It isn’t my job to teach..

..except when it is explicitly my job.

I teach microscopy in my day job as a microscopy officer.  I teach when I walk into the charity I (used to) volunteer for on the days I’ve agreed to be a trainer.  Outside of these two times, where it is explicitly my job to teach – it isn’t my job to teach.

I realise I have a problem with inevitably teaching where it isn’t my job – when I start burning out from it.  What do I teach?  I teach diversity and inclusion.  I teach empathy and acceptance.  I teach people that the world isn’t as simple as they think it is, that life isn’t as straightforward as they wish it is.

The LGBT+ charity I volunteered for had a diversity problem.  Not enough visibility of the ‘B’s, not enough representation of the ‘T’s, and generally dismal performance when it came to recruiting minority ethnic people.  They even had dismal numbers of women, but that improved in the few years I was there.  So what do I find myself doing?  Teaching people about why recruitment of the underrepresented populations is such a problem – and that ends up being a long lesson on what the privilege ladder is, and why it affects recruitment for the charity.  Oh, and why it is important to collect information on why people leave.

I can’t help it, I am from a diverse, underrepresented population, and I try to be a well read, informed, educated intersectional feminist.  I don’t expect other people to be as informed, but at the same time, if they are willing to learn, I like to think I’m willing to teach.  Except… sometimes that burns me out.  When it happens again and again and again and again, it wears me out.. and in the end, I have to take a break.

I left that charity a month ago.  I burnt out.  I need to spend my time and my energies on getting my BA in Counselling… and yet… it is happening again.

My counselling course had a very cohesive group last year, and we learnt a lot together.  This year’s group is partly old, partly new, and we haven’t learn about each other yet.  Last weekend’s module was on ethics, which inevitably brings up sensitive topics such as sexual deviance and suicide – topics I feel strongly about.  Unfortunately… people without any background knowledge of me, who does not know why I have a in-depth knowledge of sexual health, sexual deviance, and the legal issues surrounding such – are prone to questioning WHY I have the knowledge.

The question makes me feel cornered.

Even though I don’t hide it.  I wear rainbows in my hair and blue-purple-pink badges on my bag.  I talk about bisexuality and polyamory as if it is everyday for me.  Well, it IS everyday for me.  My group last year heard me speak about the helpline I volunteered for, about how people, sometimes teenagers, who have no other safe source of sexual health information, phone the helpline, about how it makes me feel, about the good it does.  But not everyone from year 2 knows my background… and so they question.

I don’t hide it – but the question makes me feel cornered.  The way it was asked made me feel defensive, like it was something I was expected to be ashamed about – and I am not.  Maybe I do have issues around shame, and maybe this is all me.  But.. despite feeling these defensiveness, I still offer a friendly hand, I say – if you want to know anything else, ask me after class, I am happy to share.

Again I offered to teach.

What is sexual deviance?  What is sexual normalcy?  Shouldn’t we, as counsellors in training, be completely open about sex?  Shouldn’t we be prepared to deal with sexual shame in our clients?  Yet… if we ourselves are not ready to talk about sex frankly, how do we expect to be able to help clients with sexual shame or sexual repression?

I want to say all this to them, but again, this is teaching.  Instead I write in my learning journal that I should look at the good side of this.  If my fellow counsellors can’t deal with sexual repression… they can refer those clients to me.  More business for me right?

But no – I cannot feel good about this.  I cannot feel good knowing that even counsellors training in 2017 are not dealing with sexual shame & repression.  I have talked to far too many people for whom this is a problem, who might go for counselling, who might then be faced with a counsellor who isn’t equipped to deal with the problem, who might then never get the help they need.  I do not and cannot feel good about this.  But I can only say to myself – it isn’t my job to teach.  I am a student in the class, like everyone else, and it isn’t my job to teach.

The other ethical topic we talked about last week was suicide, when to report, when not to.  I had a very idealistic young coursemate whose view was very much along the lines of ‘99.999% of all suicides are circumstantial and can be stopped if the circumstances change’.  Erm.. my dear little friend – you may be right, but all you are is a therapist, not a magician.  If clients are in so much despair, whether from illness, poverty, addiction, or anything else which is circumstantial – there is NOTHING the therapist can do to change the circumstance… so saying that doesn’t really help.  This coursemate also said to me “give me one example where nothing can be done, there is always something which can be done”.  My heroine, my idol, my sibbling-in-another-life Leelah Alcorn, I thank you for being my example, and I am sorry I had to talk about you.

Why does this coursemate repeatedly corner me, why do they keep asking me questions?  It isn’t my job to teach.  I can’t help but teach, but it burns me out, it frustrates me.  I am there as a student, I am there to learn, I am there to improve on my skills as a counsellor, and to build my own self awareness.  I am not there to teach.  I blame them for being frustrating, but it is my problem too. If I don’t offer to teach, people will stop expecting me to. 

