MAAB, disguised as a man

Waitinggirl @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar writes today about the different experiences of make-up that women have, and how there is no One True Narrative of what it means. The context is that apparently there’s been a recent flurry of “trans women seeking advice oppress cis women” (yawn, nope, learn a new tune!)

I’m somewhere on the cis-ish/not-quite-trans area of the gender spectrum, flitting mentally between a sense of myself as more male and more female with relative ease in my own mind and utter calamity when I think of expressing the more trans/feminine side of that.

I’ve been spat at, yelled at, and windscreen wiper fluid sprayed on me, from passing cars while expressing just the slightest gender nonconformity or “queer” behaviour or appearance. It hasn’t happened every time I’ve pushed at the boundaries but often enough that I tend to hide from public displays of gender difference behind a veneer of cis respectability. I can pretend to be like the comfortable binary “Others” I see around me. (“Others” here used to signify that they are other than me; in social terms, I am the Other but I’m hiding it).

And that hiding means I have experiences like this one, which is what I immediately remembered as I read Waitinggirl’s piece:

I was just beginning to explore my gender variability with more awareness of myself and that there was such a thing as nonbinary and trans identity. I had gone into the big town, and as usual that meant I had some kind of appointment. When I have an appointment, I dress smartly, by the norms of “male” dress. A suit and tie, therefore: perfectly respectable, if tubby. But today I wanted to do something else as well. I wanted to buy my first makeup. I had read some tips about trans women’s basics and wanted to have at the very least some lipstick, eye makeup (I love doing my eyes, still what I have most of!) and I had some vague ideas about “foundation” but not really what it’s for.

I still had long hair back then, and Lord knows, that’s been enough for some people to hate me as nonconforming, but it didn’t seem like enough.

So I’m dressed like that when I go into Body Shop (because I knew where that was, and recognised the name) and, looking very much like a Man, had to explain that I needed help choosing things that suited my complexion. I was very self-conscious, and I am grateful to every salesperson (all of them women) who have helped me then, and since, because all of them took it in their stride.

A similar story is described on this blog about <a href=" to buy bras for myself. Again, I had to go into that shop disguised as a man with my smart suit on and explain my situation, reveal that I am not in fact what I look like in order to have some assistance in maybe looking like what I wish to. I wore my boobs & bra in public once (under regular clothes!) and that was to a trans/nonbinary munch rather than a general social or professional event. I might try wearing my boobs & bra more regularly as a way into signalling that I’m not quite the same, but do I dare? What else might I dare use to signal or be accepted as the not-quite maleness?

So I wear a disguise every day and dream of being able to say with confidence what I really am because there’s some evidence for people to hang their ideas about me on, rather than just the man I’m disguised as, claiming to be other than a man.

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Staring past awkward stories

So this week, I was reading The Men Who Stare At Goats, the original Jon Ronson book published in 2004 about the prevalence in the US military of some rather strange ideas concerning extra-sensory perception and telekinetic abilities, and other generally “new age-y” concepts.

I had previously seen the movie of the same title and, while I could see where every element of the movie’s story came from in the book, it was not in any way a “movie of the book” the way that, say, Lord of the Rings was the movies of the books. A scriptwriter had stitched together a narrative out of the interviews and snippets of information that Ronson displayed to put forward a fun idea.

But I was struck by something. The narrative was, above all, a fun story. But Ronson’s book is, in the end, a story not about the fun but about how fun stories are used to bury unpleasant facts.

One particular example he used was the “soundtrack” of the sleep deprivation and torture methods being used in Iraq. The list of annoying or maddening songs included, in amongst the discordant heavy metal, the “I Love You” song sung by Barney. I remembered how that story had been a thing for a while at the time. It was something that people laughed about. And in laughing, forgot the basic fact that it was part of a torture regime.

In the same way, the movie used a fun story to gloss over the ways in which psychological operations and more mind-centred approaches to warfare and causing suffering or death had grown up out of a genuine belief (the “New Earth Battalion Operations Manual”) that kindness could be made a method of winning conflicts. Somehow, the “kindness” part got lost in the mechanisms and only the conflict remained.

