Wednesday, 26 November 2014

On Freezing Notes

I used to be an avid fan of the Readers' Digest, something I have in common with Sarada.  It had an insidious and possibly sinister appeal to the youth of the '70s, rather like the Archers later on (but not any more because it's gone all Eastendersy).  They had these little filler bits at the ends of the articles, and one of the ones I recall was about money.  It was suggested that if you come into a bit of money, in the form of banknotes in this scenario, you should put it in a plastic bag, submerge that in a container of water and stick the whole assemblage in the freezer.  If the wish to spend the money arises, you retrieve the container and leave it to thaw out on the kitchen table.  If you still want to spend it by the time it's completely thawed, do so, but usually the desire will have dissipated by the time that moment comes.  Clearly once it has vanished, you put it back in the freezer and the cycle repeats.

I haven't done this with money, but I used to have a friend who inadvertently caused me much vexation.  She was also a very good friend to me, and she used to write me nice notes quite a lot.  For instance, on one occasion when a load of blokes were, as so often used to happen, shouting and swearing at me while I was pushing my son around in a pushchair because of how I happened to be dressed, she wrote a passionate defence of my sartorial choices and said they should be forced to wear fishnet stockings, which ultimately led to this halfbakery idea, which I realise isn't very good.  I would dearly love to know why it doesn't happen any more incidentally, but it doesn't look like I'll ever find out.  On one occasion, however, this went awry in an interesting way.  She wrote me a note and I was unsure of its tone, so I assumed it to be negative, put it in a ziplock bag, immersed that in a jar of water and stuck it in the freezer, the idea being that if I felt I could handle what she said, I would take it out of the freezer and let it thaw, and eventually read it.  In fact this didn't happen at all.  I didn't even take it out and eventually she went into my freezer and removed it without my knowledge.  She was also quite annoyed and wrote me another note to that effect.  Apparently the note had expressed very positive feelings for me.  Fortunately, she no longer feels as positive as she did at that time, and I imagine that act was a factor in bringing that about, so it was probably a good idea to do that.

What is it possible to learn from this?  I suppose that sometimes I make things a lot worse than they would be otherwise because of my fear or negative expectations of a situation.  Since I expected the note to be hateful and critical, I decided I needed time to steel myself to read it and froze it in a block of ice until I felt I could cope, which as it turned out was never because of the hostility that act provoked.  It happened to be instrumental in achieving a positive result, but I don't yet want to extend the interpretation that far because I think that was probably a fairly arbitrary process which could have ended very differently with the poor person still in my life.  The negativity it in fact led to was entirely unnecessary and while not exactly my fault, was definitely the result of my actions.  The symbolism of freezing someone out is also not lost on me.

I'm now concerned that this forms a pattern, and yes, I know you're all sick of it and therefore you should feel free to think up an example of your own because it's bound to have wider implications, but of course my example will be to do with trans stuff.  Back in the '80s, I was afraid to mention being gender dysphoric because I expected to be aggressively attacked and ostracised for it by my friends, who were pro-feminist or radically feminist.  Slightly later, my partner at the time was curious about transwomen and I realised to my horror that she was not transphobic, which was close to being a dealbreaker for me.  I therefore explained why I considered transition to be completely beyond the pale and she was apparently not entirely convinced although at the time she didn't say so.  However, thinking about this in context, it is in fact possible that quite a lot of the people I hung out with were not transphobic either.  Even from the other side and from this great distance temporally, I find this worrying because it makes me feel they had false consciousness or were naive.  It's all very well not being transphobic, but why wouldn't someone be?  It feels like the kind of major deviation from the party line which would also justify heterosexual sex, which come to think of it a lot of them apparently engaged in.  However, I'm getting off the point here.  The sadness is that possible of transphobia, for whatever reason, was completely unknown to me and also counter-intuitive for me, but if I had happened to make a more "positive" assumption about their attitude to gender dysphoria, I would probably have come out a lot earlier.  Having said that, I still think I would probably have lost many of my friends, which makes me want to put inverted commas around that F-word and contemplate that all that time I was hanging out with those people, I was only just tolerated by many of them and did in fact get hated quite a lot, which is fair enough really, but it would have been nice to have people who were actually proper friends instead.

