Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

Being honest about sex

I know I’m not alone in finding that speaking openly and honestly about sex gets some weird and unhelpful responses. For me, this was most relevant during my time as an erotica author, and I’ve seen it happen for other erotica authors too. It happens for activists whose area of activism has a sexual aspect. It happens for people who are honest about being kinsters, fetishists and so forth.

What happens, simply, is that a significant number of people assume that because of the above, you are promiscuous. You will shag anything. You want to be sent photos of them, and their girlfriends, you want to hear what they have in mind to do with you. For a minority, your sexual honesty will lead to verbal abuse, based on their assumptions and accusing you of whatever it is they imagine you do. Sometimes it’s all about projection.

However, a lot of this hangs of some basic assumptions about human sexuality. The habit of dividing women into angels and whores, the prudish and the promiscuous is at least a few hundred years old. Apparently that idea can be rolled out to embrace anyone else who dares to be open. If you are pro-sex, if you are keen, if you make visible your enthusiasm, then you can only be an object for use. In truth, the most enthusiastically promiscuous of us have standards and boundaries. Wanting a lot of sex, even a lot of sex with a lot of people still doesn’t mean being up for anything with anyone. We all have boundaries, but ignoring those boundaries makes it much easier to use and abuse.

I find this odd, in terms of the logic. Quantity and quality are two very different issues. To be pro sex is generally to be looking for high quality sex, and for that you need people you can communicate with. Ideally people who know and understand you. Unless your kink is sex with strangers, then most kink is better served by established connections. Not necessarily a traditionally shaped romantic relationship, but something with duration. Random pick-ups are not (despite what books and films alike try to tell us) good for kinky sex.

One of the side effects of spending many years as an erotica author, was the number of unsolicited stories I heard about what people like to do, and want to do. Most people, I think, are far more sexual and far more sexually keen than they present in public. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a very private, personal thing after all, no one should feel obliged to wear their hearts, or their genitals on their sleeve. A percentage of humans are not sexual, but a larger percentage likes to shag, kinky or otherwise.

So, why this collective response to the people who are a bit more honest about it? Is it just a habit of thinking passed down from previous generations? Is it a matter of collective shame, a feeling that we should be ashamed of our sexual appetites, so anyone who isn’t must be… well, whatever you want them to be? Is it all about projection, of putting onto the person who is open all the things the person being weird about it would do if only they felt brave enough? Is it a lack of education that leads some people to feel that anyone honestly sexually active must be other things as well?

We have a lot of taboos around sex, and one of the most problematic ones has to do with communication. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s seldom in useful ways. We’ll objectify each other’s bodies and project onto them, but we don’t hear each other. People who can speak honestly to each other about what they want and do not want are in a much better position when following through on that. People who can hear what other people want, people who can both give and withhold consent, and who can work with the consent or refusal of others have happier, healthier, safer lives. Shaming people who talk about sex by treating them as though they have no boundaries, is a way of silencing them. Silence creates misunderstandings, facilitates abusers,and reduces creativity and expression. We need to talk more.


Bard Attitude

The attitude a person expresses when performing can have a huge impact on how a piece is received. The right kind of bard attitude will serve you well, while some approaches are a lot like shooting yourself in the foot.

The classic mistake, especially for the new bard is to start by apologising and saying why it might not be very good. Sometimes it is worth saying – if for example you have a cold that’s going to impact on performance ‘forgive the cold, bear with me if I start sneezing’ is all you need. Don’t apologise for new material, or untested material. Tell people you haven’t done it before, by all means, but that can be a gift to them, not a shortcoming. Don’t make your first expression as a bard one of putting yourself down.

I’m not usually a member of the ‘fake it till you make it’ school of thinking, but this is one of those times when it really does help. Acting confidently puts your audience at ease. If you are nervous, they will be nervous with you and for you. If you aren’t confident, then fake it as best you can. Practice faking your confident presentation. Eventually it will stop being fake and you will simply be a confident performer.

Being overconfident, too pushy, too self assured, too cocky… these things are often not attractive and can alienate the audience. Too much faking of confidence can push a performance into the realms of the unappealing. And if this is who you are, just be aware that people will be watching for you to fall flat on your face and will enjoy it if you do. If you have no natural capacity for a bit of humility, consider learning how to fake it, because like confidence, humility helps keep you in good relationship with the audience and these things need balancing for optimal effect.