It made me wonder where in today’s world is the same thing happening? I think just about any Hollywood version of history probably does this to some extent, but the real problem is when the present day story in the news is masked using these techniques.

By “fun story”, other examples in the book show, is meant not only “entertaining” but also “are attractive to believe in”. And that technique is used a lot. It isn’t always “truthiness” (things that aren’t true but feel like they ought to be) but a similar kind of bias. The smoothing out of narratives around sex work, for example, or BDSM, are both areas in which the comfortable, safe, “fun” story often erases or covers up awkward narratives that fit neither the “pro” nor the “anti” camp. Indeed, this was one of the criticisms of the “facesitting protest” against the new ATVOD censorship.

With the rise in social media, it is perhaps harder for a single narrative to take hold in the same way as it could even ten years ago, although the Tories certainly managed it with their election strategy: their fun story was that Labour had caused the debt crisis by “overspending”, rather than by deregulating the banking industry in line with Tory policy.

The other question was what a writer can do to prevent their story being “fun-ised” like that. I don’t think anything can be done. People will misquote or smooth out what is inconvenient. The only way around it is to be easy to find as the original source. Even then, as I’m sure happens with Ronson’s book, people will miss the nuance because awkward truths are awkward.

Is there a moral to this meandering? I’m not sure. I guess the lesson is that it’s important to accept awkwardness because that’s how we learn to make real change possible. But that in itself feels like a smoothing over of reality.

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Scheduling and other fun things

I have over the past few weeks been struggling to fit everything in (as the actress said to the bishop) so this weekend I made a list of all the things that I want or need to get done in a week. This included things like writing my stories, doing the shopping, catching up on television shows and doing conventional jobsearch. It also includes “sleep” – if I at least have an official “this is when I do it” I have more of an incentive to make sure I actually do get my 8 hours.

I don’t like having a long list of “things to do” – I know some people love ticking things off lists (and some will write something they’ve just done onto the list, just so they can tick it off!) but for me the list remains a rebuke as long as there are unticked items on it and I can never be in credit with the list, only perpetually at fault for not having finished it. The past few weeks have been a “to do list” type of situation and I’ve finally got so fed up of forever not getting things done.

Instead, I will create an official time for everything and then I can either do things in that order or not, and at that time or not, but at least by looking what I have or haven’t done, I know what to do next and I know if I am ahead, behind, doing well, doing poorly, at managing the things to do. If I’ve done one thing early, then I can do another later in the slot it would have filled, and so on. I can also see what I’m displacing if I decide to take on some other activity instead.

Blog writing is now scheduled to happen on Monday evening and Friday afternoon, meaning updates should now be posted Tuesday and Friday. I’ve also scheduled in time to be ready on my Adultwork IM (and if things go well, I’m going to look at whether I can figure out a way to move this blog off WordPress and onto a server/host with friendlier adult rules, and maybe add a text chat service to it if I can figure out how to collect money for that; and finally work out some Patreon goodies to persuade folks like you to support the project).

It’s quite exciting seeing what could be possible.

Any ideas what sort of thing I could offer to Patreon subscribers would be greatly appreciated also.

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eLust 73 with me!

Ht Honey by a fence
Photo courtesy of HT Honey

Welcome to Elust #73

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #74? Start with the rules, come back September 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!


~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

My shame
Has E L James broken erotica?
Sex Addiction is a Scam

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Goodbye, I’m Gone
sharing my inspiration

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*

Eroticon 2015 Pay it forward

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days.

Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!


Erotic Non-Fiction

Watching you
His Vulnerability Creates Magic.
It really was a Wicked Wednesday
His First Cuckold Experience
Humiliation of an ex-Nazi submissive 53
The Pole Dancer

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Gentleman Is the Opposite of Feminist
My Criteria for Rating Sex

Erotic Fiction

The Hunt’s Spectators
Peeping Tom
By the Sea, Part 1
Have You Been Naughty?
The Ritual
Triple Dog Dare
Eye Spy
Bound For Pleasure
Daddy Wants to Play

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Dealing With A Husband Who Can’t Cum
The Menopause Diaries
Balancing the Scales
On Cheating
On language learning and sex

Writing About Writing

What I Intend When I Write About Sex
Writing Erotica as a Disabled Top

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

What else could be done with BDSM checklists?
Crafting Your Craft: Serving With Passion
Social Masochist
The Last Word
“Only submissive to someone special”

ELust Site Badge

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Labour Leader Leaflets Lampooned!

