Utopia is only completed in the mind

So last weekend I was inspired by an interview in Doctor Who Magazine to write a bit about the questions that I think about as a sci-fi/fantasy minded writer and fictional world-builder, when it comes to the question of creating Utopian settings for stories.

One of my favourite bloggers, Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Only A Cigar, saw my piece and spun her own ideas off from it, talking about how ideas of Utopia and Dystopia affect political discourse and (sometimes violent) actions. A lot of them seem to come back to the quote from that magazine interview:

“Utopia is somebody else’s idea,” Frank considers, “Somebody else designed it and you just have to live within it. So it’s their Utopia, but it might not be your Utopia. Utopia has to defend itself, it’s my Utopia, so you can’t have it!”

Jemima writes:

By naming the ideal, imaginary world of intelligent BDSM dystopia we are saying that we recognise that what might be perfect for us would be hell for others. Although I struggle to see who would not wish to be tied into stocks in the Bigg Market, I am not so arrogant as to assume my fantasies are universal.

It struck me that my considerations focussed on “a world that works for everyone”, and a broad social Utopia that is designed to function well and with positive outcomes; but Jemima’s discussion started from a more personal, individual, basis, talking about a world that would be perfection for those who designed it, but that others, with different ways of being and different desires might not fare as well in such a world as they imagine.

To me, when I think of a Utopia I immediately imagine a “best fit” solution to make all those involved comfortably off and satisfying whatever needs they may have (including excitement, adventure, kinky sex, whatever it is you need to feel alive…). But to a lot of people, they think not of day-to-day satisfaction and fulfilment but of the ultimate pleasure existence – and that, necessarily, is going to conflict with others’ self-interest and ultimate pleasure. Or, they think of the smoothest possible existence for themselves.

The two main political parties in the UK, the Conservatives and Labour, in some ways can be seen as representing these two different views. The Tory promise has consistently been that you (or a large enough proportion of you) can have your perfect, smooth, world – through more choice, fewer restrictions on your money and where you spend it, and a bigger, safer wall (figuratively) around your lifestyle, to keep out that which causes you disgust.

This has proven popular but has also repeatedly proven to be a lie. More and more people find that their personal Utopia has been plunged into chaos and Dystopia by Tory policy in order to make room for someone else to more closely achieve theirs.

The Labour Party (even when it was rebranded as “New Labour”) has always taken the collective view of the world they would try to build. Interestingly, the new Clause IV is a much more Utopian style statement than the old Clause IV was (which dealt with class struggle and control of created wealth): it describes a world intended to work “well enough” for as many as possible, “in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect”.

The promise here is that no one gets perfection but everyone gets something “good enough”. To those who actually do get their smooth, perfect, Utopian existence under the Tories, this seems like a threat and a loss; to many others it feels like giving up on their ultimate dream pleasure existence and “settling”, which they don’t want to do. But if you are used to perfection, even the slightest imperfection seems like Dystopia, and that is why so many of the most powerful figures are so determined to paint a Jeremy Corbyn government as a horrific Dystopian outcome.

True Dystopia, though, is already experienced by too many people today. As Jemima points out with some examples:

There are genuine things to fear, the treatment of disabled people is already dystopian in the UK, the proposed tory regulation of the internet straight from 1984. We are already criminalised for consensual thoughts and desires, and it is only going to get worse. Moves like the rape clause also show that far from having to create nightmare scenarios we are living within the nightmare.

Dystopia is “I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next week” or “I don’t know if I’m going to be kicked to death/arrested and imprisoned/unable to access basic services, because of who I am or what I believe”. It is not “I have slightly less of my income over 3 times the national average, than I used to”.

As Jemima put it: “We cannot build a perfect world because in doing so we cling to the extreme belief of destroying imperfections, but maybe we can build a better, imperfect one.”

In my earlier piece, I referenced the agent in Serenity, talking about Utopias that are built on violence (Jemima’s blogging partner Carter discusses this concept as well, in a broader piece). Jemima’s remark that, “I am not talking about a belief system, but the internal belief, that the world is so bad that only violence can change it,” reminded me again of that character, a person so convinced that all imperfections must be expunged in violence, and that his own violence must also be expunged at some point. The agent was willing to commit atrocities because he believed that any measure was reasonable to bring about the world he believed would be a Utopia.

I’m reminded of the adage in Gillian Cross’s “The Demon Headmaster”: “The man who can keep order can rule the world, but the man who can bear disorder is truly free.” The title character is obsessed with order, and uses mind control techniques to enforce it, adhering only to the first part of the saying. In this he is like many an ideologue who would build a Utopia, and damn the consequences (and anyone who finds it dystopian). And inevitably there will be imperfections tha ultimately bring the ordered existence crashing down.

“The one who can bear disorder is truly free.” Compare again, Jemima’s closing thought: “We cannot build a perfect world … but maybe we can build a better, imperfect one.” In order for a Utopia to actually exist, it must accommodate everyone who lives in it but in order to do that, everyone must be able to “bear disorder” and be comfortable (maybe even happy) with the minor imperfections that remain.

Utopia starts in the mind, as a dream of a better world. And in the end it is only ever completed in the mind, with a willingness to live happily in the moment.

* * *

To close, I’ll just share a couple of amusing youtube videos about dystopias in video games:

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, SCW | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Questions for your Utopia

In the June edition of Doctor Who Magazine (available in May in UK, I assume because overseas sales or something?), there is an interview with Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the writer of episode “Smile” (the one with the emojibots and Vardy nanobots).

In it he discusses one of the themes he set out to tackle (to be honest, I don’t think he did that well on it in the story, but it’s still a great episode): the subject of Utopia.

“I’m not just bored with Dystopia, I think there’s a question that Dystopian fiction may have normalised some of our modern politicians. Now, we’re living in Dystopia and are we living in Dystopia because we imagined it too much?

“Anyway,” he continues, “we’ve imagined what bad is for a long time, so should we start imagining what good is?”

Is that a problem with Utopian ideals – there will always be somebody like Ralf Little’s Steadfast stirring up passions to take back paradise from the robots that built it in the first place?

“Utopia is somebody else’s idea,” Frank considers, “Somebody else designed it and you just have to live within it. So it’s their Utopia, but it might not be your Utopia. Utopia has to defend itself, it’s my Utopia, so you can’t have it!”

These are some fascinating questions to think about with regards to writing and fiction.

  • Why do Utopias appear more rarely than Dystopias?
  • What roles might Utopias play in fiction?
  • How can we design a Utopia? What are the problems that have to be worked out in the worldbuilding process?

Why are Utopias rare?

This is relatively easy to answer.

The essence of all stories is conflict, whether that is internal, against nature or circumstance, or against other people. In order to hold the reader’s interest, your protagonist must have a need and face some obstacle to answering that need.

The essence of a Utopia is to remove the obstacles to meeting the population’s needs. Threats and conflicts tend to be removed and are imagined to have no place in the Utopian world ideals.

So it is very hard to set a compelling story in a genuine Utopia. Instead, the story must focus on the “fly in the ointment” that makes it less than perfect, or construct the Utopia as a Curate’s Egg, where the good is rendered worthless by the bad and under the surface, the Utopia is revealed to be Dystopian.

Another challenge is that Utopias tend to be seen as stable, self-preserving, and in that sense conservative. Stories rely on change. While it is possible to have a “reset” at the end of each episode where everything goes “back to normal” in episodic fashion, but these stories tend to be less satisfying.

Finally, Utopias are hard to create. To write a Dystopia, all one has to do is pick a problem with the current society and exaggerate it to grotesque form or scale, and see what comes out of that. To write a Utopia, you need to find sustainable ways of resolving all the problems – which means seeing what they might be.

What roles can Utopias play?

While it’s hard to set a story in a Utopia, a Utopia can easily be a beginning or an end for the story. If the story’s conflict comes from the disruption of a Utopia then the conflict and threat to the protagonist(s) is clear. The threat can come from outside or inside, but if it comes from the inside it is probably a pseudo-Utopia in that there was a fly in the ointment or some Dystopian tendencies already there.

In order to create a compelling challenge, the Utopia cannot merely operate as before but its internal operations must start to break down so that the Utopian nature is disrupted. My instinct would be to have it break down completely so that once the external threat is removed, rebuilding must take place and perhaps the old Utopia will need to be replaced.

Alternatively, the Utopia can be the conclusion. Here, the story would for the most part be set in a Dystopia, but the protagonist(s) succeed not only in bringing down the Dystopian rule, but also overcome the challenges to instating the new, better, Utopian system that they fought for throughout. An example, to which I’ll return in the next section, is Robert A. Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, in which a theocratic autocracy is overthrown by a rebellion motivated to restore democratic ideals and whose goal is to “maximise individual liberty”, the antithesis of what went before.

The “Utopia under threat” storyline can work out in a different way: as described above, a Utopia tends to be seen as resisting change. But what if some circumstance arises that requires the rules and structures governing the society to change in order to survive?

The conflict occurs between those who feel their way of life under threat and urgently wish to change radically so they can defend it, against those who see the changes as doing more to destroy the way of life and resist them.

A version of that storyline plays out periodically in the political Left, and in the Labour Party in the UK particularly. The turmoil over Tony Blair’s “modernisation” is an example; and the conflict between the Right and the Left over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (a conflict that was presaged by the tension between anti-austerity Left and austerity-Right under Ed Miliband) can be seen in the same way, although in those storylines there is no Utopia but rather a fight over whether it can be achieved.

All of these allow an author to imagine a “best of all worlds”, or at least, a better world than ours, in which perceived problems have been solved. The challenge is either to imagine it then destroyed or disrupted, or else to imagine how it might come about.

I have a story idea in mind that conforms largely to the “Create the utopia” arc, but that the methods of its creation are anathema to the ideal, so that those responsible become seen as criminals. (The agent in Serenity is an example of this concept: “There’s no place for me there – I’m a monster!” And in general Serenity discusses a “Dystopian underbelly” worldview.)

My final remark on the role of Utopias is to mention Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, which in many ways seems to resemble a communist ideal of a post-capitalist economy. It is as close to a Utopia as one can imagine, but the writers find many ways of putting the society to the test, with external threats and internal emotional conflicts that sometimes test the ideals and principles that keep it Utopian. By placing the stories largely on the fringes of the Federation, and in its military/conflict/problem-solving body (Starfleet), there’s plenty of scope to challenge the protagonists.

How can we build a Utopia?

As mentioned above, the worldbuilding for a Utopia is much harder than for a Dystopia, simply because you have to solve everything. To be truly Utopian, the people’s needs must be met and their conflicts easily resolved within the system.