A bit of bardic bombast can be an excellent thing. There’s much to be said for being slightly larger than life, attention grabbing, energetic, lively and wild. If this is what comes naturally to you, then run with it. However, this is something I don’t advocate faking in the hopes of becoming. People trying to be more bombastic than they really are can come across as strained and false, and if you don’t have an innate sense of how to play that way, it’s easy to misjudge it and look like a prat.

For some, a quietly authentic expression of self is going to be more effective. You can be a strong presence without leaping around, or dressing up, if that suits your nature.

Back when I was learning to MC, it was pointed out to me that what works best for performance is when you simply fill the space with who you are. Your own personality writ large, or let out, is going to serve you best. It is easier to maintain than anything else. There’s an aspect of trusting yourself in this – most of us do not have the kind of personality disorders that mean who we are should not be writ large now and then. Enjoy yourself!


Being Female

For months now I’ve been seeing a lot of posts online that express the simple thought ‘Trans Women are women’ and a smaller number of more complex posts that take issue with the idea. It’s not a conversation I’ve waded into, because my own position has me feeling that I am in no way able to speak for anyone else in this, and my own body/gender identity issues leave me short of language.

From a certain perspective I’m a cis-gendered woman in that I live presenting as a woman with a body that has bled, made a baby, and made milk. I don’t feel any sense of femininity on the inside, but I don’t feel anything else clearly enough to justify trying to make my body look like some other gender either.

It strikes me as an irony that for the feminists who consider being born with obvious female genitals the only way to be female, I count. My body counts for me.

There are plenty of people who appear female who were born with ambiguous genitals. There are women who, for a whole host of reasons, cannot carry children, do not even have wombs or ovaries, cannot produce milk, do not develop breasts or hips to any great degree. There’s a lot of variety in the apparently female form and its ability to conform to gender stereotypes. So at what point does one woman get to say to another ‘you are not biologically female enough for me to feel comfortable with you identifying as a woman’? Can we talk about the erasure of women who are not a neat match for biologically narrow perceptions of what women are ‘supposed’ to be? Ironically, by focusing on penises, there’s a strand of feminism that is treating as non-existent a whole array of female experience.

When you get down to it, who is allowed to say that someone is or is not something, is a big and loaded political issue. Now, this to my mind is where it gets interesting, because part of the issue here is the idea that people who are born men and have male bodies are able to then use their privilege to dictate what does and does not count as female. That’s a real issue, isn’t it? Having someone else tell you who is allowed to be female and what it means to be female. But, this is with us all the time in so many forms.

Because of the way I’m wired, I can’t help but suspect that a big part of gender is a social construct. Let’s pause to consider how ideas of femininity are constructed by the media, the film industry, the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, the porn industry, and so forth. Last time I checked, these were all fields with significant male influence, if not male domination, constructing femininity for the male gaze. Massive pressures to look and dress in certain ways come down to us from these large, powerful forces that really haven’t woken up to gender equality at all. The female body is something they can exploit for cash, simply.

Imagine a world where women were not under constant pressure to conform to ‘beauty’ norms. Imagine a world where most of the women you see on the screen were not speaking the words put into their mouths by men to conform to outmoded ideas about what women are. Imagine pornography made by women for women if you want to go really radical.

Of course trans women don’t always ‘pass’ they don’t always fit easily into the female gender stereotype as constructed (I think) by historical male preference. Too tall, too hairy, too muscular. I’m tall, hairy and muscular. I can’t help but think that the gender stereotype might be what’s wrong here. I also want to ask who a person is being feminine for, whose permission and acceptance they need to present as they want to. How much do we need our gender identities affirmed by those around us, how much power do we give them? How much is gender identity just a question of what you’ve got in your pants, and if you were in a car accident and what was in your pants no longer looked the same, would your gender identity change?

I wonder sometimes if the main reason I can’t identify with my body identity is that femininity is too narrow a social construct. So for entirely selfish reasons, I’m interested in broadening the definition of what female is, on the off-chance it turns out there is space for me after all.


The Tao of Earthsea

I started reading about Taoism somewhere in my early teens. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember the powerful sense of familiarity. I hit it again when reading my first version of the Tao Te Ching: I knew this stuff already, on a deep level, and could not explain it.

