The outtakes where characters reveal themselves

I feel like I haven’t written much about my writing recently.

Right now, I am working on scraping together the details for my next story, which is a sci-fi detective adventure. That means it’s going to involve a lot more world-building than the story I just finished and is waiting for feedback and my own critical read-through.

It also means building my characters. I’ve mentioned how I used the Kiersey Temperament Sorter personality test to create a rough description of my characters for the first novel. By going through the test and answering the questions based on what I needed my characters to do, or feel, or respond to certain situations that were going to arise, I could build a picture of who they were that would keep them consistent (and believably inconsistent) as I went through.

I adapted this advice from an article on The Erotica Readers & Writers Association website, where an author suggested using horoscope personality descriptions to create the differentiation. I don’t know enough about astrology to be able to use that method (and it’s very hard to work backwards from a personality to a star sign, rather than the other way) so I looked for something I found more accessible, and settled on the Kiersey-Bates book.

And there, I thought, I had my way of working. This was “the approach” that works for me, and I could rely on it in future. I could streamline somewhat my process for future projects. “Here’s my character. Here’s their KTS questionnaire and result. Here’s the description I’m referring back to when I need to.” I even set up a spreadsheet as a template on OpenOffice, to make figuring it out easier (just “save as..>” with the character’s name!).

However, that hasn’t worked out quite right for me this time. Although the nuances are different, two of my lead characters are going to be similar four-letter character types, and it felt awkward thinking through how I’d distinguish them easily. (In the novel undergoing feedback, there are two similar personality types but sufficiently different in motivations and other things as to make them easily individualised.)

Because it’s a world-building exercise as well – in that, the setting is a fairly recently settled world, and that the social norms there are part of what I’m building as a “what would they need/want/hope for?” exercise – there’s a lot of backstory to the setting and the roles people have in the society. There’s politics, intrigue, unrest and all those fun things to try to convey. One of the lead characters is the mayor, or president, of the settlement, the other is a social sciences researcher who gets pressed in as the closest thing to a detective they have. And these two came out as rather similar.

It occurred to me that Mr President would have run for election at some point. He’s basically taken over from the original leader of the colony, the whole, “big boots to fill”, and, “new challenges” as the colony grows and its status changes, and so on. SO I could attack the problem of getting into his mind by thinking about why he wanted to be president (which is relevant to the storyline) and how he appealed to the voters. Another significant event was going to be these two lead characters’ first meeting when the researcher arrives on the world to study their society. How did they develop friendship and how did they interact then?

I started by writing the murder scene. I knew I didn’t want to include it in the story (so the murderer is a mystery to the reader, I hope, until the big reveal) but having that bit of backstory/hidden action written out felt helpful. And that trend seems to be developing into the main way I’m doing the research/world-building for this. Rather than write out descriptions, and filling in the President’s personality type, I’m writing interviews and scenes with him, whole passages that are explicitly not a part of the story at all, but pure backstory.

So, I’m going to write that scene where these two meet for the first time. I’m going to write casual, non-plot-based scenes where the victim met the various suspects (and probably the ones that are relevant to the plot, too!) I’m going to write the significant social/family events from the point of view of one or more of the characters. Things that happened that give my characters a chance to speak in their own voices but don’t have any part in the main story. (It makes me imagine them as DVD outtakes to put at the end, possibly! Or maybe to use as teasers for the book.)

In a way, that was how I approached the first draft of my feedback-stage novel: I let the three main characters write it almost as diary entries, taking it in turns to describe how they saw the events. It works better as a third-person partial viewpoint but it let the characters shape themselves for me.

So, maybe my method hasn’t changed all that much from story to story after all.

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What does “hard-working” mean anyway?

We heard a lot about “hard-working families” during the general election campaign, and again now that two of the main parties (although how “main” the Liberal Democrats can be said to be now is open to debate) are involved in leadership election campaigns.

A few points have prompted me to marshall the thoughts I’ve been contemplating about this into some sort of order, so before I make the points I want to, here’s the things that crossed my radar:

Carter @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar:

…because of how we once lived, the ambition of the labour movement for years was to allow families to be less hardworking.Labor used to promise to increase leisure time and to provide opportunities for families to be less hard working, and more playful, more healthy…

Talking about pre-WW2 Britain, as Carter does in his post, reminds me that the big union campaign back then was “Not an hour on the day, not a penny off the pay”.

George Monbiot in The Guardian, in a piece titled Skivers and Strivers, This 200-year-old Myth Won’t Die:

England’s old poor law, introduced in 1597 and 1601, had its own cruelties, some of which were extreme. But as the US academics Fred Block and Margaret Somers explain in their fascinating book The Power of Market Fundamentalism, those who implemented it seemed to recognise that occasional unemployment was an intrinsic feature of working life.

Far from undermining employment, poor relief sustained rural workers during the winter months, ensuring that they remained available for hire when they were needed by farms in the spring and summer. By contrast to the loss of agricultural productivity that Malthus predicted and the commission reported, between 1790 and 1834 wheat production more than doubled.

The media’s campaign of vilification associates social security with disgrace, and proposes even more humiliation, exhortation, intrusion, bullying and sanctions.

This gets closer to my point, but the closest (albeit still tangential) is Oliver Burkeman’s piece (also in the Guardian) from a few weeks ago ago about “fudgelling” and Erin Reid’s research:

“Fudgelling”, I learned the other day, is an 18th-century word meaning “pretending to work when you’re not really working”, which goes to show it’s an age-old phenomenon.

People who made formal arrangements to reduce their workloads – more often women – got penalised for not pulling their weight. Yet the fake workaholics, predominantly men, were seen as no less devoted to their jobs than the real ones, and were rewarded accordingly.

