Tag Archives: gender

Erika and the Princes in Distress

I’m a biased reviewer, this  graphic novel  is published by Sloth Comics – who also publish Hopeless Maine. The reason I’m able to review it in advance of the release date is that I did a proof reading sweep on it. The original comic is French.

Erika and the Princes in Distress is gender bending comedy fantasy that messes about with fairy stories.  I found it really funny, and delightful. All the women in this story are muscular and have swords, and all the guys are little, pretty and delicate and need looking after. That reversal allows Yatuu to do some really entertaining things around gender politics.  And really, women should be able to be big, powerful and sword wielding if they want, and men should be free to be pretty and delicate if that suits them, and gender stereotyping is shit.

This comic was surprisingly powerful for me. I’m tall and broad shouldered.  My husband, Tom is an inch shorter than me. My beloved Dr Abbey is three inches shorter than me. I’ve always tended to be self conscious about my height and build. I can honestly say that this comic helped me think differently about my identity and body shape.  It has helped me navigate and feel better about how I am, and less weird about things.

This is a funny, warm hearted book – it’s not mean in its gender swapping.  It also has the best grumpy comedy sidekick horse in the entire history of the world.

You can read Erika and the Princes in Distress for free online https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/erika-and-the-princes-in-distress/list?title_no=341945

And the paperback version will be out in September

Book Depository – https://www.bookdepository.com/Erika-And-The-Princes-In-Distress/9781908830180

Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Erika-Princes-Distress-Yatuu/dp/1908830182

Blackwells – https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Erika-and-the-Princes-in-Distress-by-Yatuu-author/9781908830180


No Fucks Privilege

When it comes to appearance, I find increasingly that I have no more fucks to give about what other people think of me. This is something I’ve largely been able to do for myself – so it’s worth talking about because in theory anyone might gift themselves with this.

However, I’m conscious of the ways in which it is also a privilege. It doesn’t really matter how anyone else reads me. My safety does not depend on passing most of the time. Granted, as a tall, furry woman who might dress a bit masculine at times, I could end up on the wrong end of the people who think they can read trans status in someone else’s body. But I’m not, and I would be in a very different position to a trans woman if that happened to me.

I’m non-binary, but I don’t need anyone else to read me that way. My body is overtly female-presenting and I’m not going to make myself miserable fighting that to try and fit what someone else might think non-binary should look like. I look like me, it will do. But, I’m not looking for a partner, I don’t need to make it clear to the casual gaze what sort of person I am. I have advantages of age and a large friend network and also not needing anyone to see me in this regard. There are people who know. It is enough. I have no doubt there are people for whom this wouldn’t work at all. I have privilege.

I don’t think I read as poor – and I’m in an odd inbetween place with that anyway. I’m white and I sound educated and this will inform how people read me, and will inform it in my favour. So if I have no more fucks to give about how people read me, I also have every reason to think I can get away with that. My dress style tends towards the eccentric, not the sexual. I uphold the right of anyone regardless of age, gender, orientation or body shape to present as sexually attractive if they want to, and that everyone should be safe when doing that. In practice, to present as anything other than straight white male and sexual is risky and can be read in ways that are dangerous to you.

There are things intrinsic to being human that mean we want validation from other people. It’s very natural. We all want to be seen and approved of. Many of us are not seen. Many of us face disapproval. It helps being older. It helps being emotionally secure. It helps enormously that I am unlikely to be in much danger from how people read me. Apart from the way rapists read female-presenting people, but that’s not about anything I can control. That’s not about how I present, that’s about the decision to read sexually, and to assume entitlement to other people’s bodies.

If you can bless yourself with no fucks to give privilege, do it. Do it now. And the rest of the time, let’s see what we can do to help people who need to feel more understood when having their appearance read by others, and who need more room and more safety than they currently get.


