A case for a male Doctor

So, another Doctor is about to bite the dust and regenerate. And once again, the debate swirls around whether the next Doctor should be (played by) a woman.

I have to admit, when Susan Calman tweeted a (mocked-up?) image of a Doctor Who Magazine cover with herself in the title role, I really liked that idea and she would be great bringing a different spin on it.

When Matt Smith announced he was leaving the show, I wrote a piece about the same question with some hypotheticals, including the question, “What if the basic primary sex characteristics of a Gallifreyan stay the same when they change secondary sex characteristics during regeneration?” (I cringe looking at some of the language I used to express the idea back then, but hey ho.) (Also, note that I got my wish for an older actor as the Doctor!)

A lot has changed since then, including two bona fide sex change regenerations on-screen, and in implied third off-screen earlier (which is to say, the Master becoming Missy counts as on-screen because we saw before and after; the general’s earlier F-to-M regeneration doesn’t because it was only implied).

We know, without much doubt, that Time Lords do change gender appearances when regenerating. The line by the general in Hell Bent/Heaven Sent about being glad to be a woman again because of “all that testosterone” is a throwaway but implies that there is some core sense of identification that lies deeper than the body: she still felt “female” was her more natural representation (although what would cause a regeneration to run against one’s sense of one’s own gender is another intriguing question). Missy seems to embrace her new appearance much more readily, though again, it’s not clear what drove it in the first place.

All of which is fine and dandy, but I don’t want to write yet again about the story reasons for changing or not changing the Doctor’s gender or physical sex.

There are many good reasons why it would be a good thing to make the Doctor “a woman”. But I want to talk about why I now want the Doctor to be a male figure.

A while ago, I did an exercise to work out who my “Dom Icons” were and what that said about my style of BDSM.

It was not surprising to me to find terms like “parental” and “suffers from losing” turn up (both of them came from the Doctor, though “suffers” was an undercurrent for some of the others). My dominant icons care about stuff, and people, especially. Losing, failing, letting people down, really matters. While the “thinking” theme, and “controlled” theme, both speak to a certain aloofness, when it comes down to it, my icons need to be people who will act to do the right thing. They are emotional. They are, in fact, vulnerable. They can be hurt.

The Doctor exudes these characteristics, some of which are “stereotypically” feminine. He is also vehemently against the use of violence to solve disputes (although when one side or the other proves intransigent, he will stand firmly and use force to defeat or destroy them or their ambitions).

This is an icon of masculinity that is sorely needed in a world where ever more violent rhetoric and more heavily gendered roles seem to be being touted everywhere. the Doctor is an un-macho man, but he makes it okay to be. He makes it possible to choose not to compete on the dick-waving, gamergating, hierarchical, he-man levels that institutional and performative maleness demands.

The Doctor is anti-masculinity.

Now, there is a slight flaw in all this, and that is basically, Steven Moffat. Moffat writes the Doctor as a man, and as having the same dick-waving tendencies. I have always felt that Steven had an underlying dislike of the Doctor which I found hard to understand.

The Doctor is at his best when he is able to be compassionate, caring, and fiercely so. When he can be a vibrant force to epitomise some characteristics or roles that traditionally are feminine. (Although male nurse Rory was a really good foil in the same way, and still one of my heroes!)

There are very few heroes left who show that it is possible to be a man without being a Man and the Doctor is one of them. He doesn’t need to get the girl (dear God, stop with the romantic adoration!). He doesn’t need to be the tough guy. He just cares for people.

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On the rightness of violence against Nazis

Much fun has been had on Twitter with the clip of one of Trump’s fascist White-supremacist friends being hit around the face by a protester over the weekend. After the “alt-Right” neo-Nazis whined about this shocking act of violence, the fun drifted to light-hearted discussion of “is it okay to punch a Nazi?”

This morning I saw a tweet that asked, “would we be so free with talking about killing Nazis?” And I answered, I would not be free with such talk but I have prepared myself for the possibility that it will become necessary. This post is to look a little bit into why I feel that way.

Where to start? Let’s try here:

A long time ago, when I had just finished university there there were riots in Bradford. For several days the Pakistani Muslim community erupted in violence. There was a concerted effort afterwards by the police to find those captured on CCTV and punish them.

The story does not start with rioting Muslims.

The story starts with BNP fascists and their ilk (think these days of the EDL, Britain First etc) organising a series of marches and rallies in cities across the North of England where there were large Muslim communities. Each time the march went off peacefully with the Muslim communities staying at home – intimidated by the BNP and by the police presence inevitably found at any “protest” gathering. I remember Oldham in particular. I know there was at least one before that.

So then the BNP picked Bradford. As mentioned, I lived in Bradford as a student for a while. I saw how militant the people there were. I saw the stickers and posters with radical Islamic messages and so on; I wasn’t perturbed because I also knew some of my Muslim neighbours (for a while I shopped at a halal supermarket). So I was not surprised when, prior to the BNP march (maybe even before they announced it) the Bradford Muslims said, “If they come here, we will oppose them. We will confront them.”

The BNP brought their rally, and the Bradford Muslims confronted and opposed them. And the police – well, I shall be diplomatic – in carrying out their duty of preventing violence, they tended to see the confronters, and not the provokers, as the problem.

After the BNP went home, the police were still the enemy and the riots continued.

After that, the BNP didn’t hold so many marches or rallies (memory says that a few years later there were more confrontations in Oldham).

The reason I tell this story is, I hope, clear: in order to stop fascists, at some point you may be required to do so physically.

Another story, from rather more recently.

On my bus journey home from work, a group of “lads” (young men) became violent and abusive, particularly to the driver. It started as they were boarding but it was when it came time to disembark that it became scary. The most violent guy was lean ing his head into the driver’s cab to shout at him. Some of the other guys were fighting one another. An amply-proportioned female passenger was already confronting the violent “lads” and I decided I had to step up as well and offer my strength and weight (I also being an amply proportioned person) if needed to restrain and prevent further violence. Fortunately, no such action was required.

~ * ~

There are people who point to figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, as proof that violence is not necessary for change. If you just abandon violence, and talk calmly, then people will accept the strength of your position and you will have the rights and freedoms you desire.