What we’re dealing with here is “signalling” – in this case, how we communicate the message that work’s getting done, which doesn’t always mean work’s really getting done. At firms such as the one Reid studied, the gap between the two can spell disaster, as time and energy are poured into keeping up appearances.

What I want to note here is that the trend for the past twenty years or so has been, with out-of-work benefits, to place a greater and greater emphasis on the signalling aspect of looking for work. That is to say, demanding ever greater efforts to prove, or demonstrate, or make it look like, you’re looking for work. The “humiliation, exhortation, intrusion, bullying and sanctions” Monbiot references are all about this. And, as Burkeman comments, this takes time and energy away from finding work and focusses it on looking like you’re looking for work.

~ * ~

The real questions about the “hard-working families” rhetoric I wanted to ask, are: “How do we measure ‘hard working’?” and “Why do they choose that language?”

In Carter’s piece, and the point I noted, there are two ready ideas of how that might be measured: one is “hours worked”, and the Labour movement certainly from the 19th Century onwards, used to be about reducing hours worked so that people were fitter and healthier overall; the other is “gross pay” (that is, pay before taxes).

Hard-working could therefore mean, “earning lots of money”, or it could mean, “working long hours”.

Another measure could be, “Expending lots of energy” – someone who is neither well-paid nor working long hours might still be considered “hard-working” if that person is recognised as having done a lot in the time they worked, such that one might expect them to feel “exhausted” or “tired” (whatever meanings we wish to ascribe to those in a non-labour-intensive economy).

Of course, Burkeman’s piece (and the research he cites in it) highlights that a lot of this is about appearances: we decide someone is “hard-working” based on what they signal, rather than what they do. A classic example would be the assumption that teachers have a lot of time off, because school holidays are long, and school hours are short. What we don’t see are the hours spent each night marking papers, preparing lesson plans, and so on – and preparing a course for the next school year is, I am sure, not a short project over the summer either.

So, when politicians say they want to help hard-working families, do they mean those who earn a lot, those who work longer hours, or those who expend a lot of effort while at work? Or do they mean those whose work is of the “right” kind, that looks like “working hard”? I suspect they don’t really know. If you asked them how to tell whether a family is “hard-working” or not, I suspect they would say, “I know one when I see one” (which of course, ultimately boils down to “the right kind of working”).

~ * ~

The real reason they use the phrase, I suspect, is not to do with what they mean by it or how one could distinguish between “hard-working” and not.

The real reason is precisely because it’s hard to pin down whether someone is or isn’t, and at the same time, very few people think of themselves as being “undeserving” of a livelihood. The language is twofold: first, they want everyone (or the vast majority) to think, “They mean me!” and second, they wish to create the impression that other people are less deserving: the “skivers vs strivers” dichotomy.

I forget the name of the fallacy that goes, “They do it because they are bad people; I do it because of circumstances”. The way we ascribe motives to other people are generally based on morality judgements, whereas when we do the same things ourselves we tend to explain it by reference to needs and pressures.

Thus, that other person who’s claiming benefits is a scrounger, whereas I am temporarily out of work, or underpaid, or under-rewarded. “They are lazy, I am unlucky.” And so on.

And that’s the whole point of the rhetoric: to capitalise on that kind of fallacy and, as Monbiot describes in his piece, construct a fictitious image of the benefits claimant as morally suspect by virtue of not being in work.

The same people currently voting for the Tories would, no doubt, expect to be saved by the Welfare State should they fall on hard times, whether by injury, illness or redundancy. Only then would they realise that perhaps laziness is not the factor here. (And also, realise how much work goes into signalling, rather than finding work.) Would they then see themselves as scroungers or skivers?

So each person has their own definition of “hard-working”, that they use to justify themselves as being “deserving”. But when it comes to a tax and benefits system, you need some kind of objective measure to say what you are going to do to help, and who qualifies for that help. Suddenly, not everyone will be included.

Some are already excluded by the talk, of course. The people who are the clear targets (unemployed, or unacceptable forms of labour such as sex workers) are painted as the skivers, regardless of the effort that we put in to finding work, or doing the work of which they disapprove.

I have been out of work more than I’ve been in it, since I left university. To me this is a great frustration and if it is due to a personal failing, it is due to my naivety about how the job market worked, back when I was fresh out of university, and long gaps on a CV turn out to be damaging to one’s prospects of ending one of those gaps, creating a vicious cycle. I want to work. In some ways, I would be happier of society collapsed, because then there would be no question of languishing on the dole: everyone would need to contribute and it’s just “here’s a job, get on with it”. I did a summer job on a farm once, I’m sure I could be productive in the aftermath of the apocalypse.

My point being, I want to work. I want to do something useful, and to pay my way. But because I am currently not given paid work by employers, I am supposedly a “skiver” despite all the things I do to try to be useful in the meantime.

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A 0.25 megaperson event! (photos!)

So yesterday I went on a Big Expedition (any trip that involves going to, or through, London is in my mind a Big Journey) to join the anti-austerity protest marching from the Bank of England to Parliament Square. Here are some quick thoughts, and some pictures!

As expected, the SWP seemed to think it was all down to them (they seemed to have stationed people at the exits from Bank tube station to hand out their placards). They were the first people I saw – and then this:

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics (18 and over)

Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics (18 and over)

There were a few of them around and it seems they were somewhat unaware (or just failed to consider/care) there would be young children in attendance. Later, I heard one person with a megaphone encouraging foul-mouthed chants (this was round about Trafalgar Square, I think).

