Friday, 25 January 2013


An Irish friend of mine once said that I find blue in a Galway sky.  I do hide behind optimism.  In the southern American states, women of my generation were taught to smile smile smile!  I suspect that the end goal was to raise compliant and congenial young women.  A lot of the Southern women I know, including myself, smile for reasons other than compliance.  Watch any episode of the Closer and you’ll know what I mean. 

I’m not about to start a campaign against the Smile Oppression of Southern women.  The smile is a particular tool from a particular sub-culture.  We all choose our battles and in those battles, we choose our weapons.  Every culture and sub-culture hands out disguises to hide our secret selves.  Mine apparently has great legs.

In a dream, my husband drops me off at the Success Station.  That’s something like the train station, but the only destination is Success.  Actually, it isn’t a station at all, but a building ledge.  I look down.  Rather than the height impressing (terrifying, paralysing) me, I notice my legs coming out of a pair of black Bermuda shorts.  They’re male legs, all toned and hairy, quite attractive if they weren’t on a woman.  I point them out to my husband with the concern they’ll be noticed in Success.  Perhaps I should go back and put on trousers.  My husband says people aren’t going to notice.  I look at my legs and think, should I care if they notice?  Perhaps I’ll go with these legs to Success and hope that people do.

Why is our first reaction to hide our secret self?

I read an article today by Lidia Yuknavitch that starts with a story about being in a bar with friends and a man she respects tells women to stop with the ‘sob stories’, aka The Sad Shit That Happened.  No need to go on and on until male eyes roll back into male heads.  The word is out.  Men get it.  Sad Shit won’t happen again.  In other words, will you shut the fuck up so I can have a pint in peace?  People laughed at what he said.

We hide our secret selves because people react badly when we don’t.

When my husband and I married a little over five years ago, his ex-wife started an harassment campaign.  It’s really difficult to get protection from that type thing.  The victim has to show he’s reasonable in his attempts to stop the harassment before the courts will step in.  What anyone who’s worked with domestic abuse will tell you is this period of reasonable behaviour is On The Job training for the perpetrator who learns how to manipulate the system.  We eventually had to move, my husband giving up a job he’d held for twelve years.  The harassment continues but at a distance.  My husband’s friends were more embarrassed than supportive.  Their reactions went from not wanting to be involved to saying she did this because he was too soft.  He learned to not talk about the most distressing thing in his life to the people who could have acted as support. 

Why is it that normal, respectable people who contribute to society don’t want to know?  A friend of mine who’d been raised in a Irish industrial school, went back as an adult and talked to a man who’d lived next to the school.  The man said he could hear the boys screaming but thought the Brothers knew what they were doing.  Are we that deaf, that children screaming in fear and pain on a daily basis, aren’t heard?  Or is it a case of Sad Shit overload? 

The mentor for my recent writing project said that my theme of alienation and isolation got in the way of what she thought the play was about.  I thought the play was about alienation and isolation.  While the mentor is probably addressing my technical ability, what if she’s not?  What if we as a species have begun to say, please don’t tell me anything more?  Yet if we can’t listen, then we're reduced to a group of secret selves sharing the same space. 

When I lived in Ireland, there was a small group of American ex-pats that hung together for social survival.  There was one particularly arrogant man who undoubtedly would have preferred all women have their tongues removed and perhaps a mandatory lobotomy as well.  He once called me stupid for not agreeing with him.  Having an enemy in a group as small as ours was like having a serial killer in a life boat.  I pulled out my best Southern smile and said, then you should be kind to me.  I had let go of the rope in his tug of war.  For as long as we knew each other afterwards, he treated me with respect.

Life isn’t black and white.  Look for the colour.  In my Irish example, I could be a little smarter and the man could be a little less arrogant.  My husband’s friends could see him (and themselves) as intelligent, skilled and successful but also able to be victimised.  The men in Yuknavitch’s bar can and do treat women as objects and yes, the women there can and do use their dis-empowerment as assault weapons.  Just like my Southern smile. 

We are capable of doing and experiencing horrific things.  Let’s make our secret selves not so secret. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

You Are Enough

At a dinner party, a woman said she’d heard that I was writer.  Before I could answer, her husband laughed and said, ‘She wishes.’  Amazing, the number of scenarios, mostly illegal, that careen through your head in a situation like this. 

The man in question works for the NHS but he loves his garden.  I doubt that anyone says he wishes he were a real gardener.  Yet, if you direct youth theatre, you’re a youth worker.  If you lead a choir for the elderly, you’re a social worker.  If you write only for yourself, you’re deluded.  You think you have talent?  How embarrassing. 

