Derby Names and Alter Egos

Remember how on Monday I said I would have really liked to waffle on about roller derby for a bit, but ended up dismantling some antichoice arguments instead? Today we’re going the other way ’round. Yeah, the government finally announced that we’re getting a referendum on marriage equality the year after next. I could talk about that, and I’m sure we’d have an interesting and productive discussion, at the end of which we all agree that equality is good, and waiting another year and a half isn’t. So let’s pretend that’s done, shall we, and talk about something fun?

Can’t we just skip all that? Can’t we just be talking about derby now?

Let’s talk Derby Names

I love derby names. I’d say that they were one of my favourite things about the sport, if I weren’t so head-over-heels with skating fast, hittin’ people, taking hits and staying up, damnit, those fleeting seconds when I’m on the track and I actually have the faintest idea what’s going on, that moment when I get my jammer through the pack, and- oh yes- that moment when I am the jammer that just got through the pack and I see the ref signalling lead right next to me. When that jammer is behind my butt and she isn’t going anywhere. Oh, and new wheels. And freshly-washed pads. And the four (hopefully!) women on the track who’ve got my back. And the five I’m pitting my nascent wits and my skills against. And how much I love becoming stronger, faster and smarter skater. And… let’s just say that there’s another post or six to be dedicated to things I love about derby.

If it weren’t for all of those things, derby names would be one of my favourite things about derby. Always clever and often nerdy, I never fail to get a kick out of reading through a team’s lineup. And they serve a practical purpose too- creating a division between the mundanities of our everyday lives and this sport where we can be strong and aggressive women who take what we want, never, ever ask permission, and (literally) knock over anyone who dares to get in our way or try to get past us. It’s all part of the ritual- strapping on your pads, tying your laces and checking your toe stops, you put away your responsibilities and let out (what you hope is!) a clean, focused predator. Fuck, yeah.

I love derby names. I love changing into my derby gear. I love crossing the boundaries between real life and track. I just wish that this wasn’t such a cliche.

Derby Skater In Shocking Having-A-Real-Life Revelation

I’ve seen a few derby documentaries. Scratch that- I’ve seen a lot of derby documentaries. I love ’em. Love seeing how much this sport means to the women who play it around the world. Love watching them train and play and hearing them talk about what their teams and bouts and training are like. What can I say? I’m kinda in love with this game, and any chance to get to add to my (long) list of derby crushes is a chance I’ll snap up in a heartbeat. And while I love a derby documentary, and I love learning more about the different lives of the women who skate, I’m not in love with how derby names are portrayed.

Tell me if you haven’t heard this one many times before. It goes like this: “By day, she’s a mother/student/doctor/accountant/engineer/programmer/PA/etcetcetc. But by night, this everyday lady becomes something extraordinary: InsertCleverDerbyNameHere from SkatingLeague”. And then it talks about her alternate lives as if they were totally different things. Sometimes they go further, with voiceovers asking things like “would you believe that BadassMcSkatesAlot is a regular person who does ordinary things in the daytime?”

Well, yes. Of course she is. How do you think she affords those skates? I’m sure she’d love to devote herself fulltime to skating, but, for the moment at least, nobody’s getting paid to play. It’s the opposite, in fact- we pay for the privilege. We buy all of our gear, pay our membership dues, and volunteer our time to keep our leagues going.

That’s not surprising. What is surprising is.. well, that anyone thinks that it is. Sure, I think that roller derby is the best damn sport on the planet. I’m sure that people devoted to a different sport- from football to hurling to tennis to synchronised swimming- feels the same way about what they do. And the vast majority of them have day jobs, too.

Why is it considered weird that BadassMcSkatesAlot does regular-person things? It is because derby is new and different? Or is it because full-contact women’s sports are rare, and it’s simply not expected that everyday women might want to let their hair down for a few hours a week and knock some people over? Is it, perhaps, that that is considered subversive in a way that a bunch of guys knockin’ each other over in a rugby game isn’t? It is related to the aesthetic of roller derby- which is all about celebrating and playing with the artifice and decoration that women are expected to engage in every day, and making it something powerful and ours? Is it just another rehashing of the tired old Strong Female Character cliche? Or is it just that some people who make documentaries and reports are a bit lazy and inclined to grab an easy take on something, run with it, and then call it a day before popping out for a couple of pints?

That’s not to say that the day/night trope is always a terrible thing, though. This London Roller Girls promo, which pretty much relies on that, is brilliant. It takes the day/night thing and turns it on its head- we start off at work. I also love that it shows Vagablonde actually checking her gear (although I’m a bit mystified as to why she puts on her skates and pads before her makeup..). Safety first, y’all! Either that, or it could just be that I love everything LRG do, ever.