Recently I’ve re-read the first four of Ursula Le Guinn’s five Earthsea books. I first read them when much younger – I was in single figures when I started with The Tombs of Atuan, which isn’t the first book in the series. I’d never read anything like it.

On this read, it struck me how much the wizard Ged talks about doing and being, doing nothing, and the duties of the king in regards to his people. I recognised whole speeches as being reflections of the Tao Te Ching. Of course there is an Ursula Le Guinn Tao Te Ching, which I’ve got, and in it she talks about having read, re-read and lived with the core Taoist text for many years.

It was a potent reminder for me of the way in which fiction, things we delve into only to amuse ourselves, can have profound impact. Whether you wonder about the underlying philosophy of a book or not, you still let it in. We are shaped by our environments, and there’s nothing in us that is designed to respond to our psychological and emotional experience of arts and entertainments any differently from lived experience. When we pick what to watch, or read, or play, we pick our environments and those environments have the power to turn our genes on and off.

I stay away from torture porn films. I do my best not to look for too long at images of real life horror offered by the media. I’ve got room in my life for erotica, but not for pornography. I’ve never read any of the Game of Thrones books, nor watched any of it. Often I’m going by age rating and other people’s reviews, and a gut feeling about what I don’t want to have inside my head informing my body about what it needs to deal with the environment I live in.


Living with fear

I’ve had some years now in which to study the mechanics of anxiety as they manifest in my own life. There are things I’ve learned about fear that I think have a wider significance at the moment. We live with many things that cause anxiety – massive uncertainty and insecurity about jobs, money, the political future, climate change – even for people in relatively secure, relatively privileged positions, there’s plenty to feel uneasy about.

Anxious people do not make good decisions. If you’ve been locked into fear for any length of time, it will be easy to frighten you into doing things. Fear of it getting worse becomes a motivator, so threats have more impact. If people, especially people with power tell us there are threats, we are more likely to believe them.

We are more readily persuaded to run when we’re frightened. The good old fight or flight impulse will be holding our inner steering wheels. For some, this comes out as fight, for a redirection of anxiety into violent action. It’s easy to hate and blame when you’re in fight mode, easy to be persuaded to hate and blame. Flight mode make it easy to persuade you to run, and as running away isn’t always an option, that can be subverted into other kinds of running hard. Working flat out. Never daring to stop and draw breath.

Exhausted people don’t make good decisions. Fear itself is exhausting. Fighting mode is exhausting. Flight mode is exhausting. After a while, any apparently easy solution looks tempting. We don’t have the resources to scrutinise, to consider alternatives, to think about nuances. We just want someone to tell us where the quickest, easiest path out is. Fear makes it hard to think straight, or to see the lie in the apparent easy option.

On a domestic scale, these issues are all part of what can keep an abused person in an abusive situation. We’re seeing it at a country level. It makes us easy to manipulate, and anyone offering an apparently easy answer – however empty and stupid that answer is – seems far more persuasive than they should.

We can stop this, we can turn it around. It won’t be easy. We have to not feed into each other’s fight and flight reflexes. The idea that hard work will save us needs to go, just as much as the idea that hating the ‘other’ will save us. Hate can be just as much a panic response as running round in little circles.

Our government has had periods of talking about the country as though it was one big house. In the austerity household, there’s been a lot of suffering for ages. Like a domestic abuse victim, we need to recognise it isn’t our fault we’re in this mess. We need to see the tactics of our abusers. They say they are helping, only doing it for our own good, that it is necessary, and the only way. They lie, as all domestic abusers lie. We need to stop letting them persuade us and manipulate us and control us with fear. But, be warned, in a domestic abuse context, leaving is the most dangerous time, and there’s no reason to think this will be any different.


Flowers for the solstice

One of my ongoing issues with the Pagan concept of the wheel of the year is that it can focus a person’s sense of the seasonal down to eight key days. Outside, the cycle of the seasons is a process from day to day, and if you aren’t engaging with it day by day, you’ll miss things. That in turn can help perpetuate the simpler eight key points narrative because we don’t tend to see the things we aren’t looking for.

