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2020 – An Earth Odyssey

It’s New Years Day, 2020.

This year has long been coming, in the back of my head, looming like an oncoming train, and to find it here it a little… odd.

Unlike other years, except perhaps 1999 (thanks to Prince) and 2000 (due to the Y2K bug), 2020 was prefaced in my life by the awareness that this is a year that I should keep an eye out for. This is… not an end-point, precisely, but a moment of warning, or of payout, depending on how humans as a whole have acted.


When I was in high school, which seems like it was an era past now, we were at one point given a student workbook called Australia 2020. Written by Graeme Scott and Peter Cock on 1983, illustrated by the notable cartoonist Stuart Roth, it was an interesting and thought-provoking document. Very briefly, it attempted to act as a forecasting device for how Australia as a nation could turn out in 2020 if the bulk of our population made the same, or similar, choices on a range of subjects such as housing, immigration and emigration, luxury items, children and so on.

I wasn’t given this booklet in 1983. I’d have been seven years old. It must have been five or six years after that. So while the original target audience would have been looking through a lens of 37 years, mine would have been more like 31 – still an impossibly long time for a young kid.

Once the choices were made the student tallied their score and checked the back of the booklet for the two-page spread of their possible future. Kind of like a societal Choose Your Own Adventure book.

There is no way, of course, that such a booklet could take into account the changes wrought in the 37-year span since its creation. Nor did it take into account events within the rest of the world (or, at least, the edition I was given did not), but its message was clear: Australia has a lot of futures, and all of them are dependent upon the decisions we make, or fail to make.

I remember that most of the time I got the same future: one in which there’s little to no unemployment, few to no cars, plenty of bush, very high environmental awareness, and a painfully dwindling population.

Lots of nature, not many people. Sounds like me. I think that was Future 2.

There were worse futures in there, too. Ones in which there were staggeringly long lines of people on welfare payments, little or no nature, buildings everywhere, rich folks in cars about to unthinkingly mow down aforementioned unemployed people (and how prophetic is that?) and so on. Most fell somewhere in the middle, futures of mediocrity that vary only in things like birth rates and the ratio of bush to buildings.

While some of the lowest number futures were arguably no better for our long-term future than the higher numbered ones, for the most part the healthiest options started low. Future 4 seemed best to me, if I recall correctly, as it was more or less the same as the one I habitually got, with only minimal differences and a stable population.

One particularly lurid future, right at the back, couldn’t be attained using the point scoring system. It was a scare tactic, an apocalyptic wasteland with nuclear explosions going off in the future, almost nothing living except a man in the foreground running for his life and a tank prowling the broken streets between shells of buildings.


Nowadays…

Nowadays I look around and I wonder which future we got. It’s not one of the lower-number futures, that’s for sure.

Urban creep, drought, unemployment and wealth disparity are long-standing issues. Now we have parts of the nation burning on a horrifying scale, with nine confirmed dead within the first (and by no means most dangerous) month of our summer. The smoke from our fires aren’t just wreathing our cities – they’re reaching New Zealand.

I won’t get too political. I could, but I won’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because this isn’t about that.

My point is that I had a wide selection of future places in front of me when I was small.

“Choose carefully,” I was told, “because your choices in life do have consequences, and not just for you. These choices shape our future, because you are our future, and in 2020 we’ll see how things are travelling.”

I think there were, perhaps, not many workbooks in the 80s that aimed to sample possible 2020s and to provide them in such a way to students. Globally, I mean. I don’t know if Australia was unique in that regard but I think what we did wasn’t that common.

And yet, even though I was given warning, I don’t feel warned.

“This wasn’t an option I saw,” I can’t help but think, as the back of my mind flicks through the things I might need if the watch-and-act fires to our north grow and spread.

Welcome to the new Roaring 20s.

Happy New Year.

How Long an Outcast?

As initial warning, most of this post contains an episode spoiler for part of Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ah. Star Trek.

2360s Starfleet Combadge

I’ve never been much of a Trekkie. Star Wars was always more my thing, though frankly I didn’t understand why they couldn’t cohabitate. It’s like the whole thing between Mac and PC – just let people use whatever they want to use. Why does it need to be some facile battle for a misguided sense of superiority of one over the other?

Anyway. That aside, I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek recently. A lot. I was originally only particularly fond of Voyager. Events over the last couple of years have prompted me to expand that considerably.