The election has begun! I have my ballot papers for the Labour Leader, Deputy Leader, and National Policy Forum elections.

I’m sure I’ll have serious commentary to add later but I am feeling in a snarky, cynical, humorous mood. And, having also received little booklets in the post from three of the Labour leadership candidates, there will now follow some short paraphrasing and fun-poking at the said documents, in the order that they landed on the mat. I’m not going to focus on actual policies, but the stuff about their “vision” etc. (Kendall, apparently, doesn’t believe in the postal system.)

Yvette Cooper’s campaign booklet:

Pages 2-3: “My ancestors were the sort of person you’d respect, like northerners and shit, so I’m totes working class, me! Even though I went to Oxford University.”

Pages 4-5: “I created Sure Start, which means I’m practically the same as Nye Bevan and Barbara Castle rolled into one. Tories hate teachers and nurses but we can’t get mad, we have to get even!”

(Actual text: “We can’t sit it out for a generation. We know it isn’t enough to be angry at the world. We’re the Labour Party – we have to change the world.” I wonder if there could be a coded message in there about one of the other candidates?)

Page 6: “Tories hate our children, the BBC, and the NHS.”

Andy Burnham simply printed off his manifesto into a booklet. I already said my piece on that one, but here’s some added snark:

Page 2: “I’m the best thing since Clement Attlee created sliced bread and the NHS: Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock – who are they?”

Page 3: “I totes know what I’m talking about, cos I have a plan, see? No, even though I’m using all the same words as that other guy, *mine* is totes proper and his isn’t! Also, women, young people, trade unions! Did I mention I’m so awesome, I’m like Beveridge and sliced bread rolled into one?”

Page 6: “E-QUAL-IT-TEEEE! Amirite? Also, local powers for local people. And who’ll get the Lords out (who, who, who?)!”

Jeremy Corbyn’s Election Booklet:

This isn’t a booklet as such, but a folded over sheet. As such it has effectively a front and a back.

Front: “Yo, buddy! We need to, like, hang with everyone y’know? Some people got bummed out by our old ways, but if we just open up to them, and tell them how we feel, they’ll get back in the groooove, man!”

(Non-snark – his letter is addressed to “Dear friend”, and is clearly meant to be a rebuttal of the “Corbyn is unelectable” rhetoric from the others – and adopts some of their language)

Back panel 1: “We all think Jeremy’s totes amazeballs and sticks up for us! No to cuts! Yes to investment!”

Back panel 2: “Look! even SNP and UKIPers like his ideas for trains!”

(Actual text: “27% of SNP voters would be more likely to vote Labour if committed to publicly owned Scottish rail services. A November 2013 YouGov poll found 73% of UKIP voters backed publicly owned rail”)

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Amnesty International backs decriminalisation of sexwork!

Amnesty International listened to sexworkers and voted for decriminalisation as a campaign position.

Not really my battle directly (although I am hopeful my AdultWork services will take off soon) but:


if earthquakes mean God hates gays, do rainbows mean he loves sexworkers?

Rainbows on AI SW day!

This is no small thing. This is Big. Like, REALLY big. It has no legal force, but it means that Amnesty will be putting pressure on governments to put sex workers’ rights first, and do the only thing that sex workers feel can help protect them. [Edit to add] Amnesty International have a video countering the prohibitionist arguments:

I’ve used this as an opportunity to quiz the Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates (or at least, the ones who have even half a chance of winning my vote/2nd preference) on their positions regarding sex work, and the censorship of online “adult” material that is disproportionately affecting small businesses creating honest, ethical, positive and feminist representations of sex for pleasure, or sexual fantasy, rather than the more corrosive mainstream providers of porn. (Pandora Blake has been a vocal campaigner and is battling the censorship targeted at her site.)

