It is that time of year where I start to appear to be like the Grinch that Stole Christmas (before the happy ending). Whilst I love to spend time with family and friends during Christmas, I find the excessive consumption that surrounds this festive holiday to be quite problematic.
It is only November yet the annual hysteria surrounding Christmas is being pushed via the news, adverts, social media and shops selling all things deemed ‘Christmassy’. With it being Black Friday today this issue is likely to intensify. This worries me, it was only this week that I happened to be watching a television programme where a caller phoned the show ask the host;
If I am already in 50K (ish) worth of debt can you help me borrow another 3k so that I can buy Christmas presents?
It might seem easy to see debt as an individual issue. Yet, if using a bit of criminological imagination, debt can be perceived as an issue that is influenced by culture, and by capitalism, which encourages people to buy things even if they cannot afford to do so.
I do worry about the strains that Christmas may have on those workers who are already working in very poor working conditions, and with very poor pay. Especially as capitalism continues to be oppressive along citizenship, class, gender and race lines.
How will those that work in sweatshops find the increased Christmas demand? If a bit of extra pay is possible perhaps this might be welcomed, (especially due to the effect of covid), but this does not erase the issues of exploitation. Some people may say that capitalism is needed for survival and human ‘advancement’. In the past, ideas about human advancement have been used to justify the most brutal experiences of enslaved and colonised people. I am no expert but it seems that, in contemporary society, this so called ‘advancement’ is having dire effects on many, including the living situations for indigenous people and the planet.
Surely there is room to operate in a way which balances the profit based motive with more ethical considerations of humans?…Or maybe the whole system needs to change? What would happen if people were able to be critical of capitalism. Or for those that are already critical, what if they really thought about whether they need to buy all of the items in their online baskets? What if those with disposable income find that they have lots of savings due to reducing spending and decide to gave the money to charity (/or to those that need it more than them)? I wonder if this would then encourage businesses to becomes both more ethical and affordable.
Rest assured, I am not writing this post to be smug about my own lifestyle. Although, I will never really fully understand why people want to have/buy so many things with such high levels of inequality.
Last week featured my first weekend of rest in a long time and I was desperate to do nothing. In conversation with a friend I mentioned that I had not binge-watched anything in a long time and she suggested The Maid (streaming on Netflix) with a warning that it was brilliant but that I might find it traumatic. I consumed the entire season over the weekend, even after I messaged said friend to inform her after episode two that it was a difficult watch and I would need a break. I did not take a break and powered through. If you have ever been through, witnessed or supported someone through abuse, this will be a difficult watch but I also found it quite therapeutic because it was realistic.
The series is about domestic abuse and focuses on emotional abuse, addressing some of the stigma and contested victimhood of those who suffer non-physical abuse. Although based in the US, it addresses the lack of recognition in the legal system for abusive relationships that do not feature physical violence. The show highlighted that many in society do not recognise non-physical domestic abuse as ‘real’ or ‘enough’, and for a while the female lead (Alex) herself did not perceive herself to be victimised enough to warrant support from a refuge or seek help from the police. She later moves through her denial after getting flashbacks as a symptom of PTSD. She realised that having witnessed her father perpetrate violence towards her mother as a child, her daughter was now impacted in exactly the same way, despite this ‘lesser’ form of abuse.
Much of the series showed the struggles of single mothers leaving abusive relationships, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Forcibly displaced, they slowly try to rebuild their lives, applying for state benefits, social housing and childcare. Alex quickly finds a job and still finds it difficult to find a place to live because she needs state support to supplement her rent and deposit. There are few landlords who accept tenants receiving state support, both in the US and the UK. She is repeatedly facing the barriers of an unjust system, stacked against her because of the type of victimisation she suffered.
While facing structural barriers, the maid found help in the most unlikely people: women in the shelter, a social worker helping her to fight the system, a wealthy woman she worked for. Her relationships changed with some people to access support. She was forced to seek help from her father and another male friend when she was left homeless which had difficult gendered dynamics. The father had been abusive to her mother and when she recalled this, it caused conflict in her relationship and she left his home, despite this leaving her homeless once again. Her male friend appeared to be helpful and kind but did so with the expectation she would start a relationship with him and when this did not materialise she was again asked to leave with nowhere to go so she returns to her ex-partner.
