Archives for the month of: January, 2015

The best thing I ever did was get Therapy.

It was incredibly hard to reach the decision to get it though. In theory it should be as simple as picking up a phone and making an appointment, but the reality was very different for me, and for many other people I’ve spoken to about this.
There’s a stigma attached to any sort of mental health problems. If you break your leg, you go to the hospital, and they fix it. It’s so matter of fact that no one even comments on it, other than to say hope it mends soon, or how did you do that?
Tell someone you’re in therapy though, and you’ll get anything from a look of fear that you’re somehow not right to patronising comments as to how brave you are, and how difficult it must be.
You don’t get that sort of reaction for a broken leg.
Having counselling is often seem as a thing to be ashamed of, because of this stigma attached to it, as being something only really messed up people do.
I say this from a position of feeling that myself. It was one of the things that stopped me from going for years. I thought I could deal on my own, that it would be weird to talk to a stranger about such personal things, that I was somehow better than that, that it was beneath me because I wasn’t fucked up right?
I fully acknowledge that I was an asshole for thinking that, and I’m glad I had the self awareness to question my fear of getting to know myself. I’m glad because it changed everything.
This is what I know now, that helped make that change happen.

Anger can be a positive thing.
I never realised how angry I was before I had therapy. I was afraid to recognise that I was angry as well, angry at the unfair deal I got, angry at the world for making my life so much harder, angry at myself for not having the strength to do anything about it, angry at my own self pity.
Not recognising this, and instead just burying it, just made it even more poisonous and impossible to deal with.
Once I talked about it though, I found I could channel it, it became a righteous anger, a powerful, positive force, and I found I could use it to do things. It gave me strength.

That spiteful inner voice that puts me down can be challenged, and changed.
That voice is such an asshole. But it’s also all talk. Learning how to challenge it makes it quieten down enough to make other things possible.

The worst case scenario hardly ever happens.
Man do I love imagining the worst possible outcome. It’s an automatic response that kicks in if I’m confronted by any difficult situation.
Thing is, the worst case very rarely happens. Yes, things might be pretty shit sometimes, but worst case? Not so much.
At the end of the day you will survive, if you can let yourself survive. Counselling, Therapy, they’re like the key to unlocking how to survive. It won’t always stop the mess and the hurt, but, for me at least it did stop my brain running away with all this. It gave me back some control, when I didn’t have any.

(I’ve split this into a two part post, because as I started writing it became pretty clear there was a lot to say here, and definitely too much for one post, so more next time!)

I really love going to the cinema, in fact it’s one of the few activities I actually prefer doing on my own. It’s an experience I can completely own for myself.

I love that my local cinema sells home-made cakes. I love that you can buy a cup of tea, and take it into the actual room they show the film. It feels like the most exciting thing, like settling down in front of the telly at home, but your telly has suddenly grown exponentially, and it’s now in a huge room that smells like popcorn and darkness.

I love going in the daytime, because it still feels like I’m skipping work, even when I’m not. On those rare occasions it’s just me in the cinema it feels like a private showing, and it feels special. When I go through the doors, and there’s no one else there my heart sometimes skips a beat because I know there’s a chance that this magical event might happen today.
I then stare at the door, willing people not to come in, until the room goes completely dark and the screen lights up.

When that light first bathes my face I can’t help but squint sometimes, but then I force my eyes open wide, because I don’t want to miss anything. I even like the adverts.
Years ago, I used to go to the cinema with my then girlfriend at the time, and we’d play this game when the adverts came on.
She’d look round to me, her face half flushed with light, and whisper “the next one is you”.
We’d both sit there waiting for the next advert, like softly shining fortune tellers, bathed in celluloid light, waiting for the runes to show themselves in the medium of the next advertisement.
She’d laugh if I got a car advert. We both knew they were the worst thing to be, artificial, shallow and filled with machismo.
Even now, when I go to the cinema on my own, I still play this game, whispering to myself “the next one is you”, hoping for something beautiful to reveal itself on the big screen.

I love the sound. I love how loud it is. I love how it makes my bones vibrate, my heart squeeze tight. I love how I sometimes find myself holding my breath as the glorious, enveloping noise covers me, like a crashing wave, overwhelming and yet fleeting, leaving me wishing for more.

