hollymath: (Default)
I've said before the thing I love about Levenshulme is that it seems to be half people complaining about how expensive the beer is in the posh places is so expensive (more than four quid!) and half people complaining about flytipping.

Yesterday morning seemed typical of that, when I saw on a local facebook group
  • Someone asking if anyone else had seen the man tasered on the steps of the train station yesterday evening
  • A picture of a burnt-out car
  • The news that a gourmet grilled-cheese and burger joint that also does mocktails is going to open
Of course the taser thing was more concerning than just justifying my impression of where I live. But it got worse.

Later in the day, after I'd utterly forgotten about all of these things, Andrew was trying to sort out his travel to and from London for a gig he's going to. I was listening even though I was idly scrolling through twitter when I came upon a tweet with a link and "I bet blind man was a PoC - I hope he is OK & remains anonymous if he wants to." I noticed the link was to the Manchester Evening News, so I clicked on it and...

...interrupted Andrew in the middle of saying "National Express" with "HOLY SHIT!" So of course he was worried, asked me what was wrong, and it took me a while to get the sentence out in the right order.

The man who was tasered at Levenshulme station is blind.

And of course he only got tasered because he was blind. He wasn't dangerous, threatening, hadn't done anything. Two people called the cops saying they thought he had a gun. All he had was his folded-up white cane.

This is my train station. It's like two minutes' walk from here. I'm in and around the area all the time. And I often have my white cane folded up.

Now, I think my friend whose tweet I originally saw had a good point about the likelihood of the man being a person of color. (Andrew said "yeah, he'll be Asian" matter-of-factly when we were talking about this. We don't know, of course, as is only right.) As a white person and a woman, I know I am not in the same danger of having the cops called on me first of all and them overreacting if they are.

But I was pretty shaken up at first, all the same.

And then I started thinking what can I do?

I just had a meeting of the Visually Impaired Steering Group on Wednesday. Had an e-mail from the manager of the council's sensory team who's helping facilitate it for us, so I'm going to ask him. And I'll try to get in touch with the RNIB and see if they're aware of what sort of training the police get on stuff like this -- it's probably them that do it, if anyone does -- and of course there are mad-keen Levenshulme community groups to try to get involved too, maybe do some kind of education event locally. I'm happy to field questions people are usually too embarrassed to ask blind people, let them see my cane, dispense information or resources or whatever.

One of my friends asked if I'd like people to walk with me to/around the station, which I was really touched but and think it's a nice idea, some kind of little march.

The ongoing conversations in my facebook and twitter feeds after I posted this link have been really thought-provoking. As has a BBC article about it which I read this morning, saying that the man doesn't intend to make a complaint and that he "acknowledged that his behaviour could have led to people being concerned."

What really disturbs me is the guy agreed his behavior might've concerned people. Let me be clear: I 100% support whatever reaction he has in the apparent immediate aftermath of being tasered and still surrounded by police. I am not blaming him here at all, I am raging at the systemic ableism in society that made this possible or necessary for him to say.

I know my behavior seems agitated/weird if people don't know I'm blind. I also get anxious a lot (especially when I'm doing something like waiting for a train! I was at a different train station around this same time, waiting for a train that ended up being delayed by 45 minutes, and in freezing awful weather it was so miserable I probably would've looked weird to anyone scrutinizing me too carefully). I do things and I get around in weird ways, and so do a lot of people with a wide range of disabilities: it affects our posture, movements, expressions, body language, all sorts of things.

And it's weird only because people have such a narrow, and an ableist, idea of what "normal" behavior is. It's weird because they're not used to us, because it's not easy for us to get out or because it's expected that we wouldn't do so on our own. That shouldn't get anyone tasered.

I don't blame the guy for saying he could understand why his behavior would be concerning (if he did as the BBC have reported, I think we're just getting the cops' side of the story here) because I can imagine just wanting to get out of this situation.

I can also understand apologizing for the stuff your disability makes you "bad" at, because I do that all the time in a social-lubrication kind of way. I will say sorry for not seeing things and sometimes even as I'm doing it I know it's something I'd object to but it's so ingrained.

That's why it disturbs me. I could see myself doing the same. Even though that is the last thing I want. But the cops have a lot of power over you, especially when they've just tasered you, and when you were just going about your day.

Things I've learned:
  1. SpecSavers' advertising has worked really well because I'm already sick of the jokes about it.Not only are variations on "maybe it's the policeman who's the real blind one!" not actually funny, but they're ableist. Remember how I'm always banging on about the uses of "blindness" to indicate ignorance of something? This is that. If you're equating stupidity or ineffectualness with blindness, you're also implying blind people are stupid and unable to do things. This is something that hurts blind people every day, and unlike getting the police to stop tasering people, it's really easy to fix so please do consider it or mention it to your friends.
  2. The police-defenders on the local fb group are really concerning me. They don't seem to understand that once someone tells the police you have a gun, it's almost impossible to prove to them you don't without getting yourself hurt in the process. (I know this is something my friends of color know very well and I'm sorry I'm only realizing it recently.) It's enraging.
  3. And sometimes even the people on the "right" side are so fucking ableist. There's been lots of "this man had to be so courageous for using public transport by himself!" that edges into cripspiration which just makes my brain itch.
hollymath: (Default)
For our anniversary treat tonight, Andrew and I went to see Martin Carthy at the Band on the Wall -- a venue Andrew had been to before but I hadn't, and I really liked it. Seemed to have nice veggie/vegan food (I had just eaten today but I want to try it another time) and the beer was good, as well as having a lot of the kind of music I normally like better than Andrew does, despite not having been there myself!

We got settled into seats right in the front row, folding chairs in tightly-packed rows. The woman next to me started chatting; she was friendly and enthusiastic about her boyfriend's tastes in music, totally new to folk. Hadn't heard of Martin Carthy before. I almost envied her the revelation ahead of her, but had to hope she'd see it that way: as Andrew and I told each other on the walk to the bus stop, there must be people who don't like Martin Carthy, but we can't understand how.

I was just playing The Imagined Village songs to Stuart yesterday; he'd done me the favor of giving me a good excuse to get out of the house and away from social media on such a dark day for my country and the world and I repaid the favor, inadvertantly, by introducing him to this music. Looking through my Recently Played, I thought this would be most to his liking and it turned out he hadn't heard of them and was delighted.

So the version of "John Barleycorn" we got as the second or third song tonight was familiar to me from one of the Imagined Village records...but so much more captivating in person of course. I'm someone who's lacked the attention span to read a paragraph lately, whose biggest problem with running 5k is I get bored and want to see if I've got any new things to look at on the internet about one hundred times while I'm running. But here I was tonight, listening to all umpty-million verses of "Sir Patrick Spens" and all that time I am not doing anything else. I'm not thinking of anything else, I don't want to be anywhere else.

There's something compelling to me about folk songs, old songs: you can almost feel the weight of the years on them, the different people who've sung them in different circumstances. Carthy introduced "Sir Patrick Spens" by saying that if this were a real event it would've happened in 1282, and my mind got a bit dizzy trying to imagine such a year, much less that anything could tie such a time to us sitting now in our folding chairs. Of course the song itself is nothing like that old (Wikipedia tells me a version was published first in 1765), and of course many older artifacts of our culture persist, not least the language we speak! But still I am a little in awe of how casually this man carries around in his head versions of things that have been in so many other people's heads, and ears, and voices.

