Category Archives: Life

That time I became a man

NB: I am a cis woman, assigned female at birth, and I’m pretty happy about it. I have never felt a need/desire to transition, so this is not that kind of story. It’s a different kind of story.

Background

When a girl-child acts and dresses kind of like a boy-child she is called a tomboy, and that was me. I liked to climb trees, hang out with boys and play with gadgets. I favoured trousers and pockets and came home with grass stains on my jeans.

But, I also fancied boys and wore dresses and when Clueless the movie came out I fell in love with long socks and miniskirts, and I adored wearing shirts with a short skirt and heels. I played with dolls, kept a secret diary and devoured teen romance novels. I was obssessed with relationships and boyfriends.

For me, any behaviour that is normally gendered seemed to be theoretically on the table. I understood that people often divide down gender lines but I felt that you didn’t actually have to. Anyone can grow up to be anything, right? Such was the luxury of being a girl in the 80s/90s. So I happily sampled from both genders in terms of behaviours, clothes, thoughts & hobbies.

Context

The local context of this ‘when I became a man’ story is much the same in terms of gender. I was in my late 20’s, newly out of a long relationship, newly out as bi, and also quite newly polyamorous. I was a passionate feminist activist, and a menstrual activist. I talked to people about their periods, having completed my dissertation on it at university. My friends called me ‘the period lady’. I loved being female and was making more and more female friends.

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I was also deeply engaged with masculinity, what it means to be in the “active” role in a relationship with a woman, especially sexually, how to ‘get girls’ and so on. I was also curious more genereally since I’d always had such a strong masculine side throughout my life. I was reading radical feminist texts and hanging out with lesbians, while also trying to have sex with lesbians, and also feeling more kinship with men as my friends and lovers. Armed with awareness of how to deconstruct gender, I was exploring what being a man really means.

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I played around with lowering the pitch of my voice, I dressed in a masculine way, I already had short hair and a bit of swagger, I sometimes pencilled a moustache on my lip at parties. I was curious how much you could do without changing your body in any way. How much was masculinity a state of mind, and how much could you project that to others? How much does biology matter when it comes to being a man?

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Early mustache

I like to think I was quite successful. When feeling masc I was constantly ID’d for alcohol because I looked like an 18 year old boy. As soon as they looked closer they could see I was a nearly 30 year old woman, but the first glance had completely fooled them. I was also mistaken for a guy in shops or in bars, with people greeting me and my friends as “lads” and “fellas” until they realised I was clearly female.

I discovered how warmly men treat other men, when they think no women are around.

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Masc for a party

I sunbathed topless all summer that year with my guy friends, to see if I could trick people even when naked, by my posture and by being in a group of other guys. It worked. It would take people whole minutes to realise I was actually a woman with my tits out. I was never bothered about it or arrested, even though I was in public parks or in our front garden facing the street.

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I’m in the middle

 

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In the local park

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These pics are all on Facebook and have never been reported

I interanalised a lot of it too, fairly frequently commenting “come on, you can speak freely, we’re all guys here” or accidentally miscounting the number of men and women in a room because I’d counted myself as a guy.

I also had a friend where me and her joked that she was my “wife” and I was her “husband”. Here I am with a protective arm around her chatting away while she rolls me a smoke.

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Setting the stage: Makron

One of my best friends from this time was Makron (not his real name). Here’s us.

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Listening to drum ‘n’ bass in the local dive bar

Here’s me imitating him while we roll cigarettes.

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My t-shirt says “My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard”

Makron (and our other male friend Feo) never questioned my desire to act like a guy and were completely on board with me relating to them as a guy would. It wasn’t hard, we were all into smoking and video games and talking about women. Makron got me into drum n bass and we would go moshing together. Feo patiently played Halo with me on the Xbox 360 while I got the hang of analog sticks on the controller. We would fuck around yelling at people on the street and trying to slap each other as hard as we could.

Makron loved women and dated various people on and off during our friendship. I slept with three of the men in the house we lived in, including Feo and Makron, and slept with several women in our friendship group. Makron and I talked openly about our escapades and once he mentioned that none of his girlfriends had ever let him do anal, because even if they were into it, his penis was too big.

Another time, I asked him when he lost his virginity, and questioned him when he said he lost it “properly” at age 18. I had to drag it out of him but it turns out that while he lost his ‘virginity’ to a woman at 18,  he actually lost his virginity to a boy at age 15, back when he lived in Portugal. Him and this boy were fucking for about a year, so it was not just ‘experimentation’ or an accident at school. This was a whole thing!

He once mentioned that he’s mostly into women, but for some reason he starts to find men attractive in spring time. How awesome is that? Bisexual men exist y’all.

Another thing about Makron was that he refused to wear condoms. Not only was this bad for me because of diseases and being poly, I also had stopped using hormonal contraception years before, because of its negative effects. Between that and him having monogamous girlfriends, our sexual interactions were limited.

The time I turned into a man

One day, at a party, Makron was really horny and so was I. We really wanted some kind of sex to happen. He wouldn’t budge on the condoms but I told him that I was into anal and willing to try.

Anal is always tricky but after a bit of fumbling we got his cock in me and he started gently thrusting. Anal is an extremely intense experience, almost overwhelming at times. But me and Makron were very close by this time, I trusted him and myself, I felt super secure and horny and we could read each other really well.

Suddenly I tuned in to what Makron was doing as he fucked me. He was touching my hair. Delicately, maybe even nervously. He was also not touching my boobs or butt, rather pulling on my hips and touching my neck. He was avoiding the parts of me that were female. At that moment a bunch of different realisations hit me from different conversations we’d had over many months. In one huge moment I realised that he was experiencing me as a man.

He had lost his viriginty to a guy and had tons of sex with him, but only slept with women after that. None of the women he’d slept with had ever done anal with him. And I spent all my time relating to him as a guy. Now here we were, doing something he had only ever done with guys.

He was touching my hair and penetrating my butt, remembering what it was like back when he was 15 with that boy in Portugal. He was a guy relating to me as a guy, and for all intents and purposes, I was a guy too.

My masc energy was more than willing to rise up and meet that, I’d been practicing with my mind, my body and my voice for months. Hell, I’d thrown off a shirt, waistcoat and tie and left my “wife” downstairs to come up and do this. I was overwhelmed by the physical sensations of the sex, and a little drunk too.

I ran with it.

In that moment, for just a fraction of a second, I feel and I like to believe I “became” a guy. My biology didn’t change, but I experienced myself as a guy while someone else was experiencing me as a guy, together in one of the most intimate ways two humans can experience and witness each other. It was and remains the most transcendant moment of my life.

Nothing changed after that. We’re still friends, though separated by time and distance. I’m convinced masculinity is largely in the body-mind system and deeply influenced by intention. The meaning of my experience is, as with all things, a complex interplay of many factors.  I don’t know if there is some “essence” in biology that is required in order to be a man, and of course I will never know, but I’m certainly suspicious that it is required.

I’m not sure how to adequately sum up this story, but we’re all guys here, so maybe I don’t have to.

How I Left The Cult

I was raised in the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I stopped attending meetings and ceremonies when I was 16.

TL;DR I didn’t actively leave, my mum broke some rules and the family sort of drifted out. But I spent a long time, from ages 16-27 “de-programming” myself. If you’re wondering whether to leave something, you probably should.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a late 19th Century Christian sect, originally from the US.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Millenarianist in that they think an end time is coming, and  Millenialist which is an interpretation of Christ being installed in a 1,000 year reign over Earth, before the final “end time” occurs.

They hold a fundamentalist view on the Bible, meaning they take the words of the bible literally, rather than as metaphor. Their interpretation differs from other sects, partly because of their founding leader Charles Russell, and partly because they use their own translation of the bible.

Famously they believe in the Old Testament doctrine prohibiting the imbibing of blood, so they refuse blood transfusions, however they do not practice kosher eating. They also do not participate in birthdays, Easter, Christmas or Hallowe’en celebrations, considering these to be pagan festivals with no basis in scripture.

They refuse military service, do not vote, and are famous for going door to door preaching their religion. They reject the notions of an eternal soul, the existence of hell and the “holy trinity” doctrine.

They have strict social and interpersonal rules, mostly inspired by the moral values in the late 19th century US.

See the wiki link for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses

My History With The J-Dubs

There is a family photo of me as a 5 week old baby, taken “at Twickenham”, a stadium which is famous for rugby but which Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes use for their annual “district assembly”, massive weekend-long gatherings for JWs that occur in sports stadiums. They are primarily outside, with folks sitting on the concrete in the summer sun (and rain!) for three days straight. While comfort provision is made for members at the event, it is nonetheless quite an undertaking to take a newborn along.

This canonical family photo illustrates to me that I really was raised for my entire childhood in the JW religion.

Some time before, the J-dubs had knocked on my parent’s door, as so many people around the world have an experience of, and my Dad was the kind of guy to say to them, without irony, “hmmm, sounds interesting, please come in”. He found the religion appealing, and for some reason my Mum agreed to join as well.

I assume this is because her own mother and older sister had converted some years previous, and for a short time as a teenager she went along to JW events with them. She had grown up and moved out before she married my Dad at age 20, so presumably she’d left it all behind for those years. However when her new husband became interested in what the JWs had to say, I guess she found it familiar. The JWs place great emphasis on a wife obeying a husband, so the two of them became Jehovah’s Witnesses together.

A few years later my parents’ marriage broke down (I was 3 and my sister 2). My mother divorced my father. My mother continued to raise me and my sister as Witnesses after the divorce. I think she partly used his faith, and conviction that we should be “saved” at Armageddon to ensure she got custody of us during the divorce (my father was expelled from the religion, so could not make sure we were saved himself). But to her credit she made good on her promise to make sure we were indeed raised as JWs until we were adults.

We ended up living with my gran, who had been a devout JW for decades. My gran was my caregiver because my Mum worked full time. It went without question that all four of us would be JWs and attend all the meetings without fail.

My father quickly remarried and subsequently raised his children from his second marriage as Jehovah’s Witnesses too. (He had been expelled for the first divorce but when the JWs came knocking again in his new town they let him back in.) So myself and my sister, plus my half siblings (a brother and sister) were all raised in this weird Christian fundamentalist religion.

Being raised a JW

It’s very hard to describe what it’s like to be raised a JW. I will give at best a patchy version of my experiences here.

One of the major things I remember is that, because of their “socially separate” policy and their beliefs in general, I was marked out as different to everyone else literally every single day at school.

I was not allowed to attend the 5 minutes of morning assembly that was “religious” (all they did was sing a hymn or something), but I was supposed to listen to the school announcements etc. So halfway through assembly I had to slip in through the door at the back of the school hall. Every day, their would be this weird pause between the hymn and the notices and the whole school would turn around to look as me and the Jewish kid filed in at the back. Every. Single. Day.

Then there was the No Christmas, No Birthdays, No Hallowe’en, No Easter thing. This comes up a lot at school when you’re younger. Almost every week is one of these holidays and the teacher is taking a break by just having everyone make cards or decorations, but I had to be given some non-religious ‘alternative’ task to do. Either that or sit in silence when people sang happy birthday, or leave the room altogether if Christmas carols were being sung.

Couple that with being a teacher’s pet (grades were the way to get love in my household) and you have a child who is so unutterably different that I was bullied by absence. I was tainted, and to even speak to me was to risk contamination. The social isolation was profound.

The witnesses have a perfect circular reasoning trick for this. Somewhere in the bible Jesus warns his followers that they will be hated for spreading his word. So the more JWs receive grief, the more it confirms that they are on the right track, and following Jesus correctly.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a lot to say about sex. No sex before marriage, obviously, but some kinds of sex are restricted during marriage (anal), no masturbation for anyone but especially teenagers and of course, it’s not ok to be gay.

These points were raised explicitly and regularly to make sure everyone “stays strong”. These teachings contributed to me feeling guilt, anxiety and repression about sex both in childhood and in adult life.

The witnesses take a similarly draconian view on drugs, smoking, tattoos, sex or violence in the media and bad language. They also ban members from watching movies with too much magic in it (Harry Potter), or something that may be influenced by ‘demons’ (Lord of the Rings). They believe ‘demons’ to be invisible, and mostly don’t believe in possession, but nonetheless think they are very real.

We weren’t allowed posters on our walls (idolatry), or pictures of magical animals (demons), to have friends outside of the witnesses (bad associations), or to listen to certain music (bad language/demonic) or to celebrate birthdays or Christmas (pagan). The Kingdom Hall itself (the church building), had no decorations at all, but it was kept spotlessly clean. Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about how bland and lifeless the religion is.

The organisation itself acknowledges how hard it is to hold strictly to 19th century protestant moral values late in the 20th century and there’s a lot of talk of sacrifice and trials and the hard road and keeping on the straight and narrow, in order to stay true to God. I believe this created a strong anhedonia in me, whereby I restricted all of my thoughts and feelings by default, even for things that were “allowed”, because holding back, buttoning down and waiting were so valourised.

How I got out

Passive leaving

I didn’t, really. In the heady days of internet relay chat my mum met a man on the internet, then met him in real life and one day in the summer after I turned sixteen my mum told me the news that she was pregnant.

Having sex outside of wedlock is a pretty serious offence to the J-dubs and so my mum was temporarily suspended while they considered what to do.

Mum usually drove us to the meetings, but without her taking us, myself and my sister just by default didn’t go along either. Our gran’s faith was always a powerful force in terms of keeping us in the religion and attending meetings every week, but I’m not sure if she kept going during this period or not. 

Without any external drive to keep going along to the meetings, I remember clearly that it felt like a spell being broken. All my week nights and weekends were free. It felt like bliss coming from an absence, like the silence after an annoying noise finally stops. My life was empty and silent. Calm.

Later I would reflect that going to the meetings all the time, and it occupying so much of your life, is one way they keep members in thrall to the religion.

There was also an oppressive silence between all the family members,  like a held breath. It was very tense, but I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible and be with my boyfriend instead.

After about a month, I got back from a weekend at my boyfriend’s house to learn that mum had been in hospital because she’d had a miscarriage. Even though the weekend was dramatic and scary, it was obvious that this baby not existing was a huge relief to everyone. Not long later I learned that the elders had decided my mum could return to the Witnesses if she showed repentance, but we never went back. It was an entirely unspoken thing, as was always the case with my mum in those years.

At the time I barely mention these goings on in my diary, instead I’m mooning over the latest boy, but a bit later I repeat several times “I’m never going back to the meetings”.

So for my entire life I had been in a cult, which shaped my entire mental and emotional landscape from birth, attending three meetings a week, every week plus occasionally door knocking on Saturdays, and then suddenly I just… wasn’t. I got out of the cult passively, the spell was broken, and what remained was a void.