I want to talk about something else connected to this actually - the question of false consciousness.  This is when a member of an oppressed group believes that they are as a group which is oppressing them understands them.  For example, a member of an ethnic minority might believe they must be less intelligent than the ethnic majority in that society, an unemployed person who looks ceaselessly for work may believe they are simply lazy and doesn't deserve to be paid an adequate wage, or a homosexual may believe that expressing love sexually for a person who seems to be of the same gender is sinful.

It seems to me that this kind of thing happens all the time, and that when it does, it keeps people oppressed and also makes them miserable.  Also, there seems to be a trend towards this internalisation of oppression.  It's no longer necessary for crude external attempts to keep people down because nowadays, sisters are doing it for themselves.  The trend is against liberation and towards self-oppression.

If this is so, what are we to make of the fairly recently coined word "transphobia"?  If it's a form of oppression, how is it that it's only recently been recognised in a society which is becoming more oppressive rather than less?  Why would it buck the trend?  Or, is it more likely that the perception of transphobia as a form of prejudice is in fact a form of false consciousness?  I don't want this to be true, of course, but how can I know it isn't?

False consciousness is a real thing and is growing.  So many people now internalise their oppression, a major example being the unemployed and the urban poor.  It doesn't seem a stretch to me that my oppression of ciswomen is similarly internalised, and the fact that I don't recognise this is an example of my own false consciousness.

Or, what if the concept of false consciousness is itself sometimes dubious?  Many people can in theory be accused of it and when they are, it can sometimes be used as a way of invalidating their experience and taking power from them.  The trouble is how to tell when this is happening.  I hope transphobia is a valid concept.  I also can't help thinking that if I started to lobby for euthanasia for gender dysphoria, a lot of people would be very happy.  I wouldn't be, but then because of what I am, I don't deserve to live really, do I?

Monday, 24 November 2014

On Target And Yet Not

I've now exceeded the word requirement of NaNoWriMo, having now written 50 991 words.  Rather romantically I thought, Sarada also passed the 50 000 word mark today.  Clearly it is still possible for us to do things together, provided we do them separately.

For what it's worth, this has now become the longest single continuous piece of text I've ever written unless you count my diary, which has been continuous since 1978 and is therefore colossal.

I suppose a few reflections on the process might be in order here.  One is that the story isn't finished.  The end has been written, as has the start, but there are still several crucial scenes missing, and also little bits which should glue it all together.  After that, there may be plot holes.  I also want to add appendices, one of which I've already written.

One thing I've learnt about myself in the process of doing this is that dialogue gets easier to write and description harder when I'm relaxed, and the opposite happens when I'm stressed.  I connect this to a tendency towards mutism in my family.

I am currently feeling quite calm, although also befuddled.  The countdown towards the clinic appointment is now underway and my task is not to overthink.  I am also trying to avoid undue influence of any kind because I need to be me when I go in there and not a version of me I'm trying to be for anyone else.  When it comes down to it, there are layers and layers of stuff between me and the nub of who I was as a small child, just as there are for anyone else, and also like anyone else I am the journey, but there's also the question of authenticity.  I'm currently of the opinion, or perhaps I could venture to say I've now come to the conclusion, that to me thinking of myself as male is equivalent to low self-esteem and the reason I've maintained it is a self-destructive tendency.  I might even go so far as to say that not transitioning for me is a form of self-harm, and the fact that a lot of damage is now irreversible is similar to the way in which my head banging self-harm as a young person has now led to problems with memory and concentration.  "Testosterone" is damage.

How do I get from here to where I need to be?  I don't know.

NaNo is at least distracting me from the thoughts I need not to elaborate excessively upon in the next fortnight.  Unsurprisingly, relevant thoughts have wormed their way into the book itself.  I haven't sorted out the front cover yet either.

I'm sure I've said this before, but there is now no way I will go back on presenting as female.  It has made such a positive difference to my life that reneging on it is just unthinkable.

A small to-do list:

  • Finish NaNoWriMo properly.  Right now I am past my target but I need to put the whole lot together into a coherent whole.
  • Make a couple more tweaks to my presentation - proper earrings and some kind of attention to eyebrows, more progress on voice.
Well, I did say small.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Letting Go

I've recently realised that there have been similar dynamics in two lots of interactions in my life, and that I've got past one but not the other, and it seems that other people have done it the other way round.  What interests me here is the similarity between not getting past something rather than the differences.
I'm going to talk about my conversion experience now.  I'm entirely comfortable with you seeing it from a mental health perspective.  Clearly I would differ in that opinion to some degree, but not entirely.  There are lots of possible narratives here and I can be an amateur psychiatrist if I want, even with my own stuff.

