Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Crotch Rot Doc Rocks

Hey guys, remember Dr Dickface McBullyo? AKA The Worst Doctor I Have Ever Had, AKA The Only Thing I Don't Miss About Living In Seven Sisters?

A recap:
PATIENT: Hi there, medical practitioner. I have been experiencing some abnormal and uncomfortable heart rhythms. Maybe we could check that out?

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO: I see from your file that you have a history of depression. You're having panic attacks.

PATIENT: No, I have had panic attacks in the past, these are not panic attacks. Also, when the odd heart rhythms are occurring, I'm not panicked, and you'd think I'd notice if I was under so much stress that my body was initiating a fight/flight response, no?

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO grabs PATIENT's arm and points vigorously at five-year-old self-harm scars.

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO: What are these, then? You did these yourself, didn't you? You're having panic attacks. I can prescribe some anti-depressants.

It was supraventricular tachycardia, motherfucker.

Consider this Exhibit A, or, One Of The Worst Ways To Discuss A Patient's Mental Health.

Exhibit B: Yesterday a Superhero Nurse was taking my blood pressure. She gestured to my now ten-year-old self-harm scars (without touching them), confirmed they were very old, offered me an appointment with a counsellor, and took my word for it when I said my mental health needs were covered elsewhere.

And that is how you do it, Dr Dickface. You notice, you make it possible and comfortable for someone to disclose issues if they feel it's necessary, you offer relevant services without pushing, and you believe what they're saying to you.

You know. You treat them like a fucking human being.

Episode 36 in I Fucking Love GUM Clinics.

My blood pressure is perfect, by the way.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Today in the colonialist history of medicine, and everything else you love in this world

Fun things about working in a hospital:

1. People walking round in pyjamas
2. People walking round carrying coolboxes which are presumably full of internal organs. I gaze at them in the lift, thinking, damn, it really matters whether or not you come to work in the morning.
3. Being able to nip downstairs on your lunch break to have a quick chat about the pros and cons of the progestogen-only pill, get a prescription, squeeze in an unrelated blood test and still have time to get yourself a sticky bun.

Fun things about researching hormonal contraception:

1. Turns out I'm not the only person who found that the combined pill made me (more) sad, (more) tired, and utterly annihilated my sex drive. "Congratulations, you can now have all the sex you want!", I imagine The Pill saying to me. "YOU WILL NOT WANT TO HAVE ANY EVER AGAIN."

LIBERATION! And chronic nausea.

This is definitely something I'd like to look into more, but finding reputable sources is going to take some digging - there's a delicate but important line between "the pharmaceutical industry is deeply, systemically, globally fucked up, and is more into making a profit than promoting human wellbeing" and "oh, I never take drugs, all those nasty chemicals; I imbibe only Natural remedies derived from dew settling on flowers" (I wish I was joking), and I very much don't want to end up reading bollocks written by the kind of people who think vaccinating their children against fatal diseases is likely to give them autism. Got any resources? Gimme!

2. "When asked about the potential of a male contraceptive pill, politicians involved in the public defense of the trial disregarded the idea as ridiculous and impossible, on the primary explanation that the drug could do harm to the man and his reproductive system." AHAHAHAHAAAAA. I mean, I can't actually find a source for this (the quote's from Wiki), but man, I hope it's true. Well: I hate the idea that people could be so ridiculously bigoted as to think "it's totally cool to footle about with women's bodies, I mean, we don't really know what we're doing, we're giving people double the necessary dose, but it'll probably be fine, right?" at the same time as holding The Mighty Wang and its associated support systems as sacrosanct. But I also find such blatant hypocrisy really fucking funny.

3. Have you heard of the Puerto Rico contraceptive trials? I had not heard of the Puerto Rico contraceptive trials, and I am well into feminism, and history, and contraception. But until yesterday, I was not aware of the Puerto Rico contraceptive trials. I was not aware that the researchers developing the pill were like, "we can't get FDA approval until we do a large-scale trial, but we can't do a trial in Massachusetts, because contraception is illegal. I know! We have this useful little colony! It's full of women! Let's do it there!"

And if you're thinking that this bright idea is a massive ethical minefield, clearly you just don't have the far-sighted revolutionary thinking necessary to exploit women in the developing world in order to make a whole bunch of money.

"Uh, so, a lot of these women are illiterate, a lot of them don't speak English. Are we going to provide translation services to ensure full, informed consent?" said ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NO ONE.