Active leaving

In my diaries a bit later I say “I’m never going back to the meetings” and I sound as though I’ve made an active decision. In my self-narrative nowadays, I normally tell people that I had my suspicions about the religion by the time my family left, but was sort of ignoring them, and waiting to be older to find out what it all really meant.

An ex-JW friend I met much later would describe it as the “after armageddon box” – a place where you put your doubtful thoughts about the religion and god ready to be asked later, when we might have access to god or Jesus after the end times have happened. Eventually his “after armageddon box” was so full that he began to doubt the religion a lot.

I normally say that if my family hadn’t drifted out when I was 16, it wouldn’t have been much longer before I left myself. My general goal with life at that time was just to hang on until age 18 and finish school, finally be an adult, and get out from living with my parents as soon as I could. Even though they practice famously severe shunning of any ex-member, I’m sure I would have left the religion behind too.

However, that’s not what happened. We left when I was 16; when I was 17 I moved in with my Dad (mum had been threatening to throw me out for months) and he and his family were all still very much in the faith. Since I had never been baptised as an adult, I was considered a “prodigal son” and should be gently cajoled to return to the religion rather than fully shunned, so they were allowed to talk to me.

Despite being encouraged to go to the meetings for the whole time I lived with them, I stood firm that I wasn’t going to go back. That much was very active on my part. I “ran away” from living with them when I was 18 (my stepmother read my diary and point blank refused to talk to me again), just after I’d finished my school exams. I lived with my Mum again for a short time, and as soon as I saved up a few paychecks, I moved out forever.

Deprogramming

Some problems

When we first drifted out of the religion, I decided to sleep with my boyfriend. The moment my mum told my 16-year-old self that she was pregnant I had the crystal-clear thought: “you don’t get to tell me what to do any more”. I lost all respect for her, because of everything that her pregnancy implied, both secular and religious. So yes I had sex with my boyfriend (but I was sure to get on contraception first!)

That year I also had my first experience of celebrating Christmas with him and his family. In the few scholarly texts that mention Jehovah’s Witnesses, they say that ex members are often socially awkward around the giving and receiving of gifts, which I empathise with.

However apart from those two things I didn’t immediately deprogramme from the thoughts that the religion had inculcated. My life was a tire fire from ages 16-19 and I had little time or stability to do any reflective thought.

But as soon as I moved out and had a stable boyfriend at around age 19, I began deprogramming in earnest. I realised I needed to systematically check all of my beliefs, not just the ones about God. My boyfriend of that time helped by walking me through the more obvious things like creation vs evolution. He also helped me try weed and later, other drugs.

Then the problem was sex. I had huge guilt around it, and weird thoughts like I must intend to marry my sexual partner, if not actually be married, in order for it to be ok to have sex. I had a very low sex drive, partly due to repressing pleasurable feelings.

I also had very low affect, my emotions were numbed out, though I think that had as much to do with my family life as the religion. Relatedly, I still have issues with finding enjoyment in things, which makes decision making surprisingly hard.

I now think I was also developmentally stunted. I was extremely smart, but condescending, arrogant and dismissive with other people. I had no empathy, even with friends. My boyfriend had to keep reminding me “you can’t treat people like that”. In the terms of the psychological theory that I mention on my philosophy blog, I was still in Kegan stage 2 – a non-empathetic stage normally traversed in early teens – at the age of 19-20.

I believe the move away to my dad’s house is a pertinent example. My dad’s home was around 200 miles away from my mum, and so there was no possibility of seeing my old friends when I moved there. I left without telling anyone I was going, it all happened during half term.

I eventually heard through my mum that my best friend was very upset. I was confused by this, because we always talked about how we would like to move out from our mums to live with our dads (she was from a single parent household too). I thought she would realise that I had made it out and gone to a better place and be happy for me. I just could not understand why she would be sad or angry. I remember being confused and then not really thinking about it afterwards. I was 17 at the time.

It was only years later, in my early 20s, at the earliest, that I realised that of course she would be upset. She might miss me, or be upset that everything was so sudden, that I didn’t care enough to give her a quick message of some kind, or that she might be jealous that I’d moved away or indeed have any number of strong emotions about what happened.

Some solutions

Living with dad helped a few things. He and his kids were naturally more touchy-feely than my family, which I appreciated. He forced me out of my tendency to go silent when I was upset or crying. It was a revelation to me that he actually wanted to hear what was wrong, and actually try to help. I had to deal with being a snotty mess in someone else’s presence. An almost unbearable form of being ‘seen’ at the time. Being in a totally different family held a mirror up to some of my assumptions, especially around the “fair” distribution of chocolate biscuits. He also answered all my questions about why he and my mum got divorced. A classic case of there being at least two sides to every story.

Once I’d moved out away from parents, I read some self help books to figure the emotional and sex stuff out, and Oliver James’ ‘They Fuck You Up’ book was particularly useful for this. I wrote pages of self reflection on an A3 notepad. I also kept writing in my diary. I was a prolific poetry writer too.

I ferreted out cached beliefs one by one. Sometimes I did things just because JWs ban them so I went and voted (JWs are instructed to be politically neutral).  I carried a lighter in case anyone who smoked asked me for one. I placed a bet on a boxing match (gambling also forbidden). I took a certain joy in doing things that would shock JWs, or my parents in general. I still have that joy. I also tried to detect much more subtle discriminations. I occasionally caught myself being judgey about people, and asked myself: why? One example I strongly remember is disliking people who had tattoos, only because the Jdubs sneer at them. I decided to throw those thoughts in the bin.

I read a lot of books, absorbing how other people feel about life, which helped me to figure out the range of things that people can feel. I read Sylvia Plath’s diaries, Anaïs Nin stories, Henry Miller novels, a psychology of self harm book, Kathy Acker’s punk feminism, Alan Moore’s ‘Lost Girls’ graphic novel. I would read anything, especially fiction and science fiction, but I was drawn to books about sex and books about or by depressed women.

I read pages and pages of books. I also watched hundreds of films, got stoned every day and got into music. I have an enduring love for art that is bleak or nihilistic.

My life at the time was a continuous struggle with poverty. I never had any spare money, although I felt great because I lived in my own place. I worked at a library and got all my books and films from there. Being poor takes a lot of time and energy, so the progress was quite slow. Eventually, at age 21, I went to university.

At university I discovered equal rights and feminism. I also got into philosophy by the sideways route of doing an art degree with no prior experience with art. The art library had lots of philosophy books, because art and life inform each other. I wasn’t that great at making art, so I would read instead. I became a Sunday manager at the nearby public library while I studied, so I still had access to public library books too.

I had a tiny bit of NHS therapy during uni, because at age 23, after feeling I’d done so much work to deprogramme myself, I developed an acute anxiety condition. It was triggered by thoughts of death, a concept I had until then not really thought about, because the JWs believe in immortal life on earth. I also had wind: trapped air in the digestive system. It’s easily cured but it makes you feel short of breath and in pain when you eat. It is funny now, but it contributed to me having several panic attacks. I spent my entire last year of uni in a haze, feeling like I was watching myself on a screen, and worried I would have more attacks. I started to feel better after about a year. Over a decade on, my fear of death and the anxiety I get from that thought still haunt my evening times, because it’s not easy to rationalise.

My work as a librarian helped me to develop empathy. I’ve always been hard on myself to be true to my principles, and I really believed in doing a good job and in intellectual honesty. I had to work with people who were homeless, very old, very young (and unsupervised) and / or relatively mentally ill. I wanted to truly help them ‘fairly’ which meant I had to really pay attention to what they said and how they thought. Trying to teach a paranoid schizophrenic 50 year old how to use a computer is a humbling experience.

I was with the same boyfriend all through this time, he helped me a lot. He constantly scolded me for not considering how other people felt. It must have been because of him that I finally figured out my friend’s feelings about me moving away.

But my relationship with him is also a story of lack of empathy. I believed we had a great relationship and were mostly happy through our 7 years together. But I found out after we broke up that he felt a lot of pain throughout those years because of things I did to him. I’m not sure of the details because I heard it through mutual friends.

He never seemed to tell me about problems at the time, but maybe I didn’t hear it. Probably I dismissed things that weren’t expressed clearly and forcefully. I still tend to do that. But even if we allow for the fact that someone who keeps too quiet in relationships often ends up with someone who pushes forward and is decisive, it was a shock to me that he was so unhappy but I didn’t know. So even though I was developing empathy I clearly wasn’t applying it well in my home life and now when I look back I still think it was a shallow empathy, with not much mastery.

Completing Deprogramming

In my mid to later twenties I had a number of life milestones. I came out as bi (after reading a book, of course). I joined an active feminist group and did many activities with them. I founded my own bi group. I became polyamorous, at first with my partner of all those years and then I continued after we broke up. We had moved to a new city by then and I was trying to make new friends. Friends who were lesbians, feminists and weed smokers. ‘Bad associations’ indeed! After the breakup I moved out into a sharehouse of strangers; I was finally living on my own.

Around the age of 27, after living in that sharehouse a while, I realised I felt like I had reached a point of being more “normal”, by which I mean normal levels of fucked-upness, rather an extraordinary and weird levels of fucked-upness.

I had made a point of being more independent. I had had lots of life experiences, from uni to management jobs to rolling my own joints to storming police lines.

I’d examined and binned so many ideas. First from the JWs, but then I’d also completely overshot and was examining and binning conventional ideas from “normal” society too.

Binning the ideas from the J-dubs was helping me heal, but binning “normal” society was also helping profoundly. For example, a strange side effect of trying polyamory was that it unlocked my ability to do social touch with friends. I’ve no idea why.

So by around this time, I felt normal.

And slightly to my annoyance, I was starting to see that my experiences, knowledge and confidence were having an effect on others. The unusual ways I lived my life were intriguing to people. When I spoke, everyone would fall silent and listen, which never used to happen.

Without me really wanting it, people were looking to me for advice on how to be, wheras previously I had always been the student of that. It was ever clearer that my project of ridding myself of indoctrination was over. The work of choosing how to live had begun.

Lasting effects

It’s been 7 or 8 years since I reached “normal” and then completely overshot. I now live a life that is in many ways extraordinary and probably to most people, very weird.

But, I still feel the effects of things from childhood.

I still feel that relationships with others is my biggest weakness.  I have an extremely spiky personality, a defence against always being the outsider, never being accepted. Although acceptance is something I obviously deeply crave.

I still have intermittent anxiety, I still worry about dying.

Despite appearances I still have very conventional sex and not lots of it, but I’m proud I can have sex at all, considering.

I have an abiding deep suspicion of “knowledge” or “truth”, of people in “authority”. The study of how we know what we know will always fascinate me.

It’s very hard to disentangle the effects of the religion from the effects of my general family life. It’s tempting to think that actually perhaps most of my problems, if that’s what they are, would have come from family dynamics no matter what religion we followed, if any. A child with essentially absent and emotionally distant parents was always going to have trouble with empathetic relationships. In a way this post is merely about “how I left my family”, rather than how I left a cult.

However it’s kind of a chicken and an egg. The religious flavour is important. My parents were exactly the kind of people to be drawn to this particular religion thanks to their own traumas. They are the kind of people who want to be wrapped up tight by strict rules and be soothed by being told exactly what to think, from people who know exactly what is happening and know exactly what to do to make everything ok. If they were not scooped up by this cult, it would have been another one, or some other paternalistic system. The details may have been slightly different but probably the neuroses in me would have ended up exactly the same.

I was raised by people who can’t handle the world as it is, and that makes me very sad for them. Strangely enough for me, after being raised believing that humans are evil and our civilisation has reached a nadir so bad that god is going to smite it all away, I’ve come to find a great joy in the fact that humans are actually just apathetic or greedy or damaged.  And also creative, generous and joyful. I trust myself and my decision making. I feel I do understand the way the world works, and find that comforting, even though the drive to understand came from pathological roots.

Advice for others

If you’re wondering whether to do something that will really shake your life up, especially if you have to leave something, I would encourage you to do it. You can’t un-see whatever it is you’ve seen. The worry you’re feeling now is probably not actually about whether leaving is a good or bad decision, because you already have one foot out of the door. It’s more about feelings of grief, grief that you used to feel tightly embedded in something, and now you don’t.

No-one likes changing, but change happens to us, whether we like it or not. It’s a bit of a slog, but learning how to change, and not being scared of it, is a massive life skill that eventually brings a ton of its own comfort, and success.

If you feel you’ve been kicked out of a plane and are falling backwards, arms flailing, watching the plane get smaller and smaller in your vision and feeling scared, picture this: you might as well roll over and face the ground. You can direct the fall, watch the view, even go sailing around like a bird in the wind. Feel the rush, try to enjoy it. The entire world is literally in front of you, you might as well direct where you land.

Once you’ve left, you’re going to need information. Religious cults in particular restrict information, so read books (or listen to podcasts), read the internet and figure out how you think things really are. Lots of people just substitute one belief system for another, try not to do that. Instead try to figure out why you don’t trust your own intuition about what to think.

Three things:

Fiction is just as important as non-fiction, especially for emotional work. Art of all kinds is very important, and comedy.

While approaching at your own pace and using caution, you should definitely, definitely take drugs. See which ones call to you, any will do. Then don’t overdo it.

Finally, enlist other people. Cults are deliberately isolationist, to remove any chance of “wrong” information reaching you. Other people are a mirror and a support. Try to meet and get to know a broad range of people. Their example can help you figure out how you want to be.

Finally:

Everything is going to be ok. I promise.

Just run the numbers

One thing I’ve learned from the LessWrong/CFAR/SlateStarCodex rationalist crowd is the power of sketching something out with rough numbers. Indeed, there is a whole blog called Put A Number On It! in this space.

I’ve recently felt a divide appear between myself and my friends relating to increased ability with strategic thinking and increased future timelines, and I think sketching out rough numbers when making decisions has helped to precipitate this.

An example is my partner wants to switch career. He achieved a temporary job in an office, doing something other than what he normally does in offices. This is providing him short-term relief from his crap old job. But his real short-to-medium term goal is to labour on building sites for slightly more money. The office job is full-time under the normal tax system, which means higher taxes and lower pay but paid holidays and sickness days. While the labouring job would be self-employed, meaning higher paid and lower taxes but unpaid sickness or holiday and potential gaps in work contracts.

One day he told me that the labouring job would pay less per day than we initially thought, but had the “potential” to increase to the amount that we assumed initially.

I immediately grabbed a scrap of paper and ran some numbers.

  • yearly salary in office job – minus nothing for 4 weeks holiday and 1 week sick. Calculate total.
  • potential yearly salary on labouring job minus 4 weeks holiday and 1 week sick. Calculate total.

The difference between taxes is harder to do in a simple way so I decided that any reduction in tax when labouring would probably be offset by the loss created by a gap between contracts, where you’re off work but don’t want to be.