Druids and butterflies

The butterfly is always a popular metaphor for any kind of transformation. That whole stodgy caterpillar to elegant fluttering beauty gives us a story about the soul that many find appealing. The butterfly has also become the story we tell each other about how tiny things can have a massive impact. The imagined butterfly flaps its wings and this sets of a chain of events leading to a massive storm far away. These are good stories, although I think they tell us far more about what we want from a story than they tell us anything about butterflies.

The thing I find most interesting about butterflies, is their gender issues. My understanding is that butterflies cannot easily gender identify other butterflies. This is why we get the lovely phenomena of butterflies dancing together in the air. Two, sometimes three of four butterflies all flying together in a small area, figuring each other out. Sometimes this causes two butterflies to go off together and make eggs. Sometimes it doesn’t. Outside of observable reproductive activity, we don’t really know what’s going on here.

I can say with confidence that there is no violent rejection between butterflies when they turn out not to suit each other. They have no problem doing this exploration in threes and fours, there is no territorialness, no chasing off of rivals. As a queer and plural sort of person, it is tempting to me to read things into the way butterflies dance together. That maybe they enjoy being three or four butterflies figuring things out. That not getting to egg making might be ok, that the dance might be a thing in its own right. I acknowledge that I am bringing my own needs and stories to the table here, but there is nothing in what butterflies do to say otherwise.

That weaving air dance of two, three or more butterflies is without a doubt, an act of beauty and gentleness. There is so much unkindness, rivalry, jealousy and possessiveness in how humans court each other, but there’s no intrinsic reason to interact that way. We could choose to be more like butterflies, dance with each other for the joy of it, be relaxed about where we don’t suit each other, and let it be what it is. For Druids interested in peace, they’re a helpful being to contemplate.


Female presenting body, in a corset

I have a complicated relationship with my body. It is me, and in many ways feels alien and more like something I inhabit than a place I could call home. I look overtly female, but what’s on the inside doesn’t connect easily with that. I can’t bear the performative stuff – issues of energy and feeling fake and so I don’t do makeup or much with my hair, and most of the time I dress in the ways that make me feel comfortable. I can’t present in a more masculine way because of how I feel about trousers – wearing them without a big tunic or dress, I feel too exposed from waist to upper thigh. I mostly want to cover up there, and make unavailable. I can’t stand swimming gear designed for female bodies.

We have a steampunk event in Stroud this weekend. I bought a corset for it. I have worn them before but not in a long time. I’ve spent the last three Saturdays on my high street, promoting the steampunk event, and for two of them, I wore the corset. It was educational.

Before the first round, I was really anxious about how people would respond to me. I was afraid of being grotesque, of disgusting and horrifying people who saw me dressed that way. I was afraid of being laughable. I also had no idea how anyone I knew would respond to me and how I would feel if any attention had a sexualised feel to it.

No one expressed horror or disgust. I had one round of a stranger putting a hand on my hip in passing, and that wasn’t comfortable at all. No one who knew me was weird with me, there were some slightly flirtatious responses but those were gentle enough not to alarm me. I have a lot of anxiety around being read in a sexualised way and having that reading justify treating me in a sexualised way. I have fears about my clothing being taken as my consent or being read as meaning things about me that I do not mean. I want to be able to be playful and expressive with clothing, but this is often a difficult area for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what it means to feel attractive and to feel good in my body. Inevitably some of that is relational and about how people respond to me. Sometimes I find it really affirming when it is the visible femaleness of my body that gets a good response. I have a lot of gender identity issues, and feeling allowed to present as feminine, and it being imaginable that I am not hideous is a big deal for me. But other times, that doesn’t work for me at all and I don’t want to be read as gendered.

So much of it comes down to feeling good enough and acceptable. That putting my hairy mammal body into spaces where there are other bodies is not an affront. That I am tolerable. I put that body into a not-tightly-laced corset so that the curve of my hips was visible, and my breasts emphasised. No one laughed at me. No one told me off. No one said anything to me about my gender identity or my sexual identity or what they had decided to infer from my corset. This is a very big deal for me.


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?


