Category Archives: LGBT

Yelping about babies and bathwater

Every now and again I back myself into a conceptual corner and sit there yelping in confusion and distress.

I realised very clearly the other day just how subversive feminism actually is. I’m not sure that women can live financially and professionally independent lives without un-weaving society around us. I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it. It’s an unsettling thought – particularly from a position of feminine freedom and privilege.

But feminism is good – right? I mean it’s freedom and self-actualisation isn’t it? How can that be wrong?

But communities are good – right? They’re caring and supportive networks of people reaching out to help each other. When communities fall apart we end up with underclasses and gang warfare and drugs and knives and guns.

Shit! I’m turning into a Daily Mail reader before my very eyes.

I’ve always known communities aren’t necesarily either caring or supportive. There are too many places in the world where you can’t be gay or trans or bi, where you can’t be a woman and educated, where you can’t be poor and ill, where you can’t be an atheist and hold office for me to think for a second that communities are safe places to be. But on the other hand, we are social animals and we do need some glue to hold us together: if you are a round peg, then those round holes and cosy and snug.

What I hadn’t realised is that if you are a woman and you don’t suit the community you are born and raised in, then you will either damage yourself or undermine that community.

I realised this when I had lunch with a friend the other day. The friend is Asian, 30ish, educated, professional and has a strong stream of self-determination in her temperament. So far so westernised. She is also a sincere believer in her religion and a committed member of what she refers to as “my community”. Her religion, her family and her roles as a daughter and aunt are part of her identity. But she doesn’t want to become another one of the submissive women she sees around her, tucked in to an arranged marriage and made bitchy and manipulative by boredom. She wants to be herself within her family, her friends and her religion, and respected for it. It’s like looking back in time to the 50s or the period before the first World War. My friend’s position is very much the same as that of my grandmother’s sister a century or so ago who left home to become an actress: to do that she left her family, any hopes she had of marriage, her friends and the places she knew. These things are more common than not in the West now, and we forget how hard they were.

My friend wants to have her cake and eat it, and I don’t think she can. Communities function best when men work and women don’t (oh, goddess, the Daily Mail) because men bond when they are active and women bond when they talk. This isn’t how it should be, not in a society of human beings where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are more or less taken care of. But darwiniansim sucks and it’s an observable fact that communities start to fracture when more than a few of the women work, and communities where the men don’t work fall apart. Social cohesion happens when women share conversation, motherhood and domesticity and men win bread or hunt mightily.

You can see why this thought has left me yelping. Unfortunately we can’t wrap ourselves up in warm value judgements about social justice, ethics and how things should be: this is a matter of wiring.

So women like me, my grandmother’s sister and my Asian friend, who aren’t mothers, who work in predominantly male environments, who have friends of both sexes, who network rather than gossip, we pick away at the glue that holds communities together.

And women like my friend and my grandmother’s sister have to choose between cutting off one part of their identity of suppressing another. Individual western women are luckier: we don’t have such strong and cohesive communities and families to constrain us. But collectively are we worse off?  They are not there to support us either, because we’ve torn them down pay-cheque by pay-cheque and latch-key by latch-key.

Which means that the mad feminists of the 70s who said that the patriarchy were inherently opposed to wimmin’s freedom were right.

The mad feminists AND the Daily Mail?


The starting gun

One summer’s evening ten years ago I sat on the sofa while my guts moved nine foot to the left.  This placed them about a yard outside the house I was sitting in, which is a tricky sensation if you are trying to have a rational conversation.  But when your partner of 15 years says he wants a divorce, it does that sort of thing to you.

It was, not surprisingly, the start of an entirely new phase of my life.  It took us a long time to shift from where we were then to where each of us is now; it took us a good two or three years just to sort out the legals.  It would have been much quicker if we’d divorced in bitterness and acrimony. (Doesn’t acrimony sound like a wind-swept purple wild flower or a homoeopathic remedy for – well – acrimony perhaps).  But we were remarkably leisurely about the whole thing.  It’s irrelevant now if that was because of laziness or denial.

Suddenly I realise that something which has always felt very recent was in fact a long time ago.  For ages the late 1990s has been just before now, and suddenly it’s a decade behind me.

1999 – I am with a group of colleagues in the centre of Glasgow – a place I had run to out of dire economic necessity and where I was finding my feet in my brand new single life – and someone hands out a card advertising a nightclub.  I realise that the only words on the card I have any cultural references for are ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘to’ and ‘and’ and the dates.  I guess I’m not in my 20s any more.