This brings up possibly the biggest problem, and the essential tension that pushes Utopias away from the ideal and into “Dystopian underbelly” territory.

In the passage I quoted at the start, the DWM interview with Cottrell-Boyce touched on it:

Is that a problem with Utopian ideals – there will always be somebody like Ralf Little’s Steadfast stirring up passions to take back paradise from the robots that built it in the first place?

“Utopia is somebody else’s idea,” Frank considers, “Somebody else designed it and you just have to live within it. So it’s their Utopia, but it might not be your Utopia. Utopia has to defend itself, it’s my Utopia, so you can’t have it!”

The question is, “How do you deal with the dissenters?” People who for whatever reason don’t fit in with the version of Utopia that you’ve laid out. Those who find it stultifying, deadening or disengaging – or who feel excluded or marginalised within it? Those who for whatever reason do not or cannot play by the rules that maintain the Utopia?

People being what they are, and as varied as they are, there are almost certainly going to be people who disagree with how things are done and the question of how the society deals with that often is where the ideals become, shall we say, less than ideal!

Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 is unusual in that he both describes the set-up of the Utopia, and then in the second part looks at the society 50 years or so later. He looks at it through the lens of how it deals with a dissenter, and in so doing discusses concisely some of the key problems not only of designing a Utopia, but also of modern progressive and social justice campaigning.

In two speeches – by David McKinnon (found guilty for punching someone for an insulting remark), and the Senior Judge – Heinlein addresses several points. I’ll quote the points and counterpoints together to make it easier to discuss them in context, rather than quote the whole passage as a single block.

McKinnon: You talk about your precious “Covenant” as if it were something holy. I don’t agree to it and I don’t accept it. You act as if it had been sent down from heaven in a burst of light. My grandfathers fought in the Second Revolution – but they fought to abolish superstition – not to let sheep-minded fools set up new ones.

Judge: The Covenant is not a superstition, but a simple temporal contract entered into by those same revolutionaries for pragmatic reasons. They wished to insure the maximum possible liberty for every person.

You yourself have enjoyed that liberty. No possible act, nor mode of conduct, was forbidden to you, as long as your action did not damage another. Even an act specifically prohibited by law could not be held against you, unless the state was able to prove that your particular act damaged, or caused evident danger of damage, to a particular individual.

We shall leave for the moment the practical problems of Heinlein’s mode of utopian libertarianism and why it’s not an ideal that can be implemented today (as some people who bleat about free speech would have us do). Leave aside also that it is an incomplete version of Asimov’s 1st Law of Robotics: “A robot must not harm a human, or through inaction allow a human to come to harm.” (Asimov discussed the problem of omitting the second part in “Little Lost Robot”, though not where applied to rules of human behaviour). Heinlein’s Covenant offers no requirement to protect people from harm, only to not cause harm (and to protect socity from those who would cause harm).

The Judge outlines the Covenant as “a temporal contract entered into”, while McKinnon states that he doesn’t agree to it. This is the point raised by Cottrell-Boyce: “Utopia is somebody else’s idea. Somebody else designed it and you just have to live within it. So it’s their Utopia, but it might not be your Utopia.”

People being people, there will always be some who object to the way things are, or who don’t fit neatly into the society as outlined. As in Heinlein’s story, a common solution is ejection from society – banishment, “shunning”, being “sent to Coventry” in Revolt in 2100 (where Coventry is essentially a reservation). But that means there must be an anti-Utopia to which the dissenters are sent, a place of punishment in all but name, though in Revolt the nature of that punishment is effectively created by the people previously sent there.

One way or another, your Utopia will need a way to handle those who reject the current order, either by wishing to see it changed or who simply choose to break the rules that keep it functioning.

MacKinnon: You’ve planned your whole world so carefully that you’ve planned the fun and zest right out of it. Nobody is ever hungry, nobody ever gets hurt. Your ships can’t crack up and your crops can’t fail.

If one of you safe little people should have an unpleasant emotion – perish the thought! – you’d trot right over to the nearest psychodynamics clinic and get your soft little minds readjusted.

Why do you bother to live anyhow? I would think that anyone of you would welcome an end to your silly, futile lives just from sheer boredom.

Judge: You complain that our way of living is dull and unromantic, and imply that we have deprived you of excitement to which you feel entitled. You are free to hold and express your aesthetic opinion of our way of living, but you must not expect us to live to suit your tastes. You are free to seek danger and adventure if you wish – there is danger still in experimental laboratories; there is hardship in the mountains of the Moon, and death in the jungles of Venus – but you re not free to expose us to the violence of your nature.

The alert reader will notice how the Judge’s remarks about where to find excitement reflect the role of Starfleet in Star Trek’s Federation that I remarked on earlier. Indeed, the final section of Heinlein’s novel deals with some of the dissenters who opt for this sort of military-style service.

But the bigger question, the one that an author engaged in worldbuilding a Utopia needs to address, is how to make it seem like a world worth living in. A famous writer (my memory says George Orwell, but I could be wrong) once said that no Utopia anyone had written sounded like a place he’d want to live in. How do you avoid making a world in which all “fun and zest” has been erased along with the negative emotions?

A question left unaddressed by the Judge (and not directly raised by MacKinnon) is where those with extra-Utopian (for want of a better term) emotions or desires find fellow spirits, people who share and appreciate the same things. The idea that everyone will share the same desires, or that there will be simple clusters of desires so that the laboratories or Starfleet, or whatever, will be sufficient, seems shortsighted. Companionship seems not to be addressed in Heinlein’s world (perhaps a consequence of the individualism underpinning the principles of the society?)

The other thing that a Utopia needs is a system for making policy and responding to the circumstances that life throws at the society. Someone must run the economy (although in some versions, this is done for us by computers or robots, or other overseers, who ensure the economy provides every need). Someone must allocate resources for research, policing, education, healthcare and so on. Someone must make whatever real-time emergency decrees are necessary. Again, all of this might be handled from computers.

In Star Trek’s Federation, there are democratically elected leaders and there are military commanders in Starfleet whose job is to handle these questions. When the Federation is threatened by outside forces (e.g. the Dominion in Deep Space 9) these are the bodies that have to decide how to meet that threat (and in one DS9 story, come into conflict, with the possibility of a military coup bringing down the Utopian society from inside).

* * *

Utopias are hard to design. A lot of the time, people trying to do so look at the world and say that certain things and behaviours will have no place there, either by banishment or because they believe that the structures of their Utopia will simply mean they never arise. Sex workers, BDSMers and trans folk will all be familiar with being told by a certain branch of feminism that they will be eradicated in the Feminist Utopia that replaces patriarchal Capitalism.

People of colour have also often noted that there is a pasty-white skin palette in a lot of future societies, some of which are supposedly Utopian (in Ursula LeQuin’s Lathe of Heaven, an attempt to create a racism-free Utopia produces instead a society with only one race – although this is an intentional parody and explained because the person who is tasked with creating it is from a world so conflict-ridden that imagining people living in peace proves beyond him).

So as a writer, as well as thinking about all the practical issues of how the society is going to function, what its role in the story is, and what keeps people living in it, you also have to think carefully about how it deals with the awkward people and who is excluded either directly or by omission. For example, when I read Heinlein’s story, as a BDSMer I felt excluded because by the objective measures demanded by his society, a cane welt (for instance) seems sure to be regarded as “damage”; some of the darker emotions that form the basis for so many aspects of play would be the sort that people would view as a threat or have “readjusted” away. And yet, What It Is That We Do, we do because it feels to us the opposite of damaging.

I have one more point to add. Cottrell-Boyce questions whether by imagining Dystopia, we brought it about. My feeling is, we write them as warnings because we see them coming and want people to see it coming too, and stop it. What that means is that people didn’t heed the warnings until too late.

Which is why we now need stories of overturning Dystopia and achieving something better.

Posted in Politics, Writing about writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turbulent TERFs vs Tyke Tiler

[SPOILERS for The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, by Gene Kemp]

(I’ve provided the warning but if you don’t already know the twist then the title/topic of my post has probably already given it away anyway. But still, go and read the book for yourself!)

So the whole TERF canard of “I was a tomboy but these days they’d have said I was trans instead” has been cropping up again recently on twitter.

Every time I hear this, I think of one of the most powerful stories I read as a child that brings assumptions about gender into focus, and one of the most famous fictional tomboys ever.

Theodora Tiler, universally known as “Tyke”, and never referred to in the third person (so that pronouns are never revealed).

At the climax of the book, the end of the penultimate chapter, Tyke has climbed the school tower with the intent of ringing a bell that hasn’t been safe to ring for decades due to the tower being unstable. In the heat of the moment, a senior teacher shouts, “Get down from there at once, Theodora Tiler, you naughty girl!”

I am sure that this must have been analysed to death from all angles and all interpretations of queer, trans, feminist and whatnot. I am sure I have nothing new to bring except my own responses and viewpoint, and much of what I say will either seem terribly ignorant or unoriginal. I am not aware of any “Voice of God” statements by Gene Kemp about these issues as they relate to Tyke Tiler. Perhaps if “Turbulent Term” was written today then Tyke would have been written as trans, I don’t know.

What we do know is that Tiler is universally known not by the “girl’s” name Theodora, but as “Tyke” throughout and by everyone, except for the one moment described above, and is stereotypically “boy-like” in behaviours and interests (so that, growing up as a MAAB person, I recognised a lot of my experiences as a child in the less extravagant exploits described). My interests and ambitions were not the same, but I saw myself in Tyke.

Knowing what I do now, about my non-binary genderfluidity, maybe I saw even more than I knew at the time?

The story was written in 1977 so Tyke would be about 12 years older than me now had Tyke been a real person – say, 50-ish years old this year. If you listen to trans people of that age, you may realise that for many, to be themselves was a long struggle and only really achieved later in life for many of them. So I wonder what Tyke Tiler’s life might have been like: after ‘O’ levels (finished in perhaps 1982), maybe ‘A’ levels (1984) and university (1987). (Compare my post about politics for different ages! See the comments about feminism for a 50 year old for some context) Tyke would have been known as Theodora and identified by others as female regardless of how Tyke identified. I know from personal experience that we cannot project forwards from childhood behaviour and personality to career choices or behaviours later in life so trying to map out a career for Tiler seems pointless without the author’s Word of God.

It is possible to picture a present-day adult Tyke Tiler in so many different ways: lesbian/gay, straight, bi? Professional, or hourly wage? Parent? Trans or cis? All combinations are possible.

But we can play some games of “what if…?”