What happened was this.  I left home and went to University and almost immediately missed a woman I was very attached to, someone who is my oldest friend.  The way it worked was odd, because I wasn't in fact missing home and family at all but I really was missing my friend quite severely, and that was enough to make me lonely, depressed, stop washing, stop eating properly and all the usual stuff.  I happened to be in a Hall of Residence where Christian students had a policy of staying in past their first year in order to be a strong Christian influence.  That in itself could be seen as sinister, or it could be seen as an attempt to demonstrate love to people who really needed it, depending on what you think about Christianity, or possibly that kind of Christianity if it can be said to be a "kind".

I was eventually approached by a Christian student and persuaded to commit myself to Christ, as I might put it, and at the time, my subjective experience and thought processes were, I'm sure, entirely standard for someone in that position.  I was convinced I was sinful, I repented, placed my faith in Jesus Christ as the uniquely fully divine and fully human son of God who died on the cross for my sins, and committed my life to him.  Please don't let that description put you off.

It's very common for Christians to look at people who have lost their faith and say "well, you can't really have had a genuine commitment in the first place or you wouldn't have fallen away".  Now I am of course now Christian, but for a long time I definitely had no faith in the ethical sense, that is, I believed in a supernatural being independent of the physical world but not that that being was in any way good.  God didn't seem relevant to my life for a long, long time.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.

Immediately after my conversion experience, I had what I can only describe as an "oh shit" moment.  In fact, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind the people who had prayed with me, I uttered exactly those words, which is probably somewhat remarkable for a newly converted Christian (or is it?  Please share, I'd love to know).  I could reel off a long list of altruistic-sounding reasons for it, and they were there in my mind, but one thing in particular was near the top:  I saw the Christian faith as irredeemably homophobic, and if it was so firmly, ineradicably so, meaning to my mind that God actually rejected the sexual expression of love between two people because of their genders alone, how the hell was God ever going to accept the thunderstruck nature of my own sexual identity?  In my case, it wasn't that I was gay.  It was so far from that that the actual issue of homosexual versus heterosexual orientation was a tiny detail.  Not wishing to disclose too much, but the nub of the issue is twofold:

  • How could a group of people who are so dyed-in-the-wool homophobic ever accept this thing that I am, which is way down the line from homosexual that it won't even occur to them?  And I wouldn't be mentioning it, no way.  It was many years before I mentioned it directly to anyone, although the occasional hint did surface, before and after that moment.  And:
  • If an accident of brain or social development was to strike an individual, who happened to be myself, to make my life this absurd, and to make it so unlikely that I would ever have a happy sexual relationship or reproduce, how could there even be a God who operates according to a plan of any kind?
There's a missing piece of information here and I'm not about to say what it is, but taking the gender dysphoria and the asexuality alone, that's enough.  The point is that every moment of my life I was confronted with an apparently arbitrary absurdity which seemed to make nonsense of the concept of a loving God, and I didn't feel able to talk about this absurdity because they even rejected something as mild and obviously OK as homosexuality, so there was just no way they would ever come to discuss this.  They were at best going to see it as a medical problem which needed to be eliminated with some radical kind of brain surgery or something, and in fact some other people with this problem who made the mistake of telling their nearest and dearest have in fact been incarcerated in mental institutions, poisoned with drugs, electrocuted and subjected to psychosurgery.  At the time, I didn't even realise there were other people in this category, and at the time probably a lot of them were going through all that, so it didn't actually suck to be me in relative terms.  However, it was because I was very cautious that I escaped that.

Very soon after that conversion experience, I decided that basically Christianity, and more specifically Paul, was the worst thing that had happened to the planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs and decided it needed to be eliminated before it destroyed all life on Earth.  Later on, I realised that this wasn't a terribly nuanced position, and that the reason I'd come to that conclusion was that I'd been very carefully sold a particular version of what the Christian faith was which was not necessarily the whole story.  I got past that, I let go of it, call it what you will, and I'm now happy with no sense of cognitive dissonance being a trans person who is also Christian and am aware that there is no contradiction there.

Nonetheless, I can understand from the inside that when a Christian place of worship holds a vigil for the Transgender Day Of Remembrance, other trans people will take considerable umbrage.  It seems like too little, too late, and a token gesture by an institution which has been instrumental in the violent deaths of innumerable LGBT people for millenia, and just doing that is never going to be enough to salvage them.  Of course I understand that, and to be honest I surprise myself that I am not myself in that camp right now.  But I'm not.  Nor do I look down on people who feel that way and consider myself to have "got past" it when they haven't.  Nonetheless, it isn't an issue which exercises me as much as it did because I now understand my spirituality in a different way than I did back then.