2000 – I cross a road in Hamburg from a business hotel to the offices of the multinational company where I have a shiny new contract.   What happens if it all goes horribly wrong?  What makes me think I have anything to offer this giant company in this foreign country who are paying top dollar for my unexpectedly rare skills?

2001 – I walk back to the friend’s house where I’m staying in Sweden through sunlit suburban woods and find myself thinking fondly of the way my lover talks almost entirely about himself when we go out for a meal.  In a moment of self-awareness I realise that I’m falling in love.  I stop myself almost physically, by reminding myself that – no – his self-obsession isn’t endearing; it’s actually rather discourteous.  And a good thing too, since our affair has run its course and he leaves a few days later.

2002 – I unpack my suitcase one Sunday night in the business hotel where I have been staying for three months; I’ve been to Sweden for a wedding.  As I unpack, I find myself thinking “It’s nice to be home”.  Then I realise that, no, the Holiday Inn in Leopoldstraße in Munich is not my home.

2003 – I pick up a car from the airport just outside Stockholm, and drive it carefully north through Uppsala. “How’s the driving?” – “Fine; I could go right the way up to the Circle” – “You mean that, don’t you!” I think about it for a moment and realise that yes I do.  So we drive through hundreds of miles of austere Swedish woodlands right the way up to the Arctic circle, and photograph each other wearing sunglasses at midnight when we get there.

2004 – My life becomes briefly like a French art-house movie as I spend afternoons in a hotel with a married man whose name I never know and I become a way for middle-aged men to experiment with infidelity in the same way that they’d experimented with drugs in the 1970s, and I spend one unexpected night in bed with a bisexual woman and a transsexual man.

2005 – I accept a job with a Great Big Company in the spring and in the autumn I buy a small and awkward house on the edge of nowhere with a fabulous view.

2006 – I sit among fellow-members of the WI while a moan of appreciation emerges unanimously from 20 different female throats as we watch a cookery demonstrator fold melted chocolate into whipped cream.  It is exactly like the scene in Catch 22 when the Colonel’s secretary crosses her legs and the entire gathering of enlisted men groan.

2007 – I rage, endlessly, futilely, week after week as the government destroys an entire generation of junior doctors.  My energies are almost entirely taken up with this.

2008 – I take stock, and realise I’m surprised to that find ten years have got behind me, that I’m older and – as Pink Floyd remind me – shorter of breath and closer to death.  But I sure as hell heard that starting gun.  And I sure as hell have had an interesting time since.


The Ladies of Llanystumdwy

Jan Morris and her partner of over 60 years have tied the knot.

This is a heart-warming story, but not just because two elderly ladies have taken advantage of the new law to formalise their 58 year union with a Civil Partnership ceremony.  This is heart-warming because this is not the first time Jan and Elizabeth Morris have got married.  They were married in 1949 when Jan was James and then divorced in the 1970s when James became Jan.  They have lived with each other throughout.

Jan has always made prurience irrelevant by treating her change of gender with dignity and matter-of-factness. So far as she is concerned, it’s not the most interesting thing about her and if you think that it is then that is your loss and not hers.   She wrote about it in ‘Conundrum’, and then got on with the rest of her life.

When she finally leaves us, she’ll leave us a legacy of thoughtful writing comprising travel books, history books, essays, autobiography and fiction.  All of this gives us the clear message that as time passes being the wrong gender for a while fades into the past and becomes neither the most interesting nor the most important thing in a trans-person’s life.  The more of us, both trans and cis, for whom that’s true, the better.

In the meantime, who can deny the power of such a love story?  So I’m raising a glass to celebrate the two weddings of Jan and Elizabeth Morris.

Shagging the Tudors and Stuarts

While I’m having a go at the Scots, I am going to settle down and have a thoroughly good bitch about Mary Queen of.

Mary StuartI have finally pinned down what annoys me about Mary Stuart-Darnley-Bothwell or whatever her surname was. Some people are ruled by their heads, some are ruled by their hearts and some do all their thinking with organs that are slightly lower down, and I suspect Mary Stuart was one of these. There are lots of good things about having a powerful libido, however far too many women whose cognitive abilities have been washed away by their hormones deny that they have a strong sex drive and present themselves as being sensitive, emotional or romantic, because it’s nicer than being a hot babe. Their admirers describe them as ‘passionate’ though that’s often no more than a polite euphemism. In fact many of them are drama queens, and the rest of them are just plain needy because all they want to do is buck like rabbits but they can’t face the implications, so they wrap their lust up in pink bows and say that they are longing for a relationship. As I said, Mary Stuart’s series of overly-emotional and frequently disastrous marriages suggest to me that she came into this category of self-indulgent and rather precious women.