You could get all this by going to the cinema with someone, and a shared thing can be something amazing, but there’s a bit of me that doesn’t want to share this with someone.
I want to feel my hairs stand up on my arms, my breath to become shallow and held, my eyes to feel like they can’t take everything in fast enough, my ears to become numb with the sound. I want this, and I want this to be for me alone.

You can ask me to go to the cinema, and I will love going with you, but once those lights go down, and the images flicker across the screen, there’s a good chance that although I’ll be in that seat next to you, I won’t actually be there. I’ll be hurtling through space, sailing the seas, leading the charge, saving the world, one lost moment at a time.

I live in a reasonably expensive bit of the country. It’s my choice, and I really love where I live but, outside of London’s dizzying heights, it’s probably one the most expensive places in the UK to live.
I also work a pretty low paid job, and money is pretty hand to mouth most of time. Again, to a degree, this is my choice. My main job isn’t the best pay in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it is flexible, safe and something I (mostly) enjoy.
What this does mean though is that when it comes to having a home, I live with other people. Looking back in fact, there’s never been a time in the forty odd years I’ve been knocking around, that I haven’t lived with other people.
I have never lived alone. Not even for a little bit. Even at university, I still shared a dorm when I lived on site.
I’m not alone in this, and I’m not alone in living with other people. Mostly everyone I know flat shares in some shape or form, and that’s pretty universal across all ages and identities.
A lot of it is because of renting prices, and bad pay, and that certainly plays a part in my situation, but also, there’s something about living with other people that’s pretty comforting.

Maybe it’s some throwback to when we lived in smaller groups, and had closer tribal packs. The security and community that brought would of been pretty essential to life, and I guess now we live in groups of thousands, hell, sometimes millions, having the security of a smaller ‘tribe’ can help with feelings of isolation and loss of individuality amongst all the hundreds of thousands of people we share our cities with.
I suppose that’s who our friends, family and people we live with are, our own personal tribes, the only difference being that now our modern tribes are more interlinked. We belong to a often huge variety of social groups, with different standing in each, and thanks to technology, the tribes we belong to aren’t even limited by geography. The vast oceans that limited our ancestors are no match for the Internet, which allows tribal membership to finally become global, rather than local.

I’ve been considering living on my own, because I never have, but the thing that stops me is the potential for losing a tribe. No, that’s not right, it’s the fear of the potential to lose a tribe.
I’m fairly certain that if I did live on my own that it would be alright, and I could even gain something from it.
Fear of losing something is a powerful thing, but I guess we shouldn’t let that stop us from doing something new. After all it’s not so much that the tribe is being disbanded, it’s more that there’s just been a reshuffle of roles and places held, which you could even say is an essential, and nessesary part of life in a tribe, modern or otherwise.

There’s been a lot of horror in the news recently, and there’s a thing that happens pretty much every time something terrible happens.
We try and sum it up in a hashtag.
I understand why we do this, we want to show solidarity with the victims of the tragedy, and we want to get the word out, let others know that this is not something we can support.
And sometimes it’s a really effective tool, as is the case with the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown at the hands of police officers. This article on the Huff Post clearly shows how fast and how global the outrage was, as the hashtags #ICantBreathe, #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUpDontShoot spread across the globe.
The hastags got people talking, they helped with spreading the word about racism, and how prevalent and institutionalised it is in our society. People wrote about it, people read about it, and people got educated about something they previously may of been unaware of.
Sometimes a few words can help galvanise and strengthen a movement to global levels, and if not make things better, can at least let everyone know that things are not okay.
Using hashtags in this instance was an effective tool that furthered a cause and enabled complex and important discussion to take place, and continue to take place, in order that change might happen. Basically, having key words that people could rally behind helped further a just cause.