Here’s why it bothers me so much, though: while derby is different from our day jobs, the things we learn from derby stay with us throughout our lives. Yeah, I put away my gear and go back to my everyday life after training. Of course I do. But- and yeah, this is gonna sound cheesy- I’m not the same person I was before I skated. Derby taught me that I’m stronger than I think I am. It taught me that asking permission is overrated and sometimes you’ve just gotta take what you want- and that about 7 or 8 seconds later, you’ve gotta do it again. Derby taught me to not be scared of screwing up or looking ridiculous- that you need to fall over a couple of hundred times before you learn a new skill, that there will be people watching you fall, that you won’t always fall small and gracefully, and that throwing yourself into it anyway is the only way to be amazing. Derby taught me to open my mouth, shout out when I need a hand, listen to the people around me, and if you fuck up? There’s another chance to do better speeding ’round the track to meet you in, oh, a couple of seconds- so hustle, damnit. And derby taught me to get up off my ass and do something now, even if it isn’t perfect, before I lose my chance. (I also, er, learn an awful lot on a regular basis about sitting in a box and keeping my mouth shut for two minutes that I’m pretty sure last several years but the less said about that the better, amirite?)

I love derby names. They’re funny, they’re clever, and there’s something delicious about calling your teammates by their favourite puns every day. I love how the simultaneously create a separate derby world where different rules apply, and give us something to live up to and carry around with us. And while they’re fun for spectators and fans too, at the end of the day, our derby names are ours.


Derby Names and Alter Egos

Things Anti Choicers Say: “Every Pro-Choicer Has Already Been Born”

I was planning to write about roller derby today. I’m afraid, though, that you’re going to have to wait a little longer for rhapsodising about the joys of knockin’ people over on eight wheels. I’m letting you know this because just as soon as we sort out reproductive rights for all and dismantle the kyriarchy, everyone will get to blog all day long about their favourite things. I’ll turn this into a food and derby blog, write reviews of my favourite books, and yarnbomb my balcony. I’m not sure what you lot will do, but it’ll be great.

In the meantime, though, we have to keep doing this. Sorry ’bout that. Might as well get to it, though, eh? In the wake of my post the other day on antichoice responses to BPAS in the Irish Times, I’ve had a few conversations here and on Twitter. This morning I woke up to this in my inbox:

There are a lot of flippant responses I could give. Let’s take a look at the premises behind this one, though, and see what comes out of it.

1. That we would be horrified at having been aborted ourselves

This reminds me of another thing I hear a lot from anti choice activists. A few years ago, I was out at a pro choice counterdemo to an anti choice march. Someone came up to me and, after calling me a murderer a few times, shouted in my face, “Aren’t you glad your mother was pro life?”. (Of course, my mother was standing a few yards down to me, carrying a massive “Keep Your Rosaries Off my Ovaries” sign.)

What this is about, though, is the idea that pro choice is a fundamentally selfish position, and that pro choice people have never considered the possibility that we might ourselves have been aborted. Additionally, it’s about the idea that the choice between abortion and carrying to term is something other than a deeply personal decision that a person makes.

Don’t think so? The result of my mother having aborted me would be that I would never exist. I rather like existing, so I can see how the thought of nonexistence would disturb people. I’ve had a sleepless night or two in my time contemplating my inevitable future nonexistence, and I’ll bet you have too. Abortion, though, is only one way of many that I or you could have never existed at all. We might have been miscarried. There might have been something good on TV, or an important errand to run, when we would have been conceived. Any one of our twenty-greats-grandparents, making the tiniest change to a single day of their lives, could have caused our entire families to never be.

Sure, I’m glad that I wasn’t aborted. I’m also glad that my billions-of-years-old newly-vertebrate ancestors didn’t get eaten by anything before they could lay the eggs of the next generation of our ancestors. When it comes to abortion, though? Knowing that my pro choice mother made a choice to carry me to term and be my parent is deeply comforting to me. The existence of any of us, both as individuals and as a species, is the result of innumerable trillions of chance events and meetings. But at one point, at the very end of that scale, someone decided that I should exist. That I was wanted and loved.

I am pro choice now. Give me a time machine and a chance to meet my mother when she was pregnant? And I’d still tell her to make the choice that was right for her. And if that meant I never existed in the first place? It’s just one chance of many.

2. That being born before we make our minds up only applies to pro-choice people

Here’s something that it took me a while to get, when people accuse pro choice supporters of all having already been born. Yes, we were born decades ago. So were the people we disagree with. So has everyone any of us has spoken to, met, passed on the street, seen on TV, or read about in history books. Sure, it was a thing to shout at people. But it didn’t make any sense.

Unless you give agency to fetuses. If a fetus could think, desire, understand and fear, then maybe it would seek to continue to exist.

There’s no evidence- or reason to believe- that fetuses can do anything of the sort. A fetus doesn’t know what life and death are. It doesn’t know that there is a world outside. It has never eaten, cried, or even taken a breath. There’s evidence that fetuses sleep through their entire gestation (yes, even when they’re placing well-aimed kicks at their parent’s tenderest vital organs) due to a combination of their blood oxygen levels and sedating hormones produced by it and its placenta. Even if awake, though, a fetus couldn’t have an awareness of what an individual is, of it being one, of what life and death and the future and other people are- the most basic kinds of self-awareness don’t really start to develop until a baby is a year or so old.

Yes, every pro choice person has been born. So has every anti choice person, and every person with the most basic idea of what that sentence means in the first place.


