Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Camera Doesn't Lie: My relationship with photographs

 So to give some context for this post. As a trans guy, I find that my relationship with my body image is somewhat shaky. The vast majority of the time I am somewhat unhappy with the way I look although for the most part I'm not unhappy enough to consider using a knife to carve my body into the shape I want it to be in. Terrifying idea, yes but one I have definitely considered on more than one bad day. For the most part, I manage to keep my unhappiness levels down by avoiding seeing myself. If I don't see any reflection of myself either through a mirror or a lens then I can't scrutinise everything that's wrong and go down the deep, dark path that is potentially very self-destructive.

For the most part, I find myself avoiding mirrors these days. Now that might sound tricky, I mean, how can you go through day to day life without coming in contact with your reflection? Well, I'll admit to using them but I want see all of myself in one. If I need to style my hair then I will look at my hair and mentally blur out everything else. Even then I'll try to keep the encounter with my reflection as short as humanly possible. In other words, I survive for the most part by seeing myself in pieces (although certain pieces are too upsetting alone so I just don't deal with them) but sometimes I can manage to look at myself in a mirror as a whole. On such days, I might feel particularly pleased and find myself scrutinising my reflection, marvelling at how I can see something of myself on the outside that has always been internal. On such days of body positivity, I want to share my joy with the world and save such moments for me to look back on in the future. It's not just for everybody else but for me too. It means that when I have a bad day in the future, I can look back on images and see how good I felt in those moments and how it radiated from me. How in those moments, I look more  like I feel inside because my joy projects it outwards. It's fabulous but I find that I can look back on old joys less and less to re-experience them.

This morning, while in my Grandad's house, I found myself face to face with a reflection that I didn't mind so I decided to capture it, to take some selfies and declare to my friends that today I feel good about who I am. The thing is, I have a hard time coming to grips with photos of myself. There's something about cameras that when they take your picture, they immortalise something very true about yourself. You can deny to yourself, lie to your very face if it's animated but once it's frozen in a photograph, there are things you can't hide. They say that the camera doesn't lie, which is true as far as I'm concerned. Sure, you can manipulate photos, use filters so that the outcome will be different but the naked lens tells no lies. I took pictures, so many pictures and deleted every single one because I could see the vulnerability on my face, see the insecurity I was really feeling because I wasn't actually confident in that moment. I'd tricked myself into thinking I was but once the image was taken, I could see doubt and fear..

It doesn't matter if I'm not the one to take the picture. It doesn't matter if the photo is staged or if I'm taken by surprise, the camera always reveals how I truly feel in that moment. If you snap me.when I'm out with people you'll always catch me acting, trying to be a version of me that won't freak other people out. Always trying to make sure that I react in the right way emotionally and trying to make sure that my face isn't expressing something it shouldn't be. I will hate most people for tagging me in things because they've automatically exposed the Internet to a picture of me that  I either haven't seen yet and therefore don't know if it's safe, or else one that I've seen and don't want anyone's attention, including my own, drawn to ever again. It's not a matter of embarrassment, it's a matter of near physical pain.

I basically had to have a little rant because I only fully realised this today and I just needed to get it out there.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Why we need to talk about "that word": Asking For It and the attitude towards rape and young women

TRIGGER WARNING: In case you failed to notice the word 'rape' in the title, I'm going to talk about rape. If that's triggering for you then don't read this.

The word 'rape' has a strange effect on the world. If someone says the word aloud, it's usually spoken about in a certain tone, a hush as if the speaker is frightened that being heard to say it will bring something bad to them. It's as if the speaker is somehow tainted by mere association. It isn't a word that people like to use at all. They'd rather say anything else, sometimes they'd rather suggest that nothing non-consensual occurred so that they don't have to say that word and bring its taint anywhere near them. It's something that may be talked about in the news, on TV, on the radio and in newspapers but for most people it's still something to be discussed in hushed tones, provided that it's talked about at all. Yet even in the media that are more inclined to broach the subject, the word 'rape' may not feature in their vocabulary. It might be called 'sexual assault' or 'non-consensual sex' but the word 'rape' not feature at all. It is a taboo word, a dirty word and so what are people supposed to think about the subject when it's spoken about in this way?

If the word 'rape' is used, it often carries particular connotations: victimisation, violence, but most disturbingly, lies. If a woman comes forward about having been raped then she is "claiming" that such a thing happened. If she was not a "good girl", if she liked to drink, or dress a certain way, or liked to have sex, then she is probably "crying" rape, in the same way that the boy cried wolf. As the victim Emma O'Donovan in Louise O'Neill's Asking For It says, "I am a liar until I am proven honest." There is a perception that the victim must be in the wrong and must be lying about being at fault or else they are lying about rape having taken place at all.

Women claim to have been raped if they regret a one-night stand or if they want attention; this is what our society has told us. Oh, it condemns rape, of course! Provided that it's unprovoked and that the woman is innocent. Society would never want a woman to be raped, would never want her to be violated but who can prove when rape is rape? If it isn't committed by a stranger then there is automatically doubt. Why is it that men are automatically held as innocent or as telling the truth while women have their claims mistrusted and they are considered the guilty party?

If you are a clear victim, if you were good and didn't provoke the rape with your behaviour or with your way of dress then the mob will cry out for the blood of your rapist. If you are not a clear victim, whether you were not good by society's standards, if you are seen as having been "asking for it" or it was done by someone close to you, a friend or a friend of a friend then the mob will cry out for your blood.

