11 Comments

Thank you, for discussing this so candidly and thoughtfully. I'm an engineer from Perth in Western Australia, you gave a talk dialled into my company a few months ago (6 months?!) for Black History Month in the UK. It really stuck with me, among your other topics (I did not know about the Barbados Slave Code) you spoke eloquently about the intersection between process safety and a lack of inclusion, that all voices should be respected and heard to allow correctly considered (safe) decisions. Personally, this has helped me articulate why inclusion needs to be part of my core role when I help train engineers and guide teams, instead of an adjunct initiative. We have recently been making good steps towards getting some organisations here to report and manage incidents of discrimination, harassment, violence and bullying like we do safety KPIs (reported transparently, vigilantly watching for issues with a sense of chronic unease) and having outlines of these behaviours discussed within operational teams (training us to ask what should we have done, what could we have done, etc) just like we do safety incidents.

If it is not too personal, if permissible (I acknowledge we haven't met), I would like to switch focus and also discuss what you've written here about your thoughts relating to Australia. Just like the example you gave in your talk (wrt to Deepwater Horizon), we as a country did not respect your voice or allow the context of your message to be understood. We as a country did not act as bystanders, we did not listen as you called out the injustices and hypocrisies you saw. And then did not act to prevent the character assassinations in our press and by our politicians - just as we had failed to help a few years previous with the ongoing harassment of Prime Minister Julia Gillard a few years before, just as we failed to rebuke Dutton over his dog-whistling about Sudanese communities in Melbourne a couple of years ago, just as we have failed to do for hundreds of years for Indigenous Australian people.

I would dearly like to be part of an Australia that treated you fairly. I would dearly like to help Australia be a nation that would deserve to have you back, one that would have had your back. As an Engineer, I dearly want to build organisational cultures that would have respected you, watched for your psychological safety and then protected you from corporate retaliation when you spoke out. And I am heartened for the incremental progress we are making, that the recent March 4 Rallies were decidedly intersectional, that there is an understanding that cultural change doesn't just come from factional solidarity rather by developing systemic empathy. I am heartened at the continued outrage, and the acknowledgments that many people have been fighting for a very long time and it is acceptable to be angry, it is acceptable to be tired, it is acceptable not to remain polite. And I am heartened that so many people listened to the Australian of the Year Grace Tame give her National Press Club talk where she admonished the media for insensitively asking people to relive their trauma for public spectacle rather than helping them build a discussion toward constructive transformational change. And I am heartened I have heard more hope from some marginalised people recently - if you saw Julia Gillard's recent TikTok interview about the Misogyny Speech, she was quite hopeful about the new voice coming up speaking to defend others (and Grace Tame's speech was quite hopeful too).

You spoke here about the burden you place on yourself to maintain your rage and enthusiasm to admonish us so that we might remember to be better. (It might be effective and visceral,) but that should not be your responsibility, it should not fall to you. It should not be an expectation on the marginalised to overcome the barriers we have placed in your way. Just as women should not be asked to Lean In to help change corporations, and LGBTIQA+ people should not have to publically campaign for their human rights and every single new group of people who come here should not accept vilification for a generation or two before we move onto the next group of people to be racist about. You should find no shame in detaching from Australia to protect your sense of self-worth or your health. Especially an Australia that has so readily shirked accountability in recent years. The standard is elect is the standard we accept. You shouldn't ask yourself to forget or forgive - we should never have accepted our behaviour, we need to elect better people, we need to keep them accountable, we need to be better people.

I would like that this could be a nation and society that you could feel at home in again. And while I fear it won't be one for a while yet - perhaps those willing can offer you our hearts as safe harbours, that you could reside (holiday?) here in spirit.

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Sorry - longer response than I had expected ... but for what it's worth:

What a great commentary and question. I am a (white) transman who has often been told that I should write about my experiences - by which I think people mean, my life (they assume) of extraordinary suffering leading up to my finally having transitioned in middle age, my having lived gender on both sides (as if there were only two) of the normative divide, and my current situation hiding out as a supposed cis-gendered man amongst women in my job as an oncology nurse. But I have a terrible time attempting any such writing, because I can't actually decide on anything to say: it is all too complex to be rendered in one long, single line, one sentence after another, and I can't make up my mind what the meaning (my meaning) actually is, since it is always shifting.

This may be a characteristic feature of grief itself; part of the load it imposes on its bearer is that it is explicitly a profound interruption of the meanings we have operated by, or the meanings we have been told were operating. I don't know if, having experienced such deep grief, we (beings who live intimately with grief) can ever return to a life where there can be ANY settled structures of meaning. Their fictional and provisional nature has been all too clearly demonstrated, now. Attempting to solidify meaning to the point of occupying "our own myth" may itself be a kind of violence against the reality of the originary (grief-provoking) experiences and the resulting force of dislocation.

The desire people have to lock one into a story of a specific and well-narrated suffering, is always perplexing to me. For me, the marker of this is the behaviour of some of my one-time friends who could not seem to come with me on my transition: not explicitly trans-phobic, they nevertheless "liked" me much better when I was a figure of indeterminacy and ongoing suffering (ie: me, pre-transition, when I suspect - to my own humiliation, but to their apparent interest - I was very obviously struggling and malfunctional). I think people - maybe especially "progressive" people, who are locked into an impulse to a kind of appropriative empathy - require other people to represent the suffering of the disadvantaged or the minority. Unlike the overtly hateful, who violently require "others" to represent the (fictional) negative of themselves, the progressive requires "others" to represent the victimhood produced by their (the progressive's) own privilege: empathy is implied, but the other person is still required to be identifiable (mythologized) by their victimhood.

I don't know if any of this is actually parallel to your experience - my guess is that analogy-making is the best tool we have (the best, but by no means a perfect tool) for attempting to understand across cultural and experiential divides, and against power gradients. Certainly, I will be spending some time, going forward, repeatedly thinking over your piece, and I am grateful to have encountered it.

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This is so thoughtful, Yassmin. I used to think, when it came to going through awful things on your own, that the only thing worse than everyone knowing about it was no one knowing about it. Maybe there’s a tiny bit of truth in that, I dunno just yet. Anyway you are always so smart and wise, I hope the anger and pain don’t weigh too heavily on you ❤️

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I hope you can one day find the strength and words to write your version of the story. I am an Australian who is ashamed of how you were treated. A dark day in our history and unfortunately, all too common. You have an important Australian voice and I can’t wait to hear your story, your way when you’re ready.

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Love, LOVE, loved this newsletter -- deeply thoughtful, resonate and honest. So much to unpack in any given edition and I look forward to them hitting my inbox whenever they do. I quite like the element of surprise with never quite knowing, please don't apologise for that. Truly an inspiration.

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Let us continue together, God be praised. Your story will not be forgotten as you fear Yassmin, for one day you will know how to assemble the call to justice, alongside the personal story, alongside the story of Australia itself. I am ashamed to say that by the time I finished reading this morning, the artist in me thought of a variety of ways to create & present a future response. But not now. Yassmin I keep writing and deleting sentences as all my words dissolve in the face of your own paragraphs. As Tina Turner says: to have the worst parts of your life become an inspiration- well that sucks. My response to your words are tied up in your last journal on the subject of "home". This entry seems a natural follow up - I thank you for trusting us with your thoughts. I think I'll get back to you. I really liked what Darach posted. It was quite remarkable.

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You are a rock star to me, Yassmin. I hope one day you will come back to Australia and teach about tolerance to this bigoted white man's country.

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