GENDER GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED!

Gender matters, but it’s not the be all and end all. Much like unbridled alliterative headlining … obsession with gender difference and superfluous gender labelling are rife.

We’re discovering that gender, like sexuality, can be more fluid than first assumed. Whilst natural conception requires the combined attributes of a biologically, or traditionally, gendered man and woman (functioning penis, vagina and reproductive systems); this does not preclude innovative gender identification.

My home is a mix of old and new – traditional and contemporary with added personal ‘creative innovation’. It’s personally appropriate; it’s ME.

We evolve, we grow, we move on. Out with the old, in with the new, is sometimes the best policy, but traditional, progressive, even unique, can co-exist.

Gender difference and gender identity have, arguably, never been such ‘hot potatoes.’ Personally, I find the idea of someone being transgender an easy concept to accept. I’m not a scientist, I have an entirely arts-biased brain, but it strikes me as both logical and natural. We as humans have common foundations but myriad variation, also exists. Like grey eye colour, left-handedness, homosexuality, or a third nipple. It’s neither right or wrong, it just is. Be yourself by all means, but to dismiss or prohibit others difference is to discriminate. Being gay, of non-binary gender, or a six foot, left-handed woman with ‘ginger’ hair and size 10 feet, does no harm. The same cannot be said for discrimination, intolerance … or narrow minds.

There are religion-based arguments against such thinking. While I respect the right of others to diverse beliefs, in my view as an atheist those arguments have no basis in fact. Fact matters, particularly the fact of whether harm occurs. Your beliefs are your choice. Believe that the world is governed by green invertebrates from the planet ‘Zog’ if you so choose. If ‘Zogans’ should decry all but white male supremacy; seek to ban abortion in all circumstances; see same sex relationships as abhorrent, and insist women should always wear pink dresses and high heels; it’s your right to do so too. Unless you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything else causes harm, you have no right to impose your views on others. To do so would be harmful and contravene their right to think and act differently.

I don’t have the right to  tell a biologically born woman that she may not self identify as a man, or feel and be neither exclusively male, nor exclusively female. I don’t feel remotely threatened by the notion or the difference. Curious, yes. I am that about very many things. I’m fascinated by life and people in all their complexity, diversity and mundane minutiae. I love learning and encountering ideas beyond my experience.

I feel like a woman (cue: music!) How much of that is biological, how much is cultural, may be difficult to determine. Some women love pink, but a fondness for it isn’t a requirement of femininity. A woman could be a mother, shave her armpits, wear frilly dresses and favour the floral. She could also play golf, wear boxer shorts and ties, ride a powerful motorbike, detest the frilly, and go out to work while her partner looks after their children. A woman could be all of this, some of this, and none of this … as could a man or someone of non-binary gender. Assuming of course that society respects an individual’s right to self-determination.

Presently, my choice of bathing product is largely determined by price, by virtue of a tight budget. Shopping online last week I favoured a blackberry and ginger scented bath soak. Its labelling promising that I’d ‘feel recharged’ was neither here nor there. When it was delivered I saw that the product is assertively labelled ‘ MEN’. Unlike my previous choice of the ‘stress relief’ variant from the same brand – which is not gender labelled. Similarly, ‘feel blissful’, ‘feel relaxed’, ‘sleep easy’ and the particularly optimistic ‘feel heavenly’ are not gendered, but they are pastel coloured. All the other Radox bath soak products in the range are primary coloured and bear the ‘MEN’ tag. Presumably, men don’t seek to sleep easy, feel relaxed, relieve stress or reach celestial heights? As a confirmed woman, I’d quite like to ‘feel recharged’ or enjoy ‘muscle therapy’. It does feel a tad odd, as a women living alone, having a product in my bathroom that’s prominently labelled for men.

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Engendering consternation

I don’t have any male cheese in my fridge or female bread in my food cupboard. I’m not typing on a keyboard for women, nor do I plan my life with the help of a non-binary diary.