Pronouns for nature

Normally when we talk about trees, plants and landscapes, we use the language of inanimate objects. There is a world of difference between saying ‘this is the tree that grows near my house’ and ‘this is the tree who grows near my house’. My grammar check rejects the second option.

Equally, when it comes to living beings, we’re more likely to call them ‘it’ (which is the ‘proper’ grammar) than to use pronouns in a way that foregrounds their individuality. Compare ‘it is an otter, it is eating a fish’. With ‘she is eating a fish’.

Where I can, I prefer to use he/she pronouns for nature, because it makes other living beings sound less like objects, and I think that’s important. This is of course not without issue. Some creatures I can gender-identify at a glance because of size, plumage or behaviour. Some I can’t, and I have to guess. For many, gender doesn’t really apply. Mushrooms, most trees, snails, earthworms, fish – there’s all kinds of living things that don’t do gender the way mammals do, and are hermaphrodites, or change genders. Mammals don’t always do gender the way we use language to construct mammal gender. I’m conscious that if I use gender pronouns for creatures who don’t do genders, I am perpetrating the fiction that nature has only two sexes in it.

To call a person ‘it’ is to put them down. To call an animal ‘it’ is similarly to reduce its status. To call an animal he, or she, is to reinforce his or her status. Using ‘they’ or ‘their’ in this context has interesting effects. This is language we still aren’t sure about for humans, so in terms of lifting a living creature out of objectification, it doesn’t always work. We’d have to be more comfortable talking about humans as ‘they’ not to have a feeling of othering when it’s used to talk about an individual. Perhaps in time, this will change.

In the meantime, I invite you to think about who gets which pronouns. Pets tend to get pronouns, wild animals, and farmed animals less so. We only use pronouns when we identify an individual as unique and when we value them. Plants are alive, but we normally frame them with language as though they were simply objects.


Toilet philosophy

Everyone needs a safe place to pee. I am deeply concerned about the ways in which current ‘debates’ around toilet access are working to reduce safety in all kinds of ways. I’m making the deliberate choice not to focus on trans issues here because I think people who see this as a feminist issue won’t be persuaded by that, but may be willing to consider some other points. But to be clear, I support the right of trans people to be able to pee safely. I support the right of everyone, regardless of gender or presentation, to be able to pee safely.

First up, when we narrow who is allowed to use which toilets, the odds are we do that based on visual judgements. This can only reinforce very narrow and hetro-normative takes on gender. A trans-woman who passes well may have no trouble using the toilet, where a butch lesbian may find herself threatened and harassed. Making toilets unsafe for butch lesbians is not any kind of win for women, feminism or female identity.

Non-binary people also exist. Some non-binary people do not appear very gendered at all and if we focus toilet access on narrow gender stereotypes, non-binary people are going to have a harder time of it. Non-binary people need to pee, and should not have their right to a safe wee depend on conforming to gender roles that we really don’t want to conform to.

Not all women look femme. Some of us are tall. Some of us are muscular. Some of us do not remove our facial hair. Some of us, quite naturally, have a lot of facial hair. The right of a woman to identify as a woman and pee in a toilet should not depend on how female she looks to anyone else. The most likely extra consequence of trying to keep trans women out of toilets, is that cis-women who do not, for whatever reasons, represent in straightforwardly female ways, will not have a safe space to pee. This is not feminism. This is radical exclusion.

Intersex people also exist, and also need to pee and may or may not look like one or the other gender.

Who do we empower when we make it harder for women who look a bit masculine to use toilets? We give power to haters. We give power to people (usually men) who want to hurt and harm trans women. These are often people who would also enjoy an excuse to hurt and harm lesbians and any woman perceived as unpleasing to their male gaze. These are not people who need more power, or more excuses to bully and assault female and female-ish people.