I  did quick check of how many working days there are per year (220) to get the daily rate into a yearly one. I then decided to check on a local job website for the yearly salary of an inexperienced office worker vs. an office worker in the same job with more experience – because we needed to check the “potential” figures as well for that job and we already knew the “beginner” and “experienced” numbers for the labouring job.

I then ran the same calculations as above.

The whole process took precisely 4 minutes with a pen and paper and one internet search.

The numbers came out very strongly in favour of the office job, both now and in the “potential” future. Which was a surprise.

This little exploration of the options available quickly using easy numbers that were already known was an automatic reflex on my part, it showed a very stark difference between the two options, and covered a time span of 1-6 years. It was incredibly simple and incredible clarifying.

And did not occur to my partner in the slightest.

In the rationalisty space, there are of course more complex extensions of this method that can involve probabilities, ratios, or deducing an unknown number from known ones (e.g. how much would I have to earn/save to make this plan viable?) however just the basic write-it-all-down premise is extremely powerful on its own.

So, this is short post to remind / tell everyone: put a number on it!

Symbols of being poor

I’m notorious in my household for coming out with terrible comments about my childhood.

Famously, a friend asked the room: “did you guys have awkward silences and really bad communication about feelings with your family around the dinner table?”

And I replied “we didn’t have a dinner table”.

The dynamic that is actually playing out is simply that I live with middle class people, who had middle class problems, but I was raised in a working class socio-economic way and had entirely different problems. Those problems are possibly more tragic in some ways and are shocking to my middle class friends becuase it involves so much that they take as given.

Anyway, I sometimes speak in more detail about the long-term consequences of being poor. An example struck me today that is adjacent to the Vimes Boots Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness and it is about shoeboxes.

When I was a kid and watched Blue Peter (and only Blue Peter, because the walk home from school took so long that I only managed to watch the last show of the day in children’s programming) and they often had a segment on crafting.

The crafting would be “make a house for your hamster” or a “build a rocket outfit” or some such and always used the same household materials: cereal box, tinfoil, loo paper tube etc.

I would always be pumped to follow along and try to make one of the craft pieces and unleash my childish sticky tape creativity. However, each and every week I was deeply disappointed because the crafting involved using a shoebox.

We weren’t exactly too poor to have shoes but my family certainly only bought shoes when the others fell apart. Even cheap shoes have a cost. Many shoes could outlast more than one school year. I’m fairly certain my mum replaced her shoes even less often. And we also went to shops that didn’t even sell shoes in boxes, they were off-the-rack that you carried home in bag. I felt as a child that I had never had access to a shoebox in my whole life and yet Blue Peter acted as if these things were as common as toilet paper.

Now, in 2019, I have been buying good quality shoes for about a year. I didn’t really realise until today, when a new pair of good quality hiking boots arrived and I couldn’t fit the box into my usual space for shoe boxes, that I had been saving the shoe boxes as a rare and highly prized item and had a space especially for storing shoeboxes. I looked at the huge pile of shoeboxes and realised I don’t have a hamster, or a desire to pretend to be a rocket, and will almost certainly not use these shoeboxes for anything at all.

I don’t need them for anything, but I haven’t thrown them away yet. Not just yet.

Reflections 2018

I love doing reflections at New Year, but I still find it very weird to use a few days after Winter Solstice as the dividing line. None the less we must proceed:

This year has been so varied and so intense. I’ve experienced some new things, both good and bad. Have met heroes and achieved dreams but lost people, plans and projects such that I felt utterly crushed.

For the first time ever I experienced grief. A deep dark chasm of sadness that pulled my natural emotional average down by its weight for several months.

Much of it was the first half of the year and it’s been better since spring, but the sadness keeps orbiting back around with the loss, and the ramifications of that loss.

So what actually happened?

Winter

In Jan/Feb some longterm housemates who had been long term dissatisfied with living in the house had various degrees of blowup. We had round upon round of sharing circles, trying to be our best selves, but in the end people lash out. Both times at me, because I’m the most vocal when I think problems are happening. Maybe I could do it better, maybe I should shut up, I don’t know, but it hurt.

Coupled with trying to find work but suffering a few setbacks, such as a code test I just wasn’t up to, I felt beaten down personally and doubting my skills at work. I played video games for nearly two months solid to escape the emotions.

Eventually, I managed to get two weeks of work, and buy a new laptop. Thank god! The weather was grey and wet though, and the office time depressing.

I also discovered that one of my ex-lovers, a woman three years younger than me, had died. I’ve never had a friend die before. We were no longer close and she died of unknown causes, so it felt more surreal than anything else.

Spring

Then in March a sudden cold shock. We were all lined up for a Portugal trip that eventually we decided to cancel (too much rain) but I suddenly realised for myself why the team had been gradually drifting away. On a series of key decisions I was consulted, but not listened to, as if I was an advisor but not a team member. Our Land became His Land. Our House became His House. Cue another several rounds of sharing circles and meetings within which came a truth I’d been blind to for this whole project: it was no longer communal. Our investor was taking full control, despite my warning that I cannot be on a project that’s not built from a team. I was very explicit about that, about the ways it would need to be to be truly communal, and it was explicitly rejected. He just couldn’t get past needing to control.

So I lost Portugal, the Land, the plans for the next 3-5 years of my life, my hope for a new community home and worst of all, my best friend. I felt stupid for thinking it could be any other way.

Around this time it was my birthday. I had been lifting for 8 weeks to get in shape for the TopGun theme, and everyone who came said it was their favourite party so far. Indeed by the evening when I lead half the guests in a mini lifting routine on our home-made indoor beach volleyball court, I was laughing and enjoying the party. But I had started that morning crying my eyes out because nothing was going to plan, and I no longer had my best friend to help me.

Over this time I’d been having tiny moments of contact from the little “smarty pants” twitter community I inhabit, small rays of light in the dark spring. The beam of hope on my horizon was flying to SF to meet my blogging hero, and maybe some friends/lovers too.

That was due in April. I was pretty crushed to discover that my hero was having a hard time with life, and recommended I bring along friends when I visited because he would be too tired to really talk. At the same time the intended friend I was going to bring along also let me know that they were unavailable, meaning I could see neither of them.

I felt devastated, and I thought hard about why. I was really desperate for validation and encouragement in this area of my life (philosophy) that few friends can engage me on. I craved peers and importantly I craved elders.  I tried to resolve some of my needs for myself with some success. But this was when the grief started

And none the less I rallied, and resolved to meet other people in SF instead. I reached out a bit on Twitter and decided to swallow the financial cost of accommodation. I settled in to the plane, began to watch a movie and as the delays stretched from minutes to hours I listened in totally numbed disbelief that we should all get back off the plane into the terminal because the flight was cancelled.

This final twist was at least making my year so far laughable as well as simply deeply depressing. I just became numb. I stopped making any plans, stopped assuming I knew anything about what was going to happen next.

I reached out in small ways. Improved my house, offered my web dev skills to friends. It helped.

My friend’s funeral finally happened, and I found it to be affirming. I think funerals can be, but it also shows you the kind of time I’d been having up to then.

Summer

In May, my year pivoted around. I took intense driving lessons across just three days, with my test on the fourth. I cried every day of lessons and barely slept, but I passed with three minors. Thanks to assistance from one of my newer housemates, I had my own (shared) car by the very next week.

The rest of the unusually hot summer was spent in a mixture of short work contracts, driving around and outdoor swimming, a new and unexpected hobby.

I helped with Bi pride, where we had a float and went to BiCon which I enjoyed very much. I have volunteered for a small role organising next year!

In my final contract of the summer though I was fired without notice from a contract I’d been working. It was pretty obviously unfair and some sort of personal power play, but it knocked my confidence yet again.

Also, a beloved housemate moved out. I’d been toying with leaving my houseshare entirely and starting a new one, but her room was amazing, so I moved into it. I left behind my home-made cube room, and the ground floor previously shared so closely with my ex-friend.

I made a new plan to work, to save money, to get up early and to be my own investor in community projects, and leave these stupid boys behind.

At the same time, 3 housemates moved out and 3 new ones moved in, in quick succession. It has been a long road to integrate and help them, but also keep the house together/cohesive. This is probably what I did all September.

Autumn

Despite my enjoyment, the summer contracts had not nearly been enough. I wasn’t covering my expenses, let alone earning enough to save. I had a few bits and pieces in September but my luck changed in October and I landed a sweet deal that had me working all the way up to Xmas, and will continue in 2019 as well.

Around that time I had the great pleasure of meeting my blogging hero, who had finally managed to visit the UK, and so I met him in my very own kitchen. He was still extremely tired, but we hung out a few times and taking him along to our local London thinky meetup made me feel like I was escorting a rock star. Fuckin’ ey.

…and just to keep me from being too smug about my positive emotions my friend and housemate, the one who is funding the Portugal project, announced he would move out from our house to Portugal to live there on his own. It felt like he had chosen that place over our friendship all over again. We’ve been so close for so long I seriously feel lost in every aspect of my life without him. From coding work to business in general to running this entire shitshow we call a warehouse, to my hobbies, to talking about guns, politics, sociopaths and everything else no-one will talk to me about. It’s a big loss. It still makes me cry. And all because of doorknobs.

Gah.

Apart from that, I have almost no life news for the rest of the year. I simply worked, kept my head down, opened savings accounts and worked some more. My ability to think drained away, and I missed my Reading Challenge target.

I’m now dearly missing thinking, and reading, and investing in new relationships and getting up whenever the hell I want. But I did feel a huge lift of anxiety as the money started rolling in.

Relationships

One relationship ended this year and their feedback was vague but negative and so knocked my confidence. I slept with a few new people this year, but just as one-offs. Multiple people I fancy have turned monogamous or are work colleagues who ignore me romantically, while people who I fancy for something beyond superficial reasons seem few and far between indeed. I would like more romantic and sexual partners and feel that those avenues don’t exist or get closed off. It is a source of sadness for me this year.

My one long-standing partner is still going strong though and is a source of much needed comfort, though the balance of that seems increasingly like I’m the responsible one who dishes out help more than receives it.

Mental health

Despite the awful year I suffered those shocks quite well. I feel I’m at baseline now that money has been relatively stable. Baseline still means occasional death anxiety, maybe once a month disturbing my sleep. I still worry too much and plan too far ahead. Now that I have money I am considering therapy.

Work

This autumn contract has really powered my savings goals, and summer was ok too. I’m quite glad I got to have lots of summer fun (and work in air conditioning when it was simply too hot!) Looks like when I make a decision, lag time to achieving savings goals is only a few months. Could work on improving my day rate though.

Thinky Work

I’ve written just 6 blog posts this year. A friend made his own version of balcony philosophy and I enjoyed being part of that. I met some people from Twitter, including the Ribbon Farm founder – swanky! I’m also part of a Slack for fluidity-types, although it’s gone quiet now.

Now

Reflecting at this time of year seems weird, as I’ve said. I feel the first half of last year was one thing, and now I’m in the middle of something else. I’m looking up interest rates for savings and options for investment returns. It’s all very unusual but hopefully the direction I’m headed.

This post has already taken far too long, let’s publish now and get it out there.

The Future of Sexuality

Sexuality In The Past

Sexuality in the Anglo and European West for some recent previous generations was a simple affair. In the Victorian worldview, when categorising things was the preoccupation, the population was divided into two categories, men and women. If a person (a subject), founds themselves to be in the category “man”, then their sexual and romantic desires were felt towards someone from the other category: women (the object of desire). The same is true in the exact reverse for people in the category “women”. If the subject was a woman, their object of desire was a man. Simple.

sexuality past (5)

There was, however, a certain Victorian consciousness of male subjects who desired other men as their sexual objects. This phenomenon was considered ‘deviant’, the result of some sort of mistake. The specifics of who was at fault and what to do about the problem make an interesting study in themselves but are not relevant for our purposes.

sexuality past_man

I strongly suspect the Victorians found men desiring men upsetting. Part of this upset was to do with the notion that it violated categories. They believed their categories to be “natural”, part of a higher order. The order was ordained by Science, if not by God. When strange anomalies occured to upset the “natural order”, they found them threatening, not least because these anomalies could seriously bugger up their nice diagram.

This uneasiness over categories is very pertinent. It is an emotional reaction to the perceived threat to a structure which is supposed to be neat, perfect, correct and inviolable. Structures (or categorisations) are only emotionally reassuring, only comforting, if they can rely on claims of (near) absolute Truth, solidity, precision and certainty.

If there are persons or behaviours that call into question the completeness of a category structure, or even the entire structure itself, this is so emotionally unsettling that something must be done to shore up the primacy of the system. If such persons or behaviours are in a clear majority, then the structure needs to be recreated. However, if these anomalies are in a minority it is tempting and common to try to eliminate the inconsistency. In this way persons who are privately having sex with whomever they wish without really thinking about it can come to be perceived as a threat to an entire structure of categorisation and sometimes, because structures rely on other structures, a threat to an entire nation’s public behaviour code, civil liberties, laws and moral fibre.

Sexuality is one such category, and we are still struggling to categorise it correctly today.  We are required to continue wrestling with categories because we still live in a world based mostly on inviolable structures to which we turn on questions about  laws, public behaviour, civil rights and so on.

Sexuality In The Recent Past

The civil rights movement of the 1960s-80s sought to redraw the category diagrams.  In terms of sexuality, it is now a very well-known story of improving “gay rights” in the public realm, triggered by the Stonewall riots and onwards through many milestones. One of the milestones that shows us that the movement has been successful is the achievement of same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples can thus access an array of civil and social privileges that they were previously excluded from.

The new acceptable categories can now be described thus: a male subject usually desires a female object, but sometimes, less commonly, a male subject may desire another male as their object. The same is true in reverse. A female subject typically experiences desire for a male object, but sometimes, less commonly, a female object. There are two new categories, “heterosexual” and “homosexual” that apply equally to men and women. The categories look quite nice again now, with a lovely symmetry down the middle.

sexuality recent past full crop

hetero-homo (1)

I couldn’t decide which diagram to include, so here are both.

Sexuality Now

In recent years the “homo” half of the diagram has begun to use the acronym LGBT(Q), standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and (Queer). This is an attempt to recognise that lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are “not straight”. Each time a movement arises to point out that there are more groups within in the “not straight” space, a new letter is added to the acronym. LGBT is currently an accepted basic standard.

At the moment there is a lot of activism and discontent around the lip-service adoption of the B and T letters because most organisations fail to actually provide meaningful services for, or inclusion of, bisexual and trans people. These categories have been very grudgingly added to the diagram.

This unease exists because these two groups “upset the diagram” once again. The bisexual movement currently suffers from erasure, while the trans movement is not actually about sexuality at all. None the less, I will argue that the (much younger) trans movement has been more successful than the bisexual movement to gain recognition.

