I have been picked to represent the office at a week-long Young Ireland conference, joining with those representing Scotland and Northern Ireland, at Stranraer in June. The programme and info are here, but basically it's a collection of people coming together to debate current events and topical issues, and to discuss ways in which change can be affected. You also have the honour of hearing speakers from a broad range of cultural bases, with even broader ranges of experience. Last year hosted Robert Fischer, as well as a man who lost his child in the Dunblane massacre, an ex-Iraqi college student who's speaking out against Saddam's regime resulted in his exile and his brother's execution, the family member of a holocaust survivor, and many more. This year should prove to be just as interesting, and I'm really looking forward to it!
I'm delighted to have been chosen, and feel extremely proud...but still a little apprehensive! Not only will I have to take part in group discussion and debate every day (from 9-7), but I must also prepare a 900-word treatise arguing the case of a subject of my choice, which will be duly picked apart by other members when I read it out at the conference!
I have settled on Feminism and it's relation to modern day woman as my topic. I think that the subject most adequately sums up my attitude to life and general way of living, and will therefore be an easier topic to stand by - since I fully believe in the strength and power of woman.
I came across a post earlier today on The Guardian newspaper's website, which details how Beth Ditto of The Gossip is to be their new 'agony aunt'. She wrote an article introducing herself, which features on the site, and I find it a fitting little karma flit to point me in the right direction...I wasn't completely sure if the Feminism topic was the right one, but I think that this little 'sign' nudges me forward.
I'll leave the final word to Beth...
"I was reading an article recently that suggested I was really wild and crazy and described me as "the woman who puts Courtney Love to shame". I just thought: "What?!" It was really funny to me, because I actually have the opposite of a rock-star lifestyle. I mean, I have to play shows and what not, but outside of that I'm a grandma. I do things like bake cakes and worry about whether I have time to pot my flowers before it gets too cold. I live with two of my best friends in Portland, Oregon, and I'll say to them, "What do y'all wanna do tonight? You want me to make devilled eggs?" And they'll nod, "Yeah, that sounds gooooood."
There have been a lot of times in my life when I wished that someone was around to be really honest with me, to say, "What the fuck are you doing?" Realistically it's often easier if that doesn't come from your friends, but from someone at a distance. That's why I'm so excited about starting this column in G2, addressing your questions and dilemmas. I'd love to be able to help convince people to accept themselves and to let go of what other people think of them - I think that's one of the most important things you can do.
Growing up isn't easy when you're different from other kids. I was physically different, and a lesbian, too, so there was potentially a lot to deal with. Pretty early on I perfected that fat kid thing where, every time someone was gonna say something nasty, I'd try to beat 'em to the punch. Before they could make fun of me, I would go and make fun of me. And that turned out to be a great asset, because it helped me to develop my wit. I think I'm really lucky.
People still sometimes comment on the way I look, but at this stage they can't tell me anything I don't already know. I know I'm fat, I know I'm quirky, I know my teeth are yellow. I do actually have access to a mirror, so this hasn't got past me. When people say things like that, I just feel like saying - "Duh?" Or, "Wow, you're a genius, you should be a photographer. You have such impeccable vision."
I didn't read a lot of teenage advice columns when I was growing up, partly because I couldn't relate to them. I would read them and think: "I don't have trouble with boyfriends - I'm scared that my mom can't pay the rent." I was brought up by a single mom in a poor town in Arkansas and while some aspects of smalltown life were really positive - like the fact that everyone there is really sweet and hospitable - there is also this close-minded mentality, and that naturally made me want to rebel.
Junior high was tough for lots of reasons, one of which was that my aunt was dying, and I was looking after her. High school wasn't so bad though because, by then, I had worked out that there were far more nerdy kids and poor kids than there were rich, popular kids, so, at the very least, we had them outnumbered. Also, the school was really small and I knew most people - there were 65 kids in my graduating class, and half of those were my cousins.
I slowly came out of the closet between the ages of 15 and 18. There were a lot of people in Arkansas that I just couldn't tell - it wasn't that I thought they'd be horrible, just that they wouldn't really understand. At that point I realised that if I didn't get out of there, I was going to stay miserable, and I would never have a life that I really loved or even understood.
Moving away from Arkansas was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I remember thinking - I can buy a plane ticket with my last $200, or I can stay here and get pregnant. Those were my two options. Staying would definitely have been easier, because I had no idea what lay ahead. For instance, until I was 18 I'd never even seen a bagel, let alone eaten one. And I had no money, no back-up at all.
Once I did, though, it was brilliant. I moved to this feminist scene in Olympia, Washington, where everyone was in a band and playing music, and it was beautiful. I had so much support that it was ridiculous. Everyone was talking to each other and teaching each other and making art. They were putting on DIY festivals and it was amazing. At that point I came out kicking and screaming - I was so out of the closet it was insane!
My life hasn't been conventional and it hasn't been linear. I've had to make it up as I've gone along, which has taught me a lot. If you don't accept the obvious options that are laid out for you, it's up to you to work out where you're going and to create your own specific rules and goals. I definitely have my own set of rules that I try to live by. I'm a feminist, of course, and I feel as if I'm very politically correct, although I do question what's PC and what's not - I don't just accept what I'm told. I always analyse the information in front of me and I think if more people developed their own rules to live by rather than just accepting the status quo, we would probably all be much happier.
One rule that I always stick to is to stay away from drugs, which is why this idea that I'm a wild, crazy rock star is so hilarious. I just don't think that drugs are cool. I know there are people who can take them and still handle things, but I've seen so many people destroy their creativity and their lives and I have no desire to be one of them. I also have no desire to be someone who has that kind of influence or effect on youth. I don't mean that in an egotistical way - "If I do it, the children will do it" - but, truthfully, you never know who is watching you.
I really believe in the golden rule: treat other people as you would want to be treated. And also in honest, direct communication. I don't think that honesty is always the best policy, because you can really hurt someone's feelings that way. But I think that, given the right moment, the right situation and timing, tactful, honest communication is everything.
To be honest, there isn't any question I wouldn't want to be asked. Even if it's personal. Even if it's scary. Even if it's, "How do you take in your trousers so that they fit you properly?" I'm up for all of it. Bring it on!"
Friday 27 April 2007, The Guardian