None of those figures, nor their movements, happened alone. There was violence in India against British colonial rule. For every MLK, there is a Malcolm X and a Black Panthers movement. Nelson Mandela was the titular head of the ANC’s paramilitary wing, and Oliver Tambo as ANC’s leader in exile spoke passionately and eloquently in defence of the ANC’s decision to abandon non-violence, since non-violence had proved utterly ineffective. His case had elements in common with that made by the American colonists in their preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

Very few significant human rights advances have taken place without the threat of violence by those seeking equality and freedom, and without blood being shed.

~ * ~

2003. The largest ever political demonstration in the UK. The official figures claimed 1M people; the organisers claimed 2M. Either way, it was more people than had ever gathered for a single purpose before or since.

A seven-figure number of people marched past Whitehall, Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament.

And they made not a single iota of difference to policy. The policy they opposed still came to be.

If those same people had come to seize power, to oust and tear down the government that paid such scant heed to their demands, and physically remove them from the places of power and hold them until a new regime that would listen to the anti-war demands could be created, then nothing could have stopped them.

The day Tony Blair took the UK to war against Iraq, under GWB’s leadership, in defiance of that march, was the day that I realised that peaceful protest is not enough and will not be enough.

~ * ~

Between the two world wars, my grandfather was a member of the Peace Pledge Union. He and his friends were pacifists who dearly wished to ensure no future war could happen. They failed. In failing, my grandfather wrote eloquently of the challenge then facing him as news of Hitler’s atrocities started to reach Allied Europe.

His conscience would be plagued either way, but he chose in the end to say that evil such as the Nazis had to be confronted and stopped.

~ * ~

My last story:

In the 2001 General Election campaign, deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was on the campaign trail in Rhyl, where the Labour party’s rural policies were somewhat unpopular. Some smug twat threw an egg at close range at Mr Prescott and thought it a jolly jape indeed, until Mr Prescott reacted like the Yorkshire seaman he used to be and reacts to the impact by throwing a punch and manhandling his attacker.

“Egging” people seemed to be a popular means of protest back then, and typically done by people who expected no possible comeback for themselves.

On this angle, you can see how premeditated the attack on Prescott was:

Now, I’m not calling that guy a Nazi, nor Prescott a paragon of social justice – regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issues that little tussle was over, it doesn’t come into that category.

My point is, there are people, and the fascist neo-Nazi, “alt-Right” groups chief among them, who believe that they are immune from, and will never be the target of, the violence they mete out, either by rhetoric or fact, to others.

Which is where we started.

Only when they discover that they are not, and that their violence will be met by the collective anger and hatred and, yes, violence, of those who stand for social justice, freedom, and universal human rights, will they be stopped. Every inch we allow them as somewhere comfortable to stand, as long as their platform is the same denigration of others’ humanity, is just greater encouragement to them to hurt more people, harder.

As @Waitingirl13 put it on twitter:

Fascists should be in hiding They should be afraid to speak They should be lonely isolated and wondering if they are wrong This is basic

As to why fascists should be those things – it’s because that’s the state they want everyone else to be in, not for things they believe but for things they are.

QED.

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2016 Season finale

2016 is almost over. I refuse to believe we are safe from it until it has completely left the planet, once midnight has passed everywhere along the International Date Line. It just feels like some horrror movie monster that always returns for one final savage shock attack just before the credits roll, that it is not dead yet, not done yet.

I feel as though, perhaps more than any in my lifetime, 2016 deserves its own “Final Note” in the style of Babylon 5’s season ending remarks. The one that springs to mind is G’Kar’s remarks from the end of Season 3:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly.

All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath . . . waiting.

All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quon wrote, There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities – it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.

No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

I’m not sure I could write it better, but I’ll have a go:

“It was the end of the Earth year 2016, and everywhere it seemed that pillars were falling. A new fascism rose in Europe and North America, and the extremes of religion and power still tore apart the Middle East.

Where we cannot stop the pillars falling, perhaps we must learn to hold up the roofs ourselves. Where darkness seeks to extinguish light, we can keep it in our hearts.

Because always when we see change, we can look beyond it and see hope

The other thought I had was that one particualr song that I know seemed especially appropriate for the end of 2016. In memory of the great musicians, actors and inspirational people who died this year (and of course, Lemmy who died a few days before 2016 officially started). But also in recognition of the need to carry in our hearts and our deeds what we want the future to be – the more so as we face an uphill battle against a new rightwing extremism or fascism creeping across Western politics.

The song is one that I know from Coope, Boyes & Simpson and as far as I know is a WW1 song (at least, some use it to commemorate WW1). With 2016 being also the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, it seems again appropriate.

The song is “Only Remembered”, and here is my rendition:

 

Finally, I said in my review of Rogue One that it was perhaps the perfect movie to end 2016 with, with the themes of bleakness and hope. So with that in mind I leave on this image:

_leia-hope

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[SPOILERS] Jyn, Bleakness & Hope – A Quick Take on Rogue One

SPOILER GAP…

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[preparing primary ignition sequence]

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[pushing the green buttons, then the red ones]

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So, today I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the cinema.

First impressions:

Beautifully designed, loved the nods to various details. Star Wars Episodes IV-VI always sided with people who would be classed as terrorists, and Rogue One if anything takes us deeper into sympathising with a terrorist/freedom-fighter position (I suppose we’re meant to think in terms of the Free Syrian Army rather than, say, FARC – but I do wonder how the Rebel Alliance financed their operations for the 15 years that are referenced in the movie!)

A few deeper thoughts:

This is a movie filled with pain. Only the Guardians seem to be at peace in their various ways, regretting little and living for the moment. Even they are outcasts as their temple has been plundered by the Empire. (Both of them were far and away my favourite characters and I suspect I will carry the mantra “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me” for a while when I come upon hard times – along with my prayers to God.)

