response to gender spectrum as a new prison

July 29, 2017 at 7:44 pm (community, gender, queer)

I know this article did the rounds ages ago and half the world has probably had a stab at responding to it, but I’ve been asked my opinion of it by a couple of people, now, and I finally got around to actually reading it properly. Five hours later I had 3000 words hammered out, in response to a 4000 word article. After all that, I think I’d like some friendly feedback if anyone can be bothered to engage!

If you do read it, let alone comment, please keep in mind that it’s opinion, probably rife with assumptions and it’s not impossible that there are points in there that I would state differently or even change my mind on, with some input. it was intended as personal correspondence with someone I know and you probably don’t, and it’s completely unedited – I punched my thoughts into messenger as I read the article, so I couldn’t even arrange or consolidate my paragraphs or change the tone as I discovered more of where the article was going.


firstly, i think ‘queer feminist view of gender’ is a bad label, quite misleading. people propounding it do talk about queerness, but it has nothing to do with queer theory or queer approaches to gender. it fits better with binary trans stuff, but i think ‘identity feminism’ might possibly be better.

secondly, she seems to be making lots of assumptions based on the idea that the identity view is completely rejecting and negating what comes before. some people act that way, but the theories aren’t actually disagreeing with eachother so much as they’re not addressing the same things. it can look like they are, because they’re both using the same terminology, but they’re meaning different things by the word ‘gender’, and they aren’t necessarily saying that eachother’s main construct doesn’t exist – just that it’s not their priority. everyone thinks their opponents are neglecting something important, but that doesn’t mean their opponents are mistaken. just, maybe, mis-focused.

second section starts “…describe their own gender identity as ‘non-binary’, and present this in opposition to the vast majority of people whose gender identity is presumed to be binary”. yes, people describe themselves in all sorts of ways, and lots of people want to find ways to differentiate themselves from others, but self-descriptions of teenagers aren’t going to faithfully reflect any theory at all. my understanding of the theory of non-binary gender identification is that it /does/ accept that we are all non-binary. noone is saying that the external pressures radfem identified have gone away, or even that they can necessarily be completely dodged by not identifying with them. but identification is what it’s primarily talking about, and it doesn’t really make pronouncements about other people’s gender identities at all. people who call themselves non-binary are /rejecting/ the binary for themselves. they acknowledge that there’s binary stuff going on, that society is saturated in binary ideas, and that some people are happy to go along with it and identify with lots of it – much in the same way the rad feminists see it. but they feel particularly troubled by it all, and they want to /identify themselves/ with the part that’s explicitly bucking the system.

and if that’s the case, that whole raft of theoretical problems go away, because they were never there to start with. people aren’t that oblivious, just because they’re largely located in a younger generation

not so sure why she’s so bothered by the thought of a set of related concepts having both binary and spectrum. radfem does it itself. while seeing the external pressures as binary, the more nuanced and theoretical side of radical feminism sees that the biological aspects don’t exist as a binary – at the very least, no radfem with a bit of knowledge behind them disputes intersex conditions

last line of that section digs it all deeper: even if she was right about people creating a new binary right there, is she really complaining about people wanting to acknowledge complexity, misunderstanding and oppression? every decent movement does that – including hers. that’s both hypocricy and a straw dog fallacy.

and in the same line, she either misunderstands, misuses or misrepresents the term ‘cisgender’. it is in no way at all the opposite of non binary. cisgender is the term for someone whose gender identity – their self concept – matches up functionally enough with what the doctor assigned them at birth.

she’s also completely missing the point that nonbinary people aren’t all obsessed with othering themselves from cis people – the term nonbinary arose around trans politics, as a way to differentiate people who were transitioning in order to be/manifest/become/pass/whatever on the other side of the binary from what they had been expected to be, from people who were aiming somewhere else – any variety of people who may or may not have been considered trans, or ‘trans enough’, but were making some kind of change in themselves, their self-concept, their presentation, their biology or maybe even just their philosophy – in a way that they understand as not conforming with or moving towards one end of any gender binary. And probably not motivated by some sense of their gender being innate and essential.

next section. pangender? whatever. people reach for new terms to try to express things. if she’s really going to make her own definitions based on greek and latin roots, she may want to check out the dictionary definition of misogyny and start whingeing at our ex-PM for being wrong.

agender? again with the assumptions. agender is, funnily enough, not about binaries. there is no assumption that there must be an opposite, that’s only clear to her because she made it up. but most people still do identify with a gender, so probably aren’t identifying as agender. not can’t, but aren’t. still, if everyone stopped doing that, wouldn’t that work towards her radfem gender abolition goal? if her answer is that identities don’t have a bearing on that, then she has no business caring enough to attack people’s identities in the first place. one or the other, surely.

if everyone became agender, then agender would be as redundant as humans calling eachother human. a description that is shared does not become meaningless. we are bipedal not because some people don’t walk on their legs and the rest of us do, but because it describes something about walking. if you’re that attached to binaries that you see everything as binary all the time, then you have a few more problems in your life. you probably get lots of speeding tickets because you don’t acknowledge the rather useful existence of the amber light at intersections. wow, half way through and i’m descending to her level of snark…

this paragraph is really bringing out the rant, and i don’t even identify as agender! i’m not sure it’s even a misconception, it looks flat out disingenuous to conflate identity and definition. those two words don’t mean remotely the same thing. on a less grumpy note, i recently spent a week at Queer Collaborations, the annual queer student conference. there were lots of people who identify as nonbinary, lots of people of all sorts who feel their gender is a very very important part of them, and no doubt a hundred shades between. it really threw into focus how differently people feel these things, and reinforced to me how i mostly feel gender as an external pressure on me – though not necessarily in the linear way radfem seems to propose. society and its variety of gendered ideas have shaped me in many ways, i have accepted some (critique is an ongoing process), dodged others and reacted in a wide variety of ways to more. i have some gender feelings that seem to come from my body, especially when it changes shape or is subjected to more public judgement than otherwise, but i understand these feelings as still, at the very least, mediated by the gendered societies i live within. if it weren’t for knowing all these people who feel gender stuff so much more intimately than me, i could assume that the whole thing is a ruse or a fantasy.