Gender

The trans movement has recently come to prominence as a group of people who experience something unusual about their gender. Both feminists and trans people have come up with a language to speak about the difference between biological gender, known as sex, and the social construct of gender i.e. the way people are expected to behave or “perform” in social life which is based on their sex but not necessarily inherent in it.

The trans movement has pointed out that it is possible to have gender dysphoria, which means extreme anxiety relating to sex and gender. In the most clear-cut of cases some people are born strongly feeling that they are biologically one sex, but their body appears to have most or all of the characteristics of the other sex. This is detectable at a very young age, often pre-puberty. The feeling of mismatch is so strong that people with dysphoria are more likely to be depressed and some may take their own lives.

Recent campaigns for the rights of trans people have become quickly prominent and successful. Some Anglo-Euro nations have begun to sanction via state benefit the hormonal and surgical treatments for trans people to “transition” from one sex to the other, whereupon the symptoms of gender dysphoria can be eased.

Trans people still suffer from terrible social treatment (not least a very high chance of being murdered for appearing to be gender-nonconforming) however I think the success of the trans movement in civil/legal terms has been partly due to the fact that this revelation about trans-ness has not upset the category diagram too badly. Now we have a small minority who would like to switch from the known categories of “man” and “woman”.

sexuality now 2

Being trans is an issue to do with sex/gender, rather than sexuality. It is orthoganal to the goals of the diagram but, happily it does not disrupt it too much. Apart from the switch between categories, transmen and transwomen still have a subjective sex/gender and still identify their sexuality according to the sex of themselves in relation to the sex of their object of desire.

Background Bisexuals

The bisexual movement has existed for as long as the “gay” civil rights movement. Indeed in the early days there was little differentiation between gay and bisexual because the issue at hand was same-sex relationships and legal rights. However the bisexual worldview has been sidelined because it is hard to understand, hard to lobby for, appears to “muddy the water” of essentialist messages of what it is like to be gay and people who are willing to identify as bisexual keep going in and out of existence.

Therefore, the bisexual (and intersex, asexual and other “queer”) thoughtforms and practices have been dropped from the public gay agenda for being too confusing. These priorities and people have been erased from gay awareness.

So while organisations now label themselves LGBT, the B in particular is almost universally ignored. I believe this is because bisexuality upsets far too many assumptions about how to categorise people and sexualities.

Here is my attempt to include bisexuality on the diagram:

 

sexuality now with bi

I added the grid to make it more confusing

Bisexual people occupy both sides of the diagram, because they can be a man or a woman, and then they have all these extra labels because they can desire either a man or a woman, or a man and a woman! That pesky and/or causes quite a lot of confusion. This spread across the diagram even calls into question whether the genders of either the subject or the object matter at all, which is the very foundation of the diagram!

Bisexual people have no place to be, a third wheel in the hetero/homo binary, excluded from both groups depending on the gender of their current partner, but still not included even if their partner is a match. Bisexuals are treated with suspicion because they seem to violate the purity boundary between gay and straight. Bisexual people themselves flip-flop between “being” gay and straight because being “half” anything never worked.

Studies of sexuality exclude bisexual people for ‘throwing off’ the results. Many straight scientists call the sexuality “indeterminate” and gay and lesbian people call it “on the fence” and “halfway out”.

Bisexual people also tend to come out at a much older age than straight or gay people, partly because many people experience their sexuality as something that changes over time, rather than as something essential they were born with, or that happened to them growing up as a child that they can’t control. This notion has been the cornerstone of gay rights, and to think that one has any control over their sexuality, or that it can change, is taboo.

Most people who have bisexual feelings take care to not identify with this reviled label, thus creating the illusion that this sexuality is a tiny minority, which is good for everyone else because bisexuality is so upsetting to the diagram that it cannot be tolerated.

(NB: if you unscientifically read between the lines of other data sets and hang out in bisexual activism circles, it seems clear that at least 40% of the population have behaved in a bisexual way in their lifetimes).

Straight and Queer

It has become increasingly common recently for the LGBTQI+ community to ditch all the letters, because they are becoming quite a mess, and adopt a former slur “queer” as an umbrella term to easily point to “not straight”. This umbrella has the advantage of pointing to a fairly large group (up to 20%) of the population while being non-specific about what it means, other than it’s in the gender & sexuality mess space. In this way it can encompass all the pesky extra weirdos with just one term, and reinstate the precious binary.

This is an opportunity for another way to organise the diagram.

The “queer” side is still just lesbian and gay, with its perfect symmetry of straight, but we’ve added the other weirdos (trans and bi) on the side. While these people apparently make up a minority, it still makes the categorisations looks awkward.

straight-queer (1)

Intersex, Questioning and Asexual need to go on the right but I ran out of space

This straight/queer grouping is supposed to be reassuring and it has worked for a while (for straight/gay people) but it seems like an unsatisfactory way to “contain” all the “mess” of people who are not-straight.

On the other hand, bi people flock to the word “queer” if not the community. More on that below.

However, this is not the only possible taxonomy.

Bisexual and Monosexual

I’m going to let you into a secret of the bisexual community, when those communities have enough structural momentum to temporarily coagulate. Bisexual people sometimes use an alternative binary to describe the world. It consists of Monosexuals (60%): those who are attracted to only one gender and Bisexuals (40%): those who are attracted to more than one gender. When bisexuals are prominent as a category, rather than treated as an enormous “anomaly”, a very different diagram appears.

bisexual-monosexual (1)

This representation gets closer to the world from a bisexual point of view. The gender of the subject is completely dropped from bisexuals in this worldview, because the label would say “man or woman” attracted to “man and woman”, which is pretty pointless. In the bisexual world, the diagram is not based on the gender of subject and object. So it also doesn’t matter if you are trans, or if your object of desire is trans.

“Monosexual” is the label for those strange people who insist on gender being the ultimate factor for sexual subjects and objects, and “Bisexual” is for those who do not. Monosexual people can still be trans, and I am remiss for not including it back on the diagram. At any rate they fit ok in the monosexual categories too.

How successful is this model? In my experience, people who are not bisexual, and even those who disagree strongly with bisexuals, tend to congregate in bisexual spaces. These include trans, intersex, agender, asexual and neuro-atypical people, as well as straight and gay of course. The true “umbrella” queer world, in my view, is the bisexual space, because everyone can fit there, with no dogma on gender or sexuality that fundamentally rejects what they feel inside.

Breakdown

At this point the actual word “bisexual” is simply meaningless. It originally meant “two” sexes and now the bisexual community defines it as “more than one”, in opposition to monosexuals, who only like one. But if gender is not really in the picture any more, why are we using these terms to define sexuality? Some activists have tendered the word “multisexual” as the opposite of monosexual, however this has largely failed. It has failed because using the idea of gender to define sexuality is pointless to bisexual people. This binary of bisexual/monosexual is unstable, and contains the seeds of its own destruction.

If not bisexual, then what? While ‘monosexual’ still seems somewhat descriptive for those with single-gender tastes, we have no good name for everyone else. The diagram is not based on gender, so the meaning of the words is dissovling before our eyes. The bisexual label has disappeared, with just a gap in its place. This is why so many bi people say “I’m just me” when asked to identify their sexuality. The question of their sexuality is mu. The true answer is outside of the frame of the question.

(I will, however, continue using “bisexual” for this article for lack of any other good word.)

I believe if we take the implications of the bi/mono model to their logical conclusion, if we run headlong into the black hole, we can finally dissolve or explode our categories of sexuality altogether. We can find new ways of making meaning about this attribute: sexuality.

Let’s explode

The danger of spectrums

When seeking new ways to define sexuality, it will be tempting to describe attributes as “spectrums”. Let’s take gender as an example. We have already said that bisexuality removes gender from the concerns of sexuality.  However, most people do have some preferences when it comes to gender.

Two scientists have so far tried to classify bisexual preferences. Kinsey designed a spectrum (with numbers 1-6). Number 1 means those who are exclusively heterosexual and number 6 means those who are exclusively homosexual, with number three meaning you are equally attracted to men and women. This spectrum is sort of useful but has many problems.

One problem is that this Kinsey number changes as soon as you modify any part of the question. The dimensions of time (past, present and future), fantasy, sex drive and levels of opportunity all play a huge role in how one’s attractions can be rated on the scale.

In comes the Klein grid, attempting to make sense of these different desires, where you rate your Kinsey number for fantasy, the past, the present etc. and end up with a grid of different numbers. This is quite fun at first,  however as their own website shows, this taxonomy soon dissolves into nonsense. As I’ve written before, these are well-intentioned attempts at eternalising an inherently nebulous thing.

The truth is, sexuality is nebulous and refuses to be pinned down by number scales. Level of attraction to one gender does not really relate to attraction to another gender along a sliding scale. They are not even on the same scale! Placing an apparent binary at opposite ends of a single scale is a mistake. It is still within the old gender binary way of thinking.

Factors, influences, preferences

It is easier to say that gender is a factor, but one with as variable importance as any other number of attractiveness factors, such as: body shape, eye colour and social status. It is perfectly possible to find both blue eyes and brown eyes attractive and to prefer blue eyes does not say anything at all about how much one likes brown eyes. These are all just factors of attraction.

Now that we are looking for factors of attraction, the landscape becomes clearer. Factors of attraction in the object of desire can be physical attributes, mental attributes and social attributes. There are also a number of factors relating to the subject experiencing attraction too. One’s age, sex drive, hormone balance, sexual practices and turn-ons are all big factors in attraction.

Cruicially, one lesson from the bisexual world is that preferences can change. It is not threatening to think that one used to prefer blondes but now like brunettes, but it is currently taboo to say that one used to prefer women and now finds men attractive too. The essentialist argument was important for gay rights, but now it is damaging all of us by impying that sexuality can never change. When we acknowledge change, our various identity labels can change too, with much less harm than is caused now.

When thinking about all of these preferences and factors, common configurations emerge. The queer world has been making headway inventing names to refer to these clusters of attributes, such as: femme, boi, bear, butch, cub, twink, unicorn. The straight world has far fewer words, but they exist, such as ‘cougar’, even if they do get ruined  (‘sapiosexual’ anyone?) However there could be much greater mileage in identifying and naming these common configurations.

Gender will very much still be in there, since not-trans straight people are still the most common. These days one ticks some boxes on dating sites e.g ‘male’ looking for ‘female’ and this new model would be just as simple. Non-transgender people are known as cisgender and most people are straight, or heterosexual. ‘Cishet’ is the word for the common configuration of “cisgender” and “heterosexual”. It is already commonly used in the queer world. So now you might tick the box ‘cishet’ looking for ‘femme’. Simple.

None of this is new. Dating sites have been trying to capture these preferences with more or less success for decades. I simply believe that our conceptual models, which are exclusively based on gender, are holding us back from realising the broad potential of sexuality.

Sexuality In The Future

Given the avenues of thought provided by Bisexuality, the future of sexuality could be very different. Rather than see sexuality as a biological binary because it depends on the biological “binary” of gender, sexuality can be seen as a personal attribute with both biological and cultural components that is affected by many factors.

Like other human attributes a person’s sexuality is both enduring and also evolves over time. It features many strands of influence, some biological, some social. Most of these strands are context-specific, some occur all the time. Some strands of attraction relate to the subject of desire and some strands relate to the object of desire. Some refer to social context, some are factors totally outside of our control, while some strands can be readily changed by new interactions or even conscious effort.

Many of these strands commonly appear together and so colloquial labels will continue to grow up around these clusters to make it easier to describe oneself and who one desires, but these labels should be seen as flexible, incomplete and eventually, obviously, they will go out of date.

In this model, changing one’s own gender, or changing which genders one is attracted to is unproblematic, just as liking blondes or brunettes is unproblematic now.

Some scales apart from gender seem obviously very useful, such as sex drive. Some people have no sexual desire at all, and some people prefer to have sex every day. Surely matching with a person on sex drive is just as important as on gender (if you’re monogamous). The ways that age can interact with sex drive seems very interesting. Should we be encouraging more sex between older women and younger men, for example?

What other scales and dimensions come into play with sexuality?

New Diagrams

I think some of the current ways of thinking about sexuality are still useful when providing a simple model for people who need that. Much like high school physics, we could present a simpler model to high schoolers that is oversimplified. Then, just as with physics undergrads, the more complex model can be revealed when the person is cognitively ready for it. Perhaps in high school we will still use this diagram:

teenagers

and for those who are cognitively ready it will look more like this, a many-stranded colourful cluster of changeable attributes and preferences:

sexuality future

I imagine this to be like colourful strings of yarn, and there would be hundreds of strands all dangling before us. Each person can grab lots of strings, and grab different ones on different days. A certain group of strings might have a label that describes it, and one’s own fistful might be quite similar to the label, but each person’s fistful o’ yarn will also be unique. This diagram does not have hundreds of strings, but you get the idea.

I think that if we adopt this way of approaching sexuality, our conceptions of it can go from this:

sexuality now 2

to this:

rainbow harp

Rainbow Harp! Image by Sheppard Arts

…without too much hardship. Looks like fun!

Conclusion

Sexuality and gender don’t belong in boxes forever, and it’s not too hard to think outside them. We can conceptualise sexuality as a personal attribute that depends on many factors and evolves over time. We may simplify this for those who need it, but the complex model should underpin adult life.

Also:

  • Diagrams are harder to make than they look.
  • Bi people are fun! You should hang out at their parties.
  • I got the inspiration for this blog post from a strangely coherent dream.

Post Script

I did not realise when I started this post that I am proposing the end as we know it of sexuality labels and ditching LGBT. By the end of this post I realised that’s exactly what I’m doing. While this is scary, I think it may actually be the right time. The straight /L / G project has been pretty successful. There’s very little left to do. In order to achieve the goals of B, a turning-inside-out of assumptions has to happen. As a bi activist, I started to realise that, rather than berate people for not identifying as bi (which causes sooo many organisational problems), or berate others for being so prejudiced towards “b” that no-one will identify as it, I decided I should accept how others feel and behave, understand why, and work with it. Work to push it further in its own direction, rather than force it into boxes. This might be one way of doing that? I’m not certain. As I said, I woke up from a dream with this all in my head, you can let me know if it makes any sense.

 

Reflections 2017

Reflections on the past year. I feel proud of how long this calendar year has felt. It’s nice to balance the feeling of vertigo I get when I reflect on how old I am vs hold I feel with the sensation that I have crammed a lot into a single year.

The start of the year was all trips to Portugal, to our new land. I luckily found some work too, overseas no less. Early summer was stressful looking for more work, but I had some good weekend holidays and BiCon too. Then work, endless work until October. But that month is a traditional time for new beginnings, it seems. More Portugal, then a final push of other travelling and events. I visited the Isle of Bute in Scotland and I’m taking my driving theory test today, for the second time in my life.

All this on the backdrop of communal warehouse life, and something else. The background of thinking, always thinking.

