October 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm (gender, words)

niephling, nibling, niefling. no consensus yet, but people are working on it: a gender-neutral word for nieces and nephews.

we have parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. children and kids and offspring are not perfect but will do. now we need one for aunts and uncles – aurents has been suggested.

these words will not only make me more comfortable, but have the potential to lessen the gendering of the newest people in our gendered society, the ones people people still argue over, swearing that preferences for pink dolls or blue trucks are inherent because they start so early. of course they don’t start nearly as early as people start using the words niece and nephew for their niephlings.

of course good words will also make plurals much easier – and who wouldn’t want plural niephlings and aurents? they’re all potential and no responsibility (well maybe not, but it’s much less of an issue than whether you want to breed yourself). so everyone should get behind them!


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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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non-cis males

July 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm (gender, queer, words)

i know why we use this term, i understand it’s important to support groups of people who are discriminated against and put at a disadvantage. i understand that it’s just as important to catch all the various people who have experienced these things, and not just aim our support at the people who fit into groups big and obvious enough that we can name them. i understand that trying to list them all doesn’t work, even if we keep going, from women to trans women and trans men to genderqueer people and intersex people and sex and gender diverse people (let’s not get started on what it would mean for an individual to be diverse).

still, i’m anxious for the next change in terminology. a non-cis male is, gramatically, a male person who is not cisgendered. that’s about as good as arguing that the term ‘men’ includes everyone. you can insist… or you can look for something better.

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February 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm (musings, words)

another word to use instead of crazy or mad or insane is wacky. but it’s replacing the positive uses of those terms, so maybe i really should still call a fabric insane when it’s over the top and bright and i love it. i don’t know.

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no poo

January 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm (simple pleasures, words)

for the life of me, i can’t remember what prompted me to google ‘no poo’ half an hour ago. turns out, it describes me! it means no shampoo, usually using bicarb and apple cider vinegar, egg yolks, conditioner only or mint tea on your hair, and sometimes, as i have done for nearly fourteen years, water only. amusingly, it seems that water only is the ideal to aspire to!

you can find reams and reams of writing on different people’s assessments of their hair, with blow by blow accounts of what they’ve put into it, how much and how often, how they combine it with massaging or brushing or combing or cutting. what it felt like when it was wet and dry, whether there was this or that effect, whether they’ve been ‘brave’ enough to try successively minimalist versions. i wouldn’t be surprised to find people charting their experiences in haircare!

yet i haven’t found a scrap of information about why you’d put vinegar in your hair.

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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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atheism and religion in queer communities

October 20, 2012 at 10:53 am (atheism, community, queer, words)

this is an article i got published in Querelle 2012.


As I was thinking about writing this article, by chance I came across a word that summed up exactly why I care about atheism: religionormativity.

Just as we’re familiar with heteronormativity, roughly the privileging of heterosexuality, religionormativity is the privileging of religion, religious views of the world and religious interests.

Religionormativity, and specifically christonormativity, is rampant in Australia. It’s why our atheist Prime Minister spends tax money for catholics to visit the Vatican and says that she doesn’t think society is ‘ready’ for marriage equality. It’s why we see churches and billboards displaying crosses like gallows in the town square, and dub it ‘freedom of speech’. It’s why cuts to cities’ christmas budgets generate more outcry than cuts to the country’s welfare budget, and even minority religions feel the need to vocally perform their acceptance of the all-pervasive decorations.

It’s why we accept religious private schools and the fact that they often get more funding than public schools, while even the ‘secular, compulsory and free’ public schools teach christmas as curriculum for three months of the year and allow scripture teachers in to openly teach dogma every week. Primary Ethics has fought hard to run ethics classes in NSW schools for the non-scripture students who are often neglected and discriminated against, but even they dare not touch the religions’ regular access to school students, nor acknowledge any link to atheism. Now our government now upholds the right to put untrained religious ‘chaplains’ into state schools despite the High Court’s ruling against the program. Our government which still has prayers in parliament. It’s all religionormativity, and it’s dangerous. Secular people regularly accept that queerness and nonbelief are matters for adults only, which allows religions to stereotype us as the dangerous ones, who shouldn’t be around kids. Certainly not all religions commit these travesties, but they all support the religionormativity which is why we have to fight for adoption, insemination and even the right to teach. Not only do religions get tax breaks because dissemination of religion is still categorised as charitable in our law, but they also get permanent exemptions to the anti-discrimination laws that keep us out of their schools, adoption agencies and crisis shelters.