but it can’t be. my perspective is not unique, but clearly not universal, either. even if i doubt the adults i know, who have also spent their lives amongst strong societal forces, we have trans toddlers clearly articulating their own gender, even when gender and gender roles are decoupled in their small world. people use babies to make all sorts of pronouncements about gender, and i’m always skeptical, but i can’t deny that there are people who feel gender far more intimately than me. surely this is something of what nonbinary and agender identities are expressing.


  1. non-oppressive gender recognition. we seem to be getting into some genuine concerns, after paragraph after paragraph of fairly lightweight snark. of course, if i ever attempt a treatise like this has become, i would usually write it in a format i could edit, instead of issuing point after grumpy point in messenger! i’d probably turn it all upside down and consolidate the themes, but then again i’d also probably never get it done, let alone published.

“Gender is the value system that ties desirable (and sometimes undesirable?) behaviours and characteristics to reproductive function. Once we’ve decoupled those behaviours and characteristics from reproductive function – which we should – and once we’ve rejected the idea that there are just two types of personality and that one is superior to the other – which we should – what can it possibly mean to continue to call this stuff ‘gender’? What meaning does the word ‘gender’ have here, that the word ‘personality’ cannot capture?”

she has finally let us in on what she really means by gender. i’m not nearly enough of an expert on radfem to know if it’s the standard line, but it rings somewhat true. for her, gender is something that only exists when a heirarchy of value is ascribed, and if we can get rid of that (as, frankly, both sides want to), then it’ll go away completely.

presumably there is something else – maybe called sex – that will remain even if we ever completely break the system of value. maybe it will embrace the joy that some people get in playing with gendered clothes, gendered bodies, gendered histories. maybe it’ll have some value-free way of understanding strong gender feelings, stable or changing. maybe. if this other thing is part of her theory, she’s not letting us in on it just yet – and noone has ever told me about such a model that goes beyond physical difference. so i’m skeptical, and so is everyone else she’s taken aim at.


now, with two semi-coherent understandings of the meaning of gender under our belt, i think we can probably agree that whingeing at people wanting to define their gender as ‘pizza’ or ‘darkness’ is about as relevant as a theological discussion of jedi and pastafarianism when you’re wanting to figure out if proponents are theists or atheists. it tells us a lot about what people think about the topic and how they want things to change, but you can still get understandable data about your topic without limiting what words one is allowed to put in the box. to take that analogy further, i want to see our census asking separately about beliefs and religious tradition. as an atheist from a jewish tradition, i want both aspects of me to be counted, i don’t want to have to choose which group is more important to bolster, i don’t want to come out of the experience feeling that, one way or another, i’ve lied. Similarly, if we decouple ideas like maybe ‘how i experience gender’ and ‘how i relate to and am affected by gendered value systems’, then suddenly we’re getting somewhere!


once we understand that difference, we can answer the question of non-oppressive recognition much better. i’d hazard a guess that in a survey about women in STEM disciplines, we need to recognise the ways people are positioned in the gendered value system (M, F and Other will get you better information than only M and F; recognising more options is likely better again, but you really don’t need to recognise Pizza). If you’re talking about experiences of bullying in school, you probably want to know about people’s feelings of gender – or maybe both. If you recognise Pizza there you may find out more about gender confusion or ambivalence, if you recognise Darkness you might just be finding out about depression – but hey, if you give people a chance to explain, you might find out something you didn’t know. And if you’re the bureaucrats gatekeeping marriage or passports, I’d assert that you don’t need to recognise or ask about any genders at all.


Now we’ve made it to the last paragraph of the second last section, and her hard-hitting quote about the pain of patriarchal society… which melts away completely if you accept the position i’ve put. Whether one should, or even can slip through the bars of the cage is a terrible dilemma faced by people in warzones who have a chance to get out but know their family or group will be less able to fight, win, survive if they do. It is a pain i have faced several times in much more prosaic situations as I fight for a cause, group or project I find important and find an opposition rising to oppose what I’m doing by attacking me and mine until my life is miserable and my mental health is in a perilous condition. do i accept my project being driven in a (relatively) conservative direction and twisted out of recognition? do i accept its complete demise? if i’ve become associated with that cause, am i even able to leave, or will i be hounded out of other communities that sustain me, too, because my continued existence in the radar of that community stands for something and, for someone else’s gain, must be abolished? yeah. it’s rough. but it doesn’t bear any relation to the topic at hand. the current generation of people fighting patriarchy aren’t slipping out of any cage – there is no one cage with an inside and an outside, and even if there were, noone is going to be liberated from societal oppression into the right to societally oppress by presenting and identifying as less gender-conforming. becoming masculine enough to get much privilege is hard work if you weren’t raised to it (and often enough, if you were) – and of all people, those who identify as nonbinary are almost by definition proud to fail on that count.

and the conclusion? backpedalling on all that dripping derision is a good thing, but doesn’t save the article. ‘i’m not going to stop you doing things i don’t agree with’ isn’t actually very supportive, and it certainly doesn’t actually disguise the clunker of “Have fun with it. A problem emerges only when you start making political claims”. it sounds like the last stand of someone who’s been backed into a corner by her own conscience, but it’s incredibly significant in itself. in one little line, she’s trying to tell a whole multifaceted, political, feminist movement – and in a way a whole generation – that they shouldn’t be fighting. we are being told, again, to stay silent and passive and to let our superiors handle it. it’s not our life, it’s not our world. keep your funny little ideas to the bedroom, they don’t belong in the public sphere. she has taken up the master’s tools – i can’t believe she’s never been told to pipe down for being a feminist – and tried to teach another lesson in domination.

