On Not Being Scottish or Australian
Thought I ought to say this upfront for some reason: I am non-binary. I don’t identify as a Man or as a Woman. That might be important later.
Hi everyone, I don’t identify as Scottish or Australian. That might be important later.
I was born in Scotland, and that’s enough for a lot of people to say they think I’m Scottish. There’s a crowd of people who say that that’s what it takes. If you were born Scottish, you’re Scottish forever, and nothing you can do or say can change that. Most people, when they meet me, they hear my accent and they think I’m Scottish, and they think that’s what makes me Scottish. Others say that I’m Scottish because I have a Scottish citizenship, and there are others that say because the doctor said “Yep, he’s Scottish” and then put it on a form, that that makes me Scottish.
But, people also think I’m Australian. I moved so young that I have an Australian twang to my accent, and when I go back to Scotland they think I’m Australian. One of my parents is Australian, so I have an Australian citizenship. I wasn’t born here, and my birth certificate says I’m Scottish, but it turns out that in my day-to-day life that’s not what people look at when they’re trying to determine if I’m Scottish or not.
But, there’s a few people who argue that the important thing about being Australian is that you were born here, and they say you can’t be Australian otherwise. They say that there’s something about the experience of being always Australian, that because the doctor took a look at you and said “Australian” or looked at your organs and said they look Australian, that you know what it is to be Australian. If they do that, then people interact with you in that way people do when they interact with Australians. Its those people interacting with you from day zero that make you truly Australian.
They also say that even if you exist in the world and people say you look Australian, and you got Australian put on all your documents, and you had a XXXX stubby every morning to make your organs more Australian, that you’ll never know what its like to really be Australian. This group of people call themselves “Society Explainers”. Now, not all Society Explainers, and definitely not the broader group of “Explainers” think its impossible for someone to become an Australian, and they definitely think it’s possible for Explainers to be from Scotland, even though Explainers tend to focus on the Australian experience. Many Explainers recognise that someone can become Australian, and also then have experience of what it is like to be Australian, and not only meaningful Explanations to give, but also need and benefit from the work of Explainers.
This may be controversial but I’ll call these “Society Explainers” that exclude new Australians, “Australian Reactionary Society Explainers” or ARSEs. These people think it’s not possible to become Australian, particularly if you’re Scottish. They’ve heard that some people may not be either Scottish or Australian, or that some Australians want to become Scottish, but they don’t really focus on those people. They’re upset and angry that immigrants are saying they were once seen as Scottish, but are now Australians.
ARSEs don’t have particularly consistent beliefs about what makes a person Scottish. A lot of them think its because you were “born Scottish” but aren’t super clear about whether that’s defined by the Doctor at birth, or is more difficult to determine. This is because sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is Biologically Scottish, rather than just appearing externally Scottish. The ARSEs typically wave this away, saying its an anomaly, or doesn’t constitute a new Nationality or whatever, but sometimes Nationality isn’t clear.
The kicker here is that the ARSEs don’t believe that any of the other signs, like your citizenship, or how people percieve you, or where you grew up, are important to Nationality at all. Once your Nationality is fixed, it can never change, and so any changeable aspect of Nationality is suspect. In fact, while they believe Nationality is real, they don’t believe the cultural aspects of being Australian or Scottish are. Culture, to them, isn’t real. They believe that the lines drawn on a map that define the borders of Scotland mean there’s definite places you can point to and say “if someone was born here, they’re Scottish”. To be fair, those lines were drawn earlier than the really fuzzy lines that define the culture of Scotland. Mind you, the map of Scotland was drawn arbitrarily and not that long ago. Many of the traits that constitute Biological Scottish-ness weren’t even named or known 200 years ago. For me, this makes the Scottish nationality, as unreal as the Scottish culture.
