Sunday, 30 November 2014

Telling Them About You-Know-What

I'm going for chatty here.

The last actual serious NaNoWriMo 2014 write-in happened today.  Since I finished on 24th, I used it to go through the draft and start tweaking and in fact there are bits missing, but the majority is there.  I need to track the teapot and make sure it doesn't replicate, add a couple of bits of story to glue it together and probably also a few appendices, which people think is weird.  I should probably then expose it to critical eyes.  My most successful ever story, which I shall refer to as Amanda TBG here and henceforth, was so exposed and that's probably one reason people like it so much.

Speaking of Amanda TBG, and yes that was where my name came from, I'm currently engaged in writing my "autobiography" for the Nottingham clinic.  I am really quite nervous about this whole process.  The connection is that the subject of Amanda TBG is what I used to refer to as my Problem back when I was a teen, and this is where I get into major difficulties.  Firstly, I can't refer to it directly here and of course it is sexual, a paraphilia in fact, but it is neither transvestic fetishism nor autogynephilia.  For the uninitiated, transvestic fetishism is getting turned on by wearing "women's" clothes, a category which of course I reject.  Incidentally, that tiny handful of people who know the whole "Problem" will realise the irony of me being accused of this, but we're talking inner circle knowledge here.

Look, I am now going to cut the crud and stop playing games.  The situation is this.  I have had two very unusual sexual kinks.  One of them is more widely known to friends, is really bizarre and if I didn't have a sense of humour about it I would probably have tied weights to my bits and thrown them off a bridge quite some time ago.  It's completely harmless to everyone else but if I indulged in it properly, it would definitely kill me, so I don't.  I can guarantee that whatever you think it is, you're wrong unless I've actually told you.  The trouble is this:  it is in my opinion supremely relevant to my gender identity issues and could make or break my case for diagnosis and so forth, but of course as well as making it, it could break it, for this reason:  people are sometimes seen as autogynephilic or transvestically fetishistic and presumably refused help for that reason, although why is another question because so what if it is a fetish?  What that would mean is that a load of transwomen were wandering around enjoying themselves sexually and not being a problem to anyone else because they did things like stay at home all day and play with their boobs instead, so who cares?  That sounds not only like a good thing to me, but something which radfems would actually want:  "men" who are not rapists.  Sounds like a public service to me.  Anyway, it's not the case for me, but this paraphilia might be understood in that way, for two reasons.  Firstly, it's a transformation paraphilia.  Secondly, it resembles something distinctly female.  People who know about it always make the connection with my gender issue, and they also see it as distinctly feminine.  Also, when I write about it, my text reads like it was written by a woman, whereas this blog entry definitely reads like it was written by a man according to the Gender Genie.  Therefore, it's a really high stakes strategy to go in there with all guns blazing and say "I find X a turn on" - they would either be completely convinced by it or completely convinced of the opposite.  Of course, it could be that the opposite is what I really need, but it really doesn't seem that way.  To me right now, thinking of myself as male feels identical to feeling low self-esteem and thinking of myself as female feels the same as raising my self-esteem, and it really doesn't seem sexual.

The other kink is so rare I can't even find it on the internet.  I seem to be genuinely the only person in the world with it, and even I haven't got it any more because the gloop made it go away, which considering the first observation is probably just as well.  Nonetheless, after drawing my counsellor a certain diagram, it became clear what it was about and it is also to some extent evidence in favour of a pretty deep problem with gender.  It is also deliciously, phenomenally, hugely ironic in a way that makes me want to shout it from the rooftops, but it "should not be told abroad" and I'm not about to share it with anyone.  The three people who know about it and what I've done appreciate the intense irony of my situation and I'll have to be content with that.  Ah well.

This is what I think happens.  Your brain develops structurally as one sex in the body which is structurally of another.  Consequently, rather unsurprisingly, when it starts to develop what's supposed to be the common sexuality for its own brain sex, it's doing it in a hormonal environment which is supposed to be doing it for a different brain sex.  Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, it gets more than a bit confused.  The result of this is that a gender dysphoric person's sexuality will be unusual, and this then gets confused with that unusual sexuality including transvestic fetishism or autogynephilia.  It is an understandable confusion by observers, but it isn't usually what happens and even when it is, it doesn't mean sexual desire is the main motive for wanting the organs which manifest that desire to be heavily modified.

So maybe I will go in there and mention it, or maybe I won't.  What do you think, oh vast audience?