The maid does not as much get back into a relationship with him than coexists with him. The relationship he thinks they have is not what her reality is. He thinks she has come home, she is there because she is homeless with nowhere else to go. They live parallel lives. After returning to the ‘family home’, Alex falls into depression and suffers PTSD. Some of the imagery here is intense. In one scene the sofa swallows her up, as if she wished to sink into the cracks of the furniture, not wanting to be seen, wanting to escape but with no means to flee or places to flee to. In other scenes, she tries to go for a walk in the forest, but the trees close in around her, visually representing the isolation her abuser has forced upon her.
My main criticism is in the final episode when Sean tells the maid he will get sober but getting sober will not fix this. Alcohol is not the problem. He was abusive during his sober phases. Quitting alcohol does not transplant men’s attitudes, values and beliefs towards women. Being sober does not remove the need for abusive men to control women. This sends the wrong message to the audience, and it is a dangerous message to send. I would have liked to see the series end with Sean admitting he was a controlling, abusive man and that he would get help for this. Instead he blamed his behaviour on alcohol.
I’m going to play the tape forward and imagine a season 2 because I have witnessed this scenario a few times over the years. He cleans up, gets sober and appears to look like he is doing well. He may have been to rehab or AA where he was taught that he probably should not punch walls or throw objects at people’s heads. He gets in a new relationship and it looks like all is well for a while but he still has not admitted or addressed why he was abusive so his behaviours are there, they are just more subtle. He gaslights, manipulates, controls. But he isn’t outwardly aggressive so he gets away with it for a while. Until he doesn’t.
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Don’t miss Father’s Day. Each year, Luxury Life Liquors sponsors our special Father’s Day event and fills pool on stage with whiskey. Watch these girls swim like mermaids. After the show, you know MC doesn’t waste good liquor.
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*P.S. Magic City Club is not affiliated with that MC strip joint all the rappers rap about.
As you know by now, a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Hence the creation of #CriminologyBookClub! Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all eight bloggers contributing! This title was the second chosen by @manosdaskalou and is our 14th book. Read on to find out what we thought….
I have no profound objection to self-published books but have read only one other. The rationale for reading the first one was to proof-read/copy edit for the author. That can’t really be called reading, because you miss the story by studying the text so closely. However, I digress. The blurb for this book sounded fascinating, individual narratives heading toward one place: Brighton. Unfortunately, whilst the idea for the book was clever, the writing was overly descriptive and at times, turgid. There is no space for the reader to imagine the characters or the places, everything is told in minute detail. There is a clear attempt to be inclusive with the choice of characters, but they are largely one-dimensional and lack authenticity. The final character talks about his supposed lack of representation as a white man in Brighton (with a white population of 90%) and at that point, I lost what little interest remained. In feminist circles, the question “what would a mediocre white man do?” is prevalent, a possible response could be; write this book. The only positive I have to offer is the support offered by sales to Shelter.@paulaabowles
The format and style of the book was unlike anything I had read before: and I really liked it. The characters were full of life: a life riddled with inequalities, harm and pain. Unlike other reads where I have failed to feel anything for the characters (or anything other than a serious dislike), Dying in Brighton evoked a number of emotions from myself towards the people in the book. However these emotions were left in a sort of vacuum, with myself feeling very ‘meh’ at the end of the book. I was disappointed with the final chapter. Whilst I can appreciate the ending and the manner in which it is told, I did not like it. I wanted to know more about how Akeem, Nicola, Wasim, Lori and Paul got to the end they got to. Considering the ‘end result’ and my emotions from the previous chapters, I feel I should have had a more powerful response to the end: but I did not. The short snippets were not enough for me: and I feel that the last chapter does not do their stories or their lives justice. Despite this, I would recommend!@jesjames50
The title Dying in Brighton does not leave much to the imagination. I am glad that the purchase of this book supports a charity. Unfortunately, I found this book to be problematic. I did not understand his selection of characters or how their stories linked. The book reads as though a heterosexual white man who is not disabled is congratulating the white men characters within the book for being friends with people who are migrants or LGBT. There is even a point where a character feels ‘underrepresented’ as a white man…I skimmed the book as I am sick of hearing similar to this in reality.@haleysread