Come on Unilever UK and Ireland, I challenge you to GET WITH THE TIMES! Men can like pink and pampering. Women can favour primary colours, be assertive and dominant. They and every other gender variant can be all things in between.

PUKKA, procurer of expressive but none the less arbitrarily named teas, has also got my non-binary gendered goat. Tea is neither male not flipping female, to say otherwise is definitely not pukka! I like a cup, or a pot, of tea. Builders, fruit and herbal are all fair game; decaffeinated is my preference. PUKKA sell a blend, described as ‘a delicate dance of organic cranberry, rose and sweet vanilla’. It’s a particular favourite of a female friend of mine and we often chat over a pot or two. It was originally called Harmonise, an arbitrary but inoffensive moniker in my view, then it was re-branded …

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Pretty … sickly

I do and have done many things as a woman, dance delicately is not one of those things. Considering the prospect of a ‘delicate dance’ of cranberry, rose and vanilla flavouring a cup of tea denoting womankind, just boggles my brain. I’m inclined to stop buying it in protest, but respect my pal’s right to continue to enjoy it, and anyway she bought my last box and it would be rude not to use them. Although, she too is not enamoured of the name. It’s a wonder we can stomach a beverage described in such nauseating terms.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this, perhaps over a cuppa? I’m off to ‘feel recharged’.

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Time for tea?

Please note: This is not and can not be intended to be an in depth exploration of gender. Nor do I seek to trivialise gender identity issues. It is merely my opinion, delivered, I hope, with due respect and trademark humour. As ever, I welcome … nay, covet … comments, discussion … and tea. 

 

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Euphemisms: Where’s the harm?

TW: Mention of #suicide in relation to #suicideprevention.

I love language. I love it all, from accent to puns, colloquialisms to sesquipedalia.

I read Linguistics at university – essentially the science of language. I’m no expert, but language fascinates me no less. I love to write and I like to write about language, among other things. Its usage particularly interests me, since I find communication equally fascinating.

Euphemisms are common, certainly here in the UK where we do love a good euphemism.

We’ve so many euphemisms for death alone that someone’s probably published a book dedicated to them. But isn’t it all a bit Voldemort? As J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” 

I wrote recently about the question of whether language usage could impede suicide prevention. Listening to a GP speaking to a patient, during an episode of the current series of fly-on-the-wall medical documentary series GPs Behind Closed Doors, I was taken aback when I heard her ask,

“Have you started thinking about doing something silly?”

Say what?

Silly is … clowning around; blowing raspberries; playing with water pistols; a whoopee cushion.

We need to talk about suicide. We REALLY need to talk about suicide – but do euphemisms help or hinder conversation? Statistics declaring suicide THE biggest killer of UK men under the age of 45 hit the headlines this week, thanks to Professor Green. That is not news to be taken lightly. I’ve twice been bereaved by suicide. I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts more times than I’d like to remember and ten years ago I attempted suicide. I am far from alone in that.

I’d argue that the euphemism ‘doing something silly’ is harmful. I think it trivialises suicide, infantilises it even. Doing something dangerous, yes; doing something desperate; definitely.

However, what matters most in terms of suicide prevention is that we are talking. Silence kills.

Perhaps euphemisms are very useful in helping us to communicate around difficult subjects? I would generally rather people were more direct. I think that leaves less room for misunderstanding, and helps to normalise speaking about the thing, such as death or more specifically suicide, itself.

Thanks for reading. I love a good discussion and I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Are euphemisms generally helpful? Should we be more direct? What about in terms of suicide prevention? You could comment on this post, or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .

‘Threatened’ suicide … is it OK to say that?

TW: repeated references to suicidal feelings and the act of suicide.

After seeing this article and its headline in my Twitter timeline, I tweeted to @HuffPostUK, I’m not sure about using the word ‘threatened’, I think it adds to stigma. How about ‘considered’ or ‘risked’?