Things Anti Choicers Say: “Every Pro-Choicer Has Already Been Born”

Advertising Abortions In The Irish Times

Waking up this morning, I flopped over in bed (almost exactly like how I imagine a sleepy walrus would) as usual, and picked up my phone for a bit of a browse of some news until I felt ready to face the world. I can’t be the only person who does this, can I? Somehow reading news articles in bed feels almost like I’m doing something productive. Almost.

This morning, I was treated to news of an ad in the Irish Times today. Doesn’t sound like news to you? Check this out:


That, my friends, is one hell of an advertisement. It’s more than an advertisement. It’s a gauntlet thrown at the Irish government to get their act together, grow a pair (of ovaries), and start providing women with the healthcare and bodily autonomy that are our rights. And it manages to simultaneously give essential information to people with crisis pregnancies. I’d have put a hat on just to take it off to them, if I weren’t, as I mentioned, still under my duvet at the time. It was a chilly Saturday morning- I wasn’t getting out of there before I had to, especially not to tip my hat to people who weren’t in the country, never mind the room.

Then I read the comments. I know- don’t read the comments. Unless they’re the comments on a blog with a silly name that seems somehow related to tea. You should read those. In those comments were a few things that I think deserve to be talked about.

What had the charming anti-choice masses of the internet to say?

You’re all a bunch of filthy murderers, tearing babies apart limb from limb

Ah, this old chestnut. The charming characterisation of pro-choice people as slathering, bloodthirsty hordes who love nothing more than dismembering innocents. I imagine that we also take the time to perfect our evil laughs before an entertaining evening spent kicking puppies, stealing sweets from children and then chopping the heads off their favourite teddy bears, yes? Oh, and we never use our indicators, always hold our umbrellas at your eye level, and turn the volume on our headphones up so loud that you can sing along to our earworms from the other side of the bus.

While all of that is of course perfectly true, there is one factual inaccuracy here. It’s the bit about “tearing babies apart limb from limb”. You see, while Irish people have abortions at about the same rate as our UK counterparts, there are a couple of important differences in how it happens, both of which can be traced directly back to the Irish abortion ban.

Irish women have abortions later. And we have more surgical abortions.

We have abortions later- two weeks, on average- because travelling to the UK for a medical procedure is not a simple process. Finding money. Finding a clinic. Finding money for flights- ever had to book Ryanair on short notice? Booking flights and other transport. Can you afford a place to stay? Have you friends to stay with? Getting time off work. Have kids or other dependants? You’ll need to find someone to care for them. Oh, and remember that bit about the money? Time is ticking, and the cost of an abortion is rising with every passing week.

Even when Irish women manage to have abortions early, though, we still end up having surgical abortions far more than our UK counterparts. Why? Medical abortions- that’s the abortion pill- take more time than surgical. Those pills take time to work, and controlled miscarriages can be as painful as natural ones. Despite the fact that many women would prefer medical abortions to having surgery, they often simply can’t afford even more time away from home, as well as the cost of days of accommodation.

So let’s get something straight: if anyone is encouraging women to “tear their babies limb from limb” (a description that is as unpleasantly graphic as it is, in the vast majority of cases, inaccurate), it’s the people who force Irish people seeking abortions to have their abortions weeks later, and to endure more invasive procedures than they need. That’s anti-choicers and the Eighth Amendment, by the way.

But let’s move on, shall we? I have a couple more chestnuts to get through. How about this one:


Who do BPAS think they are, sticking their noses into Irish business?

On the face of it, this seems legit. Us pro-choice activists are always banging on about how certain anti-choice groups active in Ireland seem to be a little.. further West.. than most of the rest of us. Y’know. A fair bit west. The kind where you set off from, say, Kerry or Galway, point yourself away from land and keep going till you get to the land of s’mores and Taco Bell. If we get to complain about how they seem to get shedloads of money from shady US backers, then they should be able to object to UK organisations taking out ads in our papers. Right?

Wrong, actually.

When we object to things like overseas funding and a strange unwillingness to publish where certain organisations get their money, the point isn’t that some people who happen to live outside Ireland are giving people some money. The point is, in fact, twofold. It’s inappropriate and harmful for people with no stake in, or knowledge of, contemporary Ireland to try to influence our laws- it’s quite frankly none of their business. And hiding that you’re doing so, while pretending that you have vastly more local support than you do, is unethical and dishonest. If you can’t make your point while fighting fair? GTFO.

BPAS, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Ireland’s ban on abortion doesn’t mean that Irish people don’t have abortions. It means that Irish people get our abortions from English doctors. English hospitals, nurses and doctors do what their Irish equivalents will or can not. They provide the care and services that we need. By banning abortion, Ireland forces itself into a symbiotic relationship with our neighbours. UK hospitals, whether we like to admit it or not, are an integral part of Irish health care.

BPAS aren’t strangers to Irish women. They are the people who, for decades, have stepped up where our country has abdicated responsibility. When Ireland talks about statistics and anonymised cases, BPAS provides services to real people. They are as part of Irish healthcare as my GP down the road. And as the people who care for Irish women, who hear our stories and show us the respect and compassion that our country denies us, they have as much a say in this issue as anyone on this island.

And they write their name on their ad.

