Giving Up the Fags: A Self-Reflexive Speech on Critical Auto-ethnography About the Shame of Growing up Gay/Sexual … – The Good Men Project (blog)

Editors note: In British English, the word fag means cigarette.

I am studying my Ph.D. in the College of Education at Victoria University Melbourne. Ill introduce from a quote from Springaay, from the handbook, Being with A/r/tography, (my methodology), where she writes there is no need to separate the personal from the professional any more than we can separate the dancer from the dance (Springgay, pp5).

Hopefully, by the end of this essay, you will see why that is important to me in terms of critical auto-ethnographical and autobiographical, practice-led writing and research.

I am working with young people for my Ph.D. Specifically, year eleven students. What will it mean to be human through the lens of technology in the near future? is the broad central theme. I am writing a six-week curriculum exploring artificial intelligence, and the anticipated superintelligence that will further enable transhumanism. What do young people ethically think of living in a post-human world?

But that is not what this essay is about.

In my youth and adolescence, I felt I had no non-prejudiced person to validate my emotional or ethical life. As a now forty-four-year-old adult, I want to be that person for these kids, allowing them to voice their concerns and for them to be heard.

My intuition that led me to want to work with young people is multifaceted and, as it turns out, complex. In the first instance, I have worked with young people before discussing mental health issues (as per my lived experience of schizophrenia), and drug use and abuse in many pedagogical settings in the past. I have valued and enjoyed hearing young peoples candidness. I have no children of my own.

I was exposed to things of a sexual nature from two abusive peers that I need not have seen.

For my presentation, I would like to read an abridged and sometimes for me emotional introduction to my exegesis. Through auto-ethnographical and autobiographical, practice-led writing, it has led to some intensely personal and stunning revelations. I feel this adds to my justifications of working with young people and needed to be addressed before my research commenced.

Just before I start this narrative piece I would like to quote Jones, Autoethnography uses the researchers personal experiences as primary data.

Just before Christmas in 2016, I gave up smoking. This was for health reasons, as I was getting unfit and short of breath. Another reason was to avoid feeling ostracized with the proliferation of non-smoking zones. Being ostracized is also a feeling I have felt throughout my life.It was also to save money and have literally have enough prosperity so that I could put a roof over my head to finish this Ph.D.

I only expected to give up smoking. What happened next was totally unexpected. It is a bit like the outcome of this novella I am writing for my Ph.D., for the result is beyond an event horizon in which no one knows the outcome.

The occurrence of giving up smoking, however, wove itself into this Ph.D. narrative and is a vehicle by which I can place my more self-actualised identity within the framework of my study.

It also goes part way to justify why it is that I want to work with young people, apart from the fact they are familiar with technology and will inherit this fast changing technological world.

As a young queer person with a mental illness, I did not think I ever received much validation. I did not have the capacity nor the opportunity to express myself in many ways, and with the onset of depression, addiction and psychosis, that coupled itself with isolation and ostracisation, I did not ever have the opportunity to.

This being said I had wonderful parents in many ways growing up and other well-meaning relatives around. However, growing up in the eighties AIDS crisis, to feel like anything other than heteronormative was difficult.The television broadcast the shock tactics of the Grim Reaper killing people with AIDS.Adults and children alike, had eyes and ears during my formative years. We had a close family, they were all wonderful but to be gay that was bad.

I recall Mum at the park when I was young, Dont go near those toilets without me, bad men go there. Mum was caring and expressing herself from a well of love and protectiveness. She was a great Mum.

With my developing self-awareness, I further want to be a non-prejudiced and open person for young people to relate to with candidness and openness.

When I gave up smoking, unconsciously I went into self-destruct mode for a while, a sort of self-medicating and hedonistic coping mechanism. After some months, it suddenly dawned on me that I had undergone inappropriate sexual abuse and sexual exposure when I was a child.

Two abusive peers exposed me to things of a sexual nature that I need not have seen. I had also been flashed and was shown an adults genitals by someone very close to my home whom I and the family trusted.

The memories started to rush in at another separate event, I cant quite remember and dont want to, an incident occurred at the toilets at little athletics when I was about eight years old. I only put weight to this sketchy memory, because even though I loved little aths and was good at it-I never went back after the incident despite my fathers pleas.

After that incident at little aths, I remember being so scared of, and avoiding the toilet so much, that I recall going home one afternoon from little aths having not urinated all day and Dad popping into the milk bar to buy the paper as he used to.

Having avoided the scene of the indecency, I could not hold on anymore, so I pissed in a McDonalds cup in the front seat of our family Volkswagon, snuck out of the car and put it in the bin before Dad came back, such was my shame.

Bad people go there. To be gay was bad. This meant that I was bad. This was ingrained from a young age.

I carried that guilt and shame for most of my childhood, all my adolescence and adult life.

I had always remembered the abuse, yet I did not ever consciously give it voice or gave it any weight. However, as I wrote more, I received counsel from my psychologist for the additional memories. For the longest timemy whole life, in factI had made decisions as an adolescent and an adult that had their genesis in the non-validation of the abuse.

As I wrote more, I received counsel from my psychologist for the additional memories. For the longest timemy whole life, in factI had made decisions as an adolescent and an adult that had their genesis in the non-validation of the abuse.

