I know what not to do.

Margaret Anne Bulkley lived the last 56 years of her life disguised as a man. At about the age of 20 she took on the persona of James Barry in order to Matriculate at Edinburgh University and study medicine. Following this, in order to practice medicine, she maintained this pretence by living as adr_james_barry_28surgeon29 man until her death. When she died in 1865 (coincidentally the year Elizabeth Garrett became the first woman to qualify as a doctor) she had pursued a successful medical career and been promoted steadily becoming Medical Inspector General for South Africa. During this period of pretence it is believed that she managed also to give birth to a daughter while the world still respected her as a successful and powerful man.

We only have to look back a little time to see how much progress we have made. In the past so many of our personal and social roles were held to be closely tied to our sex at birth. Today we do not bat an eyelid when a woman wishes to be a surgeon, a man a nurse, a girl a footballer or a boy a dancer. We don’t think of very many roles being necessarily tied to biological sex. The days when women had to pretend to be men to pursue their desires have gone.

We should remember the travails of women who wanted to pursue aims at the time which were held to be only suitable for men – Joan of Arc as she tried to lead armies, Dorothy Lawrence who worked as a war reporter, Margaret Bulkley  wishing to be a doctor, and countless women who fell in love with other women. Remembering these women will stop us forgetting the ignominious aspect of our history which forced pretence on the few who were able to follow their dreams and stopped so many from even taking their first steps towards them.

We now tend to think there is a rather loose relationship between gender roles and biological sex. Something that is more important for groups and averages than something to be applied to individuals. The  biological differences we have are often subtle, and may help explain why one group is over-represented in one area or another, but are rarely felt to be important for the individual in their selection of, or for, activities.

If a child is born today with desires and aims that have been traditionally been seen as the domain of the other biological sex this is not an insurmountable problem. They may face some resistance, but as society improves this should lessen, but there will be no need for transvestitism, nor any pretence. They can aim for their dreams regardless of their biological sex. They don’t have to don the clothes, or names,  of the other sex and they don’t need to hide or alter their biology.

Thus there would seem no call for a boy who wants to follow gender roles traditionally seen as female to transition and alter their biology. Likewise any girl who wishes to pursue traditionally masculine roles or activities  need not alter their bodily appearance. The gender roles that we are often concerned about may have some of their historical development related to our biology (increased muscle mass may have lead us to see the army as a masculine role, for example) but most now are determined purely socially. Thus if someone feels the roles that they wish to pursue are discordant with their biology then the solution is social. The solution is to push for that role to be open to both biological sexes not to alter the person’s biological sex to fit the social role.

If people want to change their biological sex it must be for reasons other than wanting to pursue what are felt to be sex-inappropriate roles as the barriers facing them are considerably less than the barrier posed by the option of changing one’s biological sex. It would seem that the term gender dysphoria does sum up the primary reason for the desire to transition to the other biological sex. It is not a positive desire to be the other biological sex but rather a distaste or unhappiness (dysphoria) in being in the body you find yourself within.

This is not an unusual feature of psychological disorders arising in early adult life and especially around puberty. In addition to gender dysphoria, dysmorphophobia (a belief that one is disfigured or deformed) and the eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and related disorders) share the core belief by the patient that their body shape or configuration is wrong for them. These are serious, debilitating, and dangerous disorders with extremely high levels of distress and a significant mortality through suicide. Our understanding of these disorders is very poor and our treatments are of only limited efficacy. But we never mistake the faulty body image of the patient with anorexia, or dysmorphophobia, as the solution and make that the target of our treatment. We never offer pointless plastic surgery someone who believes their face deformed nor accept that the patient with anorexia should just continue to fade away and die as they see themselves as too fat. Instead we try and help them adjust to their body, and life, as it is and find ways to live with this.

Unfortunately with transgender patients we break with this tradition and offer to try medications and surgery to make their body fit with their internal thoughts. If such medication and surgery diminished distress and eased the patient it might be seen as a useful, if surprising, therapy. Unfortunately it does not appear to do so. The evidence is scanty but, as the American College of Paediatricans pointed out, work undertaken by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute does not find that surgery to transition people from one sex to another reduces the rate of suicide which remains, sadly, much higher than that in the population as a whole.

