actually in the process of being assembled, but none of the suspects—British-born Muslims, who at this point remain in custody without having been charged—had purchased airline tickets. Some did not even hold passports."

Randall then proceeds to offer an insightful analysis of the wider context of this most recent "plot", noting that, "it is becoming increasingly evident that the government-media hysteria about the alleged plot was prompted not by security concerns, but rather by a politically motivated desire to divert attention from the growing crisis of both the Bush and Blair governments. Under conditions of a deepening military and political debacle in Iraq, growing domestic opposition to the war, a deteriorating military situation in Afghanistan, and the unfavorable outcome for the US and Britain in Lebanon, the eruption of the latest alleged terror plot has served to 'change the subject,' while fostering an atmosphere of fear and panic that both governments hope will disorient the public and facilitate new attacks on democratic rights.

"It is now clear that there was no imminent attack to be thwarted. But the massive provocation unleashed by Washington and London has succeeded in creating a climate of near-hysteria, at least within official circles, the media, the airline industry, and police agencies, that has spawned a string of incidents in which minor occurrences were sensationalized and reported, replete with wild claims and lurid rumors, as new 'terror events.' "

Such "events," notes Randall, "follow a common pattern: allegations are leveled by the authorities; the media swings into action to uncritically promote and embellish the official line. In short order, the initial claims are abandoned and the stories drop out of the headlines, with no accounting for the initial false reports, while the media waits with bated breath for the next 'terror threat.' "

To read Kate Randall's article in its entirety, click here.

Award-winning journalist and host of Pacifica Radio's New York-based Democracy Now! program, Amy Goodman, has also been exploring this important issue. Last Friday she noted that "questions have been raised over whether British authorities were pressured by the United States to make the arrests last week in the alleged terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners." She also reported that "a judge in Britain has ruled police have until next week to continue to hold 23 suspects arrested in the alleged plot."

Goodman then interviewed Craig Murray, Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who suggested that the timing of the arrests should be viewed with skepticism. Said Murray: "The one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot."

For the full transcript of Democracy Now!'s interview with Craig Murray, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
"When Terror is the Foil"

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Those Europeans Are At It Again

Now here's something you won't see on American or Australian screens. It's a clever, insightful, funny, and poignant French commercial promoting condom use. I'm guessing it's shown in cinemas before featured films.

Its message is simple and universal: "Live long enough to find the right one".

I particularly appreciate the filmmaker's depiction of childhood experiences of difference and ridicule around gender expectations, and the fact that standing up to such ridicule and condemnation can lead to deeper self awareness and acceptance. I mean, that knowing smile of the hero when we first see him as a young adult is just priceless!

And did you notice the rather overt (and negative) reference to God?

From my experience, however, God isn't to be found in any real or imagined finger condemningly coming down from the sky, but in our honest searching for right relationship with others. It's a search that, like our young hero shows, may well involve missteps and mistakes.

Nevertheless, such experiences can, without doubt, serve as vehicles for learning and transformation. I'm not advocating that we all go out and purposely do things we know are not life-giving for either ourselves or others. But what I am saying is that sometimes I have to find out for myself what is true and "life-giving" for me and those with whom I am in relationship. It's a journey, a learning process - and one that should be open to questions, exploration, and the possibility of mistakes along the way.

Having said that, I don't believe personal experience is the sole norm governing behavior. Yet this doesn't mean that personal experience, including the personal experiences of LGBT people, should be ignored completely when, for instance, the Catholic Church makes ethical and/or doctrinal judgments on matters related to human sexuality.

As Australian theologian Paul Collins reminds us, "Consulting the laity in the formulation of doctrine is part of Catholicism's theological tradition. Also, the whole Church's acceptance of papal and episcopal teaching is an integral part of testing the veracity of that teaching. The hierarchy does not have a monopoly on truth." Collins finds support for such claims in the writings of the great English theologian, Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90), "who said unequivocally that the laity have to be consulted in matters of doctrine, especially when teachings concern their lives so intimately". (Collins, P., Between the Rock and a Hard Place: Being Catholic Today, ABC Books, Sydney, 2004, p. 12.)