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.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Crustacean Calendar

I'm not a Trekkie (Trekker).  I'm not sure how many people are these days.  True, I wanted a Star Trek coffee mug but the reason for that was, well, I'll show you:

Wide base, narrow top.  An optimistic mug, because when it seems to be half-empty it is in fact more than half-full.

A lot of Star Trek is mildly or very irritating because it only performs a vague nod in the direction of scientific plausibility, although I like the poetry of the technobabble and may exploit that one day in verse.

One of the rejected ideas which was promising in the original series was that of Star Dates.  Roddenberry's original plan was to use a different "calendar" for the external reason of obfuscating how far in the future the series was set and the internal reason that since Starfleet ships would be hurtling around near the speed of light or beyond it for much of the time, the slowing of the passage of time caused by travelling so fast would cause the clocks and calendars on board to creep out of sync with each other.  This was a really good idea and it's a shame it got rejected.  As it did get rejected, the viewer is as usual left to spin her wheels in deep space trying to deal with high bogometer readings, or at least this one is.

For this reason, I decided to return to the idea for 'Unspeakable' by creating something called the Crustacean Calendar.  I've reached the point in writing the novel where I just can't go on ignoring how time is measured in the story.

I'll explain the name first.  It's called the Crustacean Calendar because of the alliteration and being based on the Crab Nebula.  This is the Crab Nebula, also known as M1, in the constellation of Taurus:

It's a supernova remnant - the remains of an exploded star.  In the centre is the remains of the star itself, a pulsar which is unusual in being clearly visible through an optical telescope.  It flashes on and off very regularly and is, like all pulsars and neutron stars, pretty small.  The flashes are very regular, occurring about thirty times a second and only slowing very slightly with the passage of time.

Unlike many celebrated celestial bodies, the Crab Nebula and its pulsar is young.  The light from it reached this planet and the eyes of Chinese astronomers on 4th July 1054, I'm presuming Old Style but I'll have to look that up.  That light had of course taken a long time to reach us, using the pronoun gratifyingly broadly.  I seem to remember it took around six thousand years in fact, and it was bright enough to be visible from here.  A sphere with a radius of six thousand light years considered in terms of the kind of geometry most people are used to has a volume of around 26114971742 cubic parsecs, so that explosion would be visible to human-like eyes situated in an extremely large volume.  In fact the volume is even bigger because objects are generally larger on the inside than the outside and that would definitely apply to a twelve thousand light year wide sphere centred on the Crab Nebula because of all the dense matter inside it.  It would be slightly less useful than it sounds though, since the Milky Way is a relatively thin disc in this region of space so it would mainly be even emptier than usual.

My idea is that the calendar and time in the 'Unspeakable' universe is measured in terms of the number of times the Crab Nebula pulsar has flashed in the sky of the relevant location.  So here today, 10th November 2014, nine hundred and sixty years, four months and four days have passed since it started flashing at us, and since it does it around thirty times a second that means it's done so around 1015324951312 times.  A thousand light years in the direction of the Crab Pulsar itself it will have done so around a trillion times fewer and a thousand light years in the opposite direction around a trillion more, so at the same time in each direction the "date" is different "now".

This means that when Su leaves Eos, which is twelve light years away, it's twelve years' worth of time earlier there than it is here, assuming it to be in exactly the direction of the Crab Nebula.  You might ask why I've made a calendar which varies in this way.  The answer is that in fact it doesn't vary because there's no such thing as simultaneity.  I'm going to illustrate this using one of Albert Einstein's famous trains.

Suppose light travels at only 200 kilometres an hour and there is a light bulb in the middle of a ten metre long train carriage travelling at 100 kilometres an hour.  There is a passenger in the carriage underneath the light and someone standing on the platform.  As the carriage passes the person on the platform, the light comes on, and they see the ends of the carriage illuminated at different times - the back is coming up to meet the light and the front moving away from it.  However, for the passenger the light illuminates both ends simultaneously.  Moreover, this is not an illusion because light moves at the same speed for everyone regardless of their own speed.

Since nothing can move faster than light, there is no reason not to have such apparent "discrepancies" in the dates and times concerned.  Hence the Crustacean Calendar measures the local time only - there is no other time.

As usual for me, I've used the duodecimal system to divide time up, this time as multiples of the flashes of the relevant pulsar.  This leaves a few convenient units of time, one of around 57 seconds and another of roughly 23 weeks.

The idea is that anyone with a view of the night sky clear through to the Crab Nebula, for instance not obscured by clouds of gas or dust, and a moderately powerful telescope within at least six thousand light years of the pulsar would be able to calibrate the time and use a device for counting it using that pulsar.  It removes the emphasis on this planet and solar system and places it on a more galactic footing, and also gets back the idea in the original Star Trek that time is relative.

