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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Involvement in democracy

So tonight was the CLP Supporting Nomination Meeting, about the only way for a local Labour Party to hold a meeting of its members given the current lockdown imposed by the NEC.

This was to replace the Emergency Meeting that had been agreed at the previous CLP meeting should take place in the event of a leadership challenge being made in the Labour Party.

There are strict rules about how a Supporting Nomination Meeting should take place: a 30min debate with a maximum of 3min per speaker; a strict cut-off time for arrivals, and so on. The only topic is which candidate our CLP will declare support for in the leadership campaign. Only those eligible to vote in the leadership election could attend.

The attendance was, the Chair said, the highest he had ever seen for a CLP meeting. The opportunity to speak was therefore decided by lots, and it was requested that for balance, if the first person spoke for 1 candidate, then the next had to be speaking for the other; although the order could be switched (e.g. 1 and 2 must be different, and 3 and 4 must be different, but 2 and 3 could be the same in that case).

The chair drew numbers from a bucket, and each ballot had a number on it; if your ballot matched the number called, you could decline to speak, or speak for a candidate subject to the rules of balance (so, if you wanted to speak for the same candidate as the one before, you might have to decline). What was interesting was how many of those selected who stood up and said they hadn’t prepared, weren’t really planning to say anything, but then gave their views calmly and honestly (if sometimes hesitantly and repeating their words out of nerves). I suspect some of them were people who weren’t used to speaking up at all but because they had been chosen, they answered the call (I could draw a Biblical analogy or two there, but I’ll leave you to think of those yourself, if you like that idea).

The other thing that was clear was that while someone was speaking you could tell some people disagreed fundamentally with what they were saying, but the same people who disagreed applauded just as firmly as they did when they agreed with a speaker.

As luck would have it, I was the penultimate speaker, and gave some of the positive thoughts about Corbyn from my “open letter” post a couple of weeks ago, and the point about stirring up passion and involvement from my post about anger at politics. And I quoted Clause IV (the new one) and invited those there to decide who best fit that ideal.

I was also one of four selected by lots in the same way, to act as a counter for the ballot. I think it worked out as a Corbyn supporter and a Smith supporter at each desk, and we double-checked the number of votes before announcing the figures. I won’t give the exact figures but only percentages:

55% Corbyn
41% Smith
4% spoilt

That wasn’t the point for this post. The point was that we debated the issue. We held a ballot, and we came to a declaration as a collective voice. People were empowered to speak and be heard, sometimes, I suspect, people who did not often feel that. And above all, people were involved in what happened and how things turned out.

There is a lesson here, for those who care to heed it, perhaps?

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Buying webcam sex: just like any other

So last weekend, I was feeling needy for some online sexytimes and (as often happens) suitable partners were not obliging in terms of either not being online or already busy with someone else. New suitable partners whose kinks and style were compatible with mine did not materialise.

This time, however, I was not going to log off in dissatisfaction. Instead, I decided I would pay for someone to entertain me sexually. I had a decent chunk of credits on Adultwork and worked out I could probably get a decent half-hour of webcam performance, if I chose my provider wisely; and that this would be good enough to give me lots of lovely visual memories to play with.

So that’s what I decided to do. I don’t want this to be a piece reviewing the performance like a field report or whatever; I’m more egotistical than that! I want to write about what was a new experience for me in many ways, and the sorts of things I felt and thought about. Shut up, this is my blog, i can do what I want!

WordPress rules say I can’t advertise adult services here but phooey to them: I’ll just not post the links. The performer I chose had a name with the elements Kinky, Milf, and UK in it (and underscores to link them!) – (fyi my “Offering Services” name there is like my current name except there’s no “ery” and the last letter is “e” instead of “h” *whistles innocently*)

I chose “K_M_UK” because I was looking for BDSM kinks to be a part of the performance, and her profile promised several of the things I like especially. I visited several cammers’ “free preview” chats (I wasn’t willing to buy from those who didn’t offer free previews, and you’ll see why in a minute). The purpose was to see what sort of conversationalist I was going to get (so, no free preview means I can’t tell if we’re on the same wavelength, so I don’t know if I’m getting what I want on that level). For me, at least, the talk is a big part of the sales pitch and then the scene as well.

I should probably be less shy: she was responding and chatting away with other free viewers and I didn’t like to interrupt! In the end, I said as much and of course she gave me permission to give her my money… so I clicked “Private Show with this performer” and my credits started trickling from my account to hers.