Much was made of how the X-Wing Fighters attack on the Death Star in Episode IV resembled a certain type of WW2 movie about daring aerial battles, and drew on them for inspiration. In the same way, Rogue One reminded me of another staple of the WW2 movie genre. From the stories that were well-known and based on true events still in living memory when the films were made, such as “Heroes of Telemark” and “Dirty Dozen” (and with a definite nod towards the style of “Saving Private Ryan”, though not so much) – Rogue One referenced a few different subgenres around the theme of a team going on what could well prove to be a suicide mission.

And here’s the big spoiler: it turns out that the final mission, to retrieve the Death Star plans, ends up being exactly that. None of the central characters introduced during the storyline survive and there’s a tipping point where you realise that they know they won’t make it home again. In this sense, it is a true “tragedy” play.

The text and dialogue of Episode IV tells us that a lot of people died to bring the information back to the Rebellion, which set me up for the possibility that the heroes were not necessarily going to make it but I’m an optimist and just hoped that maybe there would be a chance to recover quietly afterwards. Not so! As with those war movies referenced, finishing the mission became the only victory and survival was out of their reach.

Even so, the scenes where the Rebel guards on the flagship are frantically trying to escape with the plans and have to pass them on rather than escape was the real heart-wrencher: the sinister figure of Darth Vader, lightsabre blazing and rendering him immune due to his Sith powers to their blaster fire – and then slashing through them… and again, these unknown characters, barely seen before they are cut down, dedicated and sacrificing themselves just as our heroes had, to get the all-important information to those who could use it to stand against the fascist Empire.

It seems, with such a painful ending, in which characters both main and extras meet with certain and inescapable death at the hands of the Evil Empire, that this would be a bleak story. Everyone we meet along the way has regrets, choices made that meant they had to lose things and people important to them. Everyone bears scars inflicted on them by the struggle against the overbearing tyranny.

Despite this, however, the actual theme of the story is hope. The repeated refrain is that rebellions are built on hope. Everyone who faces these bleak regrets and violent deaths, makes their decisions because of hope for the future, hope for their loved ones, hope for freedom. And the hope makes it worthwhile. As long as a chance remains that the technological monstrosity of mass destruction and the will to use it can be prevented, then the struggle to stop it is worthwhile.

* * *

I cried at the end. Partly, because the final message is delivered by Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher died a few days ago (followed by her mother). Partly because the tragic ends of the characters I’d grown to love during the movie set me up for it. But also because of the words spoken.

The guard hands Leia the plans that will reveal how to destroy the Death Star and asks, “What have they given us?” She answers with one word – the theme of the movie. “Hope.” And if there’s one thing Carrie Fisher can give us still, then that is it: hope.

This feels like the perfect movie to sum up where we are now at the end of 2016. Fascism in the form of May’s Tory Party (and UKIP, and the other even farther right parties), and Trump’s new Republican nightmare, seem to be winning. They have such evil and such power that if we don’t resist, then it will be forever (to echo the language in the movie). Things have rarely felt so bleak even in the Thatcher years (I’m too young to know anything about what it was truly like before then).

But through it all – there is still hope. We are one with the Force, and the Force is with us.

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‘Tis the season to be poorly (aka my body is weird) – CN for alcohol use & vomiting

These are just some late-night musings about some weird behaviour by my body – that forced me to get out of bed (which is why I’m bothering to write about it).

Namely, late last night and today I have noticed symptoms that I know from experience are usually the lead-up to a full-on cold (I hope to head it off, but who knows?)

I’m sure whisky (specifically in this case, Glenfiddich single malt) is not really efficacious in treating colds but the myth is fun. This evening, in a slightly excessive mood, I drank 3 (count ’em! Three!) small whiskies (like, 5-8mm in the bottom of the glass, at a rough estimate). This is still a lot of whisky compared to my usual intake in a single evening.

Fast forward to me trying to get some proper sleep (which is much more useful to help my body combat disease, I believe).

Suddenly, my stomach starts to churn. I rushed to the shower room and grabbed the nearest receptacle (a small washing bowl). My belly continues to gurgle and heave, my reflexes keeping it down but losing the war there.

HEAVE! A tiny dribble.

HEAVE! a small amount of liquid, and about a dozen grains of rice.

HEAVE!!! Another tiny dribble.

A few more experimental spasms, but after that my stomach calmed down again (enough that I can sit here without worrying I’ll puke on the keyboard).

I have no idea why my body wanted to get rid of the rice. I didn’t even have rice today (and can’t remember when I did). But the fluid I’m pretty sure might have been some of the whisky – boo!

So maybe I have found my limit for drinking alcohol at least in that form?

The other thing that puzzles me: almost invariably, a precursor to my needing to puke is that I experience incredibly vivid dreams that are entirely in text form. This goes back to childhood! (And therefore is not strongly correlated with alcohol.) This time, it was a combination of what I do at work on a computer, with a chatroom I had been in about half an hour before tucking in. Other times, it’s been combinations of magazine articles I read during the day, or letters I received.

I have no idea why this happens. But I find it really fascinating.

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Reluctantly Queered

I mentioned in my review of Queer: A Graphic History that I separated out the “review” from the “philosophy” in order to write about the book rather than the subject matter. Part of that was that I felt a need to discuss the ways in which Queer theory (or at least, the basics as described in that book) intersected with my own ideas and experience.

I chose the title: “Reluctantly Queered”, because I feel that my “natural” position is somewhat at odds with the theory as laid out, but at the same time my life and sense of self intersect with the ideas and some of them have value and use to me.

Before I address the ideas in the book directly, I will make two statements about where I am. The significance of these statements and how they challenge or are challenged by Queer Theory will become apparent quite quickly.

First: I am a Dominant, but I enjoy doing submission.

Second: I find a lot of value in an idea I developed after reading about the I Ching and Taoism in general, particularly the concept of yin and yang. I can’t claim that this is an accurate understanding of yin and yang, but it’s the version I developed for myself. This is that, although yin and yang represent binary contrasts: feminine/masculine, weak/strong, passive/active etc, they are like a language with two words and the use of a word to express one meaning does not imply all the other meanings. So in describing the world, yin and yang are always mixed and every thing or situation has elements of both, and (for example) “feminine” does not imply “weak”, any more than “set a puzzle” implies placing the puzzle into a group.