This post is about my self awareness.  It is me, repeating to myself, for the gazillionth time in two months….. it isn’t my job to teach.

 

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Normalised Everyday Discrimination

I grew up in Malaysia, a land of amazing food and culture coupled with horrifying, institutionalised, politicised nationwide racism and homophobia.

Last week a particular news item took the country by storm.  An 18 year old boy in a boarding school had been hospitalised.  He had been bullied for being effeminate.  Raped with objects and burnt with cigarettes and clothing irons.  By the time the news became widespread, he was in hospital with so many pervasive physical injuries that some newspapers reported that he was brain dead.

A lot of people are very upset.  The lgbt group I help to moderate is in mourning.  They are also angry.  So angry that there has been calls for the bullies to be raped, castrated and executed themselves.  The grief is thick in the air and there has been many tears shed over Navheen’s death.  Some media articles have said that he wasn’t even gay, he was just a bit effeminate.  We the LGBT community don’t care.  He could have been gay, he could have been trans – I guess we would never really know now.  We count him as one of our own, his death the death of family, and we are angry, and sad.

We have all been there, being different in Malaysia is frowned upon, and however it is that you stand out – if your standing out isn’t in an acceptable way, you will be bullied.  I witnessed a cousin who was getting chubby being bullied by family during Chinese new year holidays.  I experienced bullying myself in school for being a girl liking Star Wars (apparently only boys are allowed Star Wars).  I’ve seen bullying at every level – and yes professionally as well as in education.  Racial politics is so pervasive in Malaysian culture, moral policing so rampant – Members of Parliament have been hounded out of their seats for having leaked photos of sleeping in the nude.  (Aside : What business is it of anyone whether someone sleeps in the nude or not?!?!  Malaysia is a hot country!! And the pictures were taken without permission and published without permission, she was violated, but she was the one who had to quit, and not the people who violated her privacy!! GRRRRR!!!)

There is a lot of talk about punishment, talk about the (bad) influence of lgbt-right-activists.  There has been fingers pointing at all directions, but here on my blog I want to point the finger on one thing which few are talking about.  Normalised Everyday Discrimination.

Borrowing from this post which was widely shared after the Orlanda shooting last year.

People of Malaysia: You weren’t the bullies, but you sneered at transwomen on the streets.  You weren’t the bullies but you think gay people are sinful and need saving.  You weren’t the bullies but you were upset at rainbow flags at political marches.  You weren’t the bullies, but you use slurs for queer people.  You weren’t the bullies, but you would vote against legal protections for queer people.  You weren’t the bullies, but you are the culture that built them.  You put the slurs in the bullies’ mouth.  You put the sticks and stones in bullies’ hands.

Normalised Everyday Discrimination.  What is everyday discrimination?  It is the posts I see every day of the queer malaysians group I help moderate.  Teenagers and/or young adults who get disowned and have to leave home because their parents have disowned them for being queer.  Adults with young children who turn their heads away and tell their children not to look when a same sex couple holds hands in front of them.  Purportedly queer-friendly adults, with gay friends, who do introduce same-sex couples to their children, but hide the fact that they are a couple, just ‘friends’.  People who say “I don’t mind that people are gay, but can you please not shove it in my face”.

To this people I say: Imagine coming home from a two week holiday with your husband/wife, going into the office and everyone asking you how your holiday went.  Try describing your fantastic and fun-filled holiday without gendering or naming our partner (which will also gender them).  Imagine spending 4 years in the same work place without ever once referring to your husband / wife by their name or gender.  Does it sound easy?

When we ask to be accepted, we are not asking to be allowed to have sex in front of you.  Merely that we can do things you take for granted.  If you can hold hands with your opposite-gender partner in public, we would like that too.  If you can kiss your opposite-gender partner in public, we would like that too.  If you introduce other friends to your kids as ‘uncle peter and auntie fiona’ and the unspoken implication and acceptance of them as a couple is shown and demonstrated to your kids, we would like that too.

In a country and culture where the politics is divisive and racial, I am aware that this is a big ask.  When children are still told at a young age that the “ah neh neh (racist term for indian) will come and take you away if you run around outside”, or that the Chinese are all greedy money-minded pigs, or that the Malays are all lazy and inefficient – when the culture of discrimination of all types is so pervasive and universal, it is easy for queerphobia to be slipped in there too.  It is easy to tell kids that all queer people have aids, or all queer people are paedophiles.

But I am asking.

For Navheen.

For me.

For my brethren in Malaysia.

Stop normalising everyday discrimination.