Paying someone does give me confidence to ask for what I want. (Playing for free with them online by text chat also gives me confidence, but I gain more confidence from reminding myself that I use Adultwork to charge for text-only sex chat and if my partner isn’t pleasing me in a free chat then I can just say “give me money or go away” if they want my time and erotic words.) The session included her using double-penetration toys, breast bondage, and deep throating a dildo (she asked for extra payment, which I was happy to pay).

I have a curious mental state regarding the feedback I got during the play. Part of my mind goes, “This is all a show, she’s a professional and it’s her job to make me feel like it’s special” – the other part is willing to believe that it’s genuine and to let her get on with that job and basically tells the first part of my brain to shut up and not interfere with her doing her job. Naturally, I go with the second part (because that’s hotter) but I do so without feeling under any illusions. So when she told me that she “didn’t get to play this hard very often – thank you!” – I could question every element of that statement, or believe that the surface meaning is true also, even if it is also part of the performance and has other things beneath.

(I’m not sure what to make of the fact that after I closed the private session, I popped back into her free preview a little while later to say another thank you, and she was describing the session she’d just had with me. She sounded like she did like it, but…)

As much as this was a financial transaction, I still felt grateful for the performance. I felt a duty to offer thanks and appreciation for each act she performed for me. As much as I liked the idea she was enjoying all these sexual things she was doing, I knew that it was for my pleasure and my benefit, so naturally, thanks are in order.

I ended the private session when I felt I was running low on credits – I lied and told her that I had orgasmed as well as that my credits were running out. Why did I lie about it? Well, because I did feel close, but having to type as well as wank was making it difficult and because I felt like just leaving would have been rude (especially as she was offering to make herself come for me!) She told me she would take a moment to finish afterwards (again, how much was that performance and how much real? I don’t know and don’t need to). So, I gave an excuse as well as the truth.

My overall feelings afterward were basically *fapfapfap* as I focussed on memories of various images from the session. Okay, that was kind of the point, after all.

My overall feelings once I’d dealt with that, then.

As I said, I felt grateful (I popped back in to say thank you, after all). I felt the same way as I do after hiring any professional – dentist, workman, restaurant staff, etc. (Professional here is basically anyone who knows what they’re doing and how, and does it to a high standard, for money.) It’s a combination of time and money well spent, of something worthwhile having been gained, respect for their abilities and gratitude for all of these.

(This is what I don’t get about those who have a problem with adult entertainment and sexwork. I wonder if they ever feel that sense of gratitude towards anyone they employ, or if their lives are based on a sense of entitlement that means they don’t see the value of the work they pay for? Or does the fact that it’s a skill at sex and causing arousal puzzle them?)

There isn’t a lot more that I can think of to say. I somehow thought it would feel more transgressive to do this but ultimately, I’m not that shocked by anything to do with the internet or sex. It was just a transaction between two adults. Maybe I’ll feel more like a transitional moment when I hire a sex worker (something I hope to do this summer) but for now, it all just seems very much normal.

And I’m sure any sex worker appointment will feel equally person-to-person, adult-to-adult.

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The political equivalent of rioters: verbal violence and anger in 2016

Ever since the referendum result for “Leave”, I have been spewing far more insults, obscenities and expletives at the television whenever the news comes on. This is not a spurious correlation. There has been a second increase since the Labour Coup plotters swung into action and events have progressed. Again, there is a definite causal relationship here!

My point is, I’m angry.

I am not the only one.

Feelings are running high: racists are targeting people who look different for them. And Labour Party members and supporters are angry that the PLP are trying to take their party away from them again.

The past 12 months or so have seen an incredible uprising of passion about political issues: and these have been set in motion by Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leadership, and by the referendum on whether to remain in the European Union.

It’s good to be passionate, but passion can so easily become anger or hatred. Hatred of foreigners, with racist hate crimes increasing by huge amounts, and anger at people perceived to be “the enemy within” on both sides of the Labour Party issue.

There are a lot of people who love the Labour Party who felt that in the Blair years the Party had turned its back on them, and when Corbyn’s campaign last summer took off they were swept up in a wave of love because it felt like the Party had come back to us. We feel passionate again about it, and there is a man who stands for us, and for our beliefs, and for our principles. A man worth going to great lengths to protect and to support.

Passion can so easily turn to anger. The feeling is that the Blairist plotters (who intended this showdown all along, and said so openly back in September last year, and ever since) and those who have followed them since they launched their coup attempt in the wake of the Brexit result, have betrayed us, and are trying to take away from us what we so recently regained. There is outrage and there is righteous anger! What they are doing is just plain wrong!