Wrote Newman: "The body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and . . . their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church". (Newman, J.H., On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, (1859), ed. John Coulson, Collins, London, 1961, p. 63.)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Rejecting the "Lesser Evil"
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
A Lesson from Play School

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Lesson from "Play School"

Flicking through the TV channels recently, I came across good ol' Play School – an educational show for children that’s been on Australian television since 1966.

Oddly enough, there’s never any actual children on the show, just a regular cast of toys (including Humpty, Jemima, Big Ted, Little Ted, Diddle, and Owl) and two adult hosts.

Over the years, some of Australia’s best know actors have hosted Play School – including Noni Hazelhurst, Lorraine Bayly, John Waters, and Benita Collins. My mum always thought that being a host on the show would have been a great job.

I watched Play School as a kid growing up in Australia. I certainly don’t remember, however, hosts like Teo. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t remember consciously thinking the types of thoughts I did while watching, as an adult, the antics of this particular Play School host of today.

In the brief segment of Play School I recently came across, handsome Teo was clamouring over large pillows, singing a song about being a polar bear. I must admit fleetingly thinking: now here’s a guy who would be a lot of fun in the sack.

Then I got to thinking about the genesis of such sexual feelings, and soon realized that even though Teo wasn’t around when I was watching Play School, I do remember observing, as a child, certain males and certain images of males that triggered something within me – a feeling that I soon realized set me apart from the majority of other boys my age. In retrospect, I can recognize such feelings as the first stirrings of my sexual – my homosexual – awakening.

I think most people – gay or straight – can recall similar childhood experiences of this type of awakening. Of course, the difference with gay people is that at an early age we soon recognize the need for various self-protective strategies in a society that demands conformity to a heterosexual ideal. In other words, we build and then go into a “closet.” The journey out of this fear-based place of refuge can be a long and painful process.

One of my earliest memories of male intrigue/attraction was focused on the following image from the cover of a 1970 compilation album of pop songs, entitled 20 Dynamic Hits.

This particular man was never identified on the album cover and, as I grew older, I could never match for certain his image with the names of the various male artists listed on the back of the album. As a child, I always associated this mystery man’s face with the lead male vocalist in the group Tee Set. Their hit song, “Ma Belle Amie,” opens the album.

Of course, thanks to the internet and, in particular, Google, I’ve recently identified my Mystery Man. He’s none other than American singer
Mark Lindsay. His song “Arizona” is featured on Side B of the album.

Among other things, this trip down memory lane reinforces my absolute disdain for those who insist that the homosexual orientation is somehow the result of environmental forces, and not an innate, God-giving gift to a minority of the human family.

I grew up with two brothers – both of whom, like me, observed the same things on TV, at the movies, and on album covers. And guess what? Neither of them is gay.

All of this reminds me of the recent controversy surrounding gay actor Chad Allen and the movie
End of the Spear.

As the May–June 2006 issue of
The Gay & Lesbian Review notes, “End of the Spear was being hailed by evangelical Christians as the next big movie to get their message out to the flocks. The drama about the 1956 murder of five American missionaries in Ecuador was poised for a zealous opening – until it was discovered that one of its actors, Chad Allen, was openly gay.

“All at once, what had been a must-see Christian movie was the target of a boycott (that evangelical weapon of last resort). The reaction seemed overblown even by fundy standards – could the private life of one actor really matter that much? – leading [gay commentator] Dan Savage to quip in The New York Times that these are the same people who think they can convert your gay son to heterosexuality, yet they don’t think Chad Allen can pull off acting straight for two hours in a movie. Once again, Savage is onto something.

“The religious Right is always saying that being gay is a choice, a lifestyle, perhaps just a phase you’re going through. But when it comes to discriminating against GLBT people, suddenly being gay becomes a fixed condition, a lifelong stigma, a basis for permanent exclusion. Logically, they should be happy that Allen got to play straight: who knows, it just might have stuck.”

Then again, it might not; especially if he's ever casually changing channels and catches Teo doing his polar bear routine.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Through the Window: Play School Turns 40 - Noni Hazlehurst and Rhys Muldoon (
The Age, July 13, 2006).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Soul Deep
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth

Pacific Skies

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dirk Bogarde (Part III)

Earlier this month I finished reading John Coldstream’s biography of British actor and author Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999).