But for now, sex workers are celebrating.

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REVIEW: Spycatcher, by Peter Wright

A few weeks ago, I found a copy of Spycatcher in a charity shop, and decided I should have a read.

Spycatcher, “The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer”, is one of those things that I remember from my youth as a cultural event. I was young at the time. It was the mid-Eighties, the Cold War still in full swing, my parents were active in the Peace Campaign and CND, I had yet to discover rock music (and 80s pop was abhorrent to me). Spycatcher was a thing that was on the news for what seemed like a very long time as the UK Government tried to ban its publication and sale in this country. I don’t recall whether it was the people or the technical information that was supposedly the problem (I was too young and not paying much attention).

[As an aside: I always love when a second-hand book has a dedication or note indicating it was a gift: my copy says “J__, Hope you find this interesting! A__.” (J being a ‘boy’ name and A being a ‘girl’ name, at least as commonly assigned.) I’ve no idea who these people were, or why J would find it interesting, or in what context, but it conjures stories in my mind.]

Anyway, to the actual book. The author is Peter Wright (sub-caption, “Former Assistant Director of MI5”) and the big deal is that he identifies whom he believes to have been the “Fifth Man” inside the British intelligence agencies along with Burgess, McClean, Philby and Blunt.

Wright’s background was in electronics and technology, and he discusses early on a whole bunch of the innovations in surveillance that he and his colleagues started using in the 1950s especially (he was recruited in the aftermath of World War 2 through family connections as MI5 sought to expand its in-house technical expertise). As seems to be a common factor with ex-military/espionage authors, the writer focusses on a message of, “If they’d only listened to me, everything would have worked out MUCH better, but nobody took any notice until it went wrong/they appointed my friend/they appointed the wrong person and sidelined me further.”

The meat of the book, however, is the suspicion of a mole inside MI5, and the intelligence and detective work that leads to his conclusion about that person’s identity. The book is not well written, and could easily have done with better work from an editor. That said, there is the makings of a pretty decent spy thriller novel here, had the book been written that way. It isn’t – it’s written as non-fiction, and an autobiography. As a storyteller, this frustrates me because I can clearly see how to make a much better book out of this. None of it needs to be fictionalised, but some of the fat could be trimmed, the language tightened, details irrelevant to the main narrative or subplots left out, and so on.

The worst part, though, is that to sell the book, the blurb gives away the identity of the mole (or rather, the person whom Wright concludes must be the enemy spy). As soon as you’ve got that, there’s no tension, no mystery and no excitement to the narrative. I spent the whole book thinking, “Get to the showdown already! we know who the culprit is!” Some stories can get away with showing the murder at the beginning (the Columbo TV series, for instance, generally shows who and how, and then introduces the eponymous detective and we watch him scrabble about trying to figure it out) but this story needs the mystery element. It needs the dawning realisation of how big the opposition is, until the reader, with the hero, is forced to the right conclusion. Given such a treatment, Spycatcher would have had a classic story arc, as outlined in various “how to write” books going back to Aristotle.

I hate spoilers. When the spoiler is in the blurb, it’s even more disappointing.

That’s Spycatcher as literature.

~ * ~

The other aspect of the book is the political and technical context and content. Two things leapt out at me from Wright’s discussion of his work and the changes he saw in the British intelligence agencies. The first is that the modern IT-based surveillance society is not a new thing. Even in the early 1970s the use of computers to track and plunder people’s personal data was being discussed:

I soon realized that the main interest F Branch had in the Computer Working Party was to establish widespread computer links, principally with the National Insurance computer in Newcastle. In the past, of course, we had always been able to get material from the National Insurance records if we really wanted. We had a couple of undercover officers posted up there who could be contacted for our files. But establishing a direct computer link was something different.”

The move into the computer generation signalled the relegation of the individual officer. From now on we were to be data processors, scanning tens of thousands of names at the press of a button.