My attention span didn't last the whole evening (and this was an old-person's gig for old people; it had a curfew of 9:45, so it wasn't a long evening!), but it did spike up again when I heard another Imagined Village favorite, "My Son John."
If you listen carefully you might recognize elements of the song's plot: Carthy mentioned it having been recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior in the sixties, and apparently the sleeve notes of that album explain it a little.
Fred Hamer collected this song in Bedfordshire from the singing of David Parrott. A father and his disabled son are before a naval surgeon who is trying to cheat him of his disablement pension by claiming that he was careless to stand in the way of the cannon ball which shot his legs off.
It fits right in with Atos and the DWP today, doesn't it, to blame a man for getting his legs shot off so that they don't have to give him any money.

I always come away from folk gigs wishing I listened to more folk music. Andrew likes it fine (of course he's the one who's introduced me to Martin Carthy and all the British folk, just as the nice lady next to me (Debbie, she was called) is being introduced to it by her boyfriend tonight) but it's not as well represented in his music collection as other things, and it's usually his music that's playing. He's always careful to tell me I can play whatever I want, and of course I know I can, but if I'm not bothered about whether there's music playing and he is, we mostly hear his music.

But, the Unthanks are playing in March. I really like them. I think I'd like to go see them.
hollymath: (Default)
Honestly, I've been pretty sanguine about the death toll of 2016. I think this is probably because I had a lot less to do with pop culture than most of my friends, either through being slightly younger, living a boring sheltered life, or what. I don't feel personally connected to them so I don't feel like I'm losing that bit of myself when we lose them.

But what I think my calm acceptance is about (and I don't trust this thought because I really think I'm rationalizing my lack of emotional connection) is that most of these great people can and should be emulated. The good that they do should, and hopefully does, live on after them in the people they inspire to do the kinds of things they did which made us like them.

So while I recognize that (to give a recent example) David Bowie, Prince and George Michael expanded the boundaries of what men can be like, I also believe that this good and important work can and should continue beyond them. That maybe the best way to honor them is to emulate the things we liked about them and even push some boundaries, like they did.

However! There is one death I'm actually sad and angry about, and it's not because it's someone who personally had a big impact on my life but because it says something sad and angry-making about our world.

Vera Rubin discovered dark matter in the 1970s. She also died on Christmas Day.

This means, among other things, that she will now never get the Nobel Prize her work so richly deserves, because they're only awarded to living people.

As this article about her said in June, "It’s like the [Nobel] committee cannot see her, although nearly all of astrophysics feels her influence." This, of course, could also be a description of her famous discovery: dark matter is called that because astronomers can't "see" it (or detect it in any other way) and yet it must be there to explain the behavior of the matter we can see -- like stars and galaxies.

Only two women have ever won the Nobel Prize in physics, the most recent in 1963 (and even that was a woman sharing it with two men). Even with how difficult it is for women to get in, stay in, and succeed in scientific fields, it happens more often than twice a century!

Like all women in predominantly-male careers, Vera Rubin had to be extra aggressive and persistent. Stories like the one where she had to modify a bathroom sign because until then there'd been no ladies' room where she worked sound endearing and admirable at first...but then realization dawns: how could there have been only men's toilets?! How is this a thing anyone has to put up with? Rubin herself said in 2000 she was "fed up... What’s wrong with this story is that nothing’s changing, or it’s changing so slowly.”

This is why I'm sad and angry. We owed her so much better.
I found out about Vera Rubin's death from the twitter of Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, one of a few space-science women I follow there. I used to follow some men too but only the women talk about what really interests me, which is space (where they say the same kinds of things as the men of course) and social justice here on Earth. Dr. Chanda P-W is Jewish and a woman of color as well, so I find her perspective especially valuable in this, plus she just sounds like a fun person to know.
The following tweets you can see if you click on that one give a good idea of what Vera Rubin was like as a person, not just as the discoverer of a bit of science so famous we've all heard of it even if we don't really know what it is.

Other good stuff about Vera Rubin I found yesterday:
“I first observed at Palomar one long dark December night in 1965,” she recalled later. “My assigned bedroom was on the second floor of the dormitory, and there was a velvet rope at the first floor, blocking the stairs. When an astronomer asked why the rope was there, the answer was ‘because Vera Rubin is upstairs.’”

I live and work with three basic assumptions," Rubin once wrote:
1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.
2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.
3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women."


And here are a few clips from the BBC of Rubin talking about her work.

Tonight

Nov. 19th, 2016 12:58 am
hollymath: (Default)
Andrew and his mom went to a gig tonight so she's staying overnight.

When they got back we sat at the table, her smoking cigarettes and sharing her beer with me (the bag she brought with her seems to contain clothes, a tablet so she can listen to the radio all night, and cans of lager; I approve of all of this), and we all talked about progressive politics and how great Gary is and other good stuff.

And then we had to go to bed, so I checked on Gary and closed the door to keep him downstairs...but it wouldn't close! It was stuck nearly-closed. This extraordinary thing had never happened before.

I eventually discovered he'd left his Dentastix treat between the door and the frame, seeming for all the world as if it'd been intentionally placed there to wedge the door open so he could sneak upstairs to sleep with his humans. That's some dog, that wonder dog.

Oxford

Jul. 5th, 2016 12:29 am
hollymath: (Default)

Went to Oxford last weekend!

James had rung me a week before, asking what I was up to. Not a lot...why? His ex Mary had asked him if he'd wanted to go to Oxford; the tutor who helped get her through her degree was retiring, there was a fancy dinner and poetry and everything. He had to work, but suggested me and now was ringing me to see if I'd like to go.

I was sad he couldn't -- he'd gone to the same college, it was how they met, and he's been talking with me about how we should go visit anyway. But since he couldn't go, hell yes I wanted to. One of the few things he, Andrew (who had a couple of weeks at a residential summer school there when he was working on a distance-learning diploma) and Stuart (who'd lived in one of the colleges when his dad worked there, or something) all agree that I'd love Oxford; I'd never been. And I'd met Mary a few times and we got along, but she lives for away so I think I've seen her at the rate of an afternoon per year for the couple of years I'd known her so far; it'd be nice to increase that ratio a bit!

This was the view I was met with as soon as we got our keys and directions to our room and everything -- we were staying at the college, St Edmunds Hall, which is awesome and also pretty cheap if you used to be a student there (I'm already planning to take advantage of James for this purpose in the future!).

We got there on Friday evening, from our opposite directions (Mary lives in Norwich). She offered to meet me at the train station and told me exactly where she was when she got there before I did, so A++ on how to be nice to your blind friends, there. We got a taxi, got lost finding our room, unpacked and of course went straight for the student bar.

We got the one cask ale they had in plastic cups so we could sit out in the evening sun. We went to the library, which is in what used to be a church, and sat on a bench looking into the churchyard.

After nearly-sleepless nights and the terrible referendum news, and Mary in particular having a stressful journey because she had to get across London and the slings and arrows of floods, getting lost and Brexiters being horrible to her all conspired to justify the drink.

After lovely Mediterranean food at the Queens Lane Coffee House nearby (we shared a platter, and I'd forgotten how nice it was to be eating with another vegetarian so we could say "those chiles are perfectly spicy, aren't they?" and "do you think the hummus is homemade?" and just share the experience like that), and a bimble that ended in the White Horse where we swapped pints halfway through to find out which was better (answer: the Wayland Smithy (which actually looks like a pretty interesting thing itself!, from the White Horse brewery itself), it'd been a long day after an even longer night so we were in bed before too long.

We got breakfast with our room, but only between eight and nine. Which seemed barbaric but we managed to drag ourselves down to the dining hall at a quarter to nine, for mushrooms that tasted like they'd been marinated in butter and glamorgan sausages. Mary was amazed to see veggie sausages, this not being something she could've expected twenty years ago. She told me a story about the chef they had at the time, an Italian who hated vegetarians for some reason and gave one student who asked for a meat-free meal a plate of dry pasta with a fried egg on top.

It's just as well we had breakfast early, because the event we were there for started at lunchtime. We had sparkling wine as everyone turned up, Mary got to speak to her tutor and did a better job of not crying than she worried she would. This woman clearly meant a lot to many of the people there, spanning a few decades in age. It was nice to see.

People, including the tutor when Mary had a chance to say hello, seemed to think we were a couple. I saw some Looks when one of us referred to the other as "my friend" -- even though that's 100% true, of course! The nice lady sitting the other side of me at dinner asked how we knew each other, Mary said I was the current partner of her ex, and this woman said "I find that very strange, ladies" with the sort of directness that I'm so unaccustomed to that I laughed in surprise. I think we'd have been better off just letting people think we were a couple.

Then, poetry!

This was the view I had of the front of the room where all this took place. I particularly like the seventies wallpaper and deep shadows of the guy on the right; he looks like he's in a detective story. It was all terribly atmospheric. And which a nice view out on the quad.

When an English tutor retires, her students come back and read poetry, the first half mostly texts she'd taught (lots of romantics), but my favorite thing was an unexpected but lovely version of "Matty Groves" -- Mary said she was sad to learn this was one of the versions that did not end happily. She also put her head next to mine and whispered a recitation of "When You Are Old" as it was being read, which makes her a BAMF in my books. And, having decided she couldn't read the poem she wanted to without crying, and having been reassured by the tutor that she'd cry too so Mary should read it anyway, I hurriedly copied out "Surprised by Joy" on the back of the running order and she snuck into it.

That night we were thinking of going to see a Bach Mass in the Sheldonian Theatre but instead stumbled upon a "ghost walk" tour and since I loved that one in York I've been looking out for them since as a fun way to learn about some history and architecture and whatnot. Mary and I joked this one was more like a "shag tour" than a ghost tour, with a supposed lover of Good Queen Bess killing his wife to run off with her, and a teenager who killed herself after her French soldier sweetheart disappeared from down the street one day. We also didn't ingratiate ourselves too much to the tour guide, getting excited and saying stuff like "Hamlet's father?" to each other which turned out to be the dramatic reveal he was working up to. My favorite was when he was talking about this strange frieze

and told us about the imagery supposed to depict the Christian apocalypse. The star, he said, was Wormwood, which fell to earth and poisoned the poisoned the waters. "And in 1986..." he started.

"Chernobyl means 'wormwood'!" Mary said, at about the same time as I was saying "Halley's comet appeared in 1986!"

I think he wanted to add us both to the list of untimely deaths he was talking about, by that point.

The walk finished at a very narrow alley (St Helens Passage, it said on the sign, but we were told this was a polite version of Hell Passage) with a lamppost at the end of it...which of course is associated with the entrance to Narnia. But we were told there was a good pub at the end of it, called Turf Tavern because it had been built in what was the ditch just outside the city walls. We found it very nice indeed, stayed longer than we meant, and got lost trying to leave so maybe it's more like Narnia than we thought.

On Sunday morning, we went punting.

Such an Oxford thing to do! And I'd never been before. Mary hadn't since she lived in Oxford. After a few quick instructions from the boat-hire place, off we were.

Soon the perils of having a dyspraxic punter with a poor sense of direction became apparent, though! I ended up trying it myself, marveling at how stupid a means of locomotion it is to just have a big heavy long stick to get your boat around with. I'm used to kayaks and canoes, smooth and efficient. I helped my cousin's five-year-old on a kayak last summer, for goodness' sake, and she could practically get us around on her own, while remaining perfectly safe and comfortable.

It wasn't the first time that Mary had said "I'm gonna fall in!" but the last time she said it was followed with a sort of resigned-to-the-inevitable expression on her face that meant I had a little warning when she, in fact, did. The water was so cold she took a while to catch her breath, so I was worried until she could tell me she was okay. But before she regained the power of speech, I saw one arm rise out of the water, and throw one of her slip-on sandals back into the boat, at which point I knew if she was worried about her shoes she was probably okay.

She started laughing, and so did I. I could hardly move, even though I was trying to get the huge useless stick out of the way so it didn't hit her or anything, and then trying to see if there was a phone number on the little map we'd been provided from the boat hire place.

Of course there happened to be people walking along the footpath next to the river just in time to see all this. Two men were laughing and taking pictures of this


One of them shouted "If you can get over to the shore, we'll punt you back," which I thought was a very generous offer. "You'll have to tell us your number and we'll text the pictures to you," one of them said.

Mary, hoisting herself onto the shore, said, "Well, this is a novel way to pick up blokes!" got them to share a look and uncomfortably say they were gay. "So are we! That's okay," Mary said.

One of them had apparently been a rower at Oxford, he said he'd only been punting once but he was a damn sight better at it than we'd been. By this point we wouldn't have been back in time to not have to pay extra for overrunning our boat hire if they hadn't been there to save us! As we got near the place and saw other groups going out in their punts, middle-class families with Dad punting and the kids in the middle and Mum looking horrified at Mary who cheerfully greeted everyone we passed with "I fell in the river!" Their expressions reminded me of that King George line in "I Know Him": "I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do."

We'd checked out of our room just before the punting adventure, but the kind man let us back in so Mary could shower and change clothes. And then it was off to the Museum of the History of Science with [personal profile] sir_guinglain. The history of science is practically my favorite thing, and the company and conversation were just as good as the surroundings. We went for lunch and, after a couple of days in a room where the wi-fi didn't work, I felt like Mary and I were slowly re-entering a crazy new world. I started to see our lack of internet as a blessing; I think we picked the best possible weekend to be offline!

It was a perfect weekend, just what I needed. I wish all my chums suffering post-referendum could've had one like it.
hollymath: (Default)
I've done some amateur research on bisexuality and mental health. I feel like I've said a million times that bisexuals experience worse mental health than lesbian, gay or straight people.

This morning I feel like I'm contributing to that statistic.

Lots of people are saying the victims of Orlando's queer nightclub shooting died because of who they love.


My parents know who I love. (Well, they don't know everybody I love, but that's less to do with being bi than being poly.) But they don't know how tough a few days this has been for me and mine.

I don't know what they learned about the shooting from TV news; I don't know what they think about it. If the news is really as keen as people are complaining about it being to erase the LGBT+ identities of the people shot, if they're really making it all about Isalmophobia, that'll probably work on my mom, at least.

But I know that when they bug me to talk on Skype and I make excuses, or when they call and I'm not here because I'm holding hands with strangers (which I really liked! holding hands is something so practical you make little kids do it when you're going to cross a road, and something so affectionate that it's felt like crossing some kind of threshold in nascent romances when I was younger) and then that I'm in the pub with my friends and even if we're talking about politics and work and partners like usual, we're all particularly in need of hugs and company this evening. The unspoken agreement on this makes it feel different, even if we're not outwardly behaving any differently.

And I pick up my phone this morning to check just how unnaturally early I've woken up (5:37) and my phone also tells me I've got an e-mail from my parents, subject line "You." (My mom will probably never know what a great talent she has for ominous e-mail subject lines.) And it's not like the little bubble of understanding and pain and grief and love I've coccooned myself in over the past few days. It's small declarative sentences that, as always with this rural-Minnesota Guess/Offer culture, don't seem harsh or difficult in themselves...but in which as a native of that culture I read guilt and accusation.

And it's all too much and I crumble.

I started crying, not really about the e-mail but about loss and pain and despair and loneliness and whitewashing and gaywashing and ciswashing and all the secondary traumas. I cried because I couldn't tell my parents this, I cried because I can't tell them I'm bi and most of my friends are queer. I cried not because they don't know who I love but they don't know who I am.

This is what being bi is. It's not threesomes or cheating or fancying everyone or being greedy or indecisive. (Of course, some bisexuals will do and be those things, but so will plenty of straight or gay people!) It's not even about who I love.

It's a friend of mine and her different-gender partner getting biphobia at a vigil last night for being perceived as a straight couple intruding on a queer event. It's being told I "pass" for straight or have "straight privilege" for being married to someone of a different gender, as if being forced back into the closet is a privilege instead of a harm to my mental health. I can talk to my parents about who I love (they always ask about him anyway, if they haven't talked to him first), but I can't talk to them about the rest of what being bisexual is like.

There are no employment protections in the state of Florida for LGBT people, nothing stopping the survivors of the weekend's attack from being fired on Monday. This isn't just about how they love, it's about jobs and housing and everything that it's okay to deny people.

I always tell people who say I can't be bi and married that they can be gay (for some reason it is usually gay men who tell me this, though it'd work as well with "straight" here of course) and single. We are who we are all the time, not just when we're crushing on someone, or shagging them, or dating them.

There's a lot of rhetoric about people being unfairly targeted because of "what genitals they like" or "who they love," but it's about much more than genitals and even more than love. And this is actually enshrined in a UK legal judgment! In a 2010 asylum case, the expectation that gay men could return to Iran or Cameroon and be safe from persecution as long as they "lived discreetly" was acknowledged to be a form of persecution itself. One of the judges in the case, Lord Rodgers, said
In short, what is protected is the applicant's right to live freely and openly as a gay man. That involves a wide spectrum of conduct, going well beyond conduct designed to attract sexual partners and maintain relationships with them. To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates.
I'm in no way insinuating that my parents not knowing I'm bi leads to anything like the same kind of discretion as living in a country where my life would be in danger for it, yet it helps me to know that people recognize "living discreetly" amounts to a kind of persecution itself.

It's an insidious one, too, because it has to be constantly self-monitored. You end up with a little model of biphobia (or homophobia) running in your head all the time. Such hypervigilence is well-known to be a detriment to mental health. And when it becomes a habit to anticipate potential threats in order to be able to control one's reaction to them, it's both mentally and emotionally exhausting. Your brain gets so good at this, sometimes it can think of ways to hate, criticize, or police yourself that your enemies would never dream up.

I think this is part of the reason why bisexuals overall experience more mental health difficulties than gay, lesbian or straight people.
hollymath: (Default)
Here's a picture from Tumblr:

Here's the words in it, in case the picture (which I only saw on facebook anyway because I can't work Tumblr) disappears or in case other people also can't follow Tumblr conversations very well:
[tumblr.com profile] ethanwearsprada: i think it's a universal truth that everyone in our generation takes pluto's losing its planetary status as a personal offense

[tumblr.com profile] crackerhell: yes

[tumblr.com profile] cell-mate: pluto is smaller than russia. why did we ever even consider it a planet?

[somebody whose username has been truncated from the screenshot]: BECAUSE IT'S A PART OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

OHANA MEANS FAMILY

FAMILY MEANS NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND
To which I can only say this:

People tell entirely the wrong story about Pluto.

It's the ugly duckling, all right? Awkward and different from the other planets, tiny and literally on a different plane of existence. It's now been recognized as one of the Kuiper Belt Objects, and is now part of a family of things like itself, some of which we've given names to and some we don't even know about yet.

Pluto is the ultimate square peg asked to fit in a round hole, Pluto should be the poster planet for the queers and freaks and weirdos and people who never felt they fit in with the mainstream and had to look to the unknown and uncelebrated to find their peers.

C'mon, Tumblr, you should love this story.
hollymath: (Default)
This is something I wrote a while ago and never posted, for reasons I no longer remember. It's not a resolution, but it seems as good a manifesto to start off this new year as any.

I started on LJ with a very annoying style, that of the cute precocious kid who was too old for that twee stuff now but hadn't yet learned what to replace the too-clever, artfully structured, neatly-tied-up-with-a-moral-at-the-end kind of writing that'd made my high school English teachers love me.

I like to think I've improved a bit since then, but I do still tend to write only when I've got something that will amuse or interest what I imagine my readership to be. So vehemently did I resist the everyday updateishness kind of journaling that my LJ wasn't a very good way to find out what was going on in my life: I'd happily write all about having Chipotle for breakfast but never mentioned that I had a girlfriend, or failed a class, or moved, or the kind of basic stuff that people usually tell each other when they catch up after some time apart.

It's a bit hypocritical of me, because I love to read that kind of thing from other people: I love reading about your dreams and how you got caught in the rain on your way to the bus stop and what you're making for dinner and what you drank last night and how work went and everything. Absolutely love it. But I've never been very good at telling that stuff for its own sake myself.

So it was kind of interesting for me to read this article on how writing about the ordinary experiences of your life can be even more cheering to you when you go back and read them as the extraordinary ones.

It turns out, people are bad at predicting how much they'll enjoy reading back what they've wrriten about their lives.

Which, actually, doesn't surprise me because I had to read Our Town in high school and it fucked up my brain, it appears, permanently. It's a play about ordinary boring small-town early-20th-C. Americans who do ordinary things like be born and deliver the milk and get married and all that.

The part that's always stuck with me is Emily, at the end. She's a young wife who's died in childbirth, and we see her among the dead, people she recognizes from her little town where nothing ever changes much. Those who've been dead any length of time don't feel any great connection to the living world or the things that mattered to them while they were in it, but Emily is new and still attached to what she loves. She wants to re-live her life. The old dead folks tell her that it's possible but advise her against it. She insists, though, and sees her twelfth birthday: her mother is up early nagging the children to get ready for school, her father comes home with a present for her. Small talk is made about the cold.

Emily starts out very excited -- "Oh,that's the town I knew as a little girl. And, look, there's the old white fence that used to be around our house. Oh, I'd forgotten that! Oh, I love it so!" "Oh! how young Mama looks! I didn't know Mama was ever that young" -- but as she watches the conversation unfold, she starts to get agitated: "I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I'm here. I'm grown up. I love you all, everything. I can't look at everything hard enough."

Finally she says, "I can't. I can't go on....I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed."

Well, ever since then, I've fucking noticed. Reading that play made me cry, not in class but after, and I think quite a few of my tears since have been shed thanks to this, in some way. Because I too grew up in a small town where nothing ever seems to change much, and while of course I didn't die I did move away, and that has had a similar effect to me: I'm still here, I can see it all in my memory, but they can't see me and they don't know how much I treasure these images, these people, their ordinary lives.

So I'm trying to practice writing about the everyday stuff that I have so long been so bad at. Let's see if it gets me anywhere.
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Someone scoffed the other day that Minneapolis's ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ protests were doing no good by moving from the Mall of America to the airport. That inconveniencing capitalism is fine but this was just "fucking up the most stressful travel of myriad innocents."

But it did a lot more than that. I was one of those "innocents" who flew into MSP during the protest. My parents say it took them twenty minutes to go the last two miles to the airport, but they were still ready to greet us while we were still languishing in baggage claim. Still their slight inconvenience, and the sight of police cars and people being bussed away from the protests, has sparked a lot of conversations, starting just after the hello hugs at International Arrivals and going throigh two family Christmases and even a trip to the bank today.

As I listened to the bank staff -- sweet middle-aged ladies who've never been anything but kind and friendly to me -- talk about how the protesters deserved to be arrested, and did you hear about the person who missed a flight to be with her dying mother and ended up not getting there until it was too late.

I didn't hear about that. I don't know any more about it, or even if it's true. But I know if enough passengers are disrupted on enough flights, there are going to be sad stories. I wonder how many people on how many planes it took to get that nugget of pathos to give white people their righteous indignation.

I'd be life-defining amounts of heartbroken if I missed my mom's last moments...but I can't help but think of how much easier it is to find stories of people of color killed by police for no reason other than the color of their skin than it is to find heartstring-tugging stories among all the people going through a huge busy airport two days before Christmas.

Today we found out that the police officers who killed Tamir Rice will not face any consequences for that. He was murdered for no other reason than being alive while black, for being a boy while black.

This is part of an epidemic. And it won't change without some conversations, among white people. And the only thing that's made those conversations start to happen among my family and my rural Midwestern community? Is the airport protests.
He was twelve. He should be thirteen by now and he never will get to be. And that is an injustice no one is being held accountable for. He was twelve and he can't ever be thirteen.
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,I've watched a few episodes of Futurama, b I didn't know that Leela's full name was Turanga Leela. It makes a pretty name, though!
Messiaen derived the title from two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which roughly translate into English as "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death", and described the joy of Turangalîla as "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned"
I'm going to see Turangalila-Symphonie tonight because a month or two ago I turned on the radio, as I instinctively do when I'm in the kitchen because cleaning and cooking are so boring otherwise, and found the BBC Philharmonic halfway through Turangalila. Doing the dishes had never seemed so fun, or dramatic. When Andrew got home I asked if he could download the recording from the iPlayer for me, and after a bit of typing he realized that we could go see this live at the Bridgewater Hall in the vaguely near future. And now it turns out that vague future is tonight!

Nobody that I've overexcitedly mentioned this to, when they've asked about my weekend plans, has heard of it, so here it is, if you're interested.
about this today and, even though this is Not Her Period, she listened and told me "31.20 sounds like music from a futuristic western!" which really made me smile. That's not a bad description of a lot of Messiaen's music, actually. Again an apparent juxtaposition of opposites. From The Rest Is Noise I learned that Messiaen (who was French) traveled to the national parks of Utah and was hugely inspired by the landscapes there; he wrote Des canyons aux etoiles ("from the canyons to the stars") about those landscapes, which sounds like the perfect name for the futuristic western. The canyons and the stars both evoke the edges of our knowledge, the sites of our discoveries, the strange things we'll never quite make familiar.

Messiaen would sound futuristic whatever instruments he used (the Quartet for the End of Time proves this!) but I want to talk about the ondes Martenot because it is the coolest goddam thing and really important to Turangalila.

The ondes Martenot is a early electronic instrument, sort of like a theremin but a lot more so -- in that it both is more complicated than a theremin and can make a lot of other kinds of noises besides the theremin-like ones. I've read a lot (well, a lot more than I ever expected to, not actually very much) about them but the best way I've found to learn about them is this video.
Turangalila is one of the musical homes of the ondes Martenot (the others seemingly being Radiohead and movie scores), and if eighty minutes of Turangalila is too much for you, I'd suggest this movement, "Joie du Sang des Étoiles," which displays the ondes Martenot to great effect (you see a lot of it here; it's the yellow thing that looks like a piano but with a box of electronics coming out of the left side of it).

There's so much going on here, (another of Bethan's comments: "Don't care if it's in 4/4, wouldn't want to play it"...which I can totally understand that from my limited experience playing some of these instruments!) but Messiaen never complicates things with overlong explanations of what he was thinking or intending.
When asked about the meaning of the work's duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song."
In the end, that has to be enough. And it is, really.
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...and how it's different from what British people mean when they tell me they don't feel British.
I tweeted this yesterday morning, and a couple of things happened. First, a bunch of people kindly retweeted it. That led to some "fun", like the guy who told me everyone was welcome here and if I didn't feel welcome it was my own fault and why wasn't I more grateful that he was welcoming me (which, bless them, seemed to shock and horrify my friends with his rudeness, whereas I thought I'd gotten off lightly to have only attracted one of the well-meaning Britsplainers and not any of the proper nasty bigots...#everydayxenophobia, eh?).

Anyway, the retweets also elicited this:Now, I've heard "I don't even feel British" from people who are, technically, British a lot. Pretty much any time I talk about my status in the UK, I'm met with this. When I was fretting over having to take the awful Life in the UK test, co-workers and in-laws were always intrigued by my book of practice questions but when none of them -- all native Brits! -- could answer them, they inevitably laughed it off by saying that having to take a test like this was itself an un-British thing. The think-pieces about "what it means to be British" work along similar lines: it's like "the true meaning of Christmas," something a certain kind of person likes to noodle about and everyone always comes to the same conclusion about: it's not only impossible to pin down, but that very ineffability is part of what makes it so great. Et cetera.

Through no fault of his own, Daniel's tweet made something snap in my head. It wasn't the first time my articulating how hostile I find "Britishness" and how little I feel it's anything to do with me got this kind of reaction. Indeed, I don't think I've ever talked about this without one or more friends -- and very close friends! and partners! -- saying "I don't feel that British either."

Of course people are welcome to affiliate themselves with "Britishness" as much or as little as they like. But I think they can't help but mean something very different by it than what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." I certainly empathize with Daniel's reluctance to align himself with some of the actions of his country's government -- of course I do, I'm from the U.S.! The first time I visited the UK in 2004 I was delighted my accent so often got me mistaken for Canadian because I'd have much rather been from a country that wasn't determined to bomb the shit out of all the brown people.

But even if I were to say "I don't feel American" when I don't agree with its government...it is in my head an entirely different thing to what I mean when I say "I don't feel British." And I kind of despaired of being able to explain this at all, much less in Twitter's character restrictions, so I just said And this got the responses it always does: people born in Britain who've lived here most or all of their lives saying they don't feel British and "feeling British" isn't a meaningful phrase to them. They're good people who I know love me, but things (temporarily!) seemed to be getting worse instead of better. I doubted my ability to explain to myself what bothered me about this, much less to loved ones whose identity I might be treading on, much less on Twitter.

But I figured if I was going to try, I might as well try it on James -- poor guy, these are the perks of being my partner: more unrefined unsolicited thoughts! .And I added this, more generally. And he understood it better than I understood what I was saying myself at the time, because he's good. Yes. Luxury. Unavailable luxury. This I think was the description I'd been groping for. It was the kind of luxury that means white people don't have to think about race, cis people don't have to think about gender, non-disabled people don't have to think about accessibility, and so on. (A point something like that was made by [twitter.com profile] pickwick.)

But it helped a lot to see someone else saying that, and not having to say it myself. This is true not only for personal reasons of it feeling so nice to be understood and have my perspective valued...but also because it's not just my identity that people feel free to argue with, it's also any opinions I might have about theirs -- like the guy who said Britain is welcoming and if I don't think so I'm wrong -- he told me "rubbish" when I challenged that, but he didn't say anything to the British people allying themselves with my side of the argument. So it's nice to have James saying these things partly because he makes me happy but also he doesn't run such a risk of attracting the kind of animosity I would have to worry about if I said the same things. And not only can Twitter randoms argue with it...the Home Secretary can argue with it. A nasty headline or a few minutes of Radio 4 on the subject of immigration can ruin my mental health for the day. I know my passport says I have Indefinite Leave to Remain now, but I don't really believe that. You can be working illegally, or more difficult to give a job to, once the passport that has your ILR in it expires. You can be deported if your British spouse isn't making enough money. The ILR stamp in my passport says I am officially "Settled" in the UK, but I'm really not. I'm decidedly unsettled, that's just how the system wants me, and that's what I mean when I say I don't feel British.

My well-meaning chums who've never lived anywhere else and think passports are for holidays rather than for when a family member dies or might die...they might not feel British because they disapprove of the actions of their government, but at least they can vote. They can stand for election and try to improve that government. I can't. The label they'd toss away carries privileges and securities I can only dream of.
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2015 was going to be the year of sorting out.

A couple of friends and I told each other this as we were around each other's houses, helping with DIY or painting the kitchen, accompanying each other to scary meetings and helping each other write scary e-mails and catching each other up on the progress we'd made in getting counseling, going to the gym again, talking to the GP about that thing that'd been bothering us, making difficult phone calls about money...

I started the year with two big things pressing upon me: Get A Job, and Get Registered Blind.

Cut for ridiculous length. )
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My second-favorite thing about this article on making Spain's Prado museum accessible to blind people is actually this:
Most visitors to the "Touching the Prado" exhibit are not vision-impaired. The museum provides opaque glasses for them — like blindfolds.
It's not just that I love stuff that puts sighted people more on my level.

Last Saturday, Andrew, [personal profile] miss_s_b, [personal profile] magister and I went to see a movie in the dark, or at least that's how I explained it when I was telling people my plans for the weekend. The rest had seen Carnival of Souls, the movie this radio-playish thing was based on, and I was just intrigued by the advisory group of blind and partially-sighted people who helped make this happen.

I didn't know what to expect, but I really enjoyed what I got: I was in a cinema -- people were jockeying for good seats out of habit, even though there wasn't going to be anything on the screen -- surrounded by other people, with noise-canceling headphones and the kind of cheap black nylon blindfold I've gotten on transatlantic flights.

The blindfold seemed a bit superfluous to me at first. After all, the room was totally dark except for the blue lights on people's wireless headsets, and the lights illuminating the stairs at each side of the auditorium like you always get in cinemas. But I thought I might as well try it, figuring it had been included for specific and deliberate reasons, and I quickly really liked it.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts, radio dramas and suchlike these days. They've taken over most of the time I used to devote to reading. I do like them when I'm in the dark before I fall asleep, but I mostly listen to them when I'm on trains or buses, cooking, doing housework, knitting...mostly I like the audio stories for making whatever else I'm doing more fun, rather than it being the only thing I am doing. And the blindfold? Means that listening is really the only thing you are doing. Yes a lot of the same result could have been achieved by closing one's eyes (as [personal profile] miss_s_b did since she's allergic to the fabric the blindfolds were made from) but I really liked being able to keep my eyes open most of the time. And even if I meant to shut my eyes, they'd keep snapping open whenever it sounded like someone was whispering in my ear or something was crashing into me or whatever. To see no more than a faint glow from a few of the blue lights on everybody's headsets when my eyes did open was somehow both exciting and relaxing because I could be assured that I wasn't missing anything by not using my eyes. It felt, odd as this might sound, like such a luxury.

A huge part -- I'm sure I heard "ninety percent" somewhere, though I'm not sure if that's right -- of the sensory information a non-disabled person gets from the outside world is from their vision. Taking that way is going to do interesting things to our brain and our understanding and even memories of an event. Even for an audio-play-addict like me, this was a special and immersive experience.

One of those facts everyone thinks they know about blind people is that we have exceptionally good hearing/all our other senses are fantastic to make up for the lack of sight. Not only is that completely not true (deaf-blind people are a thing! also lots of conditions or injuries that might cause sight loss also cause other categories of problems), I think it's just a thing that sighted people tell themselves in order to feel better about the poor pitiable blind person. Sensory impairments don't improve a person's other senses, but they might improve how well we're making use of them, because we have to. Most people don't have to, and they -- understandably -- don't often choose to forgo ninety percent (or whatever) of the information they could potentially gather about the world around them.

Which brings me back to the blind people in the art gallery, and the sighted people wearing opaque glasses.
"It's kind of weird. I sort of kept checking over the top of the glases to see what I was touching, because you kinda can't tell," says Isabel O'Donnell, 20, a college student visiting Madrid from Buffalo, N.Y.
Of course you did. You can't tell until you do it enough to get used to it. I remember trying to feel the spots on the sheets of Braille a friend had. I could tell the surface was uneven but couldn't discern enough detail to be able to read that way. I was distressed by this -- figuring I was deficient in some way and that if, as I worried about a lot when I was a kid, I lost the rest of my sight one day I would be entirely cut off from reading and writing, probably my two very favorite activities at that time -- but had it explained to me that the ability to read Braille has to be taught, not just "these dots mean this letter" but also being able to perceive the dots well enough is a skill that has to be learned. If their brains are scanned, the nerves corresponding to the fingers they use to read are connected to better-developed areas of the brain than people who don't read Braille.

You might remember way back at the beginning of all this I was talking about the blindfolds for sighted people being my second-favorite thing about this article. For anyone who's wondering, my favorite thing is this picture:


Look at that guy, he's feasting on that art.

In another article on this subject (written in medium-grey text on a light-grey background, leading me to think this is a website more likely to talk about blind people than to them), someone who was born blind was making his first visit to the art gallery. "We learned all about the great Spanish artists at school, of course, but it’s only now that I can start to understand what made them special." Reading that gives me goosebumps, and makes me glad that blind people in Madrid don't have to feel that art galleries have nothing to offer them.
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I joked to [personal profile] magister upon leaving the cinema that Mad Max was accessible.

I've got "accessibility" on the brain lately. It's a relatively recent addition to my working vocabulary, actually, arriving only a few years ago after a previous few years of hearing friends I thought of as "properly" disabled use it about events, places, communication and institutions. Since I've expanded my definition of "disabled" to include myself, despite my upbringing encouraging me to be "normal," I've found myself using it a lot more, too.

Just at the moment I'm in the middle of trying to apply for disability benefits and access other services for partially-sighted people like me (just tomorrow I have a follow-up consultation at Manchester Eye Hospital's low vision clinic, someone from Henshaws calling me about their hiking group because I've shown an interest in it, and I have to chase up some paperwork with the council's sensory team so I can get training on using the white cane they supplied me with.

So perhaps this gives you an idea of why such language permeates even my time at the cinema.

I remember the then-poet laureate of the U.S., Billy Collins, giving an interview in which he said that he doesn't like it when his poetry's called "accessible" (unfortunately I think his explanation of this at the time involved an ableist comment about not wanting his poetry to sound like it needed a wheelchair ramp, and I'm really not sure what's so bad about being anything like an inclined plane in any way!) and that he prefers the term "hospitable." Poetry websites like the one linked above gush that "the experience of reading his work is indeed akin to being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host." While the last thing I want is to perpetuate any negativity about accessibility or particular things like wheelchair ramps which foster it, I do like to ponder on the overlapping connotations of these two words. I ponder to what extent Mad Max: Fury Road felt hospitable to me.



Having read those tweets a week or so ago, I was even more excited about [personal profile] magister's and my plan to go see this movie today. He was one of the first people I knew who watched it, and immediately afterward he said he wanted to see it again.

Since then, the praise for this movie has poured in; the only criticism I've heard of it is that the post-apocalyptic world is thoroughly, implausibly white, something that really did bug me while I was watching the movie.

Feminism can't ignore race if it is to be worth anything. Precisely the things that made me feel so positively toward Fury Road are keeping others from feeling that way. It was easy for me to identify with Furiosa, loving as I do to imagine myself as smart and tough and capable even as I know that really the only thing I have in common with such a character is that I've sometimes had my hair cut like that. Even though she kept her (sensible!) clothes on all through the movie and didn't even snog anyone, it really affected my experience of the film to have her, and so many of the other main characters (Bechdel-test fans keep pointing out that at one stage there are twelve named women on the screen who are having a conversation that is nothing to do with men), played by a woman.