If we focus on stranger danger in toilets, we also do ourselves a gross disservice. You are much more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than by a stranger. The bathroom where you are at most risk of being attacked is one in a private location – your home, a friend’s home, maybe your workplace. When we focus on stranger-danger, we draw attention away from the reality that most victims know their attacker. And we’re creating a situation in which casual attackers may have more scope for action. If a woman can be approached, harassed or assaulted for being in the ‘wrong’ toilet – how safe are any of us?

It is not feminist to narrow women’s scope for presentation. It is not feminist to increase the risk of violence and injustice for lesbians. It is not feminist to run the risk that women are unable to pee safely. It is not feminist to encourage ideas that will empower and encourage abusive men.


Who dictates the shape of love?

“Ye’ll have to accept that part of being loved means ye’ll have to accept that folks have concerns about ye as well. And have the right to does so. Ye cannot jes’ want the parts of this arrangement that ye likes…” (From Dance into the Wyrd, by Nils Visser)

It’s a quote that jumped out when I read it and that has stayed with me because it nails so many things. I’ve been round this one repeatedly and seen it play out in all kinds of situations. People who want some part of the love and care on offer, but want to say exactly what form that takes, and reject the bits that don’t work for them. In my experience, the care and concern of other people is often rejected. It also seems common that resenting people who care for you for wanting some of your time and attention is normal, too.

There’s often a gender aspect to this – what I mostly see is male rejection of female concern. Female concern is labelled smothering and restrictive, it is treated as an imposition, and intrusion, a limitation on the freedom the man feels entitled to. The man in question will usually want emotional labour when he wants it, sex, food, and other domestic benefits – if it’s that kind of relationship – but not to have to say when he will be back…

Of course we all need the freedom to decide what shapes we want our relationships to take. No one is obliged to do anything because someone has said ‘I love you’. However, if you are willing to take what you see as the benefits of someone else’s love, while demanding they don’t do the bits you find awkward, that stands some scrutiny.

It is easy to use apparent concern as a form of manipulation. However, simply wanting to know that someone is ok is not an emotionally manipulative activity. It’s a need to ease real anxiety. On the other hand, shaming someone for their concern is horrible. Wanting some time from a person who benefits from your love is not unreasonable, otherwise you just end up feeling used. If they take your work, your money, your support and disappear off once they’ve got it, it doesn’t look much like love returned. In a parent/child relationship, you may decide that’s just how it goes. In a sexual partnership, it may be part of casting one partner as the parent and the other as carefree and without responsibility. Again, there tends to be a gender bias here.

For myself, I have decided that I’m not doing this again. Anyone who treats my care like an imposition, does not get second helpings. Anyone who wants my emotional labour on tap, or any other forms of service from me is not going to get away with acting as though they have the right to have the whole relationship purely on their terms.


Nonbinary and the ambidextrous body

It’s not easy finding a language to talk about nonbinary experience, but I think this gives me a shot. Most people are right or left handed. Right is considered normal, left is more acceptable than it used to be. You can make this a male/female metaphor or a straight/gay metaphor if you like! I think it works best as the latter because left handed people used to come under a lot of pressure to try and act right handed.

Looked at from the outside, most bodies have discernible right and left sides. A person with a single dominant hand will likely lead with the foot on the same side as the leading hand. They will experience one side of their body as dominant and one side as less useful to them. Right and left aren’t abstract concepts at this point, they are names for a lived and felt difference in how bits of a person’s body works.

I don’t experience the right and left-ness in my body in the same way. I can lead with either side, hands or feet. I find it more convenient to write with my right hand, but my left handed writing is adequate. I iron left handed, I paint passing the brush back and forth. I don’t deny that I have right and left hands any more than I deny that I have a female-appearing body, but my experience of them is not the same as the experience of a left or right handed person. However, I can easily demonstrate to someone else how some of that ambidextrousness works. I can demonstrate that I can catch left or right handed. It’s much harder to demonstrate anything about how I experience gender.

