Fat

[TW fatphobia, slurs, bullying, abusive behaviour, suicide]

This has come back to mind lately for a couple of reasons: I have a new co-worker, who has accepted me hundred percent and it’s been really nice, and my mum found some old photos yesterday, and decided to compare me now to how “slim” I was when I was 12.

I have always been fat, it’s just a simple fact. I was tall for my age, an early developer, and I was fat. So of course I was the target for all the bullies.

Being told, at age nine, by fellow nine year olds, that you’re disgusting, that you will never amount to anything, that you deserve to die, has a lasting effect.

As a society, we are programmed to despise fat people, to treat us like we’re second rate, unworthy of respect, love or basic human decency. We are taught that the ideal we see in the media is worthy killing ourselves over.

And it is fucking disgusting.

It can be hard supporting your fat friends with this shit though; it can be easy to feed into the cycle of “well, if you just lost a little weight”, which doesn’t help anything. Words have more power than a lot of people give them credit for, which makes them dangerous.

The first time I tried to kill myself, I was nine years old.

And I have family who feed into these cycles, even though we’re all built the same. Which doesn’t help the situation.

And I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a shitty position to be in.

So what can we do? Be gentle, be kind. Don’t feed into the cycles of down talking, of self harm, of dangerous behaviour. Don’t downplay them either though: this is where it becomes tricky, because it’s easy to panic over this sort of thing.

Being gentle and kind applies to all areas of life, and doubly so here. I have no words of wisdom or clever way to finish this, so there we go.

Don’t let society grind us down for being who we are.

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Depression

[TW mental health, suicide, self-harm]

You may notice, if you look at the dates things were posted on here that things have been a bit more sporadic of late.

I could give you all sorts of happy excuses, like I’m now keyworking a new service at work so have been busy with that, and that I’ve been out to see people so was tied up doing that, but when it comes down to it, I always plan my life with time to write. So why haven’t I been writing here as much as I usually do?

Depression.

The link above will take you to the MIND page of depression symptoms. Their whole site is a great resource for finding out more about mental illnesses, it was recommended to me by the psychiatrist I saw last year, so check it out.

Depression is different for everyone, though. For me it is the literal mean of depression: it pushes everything down until I feel nothing, have no motivation, have no energy. I have to grab the tiniest bits that sneak around the edges of the seal, and I have to prioritise what I use them for. Lately it’s been functioning on a basic level (eating, showering) and going to work. There just hasn’t been brain space for this.

And it’s not going away soon. I was first diagnosed with depression aged 9, after a particularly vile campaign of bullying at school, so I’ve had 19 years of this nonsense so far.

I haven’t carved my legs up, or tried to kill myself this time round though, so minor improvements on before.

This isn’t a post to get pity, or to shock people that I can be like this behind the face I put on most days. It’s not an excuse either: it’s an explanation of why I’m quiet sometimes.

Like I said, depression affects people differently. The MIND page describes symptoms that are used in diagnosing depression, but almost more importantly it also speaks about what depression is not.

It’s not the odd day when you feel a bit low because the weather is crap. It’s not being tired because you’ve been super busy and your body just needs a day to recover. It’s not even the odd self-harming urge, because it happens to a larger number of people than we usually realise, and a large number of them aren’t depressed.

I could talk more about what my symptoms are, but my depression is mixed up with the personality disorder they’re attempting to diagnose, so it probably wouldn’t help.

The most important thing to say is, if you do suffer from depression, you’re not alone. There are resources and communities online for the days you feel up to the challenge of reading. Of course, if you suspect you or someone you know may be depressed, speak to medical professionals. Don’t try and self diagnose using things you read on blogs like this, as you won’t do yourself any favours.

Disenfranchisement

I tried really hard not to do a post about politics y’all, I swear.  But whilst this is not a post to tell you how to vote (for whoever has the best chance of outing the tories, obv), and it’s not a post about who has the best policies (absolutely not the tories), I feel it is important to talk about an aspect of politics not a lot of people are even aware of.

Disenfranchisement.

Simply put, this is something that happens to minorities; be it based in race, nationality, gender, sexuality, etc. Disenfranchisement is what happens when the central politics revolve around white, cisgender heteronormative narratives and fail to take into consideration the situation of others.

Disenfranchisement is being put in the situation where voting for any candidate is at detriment to yourself, and so many people in this situation legitimately choose not to vote at all.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I routinely see, and more so now we’re heading towards this ridiculous General Election, people I love and care about posting with the attitude that “if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain about the result”.