This unit of around a thirtieth of a second can also be used as the basic unit of length, and by extension units of area and volume.  The actual current figure allows light to travel 10043.9 kilometres, and smaller units can be derived by possibly repeated divisions by twelve.  The density of neutronium can then be used as a basis for mass but this would be incredibly high and the unit involved would have to be a tiny submultiple.

Unfortunately this whole entry doesn't get me much closer to being able to put the date on the top of the minutes recorded at the coordinating meeting of the Canterbury branch of 'Match, Hatch and Dispatch' chaired by Aura Mono in 2147 using our calendar, but at least it explains what I'm doing.

Oh yes, and this is important because the speakers of the language which seems to replace English have a different view of time and space than English due to the language they speak, which mixes up space and time, so for instance they think in terms of the sun appearing over the side of the planet they're on rather than sunrise, they see time as flowing downwards like a stream, so the past is uphill, and they tend to think of periods of time as spatial regions rather than intervals.  An example of this is that last summer in the Northern hemisphere of Earth would be thought of as a curve in the helix of this planet's orbit as the sun moves through the Galaxy, not as a period of time.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

This Whole Spectrum Thing

This is pretty:

It is often alleged that I am on here somewhere.  If that were so, left to itself I wouldn't necessarily consider that to be a problem.  It's not a failing to be on it and various things do suggest themselves.  When I look at how people said to be on it approach their experience, much of that approach just seems natural and straightforward to me, perhaps ironically suggesting that I empathise with people who are on it.  However, for me it brings up a whole load of issues which I've tried to address before but haven't so far got to expressing clearly.

I can't pretend to be an expert on this by any means, particularly not as much as someone who either has family contact with people on there or works regularly with them in some way.  However, part of my understanding of what is commonly seen as being on this spectrum is a low degree of empathy and difficulty in filtering sensory and possibly other stimuli, and perhaps getting bogged down in details and systematising as a form of comfort.

I now want to present you with a few scenarios regarding other people who are seen as being on it:

  • Person A enjoys winding people up  by doing various things which try to ensure that he gets a reaction and is the centre of attention in a group.
  • Person B picks on adopted siblings when about to visit her birth father because it's supposed to be a treat but in fact his apathy causes distress.  This seems to be motivated by jealousy.
  • Person C presents his friends with shocking scenarios involving distressed people to get a reaction.
All of these people are said to be on the autistic spectrum.  I unfortunately seem to have chosen several negative examples, which is probably because they are more memorable than positive ones, but there are bound to be lots of positive ones too.  However, they serve to illustrate a point.  All of these are fairly marked forms of behaviour and all of them, to me, seem to involve empathy.  The first is arguable.  It may be that person A enjoys the sensory stimulation of the noise and skirmish and that it isn't about empathy at all.  That one has an alternative explanation which does not involve empathy, although the most straightforward explanation does involve it to my mind.  Person B definitely seems to be seeing the situation from the viewpoints of other people, several of them in fact.  I can't think of a way of accounting for this which doesn't involve that feature.  Person C could be like Person A were it not for the focus on distress in third parties, which brings it closer to the neurotypical.

As I've said before, it can sometimes be very hard to anticipate what is going on, or not going on, in someone else's mind when you try to put yourself in their position, and not just for me.  The linked example is about how unlikely it is for someone else to anticipate what my experience is like because it seems to be very counterintuitive.  I may therefore be failing to empathise with persons A and C here, and their world may be unimaginable to me, or maybe just somewhere I wouldn't want to live.  Person B is more straightforward, but persons A and C to me seem to be more easily and simply understood by evoking the idea of empathy.  This leaves me with two thoughts:  that these are false positives of "diagnoses" of autistic spectrum "disorders" (I must get round to why I want to throw the Ds away some day) and that the autistic spectrum is not what it appears to be.

Suppose a child is born unable to filter sensory stimuli easily.  That child may then find it difficult to distinguish what it perceives someone as doing from the noise in their experience, leading to that child possibly learning a whole load of interesting or impressive stuff but not the bits which involve things like eye contact, tone of voice, body language and the rest.  Not the stuff, and here comes a word, salient to interpersonal interaction.  This means that the alleged failure to empathise, and in fact I don't see that as very plausibly present in the examples I just mentioned, would be secondary to that failure to filter.  Therefore, the inability to empathise is not an in-built lack, if lack it indeed be, but the result of not having had the opportunity to learn it in the first place.  This is reflected in the parallels often drawn between feral children and those seen as markedly autistic.  Feral children seem to have lacked exposure to the richness of interpersonal interaction available to most human children, so they are in a similar situation.