I’ve also finally viewed my first Dirk Bogarde film – though it wasn’t one I found in a video store but rather one that was recently broadcast in the early hours of the morning by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC).

The film shown was 1958’s The Wind Cannot Read, which, says Coldstream, was “Richard Mason’s adaptation of his own novel about a doomed wartime love affair between a grounded RAF officer and a Japanese language teacher”.

The film, nicknamed “the illiterate fart” by cast and crew, was partly shot in India, where much of the story was set. “The Red Fort was visited,” documents Coldstream, “the Taj Mahal was swooned over, polo was watched, Indira Gandhi was met and a perfectly serviceable film made, its faintly risible action outweighed by [Bogarde’s Flight-Lieutenant character’s] tender romance with [the Japanese language teacher] – played by Toko Tani.”

The most interesting aspect of The Wind Cannot Read is the fact that, as Coldstream notes, the film “yields the prize” for “collectors of those few moments” when Dirk and his real life partner Tony Forwood (pictured at left) share a screen.

This “prize” is “an exchange of dialogue, with [Tony] as a senior officer, interrogation on his mind, telling Dirk as they enter a compound full of Japanese prisoners: ‘Shan’t keep you a minute. I’d like to take another crack at Corporeal Tanaka.’”

Yet the one Dirk Bogarde movie that I really want to see is the landmark 1961 film Victim.

According to Stephen Bourne in his study of homosexuality in the British cinema, Victim “had an enormous impact on the lives of gay men who, for the first time, saw credible representations of themselves and their situations in a commercial British film.”

According to John Coldstream, scene 112 of Victim “was, and remains, the most important of [Bogarde's] acting life. Much of it he himself wrote, or rewrote”. Coldstream then goes on to set the scene: “Confronted by his beautiful wife, Laura, [Dirk’s character, barrister Melville Farr] is asked to explain who this Boy Barrett was, how they knew each other, and why Mel stopped seeing him”.

In the film Mel eventually responds:

Alright – alright, you want to know. I’ll tell you – you won’t be content until I tell you, will you – until you’ve RIPPED it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I WANTED him. Can you understand – because I WANTED him. Now what good has that done you?

Notes Coldstream: “Originally the speech read: ‘You won’t be content till I tell you. I put the boy outside the car because I wanted him. Now what good has that done you?’ The force with which Dirk delivered his extra dialogue to [co-star] Sylvia Syms made it unforgettable. It was the moment when the matinée idol donned a new cloak of seriousness; when ‘Peter Pan’ grew up; when ‘Dorian Gray’ allowed us with him to take a peep into the attic.”

Writer Andy Medhurst notes that “Victim’s intentions were to support the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report, which advocated the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts, but the emotional excess of Bogarde’s performance [. . .] pushes the text beyond its liberal boundaries until it becomes a passionate validation of the homosexual option. Simply watch the ‘confession’ scene for proof of this.”

Sylvia Syms agrees that the film itself was a brave undertaking – even “revolutionary” – but, says Coldstream, “she does not sign up completely to the general view that it was an act of courage for Dirk to play Mel: ‘They say he was so brave to play this man with those feelings. But look at the lines he himself wrote. He was frightened of those emotions, and didn’t want to admit them, but, when he had to, he wanted to play them with great truth’”.

In his biography of Bogarde, John Coldstream writes that “[t]he ultimate accolade for what Dirk called this ‘modest, tight, neat little thriller’ would come to him in the summer of 1968, a year after the Sexual Offences Act passed through Parliament and into law. On 5 June Lord (‘Boofy’) Arran, who in 1965 had introduced the legislation in the House of Lords, wrote to Dirk that he had just seen Victim for the first time – on television – ‘and I just want to say how much I admire your courage in undertaking this difficult and potentially damaging part’. He said he understood that it was in large part responsible for a swing in popular opinion, as shown by the polls, from forty-eight per cent to sixty-three per cent in favour of reform. Lord Arran concluded: ‘It is comforting to think that perhaps a million men are no longer living in fear.’”

What a pity that this liberation from fear never fully extended to Dirk himself. Indeed, having completed Coldstream’s biography on Dirk, I’m left with a portrait of a gifted actor and author who, although capable of great graciousness and charm, was nevertheless, at a very deep level, an unhappy and embittered man.

“He had a lot of guilt in him and he carried it around like a sort of knapsack”, says writer Sheridan Morley. “And yet, when you pinned it down, there was nothing really for him to feel guilty about at all.”

Bogarde obviously saw things differently. Indeed, throughout his life he viewed and discussed matters relating to homosexuality, including his own, with at times a certain distaste (not unlike, incidentally, his biographer John Coldstream) and at other times, flat denial.

Victim co-star Sylvia Syms suggests that Bogarde had the characteristics of one who “loves to watch, to tell dirty stories, but who does not like the messiness, the untidiness of sex”. Not surprisingly, Dirk left the impression of being “a soul in incredible torment”, according to friend and colleague Charlotte Rampling.

Yet Rampling also acknowledges that Dirk “touched happiness sometimes”, and that “Tony was where the happiness came from.”

In fact, another friend and colleague, Faith Brook, described Dirk and Tony’s relationship as “a very perfect marriage”.

There was “a strength of bond”, acknowledges Coldstream, “which united these two men in a relationship that was admired by their friends and by the most casual of acquaintances as more secure than many a marriage. Indeed that word has been used by several of those friends to convey the constancy and the particular air exuded by complementary and equal partners.”

It's good to know that despite all the fear and unhappiness he harboured within, Dirk Bogarde was nevertheless open to experiencing and nurturing a loving relationship with another man - a relationship that for both men was mutually strengthening and sustaining.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Dirk Bogarde (Part I)
Dirk Bogarde (Part II)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"When Terror Is the Foil"

An insightful commentary by Pierre Tristam on the foiling of a plot to destroy a number of trans-Atlantic jetliners has been published at CommonDreams.

Entitled "When Terror Is the Foil", Tristam's article criticizes the way that this particular alleged plot has been "described, or rather projected in Britain and the United States like a halting reality-show production".

He notes, for instance, that "instead of facing down fear, instead of defying it, instead of putting it in its contemptuous place (fear being terrorism’s rankest instrument), we are made to accommodate it and submit to it every chance the government gets to ram it down our collective throats. We are asked, in other words, to be complicit with terrorism’s ultimate aim, without terrorists having to bother to do so much as light a fuse."

Elsewhere in the piece, Tristam acknowledges that "[t]he British airplane plot may well be real. It may well have involved a dozen planes. It may well have been stopped near the brink."

Nevertheless, he is adamant that "the way it’s being played (here more than in Britain , where Tony Blair’s campaign of fear has had limited effect) discredits its seriousness and further discredits the 'war on terror' ".

"The aim isn’t to protect against terrorism", writes Tristam. "It’s to ensure terrorism’s permanent threat, to invent its magnitude, to cast any skepticism about the strategy as something faintly treasonous, as wishing people harm, as sympathy with terrorism. It makes you wonder: what if a victory over terrorism was ever declared? It’s an impossibility. The Bush administration has cast the danger in such ways as to box itself into a position incapable of declaring such a victory. The administration itself (or its coming clones) would have to disband, having hinged its entire raison d’être on such a war. That there’s never been a war is besides the point. The methods of war are the means to power, and there lies the source of the founding lie, its motive, its consequences: the war on terror is the continuation of Republican politics by other means. End the war, and you end the Republican Party’s viability. God alone couldn’t prop up the party and its religious zealots. It therefore must be a perpetual war."

To read "When Terror Is the Foil" in its entirety,
click here.

Confronting Classroom Homophobia

The following article from the August 2006 issue of DNA looks at the endemic problem of homophobia in high schools.

This particular article also serves as a timely reminder for me of the importance of a
CPCSM project I’ve been working on for a number of years and which is nearing completion.

Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective is a 5-session training program of strategies, resources, and reflections aimed at empowering Catholic high school professionals in their interactions with youth who have either come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or who struggling with questions related to sexual orientation and/or identity.

You could call it a “safe staff” training manual for the Catholic high school context, one that is slated for publication in 2007 by the US-based publishing house, Haworth Press.