It is easy to start a revolution if you have a groundswell of emotion. You give people a focus for it, and belief that they can change something for the better, they will do anything for your cause.

It is a lot harder to stop them, when that turns to anger and the vision of a better world is overtaken by the anger at those who stand in the way.

Jeremy Corbyn has always talked of a kinder, gentler politics. He has been true to that vision and that ideal. He is a towering example of integrity and of how to be angry peacefully. But there are too few like him, and enough angry people who believe in him but who believe that the rightness of their cause makes any action, however violent, justifiable in pursuing it and in overcoming obstacles (including human ones).

People are angry. People are scared. People are turning to hate and violence. While I am very prepared to believe that the plotters would employ agents provocateurs to send hate to their own side while masquerading as Corbyn supporters, I am also forced to conclude that some people angry about the PLP’s treatment of Corbyn believe that this is justified behaviour.

Indeed, it seems as though they believe that any and all measures in pursuit of the goal of preserving and protecting Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party are justified.

This evening, Channel 4 News interviewed a Corbyn-supporting MP, and a National Executive Committee member, side by side. The NEC member described the weight of angry, threatening, abusive communications she’d received. We don’t like that they held a secret ballot but it was at least apparent why they might have felt scared enough to do so.

This woman was not the enemy. She wasn’t a plotter, she wasn’t Angela Eagle running against our man. Even if she had have been, this type of tactic is not okay. It’s not okay turned against the good guys, and it’s not okay turned against the “bad guys”, and it’s certainly not okay turned against someone whose only role is to be part of the body deciding on what the rules are. We hads that debate, exchanged out views on the right or wrong of it, and it would be foolish to think that wasn’t taken into account.

Some people, even a lot of people, must have felt that since she was part of this decision making process, any and all pressure must be legitimate to get the “right” decision. Because in their minds, righteous anger means that the harm you do is justified.

They are wrong. They are WRONG.

But they are also motivated by anger and emotion, not by reason or considered tactics. They are the political equivalent of rioters whose violence inevitably becomes generalised and no longer focussed on the object of their anger but against anything and anyone within reach that seems to bear their characteristics.

It is foolish to dismiss rioters as mere thugs and hooligans; even while we deplore the damage they do, we have to look at the sparks, the legitmate grievances that provoke such outbursts of destructive emotion. Doing so doesn’t legitimise their behaviour, it seeks to understand and avoid situations that provoke it.

There is organised political violence here (figuratively, not physically) but it is on the side of the Blairite faction. They knew what was coming and planned it. They planned this moment before Corbyn was even declared the winner last September. They said so publicly! They knew what they were bringing down on the Labour Party and the damage that they would do – if we are to believe them, because they considered Corbyn’s leadership was still more damaging. They unleashed the prospect: “ditch Corbyn or we will split the party” and they knew that was the choice they were presenting us. This was their violent rhetoric and their violent behaviour.

I am sickened by the violence I see on all sides in 2016. I too am angry, I too feel betrayed. I too feel the hurt and the dread that my Party could be stolen from me again. It doesn’t justify betraying our principles.

Violence has begotten violence. And I don’t know how it can be stopped.

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Open Letter to Angela Eagle MP

Dear Angela Eagle MP:

I write to you as a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party. I have not always voted Labour, but this has largely been irrelevant: under the FPTP system, my votes have been meaningless since the constituencies where I’ve lived have been 50%+ Conservative. But in April 2015 I joined the Party, convinced by Ed Miliband that it was again a party that genuinely stood for something worth standing for – and in Jeremy Corbyn, I saw someone who would fulfil that project to the best and fullest extent. I also write to you as someone who backed your bid for the Deputy Leadership in the 2015 leadership elections: again, that was not to be, but still, I gave you my 1st preference vote.

You have announced that you will make a challenge for Leader of the Labour Party on Monday. You have promised (or threatened; it’s not clear which) to do so several times, but always dependent upon whether Jeremy Corbyn would resign: if he didn’t, then you would challenge him. Frankly, it has started to grow wearisome and even laughable. Mr Corbyn has made his position clear: he was elected with a clear democratic mandate to lead, and that he will not betray the trust of the members who voted for him by resigning. Had you the leadership you claim he lacks, you would have accepted that the first time he said it and not dragged out this farce any longer than necessary. You would not have repeated yourself but carried through on your actions.