(It’s interesting to note that, given the recent revelations of Special Branch infiltration of left-wing/campaign groups, and how officers would have sex with members to gain trust, that Wright states in the context of the above passage, “Agent running was no longer viable as the principal means of coverage. For a start, he could not infiltrate his officers into these left-wing groups since many of them lived promiscuous lives, and there were some sacrifices even an MI5 officer would not make for his country.”)

The other point is that Wright pretty much confirms that Harold Wilson was right to suspect a conspiracy against him in the mid-1970s. He describes how, as he approached retirement from MI5, a group of businessmen approached him and wished to employ his inside knowledge:

He said they were interested in working to prevent the return of a Labour government to power.

“It could spell the end of all the freedoms we know and cherish,” he said.

The others nodded.

“And how do you suppose I can help?” I asked.

“Information,” he replied, “we want information, and I am assured you have it.”

“What precisely are you after?” I inquired.

“Anything on Wilson would be helpful. There are many people who would pay handsomely for material of that sort.”

Wright says he objected to this on the basis of his being a serving member of the Security Service. Later, as he reviews the Wilson information, he describes that younger colleagues inside MI5 also approached him:

“Wilson’s a bloody menace,” said one of the younger officers, “and it’s about time the public knew the truth.”

But the approach in 1974 was altogether more serious. The plan was simple. In the run-up to the election which, given the level of instability in Parliament, must be due within a matter of months, MI5 would arrange for sensitive details of the intelligence about leading Labour Party figures, but especially Wilson, to be leaked to sympathetic pressmen. Using our contacts in the press and among union officials, word of the material contained in MI5 files and the fact that Wilson was considered a security risk would be passed around.

~ * ~

Both the computer surveillance and the anti-Wilson plots seem strongly relevant in today’s political climate. In particular with the wild hatred directed at Jeremy Corbyn by the right-wing bastions of the establishment, and his anti-militarist policies, we might anticipate that similar machinations would be a part of the run-up to a 2020 election with Corbyn at the helm of a newly radicalised and revitalised Labour Party. Reading the fictional “A Very British Coup” (or watching the TV version on Channel 4’s “on demand” website, though they don’t call it that any more) is a warning. Does this mean we should shy away from supporting Corbyn? Of course not. But we do need to be aware that there will be more sinister forces than Liz Kendall arrayed against him and his programme if he wins.

There are questions demanded about just what is meant by “defend the country” (and/or “democracy”), when the powerful bodies who claim to do so, seem to pick and choose who or what counts as legitimate, and seek to manipulate or subvert the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box.

But the main thing I took away was that literary sense of, “this could have been so much better, if only they’d only listened to me.”

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A quick look at Burnham’s manifesto: “It’s good, but it’s not quite Corbyn”

(The title is a reference to the adverts for Carling lager)

I get regular emails from the Labour Party, forwarded on from the various leadership and deputy-leadership candidates.

Last night, I received one with the link to Andy Burnham’s manifesto (PDF file).

It’s a pretty good piece of work, and I’ll be honest, it’s a manifesto that does seem to bring out some semblance of the Labour Party I wanted to vote for. The trouble is, as good as it is, it sounds like Burnham has been cribbing from Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches. I’ve looked back at the notes from the debate the BBC televised with the canidates, and while I recognise some of Burnham’s language, his priorities look like watered-down versions of what Corbyn said, on housing, health, education and so on.

This is a good thing in some ways: it means that the original objective in Corbyn’s nomination for the leadership has been met: he’s forced a debate, and moved the debate to the left, with Burnham clearly responding to the surge in support for left-wing politics that Corbyn’s campaign has awakened.

The bad parts are that Burnham rather overstates his case: “To do this, I will bring forward the most radical and far-reaching Labour vision for the country since the 1945 post-war Attlee Government. That Government civilised the last century. Mine will do the same for the 21st.” Under his healthcare proposals, he writes, “The NHS was the greatest achievement of the 1945 Labour Government. Today, Britain needs another great Labour achievement.”