However, there is another area where this is by no means the case, and which I have definitely have not got past.  This is, unfortunately, what is now referred to as the LGBT community itself.

Nowadays, it appears that those four letters belong together for most of the people represented by each of them.  This was not always so.  Back in the mid-'eighties, at the same time as I was going through all that up there I've just mentioned, I was also peripherally involved in lesbian and gay stuff.  At the time, I was aware that my sexual orientation and identity was definitely of a minority status, but I never made the connection between that and being more than an ally of lesbians and gay men.  In fact, it was very apparent to me that far from being an ally, being openly trans would make me an utter pariah and an enemy of lesbians and gays, because this was the received opinion at the time.  I felt ashamed and unworthy even to be an ally because of my trans status, and this shame and guilt were in fact reinforced and emphasised most vociferously by lesbians and gay men at the time.  It wasn't just a sense of unease and tolerance.  It was outright vocal hatred and extreme hostility, and at the time to me this seemed entirely sensible and drove my transness even deeper inside and led to me internalising transphobia.  I hated myself for my gender dysphoria and I felt I was a traitor to all women and lesbians in particular for being this way.

So, to return to the present day, here are two situations.  One is the Transgender Day Of Remembrance at the Cathedral, to which of course I won't be going, but on the other hand I may well go to the AIDS thing at the weekend.  However, not going to that is not that big an issue to me.  I expect my status to be ridiculed at best but more likely to be ignored, and for the cathedral doors to be closed to me because in fact the event seems to have been cancelled.  It's no big deal though, not to me, but it certainly is to other people and rightly so, because they can't just be expected to forget two millenia of mass murder because of who they were by the very institution which is now trying to make amends.  Oddly though, I am at peace with that.

The other is, though, events like Pride.  I am expected to march with people who, twenty years ago, would have spat at me and hated me for who I am, and all of a sudden I'm expected to be OK with that.  It needs to be forgotten and forgiven, and I do recognise that they're not all like that and that many of them never were - it's my own issue too.  However, I do also recognise a parallel here.  For some people, my past self included, the baggage of religious transphobia is too much to get past, and that makes complete sense to me.  For me, almost identical baggage is present in lesbians and gay men, and although my rational mind is able to recognise that forgiving and forgetting is the way to go here, maybe I'm a bitter, damaged individual, but I can't forget what happened right now, and I don't feel accepted, and when I am accepted I wonder why I'm accepted.  Is it just grudgingly, because people recognise it's the current trend to do so?  And so on.

Naturally I believe we are allies in fact, and that we need to stand together and that an attack on one group is an attack on all, but that's the thing.  I believe that - I find it harder to feel it.

So I should get past that, because it's not you, it's me, but it's the same issue.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Is "Fascism" A Useful Word?

This is something I ought to be good at blogging about owing to my background in political theory.  Nevertheless, it was a long time ago and in fact I'm fully aware that I'm not very well-informed in this particular area.

I was thinking yesterday as I wrote about "nice", "silly" and "gay", that there was another word which tends to be used pejoratively.  I'm certainly no fan of the ideology it reflects, but merely using it as a catch-all label for political views you don't like means the loss of a useful word in the same way as people often claim has happened to the word "gay".  This word is of course "fascist", and in its pejorative usage can be replaced by "totalitarian" and "authoritarian", words which again have different meanings from each other.

What I mean when I say "fascism" is the ideology centred on the idea that the sole duty of the individual is to the state or the nation.  This is not necessarily the meaning employed by other people.  Some people would restrict it further to the Italian political movement of the 1920s and '30s, and rather strangely, some would even exclude Nazism from it.

As such, fascism is the opposite of anarchism and therefore more or less the opposite of what I believe politically.  I believe that there can be no duty to the government as such because consent to government is always coercive.  That's not what I'm talking about here though.

There's also a grey area here because of the distinction or otherwise between the state and the nation.  For instance, the Roma and the Jews have been nations for millenia but have also been stateless.  Those examples also indicate the discomfort the label "fascist" might cause others if applied to particular people.

