Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RE: Second Language Training in NB

Dear Francine Landry, Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour,
CC: Bruce Northrup, MLA Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins.

I am writing to you today shocked and disappointed with the discontinuation of the New Brunswick Public Library Service's offering of Tell Me More online language training.

I recently returned to New Brunswick from Ontario with full intentions of using free Tell me More access to rebuild the French language skills I lost over the course of my English-instructed undergraduate and graduate education. I returned to find the program has been suspended due to a discontinued grant, despite still being advertised on the New Brunswick Immigration and Settling website, WelcomeNB.

(Screen shot taken January 13/2015)

The loss of this program is a tragedy in an officially bilingual province. Without this program, there is no way for self-motivated low-income and unemployed New Brunswickers, like myself, to improve their second language skills for professional and personal development. The cancellation of this program is the most painful kind of irony, as the province boasts their free online skills training program, SkillsNB.

Bilingualism is a cultural and economic advantage in this province; speaking both French and English is required of many government and industry positions. The elimination of Tell Me More access serves to proliferate disadvantage among low-income and unemployed unilinguals in New Brunswick.

I hope you share my concerns and agree that access to Tell Me More (or equivalent second language training) be made available to New Brunswickers free of charge and as soon as possible.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In Defense of My Husband's Not Gay

TLC is slated to premier a new show on January 11th titled "My Husband's Not Gay". The show profiles men who admit their sexual attraction to other men but choose to form their primary relationships with women and conduct their lives in a heterosexual styling. The show has raised the ire of queer activists and the organization GLAAD; a petition calling for the cancellation of the show has garnered more than 70 000 signatures.

I call bullshit.

Several reason motivate my defense of My Husband's Not Gay. Foremost, I am tired of the emergent trend in activism that prescribes that media censorship is a better project of justice than teaching critical consumption. A population of non-offensive zombies is not better than population of critical thinkers. Similarly, calls to ban and boycott The Interview illustrate how activists would rather silence disagreeable texts than engage in difficult discussions. The viewers of the The Interview are not inherently racist, and the producers and potential viewers of My Husband's Not Gay are not inherently homophobic.

Secondly, TLC is profiling real people's lives. It disturbs me that 70 000 people think that they should silence actual people's stories because of a debatable claim of homophobia. The signatories of the petition to cancel My Husband's Not Gay have committed an act of epistemic violence, a type of violence enacted within a knowledge system that erases 'undesirable' stories. Epistemic violence was and is a mechanism that insulates the power dynamics imposed by European colonialism.

Let's deconstruct the idea that "being gay isn't a choice". Well actually it is, and My Husband's Not Gay is the perfect example of how sexual identities are always a choice, and we shouldn't have a problem with it.

Social identities are understood through the dual processes of identification and expression. Identification is entirely personal. Identities are the product of self-determination. No one can force a hostile identity onto a person; identities require consent. Expression is how bodies are understood as social actors. For example, complexion is socially understood as racialized identities. Expression and identity are conflated through essentialism, which associates a set of preconceived stereotypes with the appearance or behavior of bodies. The key difference between identity and expression is that identity is personal while expression requires external authentication.

Sexualities are personal identities, no one (even if there are 70 000 of them) can tell you how to identify. Onlookers can only evaluate social expressions. Men's sexual attraction to men does not mean a gay identity. To suggest so erases the possibility of bi and pansexuality and completely disregards self-determination. Humans are very capable of choosing to resist their desires. We needn't look further than diets to confirm this.

If the men of My Husband's Not Gay don't identify as gay, they aren't. It's really that easy. The "born this way" dialogue is a dated idea used as a plank to achieve queer rights, but it's a problematic oversimplification. Gender and sexual identities are in constant flux. People aren't born into immutable stereotypes, and activism that suggests so is problematic.

I'm not supporting the ex-gay movement, and I don't think it's OK to tell queer people they should be changed or cured. In staunch civil libertarian tradition, I believe that if consenting adults want to live a lifestyle that doesn't hurt anyone else, who am I to intervene? The resistance to TLC's My Husband's Not Gay is actually resistance to a more complex and more accurate understanding of lived realities.