Love, sex and interminable pop-culture references

Category: Personal (Page 1 of 3)

ILB’s personal posts

Weekend.be

“So what are you going to do?” asked my pretty young colleague as we were walking together to the gate (she has a fob to get out; I don’t). “This weekend, I mean?”
“You first?”
“I mean… nothing, really. I’ll play some games. Did I mention my boyfriend lent me his Nintendo Switch?”

I did remember, mostly on account of the fact that she spent fifteen minutes rhapsodising about New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (and I agree with her; it’s very much a love letter to Nintendo’s history) earlier in the day.

“So what are you going to do?”
“Well, I’ve got this meeting tonight, and then for the rest of the weekend I’ll… I’ll…”

And then I just… stopped.

What was I going to do? An eternal question, perhaps, and one for which I genuinely didn’t have an answer. What was I going to do? As much as I’ve gotten to know my pretty young colleague over the past three weeks, I’m fairly certain that “I’m going to sit at my computer, read sex blogs and perhaps play the tile-matching game that lets you see boobs, oh, and I’ll lie in bed doing nothing at all because I am a millennial and that’s what we do” wasn’t exactly the most appropriate, or stimulating, answer I could have given.

What was I going to do?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there wasn’t really much that I could say I did. There are multiple micro-actions, of course; today I sorted out money for rent, charged my iPod (and, in doing so, put two more albums on it because I can), deleted some e-mails, read a bit of one of the graphic novels I got for my birthday… and now I’m sitting here writing in my blog.

Part of me likes the tedium, of course. Drinking tea…

[pause while ILB actually goes to make himself a cup of tea]

…and doing very little reminds me of much simpler times, times where I could sit in my bedroom at home, watch porn, write my blog and read fantasy novels at bedtime. In order to give my pretty young colleague an accurate answer, I’d have to say something nebulous like “I’m going to do a rough emulation of what I used to do, only with adult responsibilities now and a fair amount more back pain”.

I do wonder, however, if the most suitable response to her question would be something like…

“…just be?”

Because I never have time for that. If I’m at work, I’m too busy. If I’m at home and the TV’s on, it’s too loud. If it’s late, I’m too tired. If it’s early, I’m too tired. And, frankly, if I’m thinking about all the things that I need to do, it’s too much.

But right now, it is quiet. I have my tea, and I have my blog, and I’m alone, and the only sound I can hear is the soft tap of my fingertips against the keyboard.

So, for now, I don’t need to be doing anything this weekend. Right here, right now, I’m content to just be.

Institutional casual transphobia, and why it sucks

Something that most of you may have missed:

During the week a local councillor was suspended from the Green Party of England and Wales for transphobia. As co-chair of the GPEW’s “Women’s Group”, she made the “unremarkable factual observation that transwomen are not female” (not my words). She was ousted from her position for this.

Kathryn Bristow, her co-chair, is a transwoman – or, as the co-ordinator for the Bridgwater Green Party puts it, “a man who wishes to be identified as a woman”. The GPEW councillor in Sunderland weighed in on this, including sentences like this:

“I have witnessed female colleagues issued with death threats and threats of rape by trans rights activists, so in comparison, I have only had a small taste of this vile behaviour.”

gpew sunderland councillor

The prevailing wisdom in the under echelons of the GPEW is that, despite the fact that we passed a gender self-ID motion at Conference, trans people (and, more specifically, M-to-F transwomen) are dangerous to women and children. Pink News reports on this story here.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my local Green Party (of which I am still a paying member) in which the writer, a party contact, said this:

As a party that claims/seeks to respect science it is outrageous that someone has been suspended for saying that transwomen are not female. Firstly, it’s true. Transwomen have XY chromosomes, the definitive marker for male sex.

local green party contact

He followed this up by saying that “telling the truth is, for [him], a matter of conscience.” So I did the same.

My e-mail read thus:

Much as I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, I am astounded that this sort of viewpoint exists within the GPEW and maybe even some fringes of [my local GP].

Transphobia is not, in any way, an acceptable point of view, and as much as it can be an ‘accidental’ prejudice, it is nevertheless a prejudice, and both dangerous and damaging in every imaginable way, comparable to racism, sexism and homophobia. I have already had my issues with whorephobia (SWERFism) in the GPEW; on this issue, however, I am not content to be silent.

First of all, although ‘sex’ is biologically defined by chromosomes at birth, ‘gender’ is a social construct, and often weaponised. As a cisgender male, I’ve been subjected to “boys don’t cry” narratives (occasionally with those exact words); the recent tragic death of Sarah Everard has added weight to the right-wing media’s “girls are weak” and/or “need protection by men from men” sort of thing. All these viewpoints are damaging. They are insulting. They do not help. They also promote gender stereotypes which we should be working to eliminate.