This is a book that definitely divided the book club and I have to say the comments were by far more negative than positive. For my part, I found the narrative interesting in a strange sort of way. I didn’t find myself labouring on the description and attributes of the characters but rather took in an overall sense of ordinary people that were troubled and in trouble for some reason or another and therefore found themselves gravitating to Brighton; in fairness they could have gone anywhere. The book didn’t take long to read, and the narrative ends rather abruptly but I think that is probably the point. The book left me with a sense of sadness, and it reminded me that homeless people are real people with real lives and yet are very often invisible in our society. Would I read something from the same author again, probably not? Would I recommend the book, probably not, but it did hit a mark somewhere along the line?@5teveh
This book was a very quick read. Each chapter presented a very stereotypical view of a member of every marginalised group you can think of – a refugee, a trans woman, a troubled teenage girl. The book ended with a chapter about a rich white man with houses all over the world, finding himself feeling like he wasn’t represented. It turns out – spoiler alert – that all the marginalised people went to Brighton, became homeless and died. At the end a woman was selling craftwork with each of the dead, marginalised homeless person’s face. Now I can see how, to a critical criminologist, all this is problematic to say the least. However, the book carried a message that homeless people are invisible. People walk past them every day without a second glance. The author also donated profits of the book to Shelter so it was for a good cause. So, although the book was heavily criticised during our discussion, for people in many walks of life I’d like to think the book would quite literally open their eyes and say hello to a person living on the streets.@amycortvriend
This book centres around 5 different characters and their life experiences and choices that lead them to Brighton. When I first read the blurb, I assumed this book would take me on a thought-provoking journey about individuals that could be seen as outsiders within society, and how their stories are interwoven. What was thought provoking for me was how the representation of individuals can be so wrong. Throughout the book I was distracted by the problematic ways in which the characters were portrayed. I didn’t like the hyper sexualisation of Lori, I felt like this was an attempt to explore transgender issues without any understanding of transgender issues… it was tasteless and done from a male gaze. I also didn’t like the lack of context and understanding of refugees, this exploration was very tone deaf and seemed informed by how the ‘Western world’ views refugees. Usually when reading a book I have some emotion to the characters, however I felt far removed from all the characters and their stories. At the end of the book I also felt like the stories of the five individuals were rushed, there was no back story to why or how they had died in Brighton just that they were dead. I don’t know what angle the author was going for but for me the ending fell flat.@svr2727
This book sounded very promising and I usually really enjoy short stories about very different characters and their experiences and how they converge but this book was disappointing in so many ways. Obviously being self-published meant that it wasn’t as polished as it could’ve been and I find little mistakes to spelling and punctuation really distracting from a story. I wish this was my only complaint! The characters were badly written caricatures – you got the sense that the author had never spent any time with anyone from those backgrounds and that perhaps he wasn’t the right person to be telling these stories. The most authentic chapter of the book was the final one where the narrator (a successful white man) feels that he isn’t represented! Easily the worst book I’ve ever read.@saffrongarside
This is an anthology of different stories of people in very adverse circumstances all of whom are heading to Brighton. In most cases it is not clear why they are heading that way and what they hope from their move there. The short stories are independent from each other and there is no obvious connection between them. Each story explores a different character faced with different issues from abuse, sexuality and substance use. It sends out a signal of some of the social vulnerabilities people are exposed; this however is done as a matter of fact not exploring the social dimensions of the situation. The end brings the stories together but for me this was unsatisfactory. This book has a great idea, an interesting layout but its execution does not meet the goal. The stories are interesting but some of them feel a bit rushed; more character development would have allowed the reader to get closer to the situation and the social issues the author wants to alert people to. As I read it, I thought that some of the stories read more like vignettes that we use in exercises or training for making people aware of certain problems. In terms of literary merit, these are not quite there.@manosdaskalou
A little over a week ago our university introduced the compulsory wearing of face masks indoors. This included wearing of masks in classrooms as well as common areas and offices. Some may argue that the new rules were introduced a little too late in the day, whilst I’m sure others will point to the fact that government guidance is that the wearing of face masks is advisory and therefore the introduction of the new rules was unwarranted. Let’s be honest the government and their political party haven’t set much of an example regarding the basic safety ideas, let alone rules, as evidenced by the recent Conservative party conference. The new rules at the university, however, are not enforced, instead there is a reliance that students and staff will comply. This of course creates several dilemmas for students and staff where there is a failure to comply and it makes for some interesting observations about general human behaviour and deviance. To that extent, university life might be viewed as a microcosm of life in the general population and this lends itself quite nicely to the analogy of behaviours whilst driving on a road.