It is unsurprising that there is a low conviction rate for rape in this country. If a rapist can be prosecuted at all, it's a small miracle but if one gets that far then there is still a high chance that a rapist may get off. If the victim status of the victim can be reduced then the rapist may suddenly become blameless. It is unsurprising that women are reluctant to come forward. Coming forward means testifying and testifying means that you could be violated once more, not because you have to relive what happened but because you could be turned into the one in the wrong. It becomes the woman's fault and evidence is brought in against her: how many men she's slept with, how free she was with giving sexual favours, how she acted, how she dressed, how much she drank. It is wrong on so many levels that a victim can be blamed for something that is not their fault.

Our society is quick to blame the victims. Adults shake their heads at the way that young people act today, complain that the girls are worse then the boys, that they have no respect. What can they expect going around dressed like that? That is the way young women are perceived. Sure, boys will be boys. Who can blame them if they take what is obviously supposed to be there for the taking? It's a sick attitude and it's an attitude that countless people have. They blame them for their stupidity and say that they should have known better. But how is it that society has come to this conclusion? Why is it so quick to place blame on young women and excuse young men?

Louise O'Neill's book is incredibly important in bringing these attitudes to light, in exposing them for everyone to see in a way that just cannot be ignored. There have been complaints of course. I have listened to them talked about in interviews, have read reviews and have been stunned by the things that people have had to complain about. Emma isn't a likeable character, she isn't relatable. It's a complaint that left me shocked. You don't like her so you can't feel sorry for her? No. You don't like her so you can think that she deserved what happened to her? No. It is strange that her personality is what some people have focused on and worse still, on a personality that is in fact far more complex than it appears at first glance. I wondered when I read it if I had some unique ability to read between the lines because I study English or if the people who read it were incredibly shallow-minded. Perhaps that comes across as offensive to people who held the view that Emma wasn't likeable but then I find it offensive that they could think that way. Whether you like her or not isn't relevant to anything. She isn't there for you to like or dislike. To judge her based on what you see of her personality is the same as judging her by her looks.

If you managed to read this book without picking up on the many complexities of this character then I feel incredibly sorry for you. I'm sorry that you couldn't pick up on her insecurities and the way she tried to copy the women she saw around her like her own mother and her friend's mother, Karen. I'm sorry that you couldn't see what she saw: that she was expected to act a certain way because of how she looked and also because she was a woman.

I am a trans man. I have never been a girl, have never been a woman but for a long time I was treated as one and expected to be one and so I thought I was one. I have grown up in a world of heteronormativity, where I was expected to want to attract guys because I was female and where I was supposed to look at myself based on the way that other people treated me. There is the idea that women and girls are there for men. Dolls, sex toys, playthings, whatever way you want to look at it, there is an expectation that they will have sex with men. There is an expectation that they will be flattered that a man pays attention to them. If a man whistles at you, or makes remarks about your body, or forces himself upon you then you should be grateful that he was attracted to you enough to do so. I have experienced the uneasiness, the feeling of having your skin crawl when a man looks at you as if you are there to be aesthetically pleasing, as if you are something inanimate rather than a person. It always made me ill, and it still does as unfortunately people still identify me as female upon seeing me. I used to think that there was something wrong with me, that I should feel happy that I was obviously a woman because why else would men want to beep car horns at me? Instead, I usually wanted to throw up and I was usually deathly afraid that they would want to do more than look. I grew up in a world where you had to appeal to men and so your self-worth was determined by them. If thirty men slept with you then you were obviously very attractive and you were doing things right.

When you grow up in a society where this sort of thing that girls have to deal with then it is unsurprising that women might dress and act a certain way to impress them or that they might do things that they actually don't want to do. That does not mean that they are there to be raped. When you take this sort of thing into account then you cannot judge Emma by her personality and her actions, which are so clearly shaped by the society we live in today.

Consent is something that our society also seems to have trouble comprehending. To use a very Irish example, if you ask someone if they want a cup of tea and they say yes and then change their mind and say no, you wouldn't give them a cup of tea. If a woman gives consent and then retracts it then you cannot have sex with her. Once the consent is gone, you are committing rape. If you are never given consent in the first place then you're committing rape and the same goes if consent was given at some time in the past but hasn't been given now. It's not just regarding sex though that people can't seem to wrap their heads around consent. People think it's perfectly acceptable to do certain things without asking such as inappropriately touching or kissing someone. If you don't think that this sort of thing happens then I both envy your innocence and pity your naivety.

I have a friend who went to a party. She may have been drinking but that's aside from the point. She was in a state of mind to be able to give consent or refuse it. A guy came onto her and she made it clear that she wasn't interested on more than one occasion over the course of the night. Very clear. She didn't try to let him down gently or be subtle about it, she told him clearly and firmly that no, she was not interested in him. However, despite this when she was leaving he asked if he could speak to her for a moment. So she moved off to one side to talk to him and he slammed her into the wall and started kissing her. No warning, nothing of the sort, he quite literally pounced. He got incredibly offended when she pushed him off as if kissing her was a trivial thing that she shouldn't get worked up over. Welcome to our society.

Perhaps some people will argue that it's only young lads or boys these days (God help us if that's your logic seeing as they're the next generation) but older men can act incredibly inappropriately too. I didn't fail to notice that in the book Emma regrets wearing a particular item of clothing because of the way a friend of her father's looks at her. Older men are just as inclined to look at her in that desiring way, if not more so, and that's yet another accurate observation on Louise O'Neill's part. I have yet another anecdote about a girl I know. She found herself working as a waitress and a middle-aged man came onto her at work one day. She was both creeped out and frightened when he told her to write her number on his receipt. She felt that she couldn't just flatly tell him no, that he was being inappropriate and making her uncomfortable. Instead, she had to try to laugh it off and let him think that she couldn't because she was in work. She had to placate him. She felt unsafe.