yes, some people take new ideas and run with them to the detriment of others. yes people tell other people their ideas are wrong, /they/ are wrong (and they should feel bad). some people extrapolate their own experience to untenable and hurtful conclusions for others or the whole. there’s often someone i want to yell at, or whose mind i’d love to change, whether for being wrong on the internet or, say, for using a position of power within a group for their own interests. all this, however, has nothing to do with spectra, identities or anything about the group of people and ideas this author has panned, let alone the generation they represent. all groups have problems and the spread of new ideas is never as smooth or as nuanced as we’d prefer.

ironically, one thing that can help with that is if movements collaborate with others that have different priorities within the same broad aims… how revolutionary!

as i’ve mentioned, i’m no stranger to worrying that my causes are being turned in dangerous directions. it’s a risk for anyone active in trying to make change. still, overall, i /want/ others to carry the fight on, beyond me. in fact i don’t think i’ve succeeded if i end up being the last word and the final change. this author, though, doesn’t seem to want that. she’s finally judged us all as not /bad/, not a real threat, just not good enough to succeed /her/. i can only think that she doesn’t understand that anything in the new theories, movements and communities is actually /productive/.


none of us can necessarily identify exactly what changes will be made in society as a result of this movement, because it’s still in progress. i can guarantee, though, that what she thinks is just setting up more boxes will not end up with Pizza Gender listed on anyone’s passport. Early indications suggest that other things are happening: it’s becoming easier to change your official gender in all sorts of places that matter, which not only provides comfort for those who need it but reduces the power of those institutions to divide and discriminate. people with functional uteruses may for a long time remain relied on to carry babies, but as the category of ‘woman’ shifts away from that criteria it becomes harder for your boss to make assumptions about the state of your internal organs and what you’re going to do with them. gender neutral parenting is blossoming and even schools are starting to respond to the desire to accommodate diverse genders, going further than many radfems could ever imagine to remove gender role programming from kids’ formative environments and instead instil a desire for justice and equality. western societies, at least, have already sorted out legal rights and protections for women (though not for trans or nonbinary people, of course). surely the cultural changes being wrought by this playful approach to gender are the next step, and worth relinquishing the attitude and the prescriptivist linguistics. change is not necessarily easy, we know, but it happens. and if on balance, you still can’t see any good? well, there’s always another change round the corner. maybe if you work with one of them, you’ll like where it goes.



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to the knackery with you

November 6, 2013 at 1:46 am (community, musings)

today – err, yesterday, now – was the melbourne cup. though i can’t manage to sequence words on my actually very interesting essay, i’ve spent several hours steadily researching and composing this.


a horse died today. apparently it was heartbreaking. i’m sure it was, you usually don’t have to see these things. but i wouldn’t know, i wasn’t watching a horse race. i was busy reading the information that has come up on how the horses are treated behind the scenes.

25000 horses are destroyed annually. 2000 tonnes of horsemeat is exported, at least half of which is from racers. ok, it offends western ideas of what animals are food and what are friends, but i’d say cows still get a worse deal. and sheep, pigs, chickens…

we don’t know anything about horses being made into petfood, as no records need be kept. this is getting more worrying, as we rely on our faith in oversight and regulation to stop things we generally agree are bad, like the treatment of animals associated with live exports – and laverton knackery.

then we see how these much vaunted animals are treated while they’re still alive, occasionally watched by millions and making obscene amounts of money for people.

exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage is when the stress on the is so high that capillaries break and blood leaks out. in the lungs, this type of bleeding doesn’t clear easily, causing venocclusive remodelling, where blood actually blocks normal flow and adds further to the pressure, exacerbating the whole system. 90% of racers experience bleeding lungs, 50% also bleed from the windpipe. the pressure, and thus the bleeding, increases with speed – the very objective of the ‘sport’.

then there are the deep, bleeding stomach ulcers that are often in place within eight weeks of starting to train, and only get worse throughout their career. result directly from being locked up in stables for 22 hours per day and fed a diet deemed good for performance. horse stomachs constantly produce acid which is neutralised when they are free to spend 70% of their day grazing on food full of fibre, but eats into the stomach lining when they are locked up in stables for 22 hours per day and fed only intermittent, protein-based meals. the popularity of this ‘performance’ diet results in almost all racehorses suffering ulcers; between 91 and 100% between studies.

add to all this the more obvious musculoskeletal injuries, the effects of whipping and of isolation – surely we have to ask why we let this continue?

horse racing generates 64000 jobs, and $2.6 billion worth of betting on horses ensure plenty of people who need a job, however tainted, in order to feed themselves. thankfully at least $1 billion of that ends up as idiot tax, even if those who spend the tax are just as bad as those who generate it. however the footprint is even wider, the industry claiming $41 billion of impact, presumably positive, on the australian economy. wealth creation that trickles down to rural areas, and back to jobs: the only defense for unspeakable things, that nobody dares refute. people will die without jobs. there is no way around it a soldier soldiering without a job would just be a killer, so it must translate that drawing benefits from centreling is dishonourable, but if you spend your life causing gastric ulcers in horses, now that’s honourable. as long as it’s systematic. and you don’t miss out on that bigger flat screen tv. you can hold your head high because you’re contributing to something. wouldn’t you die for the chance to line your bosses’ pockets and make more accessible an addictive behaviour that is both more common and more addictive in young people?

and my reference list, or at least the tabs i had open by the time i finished:

p.s. i think i need to rethink my collection of categories. one day.