What if Theodora was a cis tomboy, growing up to be a cis woman?

Pronouns would be “she/her/hers”, and she would probably be Theodora for her adult life, or possibly some other shortening such as Thea. Theodora Tiler would be a part of the battle for equal opportunities for women (and perhaps lesbians). She might have been part of the 80s wave of social justice campaigners, into rave music, experimenting in various ways but eventually settling down in the 90s and by 1997, in her early 30s. she would be confident of who she was, if she’s in a career then reasonably well-off, probably with a long-term partner. However she presented, she would be accepted as herself – as Theodora, or Thea, Tiler. She would probably feel confident in her sexuality and her gender and her turbulent term would be a set of great anecdotes to entertain friends and maybe children.

And in 2017, she might claim that “I was a tomboy but nowadays they would make me trans”.

What if Tyke Tiler was trans, growing up to be a trans man?

Tyke would grow up having to navigate conflicting identities. Pronouns would be difficult to judge, as Tyke would probably be known by “she/her/hers” for much of her life but would most likely prefer to be he/him/his. In Tyke’s life, it would probably work out as “she” until some point labelled “transition” and then use “he”. I’m going to revert to “they/them” for the following (based on my “Language” guidelines, this is because our various Tyke Tilers are all hypothetical and not referring to a singular actual person)

The trend for women to wear masculine clothing was well underway by then and Tyke would have been able to dress in ways that felt natural to their identity but would largely have been assumed to be cis female as a result of those same trends, with people more likely to assume lesbian than trans.

The Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004 and this is likely to be an important event in our hypothetical trans Tyke Tiler’s life. They would be in their late 30s and probably also at at time in their life where the means to seek surgery of various kinds to fit their body to their gender would be available. They may have already been using hormones, or might only really have found a way to reconcile the conflict between public perception and self-identity through publicity. It is possible that Tyke Tiler might have left behind the name Theodora forever and been recognised as male (perhaps under that old nickname, or some other male name chosen at some point).

In 2017, trans man Tyke Tiler would hopefully have achieved the goal of becoming themselves.

What if Theodora Tiler was a cis girl in 2017?

I’m not very well placed to talk about this, being neither 11 nor having experiences of being young and a tomboy. Through riding on buses packed with schoolkids, paying attention to some of the media output aimed at them, and with some reference to the behaviours I remember from 25 years or more ago that seem to be reflected in those other sources, I can take some guesses.

I would expect, the most common reaction would be to use lesbophobic language and assumptions (regardless of whether Theodora was lesbian, straight or bi, or not even aware of her sexuality yet at age 11). Some gender-policing language would also be common, even from friends: “You’re such a boy!” But Tyke never claims to be a boy herself, and the meaning would be the same as calling someone a tomboy.

As far as “authority” and “family” goes, Theodora would face much more testing than her 1977 counterpart would have, but since a key plot point in 1977 is a test (I believe a Cognitive Ability Test, rather than the Standard Attainment Target tests or whatever they’re called nowadays) then we can assume a lot of the action would be similar, though Tyke might have to hack a school computer or something instead of just stealing a paper copy.

While Theodora’s interests might be stereotypically masculine, that is unlikely to play into authority figures’ responses to her: their main concern, as in 1977, would be discipline and safety. Their concern would not be gender identity but turbulence. My recollection of the details of the story are not perfect but I remember Tyke’s parents in the novel as broadly supportive of her interests, if not always her wildness. It is not hard to imagine parents with the same mixture of concern and supportiveness, allowing Theodora to just be herself.

The suggestion anyone would view Theodora Tiler as trans instead of tomboy is frankly a stretch of the imagination that I can’t quite make!

What if Tyke Tiler was a trans boy in 2017?

This is where it gets tricky. Since in the novel, Tyke never claims to be a boy, it seems hard to say whether or not he would be out as trans. But we also can observe that if 2017 Tyke is trans, no one misgenders him until that key “reveal” where the teacher calls him “Theodora Tiler, you naughty girl”.

Trans folk dream of having such an accepting school environment!

Everyone throughout the novel, from peers to parents to school teachers and authority figures, accepts Tyke as Tyke, apart from that one teacher who calls out “Theodora”. In fact, even as a 9 year old reading the story for the first time, the biggest shock about that big reveal wasn’t that “Tyke Tiler is a girl” (though that was a big surprise), but that the teacher called Tyke by a name that Tyke had clearly rejected.

In this reading, of course, that teacher would come across as a transphobe. In order to get as far through the book as we do without it being an issue, we have to imagine the teacher suppressing her anti-trans feelings in order to comply with equal opportunities guidelines but at last, the outburst comes in the heat of the moment and her true feelings are revealed.

* * *

So, yeah. My take away from these four hypothetical scenarios is that it’s really hard to imagine a cisgendered Tyke Tiler being misgendered by the people around her. The way the story is told is deliberately to lead the reader to misgender her in their mind until the big reveal, and the fact it remains effective says something about how attached people are to binary gender and signifiers.

Trans folk are not stereotypes of either gender and are only forced to enact such roles in order to achieve societal acceptance when cis folk can be tomboys or “metrosexual” and no one challenges their right to be women or men as they claim to be.

There is, however, one more fictional “tomboy” I want to think about.

In the Famous Five, George is FAAB but is written explicitly as wanting to be a boy, to the extent of rejecting the name Georgina and insisting on being called George, and defiantly wanting to be seen as masculine – not just an equal to the boys but competing to be a boy. At least, this is how it came across very strongly to me.

The Famous Five novels follow the team of four children and George’s dog through several years of early adolescence and George’s identity remains pretty fixed throughout.

Others have noted this before, although as Wikipedia points out, the depiction is unlikely to be intentional as Enid Blyton says George was “based on herself”, and was a conservative writer (with racist language all over the place, for example).

Nevertheless, it is not hard to imagine a person like George being out as trans in the modern day. When the books were written, homosexuality was still illegal in Britain so to be trans would still have been a great risk. The language to express gender dysphoria was completely couched in the language of psychological disorder and paraphilia. Whether “Word of God” counts for anything here is a question, of course.

(On a personal note, while I disliked George’s often combative attitude to other people, of the Five, she is the one that I most wanted to be like and most wanted to see do well. While Julian is set up as the “leader” and felt like the paragon of masculine ideals, I was drawn more to George as a symbol of “me”. Again, as a MAAB person, might be worth considering that in light of my acceptance of my genderfluidity and nonbinary identity?)

But what if George was a young person today? Would people really “make” them be trans?

I don’t believe so. People probably would use “George”, although not everyone would (just as George struggles to be accepted as George in the Famous Five books). Since George insists on being “Master” and not “Miss” we can guess that their pronouns would either be he/him/his or they/them/their (assuming none of the later coinages such as those that I prefer to use unless otherwise directed). But it is far more likely that George would face just as hard a struggle to have these terms of address accepted as they did having people say “Master” instead of “Miss” in 1942.

A genuinely trans-accepting school and medical system would not question George’s wishes. People would call them George, and use whatever pronouns George asked to be known by (we don’t tend to use formal titles for young people any more, but in the current system George would still probably be recorded officially as Miss Georgina Kirrin). The point is that George would be allowed to lead the way.

Suppose George wanted to be “master”, and “he/him/his”, and goes to great lengths to appear masculine or male, but still says “I am not a boy, I am a girl who wants to look and act like a boy”, then no one would insist the opposite.

And that’s what it comes down to. That’s what shows up the whole fallacy in the lie told by transphobes about tomboys being misgendered and forced to be trans.

It’s always led by the person themselves. George likes to be called by a “male” name, wants to be given the male juvenile term of address, takes great effort to change their physical appearance to something more “male” (we can appreciate why it couldn’t be depicted in children’s books from the 40s and 50s, but I do wonder if as they went through puberty, George began to bind her breasts?), likes it when someone thinks she’s a boy. We might very well want to have that dialogue with them at that point, and ask, “do you see yourself as a boy, or in between, rather than a girl?”

But true trans acceptance means taking George’s answer.

And that’s how tomboys would never be mistaken for trans boys. No one would think Tyke Tiler was trans unless they said so, and while the stereotypes might lead the reader to (mis)gender Tyke, Tyke never says anything about their own gender identity. We wonder about George because George does talk about these things, and takes deliberate efforts to appear masculine.

They’re both identified as tomboys, but only one of them talks about wanting to be a boy.

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When Corbyn Regenerates: Choosing the Left’s Next Leader

With the news that Peter Capaldi is stepping down as the Doctor, I think of another grey-haired hero of social justice whose time at the helm may be limited, and how we make sure the legacy continues.

There is a question that I think needs to be addressed by the Left within the Labour Party, and by the broader membership who supported Jeremy Corbyn over the past two years, to the chagrin of the Blairite orthodoxy who think they (and not the members) own the Party.

It’s a simple question, and one that I was pondering discussing before May’s election announcement, but I suspect that, to a lot on the Left, such as the Momentum mob, it will feel like anathema, perhaps even a deep betrayal of the movement (especially now we’re engaged in an election campaign). But we need to be ready:

“Who next after Corbyn?”

We have a curious situation where Corbyn’s policies are popular but the man himself seems to be not so. I’ve had discussions with people in my circle of acquaintances for the last year or so. The leftwing in the Labour Party has the right direction on many points both to win votes and to revitalise progressive politics in the UK.

Without a doubt, we needed Corbyn to get these ideas on the agenda once again, and to bring about the engagement and mass membership that the Labour Party needs to start developing these thoughts. Corbyn had the presentation to catch the imagination and sell the ideas so that people believed they were possible again. It’s hard, just two years on, to recall the sheer excitement for anti-austerity, social investment and social justice that Corbyn’s leadership campaign inspired. The nastiness of the Blairite response to his election, and of Brexit, and of the internal coup attempt against Corbyn last summer, have swamped those emotions since, and left them as faint memories only. But we should not forget that we could not have got the ideas out there in the first place for the public to say they agreed with them (even as they say they disagree with Corbyn).

But Corbyn has been the target for two years of incessant hatred and misrepresentation by the rightwing media (including ITV and the BBC). Win or lose in the 2017 General Election, he is not a long-term option and at some point someone else will have to take up the mantle of the Left and to carry forward the policies we believe in.

As things stand, the rightwing of the Labour Party (and indeed, the wider Right in this country) can feel legitimately that if they just get rid of Corbyn then the resurgence of the Left will fall apart and the previous orthodoxy will regain supremacy and the party membership can be sidelined again.