This is just a cynical move by those murdering scum to make more profits from killing cute little babies who have toesie woesies and things

This one makes no sense. BPAS are challenging the Irish government to actually get off its butt and decriminalise abortion already. BPAS are a British organisation. Britain is where Irish pregnant people go to get abortions now. Irish pregnant people don’t get NHS treatment, so we have to pay privately for our abortions. If abortion were legal in Ireland, we would have abortions in Irish hospitals and clinics. Not British. This would mean that they would be paid less money by the 12 people a day who wouldn’t need to travel.

It’s called logic.

You know what else, though? I took a look at BPAS’s site today. They have a specific Irish website which I found through their main site. While Irish women cannot access the NHS, BPAS charge us significantly reduced rates than UK private patients. They can waive consultation fees in several circumstances. They link to non-directive pregnancy counselling, free post-abortion medical and counselling services, and to the Abortion Support Network for people who need assistance with funding or accommodation.

Does that seem like the actions of uncaring people who care about nothing but profit to you?

Advertising Abortions In The Irish Times

Post-November Update

What feels like a million years ago at the start of November I gave myself the (faintly ridiculous in retrospect) challenge to blog 50,000 words over the course of a month. I am almost certain that I didn’t, er, exactly make it to the magic 50k. I stopped counting about halfway through November when I was distracted by trips away and Pink Training and applying for jobs (siiigh) and the like.

I did publish 35 posts, though- not counting reblogs or guest posts. Buggered if I know what the word count was- WordPress doesn’t seem to have a nice handy “How many words did I write in November?” widget, and it turns out I’m not particularly keen on looking up each one individually. Probably a nice big number, though. More importantly, I got a really good idea of the things I like to do here, the things I want to pursue, and what I can (healthily) commit to.

Left to my own devices I would write every frickin’ hour of the day. The more I write, the more I think about writing and the more issues I want to write on and angles I want to explore. There is no way that I can get through all that and still have time to have a reasonably balanced life. Today I have 54 posts in my Drafts folder in various stages of completion. Fifty-four! If I didn’t have a single new idea for a post, I could keep blogging every single day for almost two months on that!

But that wouldn’t be fun. And the main things that I want to get out of this blog are engagement, community and fun. If it’s not fun for me (and you), there’s no point. So here’s what I’d like to do from here on. It’s not a commitment, it’s ideas. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that when it comes to blogging, ideas are far more useful;

  • I’d like to stick to about five posts a week. I’m tempted- by FSM am I tempted- to write every day. But writing long posts every day is very time and energy-consuming. I like putting a lot of research into my posts. Posting about five times a week gives me a day off and gives me space to go off and research things. The chances that I’ll stick to this are, er, minimal.. but i’ll try and keep any other posts short ‘n’ sweet. 
  • I love, love, love bringing other people into my blog. I have plans for two different interviews with amazing artists in the next month or so, as well as two wonderful guest posts from one of them in that To-Be-Edited pile. I would love to share more brilliant people with you, and to bring in new perspectives on the things that I talk about.
  • Posts that aren’t just writing. Making drawings, lists and the like is fun. I like posting things in a format that isn’t just walls of text like this is. I’ve been mostly stuck with writing over the past while since the death of my MacBook Pro stuck me to things that my wee Eee PC netbook can do. After Christmas, though, I’ll have a brand-new (second-hand, one careful lady owner) MBP to play with. I foresee oodles more pictures, a return to recipes, and some vlogging on top of it all. Suffice to say that I’m counting the days until I can get my mitts on that gorgeous MBP and start making things.

All in all? Although I didn’t make it to 50,000 words, NaBloPoMo was a massive success. I’m really proud of my 35 posts. I’ve loved diving headfirst into writing and communicating. At the end of it, I have oodles of ideas for making the Tea Cosy even more awesome than it is. And- for the first time I can remember- I can’t wait until January. Not bad, eh?

And You Lot? Thanks, all of you, for showing up, reading, commenting, and supporting me on my bloggly endeavours. Go give yourselves a hug from me.


Post-November Update

Updates and Plans at the Tea Cosy

As you can probably tell, things have been pretty busy here at Tea Cosy Central over the past few days. Many cuppas have been had and Serious Topics discussed as NaBloPoMo gets into full swing. It’s been a hell of a lot of research and hard work, but it’s also been awesome. I’m loving getting to know all the new bloggers and commenters I’m connecting with.

However, I’m afraid that things are going to slow down a little over the next week or so, because of a couple of Very Exciting Things going on. I’ll still be getting at least a post up every day, but I may be a weensy bit distracted from dealing with Serious Business. Don’t you worry, the serious topics’ll still be there when I’m back.

The first of these is that I’m off to Glasgow for a week to visit my gorgeous, amazing, fabulous and wonderful girlfriend. I haven’t seen her in a couple of months, and I’ve never-ever been to Glasgow before. Much as I love blogging, I have a feeling that exploring a new city and spending oodles of time with my sweetie may take priority. Just sayin’.

By the way, if there’s any Tea Cosy readers from around Glasgow, you should totally hit me up and say hey.

