A new PhD student, and serendipity

An update: I have been accepted into a PhD program in theology (not history, as I initially planned) at the University of Divinity, on the topic of ‘Identity and belonging in queer Christian autobiographies’. In the same month that the Australian government has initiated a public opinion poll on marriage equality, I have committed to three to six years of reading and writing about the lived experiences of LGBTIQ Christians, whose voices are frequently suppressed by both homophobic faith communities and by secular LGBTIQ communities. This thesis isn’t primarily about LGBTIQ themes in scripture, or arguments about marriage, ordination or any other kind of inclusion – it’s about real people’s real lives.

From the conclusion to my research proposal:

Discussions of LGBTIQ Christians in the context of church unity and division frequently conclude that theologians and church leaders need to listen to the people they are discussing. This thesis aims to facilitate such listening. As a systematic study of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ Christians as reported in their own words, it will demonstrate the breadth of voices that have already asserted themselves in these debates. More hopefully, it may show future generations of LGBTIQ Christians that they are not alone, and encourage them to make their voices heard in their own contexts.

I’m not an expert (yet?) on queer theology or on the scriptural arguments for or against inclusion, but I’ve spent twenty years learning about these issues and developing my own identity as a gay Christian. As my proposal hopefully suggests, this project is not meant to just end up on a bookshelf or a digital repository and make no impact on church and society. The Australian marriage equality debate, and the theological muddiness associated with it, is perhaps an opportunity for me to put my research to practical use in real time. So I’m open to working with researchers and activists on the campaign for marriage equality, in particular by adding depth to theological discourse. More broadly, I would welcome any recommendations for expanding my bibliography.

Leaving the tech industry, for real this time

In the first week of 2017 I went to my GP for my regular mental health check-in and broke down, and after some semi-coherent rambling was given the firm advice to fire myself from my work as a tech consultant.

I have been depressed for nearly 20 years. It would be careless to attribute to a single cause, but doing work that I don’t believe in for 15 years isn’t making it any better. For most of those 15 years – working across data science and web development – I have frequently felt anxiety, depression and occasional suicidal impulses when trying to work or thinking about work. Work is bad for my mental health and could realistically kill me if I continue it for much longer. Being self-employed has made harder to avoid this problem: I can’t sell my services if I dread doing the work.

My plan now is to explore the possibility of starting a PhD in history or a related field. There are hundreds or thousands of people in Melbourne who can clean data files or build websites. There are perhaps a few dozen in Australia who share my experience and inclinations for serious conversations about the intersections and conflicts between LGBTIQ identity and religious identity, and the way these are (mis-)represented in mainstream media. This will be my focus for the next few months, if not years. It’s unlikely that I will turn into a complete Luddite overnight, but the last two weeks – spending less time wrestling with computers and more time reading books and thinking about history – have already brought me peace of mind.

Review of The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths

This was an encouraging preparation for my (anticipated) return to studying history in 2017. Griffiths surveys the history of how Australians write and tell the history of this land, not just in the work of professional historians but also in fiction, poetry and archaeology. Woven through the scholarly narrative are Griffiths’ recollections of his own training in the Melbourne and ANU history schools. His commitment to the twentieth-century French study of the longue durée, histories spanning centuries, leads him to argue for a long view of Australian history from the Pleistocene era to “the unfolding present” of human-inflicted climate change.

  • Tom Griffiths, The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft (Carlton: Black Inc, 2016).

Internet training for journalists

Yesterday I went to a seminar at the Centre for Advancing Journalism (where I am studying a Master of Journalism), New Media Entrepreneurs: tales from the trenches. One thing I learned from this experience was that I do appear to have more thorough technical skills and familiarity with internet technologies than even the more tech-friendly journalists and publishers. Some of them have staff or volunteers to help them build websites, some are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and learn Wordpress themselves; many of them said things throughout the day that made me realise there is a need for accessible and comprehensive training in internet technologies for journalists.

I have made initial outlines for a possible series of workshops (introduction to the internet; net security; Wordpress) that I could offer with the help of other geeks (especially for the net security workshop – I have a lot to learn there as well).

If you are a journalist or journalism student, would you be interested in courses like this? What other topics would you want to learn about?

Bitcoin news – April 2014

National Australia Bank will close the accounts of customers who trade in Bitcoin digital currency.

One of the businesses affected by this decision is CoinJar, a Melbourne-based Bitcoin marketplace. CoinJar provides an online “wallet” or account for storing bitcoins and exchanging them with Australian currency.

This is the second time CoinJar has faced difficulties with banks due to the nature of its business. Last year the Commonwealth Bank closed CoinJar’s business account along with personal accounts of the company’s co-founders, Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, without warning.

Mr Tan said he appreciated that NAB at least gave CoinJar time to move to another bank.

A National Australia Bank spokesman said that the bank “does not bank or trade in unregulated currencies, or have any plans to do so.”

The status of Bitcoin and other digital currencies remains ambiguous in financial and legal systems around the world. The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) does not regard Bitcoin as a currency because it is not backed by gold.

The Australian Tax Office is expected to provide advice later this year for businesses filing tax returns for the 2013-2014 financial year. In the United States, Bitcoin is treated as property and subject to capital gains tax.

In spite of these challenges, Melbourne’s Bitcoin community is growing and eager to educate the wider public about digital currencies. The Melbourne Bitcoin Meetup, founded by CoinJar’s Asher Tan, began with ten people and now attracts around a hundred to its meetings.

Mr Tan said he was inspired by the values of the open source community that made Bitcoin possible and wanted to spread these values to the wider public. He said the value of Bitcoin lies in its being used in trade, rather than hoarded for speculation purposes, because “the true value is not in the dollar value … but what you can do with it.”

These values are shared by Dale Dickins, who was one of the first people to introduce the Lamassu Bitcoin Machine to Australia.

The machine provides an accessible entry into the Bitcoin market for non-technical users by converting a cash deposit into bitcoins held in an electronic wallet. Ms Dickins’ aim is to raise public awareness about Bitcoin and other digital currencies. She has demonstrated the Lamassu machine at events around Melbourne. She said she welcomed the appearance of Bitcoin machines in other parts of Australia, such as the Robocoin ATM recently introduced in Sydney.

Both Mr Tan and Ms Dickins said they were eager to share stories that demystify Bitcoin and demonstrate the life-changing or even world-changing potential of digital currencies.

Ms Dickins has begun making a documentary about Bitcoin users in Melbourne and said she will film the same individuals and businesses every three months to follow changes in the currency’s use.

CoinJar is redeveloping its company website and will begin featuring interviews with Bitcoin users on its blog.

[Written for, but not published on, The Citizen.]