I quickly found the best-dressed team in the march. They were, if I recall correctly, from a London acting troupe (no wonder they looked so good):

Not bad placards, either

Not bad placards, either

The most impressive float/inflatable was this one (with the token little finger-of-colour):

Odd-looking teachers. Just saying.

Odd-looking teachers. Just saying.

If I’d known it was “assemble at midday for a much later start time” I would have stayed in bed a bit longer, but it did give me time to find all the gender/sexuality activists. I ended up tagging along more or less with the Lesbians And Gays Support The Strikers banner on account of being bi, and thinking I fit in there better than anywhere else I’d found.

Other placards had scary stats on

Other placards had scary stats on

Says it all.

Says it all.

For a while on the march they chanted “They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back” and I joined in, remarking to the banner carrier, “Takes me back to 1997, my first student protest!”, she said, “Oh, you’re an old hat at this, then!” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I also liked the banner

I also liked the banner

My favourite scene of the whole thing was this (in the feminism/LGBTQI section of the forming up):

Honestly? A bit jealous.

Honestly? A bit jealous.

The builders seemed amused!

I've no idea what they're building

I’ve no idea what they’re building

And then the helicopters arrived. I spotted at least two different ones. I only realised this was a BBC chopper when I was able to upload the picture on my desktop.

iPlayer in the sky?

iPlayer in the sky?

Wasn’t sure about this one that turned up later (and is clearly a different make of chopper):

Aye-aye in the sky?

Aye-aye in the sky?

One thing struck me, which shouldn’t have been a surprise but highlights for me one of the awkward truths about dreams of a leftwing revolution: lefties tend to be actually quite bad at self-organising an efficient system. It was just as hard, maybe even harder, to find smooth routes through the crowd while we were waiting for the march to begin.

Eventually, we got under way and things more or less sorted themselves out:

"Are we nearly there yet?"

“Are we nearly there yet?”

Some people set up along the route. Among them were anarchists:

Rowdy lot!

Rowdy lot!

A few people with the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes/”Anonymous” mask were about, and some of them had the “skull face” face hankies as well. Is it wrong I still view these types pretty much as self-indulgent show-offs? Anyway!

My favourite roadside crew were some Welsh suffragettes with their costumes and banner:

Not sure the one on the left is strictly accurate to the time period...

Not sure the one on the left is strictly accurate to the time period…

(They were with a London and a Sheffield choir)

In front of one of the statues along Whitehall there were some women giving out free hugs so I got (and gave) a nice warm hug (once the camera was out of the way). No photos for that one but it was a highlight so I’ll mention it here.

Eventually, we arrived in Parliament Square and loads of people gathered to hear some speakers.

"2:36pm" is not a slogan.

See how many different slogans you can spot.

I eventually found a patch of wall to perch on way off to the back and one side, so I could rest my weary feet. I could not, however, hear the speakers. (Early on this is because the rather good three-piece band doing rock classics like Wild Thing and Should I Stay Or Should I Go? was still going – their drummer was on a trolly with the speakers for the bass and guitar. They shut up when the main speakers started though!)

I left early, at around 15:30 to find my way to (a) the tube station and (b) the loo. As I was leaving I got to hear some of the speakers more clearly and to be honest it didn’t sound like I’d missed much: a lot of rabble-rousing “We’re going to show them!” stuff but not much in the way of insightful or reinforcing, just, “Hurray, we’re demonstrating!” Maybe it got better later but I was tired and needed to pee.

Some people seemed to treat it more like a party than a protest. That’s fine, up to a point, but I think “protest” should still be the leading element, though partying is a good thing to bring along. I worry that there is not perhaps the depth of engagement that will carry people through the next five years. It didn’t feel as involved in the issues as other protests I’ve been on. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy-duddy:

“Kids today! They don’t know how to protest properly, they don’t know they’re born! In my day, you had to march to t’top o’t’ hill and down again before they’d even give yer a badge. And don’t talk to be about shoes, neither!”

Anyway, it was as stressful as I find any large group of people – and as lonely. But felt worthwhile after all that. Official figures were stated as 250 kilopeople (I love some SI prefixes – maybe could say 0.25 megapersons? Saying 250,000 people is boring).

(FYI, I managed to hold it in until my train had left King’s Cross and I used the on-board lavatory to relieve myself.)

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Get yourself Elust-icated!

The Shingle Beach
Photo courtesy of The Shingle Beach

Welcome to Elust #71

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 #72? Start with the rules, come back July 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

 

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

Backyard Glory
Bra Wars
Versions of Ourselves

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Disabled characters: who do I write them for?
How Can You Think About Sex Right Now?

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

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

Three

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!

 

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

How We Started Swinging: Part 2
Notes to my younger self
I am what I am
O-O-O-OMG
Sometimes Submission Requires Standing Up
Tribe
I know how to fix a texting mistake.
Change Is A Four Letter Word
Zero to Sex Pot in 150 minutes
condoms

Erotic Non-Fiction

23 Minutes Of Play
Services Rendered
Depravity’s Communication
Sinful Sunday: The Reveal

Erotic Fiction

No Panties
A Woman’s Experience of Lust
Wicked Wednesday: Three
An Uncommon Case
Misused Petals
(portrait of) desire
Her Turn
A Day At The Beach

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

Am I Jaded?
Fury Road’s Furiosa and femdom
Sub power, Domly Vulnerability
In Person I Found You Very Innocent…..
Still A Cherry Tree

Poetry

Catching Up: A Happy Horny Haiku
What You See

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Hey, Feminism? Your ugly is showing.
The Bigger Picture
Naive College Virgin Reads Penthouse Letters
Squirting is Not a Science
Missing “Story of O” scene discovered!