We should not be focusing on ‘protect our daughters’, rather ‘educate our sons’. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that not everyone is a daughter or a son.

As a social construct, and as a matter of consent, gender is intrinsically flexible and changeable, and it is the individual’s right to make that decision (as many times as they wish; gender identity can be switched at any time, and as there are more than two genders in existence, this decision can be made multiple time), it is incredibly dangerous to label someone as one gender, especially if they have explicitly said they identify as another. If you are uncertain, it is possible to just ask someone what their gender identify and/or preferred pronouns are; neither question is offensive.

It is grossly offensive to call someone who identifies as a woman ‘a man’ or ‘male’. This is a genuine insult and has no place in acceptable, moral discourse. Trans people have suffered under the pressures of societal norms for far too long (and they shouldn’t have suffered to begin with). The right-wing press label trans activists as unnatural; they are seen with suspicion or unwarranted curiosity for the simple act of not being cis, or hetero, or both, or either. Even at an inclusive event, trans people are often singled out – a lesbian activist group at Pride in London came under fire for handing out anti-trans leaflets, saying that transwomen are not women. Jess Phillips MP recently read out a list of “women and girls” in Parliament, purported to be a list of all female victims of violence, but excluding all transwomen, who weren’t on the list as its author considers them to be ‘not real women’.

Do you have any idea how insulting this is?

It’s been said at some point that the GPEW is tying itself in knots about trans rights when we should instead be focusing on the climate emergency (and we should, but we are not a single-issue party and I would urge us not to become so). But we shouldn’t be. It is not an issue to be debated, it is a simple fact:

Trans women are women
Trans men are men
Some people don’t have a gender
Gender is something you identify yourself

and

TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

and I will not stand by while anyone says anything different. Come at me if you will, but everything I have said above is correct.

ilb (he/him)

I make no apology for anything I said in the above. I joined the GPEW in 2010 because I saw it as an inclusionist, radical left-wing party and this is the first time I have been genuinely shaken by something somebody in the party has said (even if it goes against party policy).

I am sharing this on my blog because I feel that it needs to be highlighted before the press gets their hands on this story.

I am not resigning from the GPEW, but I plan to challenge these damaging and transphobic views in my local party’s upcoming AGM. I will, of course, update you with anything else that arises from this.

It’s all about the Munie, Hunie

Every day for the last week (and a bit), I’ve always set some time aside to play HuniePop.

For those of you who don’t know what HuniePop is, it’s a dating sim with voice acting, multiple location/interaction settings, clever writing and an innovative puzzle game (of the tile-matching type) replacing the standard “conversation selection” during dates, as in other games of the genre. I’ve even been having dreams about playing HuniePop, so it’s a big deal in my life right now.

And why is this?

For the past couple of weeks I have also been under a not inconsiderable amount of stress. Both my girlfriend and I are looking for jobs and, realistically, we have both been offered one; as of now, though, we are both still awaiting telephone calls confirming them. This period of inactivity has resulted in a lot of alone time to think, and we all know what happens when I think.

Just before lockdown started I had made a mental recovery from the large accident I had in 2019 and was starting to work on my body image. Lockdown hit at the worst possible time, just after my birthday and while I was having a difficult time at work. Eroticon was cancelled at the same point, and so was the annual music event I was going to play at.

I stayed strong, but there was a lot of internal turmoil. The physical exercise I was trying to do (and there wasn’t much of it, but I was making an effort) fell by the wayside and, as 2020 wore on, I started to feel worse and worse about my body.

The turning point

If you’ve been reading, you’ll know I lost the job I loved at the beginning of the year and, since then, I’ve been lying awake most nights thinking about my life (and, also, I’ve been lying to my girlfriend, telling her I’m fine – I’m not really fine, but I don’t want to add to her worries).

I’ve always had a problem with self-image and what little self-confidence I once had is being increasingly eroded. I don’t like the way I look and I’m no longer confident about the way I talk (the job trial I had yesterday was the first time in a while I’ve been able to talk with the assurance that anyone is listening to me). I can see people displaying their talent, or their physical attributes, or both online (and in real life, such as it is) and I do, sad to say, feel totally inadequate.

Girlfriend said, and rightly so, that – what with being in a relationship with her and therefore not trying to attract anyone – I don’t need to worry about my physical appearance. But it’s not that simple. I don’t find myself attractive, at least not physically, and that is a problem for me. Next time I go to Eroticon, I’m guaranteed to be surrounded by beautiful, body-confident people, and that always makes me feel excluded.