Driving behaviours vary, from those drivers that consistently and diligently stick to the speed limit despite what others may be doing, to those that have complete disregard for limits or indeed others including those that police the roads. Let us be quite clear at this stage, speed limits are nearly always there for a reason. There is ample research that speed kills and that reductions in speed limits injuries and saves life. Whilst those drivers that drive over the speed limit will not always be involved in a collision and that a collision will not always result in serious injury or death, there is a much greater potential for this. The risks of course are spread across the population in the locality, the impact is not just felt by the speeding driver but other drivers and pedestrians as well. To some extent we can make the comparison to the risks associated with catching Covid and the wearing of masks and social distancing, failure to comply increases risks to all. As a quick reminder, the wearing of masks is to protect others more so than it is to protect the individual mask wearer.
Observations of behaviours regarding staff and students wearing masks at the university are interesting. There are those that comply, regardless of what others are doing, some of these will have been wearing masks indoors before the new rules came in. Not dissimilar to the careful driver, sticking to the speed limit but also prepared to drive slower where they perceive there is a greater risk. Then there is the well-intentioned mask wearer, the one that knows the rules and will stick to them but through absent mindedness or through some of life’s many distractions, they fail to wear their masks at various points of the day. As with the well-meaning driver, they are easily reminded and often apologetic, even if it is only to themselves. Of course, there is the ‘follow the flock’ wearer, the person that could quite easily be persuaded to not wear their mask by the rest of the flock as they fail to wear theirs. The driver that joins the rest and drives at 40mph in a 30mph limit because the rest of the traffic is doing so. Next is the deviant that has disregard for the rules as long as no one in authority is looking. The person that keeps their mask handy, probably under their chin and then when challenged in some way, perhaps by a disapproving look from a member of staff or by a direct challenge, puts their mask on but only for the duration they are under observation. Not dissimilar to the speedster that slows down when they see a police vehicle or a static speed camera only to speed up again when the danger of being caught and sanctioned has passed. Finally, there is the person that has complete disregard for any rules, they will blatantly fail to wear a mask and wave away with complete disdain any attempt by student ambassadors positioned at the door to offer them a mask. They like the speeding driver that fails to obey any of the rules of the road have complete disregard for the rules or indeed any rules.
Whilst we may lament the fact that some people forget, are distracted but are generally well meaning, we probably wouldn’t want to impose any sanction for their deviance. But what of those that have complete disregard for the rules? It is worth returning here to the general ethos of wearing masks; to protect others. The disregard for the rules is inter alia a disregard for the safety of others. Whilst we might observe that the deviancy is apparent amongst several students (a problem that might be generalised to society), it is somewhat disconcerting that there are a significant number of staff who clearly do not think the rules apply to them. They seem to neither care about their colleagues nor the students and it would seem consider themselves above the rules. Another comparable trait in general society where those in positions of power seem to have a disregard for rules and others. Finally, we might consider how we could police these new rules as clearly our university society of students and staff are unable to do so. I can hear the cries now, haven’t you got anything better to do, this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and all the usual rhetoric endured by the police across the land. If you make a rule, you must be prepared to enforce it otherwise there’s no point in having it. Imposing an unenforceable rule is simply playing politics and attempting to appease those that question the conditions in which students and staff work. Imagine speed limits on the road but no enforcement cameras, no police and no sanctions for breaches. It will be interesting to see how long the general population at the university follow the new rules, recent observations are that the flock of sheep mentality is starting to come to the fore. As a parting thought, isn’t it amazing how easy it is to study crime and deviance.
For the short time I have been writing on this blog (thanks @paulaabowles and @manosdaskalou for the first invite), I am certain I have said before that I never expected to go to university. At school, I was not particularly ‘academically gifted’ and was treated differently to the other children. Not only because I was a Black child in an almost homogenously white mass, but also because I was neurodivergent. Back then, I did not know terms like ‘neurodiversity’ or ‘disability‘ but I knew I was different because the teachers went out of the way to treat me differently (and not in the best way). It was only recently that I saw my school experience was intersectional, and how I was treated was traumatisingly ableist. At sixteen, I was forced to go to college to retake my GCSEs (or the equivalent), where I retook English and Maths while doing a BTEC Level 2 qualifiaction. Going on to do A-Levels at seventeen years old, I realised I did not exam well.