"Uh, do you think that making 'agreeing to carry a pregnancy to term should you conceive during the course of the trial' a condition of participation is a touch coercive, maybe?" said NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON.

"Uh, this pill seems to be working, but it also might be, sort of, killing off some of the participants a bit? Should we mention this to the FDA? Should we mention it to our future target market, US women? Should we mention it to the participants in our fucking study?" said our old friend, NO ONE AT ALL.

The Puerto Rico contraceptive trials: tell your friends.

4. Is there any way to assuage one's conception-anxiety without supporting morally bankrupt organisations, if one is into touching a P with a V? Haha, NO.

5. This song is still the best.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Strong in the broken places: I heart Jessica Jones

"SO there is this new show on Netflix about a woman who's not long out of an abusive relationship, and how she deals with the trauma of him coming back into her life, and how he manipulates everyone around her to get her attention and fuck with her head, and it deals with PTSD and self-medicating and the impossibility of getting authority figures to believe you, yet alone to convict him, and it discusses rape of the non-stranger-jumping-out-of-the-bushes variety AND doesn't even have a super-sexy titillating rape scene, and...

Oh yeah, and the two of them have superpowers."

You guys, I submit to the court that Jessica Jones is freaking amazing.

The classic superhero thing doesn't really appeal to me - it always seems to be all about fancy costumes and bombastic storylines rather than anything as humble as character. But Jessica Jones is about, well, Jessica Jones: this mardy, hard-drinking, casual-sexing, small-business-owning, abuse-surviving, fucked up, fucked off young woman. It's about how she got to be that way and what she's going to do about it. It contrasts her superhuman physical strength with her only too human emotional frailty; and, ultimately (spoiler!) it's the fact that she was so broken by Kilgrave that makes her able to defeat him in the end. ("Strong in the broken places": sometimes Papa Hemingway got it right.)

On my second viewing, I'm noticing other things that make its world seem vividly real. It's set in a New York that is not (as is so often the case in TV Land) populated entirely and inexplicably by white people. It has a load of ladygay characters whose ladygaiety is not the entire point of their characters.

It's like Veronica Mars and Buffy got together to talk about all the things they didn't get right and had a beautiful foul-mouthed baby.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

It Made Me Want To Kill Myself! Hilarity ensued.

This is a post about things that trigger me with regard to suicide. So, trigger warning for suicidal shit! Should you not want to deal with this today, here is a beautiful picture of a cat with a bluetooth gramophone.

Is there any more hipsterish gadget than a bluetooth gramophone? I think not.

Things Which Make Me Think About Killing Myself
1. Bridges: particularly Archway, Northam, Severn, but basically any bridge with a significant drop.
2. Medications: particularly painkillers, which is a giggle given that I am in pain more often than not and thus buy painkillers pretty regularly; whenever I'm prescribed something new, I automatically skim through the info leaflet inside to figure out how many of them I'd have to take to not be alive anymore.
3. Blades, particularly scalpels and razor blades.
4. Every fucking time someone describes mild frustration or sadness with the phrase "it made me feel like killing myself!"

Like: I'm saner than I've ever been, right now. Merry bushels of meds and two and a half years of drawing pictures of my feelings every Monday night have finally paid off, and I don't actually want to die, which makes a nice change. I thought I was having a relapse the other week, but it turns out it was just PMT; while I was relieved when I figured it out, I also found it unbearably sad to think that I hadn't actually noticed getting PMT for years, because I basically felt that miserable every single day.

But I am still me, and I still have my own history, and my history includes between one and three suicide attempts, depending your criteria. (I'd go with one 'proper' and two 'para'.) And any mention of the topic reminds me of the things I did and the reasons I did them.

So here's what I think of when you say "It made me feel like killing myself!": I think of stockpiling painkillers for weeks, and downing the lot in ten minutes. I think of razorblades bought from our friendly local pharmacy, and how they felt digging into my wrist. I think of all the times before that and all the times since that I've wanted, desperately, for life to just stop, and all the times when minor stresses and gentle criticism and boring meetings and having to stand on the tube have genuinely made me feel like killing myself.

Literally every time suicide comes up in conversation, or my mum drives me over Northam Bridge, or I walk past the pain relief or hair removal aisles in Boots, some or all of that will go through my head. On a good day, it's a sad reminder of an awful period of my life. On a bad day? It's sent me on a super suicidal shopping spree.