Instead, you have timidly failed to act decisively but seemed to beg and plead with him to spare you the decision. I find it hard to take you seriously now that you are no longer making your threat conditional, since you have not said “I have made a leadership challenge”, but still, “I am going to…” Perhaps you will back down at the last minute and decline to challenge, as we have seen others do in our rival party the Conservatives in recent weeks?

As I said in my opening, I backed you for the Deputy Leadership, and placed your name as my first preference. Tom Watson, the eventual winner, was the name touted by my fellow leftwing members but I thought I saw something in you, in your voting record in Parliament, and in your words in Hansard and in your election literature, that would make a good deputy to Mr Corbyn and a principled, honest worker for the party. In five or ten years time, I even envisaged voting for you as leader, perhaps.

None of that will happen now.

I want you to understand how deeply betrayed and disappointed I feel by your conduct in the past two weeks. I want you to understand, I thought you were one of the good guys, the people who believed in the Labour Party and its membership, the people who stood for decency and honesty.

You have proved me wrong on all these counts. You have joined in – maybe even played a leading role in, an unconscionable and despicable display of viciousness, cruelty and calumny aimed at painting a man of towering decency, honesty and principle as being the exact opposite of those things. You have listened to the poisonous lies of men and women who have sought to undermine and destroy him from before he was elected, who promised us that this challenge to his leadership was coming if we, the membership, the sovereign body of the Labour Party, dared ignore the powers that be and choose a leader who represents us. You have now put yourself up as their challenger. (Perhaps just a stalking horse? Have you considered that they may just be using you, and will show you no more kindness than they have your target?)

I was born less than a year before Margaret Thatcher took power in this country. I grew up in a labour-supporting household, my parents took me on CND marches, and on motorcades supporting the local Labour candidates. I grew up expecting to vote labour all my life. The first ever election I could vote in was 1997: a great day in the Labour Party’s history. I voted Labour. Of course I did. In my youth, I confess I would go to SWSS meetings a university, even sometimes campaigning with them.

I had never expected that my first protest march as an adult would be against the Labour Party, but it was: I marched against tuition fees introduced by Tony Blair’s government. That year, and for years afterwards, I would hear people saying, “This isn’t what I voted for when I voted Labour”. And it wasn’t what I’d voted for either. The Labour Party I believed in, that I grew up supporting, had ceased to exist. The Labour Party had turned its back on me, and on its core support.

That is why I was so excited when, last year, I found myself believing in a Labour leader again (Mr Miliband). It’s why I was excited to find that there was a leftwing candidate in the leadership election after Mr Miliband resigned. It’s why I was proud to vote for Mr Corbyn.

Unlike many of my leftwing fellow travellers, I do not believe now is the right time to scrap our nuclear deterrent. I disagree with Mr Corbyn on other points too. But he is the leader I want, and he is the leader that stands for the culture in the Labour Party that I want. He is the leader who sets the social and economic priorities that I want to see. He is the leader who makes me feel like the Labour Party stands for me.

Let me remind you of the text that appears on every Labour Party member’s card.

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

Granted, as an old leftie, I prefer the original version, but this is our statement of goals and aims, and what the Labour Party should be about.

The attempts in the past two weeks to remove Mr Corbyn from the leadership betray every aspect of this statement. You, by saying you will stand against him, are setting yourself against not just the Labour Party membership, but against its principles and its history, too.

The PLP are without doubt “the few” and are now actively engaged in trying to wrest power from the hands of the many (the Labour Party membership) by means of an anti-democratic coup that sought to force Mr Corbyn to reject his democratic mandate and resign without a fight, ignoring the wishes of the Party. You, as part of this movement in the PLP, have sought to keep the power and opportunity for yourself and deny it to the many. If you win, the Labour Party can claim to be democratic only in the sense that the German Democratic Republic did. If you win, the Labour Party can no longer claim to stand for a society in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few.

Furthermore, the rights you and your colleagues enjoy in the PLP reflect the duties you owe not just to the party’s membership, but to the entire country as members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, duties that by launching this coup against Mr Corbyn’s leadership, you have abjectly failed in. At a time when the government has been in crisis due to the Rt Hon David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum, you should have been entirely focussed on tearing apart their lies and their betrayal of the country, not hatching your own plots.

You have betrayed everything. Mr Corbyn has done nothing to damage the Labour Party. Your fellow coup plotters have done all of this by yourselves. Once, I might have supported you as a future leader but the past two weeks have shown me what sort of person you are, and you are not someone I could ever wish to lead my party or my country. I wrote that with Ed Miliband I felt like I had my party back again after nearly 20 years of feeling that it had turned its back on me. I do not want to lose it again so soon, but if you should win, then that is precisely what will have happened.