Now I’ve watched Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise in their totality. I’ve watched a handful of episodes from The Original Series. I’ve seen some of the films – First Contact, as well as the ‘Kelvin Timeline’ movies, Star Trek, Into Darkness and Beyond. I’m keeping up with (and I genuinely enjoy) the new Discovery series. Yes, even the first season. Even the Klingon redesign. Don’t bother trying to ‘at’ me, I’m not going to bother fighting about it.

I’m honestly not sure if I can stomach The Original Series. I might give it another go after this.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Most recently I’ve been binge-watching The Next Generation on Netflix. I’m up to Season 5 and although I find some of it a bit of a struggle, there are some genuine gems in there and I certainly get why people want to give the franchise their loyalty.

But this blog entry is about a very specific episode, one that charmed and horrified me in equal measure. It spoke to me, resonated with me, pleased me and upset me all at once, as excellent writing can.

Specifically, I’m talking about Season 5: Ep. 17 – The Outcast.

As noted above, this is not a spoiler-free post, so if you haven’t seen this episode and you want to avoid spoilers, this is the part where you stop reading. Anything below the next horizontal line may contain spoilers, so don’t blame me if you continue and don’t like that you’re reading spoilers.


!! Spoilers Ahead !!

The Outcast was written by Jeri Taylor, veteran and respected writer and producer within the Star Trek franchise, and the basic plot is as follows.

Soren, J’naii pilot

The U.S.S. Enterprise is giving assistance to a species called the J’naii, helping them to locate and recover a pair of their people from a shuttle that has gone missing in a particular sector of space. Once they get there, they don’t find anything, until they suddenly find something: a pocket of ‘null space’ (basically a tiny dimensional fold in space which appears invisible to sensors as all particles either get bent around it or sucked into it). This is, of course, where the shuttle has gone.

Commander William T. Riker and his haircut are working with the J’naii, in particular one skilled pilot, Soren. They differ from Humans in several ways but the most important is that they have no genders.

Soren is curious about genders. Riker is kind of adorably awkward about it. Several of the conversations involve talk about sexual characteristics and mating practices, and are by necessity somewhat vague. Humans, according to Riker mate by the male inseminating the female and the female carrying the child – accurate, but sanitised. The J’naii, by contrast, have a long mating ritual which ends with the genderless parents each inseminating a husk (however that works). Both ways are apparently pleasurable.

Pronouns are brought up, and Riker finds difficulty with the idea of calling the J’naii ‘it’ as it seems rude. Soren says the J’naii have a neutral pronoun but it doesn’t translate well. No mention of singular ‘they’ is made.

As things ramp up, Soren confesses an attraction to Riker (and presumably also his hair). Only Riker is surprised by this. Additionally, Soren also identifies as female, and has since she was very young. This is not only a known phenomenon on her world, it is also forbidden as a criminal perversion. She relates an instance of a child in her class when she was young being found to identify as male, and he was mercilessy teased, bullied and injured by the other kids until being taken away and having ‘psychotectic therapy’ to remove his gender identity completely. As a result of this taboo, Soren has had to live her life with this secret hanging over her, lying and deceiving just to remain safe.

Riker falls in love with her (she is pretty damn awesome, and Melinda Culea plays the part phenomenally well). Chances are reasonable that about half the audience does as well. The two save the J’naii from the null space pocket in a Starfleet standard-issue Dangerous Mission In Which They Almost Can’t Transport Back To The Ship But Do At The Last Second scene.

Later, the J’naii host the senior officers to a celebration. Riker is hanging around outside. Soren finds him, suggests they look at the flowers in the garden and sneak off for a snog. Because they’re in love. You know how people in love want to express their love. They do that. With kissing.

As they leave, however, Soren’s mentor Krite watches them go with shifty and suspicious eyes.

The next morning Riker goes to visit Soren’s quarters. Soren isn’t there but Krite is, telling him that she’s been arrested and he can’t do anything about it. He immediately beams down to the planet and storms into the trial (Soren has been put on trial for identifying as female). He tries to take the blame but Soren doesn’t let him.

What follows is a passionate and well-reasoned monologue that has to be one of the single best pieces of writing in Star Trek, a franchise which is well known for having some freakin’ doozies of good monologues (as well as some seriously bad ones). Soren insists that she and others like her are doing no harm. They love, worry, converse and otherwise live exactly the way other J’naii do. They identify with a gender from birth and are in no way perversions or unnatural.