The census doesn’t give us data on atheists, as the question is framed religionormatively. However the number of people who marked ‘no religion’ has grown in this latest census to 22.3% of the population, counting us at nearly a quarter of the country, and bigger than any single religious group except catholicism, even without the 8.6% of the population who didn’t answer the question, those who answered ‘jedi’ or ‘pastafarian’ and all the people who put down their family’s religion instead of their own beliefs. Yet people still say ‘but we all believe in the same god anyway’ and really believe they’re being inclusive. And we let them get away with it.


In queer communities, we often think we’re better than that! We can analyse the effects of religious lobby groups on politics and the media, and we’re certainly clued in to the marriage debate and the motives of the players. A high proportion of us are nonbelievers, and an understanding of the destructiveness of intolerant churches and conservative religious families resonates through us, whether or not we’ve experienced the effects personally. Indeed, I’m glad to live within such an astute crowd.

However, all is not perfect. We have our own subtle forms of religionormativity that we often hold dear. In communities so full of atheists and other nonbelievers, we often let this aspect of ourselves remain closeted. We don’t want to recognise this, because we still fall prey to the idea that outing ourselves, declaring our belief structures, is oppressive to those of us who still are religious. Even while we find some people’s beliefs to often be pretty odd, we underestimate them by placing our assumptions about their sensibilities above our own freedom to be out and proud atheists, agnostics, secular humanists or whatever else we want to be.

We need to come out about our beliefs just as much as we need to come out about our sexualities. To name ourselves allows us to build communities where we can openly express ourselves and stand together for what we need. We already know this. So examine your own internalised religionormativity and come out, so that everyone else can too.


Kate Alway

Join the Queer Atheists at


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October 20, 2012 at 10:41 am (gender, simple pleasures, words)

i’ve been thoroughly enjoying the recent upswell of new words. mansplaining is one of the wonderful ones, an evocative package for a behaviour that has been allowed precisely because we didn’t have such a nice, concise, powerful word to call it out with.

it’s a valuable addition to the feminist arsenal, without the essentialism which makes so much of feminism difficult. it defines a behaviour attached to a performance of masculinity as a cultural category, rather than defining the actor themself.

however the first time i heard it, what i thought i heard was manspleening. and maybe i should’ve. for i’m much less likely to be subjected to a man telling me why i’m wrong about feminism than i am to hear one going on and on about how they have body image problems too and women rape too and why should unis have women’s officers and women’s rooms and affirmative action in general.

these rants bear no resemblance to explanations at all, and are a concrete step up from mansplaining in terms of aggression, selfish incoherent venting and, frankly, bullying.

and with all the usefulness of a spleen.

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vegetarian acting

January 8, 2011 at 9:23 pm (out and about, words)

despite my appreciation for vegetarian food and my support for vegetarianism, veganism and most other thoughtful, humane approaches to consumption, i am not, nor have i ever been, vegetarian.

so why do people keep apologising for eating meat in front of me?

this generally happens while i’m wearing my full length leather coat, not that i’m seen without it all that much. this marker of my less-than-rigorous-vegan status might be a bit subtle for some, but it does suggest to me that people are pretty certain of where i stand if they don’t even look for clues before they speak.

but that’s not all. at a friend’s party, standing around the barbecue, the all-meat barbecue. talking to the cook who is supervising said barbecue and surely knows he’s cooking no vegie patties. sausage on fork, twixt plate and mouth. surely that’s a bit more than a subtle sign that i eat meat. why does the cook ask me how long i’ve been vegetarian?

i don’t really mind, i guess they’re displaying some consciousness of what they’re eating and that it’s not entirely value-free. besides, of all the assumptions people make about me, this one is hardly unflattering. i’m just confused.

do i look like a vegetarian? what does a vegetarian look like?

have they seen me eating fruit or vegetables? haven’t they gotten past hating spinach yet?

is it that i know vegetarian people? is vegetarianism catching?

is it because i’m political and try to live by my principles? what, vegetarianism is a principle they’ve heard of so it must be one of mine?

is it because they saw me refuse leftovers because i couldn’t store them in the vegetarian house i once lived in? did they forget both that i was offered that dish because i’d been eating it, and also that they had been so fascinated by the situation that they got me to explain it in detail?

is it because i’ve mentioned that i like vegetarian food, or that it tends to be a safe option? have they never had a good meal without meat in it?

can anyone shed some light on this for me? i suspect there may be further consequences of this phenomenon, and i just don’t understand.

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