It's something that appears again and again, the feeling of unsafety. That's why I know girls who feel that they can't have fun unless they drink. They can't have fun because they'd be too aware of being looked at and having to act a certain way and so they drink not to notice. They drink so they don't come across as stuck-up or frigid or boring. They drink so they don't have to go mad with thinking and feeling self-conscious. We also have a drinking culture in Ireland so if you don't drink, there's clearly something wrong with you. And then people wonder why Irish young people get so drunk.

I am going off on a bit of a rant and I have done a great deal of talking about general things concerning rape and the perception of women and so on. However, it is entirely relevant to the book because Asking For It comes out of all these things. If these things didn't exist then you wouldn't have this book.

So concerning the book... unless you've been living under a rock and don't know that this book involves rape then there isn't such a thing as spoilers if you haven't read it. There is a brutal and graphic gang rape that commences that the victim doesn't recall because she was very drunk and she'd taken drugs. Now my reasoning is that Emma is not to blame just because she took drugs and alcohol. In fact, as she did these things it actually adds to her victimisation. She's too out of it to give consent, she doesn't have the ability to say either yes or no. Saying nothing is not the same as saying yes. The way that she was dressed does not justify her being raped. The idea that someone rapes a girl and says they couldn't help themselves is utter bullshit. You bloody well could help it, you just chose to go ahead and do it anyway. This idea that a girl is so attractive that you can't really blame someone for raping them is the worst thing I've ever come across as if it's a crime of passion, like murder can be. I don't care about your reasons, you did it, it's inexcusable.

It's another form of victim blaming. You're too pretty so you made me do it. It's something I've come across before in Tess of the D'Urbervilles when Tess is told that her looks drove Alec D'Urberville to lust after her and so it was her fault. It also appeared in the film, The Magdalene Sisters, where one of the girls is sent away because her cousin rapes her and she is blamed for being a temptation. In the same way that they are seen as temptresses, in the book, Emma likens herself to Eve following her rape as she places the blame of the boys' "sin" upon herself as Eve led Adam into temptation. Such a connection between Eve, other women and temptation of men is a very common one and it is unsurprising that O'Neill uses it. It's something that everyone knows.

This is the second of O'Neill's books to draw a connection between dolls, particularly Barbie dolls, and women. The black cover of Only Ever Yours features a Barbie doll and within the book, the protagonist freida finds a Barbie book in her early years in the school. The girls in the book are also treated as dolls and playthings. The cover of Asking For It also features doll parts, in particular the legs. Within the book, Emma frequently refers to herself as having been reduced to doll parts and very early in the book, she makes reference to a night when she slept with a boy because it was easier than resisting and how she tripped over a headless Barbie. Now there are only two explicit references to Barbies, one in each book, but yet given the way the girls in both books are regarded, I think it should be considered that every reference to dolls is a reference to Barbies. Why? Barbies are a very particular kind of doll. They have certain (unrealistic) proportions that seem to be designed to show a certain kind of female attractiveness, they can be manipulated quite easily and they're also a sexual kind of doll that everyone is familiar with. Some children play with Bratz or other dolls but everyone knows what a Barbie is. Something that I know seems to fascinate many children, not just boys either, is the fact that you can strip them. You can strip a Barbie down to its knickers. I know many people who would point to the plastic breasts and try to find a way to take off the knickers despite the fact that such a thing isn't possible. I could not tell you what happens if you strip a Bratz doll and I haven't seen a fascination with stripping them but yet Barbies are associated with nakedness as well as being easy to manipulate. Hence, I call them sexual and hence they are something I think describes the physical representations of female characters in both books.

Now, left to my own devices, I could ramble on and one forever and ever about rape culture, the perception of women, gender performativity and so on, it's probably best if I don't. I will say that we need to change our attitudes to rape. I will say that we have to get it out of our heads that rape is something that only affects women and that women can't rape men. I will also say that it's a word that we should be able to use without a particular kind of stigma attached to it. It's funny (not in a ha ha kind of way) that if you say someone is raped that they'll automatically question whether the victim did something to bring it on or not. Even if you're "good", there can still be judgments like "Why did you let it happen?" and "Why didn't you fight back?" If you say someone was raped, people will judge them, despite the fact it isn't their fault. If you say that someone has HIV or AIDS, the same sort of judgmental attitude prevails. Obviously they brought it on themselves. They can't have gotten it from being raped, getting an infected blood transfusion, coming into contact with contaminated blood or been born with it. Obviously they had unprotected sex, or slept around or did drugs. I find it strange that I can draw a similar connection between those two different things because of the way people react when you name them.

Just a thought to finish up on. If a woman is raped then her sexual history can be brought up in court to see if she was promiscuous and therefore could be lying or have given the impression of being "easy". Why is a similar thing not possible to pull up for rapists to see if there's anything in their sexual history that shows that they've done anything inappropriate in the past?

I might write about something happy at some stage, we'll see but I felt like this was important.

Until I write again,


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Only Ever Yours: A frighteningly accurate portrayal of the pressures for women

Right so it's been a week since I read "Only Ever Yours" by Louise O'Neill and it's only now that I'm able to articulate my thoughts on it. Being the English student that I am, I can't help but pull all manner of things out of this book that I want to discuss forever. Alas, people around me can't quite grasp my enthusiasm and I've had to stop talking so excitedly at them about it. Maybe I'm just being a serious English nerd or maybe, I see just how valuable this book is to us because it makes you think. You might be able to walk around everyday with your eyes shut to what our society is but if you pick up this book then you're going to be beaten over the head with the things you can normally stay happily oblivious to in your daily life.