Relationships

So, judging by my diaries from last year autumn is a time for change, and boning! Same thing this year too, happy days. I am now edging, very slowly, towards my own personal ideal minimum number of boys (three). And my, oh my, the latest escapade was gooooooood. Had some female-flavoured sexy interaction too, which as usual has left me extremely thoughtful about roles and gender.

My family and friend relationships have really been improving this year. My nephew is now nearly two, and alongside seeing much more of that sister, I’ve also been seeing more of my cousins and other sister. I am finding these relationships really satisfying. Despite the sadness of two grandparents passing away, the cousins on that side of the family are now genuinely warm with each other and aware of each other’s lives. It felt so good to great each other warmly, while the older generation are distant.

My longer term partner and my best friend provide relationships that feel like very solid foundations upon which I build my life, and I feel privileged to experience such security and affection.

I’m starting to meet the people of the Philosophy Twitterverse in meat space, which is very exciting. This techincally started last year, just a few months after I first found Meaningness but one friendship in particular blossomed this year, while another has just begun. I hope to meet up with the same people more next year, and meet others too. Chuffed about this.

Made friends with a new housemate and it’s been excellent.

Philosophy

Was it really this year that I separated this blog from the philosophy one? I guess it was, all the way back in January. Well, Theory Engine was born and I feel very smug about the name. It also inspired me to move back to more personal topics on this blog, which was great.

I also founded my fortnightly meet called Balcony Philosophy that has yielded excellent conversation and reading lists.

As I said, I met some people in meat space, which has brought me (digitally) closer to some of the others, woo-hoo! Finding these peers and elders feels really good, and when lots of them are in the Bay Area kinda-rationalisty space it feels really cool in a Bloomsbury type way. I want more!

(I think last year’s missing Philosophy section, that I was going to write in the reflections post, would have described reading Meaningness, then spontaneously starting to write my own stuff. I thought I’d need discipline and tricks to get me writing and keep me doing so, but as it turned out I couldn’t help but snatch as much time as I could to write posts in between all my summer travels. I commented on meaningness and slatestarcodex to get their attention, while following up on Twitter. It worked and occasionally I got mentioned in tweets or roundups. It was very satisfying to participate in the online bloggy philosophy world. Now that it’s extending into real life I am super stoked!)

Work

This year I worked over the summer, though the contract started a bit later than I would have liked. I failed to earn a whole year of salary, but was as near as dammit. It’s been two months since I finished and only slowly getting back the philosophy mojo. Three months in one go was hard, but I learned some things, both code-wise and about getting on in offices. I loved working in the City. My London love continues without letup.

Earlier in spring, when I was just about out of cash from last year, I had a contract in the states for a couple of weeks. I got to see San Fran for one day and made some lasting freelance friends.

Bi Stuff

I went back to BiCon this year, after a gap of three. It was excellent and affirming to see old friends there. BiCon is important in a way that’s hard to describe but “Bisexual Christmas” is pretty close. I feel more secure and happy than previous years, and truly not expecting too much this time, so I had some meaningful interactions. I also broke my toe.

Represented Bis at Pride, went well. I love the Pride parade. Also had a Bivisibility Day cake party in September, because I’ve been realising that there is a bi culture, and it’s pretty cool and super important. It’s a full way to be, and everyone should be able to know about it. One of my favourite parts of bi culture is the term “monosexual” as the opposite of “bisexual”. We don’t say it infront of them though.

This bi activism thing has simply not gone away, even in the midst of my “I don’t believe my politics any more” phase. It’s clearly fun & meaningful to me so I guess I’ll keep doing it.

Time

I have been so proud of how long this year has felt. I have been on seven international trips: three for work (San Fran and Munich twice) and four to Portugal. I also finished up the year visiting Scotland.

We began clearing work on The Land in January, have had architects plans drawn up and now we are canvassing quotes for the house to be built. I cannot wait.

Portgual trips seem to warp time, where it’s hard to remember what came before one’s life of getting up with the sun, hard work under the bright sky, peeing anywhere you want and cutting logs for the fire. It seems like that life has gone on forever and London is a distant memory. At the same time, when I get back to London, it is as if the last events that happened to me there occurred just yesterday, which can’t be right. I get this strong feeling of not knowing how long I’ve been gone.

Anyway, I’ve deliberately disrupted my routines / not gotten into any outside of work and this year has been a subjectively long one, which is great!

Mental Health

Have been feeling mostly fine. It’s like a sleeping monster. I still get that panic about dying at night sometimes, but with big gaps between occurences. I feel like I have a few different ways to calm it down.

Something happened to me in Portugal in November. Some kind of unlocking to do with enjoying pleasure in the moment. I can feel it in the background all the time now. It’s making life better, this quiet focus on the pleasurable body. It has inspired one swimming session, and I hope it leads to more exercise, exercise with a more consistent motivation. I’m certainly suddenly interested in yoga, including the sprititual practice, which is a change from before.

Other

I’ve come to feel that Heathrow Terminal 2 is the best airport terminal in the world. I love London so much. I love my living situation less. Hard to not post projections for the future, maybe I’ll write those down separately.

 

Time changes

My sense of time has changed. I’ve come to notice this by being around people who are still in their twenties (I’m 33 now).

My friend Jo is 23 and to them, 6 months is an absolute age.

I’ve recently connected with a new partner who is 26. He is going away for four months, and hopes to stay away longer. He has more anxiety than me about the future of our relationship.

I recall being about 28 or 29 and realising, through polyamory, that my relationships will probably no longer follow the meet-date-acrimoniousbreakup pattern that was an unquestioned way of things in my “20s monogamy” phase. Rather, relationships can have ups and downs, recesses, corners, timeouts and timeins. The older I get, the longer relationships can be and the more they’ll morph.

Around this time I started saying “the future is long”, meaning that whatever stage a relationship is in now (normally just broken up), it will change over time and the change will happen quicker than you think. There is always the possibility of: -getting back together -becoming friends again -being thrown back into a life situation together -actually not really caring about them anymore.

Some of my longer-term relationships, like family and early boyfriends have followed so many twists and turns it’s now not very easy to describe them all. The swings from love to hatred to indifference to betrayal to empathy to love again have been numerous.

I’ve had a monogamous friend with whom I could have sex only when he didn’t have another partner. I saw several girlfriends come and go, and didn’t really feel particularly deprived when I wasn’t allowed to have sex with him for a while. The friendship was clearly going to endure much longer than these partners.

There is security in patience.

(Post-script: I am aware that one day, the longer I live the more likely it will be that my relationships with others will end. Time will speed up again. Relationship needs will be more urgent. I’m sure it will feel like a blink of an eye since I was here, now, saying these young things at this young age.)

 

 

Not A Meritocracy

Social Justice

So, I’m done with the social justice world.

I always had more time for the really complex and nuanced arguments of the heavyweight writers anyway and I had the privilege of working with smart and level-headed activists when it came to actions.

But, in the last few years I lost my certainty about every cause I was involved with and now I feel much more interested in studying all sides, watching how things play out and to a certain extent having a go at predicting outcomes, without feeling particular alleigence to any “side” in a debate because almost everything has merit and almost no-one is interested in measuring actual outcomes. When outcomes are played out, things are normally good for some people and bad for others, appropriate in some circumstances and irrelevant in others.

Im interested in that fact, but openly sympathising with the problems faced by men’s rights activists gets you pushed out of the feminist activist club fairly quickly, and rightly so, because passionate outrage is the fuel needed to act there.

Anyway, excellent activism is more drowned out these days by tribe-signalling meme warfare and I generally ignore it.

But I still have thoughts and critiques when particular examples float my way and here is one of them.

Intro

A friend invited me to a talk by a woman of color about the difficulties she has experienced in the media industry. It set me to thinking about the media industry and how this is a known industry for being extremely difficult to get into. It also strikes me that the media industry is one of those industries that is most obviously based on nepotism (powerful people promoting their friends) than based on merit (fair interview processes for all job openings).

In this talk I wonder if the person will be calling for less racism in a meritocratic sense or in a personal relations sense.

Systematic lies

I certainly used to be a highly systematic and individual person who believed in rules and fairness. My understanding of feminism moved through the following cycle:

Believing that the world was fair to the genders -> angrily realising it was not -> advocating for more fairness ->seriously thinking about how to educate others to be fair -> realising you partly have to tell the next generation to behave better than you do ->telling kids that the world already allows boys in pink skirts ->those kids believe the world is fair ->angry realisation that it’s not…. etc.

In this way we are iterating over the generations since the 60s telling little lies that everything is fair.

Relationships

I recently spent some time working on my skills when it comes to relationships, being dissolved in a web of humans, forgetting the rules and so on.

A pertinent example of this is moving to London. I had always been too scared to move to London since the barriers to entry are so formidable. When I decided to make the move, I had no money, no previous address and no (current) skills. I knew that the “correct” way to move to London, use an agency to rent a property at market rates, would be impossible for me. I knew it was impossible for others too, and yet people managed to get there. It seemed obvious that it was important to meet some people who had found some sweet deal, some cheaper niche of their own, by luck and rule-bending and circumstance. It was important to personally meet these people because any spare rooms would be a closely guarded secret that would never leak out onto “official” channels, reserved only for friends by word of mouth. This strategy would take time and luck, but was my only way in.

It worked, and that is exactly how I moved to London.

This is nepotism, the epitome of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. The catch-22 of “networking” is that human networks is one of the only ways things get done but articifially trying to build those networks at networking sessions is exactly the wrong way to forge those connections. It must be done in a way that feels natural and inspires trust.

More Lies

Back to lies we tell our kids. Adults claim that their institutions are based on a meritocracy, which is not really the truth. There is a sliding scale of truth to that claim, with most universities and boring companies on the meritocratic end and Oxbridge, government and the arts industries on the nepotism end.

When I was a feminist activist, I took fair, meritocratic systems as a given and was trying to eliminate unfair practices between genders in what I perceived should be a fair system.

I wonder if this woman of color is making the same assumption: that unfair racist practices are occuring in what should be a fair, meritocratic system. If so, I don’t think she will get very far. Not because of the resistence to equal treatment of race and gender (though that is likely present), but because protecting the facade of merit over the reality of nepotism is something people will fiercely defend and lie about (and do it well, this is the media we are talking about).

My advice to this woman would be to use race and gender as a tool in this nepotistic setup. Go find the people of color who are already there and if they won’t help you (likely) they might indicate who in power likes having black friends. Gender is an even more unpalatable option, since other women may not help (they might, find that one feminist who works in TV), so one might have to resort to feminine attractiveness or, more likely if its TV and theatre, one could do well by butching up for all the gay guys that find women a bit scary.

This all sounds like a social justice nightmare, but if you’re not willing to be realistic about these strategies a career in the media may not be for you. It also does not preclude activism. Someone’s personal climb through the nepotisitc ranks may lead those friends on the way up to regard a person of a colour as a good bet in the relations stakes, whereas before they were prejudiced/ blind to it. I genuinely believe that that outcome would be a big win that does a lot of good.

Support

I won’t be going to the talk. I’m bored with all that. My advice above would not be taken well, and I can see why. But my friend is definitely showing signs that she takes my lack of support for her talks as a rejection of her friendship. Is it possible to show support for someone in this part of their life without resorting to totally faking it?

Britain’s unequal cities and the magnetic force of London’s social norms

EDIT: Please note that the philosophy portions of my blog can now be found at TheoryEngine.org

City Size and Stability

An acquaintance once told me that Germany experiences political stability in part due to the fact that all of its cities are roughly of equal size. I have no way to validate this claim, but Germany’s cities do seem to be noticeably uniform in their population and population density after the top 4. Among the top 4, the largest city, the capital, is double the size of the next largest, while 2,3 and 4 are similar in size to each other.

At some point I became aware of Britain’s “top ten” city sizes and this is the kind of information that my brain likes to keep around. I lived in rank number 8 at the time: Bristol, and now I live in number 1: London.

What is interesting about the U.K.’s city sizes is that the capital, London, is four times larger than the next contender: 8.3 million vs. 2.3 million in Birmingham. After that the city sizes decrease sharply among the top ten. Manchester is 1.7 million, Liverpool 0.8 and so on. My home city of Bristol in rank 8 is only 0.4 and these numbers include a “greater urban area” so they are on the generous side.

This interesting table also lists the “Large Urban Zone” EU rank of these areas. London is number 1, while the next largest area, Birmingham, is rank 21.

On hearing my friend’s anecdote about political stability in Germany, I started to wonder if regions with unequal size cities have more social/political upheaval or strife.

It is sort of common knowledge in the U.K. that London dominates the political and financial landscape of the country, meaning that politicians are unduly influenced by the needs of London and are liable to ignore the needs of the rest of the population. But aside from politicians wearing London-tinted glasses, are there other mechanisms also in play?

Advertising as Signalling

This interesting article about advertising proposes a mechanism for how advertising works. Its thesis is that adverts probably do not overtly or covertly make a consumer have emotions related to a product (“emotional inception”), rather they create a shared social environment where the product is associated with a sign or signal of certain social messages. I recommend reading the article for specific examples, such as Corona being associated with being chill on the beach, so that’s the beer you’ll bring to the barbeque to signal “we are all chill here”.

The article stresses the fact that advertising has to create a potent and enduring social milieu within which to present a consistent social message. This milieu only works if everyone has seen the message, and everyone knows that everyone else has seen the message. Thus, signalling by means of products can begin.

London’s Impact on Advertising

London’s supermassive size has the effect of pulling everything into its orbit. If a company would like to use some kind of creative agency to make an advert, the people they call will be in London.

Now that I’ve lived in London for a while, I noticed that much of UK-produced media is made by people who live in London, using London locations. I recently watched an advert that showed a variety of people in a variety of settings. The urban scenes were in different parts of London with different types of background architecture, but the “rural” or “park” scenes were also in London – the hexagonal black bins and other street furniture were instantly recognisable.

Clearly some London agency had taken the client’s money and shot a “diverse” advert with diverse locations without going any further than Hampstead Heath.

London’s Social Norms

Crucially, I recently noticed that London people also project London social values in their output. The advert mentioned above was quite diverse in terms of the people in the advert: a white same sex couple, an older sikh gentleman jogging, a black family. The ad was trying so hard it was almost painful.

However, for a Londoner, a same sex couple in Trafalgar square, a black family on an urban road and an older sikh man jogging in Hampstead Heath is just normal life. The hammy diversity is only hammy for a Londoner because of trying to jam in different examples of normal people into a short time frame.

The advert lacked poor people, because no-one is very poor in London. London takes racial diversity for granted, as well as sexuality. Engagement in a capitalist economy is also taken for granted in London, because everyone is there to make money, and everyone is succeeding in that. Making money is not inherently bad, since it supports taxes which in turn support infrastructure which supports making more money.

London is ethnically very diverse. London is 49% white British, 58% white (all groups). 37% of London residents were born outside of the UK. This compares to 95% white in the rest of the UK population.