Yeah. That’s a pretty big comparison to make, considering some of the manifestos the Labour Party produced in the 1950s and 60s. And more, Burnham wants even stronger comparisons with Attlee’s government, by proposing “a new Beveridge-style commission” that will address, “debt, insecurity, inequality, climate change and fear of old age.” in the way that Beveridge dealt with “squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease”.

I would suggest, Mr Burnham, that those five evils have yet to be vanquished, and victories against them have been rolled back. Your commission might want to take a fresh look at the old ones as well as the new ones.

The thing is, the Attlee government Labour Party was still a socialist party, and its vision was a genuinely socialist Britain. No one currently has that radical a vision for Britain. That’s okay. I don’t believe any radical restructuring of the political and economic power will come through elected MPs anyway. But to claim to be “the most radical and far-reaching Labour vision” since Attlee, you would at minimum have to reinstate the old Clause IV:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

Andy Burnham won’t do that. I’d hazard not even Jeremy Corbyn would propose that change in all seriousness. I was only joking when I made reference to it in my reasons for joining Labour in April.

All-in-all, there’s nothing wrong with Burnham’s manifesto, and he certainly gets my second preference, but I want someone who’s been saying this all along, who won’t be swayed by this or that opinion poll or focus group, and who’ll see it through with force, conviction, and sincerity. That person is Jeremy Corbyn.

But I would love to see Mr Burnham in a Corbyn Shadow Cabinet (and in 2020, Government).

~ * ~

For the record, here’s the bits I liked best:

  • “I want young people who aspire to apprenticeships to have the same clarity, ambition and sense of purpose as those who aspire to go to university. So I will propose a national UCAS-style system for apprenticeships and extend access to student finance to help people to move to take up an apprenticeship.”
  • “I will lift the arbitrary central government borrowing caps that prevent local authorities from building more social housing, freeing our councils to deliver good quality homes once more.”
  • The rent-to-own option (although curious whether housing benefit would be possible to put towards that?)
  • “I am committed to extending the NHS principle to social care – where everybody is asked to make a contribution according to their means and where everybody then has the peace of mind of knowing that all their care needs, and those of their family, are covered.”
  • “When it comes to the TTIP deal under negotiation between the European Union and the USA, I will call for an exemption for all public services. I will fight proposals for private tribunals with the power to sit in judgement on national governments.”

On the other hand, I am unconvinced by the “Secondary Mandate” where one vote counts both for MP, and for a PR House of Lords. I’d rather see a separate vote for each House, and a clear explanation of the differing purposes of the two bodies or of the people elected to them (for example, my MP is supposed to be my voice in government and representing local concerns; what would an elected upper House representative do for me?)

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Questions and therapies: why CBT might not be for me

I have heard a lot of people either swear by the system of cognitive behaviour therapy (or CBT – not to be confused with cock’n’ball torture!) or criticise its misuse or poor delivery (the criticisms being more common recently). The idea that it might be used in jobcentres being a particularly bad example of a misuse.

However, while I had a vague idea of the concept, I didn’t know much about what’s involved until today I saw at Beyond The Binary an article which cited an exercise:

Not everyone gets on well with CBT, but it was a lifesaver for me – maybe give this a try, and see if it helps you? Get a sheet of paper – a large one – and write down your main fear. Maybe that fear is ‘I’ll regret the changes I’ve made’ or ‘I’m not sure I know what I’m doing’. Then write down how much you believe that fear – how much you believe it when you’re feeling calm, and how much when you’re feeling panicky. And then, scribbling all over the page, start to break that fear down. What, genuinely, is the absolute worst thing that could happen? How likely is that outcome, and what would you do if it did happen? How much is it simply a natural fear of the unknown, or of making a mistake? How much is a fear of losing control?

This puts me in a place to say why the popular conception of CBT is unlikely to be helpful for me.

The simplest way to put it is that, the way my anxiety, or depression, or stress, or whatever it is that makes me panicky about stuff, works is that it plays these questions in my mind all the time. I overthink everything.

“What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen?”

Well, I’m a writer. It’s pretty much my stock-in-trade to imagine the most horrendous things and make them happen to my poor, innocent characters. Even if I wasn’t doing that, I have an imagination that conjures every scenario, and of course the worst can leap out at that.