This included drug-taking and other risky behavior, constantly changing the location of where I lived, running away, squatting in disheveled housing at times, being jobless, not confident and not knowing why, financially bereft, emotionally traumatized, and overactive sexual misadventures.

It also manifested in choosing life partners and company in which I settled for, yet deserved much more. I have no doubt that my self-denial of what had happened to me added to and exacerbated my diagnosis of schizophrenia from age twenty over my lifetime.

Smoking for me was literally a smokescreen for nearly 23 years.

It was the reason not to remember, the affirmation that I as a person was not worthy. I did not care for myself. At the start, it was rebellious; it was also something I started to do when I was young that I knew I was not allowed to: that was taboo. I as a young person, had known taboo with abuse and prejudice-but the taboo of smoking was something that I myself was in control of.

This was in antithesis, of the abusive and inappropriate events that happened to me growing up; of the face of being vulnerable and exposed, and then not having the opportunity to express or validated what had happened.

Such was my lack of self-esteem, I knew it would kill me it said so on the pack! This self-depreciative beast took over my life from age thirteen.

It had become my addiction and best friend. It was a smokescreen for the memories that I had pushed deep into the wells of my sub consciousness. I remember throughout many psychoses and depressive episodes in my adolescence and adulthood, wanting and wishing I could die.

There was also a couple of brazen attempts, which thankfully did not work.

Ethnographically, on our televisions and on the news, gay people died of AIDS. Even in primary school, I had crushes on the boys and crushes on the girls. What if I was gay? Maybe I deserved to die? have another smoke!

I did not really answer that question of Was I gay? with certainty and confidence until I was twenty-five, had moved out of home, and got myself a job as an artist and illustrator for a major Melbourne newspaper. I needed a place to be safe when I finally did come out.

Smoking the fags meant:

I did not deserve to live (because it would kill me),

or be prosperous, (because it cost so much).

Then, I gave them up.

A change occurred that made me feel like I was a worthy person. I uncovered all the memories of the sexual abuse, of the complex family relationships within a complex time and how this had manifested into my adult life.

This surprising re-birth happened fast.

Giving up the fags was a journey of healing, and this short speech is a testament to that. It is the process of owning your experiences (both conscious and sub conscious) and being responsible, for your greatest happiness, and highest good.

To be a self-actualized adult you must be aware of your history, your make-up and your relationships and your memories, and be fully conscious of it yet for me, the illusion of the smoke screen of smoking kept me from this.

In essence-to validate and be reborn from a troubling past I had to confront the self within an autobiographical and autoethnographic narrative. This is the essential practice led writing that has un-blocked me from moving forward within my Ph.D. and within my personal life.

This public statement, writing and talking both frees me and also encourages my future happiness, and dare I say prosperity and security in a multitude of ways. This is the piece of writing, and the public testimony, that exalts me and sets me free. It will also make me a better teacher and more self-actualized researcher.

My psychologist wrote something down for me a couple of months which I said which he skillfully reminded me of:

31/01/2017

I deserve a future,

I deserve a life,

I am worthy.

I deserved, to be heard, and to live with wealth happiness and prosperity.

Giving up the fags was a revelation, yet late at age forty-four. However, I am sure we all know some people dont make it. But to feel self-worth and be listened to??

This is what the young people in my Ph.D. study, and young people everywhere, deserve to feel. We owe it to them as mentors, parents, and teachers.

So, I am no longer a smoker. I do still vape, though. This essay has been important to me as a public statement because I rightly and justly reclaimed my worth.

These were the words I needed to say which came from me and no one else, in order to move forward with my autobiographic writing of reflecting on being a young person, so I can be of service to my students and go on to co-contribute to produce global knowledge from local settings.

To be a self-actualized adult you must be aware of your history, your make-up and your relationships and your memories, and be fully conscious of it yet for me, the illusion of the smoke screen of smoking kept me from this.

These challengingly spoken words of intimacy and trauma had existed kicking and screaming in sub liminality right up into and strongly influencing my adult life.

This writing, my decisions, and this speech is a release, a healing, a process, a validation. Also, a manifesto of sorts for the role I will play in listening and validating young peoples concerns in terms of my Ph.D. topic.

If I could right now, Id take a drag on my vape, and Im on my way.

Thank you for reading.

ON CRITICAL AUTOETHNOGRAPHY:

To quote an early text from C. Wright Mills (1959) from Joneses Handbook of autoethnography, before the term autoethnography existed:

The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two in society. The challenge is to develop a methodology that allows us to examine how the private troubles of individuals are connected to public issues and to public responses to these troubles. That is its task and its promise. Individuals can understand their own experience and gauge their own fate only by locating themselves within their historical moment period, (pp. 56, slight paraphrase)1.

(Jones 1,2,3)

Jones, Stacy H.Handbook of Autoethnography. Routledge, 20160523. VitalBook file.

Furthermore,Carolyn Ellis(2004) defines autoethnography as research, writing, story, and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political (p. xix).

Please share this article if it resonated with you. Thank you.

See more about Rich McLean at his websitewww.richmclean.com.au

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Giving Up the Fags: A Self-Reflexive Speech on Critical Auto-ethnography About the Shame of Growing up Gay/Sexual ... - The Good Men Project (blog)

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