There, I saw I did well in coursework which I could do at home in an environment I was comfortable in, with time to mull things over and think. I also realised I did well in things I enjoyed. When it came to coursework, I almost sailed through it all, but exams that relied on memory tests … here, I struggled exponentially. Particularly as my dyspraxia impacts memory. As part of a longer thread on children’s education, Professor David Bowles tweeted
“Do you want kids to learn?
Here’s something we’ve discovered.
Kids learn things that matter to them, either because the knowledge and skills are “cool,” or because …
… they give the kids tools to liberate themselves and their communities.
Maintaining the status quo? Nope.”@DavidOBowles (2020)
When people talk to me now, they have this belief that I have always been collected and together. And when people come to my sessions, or even came to see me when I was an SU sabbatical officer, they did not believe that I got into my undergraduate course (Creative Writing) via clearing. The fact I struggle (and still struggle) with exams is unbelievable to them. To them, I do not fit the picture (built on media-made stereotypes) of what is now called Special Educational Needs [SEN]. As a child, I had a Maths and English tutor in school (Mrs Thomas) and outside of school (JJ, who I’m still in contact with now … great human). It’s only now that I’m seeing that due to the institutionalisation of education, seeing students as individual learners is a challenge for many. One size does not fit all, and now I’m imagining that if autistic children, for example, were able to learn in the system via our special interests, how different things would be for those of us that learn in less conventional ways.
Doing my undergraduate degree, then graduating in July 2019 (mere months prior to the outbreak of COVID in March 2020), I am seeing I did well because I was in a discipline I liked. But more than that, because I was writing about things that mattered to me. The university’s creative writing course did not show me anything about Black British writing, so just as I recommend to all students I meet now (particularly those from historically excluded backgrounds), make two sets of notes: do your own reading as well as those your lecturer gives you. From late summer of 2019, I was in conversation with Criminology’s Stephanie Richards @svr2727 about masters programmes and she of course had all the solutions! Off the back of years of being interested in issues pertaining to racial inequalities and like-issues, I signed on to Leeds Beckett University’s MA in Race, Education, and Decolonial Thought.
Since then, my life has not been the same. Unknown at the point of signing up in the January/February of 2020 for the coming autumn, that we would be in intermittent lockdowns during my study time, I guess this worked out in the end. Yet, following Bowles’ points about learning, I was in an academic discipline that mattered to me (Critical Race/Whiteness Studies) and my final grades reflected the passion I have for these subjects and how courses like mine give students some of the tools to liberate themselves and their communities. My modules were in Research Methods; Decolonial Thought and Critical Race Theory; Race, Identity, and Culture in the Black Atlantic; Children’s Cultural Worlds (elective); Diverse Childhoods (elective), and Critical Whiteness Studies. They also offered Critical Ethnic Studies and Critical Discourses as electives. These modules (minus Research Methods) gave students free reign to write what they wanted as long as it tied into the topic in some way. e.g., in Children’s Cultural Worlds I wrote a postcolonial analysis of the classic C.S Lewis Narnia text The Horse and His Boy, with further comments on how the implementation of canonical texts on the English curriculum is not the problem, the issue is our gaze (later turning the essay into an online talk, which helped teachers inside and outside of my community).
The Coronavirus pandemic was stated to be ‘unprecedented’ but I would argue otherwise, as many generations before us all experienced pandemics. From the Plague to the Spanish Flu, there is a precedent. Yet, when disease has impacted countries in the Global South, countries like Britain have turned the other cheek. Ironically, it is also some of the countries in the Global South that have showed better preparation in fighting COVID-19. Doing my MA, the events of the last 18+ months are also things that lend themselves so appropriately to the course content. In discussions about colonialism and empire, this is not a conversation one can have without thinking about disease historically nor current climate change or capitalism. The nature of my masters was not only relevant to COVID, disproportionality, and others, but also the events in society following the Murder of George Floyd and the subsequent discourses around race equity/equality and anti-racism. One cannot pioneer anti-racism whilst ignoring the destructive nature of capitalism and how racial capitalism functions in our society.