The demoiselle flies (smaller than dragonflies, but different from damselflies because they have dramatic black wings) tend to show up a few days before my birthday. A week ago there was a big hatching. A couple of days ago I saw my first dragonflies of the season. Most of the garlic has died back, most fledglings are now out of the nest, but there are still clutches of new ducklings hatching. That’s true where I live, for this year, but next year may be different.

This year I have particularly noticed the arrival of cranesbill flowers and meadowsweet. As there’s a lot of foliage growing, they were able to do all their leafy growth without my spotting them, but now the flowers are out, the plants are a distinctive presence. The purples of the cranesbill flowers, the misty clouds of fragrant meadowsweet. I didn’t have them in my head as a solstice flower, I don’t remember exactly when they appeared last year. I tend to think of meadowsweet as something that blooms later on, and perhaps it is. Many of the usual rhythms are being thrown out by climate change.

You have to catch a cranesbill just right to see why it has the name – the flowers themselves are nothing like cranes. It’s the forming flower bud, which, before opening, looks just like a head and beak. There an edge plant, so look for them in hedgerows, along shaded footpaths and at woodland edges.

More about cranesbill here – https://shop.reallywildflowers.co.uk/products-page/wildflower-plug-plants/meadow-cranesbill/

And a lovely piece on meadowsweet here with herbal and mythical properties https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2012/07/06/meadowsweet-queen-of-the-meadow-queen-of-the-ditch/


Celebrity fundraisers and why they suck

Before I get into the proper ranting, I should mention the things that do not annoy me. Namely, when a person with a public profile uses their platform to draw attention to an issue, or a cause. Most usually this happens because the celebrity has been touched by the problem in some way, and is thus able to speak about it meaningfully, creating empathy and increasing understanding. There are too many causes and issues in the world for anyone to keep up to date with, raising awareness is useful work.

I’ll cite as an example the steady supply of famous people willing to speak up for trees, and write articles for The Woodland Trust’s magazine.

Celebrity fundraisers on the other hand, aren’t always about awareness. They are at least as likely to focus on something we all knew about already. The fundraising may work out primarily as a PR move for the celeb who wishes to be seen as kind, helpful and all that, and who can generate a great deal of low cost publicity for themselves by latching on to some recent tragedy and raising money for it.

Which brings me to my second area of issue: People with a lot of money fundraising by helping people with considerably less money give some of it to those who have little or nothing. Why not just write a cheque? And of course some of the wealthy and famous of the world do simply get their wallets out rather than milking it for attention, but the truth is that poor people give more as a percentage of what they (we) have to begin with.

Now, it may be that fundraising is only part of what’s going on. I offer the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert and Ariana Grande’s recent benefit concert as examples of events where raising money was part of the mix, not the whole project. In both cases these were events about remembering the dead, Freddie Mercury’s tribute was about raising awareness of and de-stigmatising Aids, and in the second example, it was also a push back against what had happened. At which point, why not do some fundraising at the same time?

By contrast, doing a charity fundraising single in the wake of a disaster, can be seen as cashing in on the suffering of others to raise your own profile.

One of the great things about not having a television, is that fundraising marathons like Comic Relief and Children In Need now pass me by, but I’ve seen bits of them when younger. People with more wealth than I’ll see in my lifetime getting on the screen to encourage the audience to donate. It’s not a good thing. Surely it should fall to those who have most, to give most? Surely it should be people who have far more than they need who pick up the tab for helping those in crisis? Surely those who can easily afford it should be the ones to fund the needful things? I think we have to stop rewarding them for ‘helping’ us help each other.


Reblog – floating

Not so long ago I suggested people could flag up posts to re-blog, and I’ve had this lovely suggestion to share a post on – Evie Patterson’s  Floating from A Light In The Mist. As it’s a blogspot site, I can only emulate the reblog function, so I’ll give you the first couple of paragraphs as sample, and then the link across. Enjoy!

Floating

It’s amazing what a release of strain it can be to move with the undercurrent of life. Not being swept away by it, not being tossed in opposition to it, but genuinely moving with it.

This is not to say the undercurrent holds only hues of negativity. Strain can follow in the wake of the positive just as well, but often people can become so caught up in the sense of difference from the more easily recognizable negative that they cling to it. Though a relief, this mental and emotional intoxication can also blind and numb the perception of reality that may be necessary for the placement of the next sure step.