You, and not Mr Corbyn, are destroying the party I always loved, even when it didn’t love me.

Yours sincerely,

Valery North

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It takes more than a laser to bring me down

Today, I got my face well and truly lasered.

Yup, this was the beginning of my facial hair removal treatment. Unfortunately, my budget is not very stretchy and the nurse pointed out that the neck region isn’t covered. I may end up being left with only hair growing on my neck, which could be a bad look. I’ll see how my money looks in a couple of months and if I feel confident (or daring!) I may up the ante and go for the neck hair removal as well.

But that sort of thing isn’t what I wanted to write about it for. Yes, I’m sure you’re all fascinated by the machinations of my mind on these minutiae, but I had some specific observations of perhaps a more profound nature. Or perhaps not.

I am not a particular fan of the “superpower” framing of various differences (e.g. disability, neurodiversity, etc) and Clarisse Thorn’s version as a response to some of the negative tropes bandied around about BDSM therefore didn’t particularly wash with me. I have always struggled to square the circle of feeling not particularly special or noteworthy, with simultaneously feeling out-and-out weird (or else, that everyone else is out-and-out weird, because seriously, you lot are freaks!) Thus, for example, it took ages to discover that my cock is in fact of substantial girth and that maybe I should look at the larger end of the scale for condoms.

Well! It turns out that I am not only unusual, but apparently unique in the nurse’s experience. The laser treatment is painful (that Pandora Blake piece gives an excellent description). And, despite my confidence after the test patch, it turned out to be pretty much on my pain tolerance threshold (I understand that facial hair absorbs more energy, which as Blake points out, means it hurts more). I felt like such a wuss every time I flinched, and especially when I had to ask the nurse a couple of times to pause and let me recover.


No. I am not a wuss. The nurse told me that I was “very good”, “doing very well”, and then afterwards, she said, “Most men when I do their beards are screaming and shouting. I’ve never had someone like you before.”


I didn’t say, “I’m a masochist.” I did say that I have good pain endurance levels and cope well with it. But I was thinking of BDSM, and the familiarity it gave me with dealing with pain, dealing with power (in the figurative/social sense), and dealing with endurance and self-control.

Yes, I’m a masochist, but this wasn’t a fun sort of pain and it wasn’t in fun areas. So this wasn’t an exercise in transmuting pain into pleasure. This was an exercise in endurance. There is a proud bottoming trope of proving you can take it, and a proud submissive trope of not wanting to disappoint one’s Dominant partner by giving up, but seeking to please them by showing how much you can take. It was these mindsets that I used to help me.

There is an odd mental dialogue that I know is not unique to me, but actually fairly common in subs and bottoms of, “Will this be the one I safeword on? Am I going to safeword yet? Can I take one more? I’m going to try and take the next one just to see” and so on. Well, that was exactly how my thought processes went, feeling on the verge of needing to stop, but always eager and determined to see if I could take just one more… and then the next after that… and so on.

I’m a tough cookie. I’ll battle through pain if it’s worth it. And I always want to be the best I can be. And I’m pretty stubborn when I really want something, too.

I still don’t think in terms of superpowers for the differently-brained abilities and traits I have. But all the same, I think of the people who used to think me “soft” and a “wimp”, the boys at school who thought of themselves as tough and “hard”. And I think of that nurse’s comments.

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About that twitter misogyny research (and bad science reporting)

CONTENT NOTE: research of rape “threats” and threatening language.

I first saw the story today claiming that “50% of misogynistic tweets are made by women” on the BBC News website. I noted other sources being cited on Twitter later, with various criticisms; but this is for the thoughts that immediately occurred to me without reference to anyone else.

(You’d be surprised how little social media networking I do while at the day job!)

My first thought was that maybe this is bad science reporting, rather than bad science. Lord knows, it happens often enough that maybe any intelligence and nuance has been scrubbed away by editors anxious for teh clicks.

A quick click through to the PDF file reveals there is indeed somewhat more nuance than the story suggests. The authors did not simply, “count the number of uses of two particular words as indicators of misogyny”, but rather:

We subjected each data set to a number of analyses, using both qualitative and quantitative methods:
1) Volume over time
2) Different types of use
3) Who is using these words?
4) Case study: what drives traffic?

To conduct the analysis we conducted both automated analyses using a technique called natural language processing; and qualitative analysis where a researcher carefully reviewed random samples of the data.