In fact, I don’t identify as either Scottish or Australian. I recognize that I was born “in” Scotland and the doctor said I was Scottish, and yes, I did move to Australia, but not willingly. I don’t recognise that my cultural identification really changed, I just know I sometimes sound and act and feel Australian. I think it’s more accurate to say I don’t really want to be related to either Scotland or Australia. Many ARSEs will hear this and say “AHA, the cultural aspects aren’t REAL anyway, NOBODY truly fits the mould 100% of being Australian or Scottish!!!” But my response to that is that I welcome and affirm people that feel Scottish, and I don’t think many people, when they say they’re Scottish, think that it truly defines them in a fixed way. An ARSE will say they think society imposes on them their Australian culture, based on their fixed biology, and while they identify as fixed Biological Australians, that destroying the idea of Culture, is needed. The difference between me and an ARSE is I don’t believe the map of Scotland helps us identify Scottish people any more than a Scottish accent does.
I’ve found that Scottish immigrants in Australia often know this more than anyone, and often do more to break down the idea that there’s such a thing as a Cultural Australian. I support immigration, and I support people living in Scotland and saying they are Scottish. I recognise that this in itself will change the character of Scotland culturally, and I like that. You needn’t be born in Scotland (which was just defined as “objective” lines on a map that actually changed in 1999) to be Scottish. I think if you want to be Scottish, there should be an easy path to Scottish citizenship. ARSEs say this doesn’t really make you Scottish, but, why do they even care, given this is what they’d call a Cultural aspect?
An interesting thing is that Explainers generally recognize that the oppression of Australians that happens day to day, is based on how people are percieved as Culturally Australian - the biological aspects of Australians are often not visible. An Australian name on a resume may lead to a rejection. It’d seem in this way, Australians, immigrant or not, benefit from the struggle of Explainers and Society Explainers alike.
What’s even more interesting is that your biology can be changed if you drink enough Buckfast tonic wine, so that you look and sound like you were born in Scotland. It used to be that doctors would point at some of these traits and say “yep, this baby is Scottish” but the ARSEs have since said, no no no, those Biological things aren’t the TRUE Biological things that make you Scottish. The truth is that Biology often has fuzzy edges, and you only need look at how species are defined or whether viruses are alive to know this.
ARSEs say the Scottish are a violent people, which shouldn’t be allowed into Australia. The truth is that Scottish people do commit a lot of horrific crime that must be addressed. What’s interesting is that ARSEs say that Scottish people shouldn’t be allowed into Australian prisons, but they focus on the Scottish people that become Australians, rather than the Scottish people that work in Australian prisons. Many ARSEs seem utterly transfixed by the idea that Scottish people who immigrate to Australia will be violent, but we all know the violence is most caused by people born in Scotland that also identify as Scottish - in fact, immigrants of any type are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of those same people.
ARSEs say they don’t want to date Scottish people. They say they are Australisbians, and that they don’t want the definition of the word changed to include people who immigrated from Scotland. First off, the word came to mean a sexual orientation only in 1870, and secondly, they aren’t entitled to unilaterally defining words - many have tried to enforce this and none have successfully. When I date people I have certain preferences for their physical characteristics. I identify as a Queernslander, so I date people of any nationality or cultural background. I’d be a jerk if I said on my profile “No Victorians” or “No stubbies” and I’d also be a jerk if I said “No BIOLOGICALLY Scottish people”. What I do when I meet or chat to someone and they have a characteristic I’m not attracted to I say “its not a match” and move on, which seems like common respect to me. I’ve also found that Scottish immigrants, and Australian immigrants, are overwhelmingly upfront about their immigrant status, and generally worried that they’ll be unwelcome. ARSEs often feel like they should be able to say “No BIOLOGICALLY Scottish people” on their dating profiles. I think that’s a jerk move, and I don’t want jerks near me, and I’ll demand their exclusion, which should be a fine attitude according to ARSEs.
ARSEs also want some crisis centers to be for Biological Australians only. The concrete implementation of this seems problematic. Do they want to conduct a physical examination of every person coming to a crisis center to determine their Nationality? Do they want to only check the people that appear Scottish, or check that they have Scottish on their forms? Both of those are cultural aspects of being Scottish that the ARSEs think are damaging to reinforce. Would these checks be traumatic for someone who was fleeing a crisis situation? Would they even have their paperwork? What we know is that richer people are more likely to have had access to the XXXX required to make them appear more physically Australian. We know that queer young black people are more likely to not have their forms. Another way of saying this is that the ARSE project will create crisis centers that favour rich straight older white non-immigrant people. The ARSEs may say they’d prefer separate crisis centers exclusively for the Biologically Scottish, but the amount of Biologically Scottish people in Australia is so small that they would be unlikely to have a nearby and well funded crisis center.