As you may have gathered, I'm getting a tad bit ahead of myself so I'll leave the nerdy stuff until a little later on.

So a little explanation as to how I came across this book and read it and such. Ordinarily, I steer clear of the Young Adult section thanks to the vast volume of paranormal romances that are still churned out in ridiculous numbers in an effort to rake in cash. Teen and young adult romances, even if only subplots, usually exasperate me beyond measure so I much prefer to look for something with a bit more substance. Speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, that kind of thing. Stuff where someone has thought outside the box or focused on something in society to critique. I just can't resist it.

I didn't happen across this book during an idle perusal of shelves in a bookstore but rather I went looking for it for college. Trying to be ahead of my reading for college, I went looking for my books a little early with the intention of reading as many of them as possible prior to starting back so that I'd have time to do research in the library (ha because that's a realistic goal). So "Only Ever Yours" was on the list and the cover just kept creeping me out.

The cover that still freaks me out

I don't like dolls, okay? I can't pinpoint exactly what it is about them that freaks me out but they freak me out. So of course out of all the books I'd gotten, this cover kept jumping out of me. Once I was looking at it, I found myself reading the words on the front, then I found myself reading the back and some sort of creepy fascination had me opening it up to read. I don't need to have read this for months but I started reading it and the more I read the more hooked--and horrified--by it I became.

Without spoiling things for people who haven't read it (you should read it), this novel delves into the future where women are no longer born naturally but have to be created. The Eves are created for men and spend their lives preparing for their roles as mothers, prostitutes and, for the rare few, a life of chastity in the School. Companions, Concubines and Chastities, as they're officially termed, are trained from the age of 4 up until the time they are assigned their place at the age of 17.

Sound bad? Well, on the surface it may sound horrible but the reality of such a society painted by the book is much worse.

The novel is set in the School during the final year of one group of Eves and is told from the point of view of freida (all Eves have lowercase names, presumably because they're lesser than men). Her life revolves around appearing perfect, maintaining the ideal weight at all costs (bulimia and anorexia being acceptable options) and picking at the flaws of the other girls around her. One of the common slogans in the book is something along the lines of although the Eves are made to be perfect, there is always room for improvement. Sound in any way familiar?

In our society, women--teenage girls in particular--are constantly picked on by the media. They aren't skinny enough, they aren't pretty enough, they're too skinny, they're too pretty and many more impossible ideals that contradict each other. Women are so often defined by their bodies and their is a massive emphasis on how women should look for men. I don't know how many articles you see around the place that talk about what men want in a woman, how to be the ideal woman for your man, etc. Women are defined by men: how they see them, what they expect of them, what they think of them and so on and so forth. "Only Ever Yours" touches on so many of these things and forces you to draw parallels with the world we live in and it's quite frankly terrifying--and it should be.

Just this month, Louise O'Neill has released another novel that deals with another prominent issue in society: rape. As I understand it, "Asking For It" deals with the aftermath of the rape of a girl at a party and how she deals with it and how others perceive her. Now, I haven't read it yet but I believe it is meant to be a powerful novel to do with rape culture, victim blaming and consent. As the title suggests, the victim is considered to be the one at fault rather than the man because she sent out the wrong signals and "invited" the attack.

Unfortunately, as stupid as that idea seems to me, it is the way that society looks at it. Men are not to blame, or not all men are like that. Women are sexualised by men in film, television, magazines and every other medium in between and so it's almost expected that women are around purely for men's benefit. See the connection with the book? Eves are made for men and men think women are here for their benefit. You might deny that that's the view of our society but the evidence is too obvious to deny when it's thrown so blatantly in your face.

While body image is a main focus in "Only Ever Yours", you still get an idea of rape culture. It is pointed out in the novel a few times that the Eves cannot say "no" to a man. A particularly horrifying scene for me is when one of the men come to examine and sample (yes, sample) the girls, attempts to rape freida. He just expects her to have sex with him because he has asked for her and that's what she's there for. Particularly sickening and frighteningly accurate is that when she says no, he tells her that "no can mean yes".

I don't know how often I've heard testimony by rapists that said that their victims didn't mean it when they said no. It's real people. Too real.

There are bound to be people who would read this and think that I'm making this up or that I hate men (I'm transmasculine so self-hatred?) but it is true. Only recently, a girl I know said that she was at a party and that some guy kept hitting on her. She rebuffed him again and again, made it abundantly clear that she didn't want anything to do with her and eventually he gave up. Except that when she was leaving, he asked to talk to her for a moment and once she stepped to one side to speak to him, he started aggressively kissing her. Then when she shoved him away, he was confused and offended.

I may be off on a wee bit of a ramble right now so I'll finish this up before I go off on another one. "Only Ever Yours" is a book that I think everyone should read. You might complain that the characters aren't likable, or that much of the novel is superficial but for the former, that's no excuse considering what the story is driving at and for the latter, it's about superficiality! Hell, it's so superficial, being intelligent or having a nice personality are seen as insults. Read it through and then judge it if that's what you want to do. I'd also recommend reading "Asking For It". Even though I haven't read it, it's a subject that should be read because it's an issue that has to be faced. Maybe I'll write about it when I get around to reading it.

Anyway, that's all from me for the moment. I'll try to come back with more of my ramblings a bit sooner next time.


