The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

An open letter to Israel Folau

Izzyyyyyy! Maaaaaaaaaate!

How’s it going, champ? I guess that’s a silly question though eh mate. It wasn’t that long ago that you were raking in the big bucks and you were loved by everyone and you’d helped us lose our 16th Bledisloe Cup in a row. Then a few short months later you’re out on your arse and only liked by Christians and Andrew Bolt and you’re reduced to begging for money and you probably won’t get to help us lose our 17th Bledisloe Cup in a row. I feel for you mate. That really sucks. What do you think has sucked the most?

I reckon it would have to be not being able to play for your country any more. They say there’s nothing quite like pulling on that Qantas Wallabies jersey and losing a Bledisloe Cup for your country. I wouldn’t know cos I never got the chance to lose for the Wallabies. Not because I wasn’t capable, mind you. I reckon I could lose a game of rugby like nobody’s business. No, I never played for the Wallabies cos my mum wouldn’t let me cos I don’t have any muscles and I’m a bit of a sook. She was right, of course, but it still hurt.

I would have loved to represent my country. Imagine being able to represent the country of ANZACs and Dame Nellie Melba and Cathy Freeman and Russell Crowe. How proud must you be to be given the opportunity to go into battle for us, your fellow Australians, who were one of the first people to give women the vote and decriminalised homosexuality and recently had over 60% of the population vote for marriage equality, despite religious opposition to all three of them. Oh I guess it also sucks to lose a $4 million contract.

Or maybe the worst thing was having to choose between representing your country and telling atheists and adulterers and drunks and gay people they’re going to hell. That’s gotta be a tough choice. I mean, not many people like the pious judgement of people they don’t know, but that’s not your fault, Izzy. And people need to know these things.

That’s why I told the new Jewish guy at work that his people killed Jesus and he’s probably going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Shimon got all butt-hurt about it, of course, but Shimon loves getting butt-hurt, and I was just stating facts. What am I meant to do? Keep my opinion to myself? How would he know he was going to Hell? It was all fine though. The next day he came to me and told me that he’d thought about it and he’d completely renounced his Judaism, accepted Baby Jebus as his Lord and Saviour, and regrown his foreskin. So I guess I did the right thing.

Then there was that time that I told the CEO of my company that he’d lied about our projected profits. He tried to say it was just an unexpected experience deviation, but that just made things worse. “Try telling that to Jesus!”, I said with a chuckle. Yes we were at the Christmas Party but a lie is a lie no matter what time of year it is. Then I took his drink off him because he’d had two already and Jesus doesn’t like drunks.

Anyway, Izzy, the point is that you’re amazing. Just imagine how many liars have stopped lying and drunks have stopped drinking and rimmers have stopped rimming because of your Instagram posts. I only saved two people from Hell, but you’ve probably saved millions.

That’s all for now mate. I lost my job at the last Christmas party so I gotta go finish my resume. Good luck with the fundraising, and don’t lose hope. You’ll be back losing games for the Wallabies in no time.

Yours sincerely,

Tim

MAFS, parasailing, and a single baked bean served in a used pair of undies

OK, I’ll admit it. As embarrassing as it is, I am a huge fan of Married at First Sight. Yes, yes, I know. It’s so low-brow it’s basically a moustache, and it’s probably making us all dumberer, and it’s about as genuine as a Praba handbag. But that, my friends, is exactly what makes it so damn good. For as much as we normal people are prone to doubting our own intelligence, both general and emotional, watching shows like MAFS is a glorious adventure in self-affirmation. That is to say, whatever we may be, we can at least find comfort in not being a fame hungry, emotionally unstable, botox obsessed, entitled sack of narcissistic underachievement. And that’s just the men.

But as much as the show makes me feel good about myself, this most recent season was a little different. Because in amongst all the affirmations of my apparently amazing intelligence and emotional maturity, there was a landmark event in the history of white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class Australian men.

I felt triggered.

Now, I am the first to admit that I can be a little facetious. Yes, I will probably send a look-a-like stripper to my own burial (you’ve been warned), but don’t let that fool you into thinking I can’t appreciate the… graveness… of a situation. So even though I just made a joke about being triggered (and stripping by proxy at my burial), it did indeed actually happen, and it really wasn’t fun. One minute, I was watching a bunch of morons embarrass themselves on national television, and basking in a joyous uplift of self-worth. Nek minute, I was suddenly wondering whether I was one of those morons.

You see, shortly after the fake-marriage of ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson, each had started to doubt that the commercial TV producers obsessed with drama and ratings had taken a genuine interest in delivering them into the arms of their one true love. Before that realisation could completely run its course, however, they were put on a bus to Terrigal for their honeymoon, and were promptly sent parasailing. Once there, it quickly became apparent that ex-stripper Bronson was very keen for parasailing… and ex-human Ines was not.