 

 

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How good does smiling feel?

There is a piece of self-help advice that is supposedly based on Science, about how to “beat the blues” and feel happier. The advice is to put a pen or pencil between your teeth. The theory goes, that this pulls your mouth in the same ways as smiling does and because we associate smiling with happiness, the act of thus “smiling” triggers happiness associations in the brain, and we feel happier as a result.

I don’t know how that works for others. Maybe it does. But for me, it doesn’t.

A friend on twitter today said they had forgotten how good it feels to smile, and it’s true: smiling does feel good when there’s a reason to smile, and when I feel happy. And I started to reply based on that, but then thought of all the times that smiling doesn’t feel good.

Depression for me is an ever-present thing, though at times my mental health is better and it recedes into the background, and at times it is upfront and on the attack. When I am in the throes of a depression episode, smiling can feel physically painful and unpleasant. It becomes more of a grimace. Either that, or a spontaneous smile is more likely to be “wry” or “resigned” (even when the cause is soemthing that should be “happy”).

Smiling is also a form of self-defence: it’s a mask that I feel compelled to put on because other people expect it. I smile for them, to keep their concern at bay (because the concern often feels threatening or overbearing) or to make them do what I need. As soon as it is safe, I sink back into my solemn face (which, let’s face it, is my natural “bitchy resting face” that I have even when not depressed) and encourage people to leave me alone.

When I smile “on purpose”, it is a strain and feels physically and emotionally awkward. When I’m depressed, it is not just awkward, but also physically painful.

The people who spread tips like the one I opened this piece with, are ignorant of the diversity of human experience, and in particular, of the real differences between the brains of “healthy” people versus those who suffer from mental health issues. Even if I believed in the action-association-emotion link, for me the forced smile of a pen in my mouth would not link to feeling happy: it links to feeling pressured, awkward and strained. (Not to mention, holding a pen in my mouth feels ridiculous and silly anyway, which for a socially awkward and neurotic type like me is not a good thing!)

But when I have a reason to smile – oh, how wonderful! Sometimes, I smile so broadly it’s painful anyway, but in those smiles, oh, Lord, it’s worth it! Because it reminds me that I had forgotten how good it feels to smile.

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Your Flirty Joke Is My Reality

I forget whom I saw write about how some of the ways that nonBDSM people are free to talk about sexuality while hinting at kink, or at least “vanilla with sprinkles”, but it was probably Clarisse Thorn (though it may have been Pandora Blake). Whoever it was, she was talking about political or business or platonic circumstances.

I have made no secret of my investigations of the more “ethical” versions of pick-up artistry (those that seem genuinely to care about such things even if, in my opinion, they are not always on the right page) in trying to figure out how to improve my capabilities when it comes to relating to other humans in a romantic/sexual relationship kind of way. And I’m running across a similar thing of “ways that ‘nillas can talk kinky but BDSMers can’t”, when advisers like Daygame, or Hayley Quinn, talk about how to create sexual tension on a date.

Joking Asides

Both of them suggest using hints about being naughty or needing punishment: the one I remember from the Daygame site is using the line, “You clearly weren’t spanked enough when you were young!” (which, needless to say, is a very risky thing to say if you don’t know their history).

In Hayley Quinn’s product “Best She Ever Had”, which is about sexual technique, she talks about “verbal sex”, meaning how you imply sexuality to get a (presumed female) partner in the mood. She suggests saying things like “Good girl”, “You’re in trouble”, “Naughty”, or using words like “restraint” (as in, I kid you not, “I’m needing to show a lot of restraint around you” – which, how rapey does that sound?) Then she adds, “She shouldn’t be thinking OMG he’s going to tie me up later for sure, but just that question mark.”

But if your primary sexuality is BDSM then either there is tying up (or spanking, or SM, or proper power exchange) or there isn’t sex (or at least, there isn’t much point to the sex). If tying up, etc, is what you’re looking for, then it’s a problem.

Similarly, if you meet someone and you are both looking for a D/s or BDSM relationship, if you use words like “you need a spanking”, or “you’re in trouble”, or “good girl”, when you have not established that you have that power exchange in place yet, it can (and often does) backfire spectacularly. I have lost count of the times Subs have described meeting (would-be) Doms for dates and the Doms have pulled that kind of thing and it’s killed everything.

I can see why it works for a ‘nilla couple to create a sense of make-believe danger or sexual tension. But Quinn’s advice is about avoiding seeming like the “horny teenage boy who just wants to stick his dick in her”, and when your sexuality is BDSM, then saying things like Quinn suggests (or the Daygame site suggests) is no different that diving straight in with the bad, “horny teenager” language Quinn is advising against.

I could, in theory, drop those lines into a date with a woman whom I have met through ‘nilla dating and whom I suspect may have “latent kink” (unlike some, I refuse to rule out the possibility of “corrupting the ‘nilla”, i.e. having a working relationship with someone who hasn’t done BDSM before). But doing so would be awkward: it will obscure the genuine message of “I’m kinky, are you?” that needs to be negotiated, and of course, what if she thinks it’s a joke, and suddenly realises it’s not? To me, that feels like an episode of “OMG He’s Creepy All Along!” (which is a programme that totally shouldn’t exist but I can think of half a dozen channels that might commission it, or at least buy the rights to show it).

Advanced Sexuality?

Hayley includes a small section on BDSM in her closing section, “Advanced Sexual Techniques”, dedicated to “slightly more edgy or out there sexual acts”. She leaves out the D/s part of the definition, and thinks it sounds “scary”, then says:

In reality, rather than being whips and chains and 50 Shades of Grey, it can just mean experimenting with you being in a strong masculine role and her being in a strong feminine role, or her being dominant and you being a bit more submissive.