Those are two positions I brought with me to the book.

Their relevance can be seen if I say that the two recurrent themes in Queer: A Graphic History are as follows:

  • Queer is doing, not being – Queer theory rejects identity in favour of performance
  • Queer theory is about challenging binaries; binaries (inherently?) lead to hierarchies and should be broken down

My sense of Dominant as something I am, and that I relate to Dominance in a different way from how I relate to Submissive as something that I do, challenges the idea that all identity can be resolved into performance – and is challenged by an analysis that is based primarily on performativity.

My sense that binaries are plural, complex and not inherently hierarchical challenges and is challenged by a position that is primarily about breaking down binaries and that sees binaries as problematic in themselves, and as simplifying (oversimplifying) the world.

One might say that my inclination is towards ideas that are antagonistic to the central themes of Queer theory.

Thus, as the ideas were introduced I found myself interrogating them and forming objections. to be fair, the authors Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele (hereafter referred to by their initials so I don’t have to type them as often!), include later in the book a look at some of the common challenges that have been levelled against Queer theory and some of these reflected or touched upon my own challenges (although in general I felt they were not the same challenges, and the answers were not necessarily relevant to the points I was questioning).

I also found myself engaging with how the ideas were useful to me or reflected other concepts that were familiar from me from other disciplines, or from other areas of philosophy and political activism.

The book (by which I mean, unless otherwise indicated, “Queer: A Graphic History”) starts by discussing some language terms, including the various ways in which the term “queer” has been used, and then a brief history of “sexology” and how the study of sex in Western academia has produced certain assumptions about sexuality – fixed, binary, and “right/wrong”.

Then we are introduced to Queer theory’s tenets. M-JB offers the following bullet points:

  • Resisting the categorization of people
  • Challenging the idea of essential identities
  • Questioning binaries like gay/straight, male/female
  • Demonstrating how things are contextual, based on geography, history, culture, etc.
  • Examining the power relations underlying certain understandings, categories, identities, etc

After looking at the history of binary perceptions of sex and gender, the next step is to ook at the history of Queer theory, starting with the origins in mid-20thC existentialism and Kinsey’s research into sexual behaviour, tracing through Black feminism and intersectionality up to Post-Structuralists.

Oddly, in this journey it was the Black feminism that spoke best to me – perhaps this is because of the summaries chosen by M-JB and JS to illustrate their contributions. Perhaps also it is because these are ideas developed by people who have a direct vested interest in the ideas because of lived experience.

Certainly, my response to a lot of the text about post-structuralism was that it seemed terribly navel-gazing and verging on sophistry. I found myself yearning for something in the book that could link this to the concrete world and lives lived in it, rather than a bunch of academics pulling ideas out their arses! The most applicable ideas I found there were those that to me harked back to concepts that for me are familiar from the previous century.

For instance, the summary of Michel Foucault’s thought brought to mind Hegelian dialectic, and Marx’s analysis of class and labour relations – ironic since post-structuralists are, “critical of theories based on grand narratives that attempt to explain all of human experience in terms of one specific structure, like … Marx (the social structure of the class system)”

Even more ironic is that Marx in many ways made similar challenges – he and Engels analysed this in terms of “how things are contextual, based on geography, history, culture” and “examining the power relations underlying certain understandings, categories, identities, etc” – the strength of Marx is that he demonstrated how these arise out of the material and shared experiences of people in similar material relations to the world.

Marx was not in any way a forward thinker (Engels perhaps more so) when it comes to sexuality, gender or race but the tools of dialectical materialism seem relevant to the types of analysis framed in Queer theory, if applied in that direction. My feeling and frustration was that post-structuralism represented a retreat into an idealism (in the sense that that term was applied by Marx to describe Hegel).

As I said, the philosophers of existentialism and post-structuralism struck me as rather navel-gazing and building ideas not on the shared world but treating it as if what we say about it is what matters (thus allowing there to be “many truths”).

(Yes, I know that with quantum superposition, entanglement and other such effects, one might argue that physics also allows there to be many equally true stories about the world; but physics also requires that interactions between those stories cause them to coalesce into a single observation. I will leave it for the reader to investigate to see if that concept has relevance in the social world and Queer theory – I happen to think that it does!)

The post-structuralist section is also the part where my sense of identity challenges (and is challenged by) Queer theory.

The post-structuralist theory states that identity is not fixed, and “there’s no single truth about who we are. We can always tell multiple stories about ourselves, and none of them is the truth.” Instead, “We come to occupy these identities through our relations with the world in which we reside”

I spoke about being Dominant and doing Submission before. I also don’t really do any of those things when I am at work – I relate to work in a different way from how I relate to my family, and distinct from that again is how I relate to friends, and yet again how I relate to sexual partners, and so on.

Queer theory would have me believe that these are all distinct identities that I fluidly negotiate and move between, but to me they are different “doings” but not different “beings”. Because I am able to observe myself from within, I can trace how the same personality traits drive and motivate my actions, how the same collection of principles and memories and needs nevertheless produce various different ways of navigating a space depending on what sort of space it is.

I feel as though a post-structuralist would look at a tall ship in clear, fair sailing weather with all sails billowing, and think it has a different identity from the one showing only its lowest sails and ploughing through a storm. It is the same ship, but rigged and presenting differently because the needs of the circumstance are different.

For me, I have several online identities in which I allow different aspects of my personality to come to the fore. That ought to mean I would be directly in agreement with the ideas above, but I am also aware how all the different names also share all things in common so that they are at once different and the same.

Thus, identity can be both fixed, and yet also contextual.

The Submissive Valery is motivated by similar personality traits to the Dominant Valery, but Dominant is something I see myself as being, whereas Submission is something I see myself as doing. I think it would be a whole post of its own (and some deep self-analysis!) to dig out why, but I know that Dominance is something I revert to, whereas Submission is something I make an effort to inhabit – so that even in my online identities that I created for submissive purposes, I often find myself being cast by partners into switching and more often dominating them than vice versa.