I love you, friends and gentlepeeps, but this attitude is bullshit and you need to stop.

Telling someone who literally has no horse in the race that they can’t complain is so heavily steeped in privilege it stinks. Putting aside it is usually said white, cisgender heteronormative folks having a go at the minorities, AND WE SHOULD ALL KNOW BY NOW WHY THAT IS TRASH, this sort of attitude is merely going to push these people further away from politics, and is effectively robbing them of any agency.

What should we do instead? Use our voices for something actually useful. Contact you MP/MSP/Councillor, tackle them on not considering all parts of society. Find campaigns for gender issues, racial issues, poverty issues, and send their information to your representatives. Don’t blindly vote along party lines: I get that this won’t count for the upcoming GE because the hope is TORIES OUT, but at a local level if nothing else, vote for the candidate with the most inclusive policies. Use your vote to show them the sort of world we want, push them to do better, and you give those disenfranchised a reason to participate. Or not, because at the end of the day voting is a right we don’t have to use.

Stop shaming people for being disregarded by politicians who quite often, particularly in the case of Westminster, have no idea what it is like to be an average person in this fucked up country, and instead push them to do better and actually represent us.

If you’re going to vote, vote wisely. Manifestos are often dry reads, but read them. Don’t blindly vote for parties based on one policy you happen to like. Do better, because those disenfranchised know that their vote is meaningless. Yours doesn’t have to be.

On the Subject of Offence

[TW gaslighting, abuse, homophobia, transphobia, racism]

We all have things we find offensive.

This isn’t a post about things that are offensive.

This is a post about what to do when someone tells you you’ve offended/hurt them in some way.

For the TL;DR version, things you shouldn’t do:

  • Double down.
  • Insist that you didn’t mean offence in the way the other person has taken it.
  • Insist that what you said isn’t offensive full stop.
  • Insist that the other person is misreading the context of your words.
  • Refuse to apologise.

And now, the longer version.

As a matter of course, we can’t know every single thing that has happened to every person we know. Some things will be talked about over time, and you will know from talking to your friend if these are subjects that can be discussed/joked about. And that is rad; keep that discourse open.

The thing is, there are some things that happen to us that are difficult to talk about, we don’t want to talk about with someone recently new to our lives, or subjects we just find deeply uncomfortable to bring up in conversation.

You can’t control how someone else feels about a certain subject.

For example, you might have a new friend who is openly queer, but for some reason they get offended when you make jokes about queer sexuality. You might find this strange, because ten minutes before this friend also made jokes about queer sexuality.

In this case, the reason for taking offence is simple: your queer friend was making jokes at their own expense based on their own experiences, and you co-opting that is overstepping a boundary for them. This can happen even if you are queer yourself. It is absolutely not your place to argue here.

It can happen in all kinds of contexts: your friend might riff on racial stereotypes when talking about their family, and get upset when you do it. You might be talking about your country versus their country, we are a global community after all, and something you think is a joking comment might make them uncomfortable.

It can happen for all sorts of reasons, and it is so important to note here that you don’t get to decide if what you said was offensive or not. Someone told you that it was, and that’s all there is to it.

So what to do when someone tells you you’ve been offensive:

  • Apologise: but don’t make a huge deal about it. Don’t put the work on them to make you feel better for having put you in a situation you need to apologise for.
  • Go and learn: probably not in that moment, but your friend might be willing to have a conversation about the issue at a later date. If not, we have this amazing things called the internet with search engines for your educational needs.
  • Remember: don’t bring the topic up again unless you do it in a respectful way. Showing off what you learned isn’t a reason to make someone else uncomfortable.
  • Pay attention: as much as people complain that twitter is just a sea of people yelling at each other, it’s also a useful resource for learning about aspects of race, gender, sexuality, politics, you name it. It might not be a topic you’ve come across before, but people are very good at explaining the problematic aspects of various things, and it could avoid an awkward conversation in the future.

Ultimately, you’re not going to be able to avoid offending people entirely, because as I said above, you can’t know what will upset someone. Be respectful, listen to what people are telling you, and hopefully it won’t ruin friendships for you.

Mental Health “Advice”

[Tw mental health, ableism]

This one is something that really bugs me, mostly because the people dishing it out probably feel like they’re being helpful, but it can be harmful as fuck. 

I found this perfect example of what I mean:


Now, you might be thinking, come on TJ, it’s just a bit of harmless joshing about getting your shit done. And absolutely it can be read like that.

