Wednesday, 26 February 2014

If I should die today...

If I should die today, I trust my housemate to hide my sex toys from my grandmother.
I give him full permission to redistribute my lesbian erotica to a closeted queer,
with sad eyes, and a quiet smile.
May it help them learn the shape of their pleasure
and some new ways to refer to the vagina.

If I should die today, you can keep my glasses,
if you promise to look through them once in a while,
take a day off now and again, and remember to breathe.
If I should die today I give you permission buy yourself flowers for no reason.
To sing in in the shower, and steal vegetables from big supermarket brands.

If I should die today, I hope my ex-lovers speak to one another and compare love letters.
I hope they forgive me for my bad spelling.
I hope they remember the nights when we swapped dreams for kisses
when the rising sun was our own personal spotlight.
If I should die today, I hope every orgasm you ever have
feels likes a personal gift from whatever god or political figure you believe in.

If I should die today, I hope you all remember how unapologetically
fat and queer and northern and working class I was.
Should you ever forget please please check my tumblr.
If I should die today, take a memory each from my memory jar.
Plant it in your pocket, grow your own happiness,
dance to LCD Soundsystem.

If I should die today, I know I'd want to be remembered as
flawed and fabulous.
So there are some things you should know.
I never really stopped thinking of Pluto as a planet.
Sometimes I was too tired to listen to you, so I just nodded.
If I should die today, remember that I would never lose an argument.
I'd just lose people.

Remember there were times when I drank too much and cried on buses,
times when I gave crumbs instead of talk to people sitting on pavements.
Times when I watched nurse Jackie rather than reading.
If I should die today, in the last seconds before I pass,
I'll be pissed off for not knowing how the novel I'm reading ends.

If I should die today, there's a story I wrote called Sirens.
It says everything I couldn't.
If I should die today, please don't stop writing letters to me.
If I should die today there's no special wisdom I can impart
no beautiful metaphor I can create
no staggering philosophy.

If I should die today, please mix my ashes with glitter,
throw them at homophobes, and tories and

anyone else who ever acts like your existence is worth less than the organic hand soap at their children's private school.
There are no words I can write in my living room at five past nine on a Tuesday night that will ever describe your worth.
But you are doing just fine. 

If I should die today, please wear fancy dress to my funeral.
Please remember not to pray for me, 
not to name a star after me 
or justify bad decisions with 'that's what she would have wanted'. 
I will only ever want beautiful things for you. 
(This includes revolution.)

If I should die today plant a tree in your garden for me, 
call it hope, 
teach yourself how it comes back to life every spring. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

SPAnswers- g-spot orgasms, masturbation shame, and the possibility of poly.

How can you bring up polyamory within the context of a long term, so far monogamous relationship with minimum pain?

Ellie-I think the best thing to do is have an honest open discussion with your partner about how you feel. If they are shut off to the idea then it’s only fair not to push them into something that they don’t want. If they are willing to discuss or try it but aren’t sure they want to commit to the idea them perhaps start with some very clear rules, guidelines and promise that if they get uncomfortable it can be re-evaluated. I think the main thing is communication and honesty.

 I'm a person with a vagina and I'm confused about orgasms. Should I be striviing for a g spot orgasm? I've never had one but my current partner's ex did and they have kind of implied that a clitoral orgasm is a cop out.

 Ellie- Very few people actually have g-spot orgasms, and very few people without a vagina know this. Most people can only have clitoral orgasms, and most people who manage to orgasm during penetrative sex often only do due to the grinding of the clitoris against their partners that can happen. It’s not uncommon not to have had a g-spot orgasm, many people never will, and some might randomly one day during sex. You can’t know whether you ever will have a g-spot orgasm or not, but the orgasms you are having are not cope outs, and are 100% valid

K-There is nothing wrong or less valid about clitoral orgasms, and many many people with vaginas (myself included!) can’t have g-spot orgasms. I personally feel it’s not worth the effort of trying to find an elusive g-spot orgasm when I already know how to have a great clitoral one, but if you feel a g-spot orgasm might be better for you, or is something you want to have, then by all means try to achieve it. Don’t worry if you can’t have them though, or if you just don’t really want to - your clitoral orgasms are just fine! When it comes to your orgasms, go for what YOU want, not what your partner thinks you should be doing

I feel ashamed when I masturbate (I'm a woman). Is this common?