Of course, the judge gives exactly no shits about this and sentences Soren to psychotactic therapy because she’s ‘sick’ and it’s their people’s duty to care for their sick.

Riker beams back to the Enterprise, stomps around furious for a while, then beams back down at night with Worf to try to save Soren.

However, they’re too late; the psychotactic therapy was done before it was scheduled. Soren has had her gender identity entirely erased, and with it all belief that even having a gender identity could be natural.

The Enterprise continues on its way, with Riker looking impassive, because he’s obviously heartbroken and has no way of fixing it.


Here’s an interesting thing. Apparently this episode was written to obliquely address the issue of homosexuality and the resultant homophobia. The traditional J’naii are a metaphor for the homophobic assholes who run society and decide that homosexuality is wrong because they’ve decided it’s icky, and hide behind both science and belief to cover their bigotry.

Soren, by contrast, is a metaphor for homosexual people who just want to live their lives and to be allowed – allowed, as if they should have to ask permission – to love whoever they want.

Psychotactic therapy, whether Jeri Taylor intended it or not, is a perfect analogy for ‘gay conversion therapy’ (with the exception that psychotactic therapy apparently results in its victims being content, as opposed to miserable and horribly traumatised).

Now… Two things really hit me during this episode.

The first is that the show is, through nobody’s fault, very dated. If this story were written nowadays it would be very different – in particular, the language would be markedly changed. We know more about non-binary identities nowadays. The global dialogue has widened more and, with it, the language used to discuss these matters has evolved. So considering that the story is set in the 24th Century, the writers would most likely have Riker struggle a lot less with the concept of a genderless identity, if not an actual genderless species. The concepts would be far more familiar.

The second thing is that this story is, painfully obviously, absolutely applicable to the struggle we now face against gender identity deniers. We are under attack from bigots when all we want to do is live our lives, work our jobs, fall in love and all the normal, everyday things that the majority of the population take for granted.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still applicable as a metaphor for homophobia. Humanity hasn’t evolved past that yet, not when people are still being ridiculed, mocked, beaten up, imprisoned and literally beheaded for daring to love someone with the same tackle as their own.

Worst of all, to me, was the violation visited upon poor Soren. She had a fundamental part of her identity torn away by a hateful society who expected her to be grateful for that act of violence. Hell, they even altered her mind to make sure she agreed with them. They literally took away her free will. Not just her right to love whoever she wanted and to identify however she felt, but the very right to have an opinion about what had been done to her.

If this concept doesn’t utterly horrify people, I’m not sure what they’re missing. Yes, I know it’s fiction – but as a metaphor it’s really not at all far from truth.

The Outcast does not have a happy ending. And it’s one of the best Star Trek episodes I’ve ever watched.

HelloWorld.exe

This is a long post, for which I will not apologise. There is no TL;DR for this. You’ll read it sufficiently to get the idea, or you won’t. Either way, your decision is yours alone and you are responsible both for making it and for living with it – as are we all.

Originally posted to the author’s Facebook page.

I’ve been considering exactly how to do this for some time, and I’ve come up with no satisfactory answer, no solution that doesn’t trigger my anxiety over and over. For a long time – longer than I’d care to admit – I was determined that I wouldn’t do it at all, that the matter was mine and mine alone, and that only those people I trusted would have the information.

Well. Those whom I both trusted and were in regular contact. Some people I’ve still too many loaded feelings about to speak plainly to them, largely for fear of being a bother.

Understand, therefore, that I am writing this in sound mind, but a state of extreme personal distress.

It is not a plea. It is not an appeal. You will come to whatever conclusions on your own.

Recent events spur me to action. Certainly mine is an unimportant voice, one tiny whisper in a storm. Nonetheless I feel compelled, as matters on the world stage propel us to dark places, from which the global community has crawled back before but has refused to learn its very hard lessons.

So too do matters far from recent, issues stringing back decades and centuries and millennia, which compound upon the heart and mind of the thinking person who feels inclined to do even the most cursory of study into world history. These things punch downward as surely as those who wield the cudgel of doubt and the sabre of fear – politicians, religious leaders, media moguls and mega-corporations whose names we all know even without speaking them. These people give ‘conservative’ a bad name, even from the perspective of an unabashed progressive like myself.

