Each to their own

In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever.  And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.

When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but  to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates  is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.

Its not ok.

It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.

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Things I’m Surprisingly Bad at: 1 – Dedication

I know a lot of geeks…
They come in a number of varieties: fandoms (Buffy, bsg, firefly, red dwarf, discworld, HP, Dr Who..) gaming (tabletop, larp, mmporpg, console, cards etc) tech (programming, codes, hardware, sound engineering) music (metal, prog, folk..) or alcohol (beer, cocktails, history of.., sale of.. etc) but they all share a unique type of dedication. They are fascinated with new trivia or information and they have an eye for detail, they tend to write/talk about their topic a LOT.
Whether it is remembering the value of a card in a set of top trumps or the episode name and number of a particular quotation these individuals are dedicated beyond my ken. Even as a classicist my ability to quote line nos. is non-existent. I am a failure when it comes to focused bands of knowledge.

Partly this comes from my massive unwillingness to commit hours of my time to repetitive hobbies but it is also related to my inability to commit certain facts to anything beyond short term memory: numbers, dates, quotes…. and, now I am old and have broadband, pretty much anything google will remember on my behalf. This lack of attention to detail and focus means I don’t follow long involved tv series and sometimes fall asleep in films. It means that in my thesis I HAVE to go back to my notes everytime I want to reference something, that every theorist and book has to be minutely accounted for in my piles of paper, bibliography and web-browser.
Weirdly this has 2 impacts on my life – firstly, I retain a mildly puzzled air of silence around most of my friends, perpetually out of my depth and a little bit unsure what I can contribute; secondly, that I am fascinated by connections – whilst I can’t quite remember who said what about such-and-such I am delighted by broad similarities or overlaps in areas like that tv programme I saw the other day and that blog article I read last week or when a book seems Ovidian and I can’t work out why..

Of course the other issue is a lack of focus can lead to procrastination from one’s thesis.

International Women’s Day & Court

There is in its own way a delightful irony that the arraignment/hearing/whatever word they use in french for my sister’s sexual assault case was on International Women’s Day.

For me there are two key thoughts to this; firstly that there is still a massive amount of violence against women and that sadly there are still a vast number of countries in the world where women are less than second class citizens and the effort we are putting into changing that is still minimal and secondly that my sister and I have been extremely privileged in that we have grown up in an environment that actively supports our right to speak up as well as theoretically.
Starting from the second point – though  I haven’t asked my sister about what happened in detail and though I was not there for court time or am in any way responsible for the reactions of her colleagues, I feel it is fair to say that she is (& I am by extension) privileged by the fact that there has never been assumption that she is lying and that there was no suggestion that she should be less of a person because some arsehole raped her. My father has unquestioningly stood at her side to make sure that she was not (any more) broken or frightened by trying to bring her attacker to justice. But in all truth not only am I proud of my quasi-conservative father for his attitude but I am pleased with the response of the company she is working for. They have offered her time to come home and collect herself and the opportunity to move to a different venue to do her job as well as helping her deal with lawyers and police in a different language whilst still letting her get on with her job looking after kids. This is a world of difference to the attituds seen by various of my older friends and it represents a world where  a woman is allowed to be affected by and deal with these things.

As we move forward in our attitude to respecting and supporting people who have been attacked and condemning those who attack we don’t just make our society more fair, we also allow those groups most afraid of admitting they have been hurt by others to come forward – men who have been systematically abused and/or raped, women who don’t ‘dress appropriately’, prostitutes and others . The world is slow but it gets better.

Sadly though this brings me back to the first point – that in some respects our privilege underscores the lack thereof enjoyed by other people. I don’t think any number of statistics can convey the experience of women living under oppressive regimes (though plenty have been offered – See also the UN page on women’s day) and I think that as we come closer to a better position in our lives we are in danger of assuming gender dialogue is no longer relevant.
I became involved (the friday after IWD) in an online debate where a number of men suggested that the focus on women perpetuated the notion of division rather than celebrated diversity. The key contention was that continuing to have separate days of focus on a particular group reinforced a negative perception of difference and allowed a culture of ‘feeling persecuted’ and encouraged positive discrimination rather than meritocracy. I was deeply saddened by these thoughts; partially because I genuinely feel that there is a danger of negatively stereotyping men in the quest towards equality and partially because I feel that the processes and rhetoric we are using in our gender discourses clearly obscure real issues.

So what should we be doing to help people reflect on the engrained social biases and unconscious stereotyping we indulge in (and I am just as guilty…more on that in a rant about beer I feel) without getting bogged down in petty trivia when there is still a war against poverty and violence to be fought?