It’s me doing this to myself, I know. I’m my own worst critic. But then aren’t we all?

And what is to be done?

I suppose that’s the reason why I’ve been playing HuniePop. The girls in the game don’t look at you with judging eyes or make you doubt how you look. On HuniePop, I can flirt and I can date and I can talk and talk and talk, and if a date goes wrong, at the end of the day, it’s just a game, so I can try again until the tiles are in a better configuration.

And the girls will talk and ask me questions. If I get it right, they smile. Sometimes they giggle, sometimes they compliment me. I always do the same to them.

Life is difficult.

But if I can’t be happy with myself, at least in HuniePop I can be some semblance of the person I want to be – or, at least, a person with the confidence I’d like to have. With the girls in HuniePop, I can have the sort of confidence I’ve never had in real life.

That’s right. That’s okay. That’s what helps.

At least a little.

QuoteQuest: Walter

It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.

marquis de sade

and

Some boys are sissies by nature but I was a sissy by conviction.

frank o’connor

I am, to use the common parlance, a wimp. I’ve never been quiet about that, or ashamed – it’s just who I am. I am incredibly sensitive, both mentally and physically: look for a soft spot, and you’ll find one all over. Any sort of stimulus is one I can feel, and at the correct time, the right sort of physical touch is all I need for a galaxy brain moment – get my right nipple in your mouth as I’m about to come, and I’ll most likely see through time.

Walter knows where it's at.
Hard same, my friend.

But I don’t like pain very much.

Understatement of the century, right there. I can’t stand pain. Hypersensitivity isn’t a friend there, and although I’m always receptive to being touched (anywhere, by anyone) – back scratches, hair strokes, long cuddles, spooning despite what GOTN thinks – I can’t abide being hurt. It doesn’t do much for me, and it doesn’t help. It’s a distraction.

And it makes me cry. Some people find crying boys sexy. It’s not meant to be sexy.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I haven’t been hurt during sex. Alicia used to spank me very hard while I was on top. I’d howl with pain, which she interpreted as pleasure, but she seemed to be enjoying it, so I didn’t say anything. I almost died of dehydration giving the Seamstress head underneath a duvet (but kept going until she came, for… reasons). Catherine’s lack of restraint left a hand-shaped mark on my arse; energetic sex with Louise left my muscles sore; I even managed to injure myself once, during sex with Jilly, slamming my head against the wall (but that was an accident!).

I may not be aiming for pain during sex. But I’m no stranger to it. It just… happens. This is the sort of thing that happens to me. I’m expecting it, frankly.

I’m also not overly comfortable with delivering pain. I’m not a particularly violent boy, and even with the consent that’s necessary for any sort of sexual contact, I don’t really know how to do it. I’ll do a few (soft) spanks if she wants – I’m a percussionist, after all – and I’ve even wielded a vegan rubber-tipped flogger at some points. But this is, in every case, for her pleasure, and at her request. Given the choice, I prefer kisses as foreplay.

This extends outside of the bedroom, of course. Slaps in porn make me flinch. Crying babies make me nervous. I don’t like shouty teachers, or strict parents, or authoritative bosses. I had a massive panic attack once watching a fisherman kill a fish. Upset children are a specific weakness, too – mostly girls, in fact. I can’t emotionally deal with any of these things.

And I really don’t like pain.

I’m aware this may be painting me as the antithesis of so many of my fellows in the sex-positive community. But it’s for the reasons above that I don’t partake in BD/SM or hardcore porn. If I can live a softer, safer and more comfortable sex life, then I will… because, on the most basic of levels, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much.

Doesn’t mean I don’t fuck hard, though.

QuoteQuest

Evangelism

In the early weeks of December I was well aware that I was truly in the twilight of my employment. I was holding out a little hope – although very little indeed – that I wouldn’t have to leave (and I’m still having dreams, including those of last night, in which I’m either still employed or have managed to inveigle my way back in), but realistically, I was leaving, and I knew it.

I told myself that I wouldn’t be too cavalier in my approach to work, even in those final days, if I wanted to either continue in the career I had started to forge or stand any chance of getting back there. And so, for the most part, I didn’t.

For the most part.

Part of my daily duty involved finding a computer and using it to log my activities (on the assumption that they’d be read. I’m not sure they were.); computers were in plentiful supply on the top floor, but that involved effort. I’d go to the break room, get myself a cup of tea and use the one computer in there. Occasionally there were biscuits, so you can see where my priority lies.