Eliabeth TudorIf we look at Elizabeth we find a much cooler customer. Whether or not Elizabeth bedded her various favourites is a matter of speculation but whatever her sexual history she didn’t for a moment get off on the emotion of it all. She sometimes comes across as ruthless and cold-hearted, but in fact I think it is simply that she had a very strong survival instinct, honed by the extreme precariousness of her upbringing as the sometime illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. Elizabeth could never afford to put a hair wrong; her mother had been executed while Elizabeth was still an infant and she had veered from heir to bastard and back again depending on the political and religious inclinations of her father and siblings. Whatever other speculations you make about Elizabeth’s sexuality and gender, it is quite clear that personal survival was a primary goal.

Mary by contrast was raised as the golden little darling of the French court, feted, spoiled and flattered, and never developed any of the survival instincts which Elizabeth learned as a toddler. Maybe Mary didn’t need them, maybe she was just incapable of developing them. Mary comes across as emotionally self-indulgent and short term: Liz Taylor to Elizabeth’s Katherine Hepburn.

It is probably unfair of me to admire Elizabeth’s self-control and dislike to what I see as Mary’s self-indulgence, but women who wail about love and betrayal when all they want is a good shag scrape on my nerves like chalk on a blackboard. If you want a good shag, go out and shag someone.

Right. That’s the Scots insulted. Again. I’m off to read up about Owain Glyndwr now.

Needing being needed

When does being supportive slip into co-dependency?

My Grandma, who had a large part in my raising, was born to a well off middle class family in the 19th Century. The role of womanhood which she presented was to help and support her men-folk and I imbibed co-dependency with my morning cereals. On the other hand I also learned that although men are loud and shouty and useful for heavy lifting, they aren’t necessarily that bright and in fact it takes a woman to understand the subtleties.

I emerged from my up-bringing believing myself very capable, thinking that men only see half the picture, and believing it is appropriate for me to enable my partner to Do His Work. Grandma acknowledged that the Work men Do is often Important, even if it is lopsided and frequently misses the point. On the other hand, she sent her daughter to university and certainly we grand-daughters were expected to enter professions rather than get jobs, so maybe she was a seething mass of feminist frustration all along but being a five year old, I didn’t notice. She could certainly be very impatient with men. Her motto was “‘I’ll do it myself’, said the Little Red Hen”, and my problem with feminism has always been to question why women should lower themselves to equality.

Now, whenever I get into a relationship, I can end up putting myself out to enable my partner to Do His Work. I do it consciously, I do it sparingly, and I tend to do it when it really does make a difference. However, I have previously been supportive of partners to my own emotional, financial or professional detriment. I am rougher and tougher than I used to be, and have much firmer boundaries, but the instincts to be supportive are still there.

What I struggle with, is whether or not it is a Bad Thing.

Not so decayed

Sketch for Ursula Andress’s make-up for the ageing sequence in ‘She’At what point does “immaturity” become “youthfulness”?

“You’re so im-mat-chure” was the deepest insult my teenage peers could sling at anyone and we were desperate to grow up, so when did the tables get reversed?

I confused a colleague yesterday about something, and she checked my age with elegant delicacy. It turns out she thought I was a good decade younger than in fact I am. I cannot pretend I didn’t feel a little smug. Mind you, it probably has more to do with her own inexperience than anything else and of course the one advantage of superfluous avoirdupois is that excess oestrogen’s good for the skin. (I am sure the medics who read this will put me right if I’ve got that wrong).

But on the other hand, what about that extra decade of experience? Where did that go? I have learned so much, done so much, felt so much, grown so much in the last ten years. What about that?

Perhaps the reason she thinks I am so much younger than I am (and the reason I’ve pulled the one I’ve pulled) is that I can behave – well – rather immaturely. I flirt. I giggle. I swear like a trooper. (Make that a fucking trooper). I kick back. I tease my colleagues. I make jokes in meetings. I laugh. I don’t flick ink-pellets across the office though; there are limits, you understand.

Surely at some point all this becomes inappropriate, mutton behaving like lamb?

When does immaturity become a good thing? At what point is growing up bad?

