Gender identity questions

On plenty of occasions, I’ve encountered people saying they have legitimate questions about trans issues. Most often, these come down to fears for female safety. There is certainly an issue around the scope for predatory men to temporarily adopt trans identities to invade female space. Toby Young – an infamous and vile creature who for reasons that make no sense to me has had some high profile UK jobs – admitted to dressing up as a woman to go after lesbians. However, there are a great many questions I don’t think we are asking, and should be.

Are we doing enough to support diversity in sexual expression? Are we looking after our effeminate boys and butch girls and allowing them to express that way, or are they under pressure to conform to hetranormative standards?

How much gender normalising do we do with children? Are girls who don’t like pink and passive toys being told they are boys? Are boys who like sparkly things being told they are girls? If some young people are being pushed towards trans identities it isn’t trans folk doing this, it is hetranormative pressures from the adults nearest to them and I think we should be talking about it. Historically, telling a child they were behaving like someone of the opposite gender was a scare tool designed to bring them back in line. How many people have been persuaded they don’t belong as one gender because others have told them they’re not acting like a ‘real boy or ‘real girl’?

Pushing people towards a gender change can be a way of pushing them towards heterosexual conformity. I’ve seen it suggested that in some countries, trans is considered preferable to queer because it holds up cultural beliefs about gender. We should be questioning this.

I’ve seen people question the kinds of gender stereotyping trans women seem to go in for. I’m not seeing enough people asking why that might be the case, and what the link might be between performative femininity, and access to support. I am seeing a lot of trans women talking about the pressure to perform femininity in these narrow ways. I think we should be asking questions of what kinds of hoops trans folk have to jump through, who the gatekeepers are, and what kinds of ideas about gender are in the mix here.

If you believe the right wing media, a person, even a child, merely has to suggest that they might be trans to be rapidly operated on and plied with hormones. We don’t spend enough time asking trans people what their experiences are, or listening to the answers. How long does it take to get an appointment at a trans clinic? How many clinics are there and how far do you have to travel to be seen?  What do you have to demonstrate to be taken seriously? To transition, a person has to live as the gender they consider themselves to be, for several years. This includes using a name that is not their birth name, and all the technical problems you can imagine might go with this. What support is there? What help? What legal protections? We’re not asking enough of these questions.

One of the key issues with transitioning is that it reduces suicide rates. The one question I don’t see anyone asking is what else we could do that would help reduce suicide rates. Surgery is not attained quickly. It’s not available on demand. There’s years of process here. What could we be doing in other ways to reduce the suicide rate for trans people? What is it, specifically about the experience of being transgender that has people wanting to kill themselves? How much of it comes down to the behaviour and attitudes of the rest of us? What can we do, individually, to help the people around us be as comfortable as they can be with themselves?

How many people could have happier, more comfortable and viable lives if the people they dealt with simply accepted them as they are?

Advertisements

Believe in truth

This is the next instalment in my series of blogs where I pick up ideas about fighting fascism from Molly Scott Cato.

This is a tricky one in the current environment – believe in truth. With so many sources offering opinions as facts, rubbishing experts, buying ‘experts’ to promote their agenda, offering counter facts that aren’t true – it’s not easy to pick out the truth from the lies, or from the confusion.

Believing in truth is a belief position. Previously we looked at asking for evidence – which is about establishing what the truth is most likely to be. This is a different, and more philosophical process. It asks us to get over post-modernism, and step away from the idea that truth is always subjective, partial, contextual. Sometimes these ideas are useful and relevant, but they are also easily manipulated to serve a right wing agenda.

Belief itself is a state that is easily manipulated. We also all know that data can be innocently misunderstood, experts can be wrong because they haven’t seen all the data yet, and so forth. The very best information we can get falls short of the truth.

One of the things that abusers do – it’s called gaslighting – is to provide the victim with conflicting information with the intention of driving them mad. Right now in British politics, Jeremy Corbyn is being presented by the media as weak and ineffectual, but also as a powerful leader with dangerous ideas. Migrants apparently come over here to simultaneously take all our jobs while scrounging off our benefits system – we’ve seen a lot of that one. The EU is simultaneously totally evil, but should kindly find a solution to our brexit problems. Clearly both cannot be true. People with terminal illness are declared fit for work. When you’re thinking about truth, this is an area to pay particular attention to.