Being a diverse mega-city, politeness in London is an interesting game. There is no way to know which custom should take precedent among diverse people. For example, getting on the bus politely. Whom should you defer to when entering the vehicle? Older people? Women? Men? Children? It amuses me to think that even in say, patriarchal cultures there is no consistency. One culture might deem that women should go first, while another says that women should be at the back of the queue. Most people will defer to elders, but tellingly, only if they have their shit together to board. This shows London’s default social norm: efficiency and speed (which = money).

The only way to keep this city going is with speed and efficiency. If an older person is faffing, it is culturally polite in London to get on before that person, because in the time we’ve wasted deferring to our elders, ten people could have boarded the bus and we’d be underway.

The older person is never left behind, because Londoners are also culturally aware that each person adds more wealth to the whole. This wealth is both cultural and fiscal at the same time. London is so big that it has (paid) roles and niches for absolutely everyone. London understands that diversity is good, not through strength, but through money.

Social Pressure

And these are the values that are translated into advertising. These values make sense in London, but for the rest of the population, which is 95% white, with no financial incentives, they may be having a very negative effect.

If advertising creates a social signalling environment, then a person in a small town or village is being forced to feel that they should welcome and tolerate people who, for them, display disruptive, frightening and dangerous characteristics.

When someone from another culture shows up in a small(ish) community, it is probably better for everyone involved if that person is integrated into community life, ie they are asked to change their behaviours to match their new surroundings (and a link to this idea now eludes me).

However, the opposite message is being broadcast by London-based advertising producers. Cultures should apparently be tolerated and celebrated, not integrated and if a local person thinks that the new person should be restricted or compelled to integrate, they are made to feel racist.

If advertising sets the tone of social interaction, a large part of the UK population is being made to feel social shame. Shame often leads to anger and defiance. Perhaps it has led to backlash voting.

I’m not sure if unequal city sizes generally contributes to social tension rather than harmony, but the mechanism described above could be one more explanation for London’s black hole effect on the rest of the U.K.

Emotionally Dealing With Cheaters

It’s time for some emotional maturity when it comes to agents engaged in systems.

Hawks and Doves

A few decades ago, a couple of scientists applied game theory to evolutionary development. The result was evolutionary game theory and it gave us some neat new ways to understand evolution.

The most famous example of this work is known as “hawks and doves”. The premise is that given a certain set of circumstances, individuals within the same species competing for finite resources may have more than one strategy for obtaining those resources. Divided simplistically, an individual may behave in a “dove”-like fashion ie standing down from conflict (after an initial bluff of force) and sharing resources with other doves it discovers, both of whom are non-violent or a “hawk”-like fashion ie following through on threats of violence and not sharing resources with others. The dove strategy has low costs but also low rewards while the other has high cost but also higher potential reward.

The theorists produced a graph that showed which strategy might be optimal under which conditions. There is an awful lot more to evolutionary game theory however I mention this as an illustrative example.

Depending on the conditions, you have a certain percentage of hawks and doves. The more hawks you have, the more costly it is to be one as you might starve or be killed. The more doves you have, the higher the reward for being a hawk (violent and not sharing) since almost everyone you meet is a dove and will back down. In the high dove scenario, it makes sense for more individuals to become hawks since the rewards are high and the risks very low. Once you have several hawks though, the chances of meeting another hawk are higher and it once again becomes too costly to be one compared to the expected reward. There is a certain balance that appears between the types of strategy. The exact ratios depend on the situation, but what I want to point out is that you always have some hawks.

Social Strategies/Cheaters

Evolutionary game theory goes on to analyse circumstances where individuals within a species co-operate to a certain extent, rather than compete.

Humans often co-operate, and this behaviour is said to be ‘social’. Humans are one of the most socially sophisticated animals on the planet.

In a highly social society there are systems of rules in place and a few different strategies for success. Social systems are typically based on varying degrees of trust, you need to trust that other people will follow the rules and humans have evolved extremely complex skills and heuristics to assess trustworthiness in others.

One strategy in trust based systems is to fake trustworthiness, not abide by the rules, screw people over and reap the benefits. This strategy risks being caught and completely shunned, which may even lead to death. It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that is the social equivalent to a hawk.

It seems to be that any social system that has rules based on trust is also open to the possibility of cheating being a viable strategy. In any social game you always have some cheaters.

Stopping Cheaters

Our social evolution has given humans pretty powerful tools to spot a cheater, helping groups to keep cheaters to a minimum. Many of our formal systems also have safeguards to attempt to weed out cheaters.

However, I frequently come across the assumption that it would be ideal to completely eliminate cheaters. This is wrong.

Eliminating cheaters is not possible. All games of any complexity have rules and therefore can be cheated. The more dove-like rule-followers a game has, the greater the rewards are for cheating and so the likelihood of having cheaters in the game increases. I believe that past a certain point you have a power-law situation with cheaters, where the energy expended to detect and remove cheaters grows exponentially the lower the number of cheaters becomes. Eventually, the measures taken to eliminate the cheaters become more injurious for everyone than the harm the cheaters are causing.

A recent example from my life: at a Pride parade of tens of thousands of people a political group of a dozen participants was denied entry, but unofficially they ‘broke in’ at the end of the column and marched anyway. Despite the fact that the organisers had made reasonable efforts to prevent the group from marching that year the outrage was huge, so the following year the organisers implemented a security system requiring all 10,000 people to acquire official wristbands, the parade needed extra staff, security barriers and to change the assembly point and shorten the parade route. The measures far exceeded the harm.

Eliminating cheaters is not necessarily desirable. Cheaters have to develop great skill to cheat, skills that are often prized in general, from thorough attention to detail to ingenuity, innovation and improvisation. In David Chapman’s essay ‘Geeks, Mops and Sociopaths’ the sociopaths – the cheaters – have an important function. They use their skills to market the New Thing made by the Geeks, making money and enriching culture, even if they reap an unfair share of the rewards. Sociopaths in general are quite likely to be cheaters but also quite likely to be very useful, like surgeons.

Emotional maturity

The extreme measures taken to eliminate cheaters seem to be often caused by the emotional pain of being a rule-follower and seeing or knowing that there are cheaters. Cheaters seem to reap great rewards, while the costs of the strategy are less visible. The emotional reaction can blind people to other causes for cheating, such as injustice (which I think may have played a part in the Pride parade example).

This emotional overreaction goes for double when money is involved – the obvious example is rabidity over benefit/welfare cheaters. I think the extra effort expended on trying to prevent cheaters is one of the key reasons that universal benefit works out cheaper.

People also seem to overestimate how many cheaters there are. I would expect any system to be capable of supporting around 10% hawks/cheaters. However from internet reading I’ve done about crimes, false claims about crimes (eg false insurance claims, false rape claims) are around 2%. This seems absurdly low.

The emotional desire to eliminate cheaters is prioritised over the rational knowledge that cheaters are inevitable, exist in low numbers and are even desirable. We need to sort that out because so often the measures to prevent cheaters are worse than the cheaters themselves.

 

 

Eternalist problems with bisexuality

Preamble

My thoughts in this blog post rely on other frameworks to better understand bisexuality.

The first set of frameworks are eternalism/nihilism and  monism/dualism as outlined by David Chapman on his project called meaningness. Very briefly,

  • Eternalism says that everything has a definite, true meaning.
  • Nihilism says that nothing really means anything.

I will be focussing on eternalism. Eternalism resolves the ambiguity of life by saying that, even if we can’t fully see or understand it, there is an ordering principle to everything. This ordering principle can explain everything, providing comfort and a sense of control. The most obvious examples are God, or the non-theistic Fate. However many things can be eternalist, such as staunch belief in Science (scientism) or political ideologies.

There are two common ways to futher enact eternalism, called monism and dualism by Chapman. Very briefly,

  • Monism is the idea that “All is One.”
  • Dualism is the idea that the world consists of clearly separate objects.

To take a religious example, Monist Eternalist thought appears in New Age religions that state “you and the universe are One”, meaning you will be saved because you are God. Dualist Eternalist religions say God is a thing, separate from you and he will save you.

I will also be looking at several of Chapman’s ‘Eternalist ploys’ and linking to them as I go along. I really do recommend an extremely long click-around the book linked here before reading my thoughts to come.

Problems of bisexuality

In the bisexual activist community, it is commonly known that advocating for bisexuality is extremely difficult because of a number of problems.

To begin, almost nobody actually identifies as bisexual because the label, or stereotypes of the label, do not fit their experience.

Most people believe they are ‘not bisexual enough’ because they don’t have equal and unbiased sexual attraction to all genders, all of the time. Many people disagree that “both homo- and hetero- sexual” is an adequate term for their feelings.

Many bisexually-behaving people either swing between identifying as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ depending on their current partner or refuse labels entirely and state “I am just me”. Some find their way to the queer community, which is more of an umbrella term but some of their bisexual behaviour must be sublimated to fit into queer spaces (eg opposite-sex attractions), just as those who remain in a hetero society sublimate their same-sex attractions.

Tragically, despite feelings they are not a ‘true’ bisexual, most bisexual people’s experiences are very similar to each other and distinct from other people’s. This means that services of any kind which are tailored to straight, gay, lesbian or trans people are inadequate and unhelpful for bisexual people, whereas bisexually-tailored help would work, if it were available, or if anyone accessed it, which they don’t, which means funding for new services is hard to get, because no-one identifies as bisexual.

This leads to depressing statistics about mental and physical health amongst bisexually behaving people, with outcomes being far worse than any of the aforementioned groups.

When bisexual people come together in an understanding environment, the effects can be profoundly positive, but finding a way to reach bisexual people is notoriously difficult. The positive effects can also fade quickly over time as normal life once again denies bisexual experience.

Understanding bisexuality through frameworks

Having read Chapman’s ways of slicing reality into stances, I became very interested in how or why this might apply to bisexuality.

I believe bisexuality is inherently nebulous, complex, changing over time, with multiple things going on. It explodes neat binaries and refuses to be its own, easily understandable thing.

At the same time there are strong patterns of commonality between people who feel or behave in a bisexual way, grouped into clumps of common experience. Most bisexual people share some but not all of these groups of experiences, some but not all of the time. This makes the label bisexual more of a marker for a rough direction than any kind of explanation, leading to everyone’s frustration with it, and labels in general.

Common objections to bisexuality from the stances

The eternalist stance has a problem with any sexuality that is not fixed over a long time, while some gay activism has focussed strongly on eternalist principles to fight their cause, such as having no choice about sexuality, whether from a genetic or environmental standpoint – ‘born this way’.

However, bisexual people experience attractions to other genders fading in and out over time. Some bisexual people “decided” to become bisexual or first experienced another-gender attraction quite late in life.

This leads to many people denying that bisexuality can exist. It is dismissed as “just a phase”, as if sexualities must eventually become ‘stable’. Or dismissed as treacherous or dangerous,  as ‘watering down the message’. Sexuality studies exclude bisexual people because they ‘muddy the water’.

The monist view that we are all one comes into play when bisexuality is denied by appealing to similarities. People either say “well, we are all human, that’s what matters” or the extremely pernicious statement “well, we are all bisexual really”. While it is true that most people could conceive of the idea that someone’s attractions may vary across gender boundaries, it is certainly not true that everyone behaves in a bisexual way. Otherwise everyone would be bisexual, really.

I believe this monist inability to see categories also leads people to entirely reject labels. The monist view says ‘I don’t see why we need labels anyway, it only serves to divide people unneccessarily’. However as we have seen, when bisexual people cannot rally around some words or identities, their health and wellbeing suffer tremendously.

When it comes to being gay, almost no-one  gives the following advice: “well, you are just you, you are unique, you should only take up labels that suit you” but this is almost always given as advice to someone questioning whether they are bisexual.

Similarly, the dualist view ends up rejecting labels. Dualism insists on concrete categories, particularly gender of self and gender of the people to whom one is attracted. A bisexual person suspects that they do not fit neartly into the category of hetero or homo, so the dualist creates anthoer category called “both”. This category is entirely unacceptable to a bisexual person as briefly described above.

It’s also very hard to undestand as a dualist, since liking two “opposites” at once sounds suspiciously like categories shouldn’t exist at all. The dualist then wants a bisexual to ‘decide’. Parents constantly state “so you’re straight now”, “so you’re gay now” to a bisexual person when they have a new partner and bi people themselves swing between “gay” and “straight”. Other dualist biphobc statements include “pick a side”, “choose a team”, “stop being on the fence”.

Many valiant attempts to create categories that do seem to fit bisexual people have occured to better describe bisexual experience. These include:

  • bi-romantic, to capture the relationship aspect of attraction only
  • hetereo- and homo- flexible, to express a ‘mostly, but not always’ fit into dualist boxes
  • pansexual, to describe attraction based less on gender than on other attriubutes
  • queer, to express ‘not straight, but check the details’
  • fluid, to desribe lack of fixity over time

And many others.

However, each label only decribes an aspect of bisexuality. The process of choosing and applying many labels which may change over time or not be an exact fit soon becomes absurd, and many people give up the idea of labels all together as unworkable.

As we have seen, the monist view dismisses labels as divisive, while simple dualist labels are not nebulous enough for real people to fit into, but at the same time applying mutliple, more fuzzy categories becomes absurd.

Eternalist ploys

A couple of the eternalist ploys mentioned by Chapman struck home as being relevant to bisexuality.

Continuum Gambit

The ‘continuum gambit’ is a ploy by eternalist thinking to regain control of, and create boundaries on, nebulous things.

When it becomes obvious that things are not either this or that, but somewhat both and neither—a typical manifestation of nebulosity—the continuum gambit suggests that reality is a matter of shades of gray, corresponding to numbers on a continuous scale.

This describes the Kinsey scale perfectly. Kinsey was radical and needed in his time and set us on a new course of thinking about sexuality forever. However, the Kinsey scale is misleading and useless about 10 minutes after it is first discovered.

A person will yield as many different numbers on the scale as there axes of experience around sexuality. The same person will have wildy different numbers depending on the history of their relationships, compared to feelings now, compared to the future, let alone actual behaviour vs desired behaviour in an ideal world vs fantasy life (which normally has no correlation with actual acts).

The Klein grid is an attempt to take into account these considerations, and involves some interesting thoughts, but the results seem to me to become immediately meaningless. A bisexual person will not be indentifiable from the general population when taking this test, and interpretation of the results is apparently complex. This is normally a sign that it is useless for ordinary people and indeed the website itself suggests it’s better to find a therapist.

(Lack of) wistful certainty & others

Wistful certainty is the idea that there definitely is a right system to do things that will solve all our problems, if only we can discover it. For example, the certainty that once we discover the correct laws of physics, they will explain the entire universe. Or the certaintiy that if we develop just the right combination of policies, there wil be a political system that works well enough for everyone.