As you can tell from the list above, it's not possible for me to exist in the world without being triggered fairly frequently. I can't entirely avoid all bridges and pharmacies; I can't start all conversations with the demand that no one mention suicide in any context. It wouldn't be reasonable to expect people to know what thoughts a casual mention of painkillers or razorblades (still less bridges, for fuck's sake) evoke in me.

But using "It made me feel like killing myself!" as a way of exaggerating how unpleasant you found an experience - comical hyperbole, because obviously you don't actually want to kill yourself, it's not like you're mental or anything - is an entirely predictable and entirely unnecessary trigger to me, and to a whole bunch of people like me. Not saying it - removing one phrase from your rhetorical arsenal - would not inconvenience you at all, and be of enormous benefit to me; saying it is of no real benefit to you and causes very real suffering to me.

It's the predictable thing that gets me: the fact that, if you think about the words you're using for more than two and a half seconds, it's so glaringly obvious that someone who has been affected by suicide - their own attempts, those of a loved one, losing someone that way - will react negatively to hearing you throw those words out so casually.

So (unless you're being deliberately cruel) you can only use the phrase in this way if you assume that no one within earshot falls into that category. Presumably you assume that anyone who has experienced mental health problems is instantly recognisable by signifiers like "permanently crying", "talking to The Voices", or "frothing at the mouth". (Ugh, that hilarious conversational trope "The Voices", there's a whole other blog post.) You disregard the possibility of recovery, or going through the motions of an outwardly Normal Life while struggling with depression or psychosis or anxiety or plain old wanting to die. You assume that mental illness is another country, whose inhabitants never visit yours, and who never return once they've crossed the border.

Yeah, well, we walk among you. We're sitting next to you in meetings pondering the unbearable idea of surviving for the next sixty years until we can die without upsetting anyone too much. We're behind you on the W5, fighting back a lurch of nausea as the bus goes over Archway Bridge. We hear you describing the experience of trying to set up a direct debit with British Gas as "so bad I felt like killing myself!"

And what we hear is that you don't hear us. You don't see us. You don't think we matter for the simple reason that you have the unbelievable luxury of not having to remember we exist.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

when friends attack

Today in "conversations I had with dudes several years ago": a roof terrace in Elephant & Castle, drinking Red Stripe in the evening summer sunshine. We were talking about old friends, fun times, and an ex-friend. He became an ex-friend after a party where he persistently followed a woman around, groping her, trying to kiss her, as she got more and more wasted to the point of incapability. He only stopped when she woke up enough to ask my Straight Best Friend (a man; a big burly ex-rugby player; a feminist, if imperfectly, but then aren't we all?) to keep him away from her. This was not the first time he had behaved in such a predatory way, but it was the time that got him excommunicated from our gang.

Straight Best Friend actually dealt with this whole situation brilliantly, putting the woman to bed on the sofa and staying up to keep an eye on her and prevent Creepy from making another attempt. The following day, when Creepy called full of empty apologies and ridiculous excuses about how the booze made him do it, etc, SBF told him it wasn't okay to do that shit, ever, and hung up.

On the rooftop, I referred to Captain Creepy as "a fucking rapist", if memory serves, and Straight Best Friend told me off.

"He didn't actually rape her," he said.

"Sure, he's creepy, predatory, pushes boundaries to see what he can get away with, but he didn't actually rape her." he said.

"If you throw that word around, it dilutes its meaning, and he didn't actually rape her," he said.

I backed down at the time, but you know what? I am actually entirely comfortable with my assessment of Captain Creepy as A Fucking Rapist.

No, he didn't succeed in raping that one woman that one time. And no, I have no knowledge of any occasions on which he has succeeded in raping someone. And no, as far as I know he has not been convicted of rape, not that that means a fucking thing.

But from everything I've read about rapists (which, honestly, is probably too much for my mental health), and everything I know from hanging out with that guy for two years, convinces me that, if he hasn't raped anyone in his life, it's not for want of trying.

That guy went out drinking almost every night. He pursued women in that manner every time he encountered a suitable target. He clearly had a premeditated plan to take advantage of inebriated women in classic Social Licence To Rape style. He had the archetypal Nice Guy mentality, constantly whining but why will these bitches not provide me with sex in return for me acting like a decent human being, though paraphrased, slightly.

It fucking breaks my heart to think about it, but I just can't believe that someone can say those things and act in that way and not, at least once, put it into practice.