Now more than ever in recent years do matters parallel outwardly, as well as inwardly, the events preceding the Second World War.

And now is the time when I need to stand up, even if only to add one tiny voice, all too easily ignored.

I am nonbinary.

Nonbinary pride flag

This constitutes my ‘coming out.’ I am now an out nonbinary individual. I am also bisexual, but that’s not new information. I may be somewhere in between bisexual and pansexual, but that’s neither hither nor yon, and it’s not the point of this message.

I am nonbinary. I do not identify as conforming to the gender binary. I do not identify as male or female; exactly how I DO identify is something I’m still privileged enough to be exploring, but I know, as a matter of absolute certainty, that the binary isn’t it.

To get the PSA portion of the message out of the way: I don’t care what pronouns you use to refer to me. As I am largely masculine in appearance, he/him is the most common and easiest for you. As neutral as I am to pronouns, I dislike gendered nouns; referring to me as ‘he’ won’t bother me, but a ‘man’ will earn an internal wince. It is unlikely that I’ll confront you about this. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me.

I am nonbinary and I am proud of that, fiercely so in my own quiet way. I am not a font of knowledge to be tapped for your curiosity, nor a freak present for gawking amusement. I am a person, and deserve the same rights and dignity as any other. I am ferociously individual. I am who – and what – I am.

Part of what I am, though, is scared. Terrified. Anxiety issues aside, the news that the U.S. Government is planning to legally erase transgender rights is something that should petrify EVERYONE, no matter who they are or how they identify. Persecution of LGBT+ people is not new – we are used as scapegoats for everything from theoretical bathroom rape to natural devastation wrought by hurricanes, cyclones and wildfires. Many countries kill LGBT+ people when they find us. In some, an LGBT+ person is unspeakably lucky to live past 35. Even in supposedly ‘developed’ countries, a transgender person can fully expect to have their identity routinely ridiculed and disrespected after their death (which will disproportionately be due to either suicide or homicide).

This isn’t how I wanted to come out. I’m not convinced I wanted to come out at all. But the more of us who refuse to kowtow to fear pressed upon us by those who claim the right to rule without caring for the responsibility that role brings, the better.

We are under siege. Even the most Right-wing of evangelists and Left-wing of TERFs find themselves in lockstep with one another in denying our very existence. These new proposals are not the first sign that the United States of America is run by a Fascist administration, nor is it the second or even third, but it is a horrifying indicator of the ever increasing danger to transgender and nonbinary people.

So yes, I am afraid, and unashamedly so. I would be an idiot to not be afraid, and you are an idiot if you think I’ve no reason to be afraid. I am scared for my fellows over in the U.S. I am scared that cancerous Fascist policy will take root and spread. I am worried it will come here, to Australia, my beloved home, a nation that should know better but that has been committing cultural genocide for as long as white people have been on these shores, and whose people STILL seem unable to summon the compassion for refugees detained in off-shore camps which our media isn’t even permitted to approach.

I’m terrified that when the next great global conflict comes – as it will, whether prompted by politics, resources, ethics or religion – we transgender and nonbinary people will find ourselves rounded up and slaughtered in even greater numbers than we are now. I’m scared that even with my white skin and largely masculine appearance, these very words will be used to condemn me, ‘other’ me. As privileged as I am to have a voice, to be able to walk down the street without harassment, to live my life in relative peace, all of that – for everyone – is under greater and greater threat.

But as afraid as I am, as much as it paralyses me, I will not let it win. I will not stand in silence and pretend this isn’t happening.

If enough people speak out, even as tiny whispers, it becomes a roar.

This is my whisper. May it help us all make a roar together.

— Scott Thornby, 2018-10-23

Music Monday: ‘Dragonborn,’ Skar

‘Dragonborn,’ Skar

When I first booted up Skyrim by Bethesda Software, the most recent Elder Scrolls game at the time, it was with the understanding that I would most likely dislike the game.  I’ve no long-standing connection to the game series, you see, as I was bored by its predecessors.

This game, though, caught me from the very start with its title music.

Do not, for a moment, get me wrong: the game has issues.  The chief of these are addressed most efficiently, as is generally true of Bethesda games, by the modding community rather than the company itself.  Patches abound for mechanics tweaks, UI changes, bug fixes, mesh enhancements and countless more.

It seems just, therefore, that its title music should be treated to the same fan-propelled alteration.