Now, it might be questioned whether those personality traits are fixed or changing (I suspect that they do vary over a lifetime, but when I think about how I my younger self might view me, and vice versa, I think although we would each think the other a colossal twat, we would still share the same motivations and personality traits to a large extent – out mutual twat-judgement would be based more on differing understandings based on the experiences I’ve had since then and the conclusions I’ve come to. For instance, back then, I spouted a lot of Nice Guy crap! But equally, I am now more embracing of violence in a way that my younger self would reject.)

Another consequence of the Queer theory approach is that it seems to ask us to ignore distinctions and differences that have practical effects. There’s a page with three celebrities discussing gender and sexuality:

Ruby Rose “I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum”

Miley Cyrus “I don’t feel the need to label my gender or sexuality”

Kristen Stewart “I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re ‘gay’ or ‘straight’”

While this is a great place to aim for in some ways, I feel like being able to name your attractions and communicate them is useful.

I think also that a celebrity has a lot more scope to be “different” than I have experienced.

For me, despite my binary-challenging traits (see below), I have to negotiate that reality through the socially-male-coded body that I actually inhabit, and I have to negotiate the challenges of being one thing but for safety and convenience having to perform another – which is to say, I perform “straight man” while being and yearning to perform and represent, a bisexual genderfluid nonbinary.

Queer theory as a root of activism can move towards where that might be easier for me, but it can’t change the concrete material realities of my body that mitigate against my doing so. For that, I need (for instance) laser facial hair removal.

* * *

As noted above, binaries are seen as problematic, apparently in themselves.

Much of Queer theory as presented in the book, is about opening up the spaces between the binary options: genderfluid, genderqueer, trans, and so on as other spaces in gender, for example. There’s a page of celebrities quoting their statement of rejecting gender.

I ought to be on board with this: my identity inhabits some of those nonbinary positions directly; I am bisexual, and moreover I am not evenly bisexual. Moreover, my attractions challenge the conception of binary gender: there are specific sub-genders of women and men that I find much more attractive then others; and then there are the nonbinary genders I also find hot.

And I am myself rejecting of my assigned-at-birth gender role and identity: in the way described in the book, I find myself turning my back on the designation of “man” because I cannot inhabit all that that seems to carry with it. If I had at my command some of the concepts in Queer theory when I was 8 or 9 and choosing to defy gender norms of hair length, then perhaps I might have had a place to put myself that I could make sense of myself outside of the binary a lot sooner.

And my body, as documented on this blog, is a project in becoming closer to the nonbinary gender that I feel myself to be internally.

(And here, there is another challenge to and from Queer theory – while it is true that gendering my body is a matter of perception, the concrete reality of what my body is and isn’t is still something to be related to and something that I can change only by determined action, not by changing perceptions. Remember what I said about concrete, material, facts versus idealist/perceptualist navel-gazing? Or, as Marx put it, “the point, however, is to change the world”.)

However, I am going to say that not all binaries are bad. Some are very useful.

There is, regardless of the post-structuralist idea, a real and important binary between a fact and an opinion. This is valuable and useful!

There is also a very important binary between “yes” and “no”. Which is to say, between consent and nonconsent. Even when people play with such concepts as “consensual nonconsent”, that distinction remains and is important.

Now, there are lots of nonbinary expressions within each, and some ways of saying “yes” include the word “no”, and some ways of saying “no” nevertheless use the word “yes” (but if you actually care about consent, then you will notice when yes means no, or be aware of why yes does not mean yes). But the distinction is important and valuable and it is a binary, even if there are gradations and variations and caveats on either side of the divide.

Another way I look at this is through analysis within the kink communities I’ve participated in, and some of the work that’s been done academically. There, we talk about layers of consent, layers of meaning, and layers of power dynamic – on these levels the Sub has the power, and on these other levels the power is with the Dom, and on this other level it’s sort of shared… This harks back to my conception of binaries in terms of the multiplicity of yin and yang, rather than as simple “either/or”. In some of the later pages of their book, M-JB and JS introduce the possibility of softening Queer theory by introducing “and” to represent identities such as “genderfluid AND hairy-bodied” (I keep using this example from my own experience in this discussion!) rather than out-and-out destroying binaries or erasing boundaries that might be felt to be important.

Similarly, there is a binary between “attracted” and “not attracted”. And that can be contextual and fluid, but it is still there. For example, I have been listening through my iTunes collection of “Metal Hammer” cover CDs and reassessing the tracks and how much I like them. I found myself giving track after track the same rating, and wondering if there was a reason – perhaps I was just in the right mood for heavy metal, and perhaps last time I listened I had been treating it almost as a chore and not engaging with how much I liked the tracks, so I liked them more the second time around.

But at the same time, when it comes to sex, even if I find a person attractive one day and not the next when i see them in a different circumstance, then that state is binary.

Attraction may have gradations, but it still falls into a binary.

I recall learning about binary code in electronics. (I believe this was specifically with relation to the old analogue TV “teletext” system – I did a project on it at school and the BBC engineering department kindly sent me a whole load of technical information.) We’re taught to think of switches as being “on” or “off”, and by extension, current to be “on” or “off”. In actual fact, there is a threshold – current can be anywhere between 0 and 100% capacity, so in order to declare current “on” or “off” there has to be a threshold above which the current is “on”, and below which it counts as “off” even if there is some current flowing.

So again, it is possible to be both binary and nonbinary – the important thing is, is my “attraction-current” enough to count as “on” for the given situation and purpose? That’s a binary, and as I said, I think it’s important. But the attraction itself can be fluid and multi-variable.

* * *

All that said, I mentioned that there are some very useful tools and analyses to be found in this introduction to Queer theory, such that I haven’t rejected the idea of eroding or breaking binaries – rather, I have rejected breaking binaries as a goal in itself and the construction of binaries as “problematic” – before declaring it problematic, one must look at what it does. This is supposedly a tenet of Queer theory, but it feels like Queer would have it that we’re requiring a reason to not break it, whereas I would look for a reason to break it. Usually, the reasons to do so are easy – that’s how come Queer theory developed, and how come it is useful in a lot of cases.

