I told Helen I don’t want to be on stage and not talk about patriarchy anymore.

So yeah I’m up for talking about the technology or Loomio or working together or writing in the internet age or whatever it says on the program but first I want to talk a bit about being a boy.

Coz when I’m thinking about me and patriarchy, the first topic has to be my childhood.

I think humans are born all very different and growing up is basically about sacrificing that difference to conform to particular groups.

Right? A baby is born with a million different attributes, a crazy mass of potential, like, every baby has the potential to be some brand new never-before-seen mashup of Einstein and Beyoncé.

But you take that baby, raise it in a particular culture, and send it to school and before you know it they’ve hacked off all your spikey bits and compressed you into the perfect cubicle-shaped stackable repeatable human.

And of course this conformity thing is strongly tied to your gender. Depending on your genitals you’re supposed to behave one way or another. So growing up as a boy, I was encouraged to show competence, and discouraged from showing vulnerability. I was celebrated for strength, and embarrassed about being expressive.

Rich, don’t be such a girl! Rich, don’t be such a fag!

I used to cry all the time, and my brothers and my dad and my granddad would take the piss out of me, which would obviously then make me cry even more.

Harden up Rich!

Oh man being a boy sucks.

I had all these feelings and I wasn’t allowed to express them.

Having a crush on a girl was like the most shameful thing. Being attracted to someone was a filthy secret. I didn’t want anyone to find out because I’d be mocked mercilessly. Back then the main way we communicated in our family was through teasing. Only I didn’t get the joke, I thought the punchline was that I was unloveable.

So it was pretty amazing when I told a girl I liked her, and she told me she liked me too! Holy shit! Are you serious!? Me?! You!? Like you and me!!??


So I had my first girlfriend.

She lived in the Hawke’s Bay and I was in the Hutt, so we mostly communicated through letters. Disgusting, puking, heart-exposing love letters. That was awesome. I suddenly had access to this club that I figured I’d never get into: I’m a loveable person! Wow! I remember literally doing a cartwheel for happiness. Haha like a girl.

But when we were together in the same room it was agony!

Our church was obsessed with not having sex, so we were both so pent up. I swear I had semen leaking out of my ears most days. In all seriousness though, I remember one particular moment when we embraced after a couple months apart and she came right there on my leg. One minute we were hugging and the next minute I was holding her up as her legs gave way. Only I didn’t know she was cumming because I’d never seen anyone else cum before: I had no reason to know that women had orgasms too.

What a crazy time to not have sex with someone! It still makes me feel sick to think about.

Having blue balls was bad enough, but what actually made it horrible was that we couldn’t communicate, we couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t talk about anything that was actually near to my core.

You can’t get close to someone if you can’t express yourself.

Being near to someone, and not communicating: to this day that is still the worst feeling I know.

It’s like being dead.

When I’m near to someone, but there’s something blocking me from communicating with them, it’s like the pleasant fiction of reality suddenly dissolves and I’m crushingly aware of the infinite vacuum of space and loneliness that’s always there in the background, trying to disintegrate my molecules.

So anyway, yeah I’m growing up, and I can’t communicate for shit, and it sucks.

And you know what it was that pulled me out of the abyss? My lifeline was the written word.

Specifically, writing on the internet.

I was having a dreadful time at school, but I’d get home and log in to some chat room where I could bypass my socially constructed identity and just have a real conversation with another conscious being. I didn’t need to know anything about their identity either. I’d just read what they had written, then I’d write back.

My first experiences of really being heard were online.

After the chatrooms we got blogs.

I’m proud to tell people I had a blog before the word was invented. My first blog was hand coded, every page written from scratch. Summoned out of the ether and published into the universe. Poetry and prose and pictures and opinion.

It’s a bizarre thing: just the act of publishing is enough to create an audience. I’d post something, and somehow some fellow traveller would stumble across it and respond. Pretty quickly I found myself in this international community of people figuring out who they were by writing for each other.

After the blogs, we got Facebook.

The bloggers were disgusted with Facebook because suddenly everyone else was writing on the web too. The web was suddenly overrun with normal people talking about normal stuff and I lost track of all my blogger friends.

I love Facebook though.

These days I can happily spend a day or two chewing over a single sentence, turning it around in my head, shaping it, crafting it, getting inside of it, pulling it apart and reconstructing it until it feels done.

When it’s ready, I’ll lob it into the river of the Facebook newsfeed and watch as it lands with a big splash or a little ripple. Either way, whether there’s two people or twenty, we get to jump into this new temporary space and play with this idea together. That’s where I get to learn what I really think, and how that fits with what other people think, and what distinctive special little piece of the puzzle I have to offer.

I’ll give you an example. I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately. Because hospitality is such a gendered concept I find it really hard to have the conversation I want to have about it.

So the other day I posted on Facebook, “Pākehā are so shit at hospitality.”

It was pretty amusing to watch all these pākehā men getting noisily outraged like “how dare you question my supremacy”. Meanwhile my non-pākehā friends were quietly liking the post and staying out of the debate, like, “Yeah bro. Hardout.”

But the debate was great, because it forced me to unpack exactly what I meant about hospitality: to really articulate the role it plays in leveling power and creating spaces for collaboration between diverse people. Like, the art of weaving two groups of people together in a way that is safe for everyone. Host and guest. Tangata whenua and manuhiri.

I realised something the other night, when my liver woke me up at 3AM. It often does that, with some instant download, like, Pssst! Hey! You’ve got to write about this! A lot of times my sleeping brain has figured out the connection between 4 or 5 Facebook posts and my liver wakes me up to tell me I have to go write a new blog post.

So last Saturday morning my liver woke me up at 3AM because my sleeping brain had been thinking about meeting Helen for the first time, and what we might say together about writing and the patriarchy and the internet or whatever this session is about. That was when I realised the connection between the writing I do now and my childhood as a boy growing up on a farm in the Wairarapa.

I realised that as I’m developing my abilities as a writer, as I learn how to express myself, I’m navigating back to my original authentic voice. The one that I was born with, before patriarchy and capitalism and colonialism turned me into the self-centered loud-mouthed know-it-all that keeps trying to grab the microphone.

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 by the author.

Richard D. Bartlett

Written by

I write about working together (http://richdecibels.com). Loomio cofounder (http://loomio.org). Enspiral member (http://enspiral.com).

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