For her, BDSM is purely something that you add on later to create some “spice”. It’s not actually about masochism, or sadism, it’s about a little naughty thrill, a game that helps couples connect. And yes, BDSM is that, but it’s not just that, for those of us whose sex lives and sexual experience/identity/expression are defined by power exchange, pleasure through pain (or through enduring/inducing suffering), and deep obedience or restraint. I accept that the product is aimed at people who aren’t like me (for one thing, it’s aimed at people who identify with “male”; and of course, the author wants to aim it at the broadest market possible, so the “average” sexual man), but all the same, it feels insulting and dismissive to treat what is a core element of my sexuality in such a casual and offhand manner.

Conclusion

BDSM needs so much more than Quinn bothers to address. In one way, I feel, it really is “advanced sexual technique”, because I find that much of the good advice earlier in the course comes naturally through my BDSM identity. Things like “teasing through the day to get her in the mood” – second nature in a D/s dynamic (especially the suggestion to tell a partner to “wear heels” or a similar instruction, before the date), and when that dynamic is established, of course, it does use all those little “hints” that Quinn mentions. Simply because “What It Is That We Do” needs a more aware, alert, and connected sense of self than the presumed vanilla relationship style, things that Quinn explains (the things that are more about style than about negotiation) seem obvious. (Of course, some of them seem obvious to me because of my genderfluid/non-binary feminine side).

But other things, particularly things that depend heavily on assumed or implicit consent, taking assumed leadership in decisions, or that depend on making those joking references – are things that both mean something different, and can be extremely dangerous when you engage with BDSM (they can be dangerous in ‘nillaland too, of course).

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What sort of “Pride”?

CONTENT NOTE: (Fictional) White Supremacism

I have watched the developing story about London Pride this week, in which they have allowed UKIP LGBT to join the parade, to the dismay of many. It now transpires that the organisers wanted to acknowledge the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (immortalised in the film Pride) and allow them to march at the front. Unfortunately, they don’t want to acknowledge the unions at the same time, so union members are not permitted to be at the front of the parade.

The thinking is that Pride should be apolitical, and therefore treat all political allegiances equally. David Norton in the piece linked above, writes:

As the LGBT movement has become increasingly mainstream, many individuals have ceased to connect Pride with larger struggles for social and economic justice. It now appears possible to conceptualise the Pride parade as a politically “neutral” space no less consistent with Ukip’s vision than LGSM’s. An apolitical Pride erases the history of militant activism that was necessary for many queer people to live more “normal” lives, as well as the connection of this history with other radical movements for justice.

Now, it is perfectly possible to be both gay (or lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, etc) and also support UKIP on other areas. A person’s sexuality does not, and should not be assumed to, define their entire existence, opinions, or status in the world. And therefore it is perfectly possible for someone who wants to celebrate being LGBT to also want to keep immigrants from entering the country, to sell off the NHS and whatever else UKIP are suggesting these days. There’s a scene in The West Wing where Josh confronts a gay Republican congressman over the conflict between being gay, and being in a political party that seeks to deny gay rights, and the congressman makes precisely this point.

It feels wrong to me to tell someone that their political views should exclude them from a sexuality, or the inverse, that their sexuality should determine their views on other matters.

However, an event like Pride can never be apolitical. It must either endorse groups (by allowing them to join as a group) or reject them (by excluding their banner from the parade). Excluding UKIP LGBT need not mean excluding their members, who I am sure would still be welcome if they turned up not as an organised group but as individuals.

Given that sexuality need not determine political views, let’s conduct a quick thought experiment. Suppose organisations called “Gays For White Supremacy” and “Gay Pride 4 White Pride” wanted to join the parade? Suppose an organisation opposed to marriages (same-sex or opposite-sex) between people of different races wanted to join? There’s nothing that makes this inconsistent or improbable organisations. Whether they do exist or are (as yet) just the products of my hideously twisted nightmares, there’s no reason why the couldn’t exist.

Would London pride organisers say, “We’re an apolitical event, so of course they can be a part of our parade,” or might they think, “Hang on, this might just make us look bad and upset a lot of people we’d like to join in, so maybe we should tell them ‘no'”?

If you won’t draw the line anywhere and would allow LGBT neo-Nazi type organisations to join in just as much as any other organisation, then you associate yourself with those groups and their agendas and end up excluding the people they want excluded (because those people will not feel safe enough to join in). But if you would exclude those groups for their racist hate speech, then you are, after all, having to take a political stance. So why not exclude UKIP, for its racism and hate speech?

* * *

Norton writes:

I believe Ukip’s presence is an affront not only to queer people, but also to immigrants, people of colour, and the working classes. That’s why I started a campaign for a Pride free from racism and prejudice of all kinds.

An apolitical Pride erases the history of militant activism that was necessary for many queer people to live more “normal” lives, as well as the connection of this history with other radical movements for justice.

It is wrong to assume that sexuality should determine political views. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that, not only is there a moral case for anyone to oppose the exclusionary policies of UKIP and its rightwing agenda, but also there is a vested interest for LGBTQ movement to take a broader view of the struggle and to recognise that what harms one group will be a lever to harm other groups who are traditionally excluded by the White, Male, Cis, Het, Capitalist (i.e. middle-class) establishment.