No one wants to think of their friend as a rapist, even though, logically, we know they walk among us without handy name badges identifying them as such.

And for some people - like, say, straight cis dudes, who are statistically much less likely to be raped than I am, and who are not conditioned to live in fear of that eventuality - think that it is very important to Use Words Carefully and not call someone a rapist until you have incontrovertible evidence of him doing some raping, preferably videotaped. Me, I am not willing to give the benefit of the doubt to people whose best claim to Decent Human status is "hasn't raped anyone yet, that we know of". If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you know? I'm going to stick my neck out and Choose My Words Carefully to say: that duck is a fucking rapist.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A clarification: sexual assault is a bad thing

I'm feeling a bit ooky about my last post. Like, I think it would take a determined case of squinty selective reading to get "sexual assault isn't always that bad" from what I wrote, but it's a possibility, and it's not a possibility I want to live with. So.

Sexual assault is really fucking bad. You should not do it. Just so we're clear on that.

What I meant to say was that different people react to experiences in different ways because they are different people in different circumstances with different histories.

About four hundred blogyears ago, Harriet J talked about how we all unconsciously set our own "acceptable" levels of sexual harassment: that, at one stage in her life, she classed getting catcalled several times a day as "acceptable", because it was unavoidable; to class it as "unacceptable" would make it impossible for her to leave the house. Similarly, I think I have classed a certain amount of a certain type of sexual assault as "tolerable": not that I don't get freaked out sometimes, or kick off at the dude if I feel safe enough and if I have it in me that day; "tolerable" as in it is a really unpleasant but survivable (and, thankfully, rare) aspect of my life. That tolerance level has varied over the years, and I would imagine other people's levels vary from person to person and individually over time.

Or, in short: people react to sexual assault in different ways according to a variety of factors, and the fact that one person's response to one incident at one particular moment in time was not either "suicidal misery" or "homicidal rage" does not imply that sexual assault as a whole is not A Bad Thing.

Like: I have a friend who survived an abusive relationship. Since that time, she's experimented with BDSM, and enjoys being tied up - but she finds being pinned down by someone using only their own bodyweight unbearably triggering. If you hadn't had a chat with her about this beforehand, there's no way you could know that; if you skip the "having a chat" section of sex prep and hope that these things will just flow from one brain to the other via ESP and your interaction will magically turn out blissfully, it's entirely likely that what you see as a non-aggressive move in your mating dance will prompt a massive fucking freak out on her part.

So if you make a habit of jizzing on unconscious people without asking prior permission, you're going to get a variety of different responses, ranging from "mmm, crusty face" to "what the bastarding motherFUCK do you think you're doing" via unintelligible weeping, and probably a good few more.

But even if you do obtain permission first, you are still committing an assault: the person you plan to spunk on will be asleep at the time of the spunking, and sleeping people cannot give consent.

Some people like being woken up by someone going down on them. Some people also like being hit on the butt with a spanking paddle. Because our collective attitudes to non-sexual violence are slightly less fucked up than our attitudes to sexual violence (and because 'enjoying pain' is a minority condition, whereas 'enjoying sex' is erroneously assumed to be universal) it's fairly uncontroversial to say that hitting someone on the butt with a weapon is an actual crime unless the person you're hitting says something as unambiguous as "please hit me on the butt with this spanking paddle".

And the point is that exactly the same thing is true of sex.

Keeping in mind the fact that having sex with someone is an actual crime unless they unambiguously communicate something along the lines of "I would very much like to have sex with you right now, please" is the only way to avoid that infamous Grey Area.

The thing about sexual contact with unconscious people is that by definition there is no way to make it consensual: they're asleep. They can't consent, because they also can't withhold consent, because they can't communicate anything, because they're fucking asleep. So even if someone says, "I would very much like you to wake me up by putting your tongue on my genitals tomorrow morning, please!", when you put your tongue on their unconscious body you are still committing an assault. Even if they wake up all breathy and orgasmic and thank you profusely for rocking their world, baby, all the stuff that happened when they were unconscious? Still an assault.

Even if they asked you to do it, they might wake up freaked out or pissed off or disgusted or just realising that they didn't enjoy it as much as they expected to, and you need to be prepared for that. You need to be ready to stop at the drop of a hat with no warning and no recriminations. Not sulk because "but you told me to!".

