Neurodivergent #4

A few weeks ago, I aced a test, which is generally the kind of thing that brings joy into my life. Alas, it was a test for adult ADHD.

This result has shocked and astonished my friends. Apparently everyone expected  me to have been diagnosed in school (thank you, friends). Alas, I’m old enough that, back in my days, that kind of diagnosis just wasn’t an option. In my school, you were either “normal” and expected to behave and perform “normally,” or one of the special kids who had their own separate classroom where they didn’t really do any schooling. There was no space to be just different enough from the norm to need a little bit of help, or just some leeway to do things your own way. You were in, or you were out.

There was also a real stigma on being anything other than “normal.” I’m fairly sure that my mother would have rather drowned me at birth than be pegged as the parent of a child with learning difficulties. Hell, I didn’t even get my dyslexia diagnosis until university, when I started tutoring students with learning difficulties. My mom and my teachers were fully aware that I couldn’t tell left from right, that I struggled to remember which way round numbers were supposed to go (we wrote in cursive, so letters weren’t as much of a problem as long as I started from the right corner of the page), and that I occasionally picked up a book upside down and started reading like that without noticing, but they put it down to me not paying enough attention. It was something I would grow out of, particularly if aided by enough telling-offs and the ambient shaming that was the hallmark of a good old-fashioned childhood.

The ADHD diagnosis has shocked and astonished me, too. I mean… I knew that I’m faster than the average bear, that my motivation doesn’t work like other people’s, that I either hyperfocus or can’t focus at all, that conversations with me inevitably go off on wild tangents, that my energy levels have only two settings (“CHARGE!!!” and “none”), that I can be a teeny weeny bit short on the impulse control front… I knew that things that other people don’t find difficult, like sitting the hell down and watching TV, are serious challenges for me… But I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t put all these elements together, and I sure as hell didn’t see them as part of A Thing that I have, or rather A Thing that I am.

I also didn’t know that ADHD goes further; that it has a profound effect on my emotional environment – or, rather, what totally eluded me is that most people’s emotional environments are profoundly different from mine. From what I can gather, most people live in a painting, while I live in a neon sign – garishly coloured, and flashing on-and-off between blindingly bright and utterly black. It’s kinda pretty, and I enjoy it, but it’s damn hard to ignore. The bottom line is that the disconnect between how I react to emotional stimuli and how “normal” people react is due to the fact that I perceive those stimuli in a profoundly different way. We are exposed to very different experiences, even when, on the surface, we’re going through the same thing.

I thought everyone was stronger than me, more resilient, more immunised to the ups and downs of daily life. It turns out that my ups and down are just bigger, which is why they affect me more. That was an interesting revelation for me. Much like my dyslexia diagnosis, it has given me the opportunity to review how I measure myself against the world, kinda thang. Yeah, I find certain things infinitely more difficult than most people, but I can also do things most people can’t do. Way back when, I fell in love my dyslexia – not just to be resigned to it, because it isn’t going anywhere, but to actually be whole-heartedly glad that it’s a part of me. Now I’m learning to love my ADHD. I don’t know who I’d be without it.

Because I’m me, the diagnosis has also given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my internal mechanisms. I have new terminology and new criteria to play with, so I took my brain out of its casing and I am having a damn good look at it. The most interesting aspect of this exploration is learning to distinguish the things that are genuinely a part of me, and those that I’ve picked up en route. For instance, I got me some prime rejection sensitive dysphoria. Like it or not, it is a part of me, a direct result of the way in which my brain is wired. But – and here is where it gets fun – I also have a bunch of trauma from growing up in a fairly abusive environment. The combination of the two – being oversensitive to a particular stimulus and actually been smacked with that stimulus hard and repeatedly from infancy* – has given me a bunch of coping mechanisms, some of which are grossly counterproductive. Thing is, I can work towards changing my coping mechanisms, improving my habits, and reducing the impact of my trauma on my daily life, but the rejection sensitive dysphoria is never gonna go anywhere. I can do my damn best to mitigate its impact on my life, but I have to live with it.

Again, because I’m me, knowing that I live with it helps, a lot. The beast has a name. Now that I know that it exists, I can keep an eye on it, and maybe avoid it eating my goddamn face so often.