I don't want to describe this as a predicament.  That would make it look like the issue was with a deficiency inside the people themselves, and I am very loth to describe anyone as defective, particularly where that "defect" just seems to me like the normal way to behave.  I am also very likely to take it personally because people often believe I am on the spectrum, and it seems very likely that since I just put a covering letter in the questionnaire I sent to the gender clinic explaining that I rated my clitoris because it was a homologous structure to the penis, it will probably end up with them doing so as well.

This is where things get insanely complicated, and I'm partly writing this to disentangle it a bit.

Simon Baron-Cohen, and probably a lot of other people, see autism as the result of testosterone poisoning.  An autistic brain to Baron-Cohen is one heavily influenced in its development by androgens, in other words an "extreme male brain".  There are of course many women on the autistic spectrum and there is said to be sexism in the diagnosis of being on the spectrum which leads to under-diagnosis for females and over-diagnosis for males.  When I look at a list of female Asperger's features I can in fact feel their truth for me, although they operate in a different way because I can feel the weight of male socialisation very acutely, and my attempt to resist that too.  Therefore, maybe that isn't how it is.

I am aware that it's said that M2F gender dysphoria and being on the autistic spectrum is said to be highly correlated, in that people on the spectrum are much more likely to be gender dysphoric than the rest of the population and vice versa.  Nonetheless this both puzzles and distresses me.  If being on the autistic spectrum means having an extremely male brain and being M2F gender dysphoric means having a female brain in a body which seems to be male to others, how can the two be reconciled?  Is it that the features of the brain which are particularly testosterony are in one bit and those which are less so are in another?  If not, what exactly is going on?  These claims seem very hard to reconcile with each other.

How do I see what's going on in my head with regard to being on the autistic spectrum?  I suppose I see it like this.  Aspie ways of behaving do seem quite easy to understand and empathise with compared with neurotypicality, but I also feel I have become de-skilled in that area, because it didn't feel like there was any social reward available to me for behaving in a neurotypical manner.  This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because I don't get to practice it.  I find empathising to be a challenge to which I feel the urge to rise rather than avoid, and my work generally attracts people with a high degree of empathy.  I am also, however, conscious of the fact that gender dysphoric M2F people are frequently seen as being on the autistic spectrum, which might explain why I use my knife and fork the opposite way round to the usual manner, tend to clout people by mistake when I do Tai Chi, why I can't learn to knit and why I find communicating in sign language almost impossible.  Everything is mirrored rather than paralleled.  That "everything" may even include gender.

I don't know.  What do you all think?  Remember I'm avoiding Facebook for now and I probably won't read what you've got to say if you post it on there.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

What Happens On Facebook...

...doesn't stay on it.  This isn't going to be news to anyone, but Facebook and the rest of the internet tends to be bad for your mental health.  Since in exactly one month's time I'm going to be assessed by some mental health professionals, I decided it would probably be a good idea to try to reduce the time I spend on there so that I could at least be as sane as possible when I saw them.  Other things should also probably happen such as meditation, but in any case, I thought what I might do today is set out the kind of things which happen online generally and on Facebook in particular which are not good for you.  This may not be particularly new, but trying to set it out methodically could be helpful.  Also, technology which affects your mind is nothing new either, and I'd like to make a comparison with widespread literacy.

The first thing which happens all over the internet except in a few oases is that we interact almost purely verbally.  We type, sometimes WITH THE CAPS LOCK ON, and occasionally introduce the occasional emoticon occasionally, and of course we use punctuation, so it is at least not entirely without nuance, but the fact is that it is a thin trickle of meaning without body language, facial expression, tone of voice, proxemics, cups of tea, hugs, physical violence or people trying to poison you, and all of that is very limited.  Therefore it's already set up to go wonky.  This is incidentally one reason I make YouTube videos.  Video sharing sites are one way you can reintroduce some of those things which text filters out.  It's even possible to buy someone a cup of coffee over the internet, apparently.  Skyping is another option, but it's one to one.

Someone once described the Halfbakery as like a load of people sitting round a particularly large pub table talking about ideas and making sketches on the backs of beermats.  I would substantially agree with this description, and it's quite a cosy one.  The Halfbakery does a lot of things very well which other places don't, and in general there's no trolling, no ill-judged accidental offensiveness and in fact very little of the general negativity which afflicts much of the rest of the net.  Even so, part of that is down to Jutta and to the probable very high proportion of non-neurotypical users, which means that people don't rise to the bait of offence as often as they would elsewhere.  Incidentally, just to veer off on one for a second, this blog entry was almost about neurotypicality or otherwise but I decided to save that for another day.