The fact that this is not true is not immediately obvious (in my view), with the above examples. I believe many people are supported by wistful certainty surrounding many assumptions in their lives, making them more comfortable than they might be otherwise.

However, the lack of wistful certainty is immiediately apparent with bisexuality. There is no hope that someone is working on this stuff and it will all be figured out eventually. Rather, the bisexual person is simply weird,wrong and does not fit any systems.

No-one is examining the puzzle of bisexuality to give them hope. Rather they are excluded from studies as anomalies There are no meanings to bisexuality, fixed or otherwise.

This lack of eternalist bolstering leads to the opposite stance to eternalism, nihilism. Nihilism is not sustainable for very long and is very depressing. Bisexual people either switch back to dualist eternalist (“straight now, gay now”), monist eternalist (“I’m just me, I don’t need labels”) or tragically, commit suicide.

Stages of development

There is another way, however and hopefully many bisexuals reach this stage, at least eventually.

Chapman calls the answer to the eternalist/nihilist stances the complete stance, which sady he has yet to talk about in any great detail (but there are smaller sections on many of the other pages, take a look).

However, the next key framework I am looking at is Kegan’s framework for social and cognitive development, a summary of which can be found here. This is Chapman’s summary and I found it through the meaningness blog. I have yet to read the book, I have only read the summary but it seemed like a good summary that extracts and explains key points.You must read this first before anything I say next makes sense (and we’re at the end so you can stop here if you like).

The first 4 stages do not really relate to the stances, but the 5th one, fluid mode, seems relevant.

There is much discussion on the meta-blog about how few people reach stage 5, about how society operates largely in stage 4, providing no structures to support the transition from stage 4 to stage 5, leaving many stage 4.5ers adrift in nihilisitc depression.

Stage 5 is the moment when the system that a person has been using to have beliefs, achieve projects and relate to others has been replaced by the idea that there are many systems, none of which is objectively the ‘right’ system, because any system is founded on fallable axioms. Rather systems are simply a better or worse fit for situations. Where previously a person was adept at defining their role within a system, a person can now use and even define entire systems dependent on context. In this mode, conflict between systems seems less problematic, as do internal inconsistencies.

A bisexual person will hopefully come to realise that the system we currently have for gender and sexuality is flawed. Labels are both useful sometimes, but not descriptive other times. Categories like gender don’t really exist, but are still handy shorthand for a cluster of attributes. Bisexuality is something outside of gay/straight, it is not simply “both” but it is also not “neither”. That each bi person is different, yet there are commonalities of experience.

I will make a blog post soon talking about how lessons learned from bisexuality can help individuals and societies progress to Stage 5 / fluid mode / complete stance with more understanding and emotional support.

Money

From the title, this post seems to me to have too broad a remit but I wanted to document the changes in my relationship to money.

This blog was started at the outset of a journey in which I refused to engage with money. Money was being used as a weapon of power, particularly in the political landscape, and I wanted to disempower the people I did not agree with. When it comes to affairs in the humaniverse (a term I coined to describe what many people call ‘the real world’ or ‘life’ of the ‘universe’ when actually the thing they are describing is entirely dependent on humans to exist and so I call it the humaniverse), people only have power if everyone else collectively believes that they do. It’s possible to shift power if this act of believing is changed or halted. Since it was mainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I had problems with, and their domain is money, I decided to stop believing in it.  Now, some might say that money has non-human power of its own, or humaniverse power of its own, however I decided to see whether it merely had advantages, ones which it was possible to do without.

And I found that it was possible. It is only possible through many other aspects of the humaniverse supporting the journey of course. At first I might have said I was using a different system to live, but I don’t think that’s true, I was still part of the same mechanisms, just squeezing into an extremely unusual choice within that system.

Money is a key step in a short chain that humans have set up. You start with needing shelter, food and luxuries, you exchange your labour for a currency and you use the currency to fill the need. For most of us, money is that currency. By ignoring money I substituted other kinds of currency, such as time or domestic labour. My feminist sisters have done some excellent work in pointing out that vast amounts of female domestic and emotional labour support the lop-sided system of capitalism that rewards some labour with money but relies on lots of other labour that is given very little reward, an extremely disproportionate amount of which is done by women.

So in a straightforward sense I exchanged domestic labour for being able to stay overnight with friends and family and this depended on them still having jobs and paying rent, so was not really ‘outside the system’. In a slightly more subversive way, I removed unwanted food from the bins of supermarkets. This too is only possible if only some people do it, and thoroughly depends on the system.  It also demanded quite a lot of my time and physical energy, so that was the unit of exchange for ‘free’ food.

The biggest thing to try to do without money is try to find shelter. This endeavour brings one into the same category as the homeless, tramps, Travellers (Roma, gypsies) and squatters. All of these people are trying to derive shelter without traditional income streams and all of them have to move on frequently. This way of living requires time, travelling resources and a very large amount of emotional and physical energy. These strategies seem to be the most ‘outside the system’ strategies I encountered because they require almost total disconnection from every other service our society provides and can have a profound toll on physical health.

It is in this area that I had the most insight about the way we order our culture and how profoundly insecure and intolerant we are. Read more here.

However, the benefits of living without money were many.

Time

Not having to work gave me a lot of free time. After sorting out some food and housing for the day, I had many hours left over and I was almost stumped with how to fill them. I read lots of books and talked to people, but I could have learned whole languages or retrained in anything I wanted. I taught myself to juggle and practised for many hours. I read the whole of HPMOR and a good chunk of the LessWrong material. I had lots of time for reflection.

Mental freedom

The mentral freedom I experienced was likely only possible due to actively trying to turn away from money and earning money. This seemed a little like staring into a campfire for a lifetime, then suddenly turning around and viewing a dark, unkown vista that is the whole rest of the world. Entire landscapes of possibility seemed now open. With so much time to fill, something that requires time now seemed exciting, such as learning a language. The world actually felt like my oyster, instead of that being a thing people say.

This revelation was so strong because I’ve always had a life of desperately trying to earn enough money to survive, ie a poor/working class kind of a life.

With money out of the picture, my efforts were all focussed towards things like leisure, learning, helping others, creating art, making plans and basically everthing most humans wish they had more time to do. I found that not tying my decisions to whether it might help my career in some way enabled me to make surprising choices. It was possibly only then did I truly engage in or appreciate activities that you do for their own sake. This last is meant to be a corner stone of good mental health.

It is from these experiences that lead to my current views about the sheer unapprecaited scale of output from all humans we as a species could receive by instituting Universal Benefit schemes.

Novelty

Because of having to move on a lot, and exploring new mental space, something novel happened to me almost every day. According to research I’ve read but not checked, novelty (or absence of routine) makes subjective experience of time seem to lengthen. If things are constantly new, it is as if time is moving more slowly. Perhaps because we generate a baseline expecation of how many things can happen in, for example, one day.

As a result, the year I spent homeless and engaged in almost constant novelty subjectively feels about the same as three years of a normal life. This is one of the reasons ‘travelling’ feels like such a transformative experience since the traveller has experienced (and changed as a result) at seemingly three times of the speed of normal life.

People make their reality narrow

After seeing a city in terms of only its abandoned buildings, rather than its desirable ones or after seeing a pedestrian railing as a playground instead of a crash barrier it is easy to see how many different realities exist for humans in the same physical space. You only see what you need to and human contexts are really narrow.

I sometimes experienced the opposite of what most people experience in certain places. For example, I perceive Birmingham to be very friendly because I was homeless and I locked eyes with homeless people. Homeless people smile a lot at the people that see them, so I experienced Birmingham as very friendly, the opposite of what most people find there.

Realising how context-specific humans can be, to the point of being entirely blind to physical objects was very useful. I now practice context-switching, particularly for city streets. I imagine how a lover of architecture would see a street, then a person looking for free food, then a parkour practitioner, then a squatter, then a property developer, archaeologist and so on and in that way attempt to see my environment in its intricate entirety.

Poor Person Pain

One of the things I learned was that as a poor person, I had developed antagonistic defences against things that I could never have, due to being a poor person. Instead of being in pain over the things I could never have, I created elaborate reasons for why I actually didn’t want them anyway, probably to alleviate that pain. I said and believed that a poor person’s life was more virtuous, due to reusing, recycling and sharing, that I didn’t want things like nice clothes because it was empty signalling, that following fashion was pointless, unethical or deceitful.

It was only through the subject of technology did I notice this behaviour by experiencing cognitive dissonance. I had developed a dismissive and curmudgeonly attitude to technology during travelling. It was indeed partly because I believed non-technological skills like reading maps and surviving when you don’t know where you were are important skills to develop and not lose. However that was not the whole story and in other ways I would describe myself as a person who welcomes technological advances and was not curmudgeonly about technology in general. I realised I had set myself up to hate the things I couldn’t have, because technology is rarely available for free.

Returning To Money

Returning to money, however, was no easy feat.

Thoughts on dopamine

I recently read a post about some science behind introverts and extroverts. The way the article is written is all over the place when it comes to the ‘science’ and relies on tertiary sources. I have not checked the tertiary sources for their secondary and primary source reliability.

With that caveat, the things briefly and confusedly mentioned in the article got my attention. The article mentions dopamine as a mechanism in the brain to which introverts and extroverts react differently, thus explaining their behaviour.

Dopamine is described by the NIH in the US as “a neurotransmitter associated with movement, attention, learning, and the brain’s pleasure and reward system” and I have found it interesting ever since someone told me about the proposal that nicotine is actually the ‘gateway drug’ to other drugs because it is a dopamine antagonist and re-uptake inhibiter which is not only pleasing in and of itself but also serves to enhance other drugs when taken in combination eg: alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, natural dopamine released from social interaction, sexual activity etc. All of these ‘drugs’ are enhanced by also having a cigarette, and form a large part of the habit- or social-based addiction to cigarettes. Nicotine can be seen as the ‘gateway drug’ because it enhances all other drugs beyond their actual effects.

And now the article above from ‘Introvert, Dear’ links dopamine responses to introverted and extroverted behaviour. I think the point made in the article is that everyone has similar levels of dopamine, but while extroverts are keen to keeping getting more and more hits of dopamine, so therefore love parties, introverts are easily overwhelmed by levels of dopamine rising higher, and for them a party might raise the levels too high, and they will retreat to a quieter environment.

(The author describes this by saying “extroverts have a more active dopamine reward system”, which I think is actually not a good way to describe it. It depends upon which part of the mechanism one is describing. In my view, one can easily say that extroverts are somehow not absorbing/feeling the effects of dopamine enough, therefore seeking out more “hits”, meaning their system is underperforming on the experiencing end. On the flip side it is introverts whose system is more “active”, indeed maybe overactive, because it experiences dopamine effects to a strong degree, to the point of needing to hide from too many sources of stimulation. I personally don’t think you’d choose to describe a long term heroin addict as having “a more active opiate system”.)

The article mentions extroverts thriving when using the “fight, fright or flight” response, or sympathetic nervous system to fuel their social engine, giving them high blood sugar but reduced decision making/critical thinking while introverts use the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body at rest, digesting food, lowering blood sugar and with thinking systems more on full.

The article also talks about some other things:

Even moving the limbs of the body takes more conscious thought for introverts. Introverts also have a tendency toward low blood sugar, low blood pressure, shallow breathing, sleep difficulties, tension headaches, and occasionally feeling drained and discombobulated.

In the article this is not explicitly linked with dopamine but given the description of it up there from the NIH, it seems to me that rather than being “made for hibernation” it could be that being too sensitive to dopamine means a deficiency in other ways, such as lack of ability to move limbs, low blood pressure etc.

How this relates to me: I would describe myself as an introvert. I get energy from being alone, I have low blood pressure, a slow heartbeat and I like thinking. I have consciously stopped smoking (regulated and non-regulated things) due to mental health problems. The effects of smoking are: raised heart rate, uncomfortable digestive sensations, dizziness and panic attacks. Coupled with the effects of smoking two substances at once I also get: sugar cravings, desire to sleep, more introspective thoughts. It now seems more obvious why all these things happen. Some are a function of nicotine & dopamine and some are a function of that other thing. The effects could “cancel each other out” or they could create a confusing array of bodily sensations which is probably why panic is so easily triggered.

I recently smoked again for the first time in a while and had the chance to observe other effects of doing so. I suddenly became more keen to talk at the party I was attending, more excited by interactions with other people and stayed awake longer than I would have. My heart beat much faster than usual, especially while talking with people. Later on that night I felt more active and dominant when having sex.

It seems very helpful to reflect that, rather than being scared of my fight or flight response, I could actively use it to be an extrovert for a day and that it is not a sign of something harmful, it’s just something that nicotine does, and extroverts. Indeed being an extrovert for a while could lead to other benefits like raised blood pressure and easier limb movement. Also that I should definitely replenish my blood sugars since they are either being actively used up or are a little bit too low during baseline because I’m more prone to introversion. It might be a good idea to smoke in more high energy situations, such as parties, rather than alone when sitting still.

I will be watching dopamine effects and research with great interest from now on.

 

Metaphor for panic

I’ve noted the following life scenario: at some point after the mid-20s, someone has made very positive changes to their life, taking steps to feel their emotions, communicate them and try to deal with them in an emotionally mature way, whilst also being more empathetic and tolerant of others, letting go of old grudges etc.

And then they suffer from panic attacks and anxiety.

Why should this be? If the changes made are so positive, why this horrible symptom of mental ill health?

Well, I hit on an analogy worth sharing.

It is as if the person has been riding a white-knuckle rollercoaster, but the rollercoaster is life, and is a mental one rather than physical. They have recently taken steps to get off that rollercoaster and stand on firm, calm, non-moving land.

But, they’ve been on that rollercoaster for many years, since they were born in fact. It has been constantly moving, a continuous adrenaline pump and it was a constant battle just to stay in their seat. Now that they are on the stable ground, have finally relaxed their grip, they are terribly, terribly sick. They have finally stopped moving and have land sickness. They are vomiting all over the place.

Now, the vomiting is just a sign that they’ve finally stopped looping the loop but their system still needs to take time to adjust. It’s an understandable reaction. Vomiting feels awful when it’s happening. It feels way worse than the rollercoaster. It also feels like it’s never going to end.

But it’s still a very good thing that they have finally gotten off that infernal ride.

If you are suffering panic, it means you have unclenched yourself from years of mental trauma, it means you have done the right thing. It means you are on the road to a much better life. But your system is having after shocks and is learning to adjust. It feels like it’s the worst thing in the world, but in every respect it is not very damaging. It feels like it will last forever, but it won’t. Just relax, be patient. You’re already off the coaster and you did it all by yourself. Everything is going to be ok.

Reflections 2015

I see I’ve barely made a post since October 2014. Via my customary ‘reflections’ post, let’s take a look at everything that’s been going on for me this year.