Between September 2020 and September 2021, I did this degree online without setting foot in Leeds. Our lectures were pre-recorded and our seminars were on Microsoft Teams. There was something lost online, but the nature of the discussions was excellent. The fact I was the youngest in my cohort (25) was also welcome, so I was happy to learn from those often over ten years older than me, with many of them doing this course whilst also working in schools as teachers and senior leaders. Listening to their lives and stories was as sombre as they were enlightening. Teachers doing this degree whilst being treated ambominably in schools, we must consider how personal experience is also researchable (as I found doing an autoethnographic dissertation)
As someone that is neurodivergent, my ability to hyperfocus on subjects that interest me (even to the point where I forget to eat/sleep … quite typical of many neurodivergents I know), whilst previously was stigmatised in school, with Leeds it was actually encouraged. Not the not sleeping/eating part, but the critical analysis and taking those ideas further part. To overanalyse in my essays and take it that step further was a real boost for my confidence, to then be invited to make contributions to the primary education teacher training course as well. With lots of my colleagues being based in the North of England, it struck me when I also visited Manchester and Lancaster this year to meet two of my new friends, that there’s something in the northern air that quite agrees with me. It’s something that does not exist in the Midlands or the South. I cannot place it, but I want to inquire! My lockdown experience is very different to most students as my course was previously designed to be mixed-mode. Furthermore, my introverted nature means I can also be happy in my own space for long periods. Whilst my extroverted friends get their dopamine from being around others, those encounters when I do have them require me to be alone for long periods to get the same feelings.
What I do miss is the feeling of being on campus, while simultaneously being in a solitary corner of the library. However, our MA WhatsApp chat has bee invaluable, further to discourses on #AcademicTwitter. Whilst my undergrad often positioned lecturers as a bit more ‘us and them’ (almost like the schoolteacher-student relationship), my MA lecturers positioned themselves as mentors and more human who also love to tweet. Frequently, particularly Shona, would be tagging us in things useful to our interests which I still greatly enjoy. On my MA, I also got the opportunity to write a book chapter on empire, racism, corruption, and COVID-19 for an upcoming anthology (to be published by June 2022) in addition to be part of Leeds Beckett’s CRED paper series where I wrote a paper on how we can better teacher Black history as something that is multidisciplinary. Not looking at history through a tunnel.
In a year or nearly two years, that has felt like fourth level of Jumanji, my masters experience has been invaluable in keeping me grounded. Leeds Beckett gave me something that Northamptonshire (the place I grew up in) has not, and is still unable to give me, and it did so without even having to go there. I have still never been to Leeds, but hopefully I get to visit for graduation next year.
As this level of Jumanji continues, who knows what the future holds? Both COVID-19 and the reinterest in Black Lives Matter have shown us that society needs to be redesigned in a way that benefits the many not the few. The lockdowns have shown that those of us with disabilities were needlessly suffering under institutional violence from employers and education providers, and post-lockdown many employers are shifting back to those ableist ways of functioning. And doing my MA in one of the most interesting (yet bleak) years since 1919 is a reminder of what I am capable of. I just needed some coaxing into it!
In America, and most certainly in the land of Dixie and cotillions, at the end of junior high school year we have a tradition of getting our senior class rings. By “getting,” I mean individually buying a ring from the same one or two companies in our city who cash in on this ritual annually. We knew that many of us had to foot the bill with our own after-school jobs, while others’ parents could virtually write a blank check! (Hopefully, at least, or perhaps most assuredly, somebody in the school system gets a kickback from all this cash flow.)
While class rings appeared personalized, the rings – and the ritual – were effectively mass manufactured, complete with standardized shapes and design features: school’s name and mascot – in our case a bear – class year (1993!), and maybe our initials inscribed inside. Oh, and a heteronormative adolescent sexualized ritual to which I shall return shortly.
Rings are generally presented at a school ceremony. Until graduation, class rings are worn facing the wearer as motivation towards the ultimate achievement, after which it is worn outward as a badge of pride and honor. A graduating class could all agree to the same design – usually the school colors – which I believe the majority of my class did. While I prefer the look of silver against my dark skin, our school colors were royal blue and gold, so classes at our school often got blue sapphire set in the lowest Karat gold available that didn’t look cheap. For such a notoriously liberal school (i.e., gender and racially/geographically* integrated by design), this was one of the few explicit acts of conformity.