Facebook is not the demi-patisserie of course.  Nor are a lot of other online places.  In many of these, a row kicks off on a thread due to misunderstandings, often because few people involved are really concentrating, i.e. listening and thinking.  Rapid reactions are very common, and because they're rapid, relatively little consideration can be involved.  This is sometimes worse on Facebook because threads can be very long and mainly hidden, so for example someone might post something carefully considered but it can get buried in the responses.

Another thing that can happen, and I've felt this myself, is that we can get drawn into adopting a particular kind of consistent persona online which doesn't reflect how we see ourselves or how anyone meeting us face-to-face would see us.  For some people, this is a very good thing.  For instance, if someone had a serious speech impediment or was deaf, communication might be impaired in person which wouldn't be online, so such people can really shine there where they wouldn't elsewhere.   There is just no way I am going to say this is a bad thing, and the disadvantages we have offline can be completely absent online, making it a much fairer place in some ways.  However, I'd also admit to feeling a considerable sense of discomfort about the person I become when I'm online, and particularly on Facebook.  It happens against my will.  Some of this is good but a lot of it isn't.

One of the aspects of who I become online is oversharing, something there's a new word for and therefore it seems likely that it's not just me who has this problem.  It's the usual situation of being mesmerised into disclosure by being in the comfort of apparent, but not actual, privacy and intimacy.  It happens in other circumstances, usually due to unsureness about boundaries, but online circumstances seem to make it particularly likely.

Here are three more problems:  attention span, focus and memory.  Attention span is something I have already had a problem with but the internet is not my friend in increasing this, which in turn feeds into my poor focus.  I can't afford this right now because I need to be sufficiently focussed to dig myself out of the hole a lifetime of gender dysphoria has left me in, but never mind my story - it seems very likely that you need it too.  Memory is a different issue and in fact quite an interesting one which relates to other media.  If you know you can "just Google it" or look it up on Wikipedia, you come to rely on that instead of memory.  That would be fine if you knew the connection was reliable, but it's not only unreliable in physical terms but also in terms of the information itself.  I have edited hundreds of Wikipedia articles in my time, including the one which got deleted and was an early link in the chain of events leading to my transition - another example of the power of the internet, but perhaps a more positive one - and have noticed that very soon after I have added the hopefully reliable information to them, it very swiftly popped up all over the place and almost became "the truth".  In a sense, this process subsumes one's very identity into the internet, to the extent, which is considerable, that one is one's memories.

However, unlike the other aspects of the situation, this is not new.  Literacy has the same influence.  If you know you can read or write down something, your memory and therefore your identity is impaired in similar ways.  In fact, even the use of spoken or signed language might bring this with it.  We can't tell of course.

Last of all comes the point which is most closely related to social networking sites and facilities:  the friends list.  This isn't a new point either, but it bears repeating.  If you have more than about a gross of Facebook "friends", they begin to exceed your mental capacity for acquaintance and you can begin to forget or never learn important facts about them, such as illness, unemployment, imprisonment, bereavement or death, and therefore can expect to be seen as apathetic or callous towards them.  The sense in which this is one's own fault is dependent upon how reliable one's memory is - this is the limit on the number of friends in "real life".  However, nowadays Facebook is real life.

Therefore, the reason for this digital detox can be summed up thus, and this won't be new but I do want to gather it all in one place and express it clearly and explicitly:

  • The thin channel of interaction available via text.
  • The insidious development of a mask which is not the real you.
  • The blurring of personal boundaries.
  • Poor focus.
  • The dissolution of one's identity into the hive mind via oversharing and memory loss.
  • Overtaxing one's power of acquaintance, leading to personal pain and unwittingly hurting others.
Given all that, I need to spend some time getting off Facebook and the like in order to achieve the opposite:

  • A wide channel of face-to-face communication and interaction.
  • Getting to know who I really am - particularly important to me right now.
  • Clear personal boundaries.
  • An ability to focus.
  • A clear sense of personal identity including reliable personal memories and a sense of restraint where disclosure comes to mean something special to those to whom one discloses.
  • Smaller groups of real friends who matter to each other, don't hurt each other so much and who really know each other well.
I'm not going to stay off Facebook forever.  In fact there will hardly be a day when I'm not on it and it has loads of positives, but these are the things I need to concentrate on right now.