To suggest that union members should not be at the front is, as Norton says, to ignore and erase the history of combined struggle that LGSM represented. Lord knows, intersectionality has proved perplexing and challenging to many groups, and it’s not unusual to find in any excluded group examples of racism, homophobia, transphobia, whorephobia, class prejudice, sexism, with the only thing not being present being the one that that group directly suffers from (e.g. LGB groups don’t display homophobia as a general rule, but you’ll find racism, sexism, classism, whorephobia and transphobia). The measure (at least for organised groups) is, “Are you getting better? Are you putting effort into improving? How do you respond when someone points out you got it wrong?” But at least there should be some recognition that advances on one front tend to help on other fronts, so long as those advances are not made by selling out or deliberately excluding other groups (for instance, when supposedly LGBT groups seeking equal rights would frequently take trans rights off the table in order to win concessions from the other side).

* * *

You can’t be apolitical when you organise a parade like London Pride. Every decision you make has political ramifications, whether you want them to or not. The decisions made this year that have been reported combine to produce the impression of a White, Cis, Middle-class event that is more interested in pulling up the ladder behind itself than about furthering the causes of equality, liberation and rights.

And that is sad.

Posted in Gender, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sub power, Domly Vulnerability

Xiao Yingtai @ University of Abject Submission has been writing a fascinating series about Submissive Power, and her latest instalment is Sub Ethics: Owning Our Power.

I’ve had in my “pending” file since February a piece by Xan West about Doms’ emotions and how they are frequently ignored. While not every point resonates with my experience, it’s certainly a thing that affects me, as an emotional top with mental health issues.

My last partner had a habit of responding to things with a joke, “[thus-and-such-phrase YOUR FACE!” As her Dom, I felt under a lot of pressure to come back with a witty retort that twisted her “joke” back around on her, to maintain the power. Because I am an insecure, emotional Dom. And sometimes, I couldn’t think of one and I felt like I’d failed somehow (which is ridiculous, but it is what I felt and therefore not ridiculous). Eventually, she cottoned on that I was struggling with it and checked in, and we negotiated that situation.

Xan West talks about how, “Tops (especially masculine tops) are often prized for being closed systems; inscrutable and invulnerable.” If a bottom can reach our emotions, then zie can influence us, and we seem less powerful. As West continues, “It is the very not-knowing of a top’s inner workings that is often part of what makes that top hot. To illuminate a top’s journey or desires is to explore and discuss that top’s vulnerabilities and needs, to spoil the fantasy.”

To be this impressive, impassive figure is in some ways a relief for me: “D/s gives me a clean space: as a top, I am in control of my emotions but the purpose is simplified, the influences clearer.” But it is also not sustainable without a chance to deal with the emotional side as well. As Xiao Yingtai writes:

A sub is a very powerful source of affirmation, but that also enables totally unintentional guilt-tripping. And if a dom has nowhere else to recharge, they’re going to need looking after sometimes.

Leadership is a position of startling vulnerability. We hold their hearts in our hands. They need us to remember that.

There are those who claim that they can’t be a sadistic Dom with someone they love; I can’t do it for someone I don’t love, because the love is what makes the difference between random violence and a meaningful experience. And once one loves someone, and do so with that level of intensity, then yes: that person really does hold one’s heart in hir hands.

~

Yingtai mentions two other points of pressure where Subs’ behaviour can be problematic: the “privilege of the weak”, and “bestowing unwanted privileges”. Both are very familiar.

Here’s her examples of “privilege of the weak” in Subs:

My friend Tilari sometimes wears gorgeous furry feline ears at cons. People are always touching without asking. And the worst offenders are women, including subs.

So it’s not okay for me to touch without asking. It’s not okay to keep asking for a play date after Master Hotness has said no. And it’s also not okay for me to say no with disproportionate verbal force.

I have seen this, and I think in many cases what seems to happen is there’s an assumption that a Dom is always “on” and ready to give appropriate discipline, draw the line clearly and firmly in that sexy, powerful way. Whereas a fellow Sub seems to be read as being equally open, and playful, and “on”, as the person touching is (and thus okay with it “automatically”).

Both the points seem to be summed up by the question of boundaries. The “privilege” issue is about assuming someone else will set the boundaries (so I don’t need to observe them); the “unwanted privileges” issue is about not expecting there to be boundaries. I think in every relationship, I have had as a top, I have had to say “no” to an offer of some level of power at some stage.

These are not too far removed from the way creepiness works (and indeed, I reference “privilege of the weak” in that context). There are Subs whose thing is to push to see what they can get away with, and sometimes that’s a fun game for a Dom with a “you’re for it now!” – but at others it is just annoying, or even, unsettling (especially when “no” is pushed at again).

The exception is Yingtai’s comment that, “It’s also not okay for me to say no with disproportionate verbal force.” This is much more about simple care. Context means a lot here: if Dom suggests a form of play zie would like to experiment with, and Sub says, “No!” in shocked, offended or scornful tones, that’s one thing; if Dom moves to do something that for whatever reason the Sub isn’t ready or available for (emotionally, that is), then a startled or fierce “No” is understandable and can be softened afterwards as necessary.

~

The standards of ethics for BDSM are not so hard to derive from everyday standards of respect and empathy for others. Very often, it’s not about what you do so much as how you do it, and to what effect (and intended effect). When I coach people on online roleplay/cybersex, two of the most common points I need to make are:

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes; what do they need to know to imagine the sights, sounds and sensations?
  • Don’t try to tell the other person how they feel or react, but let them tell you

Putting one’s partner first, in other words, and acknowledging their experience of you as valid. And that works for both sides of the coin.

Posted in Kink | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The agency of personality: in defence of MBTI

I am a big fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and its offspring, the Kiersey Temperament Sorter (KTS). Most of my knowledge of these comes from the latter, since I have a copy of David Kiersey & Marilyn Bates “Please Understand Me”, in which the KTS test is found, and an explanation of the theories behind it. I actually used “Please Understand Me” to create KTS results for my three central characters in my novel (and found myself struggling when a 4th character turned up for whom I hadn’t done the test).