It actually had a surprisingly emotional effect on me, seeing this movie full of women who were for the most part not calling attention to their gender but fulfilling the old cliché about feminism being the radical notion that women are people too.

I don't even know if the story about Alien being written with the expectation of a man as Ripley but nothing changing when Sigourney Weaver was cast instead are true or not, but when you watch the movie they feel true. And it feels true for Fury Road too: most of the the parts played by women could very easily have been cast as men (with I suppose the exception of the "breeders" but c'mon, futuristic dystopia; surely the nuclear apocalypse could've given us seahorse-like male-incubation genes, right?) with no apparent detriment to the movie.

But there would have been some detriment to the movie. I can tell because I had this weirdly emotional reaction to just the sheer number and qualities of the women in this movie. I felt good. I felt...like I was "being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host"! If this is what the cis white straight able-bodied dudes get to feel like whenever they consume practically any cultural artifacts, no wonder they don't want to give this up! Or even share. It's a rush, to feel that something has been tailored to suit you. This "hospitable" is some powerful stuff!

Even more powerful, perhaps, was the realization that I got to enjoy this action movie the way most people get to enjoy most action movies. I was actually stupidly grateful for this.

At the James Bond exhibit [personal profile] magister and I went to last week at the London Film Museum, I noticed I got a lot more out of the clips of the older James Bond movies than I did of the newer ones, even though I like the new ones, just because they're easier for me to follow. The quick cuts and close-ups more common in modern filmmaking just mean that I'm presented by a series of contextless colors and shapes that my brain can't process quickly enough to make much sense out of them.

[personal profile] magister said that even he couldn't follow something like the beginning of Skyfall completely well, and then when I saw this tweet saying something similar about the new Avengers movie a few days later I started to realize that even though this was a problem I'd never heard anyone talk about before and had only recently started articulating myself, this isn't just one of my Blindy McBlinderson problems.

Which is great! Because it gives me hope that something will be done about this. Like all the people who hate 3D and won't pay for it, they're helping my cause of removing this scourge from movie theatres and leave room for more 2D showings so I can actually go see stuff I want to!

I expected to enjoy this movie, but I didn't expect a car chase to elicit such emotional responses! Between the ease of following a two-hour car chase (I was so cheerful at the end because this movie had been no work at all for me, visual-processing-wise, which is so weird you have no idea) and all the women making me glad I'm a woman ([personal profile] magister pointed out that the old lady who, upon examining one of the "breeders" exclaimed "this one has all her own teeth!" is probably the Granny Weatherwax of the Mad Max universe), this was really a remarkable movie for me.
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Having a statistically-significant other who's an engineer means I don't want t-shirt/badge/whatever that says SMASH THE PATRIARCHY; I want one that calls for CONTROLED DEMOLITION OF THE PATRIARCHY.
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I crawled into bed and woke Andrew up, which is just as well as I didn't want him to wake up to see me upset -- I'd been crying, out of sheer overwhelm and pain that words weren't adequate to express.

He spent a long time giving me cuddles and trying to make me feel better...and, in the process, make himself feel better because he so hates to see me weepy and miserable that it's almost impossible for him to overcome that. So desperate to fix what can't be fixed, he can get distraught

Eventually he, face buried in my pillow next to me and arms tight around me, said "I just want to envelope* you in loves until you shine with lovedness."

It was heart-meltingly sweet and I loved the image but I told him I wasn't sure what that meant. (In emotional situations, his vocabulary can get a little surreal in the endearing way of people just learning a language.) He said he didn't know either but we agreed it clearly meant a good thing.

* Not envelop. Envelope.
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Of course I'm fond of the one I grew up‎ with, but that's no reason to leave it that way forever!

I remember the poster of the solar system I had on my bedroom door as a kid, with all the planets' vital statistics -- diameter, orbital period, mean distance from the Sun, etc -- and how the number of moons for Saturn had a question mark next to it. I don't remember any of the other stats from this poster, just the two biggest numbers of moons for the two biggest planets: Jupiter had 16 and Saturn had "22?"

Twenty-two question mark! I was captivated by that question mark. I was too young to understand at the time how there could be any doubt about how many moons a planet had. Now I look back and marvel that there could be such certainty! Now there are like, what, 60? Does anyone even know? Does anyone mind that we're not quite sure of this?

The questions are intriguing and delicious because we can hope they are impermanent. That question mark excited me, because I believed this was something humans would be able to nail down and specify, coming to a soothingly "right" answer, accurate and stable and unequivocal, one day.

Looking at that memory now, I like it because it places me in a certain time and context.

I love the song "Little Fluffy Clouds" but the beginning always drove me crazy. The supposed impetus for the vocal sample that gives the song its name is an interviewer asking "What were the skies like when you were young?" What the hell kind of question is that? I always wanted to know. Who talks like that?

But on a slightly bigger scale, I think it could be a great question:
- When did you come of age?
- Back when we were at Twenty-Two Question Mark For Saturn.
It's something I could see Mr. xkcd doing as a chart. It's like how Romans used to name the year by saying "it was the seventh year in the reign of such-and-such." It's like those sf stories about using the positions of the planets in the solar system as a clock: you come back from a relativistic journey, no idea what epoch you've arrived back into, check the relative positions of all the planets in their orbits and then you can say "well this only happens every umptymillion years so it's this time, plus or minus one umptymillion!" which at least narrows down the possibilities.

Anyway, where was I?

Here's what I wrote the other day when I read about how close Dawn is getting to Ceres:
The best thing about space exploration is that it transforms objects in the solar system from ideas into places.

The Voyagers did this for the outer planets (and some of their moons); Cassini/Huygens has done it for the moons of Saturn; Spirit and Oppy and Curiosity are doing it for Mars; New Horizons will do it for Pluto and other Kuiper Belt Objects...and Dawn is doing this for Ceres, the largest asteroid in the belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Ceres was the original "relegated" planet: when first discovered it was called a planet, but when a number of smaller asteroids were discovered it was gradually understood that Ceres is one of many such objects, not something that's cleared its orbital path like planets are supposed to. So Ceres was reclassified, without (as far as I can tell) all the fuss Pluto has received in its similar situation, and is still a subject of scientific interest, getting its own mission and everything, As is Pluto, of course!‎
They're not treated any differently no matter what they're called. Planets are important. Dwarf planets are important. Moons are important. Comets are important!

Is there any way that having the asteroid belt is worse than having just Ceres? Nobody I know thinks so. I didn't even know Ceres's history (its social history, its history as a subject of interest to humans, not its geological or astronomical history as a rock in space) until Pluto's reclassification caused all this fuss and there started to be articles about the new class of planets Pluto has been "demoted" to or whatever (such emotive language! the planets provide such an obligingly blank canvas don't they?!) saying things like "hey, Pluto isn't the only one in this bizarro new 'dwarf planet' class!" Until I knew it only as one of the largest asteroids. And of course I thought the asteroid belt was great, like kids do: lacking the singular personality of a solar system icon like Jupiter or Venus yet delicious in its anonymity, its plurality. And of course asteroids are just Space Landmines, if I could believe what movies taught me about the inevitability of having to drive spaceships through them.

Nothing about Ceres by itself could be as good as Space Landmines. And so why should I mourn for Pluto when it's transitioning from being a lonely exception to being part of the Kuiper Belt, a busy place where not everything is about us, full of Pluto-like objects. Pluto is no longer alone! Not the ugly duckling of the planet club but surrounded by its own kind.

How do we not love this story?! How long will it take for the queer folk and the non-standard deviations and the neurodiverse and the weirdos who grew up in small towns where they were led to believe they were the only weirdo in the world to realize this is their vindication?

