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Archive for September, 2013

A student in my class used abortion as a discussion topic. She handled it well, but part of her presentation was the expectation that a person having an abortion would feel sad after. When my sister had a hysterectomy she was furious with the social worker who said to her afterwardImages, “You must be mourning your uterus”, and would not accept that Maggie was emphatically NOT mourning a body part. When I was planning to attend the launch of Professor John Leeton’s book Test Tube Revolution  I remembered that people assumed they knew how I was feeling about having, or relinquishing Alice. Many people also assumed things about my relationship with my sister, based on stereotypes, not facts. The student’s talk was the catalyst that got me wanting to challenge the assumption that we can ‘know’ how someone feels.

I wanted a vehicle to express this, and sent a tweet saying I wanted to be interviewed because I had opinions to express. I love the power and speed of twitter. Within seconds Wendy Harmer had sent me a direct message (DM) on twitter asking why I was not writing for her? That was all the push I needed and I started writing. Six minutes later Dr Sally Cockburn also sent a DM suggesting I be a guest on her radio program that night. We had a phone conversation to prepare, agreed furiously that it was important to not assume how someone was feeling re pregnancy, or abortion, or anything really, and I was on air that night. I’m on from 1:37:40 to 1:45:16. Sally generously gave me the opportunity to communicate what I wanted about the importance of asking people how they feel, and listening to the answer, and using it as an opportunity to connect and contribute to the person’s wellbeing.

The next morning The Hoopla article was published,  and featured as a ‘must see’. Wendy had edited it, and did a good job, although the focus was on the surrogacy not the feelings bit. Her headline probably got more reads, although my working title was ‘I peed in Jana Wendt’s toilet’ which I am sure would have been noticed also.

Having the opportunity to express my frustration at being misrepresented was really good. Initially I was not happy that Wendy had quoted the Renate Klein abstract the way she did, but it worked to make my point. The comments were spot on also. Thanks, Wendy! Leeton 2 cropped

I was pleased to talk to John Leeton at the launch, and tell him how he reminded me of my father, with whom he had done medicine. John said that he was L and Jack was K in the alphabetical order of surnames so they were often together.

John was mystified about my PhD topic and even more surprised when Jo Wainer, in the same conversation, said her mother had had a FWBR, although it was not called that then. The launch speeches told about the excitement and adventure of the young scientists wanting to use new techniques and assist women to successful pregnancies was an insight into how science is done; mostly with funding, political and religious barriers to be overcome.

Darling Cynthia, so often referred to as “The other sister” came too, and there were pies.

Cynthia and I get stuck into the food.

Cynthia and I get stuck into the food.

Leeton 5 cropped

L-R Linda, Maggie, Alice, Sev and Professor John Leeton

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The other: reflections on fitting in and balancing acceptance with advocacy

I worry sometimes about being different, and not accepted, or worse, outright rejected, because of it. I was invited to speak at the Zonta meeting last night on the theme of it being women’s health week, and as I mingled with the women who were in many ways similar to me, I was more aware of how I was different I was from them. Yes, I am middle class, educated, midlife, and can speak with a Merton Hall accent when required: but I have ideas beyond what is socially acceptable, my hair is grey and quite wild instead of coloured and carefully groomed, and I am a somewhat unpredictable sex researcher with an ‘out there’ topic who more and more identifies with the queer community.

 When a friend expressed doubt about my suitability to speak on behalf of a conservative organisation she described me as ‘out there’. I was deeply cut by this comment, which was probably not thought out or intended to hurt in the way it did, but it has resonated with me. I should not let it inhibit me. I am generally very careful about what I say on public record, even if in private I can be outspoken.

The university climate where mild criticism is slammed and students and staff are advised to keep critical observations to themselves feeds my concerns. I was told off for tweeting that a lecture was boring, even though I also said the content was ok and did not name the lecturer. I want a job; I value free speech; I value excellent pedagogy and wish to fight for it. I have not totally silenced myself but take more care than usual to consider the ways I express ideas.

I gave a rave in my talk last night about the importance of comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education. I criticised a school where the administration will not allow condoms to be given out by the school nurse, who then in her weekend job as a midwife delivers the babies of the students she denies condom access. I was speaking from the heart, not my logic centre (and I don’t think I named the school – but the school’s PR person was present and would have recognised the scenario), but then worried that I had caused offence. Is it more important to cause some potential offence or to advocate? Obviously to me advocacy and good public health wins, but I wish it didn’t come with self doubt. Feedback on my presentation was positive.

My self-doubt extends to my PhD topic too. I write this as a Facebook status today: Sometimes when I hear about worthy projects like preventing violence against women or supporting safe birth practices I think my PhD topic sounds frivolous. But then I think no, positive sexuality and sexual health for people of all ages is important too and is part of the good aspect of life, and feel ok. I was not consciously seeking affirmation but it came swiftly. Kate McCombs, a sex educator I hugely admire wrote: I frequently think about how your PhD topic is beacon-of-permission-ing in a powerful way. Having non traditional relationships, enjoying sex after 55, and TALKING about it? Amazing, world changing stuff I reckon. Karyn Fulcher, another awesome sex-positive educator and PhD student said, So much sexuality research focuses on preventing negative outcomes or events, but there is not nearly enough focus on encouraging the positive. Your work does exactly that and that’s why it’s so important. I value the acceptance, support and love of my #sexgeek community – thanks!

There is a fine line between having acceptability so the message is heard, and silencing the message to maintain acceptability.

I must be brave. I take inspiration from people who are much more obviously ‘the other’ than I am, and who cannot hide or pass as easily as I am able to. I do have important things to say, and am in a position to say them, so say them I will.

The music in my head is ‘Do you hear the people sing’ *punches fist in the air*.

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