Today when we took the Big Nosed dog for a walk, the post van was parked along the street, radio playing and the postie himself dancing as he went house to house.  Gotta love that Northern Soul, he said, and danced past us.  Fantastic!

Humans thirst for creativity, and we do it at will.  Dance, sing, crack jokes, draw pictures in the snow.  Creation both expresses and connects us.  In my trauma work, tapping the client’s creativity ignites the sense of a healed self in a way that seems nearly magical.  And anyone who’s done community theatre or sung in a choir has felt that connected-ness that comes from doing something wonderfully creative together.

The arts are powerful.  So tap into that power and stage a revolution inside yourself.  Find the creative you and dust her off.  Cook a meal.  Write a blog.  Recite your poem on open mic night.  Dance in the street.  If anybody laugh at you, remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH. 

I believe you can do it, so get cracking.  Let me know how you get on.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Trans-Parent Request

Not Friday yet, but I didn’t expect the week to be like this.  It started so well.  I finished draft 7604 of my Afghanistan novel, the blog post here did nicely, I even (with some technical aid from my son, the peripatetic El Punko) entered into the Twitter world.  Nature cooperated by keeping our snowfall in the ‘pretty’ rather than the ‘I-hate-feckin-snow’ zone and Big Bang had a new episode.  Then there was Julie Burchill.

My first reaction, to wonder if Burchill understood the what-happens-next after publishing an article like that.  But then, I always go all left brain when faced with things that should knock me on my ass.  Which is why, about ten years ago, my son had the research ready when I asked him, ‘What did I do to make you like this?’

The morning after Burchill’s rampage, I woke before dawn with what felt like a clunk of The Hopeless on my chest.  Someone who doesn’t know him, hates my son.  How do you fix that?  But when people objected to Burchill’s hate mongering, focus switched from transphobia to freedom of expression.  A slight of hand that equated hurling epithets at a marginalised group as a civil liberty. 

I wanted to take a sick day from life.  An image kept going through my head, a photo I put on Facebook to make El Punko’s cousin in the US laugh.  

I ask you, how can anyone hate an elf?  (Read what my son says about Burchill here 

Ten years ago, a lot of the research pointed to the mother as the cause for Gender Dysphoria, either for psychological, sociological, or physiological reasons.  I suspect some social scientists have issues with their mothers but hey, I’m willing to say to Julie Burchill et al, don’t hate my son.  It’s my fault he’s trans.  Hate me. 

Because even if I didn’t psychologically, sociologically, or physiologically make him into the man he is today, I aided and abetted him.  I stood outside the men’s room when he went in until he pointed out how pervy that was.  I chanted that being trans was a special gift, then shut up when he said he wished he weren’t so damned special.  I visited him in a hospital where it was injudicious for the doctor to admit what type of surgery he’d performed on my son. 

Hate me, because I didn’t even try to stop El Punko.  While you’re at it, hate his friends for not doing a mass intervention to keep him a real girl who fights the male hegemony because hey, that’s more important than his gender identity. 

Hate the men in our family for sharing male greeting rituals with him, because doesn’t that separate us into first class and carriage?  Hate the university that prepares him for his ivory tower existence where miraculously he won’t suffer anymore.  (We’d all get Ph.Ds if that were true.) 

Hate his cat for loving him, too.

Each and every one of us is connected to someone else who’s connected to someone else who’s connected to someone else.  It’d be exhausting to hate all of us, so come on.  We have more in common than we have to separate us.  Julie Burchill attacking transfolk in defence of Suzanne Moore is motivated by the same thing that makes me want to step between her and my son. 

Her results, however, are less attractive.  It doesn’t matter if you’re working to gain equality for women if you’re swatting at transgendered people.  Or persons of colour.  Or Muslims.  Or gays.  Or my Big Nose dog.  The swatting cancels out the gains you’ve made. 

Hatred is an easier tactic because it dismisses the conflict person or group so we don’t have to deal with what we don’t like.  It’s self indulgent.  It’s theatrical.  It’s cathartic.  It’s destructive.  It’s a cop out.  It’s beneath us. 

Here’s my kid and the Big Nosed dog.  Please don’t hate him.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Currency of Hate

In a Galway pub on 11 September, 2001 , the punters in the seats near the telly got up to let the Americans sit down.  I’d been excused from work after the attacks and so it was from a high stool that I watched the world change.  As George Bush waxed imbecilic and Tony Blair gave a well enunciated battle cry, I made what I knew was a useless prayer.