The second exciting thing happening? After I get back from Glasgow, on the weekend of the 17th and 18th November, is one of the biggest events in the Irish student calendar. Pink Training! Where hundreds of LGBT students and allies from all over the country gather for a weekend of workshops and, well, all sorts of shenanigans. Every year, PT brings that wonderful combination of fun, learning and poignancy that never fails to be memorable. I’ll be giving not one, not two, but three workshops over the course of the weekend. I’ll be running a Coming Out workshop, one on Bi Awareness, and also a Bi Safer Space. I absolutely can’t wait- I’ve been giving workshops at PT for a few years now, and it’s always a wonderful experience. Of course, this means that I’ll be busy putting together the absolute best workshops I can between now and then, and for the weekend will be off hanging out with wonderful, inspiring queermos from all over the country, and sitting back with the rest of the old fogies and sniffling at how adorable the young wans are these days.

Throughout all of this I absolutely plan to keep blogging daily! But posts will probably be a bit shorter. While I’m in the UK I won’t have mobile internet most of the time (data roaming is expensive and I am an unemployed broke person), and will be relying on whatever wifi I can find around, so I’ll probably also be a bit slower to mod new commenters and contribute to comment threads. I’m going to rely on You Lot to be civil and not to wreck the place while I’m busy makin’ smoochie faces with my lady. ‘Kay?

Have any of you been to Glasgow? Where should I go, what should I do? How about Pink Training- have you ever attended it or something like it? What did it mean to you? For so many people, PT is one of the first times they’ve felt like they truly belonged in a space. Have you ever had that kind of experience? Where was it, what was it like?


Updates and Plans at the Tea Cosy

Self-motivation: The Tea Cosy Guide To Getting Things Done And Keeping Your Head Together.

So there you are. Living the dream. You can live as you please, make your own schedules, do what you like. You can work all night and sleep all day. You’re answerable to nobody but, well, whoever it is that you get the money from to pay the bills. You’re doin’ it from home. Woo hoooo!

In the office daydreaming about working for yourself, there are things you never think about. What the lack of structure will do to you. That sinking feeling of not having communicated with another human being offline in days. The fact that spending all day in your PJs is not actually all it’s cracked up to be. The fact that if you’ve no boss on your back about getting your work done, you have to be that person. Living in an ever-growing pile of notebooks, teacups and boxes of cereal. Realising that there are distinct advantages to being in the same time-zone as the people next door.

I can’t claim to be a goddess of self-motivation. But while I’ve spent more days writing in my PJs than I care to admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting my ass in gear.

Street preacher in Covent Garden with an unusu...
If it works for you…. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tea Cosy Guide To Getting Things Done And Keeping Your Head Together.

1. Go to bed. Set an alarm.

If you do nothing else, do this. For the first while after I became unemployed, I didn’t. It was nice for the first week or so. Then it was… not. Really, really not. There’s nothing to make you feel like you’re wasting your life quite like the day being half over before you’ve even had your cornflakes. If you’re going to do this (and you are!), then the first thing to know is that 90% is convincing yourself that you know what you’re doing. Nothing like getting up at a sensible hour to help you feel like a responsible adult as opposed to a sofa-bound waster.

2. Make to-do lists. Not just for today.

So you’re out of bed, breakfasted, teeth brushed and wearing something you could be seen outside in. Congratulations! Stage one is complete! You’re probably feeling a slight temptation to plonk yourself down on the sofa with a cuppa right about now. And if you don’t have a to-do list, this is probably exactly what you’re going to do.

So every few days, sit yourself down and think about what you need to get done. Not just today. For the whole week. Write them down. Break them down. If you’re me, you probably want to put little ticky boxes next to them, colour-code them based on urgency, and give them a different number of ticky boxes based on how much time and effort they’ll take. But, y’know, just a list is fine too. I get that not everyone’s like me.

The thing about the To-Do List is that it gets you over the post-breakfast hump. You know what you’re doing and, damnit, you’re an Organised Person who’ll get that stuff done. Huzzah!

3. Have a calendar or a planner. Use it. Make plans.

Yes, I know that you just filled up your To-Do List with all the things you need to do. And now I want you to have a calendar as well? Well, yes. I do. The To-Do List is what you need to do. The planner tells you when you need to do it. And the planner is also where you put all of the non-work things that you have to do. You know that world outside your doors? The one with other people in? That you might need an umbrella for? You should probably get out there at some point. The planner’ll tell you when to do that.

The other good thing about the calendar is that, when you’ve inevitably gone and spent three days in your house eating leftover lasagne sandwiches and having a far more casual relationship with your shower than your friends would like, you know that you have something to get scrubbed up for. Calendars remind you what days of the week are.

And while we’re at it..

4. Have regular things you do. Outside.

There’s bound to be something you like to do. Me, I like roller skating to loud music and a good stitch ‘n’ bitch. Maybe you prefer rugby or street preaching. Whatever works for ya. We’re all different. But do it. Do it every week. Put it in your planner. If your calendar is the thing that reminds you what a day of the week is, having Street Preaching Thursdays or Knitting Saturdays is what reminds you what days of the week are for. It’ll also help you to keep a sense of perspective. Literally, as well as figuratively. I heard once that if your eyes don’t have to look at something more than a few feet away for months, they stop knowing how to. Honest. I read it on this here internet, so it must be true. Don’t let this happen to you. Leave the house.