Therefore, we need to find the people who can step up and take his place, whether this year or in ten years’ time. We need to show that there is a potent movement here that will outlive its cult figure leader, and that has the capacity to sustain itself.

Should The Next Labour Leader Be A Woman?

I saw recently an article (I forget where, but I think it was on the website of one of the big political magazines on the liberal Right) that suggested that Yvette Cooper has a good chance of being given a coronation as next Labour leader if Corbyn is ousted, because here is a feeling that the next leader should be a woman. It is a significant question for the Left to address as well, because on the Left there is a lot of talk about countering sexism, misogyny, the Patriarchal structures of society and so on. (Equally, on LGBTQI rights, race, etc). But it’s the Tories who have had two female leaders (of the Big Three, the only party to have done so) and that feels like an embarrassment – a failure to live up to the egalitarian ideals.

But Tories elect women as their leaders because those women have stood for hardline Free Market and monetarist economics, at the expense of workers’ rights, the Welfare State and so on. Tory policies under Thatcher, and now under May, disproportionately harm women’s prospects. Theresa May has consistently voted against LGBTQI rights and protections, and appeals directly to racist anti-immigration sentiments to a degree that feels unmatched since before I was born. Women become leaders of the Tory Party by being very willing to shit on the rights of women not like them.

On the liberal left and particularly the liberal left media, there is a lot of image politics, of the type typified by the campaign to put more women on banknotes as notable figures. That’s all very well, but the response from the activist left is, “We don’t care so much about who’s ON the banknotes, as about who’s GOT them in their pockets.” Equally, while there is a slight image problem of not having had a female leader, of the women who put themselves up for the leadership don’t have the conviction and passion for egalitarian and social justice politics that we hope for, then we prefer to look at the effects our leaders have on the wider population of women, LGBTQI, BAME etc people.

(Of course, there is also the point worth noting that in the 2010 leadership contest, the leftwing candidate happened to be both Black and a woman. Diane Abbott back then was much less luvvy, and presented much better than she has since she started working on the BBC’s politics coverage alongside one Michael Portillo. I don’t intend to get into ny kind of analysis of why she didn’t win back then, but it’s also worth noting that it’s the rightwing of the party complaining about gender now, and who would have voted against her back then.)

That said, as the 2016 Labour Leadership contest reached its head I considered the question and went looking for Labour Party MPs who were women and who hadn’t been part of the Blairite coup’s mass Shadow Cabinet resignation. It was depressing to see how few there were. Anyone who was a part of that exodus has to be considered as at best a fair-weather friend of the leftwing movement.

So, while it would be nice for the visuals to have a BAME or female leader (or for that matter, an openly gay, lesbian, bi or trans leader), the policies and passion for them, have to come first. It’s no good having a leader of a particular group if they are not willing to take on the forces of oppression in wider society.

What Are We Looking For?

Perhaps the biggest, and hardest, question to answer. But there are some very broad-sweep statements that can be made about the general mood, and what the membership of the Labour Party have voted for in their leader in recent times.

  • Anti-austerity and investment in the country
  • Protecting the NHS against creeping prrivatisation, and making sure the NHS is properly funded
  • A commitment to the Welfare State, particularly for those most in need such as disabled people
  • Ready to protect the poorest against low wages, uncertainty and instability in income (such as zero-hour contracts)
  • Willing to re-nationalise those industries where privatisation has failed, most notably the rail network
  • Social justice causes, both at home and overseas – on race, gender, LGBTQI, and general human rights
  • Courage of their convictions in these and other issues

The “vocal Left” have other criteria as well, but I am not sure that they are borne by the majority of the Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party’s wider membership. Momentum wanted to be the means of organisation for the Left in the party but frankly, it’s alienated a lot of the people who support Corbyn generally. So I think that there should be more flexibility on things like Britain’s nuclear deterrent (and what form that should take). This is something I’ve found reflected among other Labour Pary members I’ve spoken with about Corbyn – generally we support him, but on this issue and one or two others, we disagreed.

For me, personally, I am an advocate for wider sexual politics, both in the field of censorship (get rid of as much as possible), kink, and sex workers rights. I would like to see my Labour Party commit to full decriminalisation of sex work, moving it from the criminal to the civil sphere of law and generally strengthening sex wrkers’ rights and ability to operate safely (as the Green party has done, though given the amazing flexibility of their candidates such that their Cambridge candidate in 2015 made transphobic comments, and Caroline Lucas is known to be an advocate of the Swedish model, that doesn’t enourage me much).

But these are issues I will campaign on whoever is in power; I can hope to influence Labour Party policy by actively engaging with the NEC Elections, and other avenues for discussion within the party, petition and writing to representatives.

As far as choosing someone to continue Jeremy Corbyn’s resurrection of the Labour Party as a party of the left, though, the key criteria seem to be outlined in my bullet points above.

Who Are The Options?

This is the catch. Who is there that can fill these criteria, who won’t become a complete media-style politician but equally won’t alienate the media as much? The person who will be able to inspire Corbyn’s followers and carry to torch onwards, while showing it to the people we need to reach in future as well?

I don’t honestly know. The names most closely linked to Corbyn’s ideas seem to be Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell and while both seem to be eloquent speakers recently, I haven found neither to be inspiring, and both have already been heavily targeted by mainstream (especially rightwing) media. I could probably go along with Thornberry as leader, given her performances during this 2017 campaign, though, which is a lot better than I remember her being in 2015.

I’m not so deeply involved or following the intricacies of the party’s internal politics or the cabinet members to be able to point to a candidate and say, “let’s make this person Corbyn’s successor.” In some ways, I feel like to do that with one person would be to miss the point of this piece anyway. After all, if it’s just one prson then, just as with Corbyn, the rightwing of the Party can feel that just removing that head will give them the chance to regain control over the Party, away from the membership.

But I do think that those of us who support strongly the principles bullet-pointed above, owe it to ourselves to research possible candidates and think about the question, “Who replaces Corbyn?”

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Star Trek: Deep Space 9 – a Queer allegory? [SPOILERS]

[SPOILERS for Star Trek: Deep Space 9]

As I hinted in my past post, I have recently watched through the boxset of Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

This was a very happy experience, because I loved that series when it was originally broadcast. Naturally, I didn’t have a perfect memory of the entire seven seasons’ worth of stories, but there were several favourites it was a joy to watch again, and equally, several stories it was pleasant to see again as if they were new.

But one thing in particular struck me about the series as a whole, a theme or thread running through every story arc and subplot. This may not be the most original observation, but at the same time it was something that came through so strongly for me as someone living in a “reluctantly queer” life.

The theme I noticed was the question of Identity, and in particular, negotiating identities. Identities that may clash from time to time, or fit awkwardly, and that require a person to navigate between them. This resonated strongly with me because of my genderfluid, genderqueer identity (and the difficulties I have in negotiating those “awkward” selves) and my bisexuality, and even my sense of my BDSM role(s) as a Dominant and sadist who is also a masochist and also enjoys playing the sub role.

Let’s start with the regular aliens – the crew members who are explicitly non-human. In the DS9 crew, these are Major (later Colonel) Kira Neris, Constable Odo, and Jadzia (later Ezri) Dax.

We’ll leave Kira to one side for the moment and focus on the other two. These are a “changeling” or shapeshifter who can adopt any physical form they choose (Odo chooses a standard “masculine” form and uses the pronouns he/him/his, so we shall respect that); and a symbiotic alien (a Trill) comprising a “memory store” [my term] symbiont (named “Dax”) that is passed from host to host as each host dies, and the latest host (Jadzia, and later, Ezri) whose personality is a combination of their own, and the parts of the past hosts that come through from the symbiont’s memories.

If that doesn’t already flag up the theme of “identity”, I don’t know what could!

And if that’s not enough, Odo is alone – at the start of the series he doesn’t know where he comes from, or anything about his own species. Eventually, he does find them and then is faced with a conflict between the life, principles, and friends he has made living amongst “solids”, and the ways of his own people. That his people, the changelings, turn out to be the major enemy for the Federation through the series, and infiltrate Federation, Klingon and Romulan societies by impersonating key figures (usually, held captive so that the deception cannot be revealed by the real person showing up inconveniently) almost seems like overdoing it!

Dax, meanwhile, is an old friend of Commander (later Captain) Sisko – who knew Dax when she was a he, and called Curzon Dax. While the change caused by “joining” is not remotely comparable to “transition” for trans people, in that the story shows Sisko accepting Jadzia as a woman and not misgendering her (although by agreement, he still uses the term of endearment he had for Curzon – “Old Man”) it feels to me in many ways like an early positive representation of trans acceptance.

There are several episodes in which people who knew Curzon Dax are surprised by Jadzia Dax, and some are less accepting of the idea that the person they knew before is a woman; it falls to Jadzia to prove herself as Curzon’s successor. There is also an episode in which Jadzia gets to meet Dax’s previous selves as their personalities are transferred temporarily into the bodies of her friends – so that, again, the characters are faced with identity.

These questions are made explicit when late in the series, Jadzia dies and the Dax symbiont is transferred to a new, and unprepared, host: Ezri. Ezri, lacking any preparation for the combined memories of several other lifetimes and personalities, finds herself somewhat overwhelmed and having to navigate her own way through them so she can find her own, distinctive, self to be.

While Odo and Dax are obvious, there is no less a theme of identity involved in Kira’s role.

Kira is a hero of the Bajoran resistance. As her world, Bajor, emerges as an independent nation after a colonial occupation by Cardassia, she becomes a part of the official armed forces under a provisional government. The provisional government calls in one of the Alpha Quadrant’s superpowers, the democratic (and undeniably socialist – they don’t use currency and most needs are met through a system of generously rationed transporter and replicator allowances!) Federation. (The Federation has its problems, of course, and corruption exists in the heart of even this most benign of governments, but that’s another story.) To Kira (and many others) this seems like they will simply be going from one oppressor to another, and losing their independence all over again. But Kira is appointed as the liaison between the Federation’s presence on Deep Space 9, and the Bajoran authorities.

Kira is consequently thrust into a conflict between her self-identity as a resistance fighter (make no mistake – she was a terrorist) and her new status as part of the forces of law and order. In a number of early episodes, this conflict between her self-identity and her new situation is explicitly explored – with her actions falling sometimes on one side, and sometimes on the other. She has to carve out her new identity as the oppression she fought against had been lifted but there were still injustices, but also, decisions that had to be made for the good of Bajor, and it was no longer possible always to stick up for the stubborn little guy.