My second thought was that there are at least two ways in which women might be using the words “slut” or “whore” in ways that are not themselves misogynistic. The first I thought of was “claiming the name”, and self-referring (perhaps in a positive way) as either slut or whore – perhaps as sex workers, or “kinky” types, or just celebrating their own sexuality. For example, the “Slutwalk” marches that started a few years ago. The second I thought of was reporting on men’s misogyny towards them, for example, “I didn’t answer when the guy told I looked sexy, so he called me a…” with a hashtag about street harassment.

The way the research was reported made it seem as though these sorts of responses were lumped in with genuine “you tried to steal my boyfriend, I hate you, you slut!” (or whatever – some of my ideas of women’s insulting twitter exchanges may be based on half-remembered secondary school overheard conversations!).

The actual paper looks like just maybe both of these were screened out in some way!

Here are the findings that the paper reports:

  • Between 9 January and 4 February 2014 there were around 131,000 cases of ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ used in English from UK-based Twitter accounts. We estimate that approximately 18 per cent of them appears misogynistic.
  • There was a high proportion of ‘casual’ misogyny. Approximately 29 per cent of the ‘rape’ tweets appeared to use the term in a casual or metaphorical way; while approximately 35 per cent of the ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ tweets appeared to use the term in a casual or metaphorical way.

(You’ll notice that there was also analysis of the use of “rape”; the headline figure is that around 12% of 100 thousand uses seemed to be threatening)

The researchers then, “split the data into ‘comment’ (tweets which were about the use of word itself) and ‘conversation’ (tweets which included the word as part of a conversation).”

So my question regarding reporting versus using seems to have been answered. The researchers go on to record, “We found 7,993 tweets that were commenting on usage of these words, 108,409 that were actual conversational usage.” A quick bit of approximate doing the sums in my head, that’s only around 1 in 14 or 15 that was discussing usage versus conversation.

In their analysis of usage, they broke down use into “Serious/non-offensive”, “colloquial/casual”, “Generally misogynistic”, “Abusive”, and “Other (inc. subversive and porn)” and used a sample of 500 manually assessed tweets to estimate proportions (with the headline finding of 18% misogynistic; also 20% classed as “abusive”). [If you click through to the paper, be aware – the example of “abusive” usage the authors chose also includes threats of violence]

I do have one issue with the paper. In the “Key findings”, the authors write,

Women are as almost as likely as men to use the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter. Not only are women using these words, they are directing them at each other, both casually and offensively; women are increasingly more inclined to engage in discourses using the same language that has been, and continues to be, used as derogatory against them.

This does not seem to be supported by the analysis as presented. It may be true (certainly, given the graph of usage by gender shows roughly equal usage, which means a sizeable proportion of women’s tweets must have been “conversation” as opposed to “comment”) but it hasn’t been demonstrated. To demonstrate it, I would need to see a breakdown by gender of the types of usage table, which isn’t provided.

So, once again, bad science journalism trumps a fairly reasonably conducted piece of research. The research itself does have issues, not all of which occurred to me and not all of which I have mentioned here. The authors themselves admit: “To give a rough and ready illustration, we ran a series of short studies in order to better understand the volume, degree and type of misogynistic language used on Twitter.” (emphasis mine).

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Testing, testing hair today, gone tomorrow?

A journey started nearly 2 years ago with the birth of a dream.

When Pandora Blake posted about having laser hair removal on her pubic hair, and I responded by dreaming about whole-body or at least, facial, hair removal in the same way (and she confirmed that this is a treatment many trans women undergo) – I had lots of time and no money because unemployed.

Now, nearly two years later, I have less time, but more money because I have a job and it isn’t affordable to move out of my parents’ home (round these parts, I’d need to earn another £10k to make having my own flat a realistic move) so my overheads of life are fewer than for many.

So, I have money for cosmetic treatments. For the past couple of months I have saved up towards laser facial hair removal and in the past week have dropped in to make an appointment, seen a nurse for an assessment, and today, I got my test patch done.

At the assessment, they asked me to fill out a form to collect evidence that these laser treatments are not purely elective but are a very real help and support to people trying to live in a body that is suited to them – trans women, nonbinary-identified folks such as me, and so on. I was glad to add my own input on that and I hope their case is made so that VAT can be reduced or kept low, and make this more affordable to others as well.

I wish I’d re-read Pandora’s piece before going along. Her description of the feel:

The machine blows a jet of cold air onto your skin at the same time as the laser, which doesn’t so much feel like burning as pricking like a needle as it encounters each follicle.