5. Get some exercise. Clean the house.

Obviously this one depends on your spoons and physical capabilities and all. But if you can? Do! Keep those exercisey endorphins doing whatever it is they do. Do the dishes even if there’s nobody except you there. Seriously. You’ll want to put this one on your To-Do List. If it’s the kind of thing you tend to let slide, then bookmark Unfuck Your Habitat now. And go there every damn day. You’ll be so inspired you won’t know what happened.

Those are my tips ‘n’ tricks. How about you? How do you keep yourself motivated and getting things done, day in and day out? If you work from home or are self-employed or aren’t in paid employment like myself, how do you keep yourself up and doing things and interacting with the rest of the world? Let me know!

Self-motivation: The Tea Cosy Guide To Getting Things Done And Keeping Your Head Together.

Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.

TW, as per usual for these things, for discussion of present and past racism.

This post is responding to comments on my earlier post Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW. This post goes into the historical context of blackface.

First, a disclaimer. I am not an expert on this stuff by any means. I am simply a person with a reasonable background in things like social science and intersectionality, who does her best to be an ally and have a fair idea of this stuff. I haven’t- until this past few days- spent a huge amount of time reading up on the history of minstrels and representation of POC. I just had the usual level of background awareness of this stuff that you get from being a person interacting with people. When it comes to the historical specifics, though, I’m just learning. Which is important, because everything I know is stuff that you can find out if, as I advised in my last post, you just google it.

Right. Let’s get started. We’ve got a lot to get through. I’m going to be talking a lot about context, symbolism and history. I’m also going to be linking to a lot of other places. Because this is such a big, complicated issue I’d encourage you strongly to read them. I know that this is the internet and we’re stuck on tl;dr. But this is important. If you really, really can’t stand to spend 10-15 minutes reading a few posts, though, scroll down and you’ll find a tl;dr.

I’ve been hearing a lot over the past few days from people wondering what’s the harm in dressing up as a POC and painting/colouring your face to match that person’s skin tone. Especially at Halloween, when we dress up as all sorts of things. It seems bizarre that something that’s so obviously just a bit of fun could get people so upset and angry. It seems unfair that someone should be vehemently attacked when there was almost certainly no malicious intent behind what they did.

So what, precisely, is going on here? Let’s start with a quick history lesson.

A short history of blackface

I hate to say it, but this is one of those times when American history is biting everyone else in the ass. Because, as I’ve said, I’m not expert in this, I’m going to pass you over to the brilliant anedumacation:

Blackface was invented by minstrel performers in the nineteenth century, and soon became the trademark of the artform. Minstrel shows were a form of entertainment that was devoted to re-packaging blackness in a way that was sufficiently degrading enough to be palatable to white audiences. Its about taking the richness of black art, music, dancing, and humor — turning it into a degrading stereotype, and then disseminating this bastardized vision of a people as far and wide as possible. Minstrelsy wasn’t just about exploiting racism, minstrel performers were on the front lines of white supremacy, they established an image in the mind of white America of who black people were — simple fools, mindless entertainers, creatures ruled by instinct and lower brain function, not by art, not by ideas, not by ideals of honor or duty. Finally, you cannot understand the legal and political system of apartheid established by Jim Crow, without understanding minstrelsy. Because its easy, very easy, to deny full legal personhood to someone that you don’t believe to be fully human. What better way to spread the message of black inferiority than to propagandize with humor? To teach children to laugh at someone is to forever infantalize them, to forever deny the object of derision the opportunity to be seen as a complex, fully realized person — equal to themselves.

Minstrel performance was one of the main ways in which America experienced blackness, and it became the way that the rest of the world experienced Black America, because we exported blackface and minstrelsy everywhere we went.

So on the one hand, we have blackface as a means for white people to portray black people on a large scale. This is problematic enough as it is- if you want to portray a black person, then why not just get a black person to do it? The idea that only white people should be on stage, giving not just some but practically all the black roles to white people is discriminatory just by itself. Blackface went so far that, until well into the 20th Century, it was almost impossible for even POC to perform without it. The idea of a real black person on stage in their own skin was unacceptable.

And it’s not just that. Blackface wasn’t just about getting white people to play black roles. It was also about stereotyping and caricature. has an excellent run-down of the caricatures protrayed. More from them:

White audiences in the 19th Century wouldn’t accept real black entertainers on stage unless they performed in blackface makeup. One of the first Blacks to perform in blackface for White audiences was the man who invented tap dancing, William Henry Lane, aka Master Juba. Lane’s talent and skill were extraordinary and eventually he became famous enough that he was able to perform in his own skin.

The American minstrel show was effectively dead by WW1, yet some old-timers continued to peddle the same blackface stereotypes later in vaudeville, films and television. It’s one of the interesting twists of history that in the first half of the twentieth century, the main purveyors of the old-fashioned blackface minstrel tradition were Black performers, who’d began in show business wearing the blackface mask — either literally or figuratively — and were reluctant to give it up.

But they also had little choice in the roles they were offered. Until well into the 1950s, Black male actors were limited to stereotypical roles: Coons, for example, Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, and Willie Best; and Toms, the most famous were Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Likewise, the only film roles for Black women were maids and mammys, and the most famous mammy of all was Hattie McDaniel, best known for her Oscar-winning role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind.