I find it interesting how often people caution others against embracing labels. They’re self-limiting. They’re depressing. They’re divisive. They give you excuses to be less than you could be. I mean, yeah, they can do all of  the above, if that’s how you use them, but you don’t have to. You can use them to know yourself better, to learn what makes you tick, which is pretty fucking critical if it’s different from what makes everyone else ticks. Know thyself, yo. If you don’t, how the fuck are you ever gonna love yourself?

 

 

[*Conundrum: would the same environment have been abusive for somebody wired differently from me? How does one measure the seriousness of abuse, when its impact can vary depending on whom it hits? But that’s a headfuck for another day.]

 

 

 

 

 

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Neurodivergent #3

I have a friend whose name is not Tony, but when I thought about writing a blog about him this song got stuck in my head, so immagonna call him Tony.

Tony is either a superhero, or a total butt and extremely lucky. He is a very good listener. If I have a problem, I know he’ll lend me an ear, and I know that our conversation will not just make me feel better, but actually be useful. The issue is with the shape that usefulness can take.

There is a thing people habitually do that drives me up the wall. You mention a problem, and their response is to basically say “hey, so, have you thought about not having that problem?” Poor? Just get money! Sick? Just get better! Lonely? Just get friends! While there is a factual accuracy to their suggestions, their failure to recognise that there are some teeny weeny issues with their tactics are rather vexing – to me, anyway. Yes, I understand that ultimately the cure for poverty is money, that the cure for sickness is health, and so on, but it so happens that if I could easily get money I wouldn’t be poor, if I could magic myself better I wouldn’t be ill, etc.

Every single time someone pulls that stunt, I get frustrated. Not when Tony does it, though – and he does it quite a bit. The issue is that Tony gets it right – when he’s talking to me, anyway. Somehow, he can always tell the difference between something that I am, however temporarily (e.g. ill, poor, an ADHDer, etc.), and something that I do (e.g. letting my brainweasels scurry all over the place, shitting as they go). So I can tell him that my rejection sensitive dysphoria is kicking me in the teeth, and he’ll listen and commiserate. But if I tell him that I’m panicking because of a social engagement, he’ll come out with something like “but have you thought of not doing that?”

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is something I can’t get rid of – in a very real sense, it is a part of who I am. Social anxiety is a mental habit I have developed. While the two are intimately connected, they are not the same. It can be hard for me to remember that, but it’s true. While I can’t get rid of the rejection sensitive dysphoria (though knowing that it is A Thing helps a hell of a lot), I can work on my social anxiety and reduce its impact on my life. I’m lucky like that.

The jury is still out on whether Tony is lucky too. It could be that he genuinely has a superpower that enables him to see inside people’s hearts and brains. It could be that he shoots off at the mouth, and gets it right because his guardian angel works overtime. I don’t know. What I do know for sure is that I can’t do that. I can’t pull off that trick. I have to make myself remember that different people have similar-looking problems for entirely different reasons, and that, because of that, what looks like an obvious solution to me may be an insurmountable obstacle to them, and that rubbing that in their faces is not helpful.

PSA: Whistleblowing

So, an organisation or group you’re invested in is getting hit by allegations, and you don’t know what to make of it. You weren’t there, there are people you admire in both camps, and you just don’t see yourself ever knowing what’s true and what isn’t. How the hell are you supposed to take sides, let alone take action, in a situation like this?

Lemme tell you one thing you can be 100% sure of:

The way in which the group is treating this whistleblower is the way in which the group treats whistleblowers.

This may sound like a truism, but people apparently find it very hard to grok the concept, so let me elaborate.

People and organisations often have statements about how they would deal with certain events. These can range from formal, overt policies (e.g. tourney rules, child protection policies, whistleblowing procedures, etc.) to informal statements (e.g. “if anyone ever hurts one of my kids, I’ll kneecap that fucker”).

Thing is, these statements are only worth anything if the people responsible are actually willing to implement them. They are nothing but promises, and often, when the shit hits the fan, they are found to be empty promises.

What you are seeing right now is how the group and individuals in question actually, for real and no shit, respond to this type of event. If the manner of their response is grossly dissimilar to their prior statements on the subject, you can be pretty damn confident that those statements aren’t worth a good goddamn.

As far as I’m concerned, this is pretty bad already, but worry not: you can trust me to make it worse. This epiphanot comes with three main corollaries:

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they’ve responded to concerns in the past.

If someone reporting an actual issue that actually happened to actual people and has caused actual damage results in the people responsible trying to bury the whole thing, and the affected people with it, do you really think they would have responded any better to the same people voicing mere theoretical concerns about the subject? This attitude not only doesn’t help clean up the mess after a tragedy has taken place, but it actively allows tragedies to take place, time and time again.

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they’ve responded to past allegations.

Some people whistleblow loudly, clearly, and publicly, but not everyone does. Many if not most people test the waters by taking their issue to the persons immediately around them or above them, the persons in charge of a particular issue, or a person they trust. If the response is underwhelming, some may react by blowing their whistle in public, but many won’t – and if you blame them for that, then you don’t understand the issue. It so happens that people who have been hurt generally need to focus on getting themselves back together. Banging their head into a wall may not be very high on their priorities.

If the response to these allegations looks to you like a giant clusterfuck, or a meat grinder, there is a very real possibility that other, less public allegations were addressed equally badly, and you never got to hear about them.

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they would respond to allegations made by you or your loved ones.

Put yourself in the victim’s shoes, because, in a very real sense, one day you could be. One day you, or someone you love, could be the person trying to get heard because something bad has happened and you don’t want it to happen again. How do you think it would feel, to be trying to deal with your damage while fielding personal attacks from the community you once trusted?

If you’re absolutely sure that that could never be the case, because people like you aren’t treated like that, congratulations: you are aware of the fact that you are in a privileged position within your group. Now, can you be sure that people bent on evil aren’t enjoying the same privileges? Can you, really?

 

Oh, I’d almost forgotten: all of this also applies to you. You might have some wonderful, lofty ideals about what-you-would-do-if. Well, that “if” is happening right here and now. How are you looking?

Neurodivergent #2

Once upon a time, I went to a very bad Krav class. No, I’m not saying that all Krav is bad; but that class was. One of the drills ended with a finishing move: a “knee bomb” to the chest.

I dropped that move out of my practice. It wasn’t because I don’t want to go to jail (though I’d rather not, thank you). It wasn’t because I’m aware that with my scant mass my chances of that move working well against the types of opponent I’m most likely to face are limited, and that if I’ve got them where I can knee bomb them, my best option is to run the fuck away. I try to be a good sport when attending classes, even when I don’t agree with the content, but I absolutely do not engage in behaviours that can harm me, and knee stomps firmly fit in that category.

I have luxating patellas. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember. They are not a construct of my imagination: they are a physiological issue that I live with. They are also something that, when I bang my knee in certain positions, often results in me ending up in a heap of pain and profanities, clutching at my leg. In a nutshell: knee bombs for me = no bueno. I may or may not injure my opponent, and I would almost definitely injure myself.

I explained this to the teacher when he came by to tell me that I was doing the drill wrong. Then I explained it to him again. And again. And again. About the sixth time I was telling him the same damn thing just to have him patiently explain to me what the drill was supposed to be like, I grabbed his hand, put it against my knee, and made my knee pop so he could feel what I was talking about.

He literally screeched and recoiled. As it emerged, he didn’t know what “luxating” meant – or, in fact, what a “patella” was. And it wasn’t just a matter of terminology. Telling him that I had dislocating kneecaps wouldn’t have helped, because he quite simply had no idea of what a human knee is actually like. He was telling  students to use knees as weapons, but he didn’t know how knees worked.

That’s not what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about brains.

If you’ve been a human person for any length of time, you might have discovered that not all brains are the same. It’s not just that different people have different ideas about the same things; they can also respond in different ways to the same stimuli. Here is a fun fact: sometimes those differences are caused by software, kinda thang. Sometimes, though, they are caused by the hardware, or by the operating system.

Two people with similar brains can be fed different data, and come to different conclusions – no surprises there. They can be taught different ways to look at the same data, and still come to different conclusions – again, this is pretty easy to graps. In those eventualities, providing both people with the same data and/or the same ways to analyse data can result in them coming to the same conclusions. Yes, stuff like beliefs and feelings and ego etc. often get in the way of that, but it is eminently possible to make those brains synchronise. That isn’t necessarily the case for brains that are fundamentally different because of how they’re wired.

Some people perceive the world in different ways because their brains are different. For instance, I have dyslexia, which fundamentally alters the way in which my brain handles shapes and directions. If you tell me to turn right, their is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll be able to follow that instruction in a timely and accurate manner. Screaming at me to GO LEFT NOT RIGHT is not going to improve matters, because I didn’t ignore the instruction out of inattention or carelessness: it is an instruction my brain cannot parse, particularly under pressure.