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same sex marriage passed

October 23, 2013 at 12:29 am (community, gender, musings, poly, queer)

so a small chunk of this country has achieved same sex marriage. but. it really is historic and significant, but. but it still isn’t for everyone. but the only peole who are excluded are people with a ‘legal gender’ of ‘x’, because even if it’s thoroughly problematic that everyone else is slapped with a ‘m’ or ‘f’, they are. is there even more than one person in this country who has achieved an ‘x’ so far? but even if only one person is excluded, it’s both unjust and insulting, the exclusion having been slapped on a previously inclusive bill at the last minute. hmm.
i wonder how many people will now run off to canberra to get married away from their family and friends. i’d think marriage was about celebrating with them, not getting a certificate, but at least three friends have announced their intentions on facebook already.  hmm.
on the other hand, my concerns about success making the movement disappear have not eventuated. the progress towards obviousness is going to be so piecemeal, and so contested, that they’ll keep us fighting for years and years.
i’m glad that my friends who care about this development are happy. whatever happens, whatever it means for the rest of us and the country, if legal recognition makes you feel accepted or vindicated, or you plan to take up the opportunity to get legally married, then i wish you well.
this is my late night contemplation after the emotionally exhausting experience of a long day of election campaigning and an agm.
in other news, it’s raining. hopefully this extends to where it’s really needed.


update: i hear that same sex marriage has been established as something completely separate to ‘normal’ marriage – and if a married person transitions, their marriage is no longer valid and they’ll need a new one of the other sort. ‘different but equal’? ouch.

also, that there are indeed more people who already have a legal gender of ‘x’: some intersex people got shunted onto it by default. so despite all these changes, it seems that the concept of autonomy over one’s own identification is moving much slower than the details.

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Postgrad Officer Statement

October 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm (community)

Kate Alway for Postgraduate Officer

UTS is unusual for not having a Postgraduate Representative Association. All we have is this representative position on the Students’ Association, and that has not even been active for the last eight years.

Dedicated representation can make a vital difference to postgraduate students, by responding to our needs and concerns, representing us as a group, helping to create postgraduate community and providing the services we need. Creating a new representative organisation is a huge job, but I’m keen! The first step, however, is to make the most of the one role we currently have available.


While the Students’ Association is our representative body, we need it to be more useful and accessible for postgraduates. I intend to make this happen by:

  • Starting a Postgrad Collective
  • Reafilliating UTS with the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA)
  • Ensuring a dedicated Postgraduate voice on the SRC and throughout the university
  • Getting the message out about what the Students’ Association is, how it’s different from the Union and other bodies on campus, and what it can do for you
  • Working on supplying the needs of postgraduates, from more desks for researchers to food and facilities open whenever we are on campus, be it late evenings, block weekends or camping out in the computer labs forever!
  • Being actively available to find out what you want from your Postgraduate Officer and your SRC. Starting right now – I’d love to discuss this position and hear your concerns, on campus or at


I bring to this role an understanding of both coursework and research at UTS, along with fifteen years of experience in student and community organising. I have worked positions including Students’ Association President and Clubs and Societies Officer as well as Student Representative on Academic Board and many other committees across UTS, Macquarie Uni and Sydney Institute of TAFE. I have started and worked in collectives and clubs, advocated for groups and run campaigns.


I would be honoured to use everything these roles have taught me, to work with and for the postgraduate student population of UTS.


Please take the time to vote for a better Students’ Association for all.








My CV:


I have been enrolled at UTS since 2009, across both a research Masters of Education and a coursework Masters of Adult Education.


Roles I have taken in this time include:


NSW Education Officer for the National Union of Students 2013 and founder of the Cross Campus Education Action Network


UTS SRC Councillor 2012


FASS Higher Degree Research Conference Organising Committee 2012


Postgraduate Student Representative on FASS Board and Teaching and Learning Pedagogies Committee 2012


Queer Student Network (NSW) convenor 2012

Australian Queer Student Network treasurer 2014


Queer Collaborations delegate 2012 and Organising Collective member for 2013

UTS Atheists’ Society founder and executive member 2011-13


NUS National Conference delegate 2011 and 2012


FASS Postgraduate Representative to the Academic Board, Student Council Liaison Group and Teaching Awards and Citations Committee 2010


I also have experience in a wide variety of groups and projects in other educational institutions and the community, including:


Primary school Ethics program teacher 2012-13

Sydney Institute of TAFE Advisory Council 2009-12

Ultimo TAFE Students’ Association President 2007-8 and Sydney Institute Students’ Association Chair 2008

Mardi Gras float primary organiser 2008-14

Strata Committee member 2010-11, 2013-14

NewQ Community Space primary organiser 2007-9

Macquarie University Students’ Councillor 2000-2003, as well as Clubs and Societies Convenor, Student Representative on Housing Committee, Library Committee and Parramatta Rail Link Community Liaison Group. Delegate to six conferences and organiser of one. Left Alliance Convenor, Macquarie Atheists’ Society founder and Alternative Calendar Editor.


UTS Students’ Association is happening this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11-2 and 4-7. Voting is happening on campus, you can find booths in various buildings, including Building 1 on the concourse, Bon Marche in the lounge, Building 10, DAB, Markets and Kuring Gai. Please vote.

For those of you who are enrolled as postgrads, please vote for me to be the Postgraduate Officer. If you’ve read down to here, I don’t think I need to say more!

For all students, if you trust my judgement, please get a How-To-Vote from someone in a Grassroots shirt. It will tell you how to vote for the rest of us. It’s confusing without one!