Intersectionality is also an important part of Queer theory, and it came out of Black feminisms (remember what I said about finding their thought more useful?) – the idea that my kinks don’t stand separate from my genderfluidity, which doesn’t stand separate from my sexual attractions, which doesn’t stand separate from… and so on. And these don’t stand separate from the privileges that I enjoy as White, and as “socially-perceived-as-male” (I just noticed, that makes “SPAM” – oops!)

While I don’t necessarily agree with ditching identities, the analysis in terms of doing is also useful; and the analysis in post-structural terms of there being multiple narratives is also valuable, not least because it echoes an intuition I have about a lot of things, which is simply that different people arrive at similar behaviours by different routes – rather than there being a single aetiology of kink, for example, there are many different ways in which one can find oneself to share interests that fall under the kink/BDSM/fetish banner and the existence of one does not negate the reality of others. (The same goes for homosexual behaviour, for instance.)

In this sense, the most interesting part of Queer: A Graphic History is the section on where next for Queer theory. Turning its own analyses on itself, and in particular adding to that my own observations, it is possible to question whether Queer theory has become itself a “grand structure” of the type critiqued by its post-structuralist forebears and try breaking down the absolutes (such as the assumption that binaries are bad, or that identities have no place).

In the same ways as I have drawn ideas from many sources to build a worldview and philosophy of life, I find there to be useful and valuable insights in Queer theory that I can use to build a better and more nuanced picture of society and my own selfhood. But as with most philosophies, I don’t find myself able to accept all of it.

* * *

So, I cast myself as reluctantly queered – queer theory is not a realm I inhabit easily, but at the same time my reality and my experiences, my identities and roles, place me in a queered relation to normativities. Regardless of where I “would” be, I am queer, and Queer theory applies to me at least in part.

I am and I do. And in different ways, those are queer statements.

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BOOK REVIEW: Queer: A Graphic History

This is one of the more challenging reviews for me to write, because I want to engage with my reaction to the ideas presented as if they are being expounded and put forward for debate – but that is actually not the purpose the authors set out in their introduction. (So perhaps I shall discuss those points in another post.)

Queer: A Graphic History is not putting forwards an idea, but is an introduction to the field of Queer theory and the activism and academic disciplines and ideas that form, and form out of, Queer theory. As such it is more like a school textbook than a treatise or position, and therefore it is only fair to judge it first and foremost on how well it communicates its material rather than on my engagement with the positions of the material.

The school textbook analogy is apt in another way. The combination of author and artist produce on each page a paragraph or exposition with an illustrative drawing and sometimes one or two key positions of the academics quoted (sometimes they are activists, but the impression is mostly of academic-level thinking and writing). This resembled the style of many of the textbooks that I remember from when I was in secondary school, about 25 years ago now and is what made me think of the analogy in the first place.

There is another way in which I think of this as a school textbook, and that is simply that it would make a very good foundation for a syllabus at secondary level and Lord knows, if I’d had access to material like this at that age then I might have got to a better understanding of myself a lot sooner. Or maybe not, because maybe I was not ready to listen then. But I think particularly as we seem to be facing an essentialist backlash in culture at the moment, simply giving young teens tools like these to work with would benefit society immensely, whether they themselves identify in a queer way or not (since one of the themes is how queer theory looks at heterosexuality in the same ways as it does other identities and expressions).

So, I’m recommending the book for our schools, which must mean I liked it as a textbook introduction! So you know what my answer will be.

What I had been expecting was something like the rather fun and excellent “Cartoon History of Time” – an introduction to cosmology and quantum physics comparable to the Hawking book but funnier and more accessible! In that book, the concepts are introduced and expanded through a series of cartoon vignettes featuring a cat and a chicken who are best friends (it also references Dark Star and therefore earns super awesome ratings from Yours Truly).

I was hoping that a similar cartoon comicbook style romp through the world of Queer Theory would be my introduction, but I cannot really blame the authors for that – I am the only one responsible for my wishes and expectations in this matter, after all. (Although now the idea is out there, if someone wants to run with it – the style of Existential Comics could help…)

I feel like the book covered the subjects I had hoped, for the most part. I would have liked more discussion of kink theory, and I would have liked the focus taken away from “researchers” and put onto the forms that kink communities generate for themselves. But then, kink is kind of my community and perhaps people in other groups that got a similarly brief mention might feel the same. I felt that the ways in which the BDSM communities I’ve engaged with have examined (or not examined) aspects of kink would have made a good practical study of how the ideas in the book worked. Again, maybe other groups would feel the same.

That is a criticism in general: there was very little about how queer theory relates with lived experience. Indeed, in the section on criticisms of Queer Theory, this was a point raised – that many people feel that it doesn’t engage very well with practical concerns or doesn’t demonstrate its relevance very well.

The structure was very academic, and again, set out like a school textbook: “history , development, exposition, further points/challenges.” For me, this sometimes felt like I was leaping ahead with my responses to the text and anticipating later passages. That’s because one of my big reasons for buying the book was that I had already encountered a lot of references to the ideas and I wanted to fill in some of the blanks and have a better foundation to engage with them. I certainly feel like I have that, but need to go to the next level (and some of the further texts suggested in the back may be on my amazon wishlist before long).

As an introduction for someone new to feminist and queer thought, I am not sure how well I can gauge the effectiveness. As mentioned, I think as a text for a school syllabus, with a teacher to help explain points or expand on the material I am sure it would be excellent. For someone seeking to learn on their own or figure out “is this for me”, in the way depicted in the introduction, I am left wondering how steep the learning curve is, and whether or not it could be shallower without losing important elements of the ideas. On the other hand, maybe the fact that I found it easy to work out which bits were familiar and how they fit into the picture, means that it would be easier than I imagine.

Some of the points also felt as if they were skimmed over – for instance, the presentation of “sex-positive” as a problematic binary and a “celebratory” stance bothered me, but I do recognise that the way people use that term has drifted from the original principle it represented so perhaps it is fair. On the other hand, some recognition by the authors of that drift would have been good to see.