A person who is interested in truth will be open to new information. They won’t however, swing back and forth between conflicting ideas and at every turn expect you to believe the idea they’re putting forth. Taking a step back and trying to look at the overall pattern will give you a better sense of what you are dealing with.

In face of constant gaslighting, it may be a better bet to pick a view and stick to it, just so that you can function and keep moving. In face of gaslighting, it’s not enough to believe in your truth – you will need to remind yourself of it and revisit the evidence so that the misinformation does not undermine you. Given the scale of the gaslighting, you will also need to share that evidence with other people who will likely also be struggling to navigate and stay sane.

Even if you’re not sure what the truth is, if you believe in the idea that there is truth, and the evidence (somewhere!) to make it clear, then you have some resilience against the madness people feel when they are given conflicting information and told that it is all true.


Giving it sixty percent

I’ve been going to a Tai Chi class for a few weeks now. One of the ideas my teacher reminds us of every lesson, is the principle of giving about sixty percent. Don’t go for the maximum you can do. Don’t push your body. Don’t over-extend or try too hard. Just relax, and do about two thirds of what you reckon your upper limit might be.

This is a very long way from conventional western thought around developing strength and fitness. We’re normally told to push, to feel the burn, go through the pain barrier. No pain no gain. My experience of life with a body is that if I hurt myself, I lose scope for movement and end up less active in the short term. Hurt yourself enough and you’ll be obliged to quit. Perhaps this is the inevitable price if you want to participate in sports at higher levels, but is it necessary for all of us? What if it isn’t?

I’m enjoying the process of giving it about two thirds of what I’ve got. I’m careful with my joints and muscles, and as someone with various pain issues, I’m enjoying feeling relaxed about doing what I can and not pushing into discomfort. A few weeks in and there are several things I can now do better than when I started, so even though I’m not pushing, I am clearly developing. My balance in some of the moves has improved. The flexibility in a shoulder I’ve had problems with, is improving too.

I’m also finding the sixty percent idea relevant for the rest of life. I tend to feel like I should be going at everything with everything I’ve got all of the time. I know it doesn’t work. A sixty percent approach would be kinder and more sustainable. As I learn to work kindly with my body, I may manage to work a little more kindly with my head, as well.

The no pain no gain mentality can make physical activity seem unavailable to those of us who really can’t afford any more pain. It can discourage people from action on the grounds of disability, age, physical delicacy, ease of being hurt. It can take us down a path towards injury that then limits what we can do. It is definitely possible to strengthen and develop your body without pushing it to, and beyond its limits. However, the idea that pain and gain go together, that growth is good and growth hurts are part of a bigger story our culture tells itself about how we have to push for success and how we should expect to struggle and suffer along the way.

Giving it sixty percent allows me to step back from all of that, rethink my natural limits, rethink other natural limits, and make radical changes.


Poetry for healing

Many people turn to poetry for catharsis. While that doesn’t always lead to poems that are meaningful to anyone else, it definitely does work as a cathartic process. Part of this is simply being able to vent. Part of it, however, has everything to do with how you can use language when writing poetry.

The English language doesn’t have a lot of words for describing emotions. To talk about emotions in any detail, we are obliged to say what they are like, or to demonstrate how they play out by using metaphors. If I tell you I am suffering from depression, that will give you a limited idea of what I’m going through. If I tell you that my body is full of lead, and my heart has become a stone, that I am walking through a blasted wasteland where nothing lives or grows and desperately trying to find a way to leave, and afraid there is no way to leave – then you might have some idea.

Poetry gives us permission to put down grammar norms, give up on regular sentence structure, and put words together in ways that work for this specific instance. Poetry structures are very different from normal writing structures, so even if you do decide not to cough up your heart in free verse, it is still different from writing prose. Poetry structures focus on the rhythms and sounds words make, not the logic of how the content is expressed. That in turn allows a person to think different, which can be helpful when you’re struggling to process something.