Ellie- This is very very common. As someone who is very open about sex myself, and the fact that I enjoy sex, I very very rarely masturbate simply because I feel ashamed of it. I wish I didn’t. I often feel like a bad feminist for feeling ashamed of it, but unfortunately women aren’t always taught that it’s an acceptable and normal part of sexuality. It’s common but not something you should have to feel. If you can get over the feelings of shame then go for it, and have fun, if you can’t then it’s not your fault. There are even really cute apps designed to help you feel more normal about masturbating, and encouraging more women to feel comfortable doing it!

Pip- It's really common! The thing about sexual shame is that it's not just something limited to conservative communities or religious ones, but because we're socialized amongst and into these things, it effects us too. Sometimes, experiencing sexual shame can make me people feel like their letting the team down, or they're 'not really' feminist or sex positive. But feminism and sex positivity aren't about never feeling internalized sexual shame or misogyny, they're about a remedy to those things, they're about recognizing the causes for them. My advice is 
1. allow yourself to feel ashamed. Let this be OK, for now. Stressing yourself out or berating yourself for feeling ashamed isn't going to improve the situation. 
2. start to re-negotiate your relationship to your genitals and masturbation. This could be by setting some time aside to speak to a councillor, or writing a list of all the reasons masturbation is a positive thing for your body, I suggest looking at some of Dodson and Ross' videos and articles., they even have this handy play list for overcoming shame-
3. work up to seducing yourself. Like any sex lif, the one you have with yourself is susceptible to becoming stale or repetitive. If you feel you can make the time and you're ready to spend some time simply exploring your body then go for it. Light some candles, dress up, watch, read, or listen to something that makes you feel sexual. 
Most importantly, remember that whatever you do is fine. You can masturbate or not, orgasm or not, share your body sexually or not. This is not about how you 'should' feel, it's about how you want to feel. 

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Art and Activism

An interview with Codie Austin.

What role do you think art can play in activism?

Art can play a monumental role in activism. The classic question is whether art imitates life or life imitates art and art that commemorates political struggle reminds activists that there are things to be won, and can give you hope.

Art in itself will never be the revolution, but the idea that one day, children will read poetry, look at paintings and watch films about the occupation of Palestine, the kyriarchal oppression, the destruction and heartache of capitalism, as something of the past is some days all that keeps me going.

Without radical politics and an intersectional understanding of oppression, art is meaningless as a political tool. But sometimes, good politics and art cross one another's path and for a second rather than a record, art encapsulates our struggle and becomes a force for change within itself.

When I create a picture it helps me communicate things without having to engage with an oppressive dialogue. People might see the picture, they might disagree, but the image remains whole and the sentiment behind it is unchanged.

When I edit propaganda or images made by others, I think of it as found art. It helps me re-write problematic assertions.

Is there a specific piece of activist art that you think was particularly successful?

Frida Kahlo's art was exquisite, her work is so often reduced to her self portraits and some work around her fertility but every piece of hers is radical because she was radical. Her self portraits are unapologetic in the face of normative beauty standards, her depictions of Mexican culture show us her unique experience and the suffering of her people. She has a piece on Marxism ending the suffering of the sick and the first time I saw it, it was like a secret she had shared with just me.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

What I'm reading- The Sex Side of Life by Mary Ware Dennet. (A guide on sex for young people from 1918.)

We have come across so much rubbish on this subject that we drifted into the conclusion that an honest sex essay for young folks would not be produced by this generation.


It's available for free online here.

In not a single one of all the books for young people that I have thus far read has there been the frank, unashamed declaration that the climax of sex emotion is an unsurpassed joy, something which rightly belongs to every normal human being, a joy to be proudly and serenely experienced. Instead there has been all too evident an inference that sex emotion is a thing to be ashamed of, that yielding to it is indulgence which must be curbed as much as possible, that all thought and understanding of it must be rigorously postponed, at any rate till after marriage. [...]We have not yet said that it is only beautiful sex relations that can make marriage lovely.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Why I came out as disabled.

My journey to coming out as disabled started in 2007 when after a long struggle with severe symptoms of tiredness, weight gain, confusion and memory loss; I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. As many of you will know, tiredness when connected to illness canbea horrifically traumatic experience. It's not like yawning and deciding to sleep, it's like fighting sleep off day after day. It's sleeping for twelve hours, waking up and feeling exhausted again before you've brushed your teeth. Everything is greyer, further away, tiredness is like a blubber that separates you from the fun, from living.

When framed like that, it makes me wonder why anyone would ever put off seeking medical help for a year. But we all do. Why would someone allow themselves to be lost within a condition? Because that's what happened. I lost most of my personality inside those symptoms and the culmination of how I dealt with them, and if I'm perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure I got all of it back. Who can crack jokes when they can't remember the end of their sentence? Who can smile when every interaction is such an effort that you begin to resent those who speak to you?