As I watched ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson discuss their respective views on parasailing, I suddenly felt a very strange sense of deja vu. This was followed by noticing a slight sheen of nervous sweat on my forehead, and a growing sense of queasiness. Being completely unexpected, these feelings were a little unsettling. But not as unsettling as the slow realisation that my queasiness had nothing to do with the three-day-old pizza I’d been eating, or remembering that the slight sheen of sweat had been there for the last 40 years (goddammit). No, what was unsettling was the fact that what was unfolding on screen was just a little too familiar.

Ex-human Ines, as I said, did not want to go parasailing. Which was fine, since people like different things. What wasn’t particularly fine was how she expressed her reluctance. It was difficult to tell with the amount of dialogue beeped out, but it was fairly obvious she wasn’t saying “Oh my darling Bronson, do you mind if I give this a miss?”. Instead, I got the distinct impression she was just telling ex-stripper Bronson to “SHUT THE FÜCK UP” a bunch of times, probably because that’s exactly what she was doing. And therein lay the trigger.

I knew what it felt like to be Bronson.

Apart from the whole ex-stripper thing, I mean. And the muscles and tattoos. And being fake-married on TV. But other than that, I had been in that exact situation. Apart from the parasailing.

The point is that I knew what Bronson was feeling in that moment, as I had been there. And the longer I watched and the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how many times I had been there. There are far too many examples to share, but there is one particular story that is unique in its utter ridiculousness, and may, therefore, prove instructive.

This story is, I admit, a little different to the one above. For starters, I and my partner at the time (let’s call her Doris) hadn’t been through the horrifyingly arduous spectacle of being fake-married by fake-experts to a complete stranger on national television. We had instead had the luxury of meeting and choosing to be together in real life. And we weren’t about to experience the stress of having a bogan tow us through the air in a boat. We were just having my friend over for dinner, whose name is also Tim, and who is so laid back that he would have been happy if we’d served up a single baked bean in a pair of used undies. It was, in short, about as benign a situation as you could get.

Which of course makes it all the more perplexing why the reaction from ex-girlfriend Doris made ex-human Ines look like ex-Mother Theresa. Like that moment when I walked into the kitchen to ask if she needed any help, and was met with a fairly high-volume “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF”.

Look, I get it. Everyone is different, and what is basically benign to me can be massively malignant to someone else. So although Doris never explained her apparently significant apprehensions, I can see how it could be stressful to have two Tims at dinner. I mean, every request for “Tim” to pass the salt would be met by mass confusion and possibly even twice as much salt as you wanted. Unless your name was actually Tim, of course, in which case you would get just as much salt as you wanted, since there was only one other Tim. Except if your name was Tim and you passed the salt to yourself, in which case there was no need to ask for salt in the first place. Anyway, the point is that I can see that under such emotionally fraught conditions, two hours of verbal abuse can be a perfectly reasonable response to having a laid back dinner with a friend called Tim.

But this is the thing. As difficult as it was to be treated that way by someone I cared about, I actually do understand that people handle situations differently, and being flawed, emotional beings, all of us are prone to a little over-reaction on occasion. By which I mean to say, the problem wasn’t so much the actual behaviour, as bad as that was. It was what followed.

___

When we first met fake-husband Mike, he seemed like the unlucky-in-love, good looking larrikin with not much hair but plenty of heart. Happily for him, his fake-wife Heidi also seemed like a winner. She was basically like Mike, but smarter and funnier and nicer and more successful and better looking and with a better personality and with more hair. They hit it off immediately, and each seemed very happy with the ability of the fake-experts to pick fake-spouses for a fake-TV-show. Life was good.

That was until one day later, when Heidi opened up about her difficult childhood, and Mike responded by telling her he wanted to go for a swim.

And this is where the gaslighting comes in.

For those that don’t know, gaslighting is shït. It’s also the deliberate and calculated manipulation of someone into doubting their own reality. To wit, even though everyone watching could see that Mike was being a massive jerk, by the Power of Gas Light Mike was able to make Heidi feel like a crazy person for talking about her childhood when he wanted to go for a swim. “I’m not your therapist,” he explained tersely. “This isn’t therapy.”

Sadly, the most unbelievable thing about this story is not that Mike was a massive jerk. People are massive jerks all the time. No, the really unbelievable thing is that this shït actually works. Watching along in our lounge rooms with friends, it’s easy to imagine ourselves telling Mike to go fluff himself. But that’s the thing about gaslighting. It is invariably deployed in private, by narcissists, against those that are maybe a little self-doubting, and a little vulnerable. And that’s what makes it so effective. Mike’s confidence in his position, together with the lack of emotional support from friends, results in a normally strong woman like Heidi issuing Mike an embarrassed apology, instead of a swift kick to the jelly beans.

___

In my case, delivering Doris a swift kick to the jelly beans wasn’t really an option. Not only because I’ve never committed violence against anyone (let alone a woman), but Doris doesn’t even have jelly beans. Oh, and also because Doris didn’t do anything wrong, and it was apparently me that was the crazy person.