However, a lot of psychologists who like to imagine they are “proper” scientists, are not. Every so often, I will encounter a piece stating their case against these personality tests, and dismissing them. Last night, one such dismissal crossed my twitter feed, and I thought I should finally set out why they are flat-out wrong.

Myers-Briggs is based on the ideas of Carl Jung, whose thinking has always run somewhat against the grain: first a follower of Freud, then a rebel, and ploughing furrows far afield of what others were doing at the time, he doesn’t seem to fit properly in academia, and yet he brought an academic approach. It’s no wonder people who think of themselves as scientists don’t like him! He did not limit his beliefs or his ideas and research to the physical, tangible, natural, world that scientists like: in the linked piece he is dismissed as an, “Early 20th century thinker who believed in things like ESP and the collective unconscious.”

The criticisms levelled at MBTI are:

  1. It has no predictive value.
  2. It creates false binary designations
    1. not a bimodal distribution
    2. inconsistent over time
  3. The Forer Effect

I intend to show that these criticisms come not from any flaw with MBTI and KTS, but rather, from a mode of thinking that is intrinsically linked to capitalist exploitation and Patriarchy. They are, above all, a way of psychologists making themselves feel clever, and superior to others.

False Binaries

This is the oddest criticism, because it’s based pretty much on what Jung (he’s actually quoted on this point, several times, in the linked article above), and Kiersey/Bates (and therefore presumably Myers-Briggs, in between), say about the traits. The so-called criticism is that most people are somewhere in the middle, and only a few people at either end.

What we’re seeing with this criticism is a classic case of misunderstanding the purpose. I don’t believe anyone in the chain of ideas, ever said, “We must divide people up into binary categories”: they all said we can understand people as being at some point on a spectrum between two extremes.

This effectively nullifies the point that it’s not a bimodal distribution: we’re not trying to find one in the first place!

It also explains why it seems inconsistent over time. For myself, I know I am strongly Introverted and strongly iNtuitive, but somewhere in the middle on the other two scales (Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Perceiving). It only takes a small change to slip me from J into P or vice versa, for example. If you interpret the test as a binary rather than a spectrum, yes, that looks inconsistent. But if you sample over time, you’ll find that I am “in the middle” a lot.

To claim that it’s inconsistent is also a false claim purely on an understanding of statistical sampling. The most relevant example I can think of that’s widely understood, is an IQ test. An IQ test is a statistical sampling of a person’s “intelligence” (although it’s arguable that IQ tests don’t really test intelligence at all). They generally have a ±3% error margin. If you scored 101, then it’s possible you’re really “below average” intelligence (98 IQ) when you look above average. (You could also be even higher above average!) And oh look, it’s another false binary of “above” or “below” average. Furthermore, if you took another IQ test on a comparable scale, you would expect to come out at a different score within that ±3% error range.

Because the KTS and MBTI have fewer questions per category, the error margin is correspondingly broader; for someone in the middle, only one or two answers on the other side changes the apparent outcome.

The criticisms are not relevant to MBTI, but rather, to the ways in which, according to the linked articles, corporations use them. Which leads on to the next point, where I expose the capitalist, Patriarchal thinking behind the criticisms:

No predictive value

“Another indicator that the Myers-Briggs is inaccurate is that several different analyses have shown it’s not particularly effective at predicting people’s success at different jobs.”

And there you have it. To a modern psychologist (imagining himself to be a “proper” scientist), what matters is how useful something is at predicting something else. And specifically, how effective it is at slotting people into employment.

(To be fair, the linked article above makes it clear that MBTI is marketed for the same purpose by a corporation in the US. This just goes to show that capitalism rewards the unscrupulous.)

The criticism comes from a mode of thinking that believes (a) that the value of a human being is in their usefulness to business, and (b) people claiming expertise have a right to determine others’ existence and reality. It also epitomises the White male establishment notion of “rationality”.

The fundamental error of the criticism is to focus on what people do, when the focus of Jung’s work, and of MBTI, and KTS, is on why people do things, and on understanding the inner world. To people imagining themselves to be “proper” scientists, to focus on the “why” is unthinkable. But to the rest of us, particularly those who are curious about ourselves, the “why” is the whole point.

Of course knowing why someone behaves the way they do doesn’t give good predictive results of the sort they want: people can do the same thing for very different reasons, or do different things for very similar reasons (as anyone who spends any time talking to kinky people would know, if they aren’t trying to find the One True Cause Of Kink). What it does do is give that person power over their own choices, and help them navigate the world in a more effective and self-fulfilling way. It’s about their outcomes, rather than business outcomes or “science”.

A quote in the article from Adam Grant says, “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”

This is the problem. Appropriate use of MBTI or KTS is not to predict those things, but rather, to enhance them. That’s why the Kiersey/Bates book is called “Please Understand Me” and not “Please Predict My Outcomes”. I don’t want to know how happy I’ll be: I want to know how I can be happy, and why I’ll be happy. In a job, knowing what my motivations and tendencies are, I can adjust my environment to maximise my effectiveness and my happiness in the role. Knowing why I do things and how I relate emotionally to others, I can be more aware of my actions and make my partner more aware of what is important to me, and thus negotiate a happier marriage.

The supposed weakness of MBTI for a psychologist is that it gives power and agency to the person taking the test, to affect their own outcomes and make sense of their life, rather than placing power in the hands of the person interpreting the results.