Grassroots is a great team – enthusiastic and competent, with experience where we need it – in activism, in collectives and in the SRC. We are the non-labor left and you can read more about us in . See our little video at! We are also supporting Crunch for Vertigo.


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Critical Atheism

October 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm (atheism, community)

This is a writeup of my notes for the talk I delivered at Skepticamp 2013, entitled Critical Atheism – left and right in Australian atheism/why we need an atheist Left. First published at

Summary: Atheist and freethought movements have been active in this country for over 120 years. They have had more of an effect on our lives than most would realise, but drama, controversy and splits have never been too far away. nineteenth century secularists understood the importance of politics for their movements, but these days many of us don’t understand what ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean, leaving ‘new atheism’ representing only one side of what used to be a productive debate. Critical atheism is the start of a coherent left wing atheist movement, for those of us who want more than liberal, rationalist atheism.

The talk and Q&A were recorded and will be showing up on at Skepticamp’s leisure.

After my talk I did a couple of radio interviews for The Skeptic Zone, on a variety of related and not-so-related topics including (as far as I can remember) atheist mardi gras floats, UTS Atheists’ Society and marrying a car! They will probably be aired within the next month, and can be found at


This story starts in late nineteenth century Melbourne, with the Australasian Secular Association. Just like us, the ASA was full of drama and ridiculousness.

A few differences:

  • As a minority, pariah community, simply being a freethinker was more radical by default. They ran a Sunday Lyceum, waved embroidered banners and had picnics. They built the Hall of Science because noone would rent them space. Also, people could get away with more ranting, as no one was listening.
  • Politics was seen differently. This was before the current political parties dominated discourse, and drew conceptions of Right and Left into the centre. In fact it was pre-federation. It was also before Communism linked socialism and totalitarianism, and failure. Australia also narrowly escaped a civil war – maybe there was more understanding and commitment to different political philosophies.
  • Freethought was steeped in socialist and anarchist tendencies, more than the liberal ones that now dominate. The Anti-Sabbatarians arose from the ASA, going to gaol to fight, successfully, for the public library to open on Sundays. All public institutions were closed the only day working people could access them. They saw the oppressions of religion as just one amongst many problems in society. On the other side, the liberals were still active. Joseph Symes saw liberty as purely the freedom to think, and badmouthed those who did more as “the washed off filth of the association, collected in the anarchist slough” (in Sparrow). He only wanted to proselytise, and decried those who didn’t see the ‘light’ of rationalism as “dullards” who “must go to the wall”.

Today, you can see Symes’ liberal atheism in New Atheism. Though there are many great people here, the figureheads have been outspokenly liberal, even “weaponised in the service of the extreme right”

  • Hitchinns called people “sluts” and “sob sister”. He said about Fallujah that “the death toll is not nearly high enough”.
  • Harris: “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists”.
  • Hirsi Ali: “All muslim schools. Close them down”.
  • Dawkins is well known for sexist comments
  • The current president of Sydney Atheists Inc feels his mission in life is to convert people to nonbelief, and that is what will make the world a better place.

Though they may all call themselves progressive, and will do things like supporting gay marriage, they will also prop up the system and even support war, with the excuse that it will ‘liberate’ women.

Certainly some of us will “oppose the worst excesses of Islamophobia and have the grace to find the polemical excesses of Harris et al somewhat embarassing”, but that’s not really enough to round out the movement.

Most lefties – the socialists, anarchists and atheists who see religion as one part of their understanding of oppression – won’t touch this movement with a bargepole.

This has all been happening for a decade – the ‘new atheist publishing boom is considered to have been 2004-2006. Last year, some things came to a head, mostly over sexism in atheist and skeptic movements in America.

Jen McCreight had been active in atheism for several years. She started a non-theist club at her conservative university. She ran Boobquake, a response to someone saying that immoddest dress caused earthquakes. Successful, well loved, she felt safe and at home in her atheist community. Then her Boobquake fame resulted in millions of propositions, which assumed her consent for all sorts of harassment just for having talked about ‘boobs’. When she turned these strangers down, it turned into vicious insults. She started talking about feminism. She says “I thought messages like ‘please stop sexually harassing me’ would be simple for skeptics and rationalists”, but no: out communities called her a “man-hating, castrating, humourless, ugly, overreacting harpy”. There were floods of rape jokes.

It’s not just her – she says that a year before, Rebecca Watson had said “Guys, don’t do that” and was still receiving constant death and rape threats.

So McCreight started Atheism Plus. Whatever may or may not have happened with women being aggressive or unreasonable or otherwise unacceptable, as I heard people saying at the time, even in this community here – this is what it all came from.

It was intended as Atheism + Skepticism + Humanism, all together. “It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and applies skepticism to everything“, including social issues… and itself.

I think she has it right, in the model of the Anti-Sabbatarians, and all the other radical atheists who worked for not only the right for atheists to testify in court, but abortion, birth control and the eight hour day. But she was talking about feminism, so she was howled down even more than before. She was insulted, threatened, discredited in her own communities. Everyone around her was attacked.

To me, this only highlights how correct her message is, and how important.

To go forward, instead of associating a laundry list of good things to atheism, and propping up something which flashed and burnt out, however unjustly, I’m trying to theorise a good, solid basis for a left within atheism. Critical Atheism – like critical theory, not so much critical thinking. We’ve got that down already.

The fundamentals of Critical Atheism:

  • Critique religion within the wider context of society, institutions, oppressions.
  • Thus, anti-islamophobia and anti-sexism.
  • Praxis – the confluence of theory and practice. Not just talk, and not just unguided action.

That’s only a start, though – we need help from all of you who actually are more radical than liberal – or at all interested!

REFERENCES: – all quotes from and about Symes, the ASA and New Atheists are taken from this article. – Jen McCreight’s blog. This and the next few posts were where she set out Atheism Plus. All quotes from or about McCreight, Watson or Atheism Plus are from here.

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Lifelong Education in the context of community organising

September 25, 2013 at 7:16 am (atheism, community, education, essays, queer)

Essay. First in several years. deadline 8.30am, submitted 6.40am. how’s that! of course that was on the second extension, but still. only nine days since the original deadline!

the sun is shining, the birds are singing – but the’ve been at it all night! i’m doing surprisingly well for having pulled an allnighter – though we’ll see how i am when i have to get up and go out at 1.30… now, i should attempt to sleep.

This is part one of two interconnected assignments – the next one is coming up soon enough. The diagram didn’t copy in, so i described it in place.

Does the analytical framework of Lifelong Education enable greater insight and understanding of learning and change in the context of community group organising?

 [figure: two axes. “Old people” up top, “Young people” below.
“Non-formal settings” to the left, “Formal settings” to the right.
Quadrants marked 1-4, clockwise from the top left.]

Dimensions of lifelong education (Boshier 1998, p7)

This paper explores Lifelong Education as outlined in the Faure report (Faure et al. 1972) and in Boshier’s analysis (Boshier 1998). It finds that, despite neglect in Lifelong Learning circles, the Faure report is still engaging, while its goal of developing learning societies and its primary aspects of vertical and horizontal integration and democratisation are relevant and adaptable.

Part One examines how the concepts of Lifelong Learning, combined with later thought on its discourses, can help understand and improve the organisation of contemporary community groups. An example is made of Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA), a small community group in Sydney, Australia which engages in non-formal and informal education and learning. Part Two considers these concepts in a wider lens.

The author is an organiser and participant in SQA, and draws on an anarchist-utopian tradition. The paper assumes that education, broadly conceived, is good for individuals, communities and societies alike.


The Faure Report, Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow was written in 1972 by Edgar Faure and the International Commission on the Development of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). An ambitious work, it was meant to revolutionise education around the world, advising the governments of both rich and poor countries. Writing 26 years later, Boshier considered “the original report is still an excellent template for educational reform” (Boshier 1998, p5). Now, 15 years further into the neoliberal project, the document and its master concept of Lifelong Education are still relevant and illuminating.


Much as every corporation now has to be a ‘learning organisation’, in 1972 the concept of the moment, from Paris to Ontario, was the learning society (Boshier 1998, p7). In a learning society, education is a fundamental human right for all rather than a luxury, and responsibility for it is also spread throughout society (Faure et al. 1972). The main aim of the Faure report is to develop learning societies, and the vehicle is Lifelong Education.


Lifelong education is a utopian concept which arose from the social changes of the 1960s. It was influential only briefly, and implemented by few governments (Field) yet its inspiring theory has continued to have an impact as a minor tradition and has more recently been picked up by the government in China (Boshier & Huang 2007). It was, however, quickly overshadowed by lifelong learning, where learning becomes the responsibility of the individual, largely as a way to make a corporation more competitive.

There are three main facets to Lifelong Education: vertical integration, horizontal integration and democratisation. Boshier portrays the first two as axes that outline quadrants, as shown in the diagram above. The vertical axis regards learning across the lifespan; the horizontal covers the sites of learning – formal, non-formal, informal, semi-formal (Kalantzis and Cope p31) and in between. The quadrants formed by this schema would each receive equal emphasis and distribution of resources (Boshier p9) such that everyone can access a variety of education options at any age. It is important to note that the axes are permeable; individuals will, and should, participate in all segments over time. The emphasis would be on the quality of learning, not how it is achieved.



Vertical integration regards opening up education for people of all ages. Faure refutes the “traditional” idea that all education should be “provided during the first years of life, before entry into ‘active life’” (Faure et al. 1972, p190). However this is not simply about provision of educational opportunities; in a non-compulsory system, not only must structural barriers such as cost, unnecessarily restrictive prerequisites and lack of resources be dismantled to provide access, but psychosocial barriers must also be tackled, such as “audiotapes inside people’s heads [that] send negative messages about returning to education” (Boshier 1998, p10). Further, “Equal access is not equal opportunity. This must comprise equal chance of success” (Faure et al. 1972, p72).

Beyond Faure, theory on access and accessibility has continued to develop. The term ‘accessibility’ is used to differentiate the need to change systems to meet the needs of people, from ‘access’ which assists people to meet the needs of the systems. (Wright in Rogers 2006 p131). Despite predating the theory and terminology, Lifelong Education requires accessibility.


A horizontally integrated society is one which offers a diversity of settings for education and learning, from formal to non-formal to informal. Currently in western cities such as Sydney, most recognised, funded education exists in formal settings such as schools, universities and TAFE colleges. Access to formal study largely relies on accreditation from previous formal study in a structured system of prerequisites. Non-formal education is available in reading groups, learning circles, learning webs, summer camps, community organisations, prisons, workplaces and homes. However this vast array of learning opportunities often go unrecognised, unorganised and underresourced, even stigmatised. Sites of informal learning such as travel, media, listening to poets and social interaction in general are even more neglected, with the exception in Australia of public awareness campaigns. (Field 2006, Boshier 1998)

In contrast, a learning society with truly “lifewide” (Rogers 2006), horizontally integrated education  would recognise, resource and value them all as equal parts of learning. Faure did not want to dismantle formal structures, but develop and mainstream “a more pluralistic and accessible array of opportunities for education throughout the life cycle” (Boshier 1998,  p11).