The word fascism is derived from the idea of the fasces, a symbolic bundle of sticks used by the Romans to express the idea that a weak group of people bound together becomes strong and can overcome outsiders to that group, an idea which is clearly quite fascistic.

There are two other aspects to this which concern me though:  capitalism and history.  Regarding the first, it's not so much capitalism as the drift towards monopolies found within it, but even so, although it may not feel quite as rabidly nasty as fascism, capitalism in that form might be just as harmful in the long run.  I want to emphasise though that I mean it in that form.  I'm not talking about private enterprise and small scale business here but global corporations, although the question arises of how the former wouldn't turn into the latter.  Looking at it that way, it looks to me that fascism, evil though it might be, mainly has poorer PR than capitalism.

Turning to history, whereas I'm aware that the nation state is a historical thing, it also seems to me that if the regimes generally seen as fascist were transported back in time to any point in recorded history before the nineteenth century, they wouldn't seem that out of place and would just be another flavour of government among various forms of what we would now see as extreme nationalism and jingoism.  This seems to mean either that my perception of the past is distorted or that the features of fascism are not so much exceptional as just politics as usual and par for the course.  Considering how strongly freedom and democracy are attacked, this makes the likes of liberalism, social democracy and socialism start to look like brief blips in history which are rapidly becoming things of the past.

If that's so, we don't really need a word for fascism.  Fascism is just the norm.  The exceptions, now mere historical details, were social justice, egalitarianism and the idea of providing for and helping the oppressed, weak and vulnerable.  All of that stuff was just a brief interlude in what Orwell called something like "a jackboot stamping on a face forever".

Monday, 17 November 2014

Nice, Silly and Gay

This set me thinking.  I agree with it of course, but it occurs to me that the phenomenon of semantic drift is involved here.  Words don't keep their meanings as time goes by, so for all we know we may in all innocence be using extremely offensive language to each other without any of us becoming aware.  This is one reason why Middle English, which is English as spoken between the Battles of Hastings and Bosworth, is in my opinion harder to learn than the earlier Anglo-Saxon stage of the language, as spoken between Vortigern's invitation and the aforesaid Battle of Hastings.  Here's a bit of Anglo-Saxon, from the prelude to Beowulf:

Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in gēar-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ell en fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum,
monegum mǣgþum meodo-setla oftēah.
Egsode eorl, syððan ǣrest wearð
fēa-sceaft funden; hē þæs frōfre gebād,
wēox under wolcnum, weorð-myndum þāh,
oð þæt him ǣghwylc  þāra ymb-sittendra
ofer hron-rāde hȳran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs gōd cyning.

Now this is pretty clearly like a foreign language to most of today's English speakers.  If you were to go about learning what this meant, you'd probably do something like go to a class or learn it from a text book because you'd realise that most of the words are strange to you.

Contrast this with the much more recent (1380) late Middle English bit from the prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte  of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich  licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth        
Inspired hath in every holt  and heeth
The tendre croppes,  and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,        
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes,  couthe  in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende        
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke

The problem is not quite as severe as it might be because this is not as old as, say, the Ayenbite of Inwit or the Ormulum, and it's also in a dialect which is similar to the direct ancestor of modern English, but for instance the word "fowles" to us brings poultry to mind rather than larks and sparrows, "strondes" is clearly "strands" but to us the word "strand" used in a sense close to how it is employed here refers to the bank of a river and not a seashore, and so forth.  Therefore we look at Middle English without recognising that it is still substantially a foreign language where they do things differently, and we are more likely to misunderstand it unwittingly rather than realise we don't understand it, which may be worse.

This is of course because of semantic drift.  Words change their meaning over the centuries, and sometimes a lot faster.  They may change them at such a velocity that people get irritated because it occurs noticeably within their lifetime.  The classic example of this at the moment is of course "gay".  To me, "gay" means "male homosexual" and I rarely use it with any other meaning, except in the fixed phrase "skip gaily", something I do rather a lot, where it does in fact refer to something I do which is perceived as a form of gender non-conformity or perhaps Morris dancing, but probably not.  It's now so common to bemoan the change in the meaning of the word "gay" from something like "happy" or "glad" to "male homosexual" as to become a cliche.  What is a little less obvious is that it has continued to shift in meaning from the usage I make of it.  First of all, it broadened its scope to refer to female homosexuality, a usage which definitely seems unnatural to me and which I would never have used, and now it's drifting further towards a similar meaning to "lame".  The word "lame" itself is of course disablist, but if an older meaning of the word referring to a physical disability had been lost, it wouldn't be any more, and language is of course dynamic.  This leads me to suspect that there is offence in all sorts of places.  Just as an inline footnote, I don't in fact use the word "gay" at all now because my view of the concepts surrounding it has shifted and I would now probably want to say "gynephilic" and "androphilic" and probably be met with incomprehension.