So what? Well, there is a pedagogic gap in self-defence teaching. It isn’t peculiar to that field: it shows in any field that allows enthusiasts to raise to teaching positions by being good at doing the thing rather than at teaching the thing. A lot of self-defence teachers get into teaching because they are passionate about the subject, which is great, but they do so without ever acquiring a background in teaching. That can cause no issues if the people they are teaching are wired like them and can learn like them, but it can cause giant trainwrecks when that is not the case. Teachers who do not understand specific learning needs can fail to recognise them when they show up in class. This can mean that those needs may not be addressed, or even be misconstrued as misbehaviours and punished (fistbump to all the kinetic learners and ADHD folks). This is about as much fun as a dose of the ‘flu, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Worse issue (for me, anyway) arise when teachers can’t tell between a student’s “symptoms” and wiring. Personal characteristics that are intrinsic to a person can end up being misdiagnosed as symptoms that should be treated by doing whatever would work for the teacher. So, for instance, the teen with paralysing social anxiety is told that they just need to buff up and learn to throw down, and – hey, presto – they’ll magically become self-confident. That worked for the teacher, after all, and for a whole bunch of students they’ve taught!

But maybe that teen’s social anxiety has naff-all to do with their physique and ninja skills. Maybe it’s a direct result of how their brain was wired or programmed, and it needs a totally different approach in order to be resolved. Maybe it will never go away, and all a student can do is learn to manage it. And when that isn’t recognised – when a student trusts a teacher who is simply misinformed, and when neither of them can recognise the reason for the student’s “failure” to improve – things can get really bad really quickly.

 

 

Neurodivergent #1

Last Christmas, a youtuber I follow got a very-late-in-coming diagnosis of neurodivergence. He put out an extremely candid vlog detailing what that diagnosis meant for him. Knowing what he is, and how that differs from neurotypicality, has given him the ability to spot the differences, as it were, and to help reduce the friction that those differences can cause. That is difficult, but helpful.

The diagnosis has done something else, though: it has told him that he is not ill. He isn’t going through a phase he’ll get over. He is quite simply different, and those differences, good and bad, are here to stay. All he can do is manage their impact to the best of his abilities.

The most cutting part of the vlog, for me, was listening to him explain how much time he wasted waiting for what he thought were his symptoms to get better, or to go away. He was waiting for the right time to go out and do what he wanted to do. That time will never come. He now has to accept that, and to accept that the time he spent waiting in vain won’t come back to him.

I found that incredibly interesting, as well as incredibly moving. I also found it relevant to the self-defence field. There is a tendency in self-defence and recovery to try and use one-size-fits-all solutions to individual problems, without actually looking at the origins of those problems, without distinguishing between symptoms and personal attributes, and often without trying to disentangle the causality of the issue. Does the student have social anxiety because they were attacked, or were they attacked because they have social anxiety? Can they change their victim profile by reducing that anxiety, or is it a part of them that won’t be “cured” by “standard” fixes, because their anxiety has a different source? Is telling people that you can “fix” them helpful when it is not only untrue, but predicated on ableism?

The thing I find most interesting, though, and the main reason I am writing, is that I can’t post the link to the original vlog here. It is a splendid, honest, open, truthful piece of self-chronicling, and I don’t trust my audience to respect it.

In case someone’s missed it, the world of self-defence is full of people who hurt people on purpose. Some are straight trolls, doing it for kicks. Some justify that behaviour as a teaching moment, because what doesn’t kill you obviously makes you stronger and we all want stronger people, yo. Some are predators of various kinds, often operating under the aegis of other predators – or, worse, of people whose ego is so large and so wrapped up in their identity as Defenders Of The Helpless that they can’t contemplate the merest possibility of sheltering a predator in their midst.

No, I’ve not run a scientific study on this, and yes, there are plenty of good people in self-defence, too; but years of personal experience have taught me that this is A Problem. I personally only realised the extent of it when I had a giant falling out with a prominent self-defence instructor and – hey presto – suddenly stopped having issues with online creeps. I write about creeps all the bloody time, and all I needed to do to remove them from my life was cut one self-defence instructor off. I didn’t see that coming. So much for my expertise, hey.

