In the last general election, I voted for candidates hailing from four different parties because I believe in using the Single Transferable Vote to the full.
Julie Zahra looked like a fresh and kinder face in the Nationalist Party and I gave her a preference. I also admired her for standing her ground when she was belittled by a government minister for being an artist and Eurovision performer.
Over the past months, she has been doing a good job asking pertinent parliamentary questions on heritage issues.
However, I cannot but feel a great sense of disappointment after the Nationalist MP raised concern over a forthcoming Żigużajg performance and workshop regarding gender fluidity aimed at children aged eight to 10.
Zahra said she was reflecting concerns raised to her by “worried parents” but admitted to not reading a copy of the screenplay.
“Several worried parents have approached me about a representation, ‘Gender Boss’, is organising for 8-10 year olds beginning 16 March and to which schools have been invited,” Zahra said on social media.
Żigużajg’s website describes Gender Boss as a “multidisciplinary performance aimed at teaching youngsters about gender fluidity” and “entertaining the concept that gender is flexible and adaptable, not selected for you but by you”.
Julie Zahra does not advocate discrimination or homophobia but by simply raising such a question, she is throwing the proverbial stone and hiding her hand. She should remember that she is not a gossip monger but a member of parliament representing a party which has aspirations to govern the country.
If Julie Zahra has a problem with the performance she should have asked for the script, read it and presented a case against screening the performance. If she found nothing wrong she should have turned to the parents who approached her and addressed their concerns.
The fact that she felt the need to raise the concerns of parents disturbed by a performance celebrating diversity sends shivers down my spine. In doing so, Zahra legitimised prejudice and ignorance. It’s no wonder many of those defending her actions had no qualms showing their true homophobic colours.
Julie Zahra also queried whether the performance was based on expert advice thus questioning the professional integrity of the artists and educators involved in ŻiguŻajg, which has a proven track record of producing performances that gently address topics children face in everyday life.
This is brazen interference in the work of professionals.
I am also livid on a personal level. The ŻiguŻajg performance sums up values which I cherish and which I try every day to impart to my son as a parent. In this sense I take personal offence at the insinuation that the performance is confusing children because that would also mean that parents who impart the same values to their children are guilty of confusing them.
In reality this performance is addressing a crucial topic in a world inhabited by pornographers and incels like Andrew Tate who command a wide following among teens on the social media. It is people like Tate who actually promote the idea of fixed gender identities and who glorify a toxic masculinity which undermines kindness, inclusion and happiness. This performance is not just about LGBTIQ identities but also about being your own boss in determining what it means to be a man, a woman or something else.
That is why I am livid by those insinuating that such a performance may ‘confuse’ children. It suggests that imparting humanistic and inclusive values is damaging to 8-year olds who are presumably too young to deal with this stuff.
In reality those who want to cancel this performance ignore the fact that this performance deals with the challenges of real life children; which may well be the very sons or daughters of those complaining about the performance or the kid sitting next to them at school. It is at this tender age when children start questioning their identities and develop a narrative of their own selves.
Let’s also not forget how comforting it is for children whose identity does not conform to the norm to find role models and to feel that they are not alone in this world asking questions about their identities.
What about those who still impart fear of hell fire and eternal damnation on vulnerable children? And what about the harm caused by stereotypes which my generation grew up to while being forced to read Id-Denfil or Ladybird books written in the 1950s?
Some argue that parents have a right to shield their children from what they see as gender indoctrination, ignoring the fact that traditional stereotypes, if left unchallenged, constitute the kind of indoctrination which amounted to nothing short of structural violence against children whose own bodies refused to conform to what society expected of them.
On a political level am also worried. For me this attitude indicates that her party is just accepting the status quo on LGBTIQ rights because it cannot do otherwise. But rights are grounded in culture. Otherwise we would be simply tolerating people, allowing to do their stuff in private without disturbing others. Tolerance is not equality. In fact, rights granted as acts of tolerance remain fragile and can be taken away.
Zahra should also remember that she hails from a party which condemned thousands of people to invisibility. A party that for decades even denied LGBTIQ people the right to have a family and which refused to recognise the gender of people whose identity did not correspond to their sexual organs. In government, the PN used to cancel identities. Thankfully, it cannot do so anymore.
I also trust that many in her party are sorry about this legacy and are in synch with the aspirations of a more humane society. But some in the PN, instead of apologising for a dark past, are rushing into culture wars that embolden bigots with a narrative that we are experiencing a moral decline.
In reality, our schools are now happier places and people are also kinder to each other. That is something that makes me proud of living in a new Malta. In this aspect, Malta is becoming more compassionate and for me this is a great leap forward.