Context

For much of last year I spent time thinking about how to save the world. I also spent some time trying to find paid work, but perhaps not enough. I had  a new friend who made world saving his sole concern and invited me to help.

Around October 2014 I felt that this friend’s attitudes and strategies were incompatible with mine and we parted ways. At the same time I fell in love once more. I had been completely single for a long time, and had unsatisfying relationships for some time before that.

New Person was (is) quintessentially kind, generous, empathetic and thoughtful. Most importantly they make me feel calm. It threw into stark relief the wrangling and frustration I felt with my world-saving friend and New Person helped to set me on a new path.

Extremely useful life lesson: if a person you care for makes you feel doubtful or confused, even after attempts at different types or levels of communication, then they are not good for you. They are failing to empathise with you, and no matter what possibilities your relationship might have held, you will never realise those possibilities because they do not have a strong enough desire to work with you. They let you continue to feel confused, they are fine with you experiencing crippling doubt. They are not good for you and you must let them go.

In autumn 2014 I had abandoned paid work in favour of world saving, leaving me once again with no cash beyond next month’s rent and not much more experience in my industry than the year before. This was a conscious decision in August, and it was deliberately reversed in November. By Christmas I was attempting to turn the boat once more, but this time I really meant it.

This year

This year has been a year of two halves. In the first half I was still living in poverty, eking out every penny I earned to stretch into the unknown future. In January I had to borrow money for rent. At the last moment I got a week of work in March, which covered back rent for February and lasted until April. I got one more week of work in May, again covering back rent and leaving enough for one more month into the future. I spent nothing but Oyster payments and rent. I was kept in weed and good cheer entirely by New Person, who also covered my train fare for visits and the occasional meal out.

When actually seeking to earn money but not having any, the world closes down into a dark, cramped tunnel. There is only one acceptable activity: looking for work, or training more for work.Some weeks I coded every morning, and I mostly managed to read blogs about my craft and checked job boards every day. I went to meetings and meetups, but all this took all the willpower and discipline that I had available. There was nothing of me left over for anything else.

Every pay day I experienced a brief rise back to my normal IQ. Those 13 points lost due to anxiety about money tangibly returned for a week or two, allowing some light at the end of the dark tunnel to peak through, but soon closed up again as rent day went by.

I have on and off anxiety, which takes the form of intense death anxiety, and this reached a peak in May. I started to wonder how anyone could think that doing anything in life is important, or meaningful. I couldn’t believe that others didn’t see how laughable plans for the future seemed to be and I was constantly triggered by the smallest things, particularly lists of ‘100 things to do before you die’ or common phrases like “well, you can’t take it with you”. What on earth could it matter if you saw that movie or didn’t? Visited Thailand or didn’t? Bought a house or not? It’s meaningless in the context of that self disappearing as if it never existed in the first place.

This anxiety used to plague me before sleep, when all was quiet and there was only my ego inside my head, but by May it was leaking out into my days and eventually stopped me from doing normal things that I knew were statistically risky, like being in cars. I knew I needed help but didn’t have the energy to get it. But I did have my housemates and my partner, who knew what was happening and gave me support.

One thing I did have for that dark time was videogames. New Person had an Xbox One and I became obsessed with Destiny, a first person shooter with RPG elements. Getting my own XboxOne so that I could play online with them became my goal to symbolise what I was striving for.

Then in June came the second half.  I had resisted the urge to relax my job hunting for the summer, like I had so many times in the past. I reversed my reasoning about how it’s better not to work in the summer. I had previously fucked up my momentum by stopping in the summer, all because of chronic fear of missing out. But I had no agency to do anything this summer without money and I could make my own summer with a holiday in British winter. If I had money. So I carried on trying to find work.

Finally, I put javascript on my CV. I had purchased a theme for my website, with a proper design. I was now interesting to agencies and after several failed interviews I suddenly got an 8 week contract with an expanding travel company doing CSS work.

This was the moment I had been gambling on for two years. Due to the day rate for my industry, any contract longer than 3 weeks could pay my back and forward rent and also start to pay all my debts. It took just 4 days to earn the money I owed people from the previous two years.

On my first pay day I had to run out and buy clothes, since I owned almost nothing without holes or without missing buttons, and no suitable shoes or coats. I was lucky that it was summer and a start-up office, so I could hide my lack of clothes by not really having to wear the normal office uniform.

I worked for the next 11 weeks or so on and off, achieving a second contract for two weeks with another company. I registered a limited company, under the name I’d chosen with my Dad 13 years previously. I opened a business bank account. I got an accountant. I spent hundreds of pounds filling up my wardrobe that had not had a new item added to it since 2011.

Everything was suddenly ok. After those 11 weeks it was September. I took New Person on holiday to Amsterdam. I bought the Xbox. I rebuilt my warehouse bedroom with vastly better materials. I replaced my mattress with a bigger, handmade futon. I started to fund New Person to be self employed.

I had a flood of new emotions, and I will hopefully dedicate a post to my feelings when buying a new summer coat. Almost everything I thought about the world is now different. Again.

When I came back from my holiday in September there was no work around. The fear that my summer contracts were a fluke was hard to keep at bay. I had overspent a little on my house rebuild, so only had rent covered for three months ahead rather than 4. And I hadn’t planned for Christmas. But I stayed a bit more calm. I went outside sometimes. I was paying myself a salary from my business earnings that gave me spending money over and above my rent, so I could go to the pub and afford train fare.

I went to get help for my mental health and cried throughout every step of the process. Everyone in that process was great. I strongly feared I would have a non-queer friendly Christian therapist with the name “Uwe” pronounced “oo-way” by the lady on the phone. But to my great relief he turned out to be an avuncular, humanist, atheist German man called “oo-ver” and he was/is amazing.

More work showed up in November. I ditched a client that I did not like because they made me feel uncomfortable, even though I desperately needed the money. But instead I managed to work at a global film company, and my rent was sorted.

Finally, out of the blue, I had a long contract in December, and despite losing some respite time I gained gleeful abandon shopping for Christmas presents. Gifts I could easily afford with no thought at all, for the first time since I started doing Christmas. It was wonderful.

In the background of this anxiety/money quest, I had noticed that my sister seemed to like me more than before. She also got pregnant this year and when I saw her this summer for her birthday she was tolerant and kind: a big change from the past. I decided she’d need help with the baby, because her husband and family that live close by all work full time hours. But I couldn’t just rock up when it was born, so I should call her while everyone else was at work during her pregnancy. She was sitting at home absorbing the world through youtube, discovering TED talks and the Bechdel Test and the gay rights movement for the first time on her sofa.

Reconnecting with her after years of antipathy was something I hoped for but didn’t really expect and it’s very good to feel it happen. Change was a beacon on my horizon this year, even if I couldn’t always see it.

This Christmas I met my nephew, just 6 days old and so much more interesting because he’s related to me. I didn’t know how I would feel about being around a baby, but once I’d held him, I couldn’t wait to hold him again. I also stood up for my sister, as the one who will be hit hardest by this new arrival. I think she took strength from seeing me, and that’s also a wonderful feeling.

Last year I honed my skills on the whetstone of yet another driven man that I ended up in some kind of a relationship with. Once again it was difficult and the end painful, but made so much easier by the sharp relief of New Person. Their skills, their drive to be better, their emotional maturity. It was them that made this year happen, that made the dark times not too dark. Them who encouraged some forgotten geeky joys, who showed me how to plan for the present, how to enjoy things right now and how to be calm.

Finally, to keep another tradition, here is a screenshot of every book I read this year.

 

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Me and myself

But who had uttered these words? They had not frightened me. They were clearly audible to me yet they did not ring out across the air like the chilling cough of he old man in the chair. They came from deep inside me, from my soul. Never before had I believed or suspected that I had a soul but just then I knew I had. I knew also that my soul was friendly, was my senior in years and was solely concerned for my own welfare.

– Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

I’ve written before in my diary about experiencing dreams and waking moments when my internal-monologue ‘self’ has had a discussion with another entity inside my brain. This entity must also be myself, since it’s inside my brain, however it has certain unexpected qualities, chiefly that while my monologue “self”, the thing I think of as me, has a clear idea of what it is about to say, the other self’s intentions are completely opaque to me. I recall in dreams having a conversation and as well as having no idea what the self will say, I was surprised by its answers. Curiously, in this particular dream, the opaque self was looking after my wellbeing.

Ever since noticing this phenomenon I have also noticed how often one consults oneself, in a manner that implies two people are talking, how often I think of myself in the plural, how often I have a sensation of being divided or having differing thoughts simultaneously and of referring to myself as ‘we’.

My new thoughts of the day equate the self whose intentions are opaque with the part of the brain which causes me to take an action without conscious thought. I’m not talking about nervous system or autonomic actions, such as reacting away from pain, rather something I noticed that I was gaining while I was in my travelling year, which felt like the opposite of laziness. I found myself leaping up to take action to make something happen, rather than debating with my internal monologue about whether and how to take an action. In those moments it is as if the conscious self only engages with realising you are doing something after it has begun. It feels spontaneous, and “un-selfconscious”. 

I was recently talking with a friend who seemed to be expressing an inability to achieve unselfconsciousness. The state is something similar to being in flow, but the absence of self-monologue occurs when experiencing pleasure, rather than necessarily needing to be performing an optimally stimulating task.

Judging from my own experience, it seems as if the benevolent, opaque self is the thing that takes action and the thing that can knowledgeably talk to you. I believe it is the main part of human life. However the internal monologue self can only occur in a modern world where every need is catered for: food, shelter, warmth, care and social life are all present by default and require no effort to achieve, at least for a very long time in early life, leaving an inordinate amount of time to sit around thinking.

The monologue self and the talking part of the action self only exist because of language, and the monologue self is only so strong due to the complexity of language, the early age that literacy is achieved and the amount of time spent thinking in it.

In my own individual experience as a person simultaneously intelligent, shy, artificially walled off from social interactions and having a preference for reading and writing as solo activities, I think my monologue self has been strongly developed whereas the ‘take action’ self neglected (and even deliberately suppressed by my elders/environment).

Throughout my life I have craved to behave more unselfconsciously, to be less lazy, or less paralysed, to worry about and be afraid of fewer things, to embrace new activities and to feel less trapped having internal experiences that other people don’t seem to share.

These thoughts about the two selves and where they come from feel reassuring to me, as they suggest a path to strengthen the one that takes action, and hopefully increase well-being too.

 

 

London Transport

Londoners are famous to anyone outside of London for their thousand yard stare, their seeming indifference to all things involving social interaction and their stressed-out attitude. Everyone is in a desperate rush to get where they’re going and they’ll ignore everyone else as much as possible.

A Note On The Tube

Most of these observations are made by people who don’t live in London when they happen to interact with Londoners, which almost exclusively occurs on the Tube. Moreover, it is on the tube at Oxford Circus on the weekend, or central London in the rush hour. Such conditions are going to be a challenge for even the most kind-spirited individual, but even under these conditions I think Londoners are wholly underrated for their good wishes towards their fellow humans and London social norms are entirely misunderstood.

First of all, Londoners do make eye contact and even talk to each other on the Tube. It is a slow process, and requires the circumstances to be correct so that each party can be fairly sure that the other one is reasonably sane and actually desires to interact. This involves gradual increase of eye contact and something external upon which to comment.  Londoners don’t talk to non-Londoners on the Tube because non-Londoners don’t realise that refusing to make eye contact means “leave me alone”. In a city that screams for your attention every second and from every surface it is the height of politeness to leave everyone else around you their own personal space. This ‘personal space’ is an interactive space, or a communication space. Londoners deal better than anyone with a lack of <i>physical</i> personal space, as the rush hour Tube will testify. It is the demands on one’s attention that Londoner’s are sensitive to, since we are all trying to shield ourselves from the constant communication we are in with the city itself. As a result, demanding another Londoner’s attention is a matter of delicate etiquette. Any non-Londoner trying to make conversation with the entire Tube carriage has severely trampled that etiquette and will be met with cold shoulders and averted eyes, even if some of the people were inclined to talk.

In addition, the transport systems are incredibly busy. It is a simple fact that every seat on your vehicle will be taken, and many might be standing too. Now, no-one wants to have to sit next to a nutter. In other cities I’ve heard talk about how to make yourself look unwelcoming so that no-one sits next to you on the bus. Not so, London. London life obliges us to sit cheek-by-jowl during every journey we make. As a result, the social etiquette of *not* talking to the people next to you has evolved so that we can all get along, none of us makes the others uncomfortable and we can all get where we’re going unharmed.

This etiquette has evolved out of necessity however I believe it is a testament to humans overcoming their tribal, in-group/out-group tendencies – something which is extremely hard to do. The complaint is still raised that this system isn’t very happy because it essentially leads to everyone ignoring each other but frankly the “let’s chat on the bus” way of doing things has the unacknowledged downside that people also feel free to be openly hostile to each other. In London, I have yet to observe anyone so much as raising their voice on a bus or a tube, let alone have a fight. In a city of 7 million people teeming all over the transport system, this is nothing short of a miracle.

A Note on London Bus Drivers

London bus drivers are the friendliest bus drivers I’ve ever come across, and there is really no need for them to be. If someone’s Oyster card is not working, they let the person on for free. If they see someone running for the bus, even though there is guaranteed to be another bus coming along in 8 minutes or less, be it day or night, the driver still holds the bus to allow them to get on. Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike are awful road users around London buses, seeming to have suicidal tendencies, but bus drivers never get angry. Why should this be so? I have no idea, but it is.

A Note On London Cycling and Taxi Drivers

I always try to cycle within the Highway Code and in such a way that another road user will not be freaked out by my behaviour. I love to cycle in Central London and have not once had a near miss. The first time I was beeped by a taxi driver, I was quite upset. However I quickly realised that, like most other communication in London, it was by no means a personal slur and oddly also complied with the Highway Code. London taxis use a very short beep to signal their impatience. Beeping the horn in the Highway Code simply means “Warning – I am here” and this is pretty much what a London cabbie means when he beeps you. It means, “we’re all busy trying to get somewhere, you are in the way, warning – I am here and I’m about to swerve around you.”

I find road use can feel relatively safe if the vehicles around you have predictable behaviours. Luckily, London taxis are fairly predictable, in that they want to be away from you, and fast. I often move to the centre of my lane if overtaking me at that moment would be a bad idea, and move far left if there is a good spot to overtake me (given oncoming traffic). Since knowing what I know about taxi drivers, I seem to have good interactions with them. They appreciate that I mostly try to get the hell out of the way, and give me space when it’s impossible to overtake anyway. These days, I only get beeped at when I probably am in the wrong.

A Note On Standing On The Right

It may seem harsh at first, but it is the simplest, easiest and oh-so effective rule which enables everyone to move around this town at their chosen speed. I am fully behind it as a rule. Don’t make excuses, just stand on the right.