If that sounds like a case for the ‘word police’, I’ll explain why I have concerns.

I think, as I subsequently tweeted, that ‘threatened’ is too close to ‘threatening’. Sadly, too many people still conflate mental illness with being a threat to others or generally dangerous, when actually people with mental health problems are more likely to be a risk to themselves, or, be a victim of violent crime (scroll down to the section titled ‘are people with mental health problems dangerous?’.)

You could threaten to punch someone – I wouldn’t personally but I hope you see my meaning! In that context the use of the word ‘threaten’ is accurate and appropriate. It is threatening behaviour. It is possible to threaten someone – the threat may not be carried out but the person on the receiving end of the threat can feel threatened regardless.

I’m also concerned that using the word ‘threaten’ in relation to suicide may inadvertently perpetuate a dangerous myth about it – by dangerous myth, I mean a misconception that can cost lives.

Suicide is a desperate act. People consider it for various reasons. Commonly, it isn’t because they want to die, but because they can see no other escape from desperate circumstances, they’re often experiencing unbearable pain. There are many myths surrounding suicide, including the idea that people who talk about it, aren’t serious about doing it. While it’s true that not everyone who experiences suicidal feelings will go on to die by suicide, suicidal feelings should always be taken seriously. It is vital to talk about suicide, talking can and does save lives.

I attempted suicide in my thirties. I survived by fighting with myself and managing at the last moment to call for help. I had already seen my then GP that morning and been sent home, after my suicidal feelings were dismissed, to be alone with lots of medication to hand. In a desperate and distressed state I believed I’d been sent home to die. I took a massive overdose that would have proved fatal, help arrived in the nick of time. I lost consciousness just as the first paramedic entered my home. I remember nothing more until I came around in intensive care. I was told I’d had to be resusciated soon after arriving at hospital. However, because I called for help. a now ex-friend of mine decided I was an attention-seeking fraud and liberally spread word to that effect, losing me other friends in the process. That person’s reaction to my suicide attempt was the responsibility of that person, but stigma in wider society does play a part.

Stigma contributes to discrimination. As someone once said mental illness does not discriminate and nor should you. It can affect anyone. Experiencing mental health problems is no picnic, people doing so are already disadvantaged by their illness and should not have to face further disadvantage as a result of stigma.

I think the use of the word ‘threatening’ in relation to a suicidal act could perpetuate the myth that many suicide attempts are ‘fake’ or that people who are ‘threatening suicide’ are simply attention seekers, because to threaten isn’t necessarily the same as carrying out.

You can learn more in this great article from the Samaritans on myths about suicide

The media has often added to and perpetuated stigma surrounding mental illness. The infamous ‘Bonkers Bruno‘ headline immediately springs to mind, but there have been many other examples. Researching an essay about risk in terms of mental health, earlier this year, I was able to find, in a matter of moments, numerous examples of news reports where mental illness was conflated with threatening, violent and dangerous behaviour, despite their being no evidence.

As someone with a background in journalism, it might seem hypocritical of me to criticise the media. I became a journalist because I love to write, communicate and campaign. I wanted to bring stories and issues that matter to people’s attention. I wanted to help to give a voice to the voiceless. With apologies for deploying a cliche, I wanted to make a difference. I have no time for sleazy, salacious or irresponsible journalism – actually, to me, that’s not journalism; it’s just tripe.

In my youth, I considered journalism a noble profession, much like being a teacher, a doctor, nurse or lawyer … ahem. I may have been a touch naive, I was surprised that many people were not impressed when I declared my profession.

To be clear, I don’t consider the @HuffPostUK article which prompted this post to be irresponsible but I would be delighted if they and others would consider my concerns.

@HuffPostUK haven’t yet replied to my tweet. If I do receive a reply I will edit this post to include any response.

Thanks for reading, I’d welcome your thoughts. You could comment on this post or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .

Further information about and help with suicidal feelings can be found here.