Afterwards, when you have bled onto the page, there is time to reflect on whether the catharsis poem also functions as a regular poem. Sometimes there’s enough in it that someone else might find it helpful. Often a cathartic poem reads back like a hearty wallow in the deeply personal. To share it, may require editing. One of the most effective ways of taking a catharsis poem and turning it into something shareable, is to make it funny. Going that bit further, and playing misery for laughs can be effective when taking your work to an audience. When we can collectively laugh at pain, it can become collectively cathartic.

Some poems are better used in other ways. Perhaps a ritual burning to help you release those feelings. Physically tearing up paper can be productive as well. Letting them go, and letting what was in them go can be a good thing. Sometimes the answer is to vent and move on. Sometimes, the process of healing with poetry requires us to dig in and go deeper – it’s a very personal choice. However you handle it, bear in mind that a good cathartic healing poem is not necessarily a good poem in any other sense, and that equally, a good poem that people will enjoy is not necessarily going to help you much as a healing process.


Wisdom from a White Hare

A guest blog from Jacqui Lovesey

 

 

So,  some things you need to know about Ursula Brifthavfen Stoltz:

  • She is a white hare.
  • She is a witch.
  • She appears in the Matlock the Hare books I create with my husband, Phil.
  • I have been painting her for 7 years now, in various guises, and on various adventures in the Matlock the Hare trilogy and our other books.
  • She ‘talks’ to me.

 

Probably all good until point 5, I’m guessing – the ‘talking’ one.  Here, surely, is the rambling of a hard-working illustrator who doesn’t get out that often.  But please bear with me. As other artists and writers will tell you, the longer you’re focussed on creating and bringing ‘life’ to a character, the more they begin to surprise you with unexpected mannerisms, gestures, opinions – and yes, even ‘advice’.  And Ursula, a white hare-witch from across the Icy Seas, certainly has a lot of that.

Gradually, the idea to create an oracle deck of Ursula’s  ‘witchy wisdom’ grew in my mind.   Here could be the perfect platform to allow her thoughts on all sorts of matters to be aired.  As someone who both owns and uses oracle decks, I couldn’t think of a better vehicle to express the insight that has bought me both comfort and whimsy in the past.

So I set to work painting 44 brand new watercolours for the deck, alongside Phil writing a 108 page booklet that details all the meanings of each card. The deck itself will be split into 7 sections: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Spirit, Celtic Festivals & Witch – and using it to connect with your own inner wisdom couldn’t be simpler!  Just let yourself be drawn to the card that ‘speaks’ to you, then discover how its meaning relates to your situation.

 

 

I’m currently funding the deck on Kickstarter – and if you’d like to join the project and let a little of Ursula’s ‘White Hare Wisdom’ into your life, please take a look at the project to discover more about, me, Ursula and the deck.  And, of course, besides the deck itself, there’s a saztaculous plethora of other goodies and rewards for backers, too! Hopefully, you’ll decide to become a backer, and allow Ursula to begin ‘speaking’ to you, too…

 

 

 

(I’ve supported this Kickstarter, Matlock the hare stuff is reliably gorgeous and soulful. You can get involved here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/934318055/white-hare-wisdom-oracle-card-deck )


Challenging anxious thoughts

When anxiety rolls in, it announces that everything will be awful. I have a powerful imagination, and my anxiety hijacks this and gets me to imagine multiple terrible outcomes for everything. This is exhausting, and I am really good at frightening myself. For some time now, I’ve been trying to find ways of dealing with this.

I have done some CBT work, and the problem there is that it assumes your anxiety is irrational. My anxiety is not irrational, it is absolutely rooted in my life experiences. The things that come up for me when anxiety kicks in are based firmly on stuff that has happened. Treating it as irrational reduces my self-confidence and has me second guessing myself and that’s not useful. Consequently, stage one of anxiety management for me, is to listen to that anxiety and to acknowledge that it is a perfectly reasonable thing to feel. When I do that it becomes easier to then ask ‘but is it relevant right now?’

I do risk assessments. I try and look as carefully as I can at the situation to decide how applicable my anxious feelings are. Often this helps me at least consider that it may not be terrible. Sometimes I decide that my anxiety is right and that I should get out. At times, my anxious thinking does have a protective aspect to it, and this is something I have no desire to lose.