At that point in the day, the break room was usually populated by middle-aged women who came in a little early before starting the late shift. We were always cordial, despite not really crossing paths at any point during the day; there was, however, some amount of camaraderie going on. I hardly ever joined in with their conversations, though, as I can’t really identify with discussions of how many children one has.

Until, one day in the week before my final, the topic of sex toys came up.

I don’t know who broached the subject, but I’m fairly certain that it was another colleague of mine – a tall, sporty black dude whose main job was to stand outside (and he did so, too, even in winter, which commands a certain amount of respect on his own!). He has, like all of us, his filter, but seemingly feels it loosen when nobody else is listening.

Even to my untrained ears, the conversation was grating. Ann Summers was being frequently named, as were the unspecified term “vibrator” and the agonisingly vague “rabbit”. Somebody had to say something.

“What you WANT to be using,” I said in a loud, clear voice, “is SOMETHING called DOXY. It’s doing a lot of trade and is VERY well-regarded.”
Everyone looked at me.
“What was that?” asked one of the middle-aged women, while the sporty guy flashed a full-beam smile in my direction.
“Doxy,” I said clearly. “D – O – X – Y. It’s a personal massager, which…”
“It’s a what?”
“It’s a sex toy, it’s a sex toy,” I acquiesced. “It’s not exactly the market leader, but according to everyone I’ve talked to it’s by far the best…” Not to mention there’s one on my bedside table. But I’m not going to add that.
“How do you know about this?”

For once, I had an answer ready.

“Because I know the guy who runs the company,” I shrugged, which is technically true. I’ve met him. He’s the one the Doxy on my bedside table is from (although, again, it’s actually my girlfriend’s Doxy, even if I’m usually the one wielding it). He seems really nice. And it seemed to be a satisfying enough answer.
“Mmmmmm,” said someone. “That’s good advice. I’ll make sure to be asking you again if you know about this sort of thing.”

Dangerous territory. Evidently I do know about this sort of thing. I just can’t let conversations about this go unnoticed. So I chose the immediate course of evasive action, steering this Doxy-shaped boat out of the shark-infested waters.

“You’re welcome to ask me,” I said, “but it’ll have to be quick. I’m leaving at the end of next week.”
“You’re leaving?” everyone said at the same time.
“Unfortunately, it’s true,” I said, with a small, sad smile. “Contractual, though. Nothing to do with me.”

I got up to wash my teacup, it being a truth universally acknowledged that my end of day usually followed said action.

It was on my way out of the door that I heard my name being called. Of course, said the voice in my head, this is the point where someone genuinely tells you that they are going to miss you. Of all the people you’ve told, everyone’s been very professional. Maybe one of these ladies will actually say that.

I turned around.

“What was the name of that toy again?”

2020 #orgasmcount (aka: “What, He’s Still Doing This?”)

Let’s address the issue without flinching. Plenty of people have had a terrible 2020. A mismanaged global pandemic and xenophobic union severance don’t make for a good combination in an uncertain world. There have been deaths, job losses and mass cancellation of things all and sundry.

I, myself, haven’t suffered too much. I had a difficult time earlier in the year when Eroticon was cancelled at the eleventh hour; the annual musical event I attend was also then shelved, and this included the only chance I’d get to play an instrument live in the whole year, so I had problems dealing with that, as well. In the summer, my girlfriend lost their job; in the autumn, I did. My last day at work was on the 17th.

And, before you ask, this is a bad thing. Practically every dream I’ve had since has been set at work, thus roundly mocking me for something I enjoyed, but ultimately had no control over.

But overall, my year wasn’t too bad (apart from losing my job, which I may need therapy about). My friends and family are all safe. The only death in my family has been of a very distant relative who I’ve only met once or twice. I was, at the very least, employed for the entire year and didn’t need to work from home for more than a couple of months. I even managed to arrange a relatively satisfying Christmas, albeit stuck in a tiny flat with one other person.

And then there are orgasms.

Last year I had 134 orgasms. I was curious, when the COVID-19 outbreak took hold, how that would affect sexual activity globally – realistically, if more people are staying at home, how much more wanking is there? I can’t speak for anyone else, not even my girlfriend who bought themselves a porn subscription recently… but I can, at least, give a fair approximation of what I’ve been up to.

113 – the number of orgasms I’ve had this year (as denoted by a ★ in my WHSmith mid-year diary)

Less than last year. That’s a surprise.

30.9% – the number of orgasms in a year, compared to the number of days in a year, expressed as a percentage

I mean, that’s almost a third. Is that good? That’s good, right…? Right?