(Again, noting that the corporation that owns the rights to MBTI sells it as a way of giving power to employers over their workers. I would consider this to be an inappropriate and unscrupulous use of the model.)

The Forer Effect

Any time you get a personality test you don’t like, you compare it to astrology:

If the test gives people such inaccurate results, why do so many still put stock in it? One reason is that the flattering, vague descriptions for many of the types have huge amounts of overlap — so many people could fit into several of them.

This is called the Forer effect, and is a technique long used by purveyors of astrology, fortune-telling, and other sorts of pseudoscience to persuade people they have accurate information about them.

This is daft. Of course there’s overlap. On a four-scale classification like MBTI, then any classification will have four other classifications with which it shares 75% of the traits, and another six with which it shares 50% of the traits. Once again, people using these tests (and I’m working here from the KTS, because that’s what I have the book for) are advised to read around the type they’ve been identified with to see which of several is most like them, because it’s not a binary.

Maybe I’m unusual (no, no maybe about it – but it’s not proved for the following point) but for me the interesting thing about any result is the ways in which I feel I differ from the answer given. Strictly speaking, the Forer Effect is that any outcome would sound plausible to the listener; that isn’t the case with MBTI or KTS in my experience. And I suspect most people feel a particular type or small subset of types is the best description for them, and that others are increasingly inaccurate as you move away from them.

It is perfectly possible to give a vague, flattering description, and have people disagree with it. If someone says to me, “You’re a bold, outgoing, happy-go-lucky person who has lots of friends,” one might think that’s going to apply to a lot of people, it’s flattering, and it’s vague. But it is most certainly not me! In fact, “You’re a timid, reserved, cautious person who doesn’t have many friends,” is a description I would be much more likely to agree with (and it sounds much less flattering). In fact, the truth is that I’m somewhere in between the two descriptions: Timid and reserved, and a few close friends, but also relatively happy-go-lucky and sometimes quite outgoing if I put my mind to it, also.

Which is why Keirsey & Bates invite their readers to read around and find the description that suits them best.

Once again, the criticism of MBTI on the grounds of the Forer Effect is actually a way of psychologists claiming power over others’ minds and lives, rather than letting them determine their own experience of the world. The Forer Effect works because you don’t know what your other options are. If you don’t know what other descriptions are available, you can’t measure how accurate the one you’ve been given is. (If you find all the other descriptions are the same, then you can legitimately cry bullshit! Or, indeed, if they all use synonyms.)

The Strength of MBTI vs “Psychologists”

As I’ve mentioned, I used the KTS rather than MBTI. My test I came out strongly Introverted and iNtuitive. (and consistently so) My results for the other categories are somewhere in the middle.

Understanding myself in this way gave me power to name what was in me, and to make sense of how the world affected me.

When I took the Five-Factor Model test (the supposedly scientific, empirical, test preferred by “proper” scientist psychologists), the corresponding factor of Extraversion, I scored low (as one might imagine an introvert would) but that gave me no clues about how to understand my world. Indeed, the Five Factor Model’s definitions often challenge or confuse matters because they don’t quite match people’s understandings of the labels. What’s more, the FFM (or OCEAN, from the initials of the five factors) is “empirical” only in that it describes broad statistical tendencies, rather than individual experience or outcomes. That’s what they mean by “predictive value”: “Is it more likely that a person with this trait will have that outcome?” It is, in fact, a “big data” approach, and I have written before about how flawed big data is when it comes to individuals. It’s built around averages, and therefore is worse than useless for those who deviate from average.

This is why the approach of Jung, and Myers-Briggs, and Kiersey/Bates, is stronger: it’s about understanding, rather than determining, what people do. Because it doesn’t look for bimodal distribution, it allows for the unusual to be as significant as the usual (if anything, the “false binary” criticism comes out of putting more focus on the unusual). Thus, it allows the individual to be an individual in hir own right.

The supposedly meaningless MBTI has a lot of meaning, it’s just that the meaning it has is contrary to the received wisdom of academia, and outside of their purview. It challenges the capitalist, Patriarchal, idea of people as being parts of a mechanism, and instead describes them as having an inner life, and as being agents in their own lives.

And that’s why I continue to love MBTI.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Science | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

And the next phase is: feedback

So, I’m finished even sooner than I thought.

Today, I went and bought ink and paper, and for the first time printed off the whole story, turning the novel from an idea into something physical, tangible, and real-feeling. This was in itself a curiously erotic, arousing, feeling as I saw the paper with page after page of my writing – my story – spooling out onto the tray. 76,100 words. 300+ sheets of A4 paper. But, 300+ pages, the top one of which has my name on it, and the title (working title) of the novel.

As I wrote in the earlier post, it took me 9 years to finish from initial concept through to the 2nd draft printout. This is an astonishing achievement. There are so few big projects I have actually seen through to a finish and, while this still isn’t the finish, it is a product: an actual payoff from the work. Something I can show others. Something I can point to and say, “I did this.”

Curiously, last night I had another of my abandonment nightmares, but this time the story didn’t end with the sickening, awful feeling of being helpless. This time, there was a continuation in which new people, strangers, welcomed and accepted me even though they probably didn’t have to, and new stability from unexpected sources.

I doubt there’s a connection between the two. As far as the novel is concerned, there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen, what changes I might need to make, and what impact it will have. There’s the challenge of finding the next story to write (will it be one of the ideas floating around, or something new? Will I attempt two projects at once, in different styles? I don’t know yet).

And right now, all I want is to find some British kinky folks, preferably some of them bi or lesbian, who’ll take a look and let me know what I doesn’t ring true.

Posted in Kink, SCW, Writing about writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment