That’s a nice name

A young woman is doing my nails and we’re having one of those odd conversations you have when you’re spending a long time one to one with someone you don’t know. She mentions her kids, and as a parent I know we’re now on the safe ground of shared experience.

But we’re not, not really. I became a dad at 34. She became a mum at 18. I didn’t separate from my wife until I was 44. She was a single parent from the get-go. My kids were born into a two car family. She doesn’t drive.

We talk about our kids, about the cost of extra-curricular clubs and the problems of buying uniforms or kit for clubs the child might suddenly decide to quit. We talk about the lack of provision in her part of town, the binary choice of dancing for the girls and football for the boys. Her boy did hip hop dancing, just like my daughter, but he was teased for it and quit.

I ask her what her son is called, and she tells me. It’s one of _those_ names, the kind that tells you everything you need to know about the parent. The kind of name that makes you roll your eyes when it’s yelled across a soft play by somebody who’s having a much worse time than you.

That’s a nice name, I tell her, although I don’t really think it is. Was it something you arrived at quickly, or did you spend forever in baby books?

There’s a pause, and then she tells me.

They told her he was dead. A miscarriage. She cried, a lot. And when she went in for checks, checks to see if there was anything of him still there, they found a heartbeat.

There were other traumas, other indignities. But she left hospital with a miracle, a beautiful baby boy. A boy they said she’d lost.

Her family don’t like the name. They think people will judge her, and one day judge him. Sometimes she worries they’re right. Sometimes she is right. But when she sees him, her beautiful, strong, happy young boy, she can’t imagine calling him anything else.

I think it’s a beautiful name, I tell her. And this time I mean it.

It’s world mental health day today. Here’s some advice on psychic self-defence

It’s nearly a year since I came out as trans/NB, and about three years since I was diagnosed with depression. I’m much happier these days. Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true: it really does get better.

To mark world mental health day, which is today, I thought I’d scribble a quick piece about the importance of psychic self-defence. I’m writing this with trans people in mind but most of the points are relevant to everybody.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself: how to practice psychic self-defence

One of the things many trans people are pleasantly surprised to discover is that by and large, nobody cares whether you’re trans or not. Unfortunately the few people that do care have very loud voices, and it’s easy to end up feeling quite vulnerable as a result. That’s why it’s important to practice psychic self-defence.


First step: don’t Google “psychic self-defence”, because there’s a whole genre of books out there dedicated to the art of fighting paranormal attacks. I’m talking about something a bit less magical but just as effective, which is insulating yourself from toxic negativity. I call it psychic self-defence; others call it self care.

Don’t follow everyone

Social media can be brilliant for trans people. It enables us to find our kind of people, to learn from others’ experiences and to get support when we need it. However, social media can also be a toxic hellswamp where trans people are besieged by bigots, and if you’re seeing that daily then it’s going to make the world seem a much more wicked place.

The other danger of social media is people sharing anti-trans posts and articles they disagree with. Unfortunately by circulating such media the trans people are doing exactly what the authors want: sharing their views more widely. Again, it makes the world feel much smaller and nastier than it actually is.

Don’t read everything

Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean you need to stay up to date with everything being said or written about being trans. I’ve just cancelled my subscription to a newspaper after an uninterrupted seven day run of misleading anti-trans articles, partly because it meant I started seven consecutive days in a bad mood and partly because if they’re getting the facts wrong on a subject I know about, how do I know they’re reporting accurately on the subjects I don’t?

Turn off notifications

Chances are you have a smartphone, and chances are it notifies you of things you don’t need to be notified of: a new email, a mention on social media, an updated magazine. Very few of these things are worth interrupting what you’re doing, even if you’re doing nothing, and even the silent notifications can have a malevolent impact as the little red circle fills with ever higher numbers of things you haven’t looked at yet. Pare back notifications to things you actually need to know about immediately, turn the others off and enjoy the silence.