The conclusion isn't "don't do it". The conclusion is "if someone asks you to do it, talk about it, a lot, for the love of all that is holy, and be even more aware of consent issues than you usually should be".

I'm going on about this at such length because I worry about the exact opposite of the argument I spoke about in the last post -
Some people get awfully nervous when you describe transgressions like that as "sexual assault", despite the fact that the events meet the dictionary definition. The argument is that if you include "lesser", "less traumatic", "less extreme" acts within that category, people will take the category as a whole less seriously because it's been diluted by these things that "aren't really a big deal".
- instead, I worry that if we aren't crystal fucking clear that these "lesser" violations are absolutely included in the category of Sexual Assault, it's way too easy to restrict that category to an ever smaller pool. To say, "if waking someone up with a blow job is okay, then sex with unconscious people in general must be okay".

And, y'know. It isn't. I'd love to believe we were all agreed that any kind of sex in the absence of an enthusiastic uncoerced YES is assault, is illegal, is wrong, but we don't live in that world, do we?

Monday, 16 November 2015

and then he came on her back: defining sexual assault

Trigger warning! Rapey bad shit warning!

So a dude and a lady are making out. Sexy times, presumably including ye olde P-in-V, are afoot. But no! The lady's dad comes home! He doesn't come into her room, but knowing he's in the house makes her uncomfortable proceeding with The Sex, so they agree to go to sleep. She does so.

The dude, however, miffed that his testes are brim-full of ejaculate that has been robbed of the chance to fulfil its destiny, has a wank and comes on her back.


A friend told me that story in the middle of a light-hearted loltastic chat about, I don't even remember, sex and some Ricky Gervais sketch and teenagerdom, I think. He told me that story as if it was part of the same world, as if it wouldn't bring the whole conversation screeching to a halt, as if it wasn't a story that hit a fun day on the head with a hammer.

"And then he came on her back! Haha!"

Just a punchline. Not, you know, an assault.

"But she didn't mind!", he said, when I expressed mild discomfort (I was a lot less confident/willing to ruin someone's day by shouting WHAT THE ACTUAL RAPEY FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY back then). "She thought it was funny!"

Oh cool, so sexual contact with unconscious people is fine as long as they can laugh about it afterwards? Good to know. Lucky that he was able to see into the future and divine that this would be her reaction, because otherwise, spunking on someone's unconscious body would kind of suggest you don't really care what their feelings are on the matter.


Because this has happened to me, too: I was doing the walk of shame home from some godforsaken suburb of south east London, ran my fingers through my hair, and thought, what? I'm pretty sure I haven't used hair gel since, like, 2002. Huh.

I sleep the sleep of the heavily-medicated dead, so, though I'm apparently quite chatty while unconscious, I have no memories of anything that happens during snooze-time; it was only a few weeks later that the chap in question mentioned off-hand that he had in fact jizzed on my face while I was sleeping.

And no, I'm not that fussed, I didn't find it traumatic. (Which isn't to say someone else in the same situation would react the same way.) But it's still sexual assault. Because of that whole unconscious-people-can't-give-consent-to-sexual-contact thing.


Some people get awfully nervous when you describe transgressions like that as "sexual assault", despite the fact that the events meet the dictionary definition. The argument is that if you include "lesser", "less traumatic", "less extreme" acts within that category, people will take the category as a whole less seriously because it's been diluted by these things that "aren't really a big deal".*

This seems precisely backwards to me. If we don't include all acts that involve sexual contact without consent in the category, it's easy to forget that this is what matters, that this is the violation. That rape isn't only bad if your rapist also beats you. That it still counts as sexual assault whether or not you run away from the experience screaming hysterically. That the methods the assailant uses to avoid or overpower your autonomy - force, alcohol, unconsciousness - are tools to achieve their goal; their presence or absence don't affect whether or not we categorise what happened as a sexual assault.

If one person spunks on another without their enthusiastic consent, that's assault, regardless of how they circumvented the lack of consent.

If the person who was spunked on freaks the fuck out when they learn what happened, or shrugs, washes their hair and puts the kettle on, it's still sexual assault.

The reaction of the victim isn't a factor in the definition. The method used isn't a factor in the definition. An inclusive definition of sexual assault reminds everyone that the only factor relevant to the definition is consent.


Apparently it is easier to accept this argument if you explain it via the medium of tea.

* Quote marks because I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of a universally applicable hierarchy of bad things / badder things / The Worst thing.