I have steadily lost the certainty of youth as I have grown older. I am now much happier to accept that I do not know the answer to many questions. Increased knowledge and experience has lead to reduced acceptance of simple or glib answers. However, although I may not know what to do I sometimes know what we should not do. In this case, whether people want to pursue a life in the gender roles that differ to those of the  body they were born within, either from a desire for the positive aspects of those roles, or from a disgust of their own bodily configuration, then attempts to alter their biological sex would appear unwise. At an individual level, obviously it is their choice and they may do with their bodies as they will, but any unbiased observer would counsel them against this as it is  unlikely to lead them to future happiness. At a societal level, I fear we may look back on this period sadly; we saw the problem of defining peoples’ roles by their genitals which forced the likes of Margaret Bulkley and others into dreadful situations but came up with the solution of making peoples’ genitals match the gender roles ! History may not be kind to us.

Auld Claes an Parritch

Our visitors have left and life has returned to its usual boring pattern. It was great to see the family, and to hear all the news, but it does break all the usual rhythms. It is more than worth it but it is also welcome to turn back to the plainer life again. Although I enjoy eating out and discussing politics into the small hours I can only do it in short bursts so it was pleasant to get back to the normal chores and activities this week.

The winds last week had taken a couple of smaller treesimg_20181120_1132078543333336891314098.jpg down in our upper wood so it was a good time to consider cutting and collecting these. These were quite a distance from the house so I decided that I’d do this the slow manual way with the bow saw as we have a rule that if I’m using the chainsaw there must be somebody else about at the same time. This means if I come to grief there is somebody to call for help. So doing the work manually meant my wife could stay at base and get on with the tasks she’d organised.

      img_20181120_1152154132124722120551776.jpgHowever, I also have ulterior motives for avoiding the chainsaw. If I use the bow saw I feel that I can skip one of my exercise sessions for the day. It is much more fun to be deep in the woods working up a sweat than to be wearing trainers and plodding round the lanes. Further, while working I can listen to a podcast or two (The chainsaw makes it impossible to hear anything) I have gotten a little behind with my listening so it was an opportunity to catch up.

  There is little that can beat working in the woods for physical and mental relaxation. After a few hours of labour it felt as if life was back to normal again. After a period of fancy eating and dressing up it’s very nice to get back to wearing my usual working gear and having our regular simple fare – or to return to  auld claes an parritch as we used to say in Scotland.  
 

Ooh ! Look at the shiny baubles !

Advertisements, especially those on the television, are very revealing. They tell us soemthing about our culture and our psyche. The advertiser that wants us to buy their product will do and say whatever it takes to make their product attractive to us. Advertisers are not fools (usually) and earn a lot of money making sure they know our concerns and our desires.

They know we worry about deforestation and climate change so a frozen food company (Iceland) promotes itself through an advert about the damage caused by palm oil usage. This advert has been even more successful than they might have hoped because it has been banned and consequently gone viralon the internet.

Our views on homosexuality have changed and when couples are shown getting married, or rushing to the maternity ward to have babies delivered, it is almost as likely that they will be a same sex partnership as not.

Our concerns about racist perceptions has meant that most couples in UK adverts, doing normal, common-or-garden, domestic  things, are mixed race.

Advertisers like to position themselves, and their products, on the right side of public opinion for obvious resaons. They portray what they hope is our fantasy of how we  think the world should be rather than reflect how it actually is. They suggest by buying their product the fantasy will slowly become real.

This has a long history of causing problems. The portrayal of luxurious lifestyles and wealth, which was a previously popular strategy, was felt by some to cause resentment and alienation. They managed to increase greed, which was desired as it is a driver to purchase, but also increased envy which is a much more troublesome emotion. In 1957 Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders & The  Status Seekers”  tried to warn us of the effects of consumerism and the manipulative effects of adverising and the media. I sometimes fear that the biased portrayal of family life, currently shown,  feeds into the populist surges we have seen in Europe as people feel that their lives and cultures are being airbrushed out of sight.