The next part of the tradition is having 100 different people turn the ring, as sort of an acknowledgement of becoming a senior. The first 99 turn it in one direction, while the final person reverses the order. This clockwise/counter-clockwise turn seals the deal. Yet get this, you’re supposed to kiss the hundredth person who turns the ring. You say the word “kiss” in front of most any group of adolescents and they’ll giggle. We knew what kind of kiss was meant. FRENCH like fries! Somehow becoming a senior in high school had been coopted by this hetero-ritual, a hetero-rite of passage (het-or-no-rites!).
I am troubled that this academic milestone is linked to gender. Worse, the ritual is predictably a performance act that fixes gender to normative sexual roles; yes, heteropatriarchy. Worse still, this binary gender performance is discrete, couched in achieving a basic education.
The ring dealer comes to school and makes a sales pitch to the class, and sets up a booth in the lobby after school. In his pitch, he promises a ‘free’ glossy little form to collect all the signatures. It was a bait and switch. These dealers sold us the rings but gave us the forms, the evidence we needed to prove we’d passed another stage towards adulthood. And what were we supposed to do with the blank glossy forms? Come back to school and boast?
The first 50 or so signatures were just us. Our own schoolmates turning each other’s rings, filling in each other’s forms on the very day the rings arrived. Family filled in a lot, too. I distinctly remember a teacher or two requesting to be excluded from the tradition, or take part in the ring ritual of becoming a senior, else we whittle their fingers away.
We all know everybody only wanted to see who signed the final line – a prompt to incite heteronormalizing speech-acts. Well, a few folks weren’t single and already had that 100th spot reserved and filled by sundown. Needless to say, kisses from granny don’t count! I’m pretty sure this wasn’t written on the dealer’s well-crafted sheet. Our market dominated, heteronormative introduction to adulthood for all to see.
I’d attended the same school since second grade so I’d seen people celebrate this class ring ritual for years, and even attended several graduations. I’d watched the “Senior run” year after year – a day at the end of school, when the graduating class runs through all the halls, cheering, banging on lockers as all the kids in all the classes rush out to line the hallways and egg them on. I loved school, adored our school, adored my classmates, and even looked forward to our turn, though parting so bittersweet.
At 16, I was only starting to be able to fully disidentify with the barrage of heterosexualized norms that engulfed me. I had to disentangle heterosexuality from virtually every facet of life – even finishing high school, a normal step we’re all expected to take. It’s as if to gain access to what bell hooks calls ‘the good life’ one had to signify alignment with compulsory heterosexuality.
I knew that I could not even turn my ring 100 times without kissing a girl. No way I’d risk putting a guy’s name at the end of that glossy list – someone I’d actually dreamt of French-kissing. Not like I knew any guy who’d be game. Damn. This was a lot of pressure. This junior prom was forcing me to make all kinds of adult decisions.
“The more I get of you, the stranger it feels…”
I was 16, and wasn’t out yet. Unlike at twelve when these feelings first bubbled over, by 16 I was on the cusp of self-acceptance, and preparing to face this possibility that I was gay. Perhaps it was pure timing. By the 11thgrade I knew for sure I’d be leaving home months after graduation, which was suddenly within reach. I could chart my own homo path. But still, at that age, I had doubts. I tried seriously dating a young woman as my last-ditch effort to see if I was straight or (at least) bisexual.
Kaye wasn’t a classmate, which wouldn’t have worked anyway because in retrospect all my classmates already knew, and had decided to accept me without question. Kaye attended an all-girls’ school, so we’d met through an extracurricular, Black youth empowerment program. Kaye was clearly college bound. She had her own dreams and ambitions, and pursued them – an ideal mate for me. She was the most attractive woman I knew, both inside and out, both to me and others. Yes, THAT sister who is not invulnerable, but has it all together. If she didn’t do, then dammit I was gay!
Fortunately, my girl was smart. And by smart, I mean that she was intelligent, real smart as in NOT clueless at all. We agreed to a kiss on the cheek, and she’d sign the last line on my glossy form. And by ‘agreed to’, I mean that this is what Kaye put on the table as her firm and final offer. She also had the good sense to let me turn her ring, too, but she reserved the 100th signature for someone special. I respected that. This clarified our plutonic status – no Facebook updates needed: I’m gay.
“Gotta find out what I meant to you…You were sweet as cheery pie/ Wild as Friday night”