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Always On My Mind

I'm not dead.

This is just something I thought I'd point out. It does not explain why I haven't posted for the last two months, of course and I'm stating the obvious right now but whatever.

I suppose I can run through a brief list of why I've been away.

I had exams. I had days where I was too busy doing something else to even think of blogging. There were times when I wished everyone on the planet would die and I would have been quite happy if the sun extinguished itself and left us to die. Days where I didn't want to get up, where I would much sooner have crawled under my duvet and willed myself out of existence. I've also been rather scatterbrained. Couldn't remember things, couldn't organise my thoughts and just couldn't function properly. Wasn't that bothered about actually trying either so that could certainly have contributed.

So yes, the short version of why I haven't blogged in awhile is that I just haven't, okay?

Hurray and stuff, I'm back now so I can continue to be wonderfully strange through the written word and fling meaningless things out there that some people might be bothered to read.

The title of this post can apply to more than one thing. We can take the song of the same name by the Petshop Boys and say that I've had a person on my mind, which would be true but it's more than that. The brain is a wonderfully inescapable thing that likes to bombard you with unwanted thoughts and decide to follow similar lines of thought quite frequently in order to drive you up the walls. The subjects that are most often occupying my mind are gender.

Why should gender occupy so many of my waking thoughts? I don't believe I've mentioned it previously but I am in fact transgender. In other words, gender and what it is to me is a central part of my life. Central but not simple. I seem to be left in a most uncomfortable position where I have exactly zero idea of what I am on the spectrum of gender.

Maybe you're unaware of gender being a spectrum rather than a binary and aren't aware that sex and gender are not interchangeable. Male and female are considered interchangeable with man and woman respectively, except that they aren't. The former are your possible biological sex, the ones that describe what genitals you have and lead to such announcements at birth of "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl" and which adorn all manner of balloons and other crap that people bring to visit your newborn in the hospital. You've also got intersex there too, where you're born as neither because things didn't develop one way or the other and which parents feel the need to "correct". You won't find many balloons celebrating that inbetween. And then you have the latter, man and woman. Two fixed points of gender that get linked to sex along with boy and girl. Anyone who did mathematics knows that you can draw a line between two fixed points and there can be other points along that line that fall in between male and female. You also have points that aren't on that line, ones that lie outside it and right there you have a better idea of gender. You can fall somewhere on that line or you can be somewhere outside that line completely. Simple enough, right?


People seem to have a hard time grasping the idea of anything being outside two "traditional" genders, in the Western world at least. So instead you can be labelled as a freak, as going through a "phase" or as doing it for the attention. "Oh you're a girl that likes to dress more like a guy? Oh so you're a tomboy. Don't worry, you'll grow out of that." Except you don't grow out of this "phase" but rather you grow into it. You have to feel your way almost blindly while people tell you that you're wrong or you're being silly. It's an identity that you have to find because you need to know who you are and trampling it down and pretending it doesn't exist, solves nothing and causes plenty of problems. It's okay though because if you're the one forced to trample your identity down, you'll be the one going through the pain and the heartbreak! You don't have to worry about upsetting other people with your "silly" notions.

Minor rant/tangent aside, I am transgender. I am in that blind searching phase but I've wandered down the guy end of the spectrum. Born female (I refuse to call myself by the gendered G- and W-words because using them in relation to myself makes me physically ill), going god knows where but the it involves male pronouns (he/his/him) and a wonderful name change to Max. Technically, I've gone with a gender neutral name but it does have more masculine leanings so it suits me just fine.

Aside from being frustrated by people who can't grasp this or don't want to, I actually was getting to a point here somewhere that I'm sure I'll remember in a second if I let my brain kick into gear rather than typing on automatic.

Ah yes! Point was that my gender identity is on my mind a lot as of late. I had a wonderful time from mid-January to the end of February where everything was new to me and I was so full of optimism and revelling in my newfound freedom of being out to myself and to family and friends. I was dropping a facade for so many people that I'd kept up for so long without being fully aware why I was doing. I've created so many different facades over the years connected to my past that I hadn't even spotted the gender one for a good while. So facades were dropping, I was flinging away pieces of the part I'd played, getting rid of clothes I'd always hated wearing and replacing them with things from the men's section. I could actually look in the mirror without suffering from a feeling of unreality of my reflection not being mine because it was all wrong. Then it started crumbling away while I was building it. Depression started re-establishing roots and trying to pull me back down as a willing victim rather than kicking and screaming.

People don't seem to understand the significance of pronouns or chosen names to trans people. Those people who think it's a phase just stubbornly keep calling you what you've always been called and they don't know what damage they're doing. They don't realise that it's like you're not being accepted by them, which you aren't to be fair. They don't seem to understand that you wouldn't have changed anything at all if it wasn't significant to you. The one that frustrated me beyond measure as I tried again and again to get understanding across, as I pleaded and negotiated and cried over having my chosen name accepted was that Lynda had this idea that names weren't important. She quoted Romeo and Juliet, in fact, to get her point across and show me why I was being "silly".

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

That's what I was told and it's true. A name isn't important. Whatever is behind it is the same regardless of what it's called. Except that when a name has always been attached to you but you are no longer the same, it doesn't have to apply anymore. You're still you of course but a truer you. If you're trans it isn't compulsory that you change your name but you can certainly choose to do so. It's like a rebirth, a severing of a cord that was working for your benefit while you were still developing. It's an anchor before you're trans, something that you can use to wrap an identity around, something you can always go back to but it also holds it back. So you choose a new anchor to form your identity around and hold you in the place that you want to be rather than holding you back.