It took a lot of thinking to understand why I subjected myself to this, but I reached a conclusion- internalised disablism.

See for the most part of my life I grew up in a house hold with my Mum, who supported both of us. My Mum has worked my entire life and I can't remember her having a day off, for illness,beforeI was sixteen. She couldn't get ill because her being ill meant being short on the rent, me being ill meant a baby sitter's billwecouldn't afford; ill meant failure. Illness was something to be powered through.

This survival technique coupled with disablism ingrained in ourculture (e.g. people with physical disabilities used as the butt of jokes, people who experience mental illness being represented as murderers) lead me to tell myself repeatedly that I couldn't be ill, because that would mean failing my A Levels.

So, the anxiety & depression over the prospect of failure (and the misery caused by the condition) lead me to find other ways to propel myself through my course and my social lifewithout 'failing'. Mainly narcotics & alcohol (and dangerous relationships to acquirethem).I was living with eight other young people in supported accommodation so there was never peace and quiet. I was out the house for twelve hours a day attending a college with the most unsupportive 'support staff' imaginable. I was using drugs to see me through the weekend and still managing to pass my course. And that was going really well until I started having to hide fainting fits, experiencing hallucinations and paranoia and was admitted to hospital with what was a series of 'accidental overdoses'. The culmination of this behaviour was a mental breakdown and I don't think I have the adjectives to describe that experience to you.

The last time I had to go to hospital for symptoms caused by drugs I finally saw myself for what I was; the same old girl but without the light, without anything but bags under my eyes, a hospital gown and nowhere near enough money to get home. I thought to myself 'I could die right now'. And because that scared me, I knew there was a spark of me left: a spark of me worth fighting to keep.

I'm still fighting for that spark today, I suppose. Everyday is a fight: Disablist external and internal voices telling me that being ill is failing vs. the truth.

To explain what that truth is I'll have to talk about another diagnosis. After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism, depression, anxiety, and seeking help for my addiction, I stilldidn't self- defineasdisabled.For me to claim that term, we have to talk about 2013. In my final year of university, I was seeking medical help for posterior uveitis and macular edema. I was losing vision rapidly and for the first time in five years I felt I was losing the battle with internalised disablism. It was then that I realised that one person isn't enough to fight disablism. Not even close. We each have our limits and our abilities and I wrote a statement about mine in relation to our Student union elections. This is probably the first time I recognised my limits as a disabled person.

Disability to me is not a special criterion, a measurement of ability, or a term reserved for those who are ill 'enough'. Because the truth is that there is no illness small enough to ignore and no role so important that health can be side-lined. Disability is the absence of abled privilege. I don't have the privilege of being able to control my body weight as others do, of being able to see properly, of being able to write and speak without mistakes, of being able to effectively usemy working memory, of being able to use substances recreationally,ofnotbeing depressed and anxious. The expectation thata person cando allof these things is socially constructed and maintained, and because of this, disability is a physical and political identity.

In the movement and activism against disablism and able normativity I found that self-care and peer support are essential. NUS Disabled Students Officer, Hannah Paterson, offered me support and understanding following me coming out about my condition, and I think that was the first time in a long time I wasn't scared to be seen as weak, because Hannah and other activists find strength in admittinglimits. What followed helped me to do the same. Other disabled activists rallied round to help with the things my disabilities prevented mefrom doing and I think the power of that network is a huge factor in me being here today, relatively unscathed. I need and deserve a network of people who share my rage, fight and principles of self-care.

Before disability I was just someone who couldn't see the PowerPoint, someone too scared to leave the house sometimes, someone whose life was a process of rebuilding, relapsing and ignoring. Before disability I was acting out of fear of 'failing' socially and academically but I was failing myself. Before disability I was losing myself, I was killing myself.

And now that I have claimed the word disabled with all its power, history and support?

Now I know that strength means asking for help.

Now I'm proud to be disabled.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Living with memory loss

Living with memory loss is infuriating. The perception is that people who forget things are a bit docile, but on your third attempt to leave the house, because you've forgotten something, getting back inside and forgetting what item you forgot- I challenge anyone to not feel frustrated.

See my memory loss, which is linked with my hypothyroidism, is a daily struggle. It's not that I forgot we were meeting at 12pm for coffee and now you've texted me I've remembered. It's that the conversation we had about it is missing, it's completely gone. And it's not coming back.