Choose your battles


If you wish, you can battle all day every day with people on the internet who want to argue with you – not just about trans issues, although God knows there’s no shortage of those arguments, but about anything at all. You’ll never win and it’ll just make you unhappy. As George Bernard Shaw reportedly put it: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Read the right things

Books are magical things, and even more magical when you’re trans: if you’re feeling pretty low, reading about the experiences of somebody who’s been there, done that and come out smiling really helps. For me that included The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, Trans Like Me by CN Lester and She’s Not There by Jenny Boylan, among many others. Other books that really helped me include Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive and Derren Brown’s Happy.

And of course, fiction provides much-needed escapism. Novels are portals to other worlds, and it’s always fun to travel.

Don’t fall for the beauty myth


By all means aspire to be a better version of yourself – if you aren’t happy with your weight, change what you eat; if you aren’t happy with your fitness, go for a run – but comparing yourself to some of the most beautiful people on the planet is a mug’s game largely perpetrated by people trying to sell you things you don’t need.

Don’t stay online

There’s a world beyond our phones and PCs, and it’s often a much nicer world. Just going out for a walk is good for your body and mind, and if you can combine that with meeting people who actually make your life better then that’s something you should do at every opportunity.

Be nice to yourself


Try to find things that make you happy. They needn’t be big things: a new book from the charity shop or a swim in the local pool can be just as rewarding as a PlayStation 4. My thing is gigs: I love the anticipation, the gig-day excitement and the joy of bouncing around like a loon in a room full of like-minded people. Think of these things as the cure for whatever makes you feel sad, an “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass” for your mental health.

Don’t let the big stuff frighten you

Time for another quote, this time from the Chinese philosopher Laozi in around 600 BC: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Sometimes the best way to deal with a terrifyingly big thing is to concentrate on just putting on foot in front of another. People are natural worriers and many trans people doubly so. Focus on what you can do or deal with right now and let the future take care of itself.

Find someone to talk to


Whether it’s online, a helpline or a real-life friend, it’s important to find people you can talk to when you need to. Friends don’t necessarily mean shoulders to cry on. Just being around people who make you feel happy is powerful magic. We humans are social animals, and friendship is an important factor in how we feel about ourselves. Look on meetup.com or on local noticeboards to find things you might want to do and where you might get to meet nice people.

Bin the booze

Self-medication – a polite way of saying “drinking too much” or “getting off your face on drugs” – is common among trans people, but if you’re already feeling a bit sad they’ll make things worse. It’s boring as hell, I know, but moderating substance use, eating well and doing a bit of exercise will all make huge differences to how you feel, and often how you look too. If you’re spending a fortune on skincare while eating crap or going to the gym to work off junk food you’re wasting your money, and your time.

Don’t waste time on people who aren’t worth it


Online or off, some people are emotional vampires who suck the joy out of everything – and unless they’re your conjoined twin, you don’t have to put up with that. Where possible, avoid spending time with people who’ll just drag you down. That’s harder with close family than with friends, of course, but if you come from a long line of emotional vampires you can still minimise the time you spend with them and do something less negative instead.

Get a dog, or borrow one, or invite a friend who has one over


Dogs are nature’s anti-depressants.

Take care of yourself

Whitney Houston was right. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you need help, ask for it. Being trans isn’t a mental illness, but many of us experience mental illnesses such as depression (as do many other people, of course).

Mental illness is no different to physical illness: you wouldn’t leave your arm hanging off for fear of being judged and you shouldn’t let embarrassment or stigma about mental illness prevent you from getting help. It might take a while to get the right help – different people have different solutions – but it is out there and it does work.

If you’re really struggling and need help right now, these numbers save lives:

Samaritans 116 123 / jo@samaritans.org

LGBT+ switchboard 0300 330 0630

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87

It’s okay to say you’re not okay.

Shopping with dinosaurs

“People who push for this should be shot and burnt.” What do you think has made Daily Mail commenter Ben (now deleted) so angry? Yep, it’s the labels on John Lewis’s kids’ clothes. According to many tabloids’ commenters, by not labelling clothes as boys’ or girls’ John Lewis is pandering something something librul snowflake SJW muslins etc etc etc it’s political correctness gone mad.