22/6 to 03/07 – a period of time in which I didn’t have any orgasms at all (as denoted by “NJO” in my diary – you can work out what that stands for by yourself)

I wrote about this, although I’m still not quite sure exactly I did so. I just didn’t feel particularly sexy during that period. Interestingly enough, I didn’t mark the orgasm I had on the fourth of July as particularly potent, so whatever I did on that day, it must have been fairly average… insofar as an orgasm can, of course, be average.

25/05, 14/10 and 18/12 – dates on which I had notably powerful, effective or satisfying orgasms (as denoted by ! or even ☺ (once) in my diary)

Nothing to say here, really, except… DAMN IT, JANET! WHY AREN’T THEY ALL LIKE THIS?!

18/12 (again) – the one date on which I had more than one orgasm (as denoted by “x2”) in my diary

I apparently did this three times last year, as opposed to in my late teens or early twenties when I’d do that several times a day… nevertheless, this was a day when I was particularly horny and… [rustle of paper as ILB checks his notes] …was over a week since I’d last had one.

And I’d just lost my job, so, y’know.

04/06, 09/07, and 18/10difficult, disappointing or frustrating orgasms (as denoted by ? in my diary, or occasionally a comment)

Le sigh.

04/06 – I wrote “Too much effort, too little result!” about this. It’s the worst kind of orgasm, isn’t it – when you’re very horny and up for it, but then it doesn’t happen for far too long?
09/07 – I wrote the single word “watery” afterwards. Eww.
18/10 – there’s a single ? here. I actually remember this one – I wasn’t sure whether it warranted a ★ as, although I ejaculated, I barely felt a thing. But I put one down anyway. Because I’m a rascal.

This is, of course, my last post in 2020. I fully intend to continue in 2021, at least in some form. Probably exactly the same form, to be honest.

Because otherwise… well, you wouldn’t be reading, would you?

Grotski

I’ve spent the past few days trying to convince my girlfriend that I don’t have COVID-19. This is, of course, despite all evidence to the contrary – I have been off work slacking working from home for the past week, for example, due to a positive case of COVID-19 in the team I work with.

This might not be so alarming were it not for the fact that my body has been in open rebellion for about as long. I didn’t even have any COVID symptoms until yesterday, when I started coughing increasingly throatily. Last night I started shivering in the middle of the night, before I got up to cough up bile and vomit spectacularly into the toilet. Today I slept until 1.

Talking is painful. Breathing hurts. And I’m so, so cold.

I’m not overly concerned, because I’ve had these symptoms before – I went through the entirety of Eroticon 2018 with bronchitis and once battled through half an hour of work with norovirus, and this feels like one (or both) of them. It’s not the first time I’ve been susceptible. I have, of course, ordered a home test in case this is a coronavirus, but it doesn’t feel like it is.

Not that it feels particularly good, either.

Whatever this is, it boils down to “ILB is not well.” And it’s getting worse. I don’t think I’ll be going back to work next week, really.

Being sick does odd things to my sex life. Being unable to sleep, but throaty and coughing like Tecwen Whittock, means that I am staying up later than usual (and not going to work means that that doesn’t knock out my concentration as much as it otherwise would). And – as the later it is, the hornier I get – I’m sitting at my computer, my lower half stiffening, my upper half screaming, making me feeling not just grotski, but torn.

In half.

And so I’ve been living this sort of confused half-existence (once my girlfriend has gone to bed; she has been an excellent nurse the rest of the time) for these past few nights.

On Wednesday, I found myself scrolling through porn for no real purpose other than the fact that I could.
On Thursday, I lurked in a Chaturbate model’s livestream listening to the 80s synthpop she was playing since I didn’t have the energy to cue any up myself.
On Friday, I stayed up until well past midnight chatting informally to a friend while she was casually cybering three girls in separate windows.
On Saturday, once I had determined the fact that I wasn’t going to get any sleep, I swaddled myself in my dressing gown and sat in the lounge reading sci-fi until 3am. And I was still turned on.

But I haven’t been touching myself. I don’t trust myself to. Taking clothes off means being cold, and being cold is something I’m trying my hardest to avoid. When I orgasm, I cough, and coughing currently leads to pain, or retching, or worse. Coupled with the fact that my IBS has been active recently, this all means that I’m a General Mess, and we should always say no to GM.

[Pause while ILB waits for the laughter and applause.]

But here we are on Sunday evening and I have had enough. I’ve got Halls Soothers, soluble paracetamol, and a bottle of Benylin all on hand. My mum brought me a massive box of teabags. I mean, I’ve even got lemon juice and honey from Bee if I want to go all in with the traditional home remedies. If I knuckle down on this, I can fight it. It may be painful, and it may be making me sick, and – even if I don’t think it is – it may end up being COVID-19 after all.