A Letter to a Friend: Suicidal Thinking

Hey hun,

You asked today about the right way to answer the Dr about suicidal thoughts. There were others there; we glibly laughed together that they only wanted to know that we weren’t about to rush away and top ourselves.
But I am uneasy in myself- to hear you say the thoughts help keep you sane. Cos whilst I agree that there is barely anyone I know who hasn’t contemplated ending it all and a good fair few who have considered ways and means, ethics and benefits And whilst I hear your words on the logical comfort of knowing you have that power over your own life I fear there is an edge behind the light remarks.

When you say you have thought about it for the last 20 years, what sort of thoughts do you mean? The quick moments where you are suddenly aware that with one step into the traffic or off the bridge you could end it all. The absent-minded glance at the painkillers to check there are enough to do the job. The default setting that presents death as the easy solution to each problem. The dull ache of wanting it all to stop. The nagging never-ending urge to give up. The distracting repetition that almost seems alien telling you to get on with it. The sharp unassailable certainty and drive that obliterates all other thoughts.
I have wanted to die, to cease to exist or to stop hurting, in so many different ways and in so many colours I can say without a doubt there is no glib answer to the question “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” But I can say that thinking about suicide is not the same as feeling suicidal.

Talk to me honey, tell me about the thoughts..tell me about the feelings.
You can’t frighten me.

Disability: Other #2

I don’t like thinking of myself as disabled, I usually tick the prefer not to answer box on the equal opportunities forms (which is probably a dead give away ;-))

But I do receive Disabled Student Allowance. Disabled sounds like something fixable, it sounds like someone took something away and thats why the government gives me allowances – and thats Shit. I’m not a Political Correctness kinda gal and I can say that under the government definition I know I fit the ‘disabled’ bill but still it grates. I guess they can’t have a support for people who are a bit fucked up fund.. I just don’t want to be in that box, and even more I don’t want to add ‘other’ to that list too.

Its odd really. I’m happy with ‘other’ for sexuality and relationship status and hell gender if you fancy but my disabilities are not my identity they just represent a different way of functioning – like preferring to write or type; or like bouncing ideas around a room or a message-board. Yes, sometimes they are quirky and often the go against the established norm and yes sometimes I feel I need the protection the law offers me for the way I am and the time I take to stop me being ignored for not being the norm but I don’t want the pity that still goes with those labels.

What do I want?

I want people to stop harping on about making everyone able to reach the norm and start thinking about ways groups can include those whose needs are different or greater than average. I want people to just damn well think about the fact that things they take for granted can be fucking hard for some people!

Education, Education Education

Triggers

Everybody has topics of conversation or images that they find upsetting or difficult to deal with. For some people there are things that they find so hard that they avoid them in order to stop themselves becoming panicked or miserable. For example an addict might avoid talking about the substance they have been addicted to because doing so causes cravings or an adult abused as a child might find that every mention of child abuse on the news brings back such traumatic memories or such feelings of anger that they feel they have to change the channel to stay safe. This is more than simply not talking about food in case you get hungry or a normal horror of abuse that makes us shy away from difficult reports – this is a visceral reaction that feels difficult to control.

I have two.

The first is fairly common and currently reasonably well under control – I am less than good at dealing with graphic descriptions or representations of people cutting themselves or being cut. I have self-harmed for more than 10 years now and though now I often go months without an episode it is rare that I manage a week without thinking about it. Related to this I find that descriptions and images are very real for me; sometimes this means I get something like a flashback where the images and sensations of my own self-harm are re-played vividly in my mind and sometimes I find that it rekindles a desire in me that I otherwise ignore. The intensity of my difficulty with these things depends on the type of image (TV depictions of self-harm & suicide are definitely the worst – where a description of someone being stabbed in a novel has less effect) and also on my mood at the time. Some days I am just better at coping with it without flinching/crying than others.

The second is a little more unusual and in some ways something I am more interested in/concerned about. I have discovered particularly in the last couple of years that I struggle to listen to discussions about other people’s mental illness diagnoses and treatment. Its not usually a problem to talk to someone about their personal struggles and support them but the involvement of health professionals and families makes me extremely panicky. I am not entirely sure why this is but I can offer some hypotheses. – firstly, I feel like a fraud. I am not particularly ill or struggling that hard therefore I am not worthy of the sort of support that others so clearly do need. – secondly, I am ashamed. Ashamed of being ill, frightened and embarrassed to admit to it, ashamed of being weak, of being a fraud, ashamed of being ashamed. – thirdly, I am jealous. No matter how actually difficult it actually is for any individual to ask for help, to me it seems so easy for others and so freely given in return. I know that I am most amazingly supported but sometimes I feel so afraid to ask. I wouldn’t begin to know how to return to the bosom of my family to be looked after or to ask my boss just to give me a little more space.

These things between them are an unwelcome rush of emotion and I struggle to keep myself calm. I find this reaction particularly distressing because my logical mind wants to offer support and the benefits of my own experiences and to help people feel less alone and instead I feel overwhelmed and in desperate need of attention and support myself. ugh.

I hope that by acknowledging and considering my feelings I can begin to move past them. One day I will not be ashamed.