This certainly matched the first sample the nurse gave me, but I said the prickling was almost pleasant (in fact, as a masochist, it was yummy!) and she offered to try a higher setting – “tolerable discomfort” was the aim.

There was definitely a leap up in the pain level, and the sensation was more like receiving small electric shocks (sort of like when you rub along a carpet and then touch a metal handrail). It was also a bit like the sensation when someone did a demonstration with a low-setting violet wand, and perhaps what I imagine that would have been like on a slightly higher setting.

Bearable? I think so, even for a long session. Like Pandora, I have coping techniques to absorb and process pain – and I think that mental image of electric shocks was something like Pandora’s:

If I thought about lasers, zapping, burning, it hurt a lot – whereas if I imagined that someone was dragging a sharp felt tip along my skin, or scratching little dots with the nip of a fountain pen, it hurt much less.

I still want to mull it over, but basically as soon as I feel ready to go I can call and make my first appointment.

(The rest of my body hair, particularly my back and arse, I think may be waxed instead for the time being)

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Helping others to thank you

Crossing my social media radar this afternoon, is a cartoon with social interaction advice, “If you want to say thank you, don’t say sorry

It is strong self-support advice, in that it presents a series of situations in which “sorry” is framing oneself as a problem, whereas saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person.

For instance, “Sorry I’m late” versus “thank you for your patience” (or just, “thanks for waiting”, would be my most common expression of the sentiment).

As I read through the cartoon, though, I found myself questioning the premise of some of the comparisons. I found myself thinking about which of them I say, and in what situations. What makes a difference in whether I say “thank you” or “sorry”?

For instance:

If you want to say, “Thank you for understanding me,” don’t say, “Sorry, I’m not making a lot of sense.”

It seems to me that there is a huge difference between situations when one might say the first versus those where one might use the second. It’s not hard to see where the difference lies. One can only say, “Thank you for understanding me,” if one actually feels understood. If one feels that the other person doesn’t understand, and is perplexed or confused by one’s words, then one feels like an imposition, and as though an apology is necessary.

Of course, that feeling of being not understood can be generated by oneself, as well as or instead of by the other person. Depression, or a self-image as “not intelligent” or “not clever with words” can result in unfairly and negatively self-prejudging one’s attempts to express oneself. Then, regardless of how well the other person has understood, one can feel as though one’s message has been lost. I’ve been there!

Similarly, especially when depression or gloom is predominant (there being a huge difference between depression and just having a lot of sad feelings going on) it is possible to feel that one is “kind of a drag”, or that one is “just rambling”, and that the other person isn’t listening.

But a lot of the time, the difference comes from the other person.

If you want to say, “Thank you for appreciating me,” don’t say, “Sorry I take up so much space.”

(Of course, it could be space, time, effort, or whatever)

Again, there’s a world of difference between the two. One cannot thank another for appreciating them, if one feels that the other doesn’t. The impression of how one is perceived by the other frames the situation and changes it, so that one phrase is appropriate and the other, not. It is very hard – even incongruous (and incongruent) – to say “thank you for appreciating me” if one is not appreciated, but instead receives signals that say, “You are taking up my VALUABLE time” (subtext, too valuable to be wasted on the likes of YOU!”) If the other person doesn’t seem to be listening, or particularly, to have stopped listening, then one can no longer say, “Thank you for listening” but might feel obliged to apologise, “Sorry, I’m just rambling.”

(A caveat: In terms of “Thank you for your patience” it could be assumed that the same is true in the difference between being welcomed with open arms, or with a tap on the wristwatch (or imaginary wristwatch) or pointed glance at the phone. In the latter case, there is surely a pressure to saying sorry rather than thank you. However, I feel that in that instance at least, there is strength in framing the situation. The person indicating their impatience is justified when one apologises; but thanking them regardless of their actual impatience asserts equality and civility.)

It is easy to say, “Avoid those people who make you feel you need to apologise”, but that is not always possible for everyone. Sometimes we have to live or work with people who do not seem to want thanks in this way.

But there is a lesson to be learned: if we find it hard to thank some people, because they are demanding apologies, then perhaps we should work harder to be the sort of person whom others find it easy to thank. I struggle with some things, like eye contact and looking like I’m listening, but I have found that by using other active listening skills (reflecting, paraphrasing, encouraging noises, and so on) that I have become the sort of person who is more often thanked for listening, and not apologised to for “rambling”. By overcoming my impatience, I have I hope become more likely to be thanked for waiting than apologised to for lateness. And so on.

To be thanked, I think, feels much more positive than to be apologised to. And it helps everyone if we can make it easy for others to thank us.