But if I can get through this, I can get my sexy back.

And so…

INTO THE TEETH OF THE STORM!

An Open Letter

Dear God,

I’m writing this to you just before All Souls Day because I feel that’s the right time. I don’t feel qualified to speak for all souls, because after all I am only one, but if you would listen to this one soul, maybe you can consider all of us as well. I’m also aware, before the commenters start coming in, that the point of the day itself is to pray for the souls of the dead, but bear with me here.

God, everyone is scared. I’m not so scared, not as much as a lot of people I know, but everyone is. There are so many things going wrong right now and sometimes, even for someone with the patience of a saint, things can be too much. Since you’re omniscient, you probably know that. But it helps to vocalise this.

We are in the throes of a much-expected second (or third) wave of a global pandemic. People have died from this disease; people are also dying by the second from hunger or diarrhoea or malaria of AIDS, but this disease is killing white people, so it’s getting all the press. It’s also a new and unpredicted threat, so the media are all over it. I’m not one of the groups at risk, being in my 30s and relatively healthy, but a lot of people are, and that is scary.

There is a nasty undercurrent throughout the world – your world – rumbling just beyond the horizon of conscience. There are those who crave, and are grasping for, power, but once in possession of it, seemingly have no idea how to lead. God, you are probably aware of the two people I am talking about here, but there are also those in authoritative positions – bosses, landlords, council people – who have the power but lack the compassion that they should, by all rights, have.

Those in power are not handling things well and they know it. Their institutions are under threat, and rather than backing down or changing their ways, they are becoming more threatening, dictatorial and almost autocratic in their ways. They are trying to retain power through terror, and that is scary too.

God, there are people who think the same way as me, those who are trying to make a difference. I’ve been trying to make the world a better place in the very limited way I can. But, as I said, I am only one soul and I have my own issues too – issues with my health which means I have very little energy, with my body which means I no longer have the use of my left arm, and even my job (which I managed to hold onto; God, you know how many people have lost theirs) is being threatened.

I am losing money and I am losing control. I have had moments recently wherein I feel like I am losing myself. I am adrift, sometimes, because there is nothing to cling to. It is easier to shut down, from the point of view of someone who wants to do good for the world, but ultimately lacks the drive.

Having said all that, God, this isn’t a letter to you bemoaning the entire state of the world, because in all good faith I can’t really do that. I don’t believe it, because I have more faith in humanity than many people who have just read my above words would expect. I’m not a positive person by design, as you know – and I find optimism very difficult, even when there isn’t a global pandemic or dangerous people in charge – but I do have some hope.

Hope is a valuable commodity, God. People are losing hope; they are screaming and crying and dying, and even coming together to protest, but they are beginning to suffer from a lack of hope. The one I love tells me every day how she has lost all hope – everything continues to get worse, she says, and just when you think it can’t, it will, and the world will end soon.

I am more optimistic than she is, God, but when she continuously tells me the same thing, it is difficult to ignore her despair. Occasionally I wish she believed in you, so she could have the outlet that I do, but she does not. Many doubt you are listening, but I feel you are.

I see good people around me every day (and, anyway, I believe everyone is intrinsically good, but I mean, people doing good things). There are people doing good at work, and in the streets and the shops, and on the internet, and all the places I go. Occasionally there are people who are belligerent – the man on the bus who started an argument about young people and discipline, or the lady who shouted at me for wearing a “YES to the EU” badge on election day. But mostly I see people who have their heads down, wanting to get their business done and move on, and those are the people for whom I have my greatest hope.

We have done unspeakable things to the world you designed, but life moves on, and upon those people moving along – even though they are a faceless mass to me – I ask your blessing. Because every single one of them is another soul, as much as I am, and right now all they – we – need to do is wait, and keep moving, and keep hoping, and keep loving, as we are all able to do.

My hope is for the future. People say to me that this won’t pass. But it will. History tells us that things change, and they will change again. We may never reach Utopia, but we can lay the bricks.

My hope is for the future, whether it’s ten minutes from now, or an hour, a day, a month, a year, a decade… whenever. With hope, people can move. With hope, people can change. And with hope, people can realise there is a better world ahead.

It isn’t easy, God.

But it is possible.

“It’s Not a Him, It’s an It.”

When I was a very small child, I was cosmically in tune with the universe, insofar as I had a genuine belief that everything – even obviously inanimate objects – was alive, and both conscious and sapient. (I still hold the same opinion about non-human animals.) I did the schoolwork in Year 3 which suggested the opposite, but I didn’t believe it.