I therefore have an ambivalent attitude to adverts. I can enjoy them when they are well crafted and find them useful when they inform me, but I always keep one eye open for the “hook” ; the lure that will drag you in and subtly alter your opinions without engaging you in debate or thought.

I was sure most of us watched adverts with this filter in place. I was therefore saddened to see this advert on TV for a new iphone. It seems to suggest we have dropped to a very basic and primitive way of thinking.

 

This is an advert for a phone which is  going to cost you about £1000. Notice that the advert tells you nothing about the phone other than it has a big screen. Nothing about its utility, nothing to compare it to other phones, no details on its specifications, nothing at all. Like many recent Apple adverts it is simply a series of shots of the product looking shiny and new, with the backing of some hip music. It seems that we are now willing to pay £1000 for no reason other than that something looks pretty.  Are we really this shallow now ?

Imagine what could be done with that money were it not spent on a shiny bauble. Are really so wealthy as a society that we can spend this amount on a trinket. Both for ourselves and for the sake of others, whether we follow a secular or a religious path, we need to be alert to this change  that consumerism encourages in us. By all means, buy the £1000 phone if all your family and friends are well and happy, if there are none of your neighbours in financial hardships, if the appeals for charitablle donations have stopped (as they are no longer needed), if you see no hardship or poverty in your communities. If there is nothing else better to spend your money on then this shiny bauble might just fit the bill.

How much of our lives could we buy back if we cherished our lives instead of our trinkets?

Gerry Spence

 

How many more cars, clothes, toys and trinkets do we really need before we wake up and realize that half the world goes to bed every night with empty stomachs and naked bodies?

K.P. Yohannan

Anti-deception belt buckles

Anti-deception belt buckles

It is that time of the year when I get my HBA1c checked again. Now I know that is a measure of my glycosylated haemoglobin and it gives a weighted average of blood glucose levels over the life of red blood cells (117 days or so). But this is not really how I think of it. It is really a test of my abilities in self-deception. I test my blood daily and therefore should really know what my average blood glucose has been – but I cheat !

If I have had a bad day with my diet, a night out for a meal and a drink, I tend to forget to do my bloods just afterwards. If I have forgotten to do my exercises I tend also, quite conveniently, forget to check my sugar levels as well.  I don’t want to see the results of my failings. Until that LED screen on the glucose meter frowns a high value at me I can pretend to myself that little has happened. When I check a little later, having been good and exercised properly, my sugars are not that bad. In essence, I manage to check myself at all the best times and give myself the feeling I am doing better than I am. This feeling of confidence all disappears when the HBA1c comes around and destroys my flimsy deceptions with its harsh reading of the true average reading over the last three months. Because it is a three month average it is not even possible to do a quick few days of good dieting and heavy exercise to bring the average down – the HBA1c doesn’t see this recent contrition, it just counts the pastries and sloth of the previous months.

I think we need similar tests of self-deception that we can use before we end up in the mess of being fat and diabetic. I would have loved to have an anti-deception mirror. This mirror would surreptitiously collect images of us and then present them back to us as an average image of how we looked over the last three months. It would not matter if you stood up straight, threw your shoulders back and sucked in your stomach and held the pose you managed, for the first 30 seconds, that you met a new attractive person. It would show you slouched, hunched and belly flopping. This might be a fillip to think about diet or exercise.  These might meet the call Robert Burns put out in “To a Louse” :-

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

I can imagine another two ways to free us from possible blunders. Anti-deception headphones could also be valuable. These would monitor our conversations for words and phrases like “chubby”, “chunky”, “thick around the middle”, “buxom”, “full figured”, “hefty” or “portly”, when used to describe ourselves, and play the words “fat”, “overweight” or “obese” in their stead. But perhaps the most valuable tool, for men in any event, might be the anti-deception belt buckle.