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Freedom of speech and discrimination: #JustPray and other issues

A propos of the news that a major cinema advertising company has refused to show an advert of people saying the Lord’s Prayer, I thought I’d delve into some of the questions again (after my rant last week against Germaine Greer and the transphobes’ bleating of “freeze peach!”, and my earlier foray on no-platforming) and try to hammer out a bit more of my views on this.

It seems to me that this is of a parcel with people insisting they should not be “forced” to allow gay couples to use their bed & breakfast service, as well as people insisting on their right to spout hate speech, or for that matter insisting on the right to smoke in public. Finding a simple rule, or even an algorithm, that neatly gives the answer you think it should for each and every example, is hard. But people who proclaim loudly a rule that must always hold true (such as “free speech always”), must therefore accept it when the rule gives a result opposed to their desires.

I am very much of the opinion that it is useful to hear offensive and insulting opinions. Sometimes, that’s how you know who to avoid because of what their actions are likely to be. Sometimes, the fact that it causes you offence, or that you feel insulted by an observation, should be a red flag that you ought to look at your own assumptions.

But sometimes hate speech, by which I shall mean, “speech that is designed to create an atmosphere in which attacking and harming members of a specific (minority) group is seen as acceptable, or to make members of that group feel excluded from society,” is designated as mere offence or insult.

When Ken Livingstone made remarks about Kevan Jones during the week, he was very close to meeting that definition. He said, “I think he [Jones] might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed … He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

The effect of that remark is to say that people with depression or other mental health issues should not be allowed to speak their opinions on important matters. I would argue that he probably did not intend to produce that effect, and thus say that it was not quite “hate speech” as I defined the term above, but at the same time it was not an okay thing to say.

Greer, on the other hand, explicitly states that trans people (and trans women especially) are lesser, should be excluded and, by implication and the tone of her remarks, paints them as legitimate targets for misogynistic violence. There can be little doubt in my mind that her language is hate speech.

(This brings up the question of whether or not the argument that porn is hate speech against women has any validity. But my response to that is no, partly for similar reasons why Livingstone wasn’t, and also because porn is a medium or style, and far from homogeneous in content and message – one might as well ask if, based on the content of The Sun, all newspapers should be banned)

Another key difference between “no-platforming” (as in Greer’s case) and the cinema advertising question (or the B&B question), is the flow of money.

American football teams hold practices in pre-season training that are open to the public. They do not charge an entry fee, and some fans ask why not, since obviously it could be a revenue stream. The reason is that, as a free access event, the team is allowed to pick and choose whom they want in attendance. If they charged access, then opposing teams’ scouts could pay for a ticket and watch, and it would be illegal to exclude them.

Targets of no-platforming campaigns often want to be paid for their speech. The Church wanted to pay to reach an audience. In a very real sense, Greer’s speech was not “free” – she put a price on her words. In a different sense, the Church’s speech was not free either: they were willing to pay the price to be allowed to speak. The advertising company, by charging for its services, places itself in a position where everyone’s money is equal. When someone asks to be paid for speaking, then they tacitly give permission that the buyer should determine the value and desirability of hearing that speech.

(I can think of several counter examples to that principle, but the principle holds for the B&B question)

I’ll be honest: even as a Christian, I think I’d be a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable if such an advert came on when I was at the cinema to watch a Star Wars movie or whatever: it’s just not a setting in which I want to be thinking about that sort of serious matter, I want to relax for a couple of hours with a fantasy world (or version of the real world, for some movies). But at the same time, it’s no different than if it was an advert for a charity whose causes or practices I vehemently disagreed with: I might not like it, I might be annoyed, but it’s not advocating hatred of others, it’s not seeking to exclude anyone from social discourse or experience. And in a few minutes the movie starts and I can forget all that shite for 120-odd minutes. I can say boldly, “For the price of free speech, yes, I will accept some things that bother me will be said.”

So, as Jemima of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar argues, “you should never decide what another group may or may not be offended by.” (Well worth a read, that post, by the way.)

I’m sorry, but I still can’t offer you a nice, easy, rule or algorithm to say whether or not a particular thing is free speech and must be defended, or if it’s something that should be “no-platformed” or even banned outright. These are complicated matters and I do not know enough or have sufficient depth of thought to say “Haha! I have the answer!” as so many philosophers, or comment-makers who fancy themselves as such, do. All I can say is that examining the causes for your differing feelings on matters may help you pick your way through – but beware of decisions based on disgust (because others will use that rule to find you disgusting).

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