Dear God, don’t let us go to war.  Dear God, please tell these assholes that killing’s not the answer.  Dear God, don’t let them blast out the ghetto to get the drug dealer.  Whether or not God listened isn’t the issue.  What I hoped wouldn’t happen, had already started.

I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of war.  I see both sides and am a proponent for accepting reality.  As long as there are people who will take what isn’t theirs or will toss kittens into walls for sport, we need a military.  What I’m thinking of is how we haven’t progressed much from the days of the coliseum.  A certain proportion of our population still enjoys watching others get ripped to bits.  Those of us who don’t, are told to take the moral high ground lest we be ridiculed as wooses.

The MEP for Northwest England criticises a gay couple for wanting the same rights as straights, then purportedly suggests that activists ‘confront Muslims instead of picking on meek & forgiving Christians.’  And he still has his job.  Two university students in Dublin sustain a savage knife attack for stopping a woman from getting her head stomped into the pavement and are advised by the gardaĆ­ not to press charges because their attackers will retaliate on the victim’s families.  After eighteen months of harassment by his ex-wife, a man quits his job of 12 years, moves across the country and is still forced by the court to pay expenses the ex unilaterally racks up in the name of his children.  A woman is murdered by her ex-husband and the court awards custody of her children to his parents who keep them away from their dead mother’s relatives.

We have religion and we have legislation but both are ineffectual in changing the gladiator mentality.  And so we respond in a currency of hate because no one thinks that giving members of the Westboro Baptist Church a hug is going to change things.  We raise voices and sometimes fists in outcry against MPs using taxpayers’ money to build duck houses and ride in chauffeured cars.  We hack into Twitter accounts, carry placards, hurl epithets, teach our children the standard exchange rate for bigotry, racism, sectarianism.

Hate begets hate.  A newly qualified teacher recently told me she was taught, when faced with a rowdy class, not to go for the ring leaders, but to seek out the weakest member of the pack, get them under control and work her way up the status chain until she got big dog.  While that’s probably an effective way to get things under control, that straggler in the pack is learning that the way to survive is to align with the strongest bully in the environment, rather than being taught that anti-social behaviour sucks.

A blog by Amanda Palmer is making the Facebook rounds and causing a blogging sensation.  (Go read it and her follow-up ‘plot thickening’ blog entries!)

She asked victims of internet bullying to tell her their stories and she’d write a subsequent entry with practical solutions to help them survive.  That’s a helluva commitment from a complete stranger to the universe at large and I’m not sure how many of us could sustain that.

BUT . . .

One hand reached out is more effective and more REAL than all the legislation, riot gear and fists in the air can be.  Do something practical.  Do it for one person outside your normal sphere.  The stressed parents down the street.  That dough-faced kid who doesn’t make eye contact.  The woman wearing sun glasses who keeps walking into doors.  Commit to only what you can sustain.  Do it for real, not for show.  Do it for the long haul.

I’m a realist.  We need legislation, military strength, bad ass teachers and maybe even churches.  Yet every time you ask how someone is but don’t listen to the answer; every time someone inconveniently seeks your help and you say you don’t want to be involved; every time you hear about injustice and all you do is raise your voice but not lift a hand, you’re complicit.  I’m complicit.  Nothing changes.

Do it.  Do it now.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Home Delivery

The grocery delivery arrived today while my husband was at work.  Since my work is situated at a desk in the bay window of our home, anything that happens when he’s away can be a bit of an annoyance.  Some things like the cat clawing the carpet so she can come into my office and balance on anything in the room that has a diameter of no more than 2”, these things I’m fairly adept at tackling. 

A grocery delivery is a bit trickier, especially if there are substitutions because I’m not the cook in our house.  Basically I refuse all substitutions in the spice or herb department and accept substitutions for everything else.  It makes cooking a little more interesting for him.

Today as I put things mostly where they belonged, I was struck by how complex a task he has in doing the weekly order.  Obviously there’s the whole meal planning & knowing what goes in the recipes, checking to see what needs restocked.  All of that requires knowing what fruit we leave to attract flies,  what type Magnums are acceptable, if we’re eating bread this week or only wraps, what toiletry items everyone in the house uses, who likes mushrooms and who hates raisins and whether or not we’ve run out of kitty litter.  And his job’s not even in the house.

My husband’s an intelligent man.  He trained at Trinity and Oxford.  But it’s not his mental capacity that I’m thinking of.  It’s his desire to pay attention to and take care of us.  That’s what the weekly grocery deliver quietly does.