Sometimes, I can’t tell on reflection whether the anxiety is well-founded or not. Often when dealing with other people, I just don’t have enough information. When dealing with people, I’ve decided that one key question to ask is ‘do I think they will treat me kindly?’ I don’t need everyone to get everything absolutely right for me, but in anxious situations, the care of another person can be a game changer. The person who can say no gently, and with respect isn’t going to do me serious harm. Can I trust a person’s kindness? When I’ve concluded that the answer is ‘yes’ and been proved right, it’s been powerful and transformative stuff. The only thing I need to trust in another human being is their kindness.

I now also challenge myself to try and think about best outcomes as well as worst ones. It helps me not get into obsessive over-thinking about terrible things. It can provide useful information as I risk assess a situation. It helps me see when things really are moving in the right direction. A good outcome can be hard to spot if all you’ve got is disaster thinking. Imagining what the best someone might do would look like helps me open up possibilities that anxiety would have shut down.

I want to keep some aspects of my anxious thinking as part of my tool set. I know it helps me stay safe. I don’t want to give my anxiety the steering wheel, or have it dominate how I think about people and situations. I want to hold room for new and different things to happen, and where I’ve been able to do that, there have been powerful responses from other people that really change things for me.


Erased by two sexes

One of the standard ways of undermining any consideration of trans rights, is to focus on the idea that two fixed sexes are a biological reality. Anyone taking this stance because they are averse to trans people is not likely to be persuaded by any arguments relating to that. However, trans people are not the only people hurt and harmed by a focus on the idea of two sexes.

Intersex people exist. If the idea of ‘choosing’ your gender offends someone, then there is none of that argument to make here. Intersex people do not choose. When we focus on the idea of two sexes, we totally erase them. It is a hard enough situation to be in without also being told that you don’t exist.

The idea of two sexes is firmly rooted in white, western culture, and is not a world-wide ‘truth’. When we insist that there are only two sexes, we erase the cultures and experiences of many other people around the world. This is particularly an issue with indigenous peoples who have had to deal with colonialism trying to strip away their approaches to gender – along with the rest of their cultures – for some time. White erasure of non-white experience is something we really need to stop doing.

Many people don’t sit neatly in the boxes offered by the notion of two genders only. My experience suggests that people who do not respect trans folk also tend to have no qualms about harming non-binary people as well – again I think because there’s the sense that we choose. So, let’s focus on the people who cannot choose – the people whose bodies do not conform to gender norms. Women with male pattern baldness and women with beards are perhaps the most obvious examples. The more we tell people there are only two sexes, the more we exclude and disempower people whose bodies don’t fit with that. We erase their complexity and we deny their existence.

Traditionally, feminism has been all about championing equality. I don’t know what to do with the kind of ‘feminism’ that will happily erase people in this way simply to try and create a context that invalidates trans people. However, I think pointing out the erasure of intersex people and indigenous people is really important. Attacking trans people makes it easier to attack other people as well, and if your basis for not liking trans is that you think trans people are choosing, you should be able to spare a thought for people who clearly cannot choose and are being hurt by this ideology.


How shall we love?

Who are we legally allowed to love and how are we allowed to express it? Who might we be punished, shamed or cast out for loving? Are we free to love openly and honestly? Are we safe in our choices?

What stories do we carry about what love means and the shape it should take? Do we fit into those stories, or are they narrow boxes we are trapped in? Do we love in the way we were told to love? Do we love in the way we think we are supposed to love?

How much are we allowed to show? How much are we allowed to say? What are we able to do for each other? What is too much, or unreasonable, or excessive and unhealthy? How do we know?

How afraid are we to love and how afraid are we to be loved? Does love seem like power, like loss of control, like sacrifice? What does it mean to love, to be open hearted and available in some way? What does it mean to be too fearful and to shut doors against that?

Do you think love will save you? Do you think it will make you whole? Do you think it is the job of someone who loves you to save you from yourself and to mend whatever is broken inside of you? Can you forgive the person who loves you but is unable to save you? Can you love someone you cannot save or heal? Can you love someone who is not magically transformed by the impact of your love?