Not only did I have every right to a new name but if names weren't important, what was the big deal about changing it?

My rambling nonsense put to one side, I've had to grapple and put up with a lot of things. If I manage to remove an obstacle or making something a little easier then I keep finding myself running into a bigger wall that I can't find a way around or that things are getting more difficult. It is not good for your mental health, it is exhausting and so many people think that you're getting on great because you throw up a new facade that says, "I'm okay" and they don't try to look past it and you don't try to pull it down because it's easier than trying to explain. You need someone to get it, someone who can help you but those people usually have the same issues and let's face it, you don't want to be the one to add more stress to their lives or dig up their own sensitive issues.

I have gone through the despair of it many times, multiple times a week in fact. It could be triggered by something simple like someone misgendering me when I thought I was presenting as being male. Or it could be triggered by nothing more than catching sight of myself in the mirror at the wrong angle, or the sound of own voice and I go into a tug of war with myself. Do I look male? Can I pass as a guy? I can't see it so surely everyone else is the same? Everyone must see me for what I really am so why bother? That's what it boils down to really. Why bother going to the effort of trying to present the way you feel when it feels like such an obvious facade, like you stand out for what you are underneath it all, what you were to begin with? Such frustration goes with it and I really have wondered if I should revert back, just give in, put on more feminine clothing and present as what I so obviously am, a fact that can be seen by anyone with eyes.

That is where I find myself at present, in a state of frustration and confusion. That is what is always on my mind, what am I and who am I. So yes, I needed to have a wee rant about that for my own benefit. Maybe someone will bother to read this and get it and empathise or maybe someone will read it and learn something. I don't know. I mean, who even reads this nonsense that my brain vomits up? Not the pleasantest of descriptions but I'd call it accurate.

Alas, that is that and I might be able to deal with it at some stage soon and I might talk about it again but for the time being I've said my lot. That's me finished for the time being.

Ciao for now.

Monday, 27 April 2015

My Relationship with the Written Word

In case nobody is aware of the fact, I happen to be a writer. I know, big surprise coming from someone who writes a blog that is composed of words, which I have typed because we live in a digital age and that amounts to the same thing as me saying I've written them. Clarification of the meaning of writing aside, I do write but I prefer the creative side rather than the autobiographical or stream of consciousness styles. Not to say that I don't literally place parts of my personality, my mannerisms and whatnot into my characters but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yeah so I write things and stuff and that's all I'm saying about that for the moment.

Now we get onto why I consider my writing so important to me. I've always had an adoration for books. I consider one of the best things that my mother ever did for me was get me to join the library when I was 7. Up to that point, my world was fairly limited. I had school to go to of course. I was occasionally, very occasionally allowed to have a friend over. My group of friends was extremely small because I didn't like people as I couldn't mix well with them. I was still allowed outside the house then but I didn't have anyone who lived near me so most of the time I was at home on my own. I used to just have my own thoughts to entertain myself with and that was certainly interesting for me but to have a whole new world opened up by the library!

All I wanted at first was information to all the questions I had in my head: how the planet came about, the universe, evolution. I ran through books pretty fast and it wasn't long before I started looking at fiction stuff as well as factual. I found that once I started on fiction, I read more of that than anything else. The way someone could string loads of words together and create something that was so different from non-fiction. Images, people, entire worlds! In books I found so many things I couldn't find in real life. People I could understand because I could see the ways they ticked, they weren't closed off to me. Emotions, actions, everything explained. It took me years. and I'm not fully there in all honesty, to understand people in real life to the same degree. It was so much easier and more straightforward to read people in books rather than in real life. So I had that and I had an escape into a more pleasant environment than the one I found myself living in.

I gained an early preference for horror, fantasy and the supernatural. I think it was because more realist novels set in a our world was far from recognisable in comparison to the world that I lived in. It was close enough though that I could see what was wrong with the childhood I was living in and I didn't like that because I couldn't change it. I was aware of it as I was, I was the one living it after all so I went somewhere totally different. Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Goosebumps, horror stories, ghost stories. I absorbed words like a sponge, came to be able to tell a good short story from a mediocre one and had a desire to emulate them. I swear that my imagination grew as I grew older, the desire to create growing with it. My best friend had to put up with goodness knows how many wild plans of mine to stage such and such a play that I'd written or helping me construct stories involving miniature paper figures of Harry, Ron and Hermione that she kept in her pencil case in school.

I can't pinpoint when I started writing but I found it was such an easy way to express myself and to articulate my thoughts. Communicating verbally is a challenge. Either I don't know what to say, I say it wrong or I don't know how to express or explain an idea, an emotion or an argument. Even when I'm talking about something I'm confident about I tend to trip over words. On the other hand, writing words down gives me the chance to better gather my thoughts, to think about what I'm going to say and how I want to construct it. I usually write at speed without revising what I've said but I always find it works out a lot better for me than speaking does. It's like I can think more clearly when I see my thoughts on the page. Everything fits together so much better and in such obvious ways.

Most of the time I don't find what I've written to be particularly good. There are pieces I wrote only a few months ago that make me cringe and what to bury them forever but it was still good for me at the time. It allows me to express myself in ways I can't in everyday life. I learn things about myself in my writing too but more importantly people who want to get to know me can learn so much more from my writing than I'm ever likely to convey in real life. It's very difficult for me to express emotions. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that more often than not I'm not capable of emoting. My best friend who has known for how long? More than 12 years and she's never seen me cry as far as I can remember. Anger and happiness come to me with no problems and sometimes other emotions that are vastly different are expressed in the same ways as those two. That or I show no expression after all. Now try to explain to someone how deeply hurt you are by something when you seem totally impassive or tell something that's deeply upsetting to you while your face decides a smile is an appropriate expression. It's all there in my head but it somehow changes or gets lost as soon as I try to force it out of my mouth. With writing it's quite a different matter. I can get everything across and bring out emotions in myself while I'm writing.