However, I suffer from an anxiety that makes it impossible for me to leave my house at times. And days when I am that bad, I see posts like this and feel like the worst sort of failure, which doesn’t help anything.

And yes, it’s not even directed at me, but the fact is, it’s there and it’s visible and that’s all my anxiety needs.

That’s not to say sitting down and getting on with things isn’t valuable advice for writers, even writers with anxiety. There are days I do manage to sit down and win the battle with the noise in my head long enough to get some words on the page. Those days are exhausting.

I see it a lot in writing circles, because writing is often by nature a solitary, indoor activity. Gentle reminders to get up and walk about, drink more water, have a snack are great, because we have a habit of forgetting things like that.

Telling someone the reason they’re depressed is because they haven’t been out the house today doesn’t help. 

A lot of this advice is the same, but it’s the way it’s worded that can make the difference. Even if you don’t mean it as a dig at people who struggle, and I’m sure Myke didn’t in the tweet above, be aware that your words can have impact beyond what you mean.

Writers of all people should know this: you’re supposed to make your intent clear. 

So be gentle, please. I’ve lost enough days because my anxiety latches on to some “advice”. 

Autism in Sesame Street

IMPORTANT NOTE: While I do work in autism support, I am by no means an authoritative voice on autism. I can only comment from my experiences, and I will be linking to pieces written by people on the autism spectrum. I encourage you to look for more.

So this week, Sesame Street saw the debut of Julia, a character with autism who has existed in the Sesame Street Extended World (yes, it exists, and it’s awesome) for a while, but this week was her official on-screen debut.

And surprisingly, for such a sensitive topic, Sesame Street seem to have done a very good job of it.

For a start, rather than focussing on how Julia should change to fit in with the other characters in the street, they instead explain how Julia may do things differently, but some of these things are things the other characters might want to do too. For example, when Abby Cadabby says that Julia jumping in excitement is like “a rubber ball, boing boing boing!”, Julia loves this, and puts it into the game of tag they’re playing, creating “Boing tag”. Rather than the other characters complaining that this is ruining their game, they all join in, and comment about how it is a really fun way to play.

For kids who are constantly put into mainstream school situations, play groups and social events where they are expected to change and adapt to fit the “neurotypical” way of doing whatever, this is going to make such a difference. They will be able to see someone just like them, who is being accepted and loved, and that’s such an important message.

Another huge moment in this introduction is when Alan, who is Julia’s adult support, is talking to Big Bird about how Julia ignoring him isn’t her not liking him, more that she sometimes takes a while to talk to people. Big Bird confuses this with Julia being shy, and Alan corrects him by saying it’s because Julia has autism, and more importantly, that Julia likes people knowing this. Though she hasn’t said it herself, and judging by her speech patterns she might not be able to outright say this herself, but it gives Julia some agency here. By those around her knowing, she isn’t treated as being rude, or silly, but as someone who interacts with the world differently.

The best bit however, is when Big Bird asks what autism is, and Alan replies “Well, for Julia…”.

Autistic people being treated as individuals at different points on the spectrum so casually in a show for kids is INCREDIBLE.

So often I have people talk about my work as though I deal with the same things every day, that all my service users are exactly like that one autistic kid they vaguely saw at school (but never gave the time of day because they were weird), and how it must be so easy once I’d done the job for a couple of months. I work with 4 guys on a regular basis, and they are all so individual. Yes two of them are very good friends and often do things together, but they are not the same.

Acknowledging this in mainstream media, because Sesame Street is mainstream media, is a huge step forward for autism representation.

Here’s hoping they keep up the good work, and are able to expand their “See Amazing in All Children” initiative to include children from more parts of the disability and personality spectrums.

Also this week (maybe last week, I didn’t actually pay attention to the release date), the new Power Rangers movie came out, which also includes an autistic character. I haven’t seen it yet, and have heard mixed things, so can’t really comment. However, this is written by someone way more informed than me. I will come back to this as more becomes available.

Kerry Magro, autism advocate

 

Queer Kids Lit

Here’s a fact: kids are very open to learning things, and are not born prejudiced. Those things are learned.

That can be seen int he freak out responses adults are having to the news that there had been a book written for kids where Santa is in a queer, interracial relationship. Because there are a lot of adults very upset that a made-up character could actually represent real people.

Why?

Those real people aren’t white, heterosexual cisgender people. Yet again.

It’s starting to sound like a broken record, isn’t it?

Teaching kids that queer people exist, that non-cisgendered people exist, that non-white people aren’t all bad is so important. Not just so kids become well-rounded people in their own right, but they are able to spread that out into the world, and it makes it a safer place for so many people.