In practice it’s much the same. I see other people leading with their maleness, or their femaleness. I see them having a dominant side, but the other side is still there. Some of them really can’t use the offhand at all. Some people probably could use their offhands pretty well if they invested some time in it. Many people assume their offhand isn’t up to much simply because they haven’t given it the same developmental time.

I see qualities attributed to right and left hands (strong, dextrous, good, evil, weak, unreliable, etc) that have parallels with the way we attribute qualities to gender (strong, dominant, delicate, weak, unreliable…) I see that in a culture where male and right handed are both treated as normal, it can be a challenge being female or left handed, and things aren’t set up to work for you. Even in small, stupid ways. My spell checker accepts ‘right handed’ but not ‘left handed’ as good grammar.

A person who mostly only uses one hand for all the things can, with a bit of effort, imagine how that might be different. I’m pretty confident that a person who experiences their body in heavily gendered ways might, with a bit of effort, be equally able to imagine what it might be like not to be like that – not necessarily how a specific other person experiences their body, but just the possibility of different experience. Once you can imagine difference, exactly how it plays out is less of an issue. What makes things difficult is when people who have spent their whole lives being told that their way is the only way, can’t flex at all when other people experience something else.

We tell each other stories about what is normal. It doesn’t make those stories a fair measure of anything, and to deny a person’s experience based solely on a story about normality, isn’t very helpful.


Rainbow related awareness – a guest blog from Suvi

On facebook earlier this week, Suvi shared a post of things that they, as an intersex person, wanted the world to know. I offered Druid Life as a platform (this is something I am always happy to do, get in touch if you need to borrow the space.) For anyone not familiar with the term, intersex people are born with mixed sexual characteristics. I’ve seen estimates of around 2% of the population affected by this. Surgery to ‘normalise’ their bodies to one or other gender is usually carried out in infancy, with little regard to internal organs or how the child might self-identify.

Over to Suvi…

I have no physical sense of self or desire to make that connection

Puberty is bad enough; second puberties really suck

The secret we carry leads to our complete isolation

I have never been able to undertake any gender specific activities of either gender including sports

I’m inhibited, a mass of numb physical scars

I want to run away

Relationships with those of the gender you have been forced to conform to are difficult as faced with a body that looks nothing like yours. Normally they freak out and run away.

You avoid mirrors; outward appearances are very outward

If you can never live up to expectations of your parents; you don’t feel like you are loved

Desperation to be loved makes you very vulnerable as a young person and can lock you into abusive relationships; terrified that no one else will want you

Any manipulator can use the no one else will want you card; employers will use it against you too

Then, for many we don’t exist. That is until we have to fill in a form with gender boxes; we get caught up in every piece of red tape going. Until recently (in the last 5 years) we had no human rights. Tick the box ticked on your birth certificate they say; mine says “undetermined”

Trans and intersex are not the same thing; they want surgery and can’t get it, we don’t want surgery and have no choice in the matter. Apart from in Malta where intersex surgeries are illegal.

That said intersex people can be trans if they identify as male or female gendered and not amalga-gendered. Currently 10% of intersex people identify as trans. All of us have little choice but to be mis-gendered by those who don’t know us, and most of us play binary in public to avoid assault. Verbal and physical violence against intersex people is horribly common.

Intersex is not a sexuality. We are on the rainbow as due to being intersex the sexuality or sexualities we do have are going to be queer. Yes; we can have sex. No, we can’t have children.

If we have been operated on as babies or small children we are most likely to have been lied to. As have our parents. Trying to get any truth out of the medical establishment is like trying to get blood out of a stone. It was only confirmed in January that my condition (though I’ve known for decades) only affects boys; up to then I was told I was a girl and it was my fault I looked and felt differently. You would think though that having a prostate gland would be a give-away.

Please could we be included in the legalisation our existence is used to justify. Australian intersex folk can marry who they choose and Scotland to her credit is working on it. But nowhere else can we marry.

Could the world get over bathrooms please; if you have one in your home its unisex

My sign for Pride this year and no its not original, but very apt will say: Ugh, where do I start?