I know next to nothing about Skar, but this track is incredible.  Its power is undeniable and suits perfectly a modern take on the warrior-culture of the Nord inhabitants of the game’s titular nation.

Listen in good health.

Music Monday: ‘Pretty People (Simlish Version),’ Dexter Freebish

Oh hell yes I’m putting down a game song for Music Monday!

Let’s be clear: I don’t know that much about Dexter Freebish or their(?) music.  Or even if ‘Dexter Freebish’ is the name of a single artist or a band.  I haven’t even Googled that far.

But when I came across this song whilst playing The Sims 2: University, I was freaking hooked.  Turns out I don’t like the original anywhere near as much as I dig this version.

The creation of music is a work of art, an act of expression, that ultimately adds that little bit more to the world (yes, even the really bad stuff).  To take that act of creation and adapt it to a fictional language with no set guidelines and barely any glossary (Simlish, in this case, the ‘tongue’ spoken by the Sims in all of the versions of the game of the same name), and still make it sound awesome, is no small feat.  While Pretty People is not the only extant song given the Simlish treatment, it is easily one of the best.

This is, it’s true, the kind of creativity that doesn’t get the credit it’s due.  Games are still viewed as silly things for kids who never grow up.  And maybe there’s a kernel of truth to that sentiment – from a particular point of view.

But if this is the kind of thing we get to rock out to, screw it.

Sul sul!

Music Monday: ‘Doctorin’ the TARDIS,’ KLF/The Timelords

Beautiful scenery.  Terrible effects.  Love it.

In honour of the commencement of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Thirteenth Doctor, a flashback to this brilliant, iconic, awful piece of musical fan music.

The KLF were an electronic band in the UK, and it’s members… either released this as the Timelords, or were also producing music under that name independently of their KLF works.  I’m not sure and I’m not so invested as to feel the need to find out.  Hie thee to Google if you demand more info.

What this song was to me, however, was a terribly catchy, terribly enjoyable and, well, terribly terrible part of my youth.  It crashed into my awareness, unrepentant and brash, a powerful testimony to the act (and skill) of being able to fiercely love something and yet still be able to have a bit of fun with it.  Doctorin’ the TARDIS might be a dreadful mashup of sound clips and a rather blatant ripoff of a couple of other songs, but it is fun.  Honest, ridiculous fun.

And that’s all it needs to be.

I don’t, Gods forbid, present this as an example of good music.  It’s a reminder to those Doctor Who fans out there to check yourselves and ask the question: am I taking this too seriously?  Can I still have fun with it?  Can I expect solid programming out of Doctor Who and still genuinely enjoy it just for the sake of what it is, right now, today?

One of the core themes of the show is change.  If you can’t let it change, if you have to fight and bemoan and wail about it, are you really a fan of the show – the whole show – or are you just a fan of the small part with which you are most familiar?

Merry Music Monday, folks, and congratulations to Jodie Whittaker and the whole Doctor Who crew.  So far I’m loving it.

Music Monday: ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As),’ Regurgitator

Ah yes, Regurgitator, a true staple of Australian music.  This isn’t the first song of theirs that I heard but it was the first that I knew as a Regurgitator song.  Unit is the first of their albums that I listened to, the first I bought and remains my favourite.

This song in particular strikes quite a chord, as it reminds the listener that it’s actually okay to be a complete dork as long as you’re having a good time.

Enjoy!

Music Monday: ‘Calypso,’ Spiderbait

I woke up with this song in my head.  I don’t know why.

This is one of the songs of my younger years.  In 1997 I was twenty-one, still finding my feet and asking some very hard questions of myself regarding my identity, my worthiness, my goals and dreams and aspirations.  Many of those questions, another twenty-one years later, I have yet to answer.  This song, released at such an influential period in my life, retains a special place in my heart.

Enjoy, if you care to.

Music Monday: ‘Zombie,’ Bad Wolves

Yes, it’s a cover.

My information on this may be shaky but as I understand it, the artists (Bad Wolves) were intending to collaborate on this song with the Cranberries prior to Dolores O’Riordan’s death.  She was only four years older than me.  This song therefore became a tribute, and a compelling one it is.

The lyrics are a little different but they point out something utterly essential: we haven’t learnt.  For all our advances in technology, society and medicine, it truly is ‘the same old theme in 2018.’