My mother helped shape my beliefs by using the word “hurt” as a synonym for “damage”.
“You’ll hurt it,” she’d say. “Don’t do it like…” (and then whatever I was doing wrong, likely to cause damage, like trying to shove one of my plastic dinosaurs into an electric plug to “power him up”.)
In time, I adopted this figure of speech, except for the pronoun, which I substituted for a gendered one every time (“Stop doing that! You’ll hurt him!”).
“It’s not a him, it’s an it,” my mother would say in a tired way. “And you can’t hurt it.”
“But I’m just using your phraseology,” I said, “and the message is clear, so why should it matter what pronoun I’m using?”

Only I didn’t say that.

Today is International Pronouns Day, which aims to raise awareness that people have different pronouns. There are multitudes of pronouns out there, and if you don’t like them, you can just make one up. My pronouns, in case you’re wondering, are he / him / his; I chose these pronouns when I chose my gender, and while I don’t like the connotations, they are easy pronouns to use. So I use them.

For a while – and I won’t say when, exactly, but for a while – I occasionally taught English to foreign students. It wasn’t a fantastic way to make income, but it was a way to both instruct people in the ways of language and indoctrinate them politically, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do that. (I wrote “UKIP” on the board once and added synonyms: evil, bad, beware, that sort of thing.) One of the things we discussed, of course, was the use of pronouns:

I am
You are
He is
She is
We are
They are
It is (…not a him, it’s an it.)

And, perhaps not surprisingly, none of the students knew of any gendered pronouns other than he and she. Because why would they? They hadn’t been taught them. Quite why they hadn’t been taught them was beyond me, but in 100% of cases, none of the students asked. And none of them mentioned any third gender, or genderfluidity, or trans identity, or agender, or… well, anything other than male or female, really.

Until of them them did.

A young female student (she/her, cisgender) asked, at one point, what to call a trans person. She had seen a news article about Chelsea Manning on the way in, and she was confused by the use of a female “she” pronoun to describe someone who was born, and still biologically was, male. Suddenly, the ball was in my court. I had the opportunity to give a speech about the fact that gender is a concept (which it is), not an identity (unless you make it so), and doesn’t need to stay the way it was when you were assigned it at birth (because, well, you can change it).

But that would have taken the whole three hours. As her teacher, I had been asked a specific question, and I needed to give a specific answer.

I spent a while writing third-gender pronouns on the board – they/them, he, xe, xhe, zhe, ze, hir… maybe a few more as well, this was years ago – and was pleased to see that she was, indeed, noting these all down.
“There are so many of them,” she said eventually. “What do you do – ask everyone what their pronouns are when you meet?”
I couldn’t, in all truthfulness, say that I did that. I didn’t like to assume – I still don’t – but it wasn’t my usual conversation opener.

[That right there is the sort of thing that International Pronouns Day is trying to normalise. A noble aim and something we, as a sex-positive community, should be striving for.]

Fortunately, I had an answer.

“If you’re not sure,” I said carefully, “you might be able to just use the gender-neutral pronoun they, until you find out. But I’ve found most people don’t mind being asked.”
“What about animals? You call them it, right?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” I said hurriedly. “An animal, any animal, including a human, is a he or a she or a they or a…” (and here I indicated the board and its list of pronouns) “…a plant, or an object, is an it.”
“But I’ve heard people use the word it to describe an animal!”

And we spent the whole three hours talking about that.


The Wisdom of Memories

Q: What do you do when you don’t feel inspired?
A: I think about what the 15-year-old version of me needed. And I write about that. It’s a writing prompt that always works for me.

Rupi Kaur

Dear fifteen-year-old me,

It’s now twenty years later and, although I’m aware you don’t think you’ll live this long, I can assure you that you are very much still alive and in your mid-30s. There have, in the past couple of decades, been at least three global pandemics, all of which you’ll survive, despite being frontline medical staff at the height of one of them. I have some advice to give you, which I hope you can pass on to your future self, so keep this letter safe.

First and foremost, it is all right to be interested in sex. Most people are, at your age. While I respect the fact that you don’t masturbate (although I can assure you that you will), I also need to assure you that the ways your sexual identity is manifesting are not odd, unhygienic, or perverse. It’s also not illegal to be watching soft porn, although you think it is.

I’m not going to say something nebulous like “embrace the fact that you are a sexual being”, but you should at least accept it. Your sexuality will become a big part of your identity in the future, but if you’re not comfortable about it now, that’s fine. Be more chill about the whole thing.