In the past I've had a range of responses to me telling people about my memory loss from supportive to disbelief, and lots in between and I spent a long time feeling guilty because I believed the misconceptions about memory loss that everyone else does. But having lived with this condition for eight years, I've decided that I'm comfortable enough with this part of my health to make some assertations and draw up some boundaries.

1. Memory loss has nothing to do with intelligence.
Now you may be able to still recall the answers to your A Level Law exam, or your GCSE Math test, and I might sometimes forget to wear underwear, but that doesn't make you my intellectual superior. It gives you a huge advantage in one specific kind of academic examination, but spurnng off information isn't a marker of intellect, it's a marker of an individual's ability to memorize things. What about problem solving, interpersonal skills, developing, creating, applying critical thought to situations? Your ability to recite information is one skill that happens to be frightfully over tested in the U.K's educational system.

2. This has nothing to do with how much I care about things.
I didn't forget to call you or see you because I don't care, contrary to popular belief forgetfulness is not connected with apathy. I do care. I do want to do everyday human things. I am not choosing to forget them. If I could choose what I remembered then I wouldn't have memory loss. To prove the point here's a list of things I recently forgot

-A regular feature on my blog. Several weeks running.
-To drink water for three days.
-To take my medication yeaterday. -What day I was travelling to London a few weeks ago.
-To take painkillers for pain from dental surgery, earlier today.
-My middle names, a few months ago.
-My age, a few days before my birthday.
-How to spell 'critique' when writing point number 1.

3. Memory loss is not helped by condecension.
'Ahh, Pip, you'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on.' Wow,that's not original or helpful. Nor is it helpful when you make a joke out of me forgeting to perform basic tasks. I totally understand that you feel awkward that I'm disabled in this way and you want lighten the mood, but don't make jokes at my expense, especially about my disability/ies because-

4. I not embarrassed by my memory loss.
I spent a long time loathing myself and telling myself how stupid I was and I worked out; that doesn't help. It took years for my to deconstruct the internalised ableism that we're all socialised into. I felt that I 'should' be able to remember where I put things, who I had made arrangements with and why I was stood in the bathroom with a spatula in my hand. But I couldn't. That is a downfall of my body. That is something I just can't do. And that's O.K. None of us are immortal or undamaged. We're all flawed and human and sometimes we have bad breath or colds or longer term problems. And though it might be terribley embarrassing to you that your friend Pip has come to meet you and is wearing odd shoes, I'm not embarrassed to be human and flawed in this way.

5. Accepting memory loss is a process.
Before I started experiencing memory loss, I thought about my worst fears, one of which was growing old and forgetting people and events and achievements. So you could say that everyday I live one of my worst fears, even if just for a moment. Memory loss is terrifying. I can't explain how much humans rely on memory, if I did it wouldn't make sense. Until you experience menory loss yourself it's not something you think about. But needless to say it's a huge thing to have compromised. And losing it or part of it entails grieving, like all grief mine included a serious stage of denial. I revert back to denial sometimes when I'm feeling unable to cope. Denial is my default an it causes certain behaviours: I apologise for the mistakes I make because of my menory far too much still and try fo hide this condition for other people's comfort occassionally, I call my scary memory blanks 'brain farts' to make others feel less awkward. But I'm getting better at counteracting the denial. And each day I don't tell myself off for losing memories is another day in the process of acceptance.

See, I suppose like any other thing, we try to apply logic to our minds and to our memories. But memories aren't always logical. There is no method or reason in what I forget. There's no rule to explain why I can remember that I have to put a wash on but forget to take it out, why I spent four hours annotating entires for an anthology I helped edit but forgot the editor's meeting. A lot of people I interact with who may rely on my abilities get swept up in this whirlpool of unpredictable memory loss. It can cause a lot of hurt feelings because people take things personally. My memory loss isn't something I dreamt up to excuse shitty behaviour towards you. It's not personal when I forget something, it's not even personal that it causes me to lose memories I need to look after myself. The condition, the scary concequences, the frustration, the denile, the anger, they're all just part of existing. We're all flawed and a broken in some way, right?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

SPAnswers- queer identity , coming out as poly & swinging as a bi man

Q. Im a queer/trans* man in a long term relationship, my partner used to define as bi but now defines as straight, she's a woman so its doesn't effect our attraction but I feel like she expects me to do the same. How can I explain that I'm not willing to compromise my queer identity but not cheat?

A. I'd remind her that queer can mean many different things - anything other than straight.  It doesn't have to imply that you're gay and aren't attracted to women, nor does it imply that you need to have other partners.  And I'd reassure her that your attachment to your queer identity doesn't mean you're interested in having other partners by reminding her that an identity is just that, an identity, and is often essential to the way a person views themself, so it can be important for reasons far more personal than a desire to make connections with others.