Incidentally, in order to do this I've had to drop a lot of things in mid-flow which are making me nervous, particularly the discussion about the US, but coming off FB is coming off FB, so I can't really venture over there too much or I'll get pulled back in.  This will of course apply to the internet as a whole.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Other People's Weirdness

Before I post the photo I'm about to post, please note that we live most of our year in crepuscular or possibly Stygian darkness and also that my camera is rubbish, so this might not even end up showing what I want it to, but anyway, for what it's worth, here it is:

Yeah, not terribly marvellous is it?

Anyway, suppose you were walking along some street somewhere in Leicester and you saw the above strolling past.  You would probably think something along the lines of what a presumed penis-owner who went past shouted at me last night about "dressing up as a woman", to which I had a number of possibly witty and definitely unuttered responses which I could share with you, such as to ask back why they artificially restricted their clothing choices too, and also to point out that I'm not merely dressing up as a woman but trying to reduce the disconcerting mismatch between who I am and how I look.  However, if that would be your impression, it would completely miss what was the bigger weirdness for me.

OK, so someone's weirdness might be centred around the skirt and possibly the fluffy cardigan, although in fact I've lost the plot entirely there and have no idea if that falls into the feminine or masculine category for most people in these isles at this time.  If you know me well or have read this blog, you will probably realise what I'm about to say, but I'll say it anyway.

To me, that skirt is just warm and an extra layer on top of the leggings.  I'm wearing the probably invisible banana socks because they're a present from our daughter who is visiting today and again because they're warm.  I'm wearing the cardigan because it's warm.  I mean, obviously I also like all the clobber, but, and this is no word of a lie, to me the most remarkable thing by far, way beyond all the others, is that I'm wearing a button-up blouse and that it isn't freaking me out even a tiny bit.

If you'd asked me two years ago to rank which of the following items of clothing I'd be wearing on 7th November 2014 - scarf, cardigan, blouse, skirt, leggings, socks - it would have been in the following order from most to least likely:  socks, leggings, then a big gap followed by scarf and skirt, then an absolute gulf of subjective degree of belief followed by the vanishingly tiny probability that I would be wearing a cardigan or a blouse.  Those last two items, particularly the final one, are way more improbable and unlike me considered as a 47-year long process of consciousness.  Seriously, you just have no idea unless you also have an unusual phobia, how very improbable that I would be wearing that last item would have seemed at that point.  And in fact I have still never worn a button-up cardigan.

I've said similar things to this before, of course, but this time I'm trying to make a different point.  To me, wearing a skirt is nothing, particularly a dull and apparently impossible to see tartan one in view of my ancestry (yes, I know a skirt is not a kilt, but if the skirt fits, wear it).  My grandfather went into battle wearing one and struck fear into the hearts of his opponents too, unfortunately, said to be one of "die Damen aus der Hölle" although this appelation may be mythical.  It's no big deal in my world.  The buttons are one heck of a big deal.  It's very unlikely that anyone would guess that if they didn't know me, and this is the thing:  you simply don't know what someone's internal world is like.  I'm capable of looking at this situation as an outsider and realising that this is very unusual and probably unique,

There's a story about someone diagnosed as schizophrenic who was interviewed by a psychiatrist and presumably was seen to exhibit some of the usual features of his condition.  At the end of the session, the psychiatrist asked "Is there anything else I can help you with?" to which the schizophrenic replied "oh, yes please.  Can I have some sleeping pills?  The aliens wake me up every night when they land their flying saucer on my roof."  To him, the fact that there were aliens landing on his roof was not the point - it was entirely prosaic and quotidian that such a thing would happen.  The question arises of what else was in this guy's world upon which he hadn't considered it worthwhile to pass comment.

I have pointed out a few times to Sarada that this kind of thing:

(which is mine) is easily remedied (actually it's disappointingly tidy but still, you see my point), but also that I am going to have to tread very carefully here.  To me, this mess represents a residual deposit of masculinity.  That is very much a stereotype, so maybe I should re-word it as "this mess represents a vestige of my former self".  I can nowadays quite easily resolve to be tidy if need be.  However, just as Sarada used to exhort me not to wear tracksuits any more, not realising what counted as "normal" clothes to me, and then I gave her what I thought she wanted and stopped wearing them, I have absolutely no idea whether anything else which seems like an integral part of behaving in this manner, i.e. "tidy Mandy", stereotype though it of course is, would also be visited upon this household and this relationship which she might find less desirable.  Sarada characterises this as
in the inimitable way only a Londoner can.