Democratisation, according to Lemaresquier, “has been made synonymous with uniformity and rigidity” (in Faure 1972, p75) in an attempt to provide equal opportunities for all by lockstepping compulsory schooling. However, Lifelong Education’s concept of democratisation is very different, regarding “more widespread involvement of learners in the design and management of their educational processes.” (Boshier 1998, p11) This is integrally linked with access. Practically, this involves the multiple entry, exit and re-entry points of recurrent education, eroding the distinctions between different levels, sites and disciplines and reducing the “inordinate importance given to selection, examinations, and diplomas. The system rewards the strong, the lucky and the conformists [and] it blames and penalises the unfortunate, the slow, the ill-adapted, the people who are and who feel different” (Faure 1972, p75). However, democratisation is also an end in itself, involving a revival of humans’ “natural drive towards knowledge” (Faure et al. 1972, pXXIX) and blurring the boundaries between teacher and learner, while learning participatory democracy.


While some of the Faure report’s concepts and more terminology have entered our vocabulary, the main content was quickly overlaid with others more in line with the new order of neoliberalism Edwards  illustrates this change by separating out three different discourses that each claim Faure’s term “learning societies”, yet interpret it in radically different ways (in Boshier p12):

–          A “learning market” where learners make ‘rational’ decisions to choose educational offerings based on their own needs and the needs of employers

–          An “arena for citizenship” where an individual has a responsibility to learn in order to benefit society

–          An “arena for participation” “at the centrepiece of an active and socially engaged lifestyle for groups of learners, tribes or collectives”.

This distinction appears some decades later, once theory had progressed further. The first is the most common discourse from soon after Faure to now. The Faure report was intended to sit squarely in the second category, concerned with uplifting people for the purpose of making societies run well and cohesively for the betterment of all. However, the third and newer category has much to offer. This article proposes that, in this time of uncertainty and aggressive capitalism when considerations of citizenship are so badly restricted, the new home of utopian thought and possibilities for radical change, such as Faure once represented, is in the third category. Also, it proposes that plenty of the report and its main concepts are still relevant and useful for adapting to small groups and cultural communities.


Edwards’ third point, education for participation is tailor made for community organisations and community organisations are tailor made for fulfilling education for participation.


Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA) is a small community group in Sydney, Australia which has arisen out of the organisation of an atheist float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade every year since 2009. In March 2012 it formalised and started running monthly meetings, subsequently separating from Sydney Atheists Inc. and becoming autonomous. Since then, it has produced another float, one workshop at a student queer conference, one small fundraising dinner, another small dinner event and regular monthly meetings. Now, after a year of trying to anything more than running an annual float, the group is in crisis. Members have no motivation to continue running events as there is no common purpose, no vision of the potential of the group beyond hard work and a small social pool.

SQA has been known to educate the atheist community about queer issues and the queer community, as well as the general audience at Mardi Gras, about coming out as atheist. Internally, it has also encouraged informal learning and occasionally non-formal education, on many topics from minority religions to organising floats. The educational possibilities have been articulated, but have not been seen as core, or worth effort and commitment.


There are several reasons why people join a group like SQA. The biggest portion is to find social interaction with similar people and be part of a likeminded community, or even to find a partner. However most other reasons revolve around learning and education, or the activist flipside of teaching and transmitting messages to others. In the current neoliberal world the social and economic needs of individuals are foregrounded, but there are still people, groups and theories of education which buck the system.

Understanding Lifelong Education and its fate in neoliberalism also suggests why building the group is a difficult task. Not only is it an intersectional minority group, but it is a group formed around identity and difference, which have little place in a world of markets, majorities and individual responsibilities. Despite rhetorics of multiculturalism and diversity, it runs against the grain of the current dominant paradigm. Where the group really fits is within the arena of participation. Operating outside of the mainstream can be difficult, but rewarding. Being independent, the group is free to embody and enjoy it. There will still be pressure from the outside world, but there is the potential to be an oasis within it.

Once the arena of participation is embraced, Faure’s ideas may be able to help SQA by locating it within non-formal education, and thus within a broader project. In the optimistic context of Lifelong Education, SQA needs to fulfil its best possible purposes, which are the educational ones, not just the social ones that have attracted members in the past. If the group needs to find new people who are more interested in this than in current activities, then the new agenda must be publicised.


To establish a charter which clearly locates SQA within Lifelong Education would be particularly helpful, not just for orienting the group within education, but also for focussing it on what it needs to be in order to do education well. It’s not just about providing educational opportunities and hoping people attend, the group needs to work with the axes on a micro scale to create a learning community as well as working towards a learning society: recognise all ages, work with a variety of levels of formality and be democratic.

In SQA, decisions are already made as a collective, but there is a resistance where people want a ‘leader’ to show the way. Lifelong Education suggests that the democratisation is crucial to increasing involvement, so the group needs to educate people about collectives and get them on board with doing things differently from the mainstream.

SQA is mostly a group of adults who have left formal education. Queer atheists in formal education tend to have access to a variety of queer and atheist groups that fulfil their social and intellectual needs. Young people are hard to advertise to because of stigma; double stigma here.

While the intention of the horizontal axis is to map diversity in educational settings, not the instructional processes within them, (Boshier p11), applying the broad concepts down a level can also be worthy of consideration. SQA could benefit from availing itself of a variety of strategies, from the informality of a social event within a queer, atheist context, to excursions, dialogues with other groups, discussions, reading groups, forums, to the formality of a series of lectures or a structured course with a certificate of completion.


Boshier, R. (1998). Edgar faure after 25 years: Down but not out. In J. Holford, P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning (pp. 3-20). London: Kogan Page.

Boshier, R., & Huang, Y. (2007). Shuang yu: Vertical and horizontal dimensions of china’s extraordinary learning village. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 51-70.

Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.

Field, J. (2006). Lifelong learning: A design for the future? Lifelong learning and the new educational order (pp. 9-43). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2012). New learning: Elements of a science of education (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, A. (2006). Escaping the slums or changing the slums? lifelong learning and social transformations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 52(2), 125-137.

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August 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm (community, complex pleasures, musings)

apparently the dalai lama was in sydney recently, and he talked about anger. he says that in modern life we get very angry very quickly, citing things like road rage. probably true, though i don’t know how i’d evaluate whether it’s a new thing.

he also said that holding your anger for too long does two things: makes you sick, and makes others not trust you.

i’m not a huge fan of the dalai lama, and this is one of the things that makes me uncomfortable about him (though i also can’t confirm what i picked up third hand was an accurate assessment of his point). as an activist, i use anger. it is very important to me as a valid response to many things, a rallying point, a motivation. its expression is a tool, a demonstration of the severity of my point and catharsis.

anger is better than despair, and sometimes you get to choose between the two.

that’s not to say he’s never worth listening to. that anger makes us sick is something we’ve been struggling with forever, that we still need to figure out more about. that anger alienates others is an interesting thought – i know it pulls some of us together, but maybe its capacity to put people off is one factor in why it’s hard to get our message out to others. what to do about it? have multiple faces of an issue, i guess. allow our anger while being careful to manage its effects on ourselves and on others. make sure we’re using the anger and not letting it use us. understand more about what it is, what it does to us and how it is seen by others. know when to hold it and when to let it go.


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old girlfriends

August 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm (brain, community, musings, queer, travel)

so my first girlfriend’s little green dot popped up on google chat.

i haven’t thought about her for quite a while. she said some pretty nasty stuff about me online, and never made an effort to be friends. the few times we interacted over the last seven years, i’ve been surprised she’s been civil.

my first thought was to say hi; i guess it would be up to me. but i’d have to be prepared to maybe not be answered, and to find something worth saying.

i think over my life; how i would present myself if asked what i’m up to. always an interesting exercise, a good motivator to make my life something i can own with pride. my current situation would probably not look wildly exciting to her, but that’s just fine. i realise i don’t need her approval, i just need to be able to hold my head up. i can.

then i thought that i really don’t know who she is anymore. i’d rather see if she’s still posting her travel blog, than interact personally with her. but i couldn’t remember the address, and i’m sure it was never bookmarked in this computer, which is only a few years old.

i got as far as typing her name into google; guess what, an interview comes up, which reveals that as of last year, she had been living in one place for a few years. that’s new, and good. an interesting place, too, with a radical queer women’s choir.

that all sounds good, perfect for her, in fact. i’m glad to think she’s found somewhere she can call home, i was always a little concerned about the need to up and move to the other side of the world every six months. she obviously has some kind of community, with queer and musical life, and she can probably speak croatian fluently by now. i’m glad for her.

i may look her up if i’m passing nearby zagreb one day, but until then, i don’t think talking to her will improve my life, and i doubt it would improve hers. my five minutes of nostalgia is over and i’m back to my life, happy in the knowledge that someone i used to know seems to be doing well.

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stitch and bitch

July 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm (community, crafty, gender, words)

stitch and bitch. sewing group. knitting circle. i’ve run them on and off for years. at first i was wary of the most popular name for such things, but over the years i was won over by its recognisability and openness – i don’t care if you knit or sew or crochet or tat or do something obscure like making friendship bracelets.

at QC 2012, i scheduled a stitch and bitch, and it was so popular that we ended up having three of them, and our crafting spilled joyously onto conference floor. however the women’s caucus took issue with the name and reprimanded me, with no right of reply.

this year we scheduled four sessions straight up. it wasn’t as novel as the year before, but there was still an impressive number of knitters on conference floor. i didn’t change the name, and there were no complaints. i thought about addressing the issue with the new caucus, but refrained.

over the year i’ve thought about the term, and i can’t find any reason i can credit, to not use it. surely ‘bitch’ is a sterling example of a word ready for reclamation. we can’t just get rid of it because it actually is a legitimate word in the english language, and even though it refers to dogs, it is very specifically gendered. the concrete implications of its initial meaning will not fade away, even if we try to exile it. all that does is make yet another feminine word bad and taboo.

if we embrace it, however, by accepting this positive usage that has evolved organically, we are associating a feminine word with something good, changing it from a word which attaches an unequivocably negative connotation to femaleness, to a word with mixed usage. after all, what could be more positive than the informal political learning and exchange of ideas encouraged when we come together as a group to share our communal love of fibre arts?

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October 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm (community, words)

how’s this for a word?

i think i’m pretty good on not using words associated with physical disabilities as pejoratives, but i have trouble not using mad, crazy and insane. this is hardly unusual, according to the comments in . it’s something we need to work on, and part of it is more than language; while most of us do understand that someone in a wheelchair isn’t less human than those of us who walk unaided, we don’t necessarily actually believe that about someone who is displaying erratic behaviour, going somewhere completely unexpected in conversation or even using unusual speech patterns, any of which may be attributable to a ‘mental illness’ or other non-neurotypicality. thorny, thorny issues.

please correct me if i’m wrong, but i don’t think dozy is a word that anyone will be upset about beyond what i’m actually meaning. in the last couple of days i’ve been noticing plenty of dangerous behaviour on the roads, and just now at macquarie centre, dozens of people just walked uncaringly in front of both my father with his walking stick, and me with a very full trolley. neither of us are able to stop as easily as they seem to assume. dozy. so dozy. i feel a little strange at feeling so accomplished by virtue of having found a word to be negative but not too negative with, but it really is necessary. any others?



numpty – a good word i hear, mostly for people who believe in woo.

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