One of the items that’s attracted a lot of comment is a cute wee dress with dinosaurs on it. And I just happen to have an opinion on both dresses and dinosaurs.

I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl, and when my daughter was 5 she was told by her male classmates that she couldn’t be interested in dinosaurs because they were for boys. She’s also been told that girls aren’t allowed to play with dragons, because they’re for boys too. Girls have to play with unicorns.

You don’t need me to tell you that this gender bullshit starts very early and is reinforced by the unnecessary pinkification of so much girls’ stuff. Finding practical, comfortable shoes for my son is easy. It’s much harder for my daughter, whose trainers are hidden in shops behind a wall of high heels, glitter and sparkles. It’s the same with t-shirts and tops: it’s not unusual for us to leave a shop with an armful of stuff for my son and nothing for my daughter because she doesn’t like pink, sequins or slogans about being pretty.

This is a relatively recent development: children born in the 60s and 70s lived in a more gender neutral world, at least in terms of clothing. Here’s a Lego advert from 1981, before pinkification.

It’s not pink that’s the problem. It’s the constant reinforcement of exaggerated gender differences, to say that girls can’t do A, B and C and boys can’t do X, Y or Z.

John Lewis isn’t trying to change biology, as Facebook poster Susan Perkins suggests. It’s making a little change that tells my daughter that hey! Dinosaurs can be for girls too!

But that’s not what’s caused the “backlash” and “anger” the tabloids report. As ever with gender things, it’s the prospect of boys wearing dresses that’s got people upset, because it’s okay for girls to do boyish things but not the reverse. And discussing that opens up a great big box marked Pandora: it’s a very visible sign of a society that doesn’t value supposedly feminine traits, where what Grayson Perry calls Default Man dominates “the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

As Perry writes: “The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.”

Boys in dresses? We’ll be letting girls play with Lego next. Or as one Daily Express commenter puts it, it’s…

The ongoing Marxist plan to feminise boys, who wont have the desire to fight for their country when it all kicks off.

Hmmm.

Ultimately, though, it’s really very simple. John Lewis isn’t forcing anybody to be gender neutral. It’s just saying that maybe we shouldn’t force dinosaurs to pick a side.

If your son doesn’t want to wear a dress, don’t buy him one.

Focus, man, focus

I know this lifeless blog makes it seem like I’m doing nothing, but behind the scenes there are many things, only some of which are frightening. David and I have nearly 70 unfinished DMGM songs at the moment, which says a great deal about our inability to focus on one thing and actually finish it, and I currently have three unfinished books on the go: two fiction, one non-fiction. And I’m doing loads of work too, so I haven’t really had the time for much more than the odd tweet. EXPECT CONTENT SOON. Honest. Not like before. I mean it this time. Etc.

Too fast, too soon

I wrote a piece for Beyond The Binary on how not to come out as trans.

Coming out as trans/NB was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Not because I did it, but because I did it in a spectacularly stupid way. I didn’t so much come out of the closet as roar out of it on a glitter-powered rocket cycle, waving the Trans Pride flag and putting all of eBay on credit cards I already couldn’t keep up with. I binned my boring boring boy clothes, wore skirts to the supermarket, talked about being trans on national radio to 400,000 people and spent months getting dirty looks from old women in ASDA who don’t think bolero tops go well with manly beards.

With the benefit of hindsight, that wasn’t the best way to do it.

Quiet, quite busy

 

This is one of those sorry-for-the-lack-of-updates updates: I’ve been neglecting the blog for ages due to a combination of work, creative stuff (writing, songwriting) and extreme barbecuing. I’ll share some of it soon, but in the meantime if you want to stay in touch and we already know one another please hit me up on Facebook, or come and say hello on Twitter.