After a certain age men often become aware of a paunch developing around their midriff. It gradually grows until it is quite a size. To the man this becomes recognizable when he can no longer look down and see his feet or genitals without either sucking in or using his hands. To the rest of the world this became apparent when the paunch had grown to cover his belt buckle. I noticed that I, like many men, dealt with this problem by a cunning strategy. By simply pulling my short out from under my waist band, while my paunch may be hiding my belt buckle, the short now covers the paunch and the buckle. I honestly believed that the rest of the world were fooled by this strategy. I thought that they thought “Hey, look at the thin guy over there whose shirt flaps outside his trousers. I wish I was slim like that“. I didn’t imagine they thought, “Heavens that bloke is too fat to do up his trousers properly and tuck in his shirt“. I believe women have similar cunning plans involving ponchos and similar outfits. I would never had pulled my shirt out while I was wearing a suit (It would have looked too wierd) but I was happy enough to deceive myself that this strategy worked when I wore jeans or chinos. A simple belt buckle with a light sensitive alarm could sound a siren, or ring a bell, when it was covered by a shirt to alert the wearer that they were being silly and making a fashion faux pas.

Anyway, I should know in a few days how much I have been deceiving myself when the HBA1c comes in. I am sure when I get this , temporarily at least, I will pull my sock ups, eat better and workout more. Although perhaps not tonight;  as the next test will not be for over three months and tonight won’t figure in the next test !

 

Less than dazzling

It is amazing what a difference a few volts can make. I bought new batteries for the bicycle lamp and it now functions fairly well. As the video shows I can actually see a fait bit of the road and don’t, therefore, have to rely on memory as to where the bridge and cliff are. This makes the cycle a good bit less anxiety provoking  as you feel a little safer. Unfortunately it also throws up shadows that flit in the sides of your field of vision. These, accompanied by noises in the undergrowth, do help to make sure it never feels really relaxing. Perhaps my lights don’t light up the whole road but at least they won’t dazzle on-coming traffic.

 

Fortunately there is a lot of wind noise on this video (It is not my breathing I assure you, well not entirely my breathing) which gives a sense of speed to the cycle ride which is completely false. It sounds like the cresta run but is actually little more than  stroll

 

Away from it all.

Sometimes you only see something when you look at it through someone else’s eyes. We have got very  used to living in the backwoods and generally prefer it to the city life that we previously knew. We know that out entertainment options are different and the cutting edges of fashion tend to be very blunt by the time it makes it to us. But otherwise we feel we live the modern life without some of the irritations of living hugger-mugger in a more densely populated area.

One of the ways we manage to keep up with the twentieth century is to run a small holiday let. This brings in an income which is very valuable for the luxuries we enjoy. The smallholding just about makes us self-sufficient, but with the holiday let we can afford exciting things like telephony and the internet. Our visitors today arrived after very long journeys; one had come from the capital and the other had flown from America. About two hours before their arrival we had started to receive telephone calls from them as they were finding things were not quite as they had anticipated.

As they had flown and taken trains from the major urban centres everything had been fine. They then took the bus, which worked well, which deposited them at the side of the road a few miles from the  farm and three miles from the town. They started to realise that they were not in Kansas anymore. They had no mobile phone reception to make any calls. Even had they phone reception they would have found that they are in an Uber-free and virtually taxi-free area. They had planned to walk to the cottage but had not realized the walk would have been relentlessly uphill and their luggage would not have made the trek.

We had anticipated these problems and had gone to meet them at the bus stop. Their relief was tangible. Their first question was “where are the street lights ?”, they had just found themselves in the complete dark, miles from any houses or signs of habitation. I am used to walking in the dark but I think that they had seen, for the first time, what the dark is actually like. Living in the city you forget what pitch black is like. One of the strangest things I noticed when we moved here occurred when I lay in bed. It was so dark there was no appreciable difference whether I opened or closed my eyes. It was like being blind, there was no light whatsoever.

When we got them to the cottage they inquired about shops to be disappointed that they would now be shut as it was evening. No problem they thought, having wifi, they would be able to order food online. This lead the next discovery – that home deliveries don’t exist in this part of the world and that the one fish and chip shop in the town would be shut already. We had anticipated this in part and had ensured that they had enough basic staples to make a supper, and have a drink, until they found their bearings.