I should emphasise that it's really not something I do on purpose, and although it may be something people can easily spot in me, it's probably something everyone does.  We all make assumptions and live in our own worlds.  Now, I can look outside myself, as it were, and see that perceiving a bloke in a skirt might seem more remarkable than perceiving a bloke in a blouse, particularly one which isn't particularly feminine (or is it?  I have literally no idea!), but that doesn't mean it seems that way to me.  I literally prefer drinking my own urine to drinking tea, and believe me, I am no urine-drinking fan.  The fact that I am surrounded by people who drink tea doesn't make that any more comprehensible to me than the fact that for most apparent men, even the mislabelled ones, wearing something with buttons is a smaller step than wearing a skirt.

For this reason, the recent decision by Sarada to blog more about the situation between her and me with regard to my GID is a very good one.  For me, it's just how I am, in the same way as I write in English or drink coffee first thing in the morning.  It is remarkable, because it's new and also a great relief finally to express it.  However, I don't necessarily see it as odd, and also I probably don't know most of how it seems strange to others.  Therefore, congratulations to her regarding what's about to happen, and a vote of thanks to the people who are making it happen.  

Oh wad some pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

This Is Not What A Feminist Looks Like

OK, now I'm annoyed.  Instead of writing 'Unspeakable', I feel the urge to do this.

You've probably heard that the Fawcett Society's 'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like' are made in sweatshops.  This has somehow made it onto the news.  Well, they would be because most clothes are and whereas it's clearly not OK, that kind of thing happens all the time.  This is not what really bothers me though.

I'm going to set out two categories and argue using those in order to avoid defining what women and men are, as I mentioned before.  One category consists of people who are socialised as female because they've predominantly been perceived as female.  Most of these people are ciswomen and most women fit into this category.  A few of them will be other than that.  Some will be transmen and some will be chromosomally male but physically female such as TAIS people.  Even so, they do form a category.  The other category consists of people who are socialised as male because they've been predominantly perceived as male and most of those are cismen.  A few of these people will be transwomen.  In both these categories there are a few anomalies, but they do correspond quite closely to women and men respectively, on the whole, although they are not women and men as such but people who are socialised and perceived as such.  There will of course be other oppressive phenomena going on such as cisgender privilege, but besides that there is the much more pervasive phenomenon of sexism.  Sexism is the oppression of the former category by the latter and nothing else, i.e. it does not operate in the other direction and it does not operate between any other categories.  Sexism does not operate against men and it can't, because the former group, which has no name, is the oppressed group and prejudice against men will tend to operate to liberate women and is therefore entirely acceptable and not sexism.

People in the latter category can be sympathetic and allied to feminists of course, in the same way as a white person might oppose racism.  The fact remains that a white majority person is not likely to experience racism to anything like the same degree as someone with a minority ethnicity, so they can never be more than an ally, i.e. they cannot be themselves a victim of racism, at least in Britain.

All of this means that not only can a man not be a feminist, unless he is a transman, but nobody in the latter category can be anything better than opposed to feminism, because they lack the experience of being oppressed in that particular way.  Transwomen cannot be feminists either.  The only way that could have happened would have been if they had been predominantly perceived as female from birth, and we aren't.

It has been noted that David Cameron refused to wear the Fawcett Society's T-shirt.  I rather strangely find myself in agreement with him.  He is not what a feminist looks like because he's a cisman, and like this transwoman typing these words, he cannot be a feminist because he's part of the oppressor class in gender terms.  He could be, but isn't, pro-feminist, at least in anything but a very superficial sense, but he cannot be a feminist, and neither can I.

Therefore I already found the Fawcett Society's campaign offensive and the mere, fairly obvious, fact that the T-shirts were made in a sweatshop is irrelevant.  I mean, what did you expect?

Saturday, 1 November 2014

An Unexpectedly Depressing Exhibition

Something rather surprising happened this afternoon.  Sarada and I went to the Leicester LGBT history exhibition at Newarke Houses Museum.  Now before I say anything else I want to stress that there was nothing wrong with the exhibition itself, although apparently it's a scaled-down version of the one at the LGBT Centre so there were bits missing.  Even so, as we were looking around it, I found myself getting rather depressed, and when I came to sign the visitors' book all I did was that, which is unusual for me because as you will realise if you read this, I'm very bad at brevity, which is why NaNo has proven to be so easy so far and why I'm actually blogging right now even though I said I wouldn't during November.  What happened then?