“I was just expressing how I feel,” Doris later explained. “Am I not allowed to express how I feel?”

“Of course you are, Doris” I replied. “Of course you are.”

And so, I came to learn that it’s actually perfectly reasonable for someone to respond with “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF” when their partner asks if they need help because a very laid back friend called Tim is coming over for dinner to eat a single baked bean served in a pair of used undies. A valuable lesson that I will treasure always.

Like I said. Gaslighting is shït.

– Tim

Latest Vatican Research Findings: Boys Have Penises

The Vatican or, more specifically, The Congregation for Catholic Education, has just released a document regarding the teaching of gender theory. As part of the GBA service, I have read this document so that you don’t have to waste the precious moments of your life doing so.

Plenty of other press organisations have covered the provocative timing of this release, as well as the reliably dissident Jesuit response, but there’s been little to no engagement with the actual arguments as yet, mostly owing to that tried and true journalistic practice of never reading more than the abstract and conclusion of anything, no matter what it is. I, however, believe that there should be little to no engagement with the actual arguments because they’re either not actually arguments, or they are arguments, but they’re stupid.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the usual guff about love and doctrine, and that curiously unique Vatican style – all technical sounding multi-syllables interspersed, seemingly at random, with sudden bursts of mediaeval English and Latin. I knew that it would basically be a combination of rebuttal book and conversation starter: a set of things teachers can say when confronted with non-Catholic or, as I like to put it, sane views of an issue, as well as a call for academics and whatnot to engage with their position. This kind of polarity is also typical of the Vatican – an open-hearted and sincere wish to listen, combined with a greasy bag of low-down sophistry designed to maintain, at all costs, their doctrinaire view of the world and of themselves. Like an obese contortionist covered in food waste, official Vatican thinking has a tendency to be simultaneously compellingly beautiful, impressively agile, and deeply repugnant.

I knew, basically, that it would be very like other Vatican documents from this department. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how dim-witted it would be. Its attempts to define and answer gender theory reminded me of nothing so much as an octogenarian attempting to use Snapchat. The little tour of ‘gender theory’ the authors take us on is so befuddled, so obviously confused and intellectually outpaced, that it’s almost charming. One of their more risible contentions is the idea that the body, the sex, of an individual is a primary determiner of gender. This isn’t amusing or insane in and of itself, of course – what’s laughable about it is their assumption that gender theorists don’t agree with this. They do. For the same reason that most academics agree that rocks are made of stuff that forms rocks.

And then there’s their central contention – that gender theorists believe that gender is solely down to “human choice”. Now, I’m undecided on whether this is disingenuous or dim-witted, but the strong implication of the language is that this means an individual human’s choice. This is emphatically not an accurate summation of gender theory. Most theories of gender performativity, etc., emphasise the role of social and cultural constructs in the formation of gender. The radical bit is pointing out that these are artificial, and that the individual can and often does have significant agency in determining whether or not to conform to them. Which is actually a near identical position to the one adopted by the Congregation. Which would obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing, so I guess I’m going to opt for ‘disingenuous’ as the word which best describes the logical core of the argument.

Another charmingly oblivious aspect of the paper is its consistent use of the term ‘ideological’ to describe what they term to be the ‘radical’ end of gender theory. In the same paragraph – often the same sentence – as a call for the rejection of “ideologically based” theories, is a call for teachers to promote “doctrine”. One man’s ideology is another man’s doctrine, I guess. But this seemingly genuine lack of self awareness is another example of unexpected charm. It’s like Basil Fawlty – so flawed he can’t see his own flaws which, in certain contexts, is counter-intuitively endearing. The whole Catholic Church is a bit like that, and this comes through very clearly in this pretzel-like grab bag of random half-truths and invalid arguments.

Of course, when once we get past the impressive sounding ‘philosophical’ language, and the big-hearted rhetoric of universal love, the charm starts to wear off. Actual analysis of this document reveals that its entire position is based on a straw man and a false dichotomy. The egregious misunderstandings of gender theory are revealed as not so much befuddled as they are wilfully, shamefully dishonest and misleading. And the notion that only the most radical aspects of gender theory are being taught in schools, and that this represents a cultural crisis, is in actual fact on the same level of sanity as Alex Jones or David Icke. It does not represent reality in any way, and this isn’t because it’s a bunch of doddering confused old men doing the thinking. It’s because the Church is pulling an extremely nasty trick – the same one they’ve been pulling for about 1800 years. “We love you, whoever you are,” this document says, “so please come and talk to us so we can explain to you why you’re not allowed to own who you are.”

The Jesuit priest James Martin hit the nail exactly on the head. Or, to be more Catholic about it, rem acu tetistigi-ed. “Sadly, …[this document]… will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.” He’s right – it will be. Primarily because that is exactly what it was made to be.