I never really think about these things now. I take it for granted that we don’t have them and I don’t feel that I miss them. I recall that when I lived in the city there were 24 hour supermarkets and I can also remember the feeling of ennui and alienation when I found myself trudging the aisles of these places late at night when I should have been at home in my bed. I now like walking outside in the night. Once your eyes have acclimatized it is amazing what you an see and the whole landscape looks different and slightly alien. Sometimes it is a little scary but it is always interesting. As we live in a dark skies area, if there is no cloud, it is fascinating to look up at the stars which had been hidden to me, by light pollution, when I lived in the city. I have grown used to my new rural life and didn’t see how different it is in many small ways to urban life until I saw it in the saucer-wide eyes of my visitors.

Our visitors want to have a time “away from it all” and I think we are going to be able to offer them that. Hopefully during their stay they will find that all the things that they think are missing are not that essential really. They may even start to think that some of the things they don’t have, such as mobile phone reception, may be a pleasant change. If they do then this may prove to be a very successful holiday. I must thank them for making me realize that I am already “away from it all”

rhdr

 

The nights are drawing in.

It is now a week since the clocks went back an hour and I am gradually getting used to the new routines. The initial pleasure of that extra light in the morning has largely worn off to be replaced by the annoyance of the earlier darkness. Not only does night start an hour earlier it comes on much more quickly. No sooner have you noticed the gathering twilight than it is pitch black.

This alters the afternoon and evening routines as, regardless of what time it shows on the clock,  it is still vital to get the birds into their coups before darkness falls. If we miss this deadline then we can be pretty much assured we will lose some of the birds to foxes. We lose enough to the hawks, who are brazen and steal during the day, and we can’t afford to supply the fox population also. Having said this, if the birds had a choice they might prefer the fox to the hawk as their ultimate nemesis as the fox kills much more quickly and humanely.

Now, instead of a leisurely task in the early evening, strolling coup to coup and checking everybody is tucked in for the night, there is a hurried dash rushing everyone indoors before the darkness falls. We have our poultry scattered about the farm in half a dozen or so small coups. It would be less work to keep them all together in one larger shed and take a lot less time at night. However, this way seems a lot more natural for the birds and we are able to keep more cockerels. Each cockerel lives with his 8 to 10 wives on his patch. They rarely stray into enemy territory and there are relatively few fights. The hens like this more natural family set up and it is clear that the cockerel sees his role as the guard of his harem. He wards of intruders and guards the doors at night. The hens seem happier when he is about.

We prefer it not only because it is more natural but also because, this way, we can keep more cockerels on the farm. If we are honest, cockerels img_20181104_1646276595128874143955393.jpgare much prettier than chickens and exhibit a great deal more character. There is a surprising amount of pleasure that can be obtained from sitting, on a warm and dry afternoon, and watching the cockerels strut try and rule their roost. This system necessitates a bit more work for me in the daily opening and closing of the coups, but , it does repay itself in the pleasure I get from watching the small flocks of birds  having their adventures all over the farm yard rather than just in one field or barn. Anyway, with the birds seem to have adjusted to the changed clocks and, after a fashion, so have I.

A further adaptation, that I didn’t expect, was that I have had  to reschedule my daily exercise routine. Previously I would cycle in the afternoon. Before the nights started to draw in, it was a time when roads were quiet and there was a lull in the working day; it was an ideal time to go. With the shortened hours there is no afternoon lull and I don’t get my chance to cycle before the evening has started. Therefore, today  I decided to try cycling at night. After I had scoured the garage for an old bicycle lamp I powered up the lamp and my podcast player and headed out. This did not work out as successfully as I had anticipated. As you will see from the video below this lamp was not really up to the job. I pedaled in the gloom only avoiding accident because I knew the road. My fear for my safety was augmented by the scariness of the dark forest so I did at least  manage a good workout as my heart-rate certainly went up. My attempt to calm my fears by listening to the BBC’s “Moral Maze” debate on climate change did not entirely work. I think I’ll have to invest in a better lamp before I try  this again. But, at least I now know what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.