My most recent forays in to writing have involved a site called Mizahar. It's a fantasy site that refers to itself as the Writer's RPG. You can create characters with lives similar to those in the real world with a few differences or have them as far removed from the world of normality as you like. I've been on it for more than a year and a half now, it'll be 2 years come the end of August and I feel as if my writing has flourished on it. What I want to get at though is what my characters express. My first character, Azira who resides in a domain on the site called Wind Reach, has so much of myself in her that it's genuinely terrifying. When I created her, I knew that I was consciously putting some of myself into her. She inherited my temper, the loss of a mother, my extreme distrust of men and some aspects of my past that helped to shape her. Within a few months though I realised that more of myself had come out her than I'd realised. She acquired my sexuality and the uncertainty that it comes with it, the walls I keep up for most people, the extreme desire to put trust in others, the extreme discomfort of being seen as overly feminine and a hatred for being looked down at and laughed about. There's even more of me in there but it'd make quite a long list and that's only one character. She has the most of me in her, good and bad qualities but if you add in the other two, you end up with a more rounded image of me. A penchant for sarcasm and witticisms that I tend to trip over when I try to say them in real life.

The short version of everything I've just written (I can't even remember most of it at this stage) is that the written word is highly important to me. A means of escape, a means of expression and an outlet for creativity. I suppose the written word also allows me to ramble in a somewhat articulate way that sometimes fails me in the world of verbal communication. More often than not though I can still ramble quite successfully writing like this. I mean, my blog posts should really attest to that fact.

And with that I should probably stop with the writing thing. Does anybody want to read this much of my nonsense anyway? If you've got down here then I guess I must be doing something, right?

Until I write again.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Some Thoughts on Consciousness and Robots

So I have been quiet for a number of weeks. Perhaps that is a merciful thing or you may have been inundated with a load of nonsensical posts. As it is you get to put up with my insanity in smaller doses. Hooray for you!

Anyway as promised, I thought I'd share some thoughts I've had of late concerning robots and AI and how we look at the idea of consciousness. Obviously, I went to see Ex Machina last month and that contributed to this way of thinking but I also indulged myself by buying a book of Isaac Asimov's robot short stories. I've read quite a bit of his earlier stuff. I read I, Robot (quite different from the Will Smith I assure you) and The Rest of the Robots ages ago so I'd read a lot of the stories before. That didn't mean that I didn't enjoy them all over again as well as having the wonderful treat of a few new ones in there.

There is a point to this and I'm getting there if you give me a second.

Basically, Asimov set up three laws that the robots in his stories were built with. The First Law being that they couldn't cause harm to humans or allow harm to come to them. In other words, they can't kill humans, harm them in anyway or stand by if anyone else tries to do it. They have to save them from dangerous situations and accidents. The Second Law is that they have to follow all orders given to them by humans unless those orders conflict with the First Law. The Third Law is that the robot should protect itself unless that affects the first two laws. If it causes harm to a human in some way or goes against orders then they can't protect themselves from destruction.

The point is coming now, provided I don't lose the train of thought in the meantime. Just bear with me here, it might turn out to be worth it. What I'm getting at is the fact that they're created, they're restricted in such a way that they should be predictable and incapable of developing consciousness.

What's consciousness? We consider ourselves conscious or sentient but for the most part, we don't consider animals to be on par with us. They might be intelligent, yes but humanity would never consider them as sentient because they'd be somehow equal. We wouldn't go looking for sentient life on other planets if we thought we could find another sentient species at home. Yes, I'm rambling and making assumptions about things but I think I'm right, or I hope I am so try not to judge me.

So consciousness is what? During the Enlightenment, it was discussed that humans possess Reason, something that animals apparently didn't. Unless you're looking at the Houyhnhnhms in Gulliver's Travels, of course. Sentience for us seems to be things like having a sense of self, possessing the capacity for reason or logic, creativity and an idea of abstract concepts. That's what I can think of anyway.

So robots. There was indeed a point to my mention of Asimov's writing, aside from expressing my love for it, and the clue should be in the title of this post. Consciousness and Robots. If we create a robot or AI, we create artificial consciousness. There's an idea that it's limited, unlike our own, the "true" consciousness. There's also an idea that this is not only all right but the way that things should be. We don't want to create a slave class that is truly equal to us after all. If they're less than us then that's perfectly okay. The idea that they might somehow wiggle out of the set parameters that we set for them and reach a level of consciousness equal to our own then we get a bit panicky.

Consciousness+Robots=The doom of humanity

That's the way of thinking. What we create will destroy us and we are afraid of this. There/s a term for it: the Frankenstein Complex. The idea that you're creation will turn upon you and destroy you and everything you love. Are we really as paranoid as all that? Damn right we are! We have Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, we have the robots from the Terminator films, V.I.K.I in I, Robot (the Will Smith film this time) and the list goes on.

Are we justified in this way of thinking? If we create robots,will they inevitably turn upon us? I think if they were sentient, they might. I'm not saying "down with robots", I'm far from a technophobe, I'm just saying that it's a real possibility. If you are a slave but you don't know any difference then are you bothered to rebel? No, probably not. If you're aware of the injustice, that you are no different than your masters and yet are being treated as inferior and forced to work, then might you not get a little bit annoyed and fight back?