How likely is that outcome?

This is where it breaks down. Things that people tell me are unlikely, and bad, have happened to me. Things that should be likely, and good, have failed to materialise even when there seems no reason why they wouldn’t happen. So when these questions run through my head, and I reassure myself that it’s unlikely that the bad versions have happened/are going to happen, there’s always the voice of past experience to say, “Yeah, well, you said that last time and look how it turned out.”

I don’t have a sense of how likely or unlikely the bad things are because experience tells me that those Bayesian probabilities are no guarantee of what actually does happen in my particular instance.

What would you do if it did happen?

Again, this is what I think about all the time. When I reviewed The Never List, I wrote about my own “Never List” type thought processes:

When I read thrillers, or watch movies, I picture myself as the victims: “How would I avoid this situation? Could I survive it if I found myself there? How would I do so? What would I feel, and could I handle it?” As a result, I have a version of a Never List which is more like an “Action-on List”. I sometimes joke about it, “What would I do in the zombie apocalypse?” but it’s ever-present. I don’t walk across darkened spaces, at least, not without a torch that I use to scan all around. I always sit facing the door so I can see what’s coming. I hate having someone be just behind me. I have my own Never List.

I imagine scenarios, and then I try to think my way out of them before they happen: how will I avoid being in this situation? If I find myself in this situation, how will I deal with it, and what are my chances of surviving (or of meeting my minimal goals, or of avoiding unacceptable losses)? What will I do, and how might things turn out?

Obviously, these thoughts do very little to calm my nerves: they help to drive them!

There is the retort that thinking is different from writing, and this is true up to a point. The aim of taking the time to put it into a concrete form, and then re-evaluate, is going to change the context.

The interesting part is the comparison between “how much you believe it when you’re feeling calm”, and “how much when you’re feeling panicky”. For the most persistent fears – the ones that prompt the most stuff on my never-list and action-on-list and are referred to most frequently – I don’t think the level of belief changes; what changes is how far I can put them from my mind, or how relevant they seem to the specific situation (e.g. “I might be assaulted in the dark” is not very relevant when i’m walking in the middle of the day, or sitting at home on the computer).

Writing the things down, I believe, does help create a more dispassionate perspective on those beliefs, but the process of re-evaluating them to me seems impossible, because it requires evaluating – and my problem is that I can’t put values on the “how likely is it?” or more accurately, I come up with multiple valuations of the fears.

There is also the difficulty that, when bad things haven’t happened, sometimes it can be directly attributed to the fact that my fear made me go through the never-list type of process and that helped to make sure that the bad thing that could have happened, I successfully averted.

I suspect that, administered by someone with a lot of in-depth training and more awareness of the types of issues that I have, CBT might over time produce something positive for me in terms of reducing anxiety. But I remain sceptical, and the above goes to illustrate why.

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Corbyn and the Electoral Graph

This is a topic I’ve had on my mind for a couple of months now, but as the excitement over the Corbyn Phenomenon grows in the media, this seems like the apposite moment to actually write it up.

Some great posts by Jemima over at Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar, plus the hysteria in the national press, have come together neatly with an article in the New Scientist about electoral tactics that I read recently (it was actually published before the General Election, but I’ve got a backlog of New Scientists to read).

The article was about a system being used in the USA by the Democrats to target their “swing voters” by assessing them on a chart like this one:


A vertical axis of “How likely are you to vote?” and a horizontal axis of “Support us or Support them?”

Rather than waste time on the fringes of the graph (because people who are very unlikely to vote, aren’t worth the effort to convince; people who are hardline opponents can’t be convinced; and people who are hardline supporters don’t need convincing) they sent their canvassers only to the homes where people in the middle (not sure whether to vote, and not sure who they’ll vote for – the pale blue region in the middle of my diagram) live. It cut down on their costs, and increased the effectiveness of their targeted strategy.