Is your love a deal, a contract, a system of barter? Do you withdraw love when others don’t meet the terms and conditions? When is it a good idea to let go of love, to give up on one you loved, to change your heart? How much should you suffer for love, and how costly should it be? Is it right to measure love by its cost to you?

Have you read this blog post thinking only about one kind of relationship? Can you separate love from sex? Can you separate love from friendship? Is your love entirely about humans? Can you talk about love without thinking of a happily ever after endings?


Ask for evidence

I’m picking up the themes Molly Scott Cato has suggested on her blog for resisting fascism – this week it’s about evidence.

Asking for evidence is always a good idea, even when we’re not fending off toxic far-right ideas. When we have evidence, we have consensus reality. When we have evidence, we can discuss the evidence and how it might be interpreted, and if you really want to challenge mainstream thinking in some way, this is the far better route to take.

You can have different opinions and interpretations. You can even have different data sets drawn from different studies in different times and places. It is ok to argue over this. It’s good and healthy to ask questions at this point. What you can’t have, are different facts that are really opinions being called facts and offered with the implicit demand that no one asks what’s going on.

The right to ask for and question evidence is key to making free speech work. It’s key to making democracy work. When you are expected to accept whatever you are told, unquestioningly, it’s a pretty good indicator that you are living under a tyrant.

I am suspicious as soon as people start talking about facts without also talking about evidence. Real science doesn’t give us that many facts. It gives us theories, probabilities, best information based on the data to date. If someone is cautious with their facts, or tries to explain where they come from, I am more likely to trust them. The more strongly asserted a ‘fact’ is the more likely I am to think it’s a lie.

Truth is often complicated, nuanced, and conditional on various factors. Often there is no hard and certain truth – as with weather forecasts. There is only likelihood. What is true in one situation won’t always hold up in another – whether we’re talking about human behaviour, or the behaviour of atoms. Change one variable and the whole thing can be radically different.

However, as humans we’ve bought into the idea that truth should be simple. We are more persuaded by clear statements than by caveats and clauses. It may be to do with how we’ve evolved, or a few thousand years of monotheism having given us ‘one true way’ thinking, but that’s what most of us default to. We want our truth plain and simple, and so too often we will take a plain and simple lie in preference to a complicated truth.

In the short term, the simple lie may be comforting, but it takes us further from any kind of truth, further from what helps us.

If you mistrust experts – as seems common in the current environment – don’t ignore them. Ask for their evidence. See if they offer evidence. Trust your own ability to look at evidence and think about it. The person who will show you their evidence and share the process of their thinking is far more likely to have your interests at heart than the person who expects you to take everything on trust.


Tree love

Each February, the Climate Coalition’s Show the Love campaign invites us to talk about what we love.

I love trees. I grew up on the edge of the Cotswolds, with hanging beech woods right on my doorstep. Beeches remain my favourite tree, although I’ve yet to meet a tree I don’t like. I’ve been a supporter of The Woodland Trust for more than ten years, and a volunteer for a couple of years now, in a modest and online sort of way. My love of trees makes me want to stand up for trees, and speak up for them.

Every now and then some bright spark will suggest that we need technology to get carbon out of the air and tackle climate change. We don’t need technology, we have a solution. Trees! Trees take carbon out of the air and store it. If we plant trees, we can store carbon.

Trees are also very good at managing water flows. Plant trees, and rain gets to the ground more slowly, reducing the risk of flash floods. Root systems keep soil in place where it might otherwise be washed away by excess water. Trees put water gently into their vicinity so in dry weather, trees can make a landscape more hospitable for everything else.

Trees cut down noise pollution, and air pollution. They improve our mental health.

Usually, when an answer is simple, it is wrong in some way. Magic bullets that easily fix complex problems are rare. However, trees are a real answer to many human problems and needs. Re-forestation is a solution we can crack on with right now. Protecting the trees we still have will be effective. Planting more trees will make a difference. Trees are here for us, and they may yet save us from ourselves, if only we give them the space to do what they do best (be trees).

Love trees. Plant trees. Speak up for trees. Protect trees.