There are in fact words which have lost a meaning which would be seen as offensive nowadays by many English speakers.  One of them is "nice".  This is from the Latin nescio - "I don't know", and refers to ignorance and stupidity.  By the Middle Ages, it was "nice", used in French to mean "clumsy", i.e. someone who doesn't know what they're doing, and then changed to "silly", i.e. foolish.  I'm going to come back to the word "silly" because it's interesting.  Later still, in the English language, which has borrowed a lot of French words, it came to mean "timid", then "careful" or "delicate".  Around Shakespeare's time it gets difficult to work out what it means for a twenty-first century audience, then it emerges from the confusion to mean "delightful" and then in the twentieth century came to be considered too genteel and insipid to be easily pronounced without ridicule, partly due to class implications and partly because it was used more by women than men and therefore taken less seriously.  In fact, along the lines of "women and men are the same and they're all men", it seems to have largely disappeared except possibly in erotic contexts.

To return to "silly", this is a word which to me mainly brings to mind the affection of a particular German of my acquaintance who discovered the word when on holiday in England and found it very amusing, which makes a lot of sense - unlike the other two it seems to be an intrinsically funny word.  In fact unlike the other two, it has a cognate in German - selig, meaning "blessed".  In fact it also used to mean that in English.  The contortions of the word "silly" go like this.  The prehistoric ancestor of English, proto-Germanic, used the word sæligas to mean "happy", from the root sæl meaning "happiness".  By Anglo-Saxon times this had become gesælig, which is why I started with the ancestor of English rather than Old English - the initial syllable later disappeared.  At that point it meant "lucky" or "happy", and of course the word "lucky" itself also meant "happy" and "happy" meant "lucky" (think of "happenstance") so that's a bit of a meaning cluster too.  By the thirteenth century, it meant "blessed", then "pious", "innocent" and later "weak" or "feeble", and eventually "feeble-minded".  However, it's now considered less offensive than "stupid", probably partly because it's considered to be a voluntary and temporary thing and doesn't refer to learning disability any more.

All of these words have drifted, sometimes so fast it's possible to realise they're doing so in a single lifetime.  What seems remarkable to me about them is that they all seem to have passed through similar meanings.  "Nice" originally meant "ignorant", "gay" meant "happy" and "silly" meant "happy" and something similar to "ignorant" at different times in its history.  Another, weaker, example, is "blessed", which is sometimes used as a mild pejorative word similar to "silly", as in "that blessed thing".

It seems, then, that there's something about that group of ideas - happiness, foolishness and the like - which leads them to bleed into each other in the English-thinking mind, and I find that really intriguing.  I also want to know if that happens in other languages and if anyone has any ideas about why that tends to happen.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dangly Bits, Tax People And Gloop That Makes You Like Cardigans

OK, let me just see where this goes.  I'm not really sure what I'm going to write here.

You may have noticed that over the past few days I've not quite been my usual brightly optimistic new self so much, something that normally only happens occasionally.  For instance, yesterday I expressed the hopefully not very depressing opinion that although the Basic Income Scheme was a brilliant idea which might even save the human race from extinction, any party adopting it as a policy would be committing electoral suicide.  This is not a particularly cheery view, and not one I've recently been accustomed to expressing, but it is very like the kind of thing I used to say before the catastrophe.  So, why did this happen?

I think it's established that we all have mood cycles, and that some people find them more noticeable because the cycle has a big red streak marking it, so it was suggested quite reasonably by some people that that's what was happening.  In fact, it wasn't.  That happened about a week and a half ago, and I know that because it keeps in step with my daughter.  This is not cloud-cuckoo land incidentally - I'm aware of lacking the equipment but this doesn't require it and we all have it, not just women of whatever variety one might or might not be.

It wasn't that then.  What was it?  It's actually fairly simple.  At that point there were two sources of stress in my life.  One of them was the impending appointment at the gender clinic, which is on 8th December.  I still have a couple of things to do there, and I know I'm conforming to a gender stereotype but it may or may not be that they want me to do that and I don't want to take any risks.  Earrings and eyebrows basically.  There was another one though - tax fines.