At first I just put it down to fatigue and low blood sugar.  I think I had four hours sleep last night and my breakfast was quite small by my standards, so that would make sense and I'm not denying it was a factor, but there was more to it than that.  Two things happened really.  One of them was that Sarada said I should contribute to the oral history project, which by the way is here should you want to contribute to it, on the grounds that I clearly have a lot to say on the matter.  She then cited this blog as an example of that.  That in itself is rather depressing, so it would've been enough on its own.  It's depressing because in fact I regard me paying attention to my possible gender dysphoria as an unhealthy obsession and if she sees me as predominantly blogging about that, it's probably true but I really try hard not to, and apparently fail.  The problems I have with brevity are also something I find really embarrassing because they seem to be like someone constantly muttering to herself because of major organic brain pathology.  I can write loads, easily, just as I am orally voluble, but it's not a good thing and I want to stop doing it.  It's just that I can't.  Therefore there are two things there which are problematic and in my view pathological, both excessive and obsessive-compulsive, but unfortunately nobody seems willing to help me stop writing or obsessing about trans.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the non-judgementalism and positivity towards me but I do constantly try to stop doing it and it's really hard, and clearly I'm failing although NaNo will probably help a bit.

Leaving all that aside though, try as I might I cannot think of anything worthwhile I could contribute on LGBT history in Leicester.  How could I?  I have hardly participated at all in any of it except as an ally, and an ally is just that, not someone in the thick of it.  I can't make sense of my life in that way at all.  I came to Leicester, pined after two unrequited loves for a few years, had a one night stand, went out with two people and got married, over twenty years ago.  I did of course also acquire a certain nickname due to something someone found out, left a series of religious groups because of their homophobia (who wouldn't?), lived platonically with a few gay guys around the place, and then I went around calling myself Ruth and - well, there were a few things, but none of it seems to have anything to do with LGBT stuff to me more than most other allies' lives would be.  I've only ever been on the margins.  I'm really sad about David's death and that still haunts me, but that's a personal thing and I'm sure a lot of his other friends are too.  I have also been threatened and shouted and sworn at a lot, and occasionally mildly assaulted and physically harrassed, but to be honest that probably happens to everyone for all sorts of reasons.  They happened to be about how I presented myself gender-wise, but if they hadn't been about that they would've been about something else.

Sarada's suggestion that I contribute, I suppose, makes me sad.  Over much of my time in Leicester I wasn't out about this as such, although that was mainly because it seemed so obvious that I was gender dysphoric that it wasn't worth mentioning, and it was also something I was ashamed of.  I would never have discussed it with anyone in the LGBT community because I would have expected them to ostracise me if I came out about it and if they didn't, I would probably have concluded they were being politically naive and allowing themselves to compromise because I was a nice person or someone to be pitied rather than despised, not because I'm not despicable but because I'm so pathetic that it actually trumps even that.  So no, I have nothing to say to the LGBT oral history project because I've contributed nothing and wasted my time instead.  Moreover, my perception of the situation over almost all of that time was that I was a traitor to LGBT causes because of how I've lived my life, and leaving off the T, even more of a traitor because of the T, and recognised as such by others.

All of that is rather depressing.

Unfortunately, there's a whole different set of reasons why it's depressing.  It might be interesting to have an exhibition on left-handedness and the history of prejudice against that.  Fascinating in fact. However, on the whole the idea of handedness is not considered significant enough, at least by right-handed people nowadays, for it to be a specific issue.  The day when my headmaster was at school and caned for drawing someone sawing with his left hand, and my mother was rapped across the knuckles for writing left-handedly, are long gone, and incomprehensible to the contemporary mind.  I'm sure handedness is still an issue in many ways and realise that being cross-dominant I'm not in a position to comment, so correct me if I'm wrong but my impression is that nowadays left-handedness is mainly just a variant and doesn't make people think there's something wrong with you.  As a result, you don't see many exhibitions on left-handedness.  Maybe there should be, I'm not sure.

Anyway, so there's an exhibition in 2014 on the history of LGBT stuff in Leicester.  This bothers me because we shouldn't still be in a situation where it's considered remarkable.  Just on the sexual orientation issue, that should be irrelevant nowadays.  It might be interesting to look into it and tell people about it, and right now it's still important to do it, but really it's a scandal that it is important.  Then again, I'm asexual so maybe I don't get it.

Another source of my downheartedness, then, was the fact that such an exhibition is still interesting enough to be put on.  It should be considered such a humdrum and prosaic issue that it's merely of historical interest, like the history of attitudes to left-handedness.  It shouldn't still be a live issue.  The fact that it is makes it depressingly necessary.