I don't know why we have such a great fear of robots. I suppose it's the idea that they will be superior to us physically and therefore more capable of destroying us. We've treated other human beings in the same way and received the same retaliation. Some would argue that we didn't create those humans but many colonies were set up and told that they'd been created by their colonisers. It's a similar situation. We've done the same to humans in the past but robots are pseudo humans, right? They aren't supposed to rise up. If you try to make something like yourself, don't be surprised if you get exactly what you wished for.

And I should probably stop now because this has become highly bizarre.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ex Machina, or Not Judging a Book (Film) by its Cover

Minor warning that I will most likely ramble a little bit and possibly go slightly off topic but that's a thing that I do fairly often so get used to it. Also a quick note that I have left it totally spoiler free.

Right so I went to see Ex Machina on Wednesday and it took me awhile to fully process what I'd watched and work out what I thought of it. It was only when I told someone about it yesterday that something in my brain finally clicked and I remembered how to form opinions. The film kind of set my brain reeling and I couldn't discuss it afterwards. I forgot adjectives, I forgot emotions, hell, I forgot how to speak English.

When the first advertisements came out for Ex Machina, I missed them. My uncle spotted one, knew it was something I'd like (I fricking love robots!) and then did a wonderful job of having no idea what the name of it was. I actually had to do research to find out about it and was extremely intrigued at the time because Wikipedia only had one line about it and so I got excited. I got really excited. Then it kind of went to the back of my mind what with college things to think about and whatnot but I was still aware of it and I wanted to see it. It wasn't until I decided for definite that I was going to see it in the cinema that I chanced a peek at the reviews and was instantly impressed by the high ratings and mostly glowing reviews.

In other words, there was an awful lot of build up for me and so when I actually saw it, it didn't match up with the way I'd imagined it. I'm not saying it wasn't good, in fact I found it immensely enjoyable to see and found it chillingly thought provoking afterwards.

If you're one of those people like my grandfather who believe some manner of violent action should occur every few moments in a film then Ex Machina is probably not for you. There is a small bit but it's only a few minutes worth altogether, which certainly wouldn't be enough for any of those bloodthirsty people. If however, you like having little clues presented to you for over an hour and trying to piece them together before the big reveal towards the end then you will most definitely enjoy Ex Machina.

So the actual film!

Basically, Caleb wins a lottery at work that means he gets to spend a week on the estate of his employer, Nathan. Lo and behold when he gets there he discovers that he's not there for a little holiday but rather to test an android that possesses what Nathan believes is true Artificial Intelligence. After signing the mother of all Confidentiality Agreements, Caleb gets to meet the android, Ava, in the flesh (ha ha, I'm so funny!). There are a lot of things that I think you see coming in this film. You know there's something not quite right going on, that there's some sinister reason behind the need for secrecy and you also know that Caleb's going to end up with a thing for Ava. I'm sorry that's not even a spoiler. It's that obvious you can see it coming from a mile away.

You go through the whole film and you form opinions about Nathan and you form opinions about Ava. Some assumptions I made turned out to be right but it turned out I'd been viewing something in a better light than they turned out to be. You've got a few moments of horror when Caleb finds everything out then you've got a whole other twist afterwards that I don't think anyone saw coming, one that probably freaked me out more than the reveal did.

I've never studied film or anything so for anyone who has, you'll have to excuse any ridiculously stupid things I might come out with and bear with my brief comments on things that stuck out for me.

The special effects for this film are damn good. Alicia Vikander looks fabulous as an android and the blending of real flesh with the metallic body is quite excellent. The way the android body moves and the sound of the mechanisms within are just so right. I cannot fault the robot effects. Robots are perfect! Also full frontal female nudity, wonderful! And before I head off on some weird little sidetrack, more film technique related things.

Continuing with visuals, there is so much beautiful scenery in Ex Machina. There was filming done in Norway and they just want to keep throwing it in your face by going outside a lot, or sticking the outside world in the background. There's a very strong contrast with this beautiful colourful outside world that Caleb and Nathan get to inhabit and the windowless, grey one where Ava dwells. You have to think about these things, compare things and see what you come up with. Thinking and seeing is what this film is all about as far as I'm concerned. You have to look for the little details as well as the big ones, remember them and consider the whole film in light of all those pieces. One of the biggest questions that could arise is the definition of human and what can pass as human. Appearance is everything in this film, how we view everyone in it, whether we see them as good or bad based on how they act and how they seem.

What was I doing again? Visuals, right. You've your standard way of shooting of "I am pointing this camera here and it is not a shaky camcorder or other mode of recording where you are made hyper aware of the fact that a camera is involved." I know, I shouldn't name things like that but screw it. There are also a number of CCTV style shots. Pure voyeurism! Anyway, they also play around with the lighting. When everything goes dark red, you know that something shady is going on. It's a bit obvious but it is film and it's supposed to be a visual medium. Also the soundtrack is killer.

To sum things up, I liked it. If you like films that actually require some thought rather than mindless consumption then you might well like it too. The pacing might seem a little unusual but if you bear with it, I consider it entirely worth it. Also there's a few highly amusing parts in it including a dance scene that is just unreal.

If you want more detailed robot related ranting then I will likely be turning out one or two posts about robots and consciousness, some ideas that have been thrown around concerning robots and of course, fangirl moments over Isaac Asimov and his writing because I just can't help it.

Ciao for now.