The program itself grew out of a series of “safe staff” training workshops developed by CPCSM and implemented in the mid-late 1990s in a number of Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

Over the last two months while I’ve been in Australia, I’ve been reviewing the copyedited manuscript and contacting various publications to seek permission to reprint copyrighted material incorporated into certain sections of the manuscript. The latter task, in particular, is often tedious work. It's also all the more difficult by my being on the other side of the world to certain files, contacts, and resources back in Minneapolis.

Still, the sad reality of homophobia in our schools, so powerfully conveyed in the article below, reminds me of the importance, indeed, the absolute necessity, of a resource – and faith testimony – such as Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective.


Teacher’s Pet

By Simon Patience
August 2006 (Issue 79)

Violence, verbal taunts and emotional abuse – just a normal day at the office for gay high school teachers. Simon Patience tells what it’s like on the frontline of schoolyard homophobia.

“Do you think I’m cute, sir?” says Brett, a big kid who’s been baiting me since the beginning of the lesson.

“I do,” butts in his mate, the enthusiastic, monkey-like Adrian. “He’s really cute, don’t you think so, Sir?”

But Lucy, who’s been watching the exchange, twists into a pained grimace and is not impressed. Ädrian, that stuff’s not a turn-on, okay? It’s just gross.”

This little interlude is followed by various denouncements, talk about “that fag” Michael Jackson and “that poof, wannabe black” Eminem.

If the dialogue strikes you as drab, I apologise. I am merely reproducing verbatim what I’ve heard working as an emergency teacher around Melbourne.

We’ve all heard excuses for this crap: the kids are “forging their identities” and they’ll grow out of it. But that doesn’t stop the weary despair that descends when I’m stuck in a room of tough adolescents and I’ve got to listen to it.

Homophobia is something that seems to thrive in schools – particularly in poorer areas. You can hear the same kind of comments in posh schools but there’ll always be a voice or two that pipe up in defence of all things pink. Another factor is the cultural background that the kids come from. From Macedonia to Somalia, they come from places where attitudes to homosexuality are a hell of a lot less liberal than here in the West.

It would take a braver man than me to attempt to tell these kids that what they’re saying is wrong. Reveal any opinion that has a wiff of being pro-fag and you’re likely to incite a horrified reaction; more so than any other topic.

Teenagers don’t like ambiguity. If you express a point of view that’s foreign to them or suggest that the world around them may be more complex than they’re willing to admit, they won’t like you for it. On the contrary, first they’ll snarl at you and then be completely dismissive.

When pop culture inventions like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Scissor Sisters began to infiltrate the mainstream, optimists heralded the coming of a new age. On the other hand, pessimists like me lamented the fact that gayness had been reduced to being the latest fad – one that would be unfashionable in six months. I laughed at articles claiming that teenagers now used the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘cool’ not ‘bad’. They sure as hell weren’t the teenagers in any of the classes I was taking.

Yet, at the same time, I hoped that increased media visibility would mean that kids would be more accepting of something that was no longer a creeping, unseen menace; the way homosexuality seemed when I was at high school.

Maybe we’re never going to see a new age. Perhaps homosexuality is always going to be a sinister shadow that Western adolescents will define themselves against.

If you really wanted to make a difference to the way young people talk and think about poofs and dykes, you’d need a separate subject in the syllabus, one in which teachers could spend a whole lesson, every day, constructing activities and discussions that challenged the pre-conceived ideas that exist in the world.

This is very unlikely. It’s all very well to describe a bad situation. It’s another things to suggest ways of addressing the problem that aren’t far-fetched or impractical. Some schools do have programs that try to teach their students that homophobia is a hateful thing, but for the vast majority of schools and students it’s a complete non-issue.

I think one step in the right direction would be for people who don’t work in schools to be given an accurate picture of the way teenagers think and feel about homosexuality. Society needs to be conscious of the fact that a problem still exists before anything can be done.

My Brother, the Drummer

Earlier today the band my brother Tim plays drums in, Bone Idle, performed its first gig at a 40th birthday party.

The following photos, however, were taken at a rehearsal two weeks ago.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.