In conclusion:

I think the best uses for this book are the aforementioned “school textbook”, and for someone who like me may have encountered some of the concepts “in the wild” and wants to find out what it’s all about. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a cold starter. As always, in order to keep it short and comprehensible, some details have been left out and it is less than comprehensive.

But as a starting point for study, it offers a lot and is definitely worth seeking out.

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The General’s Aide (A Sexual Fantasy)

CONTENT NOTE: This fantasy involves “dubcon”, i.e. situations in which the consent of the imaginary partner(s) is not clear (perhaps through expressed reluctance being overridden, or the bottom not being prepared). It also involves military power structures and abuse of authority in that context.

* * *

This is a sexual/masturbation fantasy I have been playing with recently, with minor variations (which are described in the text). It developed about a week or so ago and I’ve returned to it quite frequently since. I hope it inspires similarly erotic feelings in you, dear reader:

* * *

A young and attractive army officer or NCO arrives with a message for the general, who’s set up base in a chateau or palace of some kind (the look/feel is sort of WW1 but I don’t feel like it’s set in a time of conflict as such). The NCO is sometimes female, and sometimes feminine male – if female, it’s set in a time when women weren’t supposed to serve but (in the fantasy) a blind eye is turned to women who dress masculine to join up. So the NCO is effectively nonbinary, and the fantasy varies which genitals they have. They always use binary pronouns though (usually using “he” because of the custom of only men serving).

Another point of variation is whether I’m the general or the NCO. So bear that in mind in the following!

The general finds the NCO attractive, but also admires his smartness, dedication and also recognises the admiration and awe with which the NCO views him. The NCO is impressed by the power and confidence and fairness of the older, and higher ranked, man.

So the general decides to invite the NCO to be his new “batman” or personal assistant, with quarters in the chateau.

On his first day, at the end of the morning session in the general’s sumptuous office, the general makes the NCO stand facing the wood-panelled walls and place his hands on the wall. The NCO’s reluctance varies, but he is always innocent and shy about what is about to happen. Of course, the general pulls the NCO’s trousers and underwear down around his ankles. The general’s baton maybe traces up the NCO’s inner thigh and across his genitals (be they cock and balls, or cunt). NCO always shivers at this point.

General unzips his flies and nudges his cock against the NCO’s arsehole. NCO always protests, but as I said, the level of reluctance varies. “All your predecessors liked it,” the general claims, as if such relations between the commanding officer and his batman are completely normal. If the NCO is female, he asks the general to use his cunt instead, and the general explains that the risk of pregnancy is too high: “And I don’t want to lose you. You’d be given a dishonourable discharge, at best…” knowing that the NCO is a devoted soldier and would hate to have his dream dashed that way.

Often, the NCO is excited at the prospect of being buggered by the general, and the admiration and awe was always tinged with a sexual element. Sometimes it’s a bit darker, but this fantasy plays for me as being consensual/reluctant. The NCO at least feels flattered to be wanted in this way (although apprehensive and reluctant about the actual act).

The general lubricates the NCO’s hole with butter (I know it’s not a great choice in r/l but I don’t really know what alternatives there were in the sort of historical setting I have in mind, and anyway, it’s just fantasy!) and slowly forces his cock up inside the younger soldier’s arse. The NCO always whimpers as this happens and it hurts him a bit (because I’m a sadist and masochist). The general’s hands stroke down the uniform jacket along the NCO’s arms to link fingers and grip the NCO’s hands, leaning into the fuck as he starts to bugger him more forcefully.

At this point, when wanking, I tend to start skipping forwards and backwards along the fantasy timeline to whatever feels hottest in each moment, but the storyline develops that afterwards, the general is very appreciative: the NCO is the best fuck he’s had in a while and will certainly have this added to his regular duties. He explains that the NCO is to have regular enemas to keep his back door clean and ready for use by the general. Fellatio is also a common, regular duty. From time to time, the general also invites the NCO to share his bed, with romantic cuddling/spooning going on. These elements are introduced in roughly that order in the timeline (though as I say, when I fantasise and masturbate, I skip between the various scenes).

There isn’t really an endpoint. The relationship trends more romantic (although still plenty of filthy fucking) as the general and NCO spend more time together (and more time fucking each other) but really there’s no conclusion. The relationship itself is the fulfilment emotionally for the NCO’s original needs to serve in the army, and to be close to the general. The general has his needs met with a capable young NCO/officer, and also a wonderful, sexual, partner.

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Song Parody: “I Fucked Your Beau (and he liked it)”

A lyric that scans to, and could be performed to the tune of, “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry.

Credit goes to Jemima of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar who moreorless dared me to write this after I commented that her “I fucked your husband and he liked it” wouldn’t scan, but this title would.

As a result, the lyrics owe more than a little to various comments she’s made about sex work, helping men live out their fantasies and fetishes, and certain people’s attitudes and remarks about both men and sexworkers.

I Fucked Your Beau And He Liked It (Lyrics: Valery North)

This was not the way you planned
Such feminism
You had your tame / Man in hand
Progressive living.

It’s not what
You’re thinking
Just wants to have some fun
Forbidden and kinky
That’s what makes him cum:

I fucked your beau and he liked it
My strap-on and schoolgirl outfit
He hired me just to try it
He knows you wouldn’t allow it

It isn’t wrong, it’s what it’s for
Don’t mean he’s a predator
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

No I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
I’m his experimental game
Just human nature

It’s not what
Good girls do
Not how they should behave
Your head gets
So confused
(I) Broke your theory!

I fucked your beau and he liked it
His hard-on, my tongue and lipstick
He hired me just to try it
You think it’s gross to suck on his dick

It isn’t wrong, it makes him come
Don’t mean he’ll give you the thumb
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so fuckable
You want women untouchable
You try to deny it
You’re no big deal, so full of shit!

I fucked your beau and he liked it
My strap-on and schoolgirl outfit
He hired me just to try it
He knows you wouldn’t allow it

It isn’t wrong, it makes him come
Don’t mean he’ll give you the thumb
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

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Compassion, obesity, the NHS and “bad choices”

It transpires that in Vale of York, access to some NHS treatments may be restricted on the basis of BMI – people deemed “obese” (a BMI of over 30) will find themselves no longer covered by the universality of the NHS. Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar writes eloquently and passionately on the topic, and her critique is probably the best I’ve read.