This is a low flying panic attack

From the wise owls of MetaFilter to the comedians of Twitter, I follow a pretty diverse bunch of interesting people online. It’s generally a pretty left-of-centre bunch, because I’m a pretty left-of-centre guy. So you can imagine the howls of despair in my various feeds over the post-Brexit landscape, the outright hatred being peddled by the UK tabloids and now, President-elect Trump.

In most cases those howls aren’t coming from armchair warriors or the professionally offended. They’re people who see the world becoming nastier, more selfish, less tolerant – and in many cases they’re people who are experiencing that nastiness, that selfishness, that lack of tolerance first hand. Scared trans kids. Married gay couples. Pro-choice women. People with the “wrong” skin colour, the “wrong” accent, the “wrong” sexuality, the “wrong” gender, the belief that, hey! Maybe sex offenders should be punished rather than celebrated!

It feels rather like a bunch of straight white old folks are burning down the house to prevent the kids from inheriting anything.

And, well, they are.

But there are more of us than there are of them.

Or at least, there are if we celebrate what we have in common rather than what divides us.

If we challenge intolerance in whatever form it takes, even if – especially if – it’s directed at someone who’s not part of our own little bubble.

If we remember that we’re all here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is.

Whoever we are.

Bye bye, blog?

I’m thinking of shutting this blog down and replacing it with a static site: WordPress is under pretty much constant attack and the hassle of removing dodgy files, patching vulnerabilities etc is becoming a bit too much for me at the moment. If there’s anything here you particularly treasure, such as my legendarily busy article about defrosting plates (no, really), then it’s maybe worth downloading it just in case.

I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, of course.

New free music from DMGM

It’s taken ages, I know, but David and I have finished some more songs:  they’re tracks 7, 8 and 9 on our ever-expanding second album, Battle Bruised and Broken Hearted. They are:

One Brick

Musically this one’s where my love of REM shows through – I wanted a World Leader Pretend kind of vibe, but we don’t know anyone with a pedal steel so we used synths to get the slide guitar effect.

Lyrically it comes from an article about the building of The Shard, a skyscraper in London; someone who lived nearby was interviewed and described how the building had taken away his view of the moon. With so much expensive property owned by outright villains, the idea that someone with stolen money would go on to steal the sky was too good not to use. The “sheets of glass” is from news reports of another London skyscraper whose glass frontage reflected sunlight onto the street and melted cars. It’s a little revenge fantasy, one of the darkest lyrics I’ve written, I think.

Magic Pill

This is our Everybody Hurts, a song about keeping on when you feel that everything’s falling apart around you. The song basically appeared fully formed in David’s head, but it took forever to get the vocal right. The one here is actually a guide vocal, because while I could probably sing it technically better I haven’t been able to recapture the feel of the vocal we’ve used here. That sounds wanky, I know.

Battle Bruised and Broken Hearted

We tend to pinball between guitar rock and electronic pop in DMGM, and this is one of the former: there’s a bit of Faith No More in there and a lot of ridiculously loud guitars. We don’t own any leather trousers, but if we did we’d be wearing them for this song.

As ever, the songs are free to stream and free to download. If you like them, we’d really appreciate it if you could tell somebody else about them. Thanks.

#leaveoutthetout

Fascinating and appalling statistic in this article about Adele’s anti-tout plans:

approximately 1.9% of the ‘first wave’ of Adele tickets ended up on secondary ticketing sites – with some today being sold for prices in excess of £1,000.

1.9%. It’s a percentage that’s much lower than the touts would have liked to have achieved, with experts telling us the average arena gig sees closer to 20%.

I knew it was a lot, but nearly 20%? That’s an astonishing amount of tickets, a huge pile of money and a bloody scandal.

In the absence of any legislation, the only way to stop this is to #leaveoutthetout (hashtag courtesy of Chvrches, who retweet fans’ last-minute ticket availability): if you’ve got spares or need them, there are ethical ticket exchanges such as Scarlet Mist and Twickets. The big-name resale sites are despicable, as are the people that sell on them.