Q. I'm poly, and have several partners all of whom are very I'mportant to me. My family are only aware of my relationship with one of them - as far as they're concerned, I'm monogamous. They met another of my partners last month, but they only know hir as my friend, not as my partner.
Now I'm moving in with hir, again my family think this is just as friends (which is possible because we're all having separate rooms), but given that this means ze'll inevitably be spending more time round my family I'd really like to be open with them about the nature of our relationship.
The thing is, the reason I didn'ter introduce hir initially as my partn is that when I brought up the *concept* of polyamory a few months ago with some of them, I reckon they managed to fill the whole bingo card of mononormative tropes.
Mainly "you can't reeeeeeeally love someone and be comfortable with sharing them with someone else". Any advice on how to deal with the situation would be greatly appreciated.

A. Firstly you're very brave and definitely not alone in your experience of this situation. A lot of poly people have to negotiate the balance of telling/not telling bio family, work mates, employers, friends, therapists, doctors etc. 
The reactions from your family sound like anyone's reaction on first hearing about polyamory. That's doesn't excuse mononormativity in individuals, at all! Each person is responsible for holding non-discriminatory opinions, but the way society is structured towards the heterosexual, and the monogamous, means that these people are just voicing the values they have been socialised into.

My advice is that you think carefully about who you tell and how you tell them. Remember that no one has the right to know the intimate details of your life, be it family or friends. When you have thoroughly considered the situation personally, then speak to your partner(s) that this will effect. If you just plan on telling them about the partner you're moving in with discuss this with hir and ensure that you're both happy for this information to be available to your family.

If you've communicated with yourself and your partner(s) and you decide you're going to tell your family then I've put some tips below.

1. Consider the location. I personally tend to use a public space (e.g. coffee shop) as I feel that this allows me (and the person I'm telling) the freedom to walk away if and when I/we need to. If you want to do it in the comfort of your own surroundings that's understandable but do consider the location.

2. People. Do you want your partner(s) with you? Do you want to tell family one person at a time? (I advise this as it will limit the mononormative concersation).

3. Attitude. My personal approach is; 'Hey, this is something about me. You can find information on it here. I'm telling you because I feel like you are involved in my life and I'd like to be open with you. I'm not seeking your approval but I'd prefer you kept disapproval to a minimum around me. This is a non-negotiable part of my life, and I expect you to respect both this aspect of me and my life generally. Do you have any questions?'
I feel that this format sets out my expectations and provides them with space to go away and feel their feelings but depending on how close you are to family it may be abrupt or cold. Decide how you want to explain polyamory and if necessary practise in front of a mirror or with a partner.

Above remember that this is your life and you are the one who lives it. Your decisions are valid and nobody can negate how you experience attraction and in what capacity you love or define boundaries of relationships, they can deal with it or not. Your relationship structure has been negotiated and established and you're simply informing your family. Brace yourself for mononoramtive sentiments and ridiculous questions but remember that you don't owe anyone answers. Then allow family their own time to process this information.

I personally keep relationships and family completely separate so instead of telling you my coming out story, have these-

Good luck!x

Q. I'm interested in swinging but as a single, bi man I'm scared of being rejected by the swinging community, is there any point in me bothering?

A. So the answer to this question depends on what you mean by the swinging community. If you mean going to swingers clubs then by all means there is point in you bothering. Single men go to swingers clubs all the time. Occasionally some clubs will hold couples only nights, so if there are couples who are put off by single men being there then they will attend these nights instead. Usually there are plenty of single men at clubs and you won’t be made to feel like the odd one out, so don’t worry. As for your bisexuality, unfortunately I have to admit that the swinging community isn’t always the most accepting of the LGBT community, especially if you wish to sleep with couples (some men worry that you’ll try something with them when they only want you to have fun with their partner). Obviously plenty of people will be accepting but there is still stigma attached to bisexual men within the community.
Secondly there’s the online swingers community. Now it can be worth a try, but there are so many single men on the typical swingers sites that it can be very hard to get a meet, especially without a few verifications. Most couples turn off notifications from single men simply because they can’t handle the volume within which they get messages and requests from them. I would try using a free site in case it doesn't work out, such as fabswingers On these sites though, it might be easier too be open about your sexuality as people who are put off by your sexuality most likely just won’t respond too your messages, and there’s also sites aimed specifically at men who want to play with men.

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