I have an irritating ex-boss who runs marathons which more than proves we are members of entirely different species. She told me today about a mutual colleague who’d told his wife she was “becoming a very beautiful middle aged women”. Now, I like that as a compliment. I like it when people think I’m beautiful, I prefer the maturity of men who can appreciate a woman over 30 and maybe our mutual colleague just likes MILFs and is glad he’s married to one.

I was bemused by Marathon Woman’s horror and couldn’t get her to consider that “middle aged” might be a statement not a judgement. I find being middle aged rather useful, not to mention subversively powerful.

So how come being immature was the worst thing we could be when we were teenagers, and now it’s a compliment?

John Grey and Dorothy Parker

What I say is what I mean.
what you see is what you get,
what I think shows on my face,
and yet you’re still confused, my pet?

Men are from Mars, Women are from VenusDorothy Parker

The eye of the beholder – 1

Colour Blindness TestThis ad on my local freecycle list amused me:


Probably 1960/70s lg. greeny-brown or browny-green (depending on gender) settee complete with fringe around the bottom, lg. square arms, sprung interior – very retro. Good condition/comfortable. Foam cushions.

Photo available.

Category Errors #2 – Ann Widdecombe

Ok, not a category error as such, but a mental derailment all the same.

There I was, chatting away at the WI Christmas party with another member. It turns out that she’d had a pub about 20 miles from where I used to live. It further turns out she used to work for the local MP running his constituency office. It further further turns out she is a raving, raging, spittle-frothing tory.

We had a slightly one-sided conversation about Wonderful Tories She Had Met. “Michael Hestletine, he’s a very interesting man”. “That Boris Johnson, everyone under-estimates him”. Even, “Jeffrey Archer did a lot of good” and “Margaret Thatcher, what a lovely lady”.

I made suitably non-committal replies. I was brought up nicely. I have good manners.

Then she said

Ann Widdecombe, I’m a big fan. She talks such sense in the Daily Express every Wednesday”.

(The Daily Express thinks that Prince Philip took out a contract on the Princess of Wales, so we are not talking about evidence-based news-reporting, really).

Now it may be that there is much that is great and good about Ann Widdecombe, but unfortunately friends of mine used her name as a safe word during what the Daily Express would probably call “kinky sex sessions” and this struck me as being a rather good idea. You see, unless you are Paul Merton (who is a twisty so-and-so if ever there was one) you cannot think about Ann Widdecombe and sex at the same time. Or not in a good way, anyway.

Try it.

It cannot be done.

Not without feeling enormous physical and mental discomfort.

On the other hand if you have summoned the spirit of la Widdecombe to rescue you from pleasure past bearing, then she is inextricably bound up in your mind with kinky sex. Not a pleasant image I grant you, but that is rather the point.

So there you are. Not actually a category error. But while “rabid Tories I have known” might be a suitable subject for a chat at the WI, “choosing and using a good safeword for bondage games” isn’t really.

Or not at the one I go to, anyway.

Gender meme

It’s not mimetic and lazy blogging. It’s feminism. Right? This is mandarine’s gender meme.

1. Three things you do that women usually do

Wear matching undies.

Come over all unnecessary near firemen.

Wear perfume.

2. Three things you do that men usually do

Negotiate with builders.

Rebuild the household PC.

Fall deeply asleep immediately after sex.

3. Three things you do that women usually don’t do

Reverse park in on go, three weeks out of four anyway.

Swear. Like a fucking trooper. In a sewer.

Drive more than 20,000 miles a year.

4. Three things you do that men usually don’t do

Spend four hours solid on the phone to a girlfriend, and at the same time finish the ironing, cook supper, sort the laundry and tidy the kitchen.

Have my legs and underarms waxed. Though in this meterosexual world, that’s hardly a differentiator.

Dye my hair.

5. Three things you don’t do that women usually do

Shower or bathe every day. I am well socialised so most of the time I’m hygenic but left to myself I’d be, well, left to myself.

Iron sheets. I don’t iron anything much really, which is why finishing the ironing doesn’t take long, but is put off for months.

Bitch about people; I never say anything behind somone’s back that I wouldn’t – in a pinch – be willing to say to their face.

6. Three things you don’t do that men usually do

Watch sport.

Drink beer.

Mow the lawn. Ever.

7. Three things you don’t do that women usually don’t do

Fart in public.


Choose someone else as the nominated driver.

8. Three things you don’t do that men usually don’t do

Calorie count.

Lie about my age.

Disagree with my escort in public. Gentlemen don’t do this, and neither do I.