While most obvious in the first season, this conflict resurfaces occasionally throughout. There is also a more gradual evolution from her original isolationist, anti-Federation stance to an acceptance of Bajor’s need for powerful allies in the face of outside threats, and sometimes the need to moderate her own government’s positions. As an aside, there is an episode in which Cardassian spies kidnap Kira and try to convince her that she was, all along, actually a Cardassian sleeper agent with false memories and facial surgery to make her resemble a Bajoran militant. This was actually a ploy to expose dissidents in Cardassian society, but once again identity, appearance and authenticity of self play a key role.

There are two other regular aliens who are not a part of the crew but still frequently involved in storylines. These are Quark (along with his brother Rom and nephew Nog), the Ferengi barkeeper providing booze, gambling and virtual-reality entertainment (including implied brothels) in his holosuites; and Garak, an exiled Cardassian who has nevertheless made his home amongst his people’s enemies.

The Ferengi are a culture built on a pseudo-religious worship of capitalist accumulation and greed (some have pointed out how this is a repetition of anti-semitic stereotypes, for example: https://twitter.com/willoftzeentch/status/851729439478095872 – I’ve tended to view it as a criticism of right-wing politics based on privilege such as Ayn Rand, Hayek, and such, but once it’s pointed out it’s hard not to see the dogwhistle anti-semitism in the portrayal).

Quark has to navigate several identities here. The first is that he has a conscience when it comes to certain things (such as weapons dealing – he draws the line at indiscriminate murder of civilians using chemical or biological weapons, which induces him to seek a pathway out of the deal) but he also identifies himself as a sort of Delboy-in-space, a slightly dodgy doer of underhand deals and bending the law on the one hand; and on the other, a person with a moral compass. This identity as a wheeler-dealer ties into his central identity as a Ferengi and seeker of profit, but doesn’t always sit in accord with it. He also identifies in some ways not only with his own moral compass (driven in part by a strong wish for self-preservation) but with the ideals of the Federation hosts, though he often pushes against those (see “wheeler-dealer/Delboy-in-space”). He also feels a strong sense of familial loyalty and even though he disagrees with, and is even horrified sometimes, by the choices of his mother, brother and nephew, and the ways in which each challenges Ferengi social norms, he feels compelled to do his best for them (while trying to navigate those identities). Finally, he is a realist and deals with things as they are, not as the laws (of whatever culture he’s in – Ferengi or Federation, or even Klingon on one occasion) would wish them to be. His ability to navigate cultures is curiously adept (like when he used Klingon values of honour to save himself from death in a duel).

Garak, meanwhile, is a former spy and a tailor. He is an outcast and yet still tied to his homeland’s culture; he tells many conflicting stories of his past (some of which have enough truth in them that his old contacts appear useful). A key conflict is between this former life and his new occupation in exile. It is very hard (and deliberately so, as written, one feels!) to tell just how true his protestations of innocence are, but there is at least some element of wanting to put his life in the Obsidian Order behind him and be just what he appears to be – whether he is using tailor as a cover story or not.

But in various ways, the people around him do not let him forget who he was. As the story develops, his connections and past become useful to his current hosts and naturally they seek to exploit them. The problem of never being able to leave behind a life once led is familiar in various ways to people who live, or have lived, outside the sexual norms or who are trans.

So much for the aliens. But the theme resonates through the storylines for many of the human characters too.

Benjamin Sisko finds himself revered on Bajor as “the Emissary of the Prophets” due to the unique connection he has with extratemporal beings who live in a stable wormhole nearby (beings who have interacted with Bajor’s population as deities before). This spiritual status is outside of his duties as a representative of the Federation, and this conflict of two identities is made explicit when his commanding officer tells him that he cannot be both a Starfleet captain and a religious figure (though Sisko manages to navigate between the two throughout the story, though they often come into conflict). A large part of the overall story arc is about Sisko’s role as Emissary, and the many ways in which that challenges his sense of self.

Sisko has a third role – which is really two rolled into one. He is a grieving widower at the start of the series, and with it, a single parent, a father struggling to cope with his job and the demands of bringing up a son on his own. As the story develops, he both has to guide his son Jake and later, be helped by him to move on from his grief and eventually, start dating again.

* * *

Those are the main story arcs that I felt resonated so strongly about negotiating identities, but there are others. Perhaps the strongest of these is Dr Julian Bashir. His conflicting identities are hidden for the most part, but are the central point of at least 3 episodes. He is, for the most part, presenting as a normal, if talented, Starfleet doctor who placed second out of his class and chose to take the Deep Space 9 posting as a result. But he and his family harbour a secret: his parents had him genetically enhanced when he was young. From struggling academically and physically, he went to excelling.

Unfortunately, genetic enhancements are illegal (due to the rather unpleasant consequences outlined in an Original Series episode and in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). So Bashir has to stay under the radar as best he can. Others with genetic enhancements have been institutionalised and are somewhat less stable, which occasionally brings Bashir into a role as intermediary between them, and the unenhanced population. His sense of who he is is challenged in the episodes where his genetic past is brought to the fore, and again he is someone who has to navigate between roles and selfs.

Similarly, Worf has a storyline that navigates his expat status as a Klingon who lives among humans and who has accepted some of their norms while still clinging on (see what I did there) to his own cultural heritage. His “Klingon-ness” is frequently challenged by other Klingons due to his ability to accommodate Federation norms and used as a weapon to dismiss his opinions about Klingon political strategy – while race would seem the obvious focus here, the ways in which gay/lesbian groups tend to erase bisexuality feel like a close parallel here, too.

Chief Miles O’Brien is the only major character who doesn’t seem to have these issues, but his storylines still manage to impose such questions on him, through some quite torturous scenarios (it felt to me as though if there was a need for a character to be made to suffer for the heck of it, the writers would make it an O’Brien storyline!) One story in particular springs to mind: in one, the O’Brien we focus on turns out to be an android replica that merely believes itself to be Chief O’Brien but is actually intended to sabotage an important peace treaty negotiation and assassinate one side’s representatives.

* * *

In conclusion, then, what I really have to say is that on many levels I found Deep Space 9 to be a powerful allegory for queerness in today’s society, from the pseudo-transness of Curzon/Jadzia/Ezri Dax to the difficulty of fitting in as someone different that Odo experiences, to the challenge of balancing societal roles faced by Kira and Sisko, to Quarks complex overlapping of different ethical and cultural demands. I found a lot of my experience with balancing my sexual and gender identities resonated with the conflicts and challenges explored by these character arcs.

As a final word: as an introvert, I found Odo to be a fascinating representation – while many of the extroverted characters (even the slightly socially awkward Bashir) did not relate well to him, he found a way to live well as someone who prefers less company on the whole but was able to participate socially when necessary. He even helps Worf (another more introverted character) with advice on how to maintain the personal space that is needed for introverts to recover.

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Endings and resolutions [SPOILER ALERTS]

[SPOILERS for Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Fallout 3/New Vegas, thriller novel “The Ragdoll”, Quantum Leap, Hitman 2, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who: Survival (original series)]

I’ve been thinking about endings recently – fictional ones, that is, rather than anything to do with real life. After all, this is supposed to be a blog about my writing (and the topics I write about), even if I have spent rather a lot of it on politics in various ways!

So anyway, fictional endings. In quick succession I have reached the end of the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 boxset (more observations about that in a future piece – though I doubt they will be terribly original), the ends of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (I’ve played out a couple of different endings on the latter), and finished reading a thriller novel from the library (specifically “The Ragdoll” – a debut novel though I forget the author’s name).

In various ways I found each of them to be unsatisfying and that got me to thinking about what it was that bothered me about them, and what I particularly liked to find when a story came to an end.

I came to the conclusion that in many ways what I look for, and what I found lacking in each of the examples above, was a sense of resolution for the characters. This occurred in different ways in each case but forms a common thread.

In DS9, the final episode ties together a vast story arc that’s been going on for at least 6 out of the 7 seasons and resolves a lot of the big “war epic” things as battles come to a conclusion, the contest of good vs evil forces as described in Bajoran spiritualism reaches its climax and denouement, and then… it all comes to a parting of ways.

Chief O’Brien takes a teaching job back on Earth, with his family in tow. Worf accepts a post as Federation Ambassador to the Klingons. Garak returns to a devastated Cardassia. Odo returns to the Great Link. Sisko plunges into the Fire Pits and is taken into the Celestial Temple by the Prophets (where he then says goodbye to his wife Kasidy Yates). Dax, Kira, Dr Bashir and Quark seem to remain together on DS9. Dax and Bashir seem to strike up a new companionship, Quark muses that the more things change, the more they stay the same, while Kira starts to find her feet as the new commander of the station.

The question I’m left with is: how did Miles O’Brien get on? Did he miss his time on DS9, or did they stay in regular contact? What was his life like?

Similarly, what happened with Worf in his new post? How did he adapt to the role of ambassador? Was he happy being back on Kronos?

What role does Garak have in the rebuilding of Cardassia, and what sort of life and struggle is involved there? Does he find satisfaction in his efforts or do other forces thwart his hopes for the rebirth of his culture and people?

In each case, we have very little to go on for how they resolve themselves, how they look forwards or if they only look back (Garak perhaps gives us the best view, when he talks about the Cardassia he knew being gone forever).

* * *

In the endings of the Fallout games, the narrator gives a view of what happened next as if telling a legend from some years in the future – the way that Mad Max 2 and Mad Max: Beyond The Thunderdome close with a narrator outlining the Road Warrior’s role in their people’s history. But the point that I found lacking in both these games’ closing narration was a sense of the player character’s resolution.

In Fallout 3, I chose to live (and let Little Miss Lyon make the sacrifice – incidentally, the way the narrator shames the Wanderer for choosing to live is not cool, given that the Brotherhood of Steel warrior girl literally has a code of honour and is trained to sacrifice and honour, whereas the player character is just a teenager thrown into the world and having to make their own way!) While there’s a lot about what the endeavour achieved for the Capital Wasteland, there’s very little to say what sort of a life might be available for the Wanderer afterwards. Does it involve more wandering? Settling down in Megaton or Rivet City? What sort of role would they have in those places, and what would they feel about the dramatic events of which they were a part (including, if you play it through that way, witnessing the death of their father and other traumatic experiences).