Sometimes though the hashtag is used without thought or understanding to the bigger picture. Sometimes the hashtag erases other issues, just as important, but continually ignored.
Take for instance the hashtag being used at the moment, in the wake of the attack in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
#JeSuisCharlie, I am Charlie. It’s been used to show solidarity with the victims of the shootings, to show that we stand united against the threat of terrorism, that we will not stand for this sort of attack on our civil and human rights.
Does it tell us though that Charlie Hebdo also printed cartoons that were racist? Does it tell us that some of the work published was considered anti-Semitic, or that they depicted a black woman as a monkey?
Does it mention about the strong anti Islamic stance a lot of the work published shows?
The murder of these journalists was wrong. Freedom of speech is a right that everyone should have, and people should not have to die for it, but freedom of speech doesn’t mean that everything you say under that banner is right.
In fact, saying that its okay to mock and generalise Muslim people, or people of colour, or Jews, because free speech, probably isn’t actually okay.

I think we muddle up things like this sometimes. We think we can say anything we want, and then when people call us out on it we start shouting about freedom of speech and being oppressed because someone disagrees with what we’ve said. It’s easy to think free speech only applies to us, or that it somehow protects us from any criticism when we say something wrong, but actually it should do the very opposite.
It should expose us to criticism, it should help us to challenge our views and open our minds. We should all become better people through the medium of free speech, rather than just banging heads together like angry goats.
Of course it’s easy to say that, and I know if I’m challenged on my views I sometimes find it hard to accept.
I think, and this is my own personal opinion here, that, in general, we have a really hard time accepting that we might have got something wrong, especially when we see ourselves as good people.
Good people can be wrong people, no question about it, and that’s hard to accept.

Let me give you an example. I found it hard to accept that some things might be seen as cultural appropriation*. I didn’t understand it, and as a white, middle class person, who also sees themselves as a good person, I just assumed it wasn’t something I needed to be aware of because everyone should have the right to freedom of expression.
That sounds a lot like what I was saying earlier about how some people view freedom of speech doesn’t it?
Thing is, freedom of expression is all good and fine when, as the dominant culture, you can do whatever the fuck you like. It’s not so great when you’re the oppressed culture though.
As a member of the dominant culture it’s sometimes hard to take it when someone else tells you, “Hey y’know what? I’m not that keen on you using Sugar Skulls as a window display to sell your stuff.” say.
As you read that, some of you maybe thinking but…but… it looks cool, it’s only a bit of fun for Halloween, what’s so wrong about using Sugar Skulls?
Well, this article sums it up pretty well.
(tl;dr – Modern Halloween is a hedonistic holiday about the self, Día de los Muertos is a holiday honouring deceased relatives and friends. Using Sugar Skulls is appropriation because it’s using something from another culture outside of it’s intended context. Seriously though, read the article.)

This is an example of something I did, and then was told was not actually that cool a thing to do. I wanted to disagree, because I couldn’t think of myself as wrong in that situation, because the cultural significance of the thing I was appropriating wasn’t relevant to my life.
That’s the real clincher here sometimes, it didn’t matter to me. My arrogance as the appropriating culture wouldn’t allow me to realise why this might be wrong, and it was only after finding out more (a lot more) about it that I realised why I actually was very wrong.

That’s a time I got it wrong, despite being a good person. Even if it feels like it though, getting it wrong doesn’t make us bad people. What makes us bad people is when we don’t educate ourselves, when we refuse to listen when we’re called out, when we generalise a whole culture, or simplify a situation because the bigger picture doesn’t sit comfortably with our viewpoint. Put simply, it’s when we refuse to accept that sometimes we do get it wrong.

Its hard to see sometimes, especially when something terrible happens, and all we want to do is shout, or cry, but we owe it to ourselves to really look, and to look not just at what we’re being told, but also to look at what we’re not.

*wiki has a page on what Cultural Appropriation is here and this is a pretty useful article on Everyday Feminism as well, should you want to know more.

Russia has listed transsexual and transgender people among those who will no longer qualify for driving licences.

I am at a loss as to what to say about this. It came up as a news article on my twitter feed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30735673) and I genuinely thought it was someones misguided attempt at satire.
Lets just read that sentence again.

Russia has listed transsexual and transgender people among those who will no longer qualify for driving licences.

What the actual fuck?

The Russian government apparently is using the excuse that there are too many deaths on the road, and so they need to toughen up about who can be allowed to drive. I guess they must of read that famous scientific study about how Trans people are responsible for all the deaths on the road ever THAT DOESN’T EXIST.
It’s not just Trans people that are banned though, apparently “Fetishism, exhibitionism and voyeurism are also included as “mental disorders” now barring people from driving.”
Once again, What the actual fuck?