Also, news to a lot of adults, kids aren’t fucking stupid. They will eventually work out you’ve been hiding stuff from them, and they will resent you for it.

I absolutely feel we should be honest with kids when they start asking questions, but I am not condoning going over board. You will know yourself how much the child you are talking with will be able to comprehend. And if you don’t, because you don’t know the child well, find out, or direct them to an adult who can have the conversation with them. Kids are naturally curious, and we shouldn’t dull that at any stage, and particularly not when it comes to talking about gender, sexuality and race.

Some recommendations:

Introducing Teddy, by Jessica Walton and Dougal McPherson. Yes, I am biased because TEDDY, but this book is charming and lovely.

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole. Based on the actual story of Roy and Silo, Central Park Zoo’s gay penguin couple, this is cute af. LOOK AT IT.

THIS ENTIRE LIST

I’ll also give a shout out to David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress. As much as Walliams’ can be an arse, writing something like this that teaches kids that it is ok to experiment with their gender expression, that’s huge.

Let’s look after our kids, and we can use literature to do that.

Fear

I’m writing this as we’re still getting news of the attack in Westminster, and it is heartening seeing people attempt to only share confirmed facts, and the camaraderie that is springing up in the wake.

There is also a lot of shite swirling round, and a lot of that comes from fear.

Fear of the unknown, fear of the unpredictable, fear of the status quo being upset.

It only took 10 minutes after the news initially broke for some numpty blaming “dirty muslims” to cross my twitter feed. 10 minutes.

Because in the end, that’s all bigotry is: fear that your privileged life is about to disrupted in some way, and you’ll have to think about someone else for a change.

White people are racist because the world has been set up to favour them, and having to admit that their success and comforts are built on the oppression and subjugation of others makes them uncomfortable.

Straight people are homophobic because gay people scare them. That and they seem to have this opinion that because someone is gay they fancy everyone they come in contact with.

Cis folk are scared of trans folk because we upset the gender binary theory and make them address things about themselves they don’t want to.

And yes, it’s not all of these people who do these things, but it’s enough. And even if they’re not actively participating in the oppression, the fear of confronting people on their bullshit makes them complicit.

Fear is absolutely necessary: it saves us from dangerous situations, can stop us making silly decisions, and some people enjoy being frightened, be it by films, games or literature. But fear also causes many of the problems in the world.

I wouldn’t blame any individual for this though, because these fears and biases are taught, be it directly or through omission. I had to fight with a lot of internalised homophobia and transphobia I had learned from my da when I was coming out. No one is perfect, but we need to do better.

We can’t let the fear rule us.

Scottish Independence

I wasn’t going to write this blog post, because everything is still in the very early stages, but there is so much bullshit floating around that it kinda needs to be said. I mean, our First Minister has received death threats for announcing she plans to ask for authority to ask Westminster for a second referendum. That is fucking bullshit.

So what’s happening? Despite what some media sources will tell you, this is not an out of the blue attack on Theresa May because the PM is being a bit of a wazzock when it comes to Brexit negotiations, though that has certainly spurred it on a little.

Before the Independence referendum in 2014, when it was all being announced and set up, the SNP stated that they would absolutely accept a NO vote from this advisory referendum (which they did), and wouldn’t ask for another referendum UNLESS there was material constitutional change in Scotland, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against their will.

In the Brexit referendum in 2016, whilst Britain as a whole did vote to leave, Scotland voted Remain with a margin of 24%. This is a material change. However, the SNP were willing to work with Westminster to negotiate terms for Scotland in the case of Brexit (it is important to note here that Brexit was also an advisory referendum, and not legally binding as some factions will tell us). That was part of the promises sold to people by the Leave campaign to secure the vote, but these have failed to materialise. This is why the SNP want to hold another referendum. They have the support of the Greens to give them a majority in Holyrood, and the ScotLibDems don’t seem to know where they stand. The ScotCons and ScotLabour leaders have come out and said they will vote against, but it remains to be seen what will happen when the First Minister speaks to Holyrood next week.

So if we do get a referendum, what are the options? As far as I can make out from the screeds of media arguing and “expert opinions”, there are 3.