Fallout: New Vegas similarly describes the outcomes for the Mojave Wasteland, the NCR, and various other groups you meet along the way, but it doesn’t give any clues for how the Courier goes on and makes a life after the Second Battle of Hoover Dam. Do they continue travelling with whichever companion(s) they finished the game with (if any?); do they settle down somewhere and make a career and a place in a community using any of the roles they’ve gained experience (and skill points) in during the game? Do they continue being a “Lone Ranger” style helper or head away from the settled lands? (Could they make their way across North America to the Capital Wasteland, even?) I haven’t yet played it to a finish where Mr House wins (I went for Yes Man, or NCR, so far – I was disappointed with the Yes Man finish because I really thought I would end up being the head honcho in Lucky 38 and take over control of Mr House’s empire, running the Strip and maybe the wider Vegas & Mojave Wasteland area with my own ideals, maybe helping and with the help of, the Followers. I had a dream, dammit!) although the hint is that House would appoint the Courier as his 2nd in command.

Does the Courier go onwards with a sense of loss after the tumultuous events through which they live from being shot to the aftermath of the Battle? Or does the Courier go forth with a sense of him- or herself as being something more than they were (as House again suggests in their first meeting)? Is the Courier wearied, or do they have a sense of direction, an idea of purpose or calling?

Of course, I made up my own resolution – I actually had a specific ending in mind for a while in that game, which was that once I had played through all the heroic battles and stuff, that I would go back and team up with Veronica to see the world (or what we could reach of it) together. Veronica seems to be interested in the Courier’s gender as a partner (I play the Courier as a female version of me, so that would make Veronica lesbian – I don’t know if she’s still lesbian if you play as a man) so in my mind Veronica and the Courier went off to other parts of the world as a couple, exploring the wilderness and wastelands far away from the events before and made a new life as wanderers making their living by helping people they meet along the way (rather like the Courier does from Goodsprings through to New Vegas).

But the point is, others were possible, and at least under the NCR ending it seems as though there’s the option to choose various ones. What is denied within the game’s conclusion though, is the resolution: the sense that “it turned out okay, and they were happy/weren’t happy and dealt with the unhappiness like this”.

* * *

With “The Ragdoll” the problem is one that, when you walk away to the fridge and give it a moment’s thought, is a problem with a lot of thrillers with a high bodycount: how does all this get explained away?! When you have these car chases through crowded streets or whatnot, I often remark, “That’s going to be a really difficult insurance claim to explain!” – “So, you’re claiming your car was trodden on by a giant robot/shot to pieces by a terrorist in a car chase with a .50 cal machinegun/hijacked by an FBI chemical weapons expert chasing a guy in a humvee”.

At the end of Ragdoll, our police detective protagonist has just beaten the serial killer to death, “going well past any possible self-defence motive”, while his partner (professional, and potentially romantic, according to the text) is slowly bleeding out from where the serial killer attempted to use her as a shield/leverage. The partner has an illegally acquired firearm(!) and basically covers for him to get out the back way as the armed police and paramedics race through the building towards them.

And that’s where it’s left! No sense of how the detective is going to make a new life for himself, if he’s successful in that or if it’s a struggle, if he settles or is constantly on the run. We have the “transformative experience” that is a key element of so much fiction, but we don’t have the “what he transformed into” part. We don’t, at the last, have the resolution. (Although, after a blank page, there’s an advert for “in 2018 the sequel, with both of them again!” which makes it sound as if somehow he ends up being forgiven for beating the guy to death. No, I don’t understand either, and probably won’t read the sequel to find out.)

* * *

All of which brings me to consider, do I have examples of the opposite? Of how resolution works well in these genres?

One technique that can work well is the “docudrama caption” method. Line of Duty uses this at the end of each season: captions outline the outcomes for each major character once the drama on-screen has reached its climax and conclusion. But even there, most of what you need to appreciate the meaning is already given in the on-screen action. In written fiction, Lord of the Rings has the biggest of this type, with the many appendices, among which you find a chronology of what happened for all the main characters after the end of the War of the Ring and the conclusion of the 3rd Age of Middle Earth. Even so, I found myself wondering the same things as outlined above, for the characters (especially Bilbo and Frodo Baggins) who went into the Undying Lands – what was it like for them? Did they eventually die or live forever? And so on.

Of course, this is a lot like the “closing narrator” choice – the trick is to include the information that resolves the journeys. The last ever episode of Quantum Leap did this perfectly, and although Dr Sam Beckett’s journey never ended, the narration explained how this had provided a new emotional resolution that balanced a previous tension; and equally, Al is afforded a chance to resolve his own emotional trauma and find a new resolution, all of which is concluded by the information in the closing narration.

Another technique is to show the beginning of the next stage in the characters’ lives. DS9 did this for those characters who remained on the space station, of course, but did nothing for those who left.

In some ways, one of the best “last episode” endings was never intended to be such. The “Original Series Doctor Who” was cancelled in 1989 and in the last season, the final two stories were reversed in broadcast order. Nevertheless, this made a very clever resolution for the character arc for Ace, the Doctor’s companion, and set up the idea of their future. It’s very simple: after the Doctor has tested Ace and forced her to face emotional traumas in the previous stories of that season, he brings her back to Perivale – where, it turns out, there is a mystery and alien threat to confound. Once that has been dealt with, the closing scene that became the closing scene of the entire series, was the two of them walking in the open.

Doctor: Where to now, Ace?
Ace: Home.
Doctor: Home?
Ace: The TARDIS.
Doctor: Yes.

It doesn’t seem like much, but in the context of the story, and the character arc preceding it, it’s a huge sense of resolution: Ace has identified a place and a role where she feels she belongs, and the Doctor is, as he always is, the wanderer. It is a resolution. We know where she’s going, how she feels about it, and implicitly how she views the things she’s been through.

(Yes, I know Doctor Who came back as a 1996 TV Movie and then in 2005 as a new series in a new format, but for all intents and purposes Survival was the last ever Doctor Who episode as far as anyone knew and it certainly felt like that when we heard the show had been cancelled)

Finding conclusions of video games that give me that resolution and sense that I know how things have turned out for my character (and, where relevant, the characters alongside them) is harder. There aren’t many I play in the genres where a storyline is as relevant – I like sports sims, football management, and RTS as well as the action/adventure or RPG-style games that are more likely to have those story arcs, and therefore, endings that require resolution.

One that springs to mind is Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. At the end, Agent 47 foils the plot of the people who had hired him through the Agency and in retaliation, they come for him. In the end, the life he had built for himself away from his role as assassin (and which they disrupted in order to force him back into work) is destroyed – although so are they, of course.

It’s been a while since I played out the final episode and watched the conclusion, but it boils down to Agent 47 walking away from the carnage into the sunset and musing that he will “choose a truth I like.” I imagined him finding a new role, a new identity, a new hiding place. Sequels “Blood Money” and “Absolution” have him back in business with other storylines and resolutions, so if he was retired at the end of Silent Assassin, he didn’t stay that way. However, the conclusions of those games are more confusing and less satisfying in general.

Regardless of what he does next, how Agent 47 feels and has resolved what happened is obvious – it’s sadness, and he’s found a way to cope with that.

* * *

So in conclusion (and I hope, a nice resolution!) to this post, I would really just say that the important element is to show the reader (or viewer/player) how your characters, especially any they’ve become attached to, move on from the tumult that your story (whether it’s TV, book or video game) has put them through. The personal matters!

As to my own novel, still in the revision/editing phase – I found it hard to choose an endpoint in the story but when i did, I found that resolution in a very short exchange that I hope gives everything to show that both protagonists are going to start putting things back together.

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Selfish generations (a General Election post)

A new General Election looms on the horizon, and somehow this one feels more important than most. The past two years should have given us enough of a foretaste of what Tory rule will mean if it’s allowed to continue.

I am a big fan of @waitingirl13’s remarks on twitter about how the baby boomer generation is the true “selfish generation” and their characterisation of Millennials and Gen X/Y as selfish is perhaps a form of projection onto us of their own behaviour when it comes to voting patterns.

So, I thought I’d sit down and work out just what those patterns were. Bearing in mind the adage that “A person below 30 who doesn’t vote Labour has no heart; a person over 30 who doesn’t vote Conservative has no head”, and observing that voting intention on age shows that the crossover between the two parties is in the region of 35, I thought I would look at what that means for different age groups.

The following assumes a more-or-less White, cishet, middle class career advancement. It would, of course, be very different for the working class, say, in the coal mining communities, for example.

If you are 70 this year

You were born in one of the first NHS hospitals, or just before the NHS was founded. Your parents received the first ever Child Support benefits and you went to State-funded schools your entire life. This is thanks to the Attlee government’s reforms, the most ambitious attempt to ensure that no one was ever left behind in poverty. Also, one of the largest Labour majorities: your father and mother (and grandparents) lived through World War 2. Your father probably fought, or worked in some way on the war effort. Your mother worked on the home front. And when it was over, they decided they wanted it to be for something. They voted for Labour to ensure you would never have to go through what they did growing up in the 20s and 30s.

You grew up in the great atomic arms race of the 1950s.

You went to university somewhere between 1965-69. Momentous years in the history of counter-culture, civil rights, and protest, no? In 1966 you voted Labour for the first time, bringing Harold Wilson in as Prime Minister. In 1967, they legalised homosexuality and banned the death penalty, and you probably had something to do with that. You may even have dabbled in student socialism. If you’re a woman, you may well have engaged (actively or less so) with the newly emerging “second wave” of feminism, campaigned for equal pay, against sexual exploitation in marriage and wider society, and started hammering out ideas along those lines.

Your tuition fees were paid by the government, and you may even have had a grant to support your living costs through university, too.

You may well have remained a part of that atmosphere of protest, liberty, civil rights and more, through into the early 70s. We’ll assume you didn’t vote for Ted Heath’s government (you’d have been 23 or so) but you would have been just starting out in the world of work when that happened, and you would have suffered through the energy crisis, and the “4-day week” period.

Your generation, and the one before, voted to join the European Union (or its predecessor, there’s a bunch of different names and I’m not 100% sure which are talking about the same thing and which aren’t – the EEC, the EC, the EU, and so on).

You had Mary Whitehouse trying to tell you what should and shouldn’t be on television, and you saw the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial. Yours was the generation that helped come up with the concept of politically correct language for minorities and women.

But by 1978 you were well into your career. The “Winter of Discontent” may have shocked you. You were suffering from huge inflation rates and for the first time ever, unemployment had risen above 1 million. The next year, aged 32, you voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

Unemployment quickly doubled, there was a second Winter of Discontent, rioting and more. But you were alright – your taxes were falling, your job was secure, and in 1982 after a complete failure to respond to intelligence reports that Argentina was planning something, Thatcher sent in the troops after the fact to win back the Falkland Islands. Inflation was falling and you voted for Thatcher again in 1983.