This is the process I go through when I think about income tax.  I do understand that it is, for instance, paying for the gender clinic and the roads which bring the herbs my way so I can help you lovely personages retain their hair and other forms of healthiness.  I tend to think of it as either a form of theft (which might be OK) or a form of slavery (which might be OK).  I'm not sure there's anything in between those two.  I also think people could just be nice instead and forget about money.  Anyway, I have had a nasty fine hanging over my head and it was doing it in.  Well, I made a 'phone call this afternoon, paid a substantial part of it and set up a direct debit.  Yes!  I actually did something together and normal!

So now I have no money.  Is this a bad thing?  No!  What it means is that I am no longer "lost in the land of eternal dither" as my friend Lori once classically said.  I have dumped a tangle from my mind, and having dumped that tangle, I can now get on with actually generating an income for once.  I have clarity, straightforwardness and purpose.

Now all I need to think about is what to say to the apparently nice people in Nottingham about the dangly bits inter alia.  I have a slight concern about money, but no, the money will come.  It came today, some of it got spent on gloop, some on baked beans, and now we have baked beans and gloop which magically makes you like cardigans like this one over which the, well, less hairy people in the family bicker good-naturedly:

Time for veg and two veg I think, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Clarity About Poverty

Two things first of all:  no ad hominem attacks please - you can abstract the argument from the source and I'm not telling you what to think from a position where I see myself as having superior knowledge - and this is not motivated out of a sense of entitlement or a desire to blame anyone or society for this predicament.
I am going to use the term "lesbian couples" in this.  By this I mean couples living together both of whom identify as female, and I would make the observation that most of those would in fact be lesbian couples.  It does apply more widely.  This is not just about LGBT stuff, for instance it probably applies to any situation where socialisation or outside attitudes lead to both members of a couple being marginalised in some way.  A couple where both are deaf would be another example.

If you want statistics, there are some here (PDF warning), referring to the American situation.

Lesbian couples are more likely to be poor than either heterosexual couples or gay male couples.  Lesbian couples with children are even more likely to be poor.

This isn't going to take long to explain, so I'm just going to say it.  If you are female, you are more likely to find yourself supporting a so-called economically active person doing essential tasks which if they were factored into the economy would show a very different picture than what economic statistics normally show.  For instance, bearing and raising children is a sine qua non of the economy - if there is no future generation, there is no economy and if that generation doesn't use language, more or less the same applies.  That's women's work on the whole.  So is housework, food preparation and support for male partners in various ways.  This is less true than it was before but it is nonetheless still often true.  Even where it isn't, the stereotypical female gender role involves these activities and if men do them, it can disadvantage their career.  If a father takes a career break for parenting, he may not have been the victim of prejudice up until that point, but from that point onwards he is more likely to be.

Women are expected to be less assertive and where they do manage to generate an income, that income is likely to be lower, and traditionally female paid work is not as highly paid or taken as seriously as traditionally male paid work of the same degree of skill and utility.  They are less likely to advance because of that tendency towards unassertiveness.

Consequently, a woman is more likely to find herself in a relationship doing paid work to provide a supplementary income rather than a main income, and the work she does, paid or unpaid, is likely not to be as valued as "man's work".

Now apply this to a lesbian couple.  I would contend that if both members of a couple are marginalised in this way, they are more likely to be poor, and less likely to be able to climb out of poverty.

Add children to this and there is a further disadvantage.  The involvement in childcare reduces the opportunities to generate an income because these opportunities are likely to be missed and the paid work done will not be in the form of a nine-to-five job, because childcare by the parents themselves is less likely to be valued.

OK, so far so depressing.  However, am I blaming anyone for this?  Am I saying it's not them, it's the world and there is no way out of this?  Well, look at it this way.  Critical theory and social studies generally tend to be afflicted by a mindset where the problems are pointed out and studied more than the solutions are.  I've said this before, but it's like aeronautical engineering looking exclusively at plane crashes and poor fuel economy without learning from them and making practical suggestions as to how to build good aircraft.  There are of course structural problems with society which make all this harder over which there may be limited personal control.  However, there are also structural problems with one's approach to life and psychology which can be addressed, centred around things like noticing and creating opportunities through positivity, confidence, assertiveness and capitalising on so-called weaknesses rather than seeing them as essentially problematic.

You might form your own opinion about why I've posted this.  I couldn't possibly comment.