  1. Remain in the Union and leave the EU. This is of course a valid option, and a lot of people who are in favour of this are in favour of it because they are not fans of the EU. And that is fine. Many feel the EU put too many restrictions on trade and production practices that affect their profit. However, there is also a lot of hate associated with this option too; a lot of the rhetoric coming out of the Brexit camp is full of bigotry, especially racism and in particular aimed towards refugees. Again, it is absolutely a valid option, but tainted by the beliefs certain people feel they can now exercise.
  2. Leave the Union and Remain in the EU. This is the option most fans of Independence like. They believe the EU does a lot of good for Scotland, and are unhappy that we are being forced out on such a close vote. Despite what some factions of the media tell you, Spain’s Prime Minister has come out and said they wouldn’t veto Scotland’s bid to be an independent member. Also, whilst automatic membership isn’t guaranteed, if we do have to reapply, we absolutely meet the standards for membership because we helped write them in the first place. The President of the EU has said he will welcome an application by an independent Scotland, so if there is a vote for independence, this is the likely route it would go down.
  3. Leave the Union and Leave the EU. Following on from what I said above about there being no guarantee of automatic membership, the other option is the Nordic model. We could be a member of ESTA, so have access to the single market and freedom of movement, but not be full members of the EU. This is what Norway and Iceland do. There is a fee to pay to gain access, but some people feel this is worth it to be free of the EU regulations and to be able to entirely self-govern. I have no idea if this option will be available on the ballot paper, but it is absolutely a valid option.

It is important not to let the conversation be derailed by concern trolling, by people pointing out the underlying problems and how they haven’t been solved yet, so why is independence so high on the agenda? It is surprising how little people actually know about what are devolved powers and what are reserved powers, and how much power Holyrood actually has to fix your particular niggle. Or people like my da, who will tell you they read in the S*n that the EU isn’t going to exist in 2 years so it is a non-issue. Of course Murdoch wants people to believe that, he has been quoted saying he hates Brussels because they ignore him, but at least in Downing Street he has enough to blackmail them into doing what he says.

I think it is also important to remember something my mate Phil pointed out when we were talking about this earlier on tonight: we need to separate the SNP from the idea of independent Scotland. Yes it is the SNP who are calling for an independence referendum, and it will be their government that takes us into independence should the country vote for it, but they might not be in government forever. We will likely still have Tories and Labour and LibDems after the move, and if Labour and the LibDems get their act together, they absolutely could be voted into government. We might even see a Green government in our lifetimes (I live in hope). So yes right now the SNP are absolutely linked to independence, but they are not our only option for government.

For those interested, I would vote for option 2; I absolutely believe in the EU and that it does a lot of good for Scotland, and that that good is never trumpeted in the media as much as the supposed bad. It’s going to be rough going in the times ahead, if the mere mention of IndyRef2 can gain our FM death threats, but I believe we will get through this.

Also spare a thought for Northern Ireland, who so often get left out of this conversation: Brexit is going to destroy the Good Friday Agreement, which is going to cause a lot of turmoil. NI has already seen calls to declare independence too, but unlike Scotland, they are not forecast to be able to survive on their own. Whether they reunite Ireland, or they form some sort of Celtic Union with Scotland, the next few years are going to be extremely rough over there, and absolutely affected by whichever way Scotland votes.

Storytelling

This is absolutely because I was on multi-sensory storytelling training on Monday, and it was rad.

Storytelling is a fantastic medium for getting any idea across though. It makes it memorable, provides representation, and makes it fun. There are studies upon studies that prove we learn and remember so much better when we’re having fun.

Stories can provoke emotions and teach you about experience you haven’t had, or can’t. They transport you across the world, and to new worlds.

I’ve seen people online complaining lately that too many stories have queer characters, or female leads, or feminist  messages. Because apparently we’re not allowed to have lives like ours shown in literature.

The multi-sensory storytelling I talked about at the top is extraordinary. Usually used by people with mental and physical difficulties, ranging from (this is my least favourite term ever) “high-functioning” to “profound”. They can be personal, social or cultural, and are so much fun.

The standard for is a series of boards with attachments, and a simple story to correspond. We have one about a seaside trip, complete with knitted ice cream, foam seagull puppet and tile that plays music when pressed.

Our service users love it. And I might get fed up of going over the same story dozens of times, but they will come to know it, to anticipate what is coming next, and maybe even tell us the story in return. It helps with memory, confidence, coordination, and even skills we might think are relatively simple, like sitting and listening, and turn taking.

Stories have a magical power, and can do so much.

You’ll see me shouting about stories with queer characters, feminist ideas, by writers of colour and trans writers all the time on twitter, and I won’t be stopping any time soon.

In a world like ours, stories can be powerful tools. It’s up to us to utilise them.