The 80s did well for you: you were possibly a little older than the “yuppie” bracket, but by now you are advancing in your career, maybe a higher income bracket. You’ve got children (still supported by Child Support) although now you have to hold fundraising days to help their school pay for equipment and repairs, it all seems fun. So in 1987 you feel comfortable enough aged 40 to vote in Thatcher for a 3rd consecutive term, even as “negative equity” was causing an economic recession (not that dissimilar to the crisis that caused the Credit Crunch in 2008 – houses becoming worth less than what was owed on the mortgages).

Your opinion on Thatcher’s departure may or may not have been positive: the Poll Tax was largely unpopular, and led to rioting on the streets. But in the wake of Gulf War 1 you voted for John Major’s government – the 4th consecutive win for the Tories. The privatisation of key public services continued, started by Thatcher and a key element of Major’s government. By this stage, phones, water, electricity and soon the railways, were sold off to private businesses to run on behalf of the taxpayer. And by this stage, you may have owned shares yourself, or bought financial services that were based off them.

Thatcher and Major tore up the principle of “cradle to the grave” protection and the idea of a safety net so that no one should be left to fall into poverty. Under Major, the principle of unemployment benefit was trashed and you voted for that, because while you had that safety net now you felt as though people out of work were “scroungers” and their social security should be contingent on efforts to find work. That was a direct return to the policies of the pre WW2 years (and you betrayed the people who fought for you in that war, and what they wished for the future of this country, by doing so).

Now, “youth culture” was a problem to you: you supported the CJA (1995) that attempted to outlaw raves and “rave music”, and that limited the right to freedom of assembly.

The only thing that turned you away was the “sleaze” that riddled the Major government, and a “New Labour” that was eager to pander to you as well, even promising to match Tory spending plans.

Major signed the Maastricht Treaty, although he opted out of the “Social Chapter”, legislation that would have offered basic protections for workers in this country.

You saw the fall of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, and later the break-up of Yugoslavia. You saw Somalia fall into chaos, and the Rwandan massacre. You saw people fleeing war, destitution, persecution, and…

This ushered in the era of UKIP, and it was your generation particularly to which they attempted to appeal. In 1973 you voted “in” and now you were campaigning “out”.

You probably opposed the Human Rights Act (1997), because you were more aware of crime than ever (even though rates were falling) and tabloids screamed headlines. Never mind what you campaigned for when you were 20. Now you just wanted to string the little bastards up (and never mind if they were guilty or not; never mind making sure the cops didn’t just pick someone and stick it on them – and you lived through Guildford 4, Birmingham 6 etc!).

You probably agreed with the abolition of student grants and introduction of tuition fees paid by student loan instead, and saddling the younger generation with a mortgage-sized debt at the start of their lives.

Everything you didn’t have to pay for, because your parents and grandparents had, you now refused to pay for, for the next generation. And that is what you are voting for if you, aged 70 this year, vote for the Conservatives.

If you are 50 this year

You were born in 1967, in an NHS hospital. You grew up supported by child support payments from the government. You were 11 during the Winter of Discontent and 12 when Thatcher came to power. You probably have early memories of Nixon, the end of the Vietnam War, Ted Heath being ousted during the energy crisis and ’74 miners strike.

You went to university in 1985-89, and while you may not have had a support grant, you would certainly have had your tuition paid for by the government. You were the very definition of Yuppie, “young, upwardly-mobile”. Yours was the first generation that grew up with Thatcher’s “no such thing as society” ethos, and the consequent focus on education as an economic investment for yourself.

But in 1987, this piece assumes you voted for Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party. You may or may not have campaigned against the nuclear arms race of the 1980s, but you were probably aware of the debate between multilateral and unilateral disarmament. You would have known about the negative equity situation but may not have connected it to your own prospects. You would have heard the figure 3 million unemployed. It was your generation in particular that rioted against the Poll Tax and, while you probably weren’t one of those rioters, your voice helped bring down Thatcher.

You would have laughed at Ben Elton, Lenny Henry, The Young Ones and so on. You would have been “right on” and may have cheered for Ken Livingstone at the GLC, and you would have taken on board the new language of political correctness as your own, and seen the previous generation talk about gender, race and disability quotas.

If you’re a woman, your feminism would be that of the Greenham Common women and you may have joined them, or at least, thought about it. You’re probably a bit too young to have been a part of the “feminist sex wars” of the early 80s, though. You may have been more interested in the feminism of “successful capitalist women”, power-dressing, and climbing the corporate ladder and smashing the glass ceiling. As a young woman in the late 80s, you’d have heard a lot about that and may have thought it could be you.

Yours was the generation of the charity telethon: your generation and those slightly older will have been targeted by all of: Live Aid, Band Aid, Save The Children, Comic Relief and so on. These events were founded and held to target you as a wage earner (except Band Aid and Live Aid – you’d have been at university then). Despite high unemployment, you had a full safety net still, when you were young. But the Major government started the narrative of the “undeserving poor” and that may have meant you, for a time.

In 1997, you probably voted for Tony Blair. Your reasons may have been just to get rid of the Tories. They may have been that you were okay with the “New Labour” rebranding. You were 30, so we’ll assume you agreed with things like the Human Rights Act at that stage. But Blair also took away the student grants. Maybe you opposed that at the time, it’s hard to say.

You were aged 40 when the Credit Crunch happened. You are well into your career, earning well, have children of your own. Your finances are probably dependent in some way on share values, and you may have a private pension fund as well as your state pension. You’re probably in the mid-range tax bracket and want to protect that. So in 2010, you voted for the Tories’ austerity plan, and the dismantling of the social security safety net that protected you.

It is your children who will suffer if you vote for the Tories to continue dismantling it post-Brexit.

If you are 40 this year

You are approximately my age, and you have had similar events in the political sphere to me. You and I were born into the Winter of Discontent and don’t remember it much. We have early memories of the miners strike of ’84, you may have direct memories of the Falklands War (I don’t, I’m a year or two younger than you), and we have early memories of seeing the Ethiopian famine on the news. We saw the Challenger shuttle blow up, and we watched the Berlin Wall come down, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We grew up “in the shadow of the mushroom cloud” and the possibility of automated Mutual Assured Destruction. We watched in horror and impotence the massacres in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda. We saw news about the war between Iran and Iraq, and then Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm. We went to schools holding fundraisers and hit by teacher strikes as they campaigned against funding cuts to education. We are “Thatcher’s Children”, brought up in a world where greed and profit motive are essential (and yet also taught not to judge others – we were getting a lot of mixed messages from peer groups, grown ups and government!)

If you are a woman, you’re the first generation to grow up where feminism wasn’t in question (the ideas and policies might be, but feminism as a movement was broadly accepted as positive on some level at least in lip service, by the media and politicians – but by no means universally!) Yours is the first generation to grow up where it was possible for people to seriously posit a movement called “post-feminism” (a nonsense, but people did). Yours would have been “3rd Wave” feminism and the freedoms and rights the previous generation of feminists fought for, now gave yours more freedom to explore. You saw “New Man” become “New Lad” and “Men Behaving Badly”. You saw the Spice Girls and “Girl Power”, and the claim that “Margaret Thatcher was the first Spice Girl”.

We were the Britpop (and Cool Cymru) generation, and bought Oasis, Blur, Catatonia, Supergrass, and Manic Street Preachers. Before that we headbanged to Nirvana and if we had any musical ambitions, probably thrashed out a naff version of Smells Like Teen Spirit on a cheap electric guitar.

We, and the generation below us, are the generation derided as the “selfish generation”.

We are the last generation to go through university without having to pay our tuition fees and take on that debt. Our first chance to vote was the 1997 General Election and we probably celebrated getting rid of the Tories. We probably marched against tuition fees, or otherwise expressed our opposition.

We were the ones derided in 2001 and 2005 as “apathetic” when New Labour offered us so little to inspire us, and pandered only to the older generations.

If you are 40 this year, you might have voted Lib Dem in 2010. At 33 you were just on the cusp between the Lab-Con switch. Gordon Brown didn’t inspire you, but perhaps enough of the idealism remained. Whatever your reasons and your vote, we got the ConDem Nation, the coalition government that may not have been as bad as it could have been but was still eroding civil liberties, dismantling the NHS slowly but surely, and forcing austerity measures.

In 2015 (38), you may well have bought the Tory lie that the economic depression was down to Labour mismanaging the economy and that only austerity-plus could restore it – the opposite policy had shown success elsewhere in the world. If you didn’t, and voted Ed Miliband, you were outvoted by the 50-70 year old groups above.

If you are my age or thereabouts – if you are 40 or approaching 40 this year – then this election may swing on your vote. Are you the “selfish generation”, or do you want to give your children the same rights and advantages that your parents enjoyed, but voted against you and your children having?

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No-Strings learning experience

Yesterday was the first time I have had no-strings-attached BDSM sex that was agreed from the outset would be nothing else: no romantic element, no “ownership”, no “relationship”. We get along as friends, but as far as the sex goes it’s just that we both have sexual desires to involve another human body that are not currently satisfied in any other way and we have agreed to let each other use our bodies to amend that situation. I suppose the most appropriate term would be “fuckbuddies”, although I’m not sure how to amend that to make it clear that the operative part is BDSM rather than “sex” as such.

I met ’S’ on OKCupid a few weeks ago, had a drink at a pub to get to know each other, and made plans to meet up. Unfortunately, life threw a spanner in the works and things got chaotic as I lost my job, got a boil under the base of my penis (I know, overshare, but hey!) and the antibiotics knocked me for six, and generally suddenly had a huge amount of crap hit me all at once (that’s figurative crap, not literal, this time!)

So we put our plans on hold for a bit until everything calmed down a bit. Yesterday, we finally managed to find the time and space to meet up and I trundled off to her flat on the bus with a leather shoulder bag full of kinky and sexytimes equipment (which felt fun seeing everyone else on the bus who had no idea what I was carrying!)

The first time with a new BDSM partner is always tricky. With almost no data except their self-reported information, as the Dominant partner I have a lot to discover about what a partner’s reactions are like in the moment, what means “good” and what means “maybe not” and so on.

’S’ warned me beforehand that as soon as she gets a hint of her sub headspace, she tend to go nonverbal or at best monosyllabic. She told me early in our play that her biggest fear was that I would make her talk to me (of course, I tried, but she was not able to oblige very well). This made it a new level of difficulty higher, especially as she shivered and whimpered (very sexily as well) in ways that were not immediately obvious were pleasure or distress.

Nevertheless, with the information she’d given me beforehand and what communication we could manage, I did manage to give her a great hour or so of submission, bondage and emotions play (this was definitely about D/s play and bondage rather than SM because she has a very low pain threshold at the moment).