All the same, I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own about this, because it affects me directly. My BMI is in the region of 40. I am, for want of a better term, a tubby B-word.

One common objection to the BMI calculation, and its association with “bad life choices” and “ill health” is that BMI is a poor indicator: many very fit and healthy athletes in various sports (American football, weightlifting, etc) easily score well over 30. For myself, I am not so bad on fitness, although I judge myself harshly on some scores.

But that’s basically only to excuse those who are actually fit. It’s the wrong argument – like advocating gay rights for those whose homosexuality is the right sort, or legalising (as opposed to decriminalising) sex work, on the basis of “escorts are okay, whores are not” or whatever. It’s still about making judgements about people that should not be the basis of whether you treat them as humans.

I’m not bad on fitness. But I am also not “healthy”. Most notably, and clearly, linked with my obesity is my gout. This is currently treated preventatively on the NHS by a regular prescription. I used to have prescription painkillers to handle the disease. All of this was on the NHS, and because I was unemployed for much of that time, I got the prescriptions for free (I have to pay now, since I have a proper job again).

I suffer from depression.

(Interestingly, depression has been linked in recent research with inflammation and trials of anti-inflammatory drugs seem to show that they can be used to treat depression. Gout, or “metabolic arthritis”, is a form of inflammation and I have certainly suffered less from depression since my gout has been controlled properly.)

I suffer from depression, and have done for a long time. One of my ways of coping was to eat. On a deep, primal level, somewhere in the lizard-brain, there must be some kind of evolutionary logic that if I have a full belly, I am doing well, I am in less peril. Eating made me feel better, and eating high-calorie stuff made me feel best of all.

There has also been a lot of financial insecurity in my life (remember, being unemployed, and before that, I was struggling to make ends meet on a student loan). There was a subtle imperative to eat while I could, because I never knew for sure if I’d be able to afford food later. Free food was an opportunity to stock up while I could. That obviously keys into that evolutionary lizard-brain imperative.

This added up to a significant eating disorder of comfort-eating that required a lot of mental toughness to break even enough to get to where I am today. Between ages 18 and 28, I increased in weight by about 50% (yes, that’s not a typo – I added half as much again to my body weight) and really only stopped gaining weight a few years after that. The key events were defeating my most serious bout of depression (aged 28) and then having to go on gout medication.

In that time, I only rarely had any kind of financial security. My obesity can be linked quite closely with the worry, stress, and depression associated with trying to survive on the pittance that Tony Blair’s, Gordon Brown’s, and David Cameron’s governments begrudged me as an unemployed person.

But it’s also linked to bad choices. Yes, it is. You see, when I was diagnosed with gout, I was told that certain foods and drinks are high-risk, and that I should probably reduce my intake. I don’t drink alcohol, or rather, only rarely. I was okay there. But red meat and caffeine… I drink cola like an addict (probably, I am addicted *shrug*) and I like my beef burgers and pork and so on. And because I am weak, although I have managed to reduce my intake, I do not have the willpower or inclination to use it, that I would need to cut them out completely. And to be fair, they are pleasurable and the gain is not certain to follow.

* * *

There’s a really big problem when you start to decide who is deserving and who should not be helped, based on the idea that they have “brought it on themselves”.

The problem is simply that we all make bad choices. No one lives a perfect life, no one manages to follow perfectly all the rules that the latest research says we should in order to stay perfectly safe, perfectly healthy, perfectly “good” and “deserving”.

Do I think it’s fair that a lifelong 40-a-day smoker should take up so much public money for treating the diseases their smoking has caused? Not really. But then, I know that someone else can (and it seems, has) say the same about me and my cola, and my enjoyment of “bad” foods. Do I think it’s fair that people should risk their lives to save people who went fell walking in shorts and t-shirts and got themselves into trouble? Probably not, but at the same time, there but for the grace of God go I. And, no matter how careful you are, there’s always something more you might have done to prevent this or that disaster befalling you. If you’d cut services to obese people, then perhaps we should also say that the police need not attend if it turns out you “accidentally” left a window open or your door unlocked when your car was stolen or your house burgled? Perhaps you’ll agree that that time you pulled out without looking both ways, if another car had hit yours, then you should not have received any medical care for the injuries you might have suffered?

Emergency services, the Welfare State, health care provision, and so on: these things cannot be based on “deserving”. Because no one is “deserving”. No one lives a perfect life.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re probably a Christian. It’s the same basic principle as the concept of Grace, that none of us are deserving of God’s forgiveness and no one is untainted by sin. But regardless of that, God extends the possibility of forgiveness. As long as there is the will to do better, then forgiveness is offered and we can be restored, whether or not we deserve it. However badly we don’t deserve it.

You don’t need to be a believer or a Christian to understand the point, though. You just need to see other people as people: flawed and doing the best they can, just the same as you are. You just need to feel that another’s suffering, regardless of the cause, regardless of their own complicity in it, is something to be alleviated, to help them out.

When your friend starts dating someone you know is bad news, who’ll use them and hurt them, you might try to talk them out of it but in the end, you know they’ll make that bad choice anyway. Do you then refuse to help when your friend is dumped, hurting, maybe the arsehole they dated ripped them off, maybe kicked them out of a shared home? After all, you warned them this would happen! They brought this on themselves by not listening to you, didn’t they?

You know – instinctively, I hope – that the right thing to do is to help in any way you can, however much your friend was complicit in creating their own current misery. To make sure that, despite their bad choices, whatever they may have been, their suffering and misfortune do not destroy them or lay them low.

The NHS, the Welfare State, the emergency services, and so on, all work the same way. If you would not wish they come to the help of everyone, just try for a moment to imagine that they wouldn’t come for you when you are in need. Because, believe me, whoever you are there’s bound to be some reason why people might feel it’s “unfair” if they do.

– – –

Edit to add: see also Stavvers: Blocking fat people and smokers from accessing healthcare hits our most scapegoated punchbags

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