And it wasn’t just about mocking and stereotyping POCs. One of the original blackface characters was called Jim Crow. It’s no coincidence that the system of laws segregating black and white people in the US was named after this character. From the Jim Crow Museum:

[Original ‘Jim Crow’ performer Thomas “Daddy”] Rice and his imitators, by their stereotypical depictions of blacks, helped to popularize the belief that blacks were lazy, stupid, inherently less human, and unworthy of integration. During the years that blacks were being victimized by lynch mobs, they were also victimized by the racist caricatures propagated through novels, sheet music, theatrical plays, and minstrel shows. Ironically, years later when blacks replaced white minstrels, the blacks also “blackened” their faces, thereby pretending to be whites pretending to be blacks. They, too, performed the Coon Shows which dehumanized blacks and helped establish the desirability of racial segregation.

Pretty disturbing, huh? Blackface is about so much more than a white person painting their skin darker. It echoes back as a tool used to enforce and maintain white supremacy, in a context where POC lived with brutal, dehumanising oppression. It served to mock the victims of institutional and physical violence and intimidation, making figures of fun out of POC at the same time as their human rights were being crushed. It’s, quite frankly, utterly horrible.


  • Blackface was/is a way in which white actors portrayed POC characters
  • Blackface was the only way that POC characters could be portrayed. Even POC actors had to blacken their faces in order to be acceptable to audiences.
  • Blackface used caricatures of POC. These caricatures became immensely popular and created seriously damaging stereotypes of POC which worked to intensify other kinds of racism.
  • Blackface was associated with the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation.
  • Blackface caricatures worked to intensify, and to justify in the minds of white Americans, racial violence and lynchings.

Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.

An Open Letter to Americans thinking of voting third party next week.

Part the First: For Republicans.

Listen, I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t want to waste your time. You and me, we probably don’t have much to say to each other. You’re a right-thinking freedom-loving American and I’m a pinko liberal European atheist leftie queer. If you figure that Romney just isn’t quite right-wing enough for you or that he subscribes to the wrong version of Christianity then, well, there’s not much I can say to you. It’s not my area, y’know? So you might as well just do what you were going to do anyway. The rest of this post is going to be about progressives talking about progressive things, like abortion and gays and free healthcare and whatnot. You probably wouldn’t like it. I’ll bet even looking at it is sinful or something, although I wouldn’t really know.


Part the Second: Lefties, Democrats, Progressives and Other Idealists

Okay. Think I’ve gotten rid of that other lot, so it’s safe to have a chat, just you and me. Before I start, I want to let you know that I’m on your side. Really, I am. Looking at American politics makes me alternately sad, angry, and helpless. It’s this massive system based on keeping itself going and keeping the people and parties in power where they are. And in a country as huge as the US… that’s gotta be overwhelming. I’m lucky to live in country of 4.5 million people- smaller than some of your cities- where it feels like an individual can sort-of help to make meaningful change. I can see why in a situation like yours it might seem like throwing up your hands and just going flat-out towards something better is the only damn thing to do. And when you’ve been told all your life that voting matters, I can see why protesting with your vote feels meaningful.

I get that. All of it. I really do. And I feel for you. But… I have a question for you. What the hell do you think you’re doing?

Here’s the thing. Voting is never just a matter of picking your favourite person and going with them. I wish it was. Voting is always about figuring out how your own electoral system works and using those mechanics to create the best (or least worst) outcome. This isn’t idealistic. It’s not the lovely idea of democracy for the people, of the people, and by the people that you read about in college. But this is the real world, and in the real world our actions have consequences. When it comes to politics, those consequences are deadly serious and affect people far, far outside your own life and circles. If you’re an American, your actions have consequences far outside your nation. Which, by the way, is why I’m taking the time to write to you.

On electoral systems: FPTP

Your electoral system is not one that is geared toward people voting with their consciences. Of course, none of them really are. But a first-past-the-post voting system combined with that bizarre electoral college of yours? It takes voting far outside the realm of idealism and into pure pragmatism. With FPTP, every vote is counted, once and the person with the most votes wins. It’s admittedly simplest from an arithmetic point of view. The trouble with FPTP, of course, is that it means that people can win elections where the majority of people voted against them. Let’s say we have one candidate, Jeff. Jeff is running for the Puppy-Kicking Fascists Party. On the other side, we have three candidates. Susan from the Anti-Fascist Alliance, John from the Puppy Protection Foundation and Michelle from the Can’t We All Just Get Along Centrists. Seventy per cent of the country is dead-set against Puppy-Kicking Fascism. But because they use a FPTP system, Jeff could get elected on only 30% of the vote. With FPTP, the only way to keep Jeff out of office is for Susan, John and Michelle to team up.

This is, of course, a terrible situation. It lumps Centrists, Anti-fascists and Puppy Protectors into one bunch. It means that nobody really gets to vote for what they want to focus on. It means that people are constantly more worried about preventing the other side from gaining power than in advocating their own goals.