Unfortunately, despite being hugely turned on mentally, my body didn’t want to cooperate as far as getting a full erection (I’m not sure why, although various theories present themselves). ’S’ enjoyed what I could provide (including, in her own words, getting to “have a taste” when she went down on me) so I consider it a win even though neither of us achieved orgasm during the scene. (Incidentally, Jem @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar posted a great blog about Doms and orgasm denial, with sentiments very close to my own feelings about the skill of being able to do the opposite)

All of which is just preamble to the main event: ’S’ very kindly has given me permission to use her “debrief” email as the basis for this blog post, in which she described for me all the things I wanted to know during the scene but that she was too non-verbal to articulate in the moment. I found it incredibly hot to read it and relive the experience with the insight into her mind alongside. One point that was very important to me was that she wanted to feel scared. I knew this in a small way because she’d told me that was one of her big turn-ons but when she gave me “scared” as a one-word response to “how are you feeling?” I wondered if I was overstepping a mark, pushing the wrong buttons or otherwise making her feel unsafe, and if I should choose a new direction. As the following explains, she felt safe enough with me to let herself feel scared.

I’ll add my own observations or responses in between sections to try to convey what was going on for me at the various times. So, without further ado, I give you S’s experiences:

When we started play I was nervous, excited and a bit scared. (I always feel like that whether it’s the first time or 50th je ne sais pas). Once the ‘s’ switch is down I kind of don’t think much (as you probably noticed!) and focus in on the moment, I don’t know how to describe it very well. I’m also super passive, which I find embarrassing/frustrating at times (like this afternoon) because I knew you were expecting something, like for me to undress, but wasn’t sure enough to do it until you said. Maybe scared to do the wrong thing? Maybe I’ve played with too many pedants?! I thought it was kinda sweet you started me off.

The honest truth was that I didn’t know what to expect but ’S’ had told me before that she would get shy. I decided to “start her off” because it felt like a Domly thing to do, to show I was Taking Charge and In Control, if I just stepped up to her and took the hem of her top and started pulling it upwards. Normally, I would give the command but in that moment I felt sure ’S’ wanted that initiative from me. It established that we had shifted from preliminary conversation and now we were in D/s mode.

So once I’m naked I’m feeling pretty vulnerable and shy (don’t have a great body image); and am torn between wanting to cover up and trying not to (which I assume is more pleasing if you want me naked). Now at the point of being too shy/embarrassed to look you in the eye, which I also feel bad about because it seems wrong/displeasing.

This was something I had missed in the moment and I wish now that I had thought to say something appreciative about S’s body at the time. I was too busy actually enjoying the view!

I am intrigued by what she says about eye contact. D/s play often seems to have rules about eye contact and very often it is that the submissive partner is not supposed to keep their eyes down or focussed at a particular point (the classic novel Story of ‘O’ has eye contact rules established early on in Chateau d’Roissy, for example – here, the slaves were supposed to keep eye contact with the men’s cocks, IIRC). The other staple of BDSM porn and erotic fiction is for Doms to override or control the shy “avoidance” behaviour by physical control of the submissive’s head – the classic (and IMHO very hot) version is a hand on the chin to lift the gaze and meet eyes that way.

So this doubt is unexpected but I now know that I can play out those scenes for real in future with ’S’.

Once ’S’ was naked, and as a theme throughout the scene once I saw how responsive she was to such contact, one of the first things I did was to touch her breasts:

When you touched my nipples it was like lighting a fire, I went from a bit hot to, um, slip ‘n slide in a second. This made me more embarrassed because I don’t think it should be so easy. I was more at ease, and more aroused when you bound my arms. I know where my arms go now and they can’t go anywhere else. I was a touch sad/frustrated when you put the gag in as I knew you wanted me to be talking, and I wasn’t really doing it. I don’t know why it’s so hard, probably in this case because I hate to admit that I enjoy/am turned on by basically anything (because it’s embarrassing to be hot) and trying to find the words when my brain is in that place.

The gag is probably a point where I slightly mis-played it. In the moment, I joked that since she wasn’t talking, maybe I could take away that power. That might have been a mistake, a trick that worked well in online roleplays but wasn’t right for this moment. Then again, we’d discussed gags and ’S’ had said she really wanted to try the one in my collection, so I was anxious to introduce it somehow.

The embarrassment was definitely something I enjoyed playing on, although this was another point where I could have used more confidence that it was what she wanted as well and that it was okay to “power through” the apparent reluctance. ’S’ has reassured me that yes, this is what she wants.

I was also a bit annoyed/ashamed at myself for choking on the gag (I should be able to take more than that by now); but also excited/worried because you could tighten it and give me a hard time. Glad you didn’t. Now a bit more comfy not having to worry about talking; plus more aroused and getting a bit of the warm fuzzies that comes with being tied up. As for the blindfold I had no idea what it was, totally confused, maybe because I hadn’t used it before, probably because I’m kind of an idiot at play time. Anyway the addition makes my other senses perk up and I try to listen up for clues of what you’re up to. More fuzzies and arousal.

I loved being led and stepping where you told me (had a thought of that TV show, Knightmare 🙂 ) Wondered if it was normal to be so shaky while blindfolded while being a bit scared about what was to come. When you tethered me I had a panic of ‘where are you going’ (?? I know) but liked the feel of the collar when I got to the edge of its reach. More of the same bondage feels when you tied up my hands (fuzzies, arousal) – although I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to hold that position for long. Which wasn’t a thing

Well, first thing is discovering that ’S’ remembers Knightmare! A definite point of cultural compatibility there… I have always enjoyed controlling and guiding someone who has had their sight temporarily taken (it’s a different task with someone who is blind or visually impaired, and not a kink thing at all then). There’s a heightened level of my own awareness of surroundings because I know that it’s on me to ensure they don’t hurt themselves on some obstacle.

The blindfold stayed on for a long time, and gave me room to stand and think if I wasn’t sure what to do next. I used a leather strap with clips at either end to tether her in a standing position while I fetched the rest of the toys through. In addition, I used some of her chains and clips to attach her arms to the tether point, with the aim of making her feel helpless (something I knew she wanted).

Every touch you gave me with the leather gloves was just amazing, I thought I’d cum without you going near my cunt. Super hot. But it’s embarrassing to be hot and squirming around like a bitch in heat, so I try to resist (which is why i sometimes hold my breath at stay more still). Never works for long though. Pretty shy now; and making me turn over didn’t help. I was a bit scared and the wait was pretty intense. I properly blushed when you put the plug in, was pretty humiliating (which is not awesome at the time but I love it really). I was also relieved it didn’t really hurt. After that it was all interesting because when you touched me or got on top of me or I moved I could feel it, and that turned me on, and that made me embarrassed, and everything just kinda escalated till I was super hot.

This was the point where her shivers, squirms, whimpers and display were at once intensely erotic and also possible to mistake for signs of distress. When we talked afterwards, ’S’ assured me that I can ignore everything unless she’s cursing, swearing (her safesignal is the ‘V’ sign!) or safewording. It will be obvious, in other words, if it’s bad.

As Jem’s post linked earlier describes, it’s easier to get someone close than to find the way to bring her over the line to orgasm. I try to set realistic goals and even if I did have a lot of useful hints from ’S’ before we met, to know that I found so many good things was still very reassuring. We spoke by IM later about how I might bring her to orgasm myself and she says that she finds it very hard with another person there. I also have struggled with that so I can relate, but all the same I am hopeful for another time!

The plug was a gold princess plug from SexToys.co.uk that I got during one of their special offer/sale deals. I had a little bit of trouble getting the lube out of the bottle, as it had one of those foil seals and the tab tore off! So I had to find a pair of scissors to puncture it. I used a latex-free surgical glove to tease ’S’s anus open and smear some lube in her hole, before lubing up the plug and firmly sliding it into her bottom. I love all kinds of anal play as both top and bottom, and there is a very satisfying feeling when a plug reaches its widest point and then sinks into place – both when I’m pushing into my partner’s bottom, or when I feel it happen in my own… Since I have plenty of anal toys already, and the plug didn’t cost me much, I gave it to ’S’ to keep (and, as she noted afterwards, it’s not a type of toy you’d share! I actually saved it for ’S’ since I bought it just before we started talking and hadn’t used it ever).

I am not so confident with the hand jobs and having my hands tied made it more difficult (I think) so when you gave me your cock I got a ‘break’ from the other feelings just trying to make you feel good. I prefer (and really enjoy) using my mouth (I would not have been able to mention it at that point otherwise i think!).

I like feeling bound hands feeling and fondling my cock. I like being able to rub and grind and thrust against them and know that my partner knows what it is they can feel, how intimate a body part it is, and that ultimately it is my control (as the Dom) involved, not theirs. The combination of blindfold and hands-behind-the-back is also potent for me, because of the surprise element that might be involved. One of the hottest moments of actual feedback was when I asked ’S’ if she knew what it was and she replied. I wasn’t sure which word for the organ she was going to use, but hearing her say, “Your cock!” was a great feeling.

To end the scene, I presented her with her clothes back while she recovered on the bed:

I think ‘coming around’ will get easier if we play more – but it felt pretty intense for me (it’s been years since I played). I’m not sure how to describe the transition but it’s basically finding the mindset of being a human who’s in control after feeling less than human that’s not.

I’d jokingly suggested earlier the method of indicating that it was over was like the house elves in Harry Potter – so the words of release are officially “Dobby is a free elf!” As a way of helping make that shift, for both of us, the joke and humour finds the right note of “not serious”.

* * *

Every encounter is a learning experience, one way or another. Yesterday’s “first time” was intense, nerve-wracking, and hot. The feedback that ’S’ was able to give me, quoted almost entirely above, gives me a better idea of what worked and why, and how. People often talk in D/s about a Dom guiding a Sub, and yesterday I did so literally and figuratively through the scene. But in my experience, a Sub also provides guidance to any Dom who wants to play with them.

Just because I have new information today that I didn’t have before playing with ’S’, doesn’t mean that next time I will be perfect, either. Each new encounter is a learning experience, and will help me be a better Dom.

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A case for a male Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctor is anti-masculinity.

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

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

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

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On the rightness of violence against Nazis

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

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

Where to start? Let’s try here:

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

The story does not start with rioting Muslims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another story, from rather more recently.

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

~ * ~

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

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

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

~ * ~

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

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

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

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

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

~ * ~

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

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

~ * ~

My last story:

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

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

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

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

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

Which is where we started.

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

As @Waitingirl13 put it on twitter:

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

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


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