The positive and the negative should be able to move in and out of life with the same ease as inhaling and then exhaling. Like breath, these moments are necessary to move forward, to think, to feel, to live. However, if you held onto any of these beyond their necessary purpose, like holding a breath, it can become toxic.

Politics without borders

I thought I’d write about this because it’s something cheering and hopeful, and I think we could all do with a bit more of that!

Not so long ago, I shared a petition relating to UK politics, it was shared by someone not in the UK with a comment that they might have online friends to whom it would be relevant. I see this all the time. I’ve signed petitions to challenge coral reef destruction, and rainforest logging and many other things of that ilk. I’ve signed LGBTQ petitions to try and defend the human rights of people in other countries. All over the world, politics is crossing borders.

This is a wonderful thing. It’s a recognition that our shared planet and shared humanity are real, whereas borders and countries are just ideas we had. The great evils cross borders – pollution, climate change, loss of resources, extinctions, oppression, exploitation – these are not issues for single countries, but for all of us. What happens in one place can and does affect us all.

The internet is a mixed blessing, but without a doubt, the power to connect with activists around the world, to share issues that aren’t on our own doorsteps, to support causes and actions without borders is an amazing thing. Funds can be raised internationally to get things done – be that adverts, paying for lawyers, answering aid needs or anything else productive. Information, knowledge, tactics and successes are shared, because those cross borders with ease, too.

Increasingly there are people who are citizens of the world, who will challenge injustice, exploitation and destruction any place that needs fighting with whatever means they have to do so. That’s exciting. That’s a radical change with massive implications. It’s worth taking a moment to pause and savour it.


Tips for angry arguments

Politics doesn’t bring out the best in people, and angry political exchanges can put strains on otherwise viable friendships. What to do if someone you thought was ok starts spewing hate, insults and what looks to you like madness?

  • Don’t respond in kind. You’ll just cause them to dig in and may confirm their prejudices.
  • If they respond to facts and evidence with insults and unfounded belief, you won’t shift them by hitting them with facts. Instead, ask for their facts and evidence. Ask for the underlying philosophy of their stance. The odds are they are regurgitating unconsidered propaganda. By asking them politely to explain it, you force them to look at it, and this can be rather effective.
  • People project. If greed and self interest are their major motivators, they may be unable to imagine that anyone else has other motivations. Thus it is normal for anyone defending the welfare state to be told that they, personally want a handout and that’s their only motivation. It is worth saying if you are secure and altruistic, but don’t expect them to believe you! Try asking how they picture their old age, how they feel about their own health care prospects, how confident they are that their families can pay the bills for them in an emergency. Keep it focused on them if that seems to be all they can think about.
  • Don’t rise to the insults, and don’t reply in kind. Insults can be undermined as conversation weapons by agreeing with them – I’ve told many an antifeminist that yes, he’s right, I am fat and ugly and that doesn’t bother me at all. When recently told I lived in a swamp I enthused at length about how fantastic swamps are for water management and wildlife. You get the idea. Laugh at the insult and say you’ve heard it before and they need to try for something more original if they want to cause offence. Give them points out of ten for creativity. Treat it like a joke. If they cross the line into hate speech, report them, but otherwise laugh until they lose the will to abuse you. This includes being called stupid, naive, gullible etc – don’t defend your politics to them, it doesn’t work. ‘I’m sure it comforts you to believe that’ is more effective.
  • Sometimes on social media you’ll meet someone who is working from a script. They may be a hired troll. They may be part of a group with unpleasant intentions. Their main aim may be to suck up your time, energy and hope. Unless you know them personally, I advise stepping away because they’re a waste of your time. Here’s some signs to take into account – no discussion, only insults. Incoherence – dropping things like ‘ah, the sweet taste of liberal tears’ in where it makes no sense, referencing irrelevant things (still banging on about Hillary Clinton for example) responding to all questions by calling you butt hurt…. if there’s no real exchange, there’s not much point and they may not be a real person anyway.

It is always ok to walk away from people. Even people you know in real life if they become unbearable to deal with. We are not obliged to try and save other people from themselves. There are some big, social conversations that need to be won, but we don’t win those by echoing the behaviour of angry trolls, or by getting lured under their bridges to play their games.