What the ARSEs are opening us up to is a world where the Australians, who as individuals have usually experienced during their lives some criticim that they or their Culture appears Too Scottish, are questioned in public spaces if they appear too Scottish - how else with the ARSEs enforce their nationalism without, checks?
The reason ARSEs give for this exclusion of the Scottish is that Australians that have suffered trauma at the hands of the Biologically Scottish may have that trauma re-awakened if they are in their presence - but “appearing” Biologically Scottish is a matter of Culture, and someone may appear Culturally Scottish while not being Biologically Scottish, or even having their Biological Scottishness surgically diminished. A Culturally Scottish person may be Biologically Australian, but as I said before, ARSEs don’t seem to think about this case much at all. It seems like this impulse to exclude may reinforce concepts of Cultural Scottishness.
The ARSE project also tends to ignore our Indigenous people, who had a more complex view of Nationality before the people who had a Biological view of being Australian turned up. What ARSE people tend not to recognize is that their view of Nationality is, new, and also not universal.
The idea that colonization, homophobia, anti-immigration xenophobia and racism are an essential part of any theory of oppression has only been a relatively new addition to the discussion of Nationality. Much work has been done on this since the 90s. Many ARSEs come from a tradition of 60s/70s Society Explanation that views Australia as needing to be liberated from Scotland. It can be difficult to maintain this view while also acknowledging that Scotland and Australia aren’t objectively real places, which are undergirded by various other oppressions, and that there are Australians that exist at the intersection of different oppression that can’t be explained through an analysis of only Scottish-Australian relations. This also explains why some ARSEs view ARSE as a slur - because they think Society Explanation is purely the domain of Biological Australians only, and ARSE is therefore anti-Australian, while those critiquing ARSE are often actually critiquing it on the basis that ARSE is a simplification and is nationalism, which we can see through our crisis center observation, misses the immigrant experience specifically, but also accidentally forgets racial, straight and class privilege.
Another bewildering aspect of this is when ARSEs claim to speak for Australians and Explainers - when Australians and Australian Explainers tend to be more supportive of immigration than the average person. I am what some people would view as an immigrant, and most of my greatest supporters are Australians. This leads to a broader criticism of ARSEs where they tend to feel entitled to the spaces they lay claim to. Australians and other Society Explainers are “doing it wrong” in their opinion, if they welcome immigration. Why they think they have the authority to say this, I’ll never know. No True Australian would think that, they proclaim!
So, what makes an Australian? In my opinion, the easiest and most accurate way to define this is through self-identification. Since I view nations as not objectively real, I welcome immigration, and I welcome new Scottish people into Scotland. Perhaps some people want to enter Scotland for nefarious purposes, but they can generally enter those spaces whether or not they are Scottish, if they have enough nefarious intent. I am generally against papers, prisons and physical examinations. If someone says they’re from somewhere and they don’t match my cultural expectations of that place, I don’t narrow my eyes and say “but where are you from, really?” I don’t think I have a monopoly on determining whether people truly understand the Scottish Experience or not, or have a right to tell them they can never understand because they weren’t born within the borders of Scotland. I want to live in a society where we aren’t constantly evaluating whether another person is “truly” Scottish or Australian or not, even though being identified as Scottish may have a special meaning to a person. I think the dichotomy between the Scottish and Australian experiences provides only a tiny slice of the totality of experience, which requires at least a fuller picture of queerness, gender, race and indigenous identity to approach anything like a wholeness.
I am of course, talking about Women and Men, and the TERF project. I wasn’t actually born in Scotland, but I am ethnically Scottish. I am an Australian with American citizenship. I took this approach because TERFism is a profoundly regressive and conservative project, and has more in common with actual Nationalism than it does with the left. If you’d like to reach out please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. Thanks for your time!