Because the Democrats are doing it, of course, Labour want to try too, ignoring the fact that we are not a 2-party system in the UK (the New Scientist article referenced that point but made the case that the basic idea still works). They also have pursued something like it since the Blair years in terms of policy

Jemima’s piece, “The Myth of the Centre“, highlights just why this is a catastrophic approach in the long run for Labour’s electoral chances, both in terms of a “centre ground” that doesn’t really exist and in terms of the people whose votes they chase:

Blair did not win in 97 because he was centrist, he won because he offered an alternative, on a number of strands, that appealed to diverse groups of people. Labour lost in 2015 not because they were not centrist enough but because they did not offer an alternative. The race for the center will always be lost, because the center is an El dorado, a mythical land which can never be reached. Labour won in 97 because they showed, in a number of ways why they were different to the tories. They will win in 2020 by doing the same.

The thought I had when I read the New Scientist piece is that, in chasing the people in the centre of the graph, it is possible to alienate people who are more likely to support you, but are undecided whether or not to vote at all – people on the right arm of the graph I drew. It may also have an effect on people on the top arm (very likely to vote, but undecided). I’ve shown these patches in orange on the diagram. Implicit in the assumptions of the pollster-driven campaign is that, if someone is unsure of who to vote for, they are unlikely to be undecided, and conversely, if they are sure about which side they support, then they are unlikely to abstain from voting. This creates a rough “V” shape where most voters will be found, that must also encompass the central patch where they target their campaigns. Outside of that V, there are assumed to be very few voters. A bit like this:

...or 'Vendetta', if you're outside the graph?

‘V’ For ‘Victory’!

This is a catastrophically flawed assumption in the British electoral system, and in British politics. The assumption is flawed because there is not only “us” versus “them”, there are other parties to support. There are also many more views than those contained in the “consensus about what “the centre” is and “the people” want. For my birthday, I was given Tariq Ali’s “The Extreme Centre” and, while I haven’t got far with it yet, this idea of an alienated mass outside of the central politics seems to be in there (it was published before the General Election, so he didn’t know about Corbyn). What Corbyn has done is appeal to the bottom right hand corner of the graph, moving people who want to support Labour from “unlikely to vote” into the “likely to vote” region:


This has revealed the flaw in the pollster-driven argument, because his campaign has taken off. The Guardian has a piece about just how effective the appeal to the bottom right-hand corner of the graph has been:

The longserving MP has tapped into the strong public antipathy to slick, PR-trained politicians, careful with their soundbites, sticking close to the centre ground. What especially angers them is being patronised, being told their views are old-fashioned and redundant, and that their preferred candidate is incapable of winning the 2020 election.

“There seems to be too much of a view around Westminster that only people who have ever been involved only in Westminster have any views on anything,” Corbyn said. “Well there are tens of thousands of people out there who have very good, very intelligent views. And they need to be heard.”

One of the young Corbyn supporters, Heather Shaw, 23, who met the candidate in London on Tuesday, echoed this, listing some of the issues that mattered to her. “A large part of his support is from young people. People say he is an old left-winger or an old Marxist but to my generation his ideas seem quite new,”

Shaw, originally from Wigan, works for an online company in London. She recalled how despondent she and her friends had been after the election, gathered in the Cock pub near Oxford Circus. “We were talking about how there was no hope. Nothing good is going to happen. Labour will not get in for the next 10 years. It is only because of Jeremy Corbyn that there is excitement in British politics.”

If it had only been Cooper, Burnham and Kendall in the contest, she said she would not have become involved. “I would just be watching from the sidelines,” Shaw said.

Houbart, who was at the Luton meeting, said [Corbyn] had created a sense of excitement in politics not just for her but among her friends in Brighton. “It is the first time in our lives that there is someone in Labour we can identify with,” she said.

In The West Wing (my go-to source for apposite political commentary from fictional media), Amy Gardner as consultant to the Stackhouse (Independent) Presidential campaign explains to Josh, “When a 3rd party candidate wins, don’t you think it’ll be down to those unlikely to vote?” Well, while again pointing out that the UK system isn’t like the US one, this is the electoral mathematics that Corbyn’s leadership bid is pulling off. And, with good management, may yet win the 2020 General Election.

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