You are never going to get over the crush you have now. Not really. You will fall in love again, faster and harder and more desperately than you have ever thought possible. Sometimes these people will reciprocate. Nevertheless, the way this crush pans out will hang over you, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake. I’m so sorry about how it happens, but for the record, maybe it’s best not to ask her out.

When you are sixteen, someone you have only spoken to once will add you as a friend on MSN. She did this because she fancies you. You need to appear approachable and available beyond a vague “oh yes, I remember you.” If you figure out how to do this, let me know.

At your age, most girls want “a boyfriend”, and it doesn’t matter who it is. Your weird friend whose name is evocative of lights in the sky will be dating soon, and everyone will wonder how or why. You will pine, but never take a chance, given how your current crush is going to play out. Future girlfriends are going to tell you how attentive and considerate you are. It’s hard to take a compliment, but however you approach things now, try to be a good boyfriend. You probably will.

Your first kiss will be awkward and messy, and take you completely by surprise. The first time you have sex, you will hardly feel a thing, and it’s only during your second time that you realise how good it feels.

You will never feel closer to death than the first time you get your heart broken. It will happen again, and again, and every time it tears you into little pieces. Nobody else really understands how much of yourself you invest in romantic relationships, and how much it hurts when they pull away. You’ll be told, over and over again, that none of this is your fault, but you’ll always feel like it is. Even at thirty-five, you’re still trying to puzzle out what you did wrong.

You will take some risks, but much less than you’d like. When you’re seventeen, you’ll go to a community event you like so much that you’ll still be a part of that community for over a decade. At eighteen, go to Africa. It seems foolhardy to do so, but you’ll look back years later and be glad you did. When you’re nineteen, you’ll find solace in music and the companionship of an organisation you’re already in. Embrace every second. DON’T GO HOME EARLY – you’ll feel like you’ve missed something.

I have some advice for the future you that you may wish to remember, as well.

At seventeen, you will have a happy holiday that ends in catastrophe. Don’t do anything stupid, don’t assume everything is fine because sleep is a cure-all. But, most importantly, if some accusations against you are false, don’t say they are true because it’s easy to do so. You are never going to recover from this if you just lie back and take it.

At eighteen, you will figure out that your girlfriend is cheating on you months before she tells you. Ask her directly. Keeping it aside on the idea that she will realise she really loves you will not help at all.

At nineteen, you will wave happily to the girl you fancy at university for the last time. You will never see her again. You’ll never know where she went or what happened to her. Ask her for her MSN address.

At twenty-five, don’t ask your girlfriend to marry you by presenting her with a ring. She is under the impression that you get engaged and then go and buy a ring. You’ve never heard this of concept before, but that’s the concept she has. Never mind that you went to Bath specifically to buy it for her. Don’t do it.

At twenty-seven, you will start to question your deeply-held belief that love solves everything, even relationships that have turned sour. Tell someone something, sooner rather than later. Talk to Lady Pandorah, even. The girl who broke your heart at sixteen will also give you some sage advice. Listen to her.

At thirty-three, you will have a large accident. Use the resulting time off to re-evaluate what you really want. Working towards it will eventually yield rewards, even if it seems fruitless initially.

But finally, fifteen-year-old me, I have something very important to say, and I want you to listen.

You are under the impression, now, that you are hated. You have often felt worthless and under-appreciated – an older child eclipsed by a younger sibling, an accessory friend who’s part of the group but not really needed, an easy target for mockery and ridicule at school but not really a person in your own right. Even in your later years, you will think about yourself in such a way. You’re coming home to cry every day and you’re beginning to wonder if suicide is the end point. You don’t know how to do it painlessly, but you’re starting to think about it.

In the end, you won’t do it, and your one attempt won’t work. In fact, you know it’s not going to work before you try. It’s mostly for show, and nobody sees you anyway.

In some says, you will never achieve true self-acceptance. But if you take this advice that I’ve given you above, maybe there will be less “what-ifs” and crippling self-doubt in you as you grow. If you don’t do what I did – even though I know that you will – then there will be other memories. Maybe some good, maybe some bad. But perhaps even more exciting ones. You are waiting, constantly, for something huge to happen; every day you are disappointed that it doesn’t.

But you can be the catalyst for that change. I know you don’t know how. But start by learning to play the guitar, at least.

And I’d like you to do something for thirty-five-year-old me.

You are currently aware of the name of a soft porn sex comedy, possibly French, that regularly airs on Exotica Erotica. It’s got a major-general in it and a butler named Albert. You’ve never seen it in its entirety, but you know the one I’m talking about.

Write its name down. It’s driving the older you crazy trying to remember.

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