It sucks. But it’s what you’ve got. If you’re sick to death of hearing every election that this is the most important election of all time and that it’s an us-or-them battle? Blame FPTP. And that electoral college. That’s just weird.

Alternative Voting Systems

If you want to be able to truly vote with your preferences, you lot are going to have to start seriously agitating for electoral reform. There’s a bunch of different options. Around my neck of the woods, we use something called Proportional Representation: Single Transferable Vote. It’s a bit complicated to explain how the votes are calculated, but from a voter’s perspective it’s pretty simple. Instead of marking one candidate, I put a 1 next to my favourite, a 2 next to my second favourite, and so on. If my top preference is looking to lose, all the votes they got go to the next preferences down, until there’s a clear winner. Of course, there’s still strategies for tactical voting, but they don’t leave quite the same bad taste in your mouth as FPTP.

Going back to the example above, if I want to make sure that the Puppy-Kicking Fascists aren’t elected, all I need to do is give my number 1 preference to my favourite person- say, the Anti-Fascist Allliance. Then I figure out who I’d like if they didn’t get in. Say, the Puppy Protection League. They get my number 2. And, well, if all else fails I might as well give my number 3 to the Can’t We All Just Get Along centrists. They may not be my favourite, but they’ll at least keep the PKF out of power.

STV isn’t the only alternative system, of course. There’s a ton of them, and they all tend to lead to different outcomes. STV tends to lead to coalitions and multi-party systems. It’s good for getting a government that shows the preferences of the electorate, but can be a bit pants for stability. I’m not as familiar with the rest of ’em.

If you, my American friend, want to be able to vote with your true preferences, though? You’d better get studying ’em, and get agitating for electoral reform. Because that is the only way that voting with your heart will ever be the best thing to do.

This isn’t democracy. This is triage.

USians? I get it. I get that your system is constructed against you. It’s awful. It must be awful to be stuck with it. But being in an awful situation doesn’t mean you get to throw your hands up and give up. Especially when your actions impact not just yourself, not just the hundreds of millions of your fellow Americans, but the other billions of us out here.

I don’t like Obama any more than you do. He’s alright, for an American politician. His election was a bloody brilliant moment, I’ll give you that. And we in the rest of the world are pretty damn happy that you have a President who at least knows where on the map the countries he’s planning on blowing up are. It’s good to have someone there who’s reasonably literate, extremely intelligent, who doesn’t actively despise most of the people he’s supposed to be serving, and who thinks it’s a good idea for people to be able to go to hospital when they’re sick and for women to own their own damn bodies. It’s lovely to have a PoC in charge. But, yeah, I don’t like drone attacks any more than you do, and he is, at best, a centre-right politician.

But here’s the thing. With FPTP, there is no way that you’ll get someone better into the White House this year. The choice you have- the only choice you have- is between Obama and Romney. That’s it. In your electoral system, the only way of keeping Romney out of the White House is to vote for Obama. That is a hell of an unpleasant compromise to have to make. I’m glad that I’m not the one making it. But for the sake of everyone whose lives will be made exponentially worse under Romney- women, queers, PoC, poor people, working-class people, middle-class people, sick people, people with disabilities, anyone who lives on a planet threatened by climate change– I’m begging you to get out there, get to your polling place and vote for Obama.

An Open Letter to Americans thinking of voting third party next week.

A quick BloggyWriMo update

  1. You might, if you’re worryingly observant, have noticed that the little word counters at the bottom of each post don’t seem to be going up in chronological order. That’s because some posts get scheduled and others I publish straight away, and I pop the word count on a post as soon as I’ve finished writing it. What happens to a post depends solely on the feverish whims of my Barry’s Gold Blend-addled mind.
  2. I noticed this morning that I’ve started to rate all of my ideas by how worthy they are for public consumption. Normally I’d post some things, journal others, and not see any hierarchy between the two. Now, though? I’ve got words to get through and journaling that can’t get posted just plain won’t cut it. I’m curious as to whether this will ease off after a few days or weeks.
  3. WordPress is cruel. Here I am, writing away, and my eye is inevitably drawn to the list of possible Related Articles down the bottom of the screen. I may be poised to hit ‘Publish’ until I click on one or three or six of them. And then I’ve no choice but to read ’em all and pick my favourites for you lot. If it weren’t for drafting all of these articles over at 750 Words, I’d get nothing done.
  4. How do people remember to do anything else? In my experience, there are two ways a person can feel when they’re writing. There’s the not-good one, where you’re staring at a sheet and wondering what the hell to put on it with a deadline or a word count looming over you. And then there’s the other one. The one that’s the reason why we do this thing. Where you’re made of nothing but ideas and words, and where you can’t so much as pop out for a glass of water without another one showing up. It’s a wonderful way to be, but it sure does mess with your ability to do anything else. You get swept away in what you’re doing and little things like the time of day escape you completely. On a similar note..
  5. I think this WriMo business may be enabling my inclination to spend all day sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea and a laptop. How on earth does a person do this thing and not end up welded to the couch by the end of it? Will I end up forgetting to dress and wash myself entirely and by the end of the month be sitting caked in my own filth in a pile of teacups? Maybe I should get one of those walking desks. You know. These ones:

A quick BloggyWriMo update