Pluto was an ugly planet, never in all its time as a planet being captured as more than a smudge that needed a big arrow next to it in photos, or as a circle so pixilated I've been known to say it looks like a disco ball.

But Pluto will be a beautiful dwarf planet, in a process that's starting already as New Horizons zooms toward it, getting better pictures than any we've had before and more information on this small distant world. It's like we're finally getting to go on our first date with Pluto and find out more than its blurry photos on the dating website and see beyond the superficial facts like that it likes long walks on the beach and eccentric orbits, has a diameter of 2274 kilometers and a good sense of humor.

2015 is such an exciting time to get to know and love Pluto for what it is, and -- since New Horizons will also be looking at some of Pluto's satellites and hopefully a couple of other Kuiper Belt Objects -- the other swans we now realize it's swimming through the universe with.

Pluto is asking us "who says being a planet is better than not being a planet?" Pluto says "do I care if some people on Earth decided for a mere third of one Plutonian year that Pluto should fit some label rather than some other?" (A third of a year is a mere four months here, of course. Four months is nothing! Would we think much of a job title, a marital status, an address, that we only had for four months once?) Pluto is not surprised that the people of Earth, who think they live on a planet, accept unquestioningly that planets are the best things. I mean, they have invented this idea of a "habitable zone" that they think they're in the middle of! Of course they do! Their ego is flagrant, their hubris unbounded. Pluto is keeping its distance from all that silliness. Pluto's reminding us a better solar system is possible.

...Maybe it's time for me to go to bed?
hollymath: (Default)
This is an article about how badly prejudiced our society is against autistic people.

It's about a lot of other things, too, of course: parents' desire to protect and control their children, the manifestation of anxieties about a world too complex and specialized for most of us to feel we can grasp, the power of narrative over facts and anecdotes over data.

Those are all the things I expect that story to be about. I expected it to be sad and frustrating. I didn't expect quite so much of it to be about how awful it would be to have a child who is autistic. I didn't expect it to make me so angry, and so protective of the neurodiverse people who form so much of my circles of care that I sometimes feel like I'm the neurologically atypical one.

I keep coming back to this quote, from a mother talking about the MMR vaccine.
“It's the worst shot,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or something?”
...Or something?! I can't let this go unremarked-upon. What is it you think you're actually saving your child from? What the hell are you even talking about here?

That makes me so goddam angry because you will never see anyone's eyes light up like Andrew's when he sees that picture of the baby gorilla and the stethoscope or when he writes a poem using as many words that rhyme with "penis" as possible. How wrong do you have to be about autism before you think that it will steal your child from you? How can you think that's worse than the child getting a deadly or deforming disease?

Just yesterday Andrew said again that he hates Autism Speaks because they want him dead. I'm sure they're responsible for a large chunk of these people thinking that autism is a worse fate than death...with the corollary that having to parent a child with autism is even worse than that, of course.

How many kids wouldn't be getting measles, how many families wouldn't have to keep their unvaccinateable tiny babies and cute-bald-kid cancer patients shut in, how much less suffering and fear would there be, how much difference would it make in just this one respect if our society was not so afraid of and ignorant about autism?

Of course there's the point to be made that absolutely no connection has been found between vaccines and autism, and this is the way the argument is usually framed. That's fine as far as it goes, but I want to add something else to it: so fucking what if it did? Even if there was a 100% certainty that a hypothetical child of mine would get autism from a vaccine that would protect her from diseases like measles and contribute to public health, I'd still fucking do it. Autistic people are not a tragedy. They are not the worst thing that can happen to non-autistic people. Far from it: they've contributed to most of the best things that have happened to me.
hollymath: (Default)
Andrew resisted referring to himself as anything like autistic up until several years after I first met him.

His reluctance seemed to arise partly from not having -- or, at that time, wanting -- a formal diagnosis and partly from the people who had what we called Internet Asperger's, a self-diagnosis that guarantees accountability-free insults and bad behavior to anyone online, a get-out-of-consequences-free card that anyone can play by simply saying the magic words "it's not my fault, I have Asperger's."

Andrew is the furthest thing imaginable from that kind of person: he is hyper-aware of his difficulty in decipering nonverbal communication and is thus constantly apologizing pre-emptively just in case he's upset or offended someone and hasn't realized it. So he wanted to clearly differentiate himself from these allergic-to-accountability people by avoiding their self-description.

I understood, respected and did my best to support him in his decision not to claim autism as a label for himself. But a lot of things got better or easier for both Andrew and me when he started to realize how much of his experience fit what we gradually discovered were both the strengths and the difficulties of people on the autistic spectrum. A surprising array of seemingly-unrelated things, from his Princess and the Pea-esque sensitivities to the fact that he needs more Novocaine at the dentist than most people because he registers pain in a way most neurotypicals don't, suddenly make sense, make more sense, or have some evidence backing up what seem to otherwise be peculiar or inexplicable characteristics. It leads him to retroactively look on his experiences he had in university and in relationships more accurately and more kindly than he did at the time.

It has helped me appreciate the work I do in interfacing between him and the world, and it's even might explain why I'm good at being married to him, because my visual impairment leads me to share more traits in common with people on the spectrum than I would otherwise and there's a theory that autistic people form successful relationships with partners from different cultures, because those people go into the relationship expecting to have to work harder at communicating than perhaps someone from the same background might do.

It's hard to think of any downside to saying that Andrew is autistic that isn't about the sticgma autistic people face from asshoes or the well-intentioned ignorance they face from almost everybody else.

#
Through my early twenties I found that many guys would hone in on my “cute eccentricity,” my “beautiful weirdness,” and, yes, my “adorable awkwardness.” Autism didn’t come into it for them — I was not what people imagined when they heard the word. I didn’t rock in anxiety, I didn’t speak in a monotone, I laughed and danced and engaged with people, showing interest in their work and passions. Here the common misconceptions about autism were both my ally and my enemy: they allowed me to hide, and to embrace a status as “off-key yet normal,” but they also damaged me by giving fuel to the lie that I was just a bit odd, making it all the more difficult when it blew up in my face with someone yelling: “What the hell is wrong with you?”
#

From what I can tell, the impetus behind this "you're not autistic, you're just endearingly quirky" is extremely similar to that which leads people to tell me things like "you're not fat, you're beautiful." What seems to be the message, in both instances, is that's a word we use for people we don't like, and I like you, so it can't be said of you!

Maybe a better way to fix that would be to stop thinking these words can only be insults, fit only for people who are to be either pitied or despised -- if not both.

#

I had a lot of random conversations during the week I spent looking after my mom in August. One of them, and I can't even remember how now, led to her telling me that Andrew isn't really very autistic. "He only has a touch of autism," I distinctly remember her saying, because I remember thinking that makes it sound like it's something he dabbles in. When he can find the time.

Yeah. No.


And then I thought And she should know better! She knows enough about autism... but of course, that was precisely the source of the problem. She knew about autism from working with an autistic boy who needed a ton of assistance to get through the mainstream school he was in. He was called "low-functioning" and fit a lot of the ideas people have about what autistic people are like -- he was difficult to communicate with, he needed strict routines, stuff like that. And a friend of my mom's has an autistic son, who is a bit "higher functioning" but still needed tons of help in school and has some stereotypical traits. So this is what her idea of autism is. And Andrew doesn't really fit it, so he only has "a touch of autism."

#

I think she thinks she's paying him a compliment, by saying this. "You're not that autistic" is probably good, in the same way that "you're not that unattractive" would be -- with all the overtones of trying to be reassuring and supportive...and of failing oh so hard.

Like the people who reassure me that I'm totally not fat. Because I'm great. Like those are mutually exclusive states.

Thanks, but no thanks.

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