This is happening right on our doorstep, and it won’t stop there. How long before gay people are banned as well? And then forced sterilisation of anyone who identifies as LGBT? And then maybe segregation? How long, in all reality, before Russia’s anti LGBT laws extend to making being LGBT illegal?

Think it sounds far fetched?

I wish it was. I really wish it was…..

Another Trans person killed themselves last week. That’s another Trans person who died because of our society. Another Trans person to add to the thousands already dead. Another name to be read out on this years Trans day of Remembrance.
She wrote a suicide note. In it she talks about how she felt was ignored, and actively suppressed by her parents. That they tried to do something about it, because they thought there was something wrong with her identifying as Trans. Because, even in this time of greater Trans visibility, society still believes there’s something wrong with being Trans.
We are still seen as less than whole, not quite women, halfway men.

If you pass then things might be better, that is until the media out you, or someone finds out. Then suddenly you’re worse than if you were visibly Trans.
Go take a look at some of the articles about Laverne Cox, or Andreja Pejic, or Amiyah Scott. Take a look at the comments, that is if they haven’t been disabled because of the hate speech directed to these women because they also happen to be Trans.
I don’t know a single Trans person that hasn’t faced physical or mental abuse from another human. I don’t know a single other Trans person that hasn’t, at some point, been shamed, or attacked, or humiliated, for who they are, and how they chose to identify.

In her suicide note Leelah says

I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy.
Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

This is a wake up call for all of us. This is a person saying they give up. At 17 years old they’ve had enough. At 17.
I can’t think of a more damning indictment of society than this.

You can say that maybe she was wrong, that it does get better, but honestly, sometimes it doesn’t.
Imagine being denied your identity but the people that are supposed to be the one set of people that you’re told will love you no matter what.
Then imagine those people take you to more people, people in positions of power and authority that you don’t have the strength to fight against, because you’re a child, and they tell you you’re wrong, and that what you feel is wrong.
Imagine being told that, time after time, by the people that are supposed to be on your side, that are supposed to be there, to comfort, support and help you.

And then there’s society. Leelah writes about how she’ll never be happy with the way she looks and sounds. That she’ll never find a man who’ll love her.
We live in an society where misogyny is commonplace, and deeply ingrained. Ideals of beauty are fucked up, and seep into pretty much all aspects of life. I know, from experience how invasive and damaging this is.
I know I don’t conform to the beauty standards society places on women, and I know once people find out that I’m Trans it’ll be worse, because then I’ll be seen as “not even an actual woman” (and I quote that as a real thing someone said to me) and thus at best I wouldn’t really get it, and at worst why would I anyhow because I used to be a man, so how could it possibly affect me?
I think from reading other stuff I’ve written, you know how I feel about the way society’s dating attitudes towards Trans women affect us, but these transmisogynic attitudes are so insidious that even at 17 they’d filtered down, and added to the hopelessness that comes across so strongly in Leela’s suicide note.

When you have no hope, how can things possibly get better? When society, parents, the world, all say You are Wrong, and you have no way of challenging that, what can you do?

She ends here note asking that her death has to mean something, that we need to fix society, and she’s right.
We all need to start talking about this, because it’s our duty to, as the ones still here.
Yes, it’s hard, and finding the words is difficult. Talking about things like suicide, and death is complicated, and often upsetting. Trying to fix society, change attitudes, and stop things like this from happening may seem like the equivalent of trying to move a mountain with your bare hands.
That shouldn’t be a reason to not talk about these things though. Not having the words to know what to say isn’t a good enough reason, either for us, or for the people that have died.
We have to start a dialogue about this, as the people still here, and as the people this directly affects, we have to speak for our dead. We have to let them speak through our words and actions, with the dignity and respect they deserved whilst they were still alive.

We need to find the words to do this, because they no longer can.

These are some useful resources, if this has affected you, or you know someone that might need a lifeline..

Trans Lifeline A US/Canadian helpline, for Trans identifying people in times of crisis.

Switchboard A UK based helpline and support service for LGBTQ identifying people.

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