The world of self-defence has a problem, and it’s a problem big enough that I don’t want to lead it to the doors of people I like, people I don’t want to be affected by the bad company I keep. I don’t want to be the discarded bag of chips that attracts the flock of seagulls; if I take on that role, I will feel responsible for all resulting screeching and shitting. And I cannot begin to express how bad that makes me feel, how disappointed I am at the discrepancy between what self-defence can be, and what it really is.

 

Safe spaces?

Stolen from Blackdogstrength.com, with permission.

 

Hey folks, recently I have had to explore what it means to have a safe space, particularly what it means in terms of martial arts and fitness studios (Obviously, I mean safe from discrimination, hitting folks with sticks is not necessarily safe).

I think it’s really detrimental to consider your space a “safe space” unless you explicitly vet and gatekeep members before they enter, and if you run a fitness studio or martial arts school, it’s highly unlikely you do (and may be unreasonable to expect of you). There are many safe spaces outside of these groups that DO vet their members, and in that case the label safe is more appropriate.

One of the most common problems I see in these places is the insistence that they are “safe”, when first of all, that’s not a label an authority can apply. Individual community members may decide a space is safe, and promote it as such, but it’s important to recognise that this means safe-for-them and they have a right to say that. It’s not the place of an authority to describe their space as “safe”. This is very different than an organisation being transparent about HOW they deal with harrassment and discrimination.

A space that allows the public in is never “safe”, because as a community leader safety is something you do every day, not something you create and then advertise yourself as being.You don’t know what’s going to walk in that day. Too often a claim to safety is becoming a red flag of an environment that is far more concerned with optics than being better.

So what’s the upshot of this? Stop thinking of your spaces as safe, it makes you complacent. Every time a member of public walks in they are a threat to your most vulnerable clients, and those clients don’t need to be told they are safe when that’s not something you can guarantee (If you could, then great! but you can’t). They need to know that they can express a lack of safety and have it dealt with immediately. They need to know you are aware of the threat and your organisation is equipped to address it swiftly and without hesitation. Essentially they need to know that safety is something you endeavor to, not something you feel you have achieved. This is something I personally am working on (This is not meant as an admonishment, unless of course it’s admonishing me at the same time)

If you are reading this and thinking “But I didn’t know! I couldn’t do anything”, sorry, it’s your job to know. It may mean you are not a terrible person, but it does mean you are unfit to lead a community.

There are tons of great organisations that use the label “safe space”. I don’t mean to criticise them. More to encourage people to consider if that is something they can guarantee, or would it be better for them to lay out what they are doing to be safer?

Translations

What they say:

“Conversations about consent are making the issue so complicated that I can’t even tell if I’m raping someone anymore!”

What I hear:

“I prioritise my sexual gratification over ensuring my partner’s welfare. I am so selfish that not only I can’t be sure I’m not raping my partners, but I don’t even want to find out. If I haven’t raped anyone yet, it’s out of sheer good luck or because I’ve lacked the opportunity to do so. I also really, really suck in bed.”

 

What they say:

“Bullshit like the #metoo campaign has gotten women so riled up that I can’t talk to them anymore!”

What I hear:

“I am only interested in conversations with women that can lead to sex, and discount all other forms of interaction with them. I have no interest in connecting with them on an intellectual or emotional level, or even in talking to them about the weather. I don’t see this as a roadblock in my interactions with them.

My style of interaction with women isn’t working. Instead of altering it, I demand that women change their standards to suit my needs. I am so selfish and inconsiderate that I believe all social interactions should be about me. I am unwilling to take into account the comfort and wishes of the people I interact with. I don’t see this as a roadblock, either.”

Alternatively:

“Women aren’t really people and I shouldn’t have to take their opinions into consideration.”

 

What they say:

“Incels wouldn’t exist if women weren’t such bitches when turning men down.”

What I hear:

“I have never listened to a woman talking about her experience of turning men down , and how badly that can go. I believe that women have the responsibility to alter their behaviour to suit men’s needs. I believe that women are responsible for all parts of their interactions with men, including men’s responses. If I woman gets yelled at / punched / raped, my first thought is that she must have done something wrong and it’s all her fault.”

or:

“I am the kind of person who reacts to a slight from an individual by advocating the rape and murder of that individual’s entire group. I need urgent medical help.”

 

What they say:

“Women do not become sexually active if they don’t want to get pregnant / only have sex for money or status / similar bullshit.”

What I hear:

“I have never sexually satisfied a woman. I am utterly unable to hear women’s opinions on their own sexuality, so that is unlikely to change.”

 

 

As a friend of mine said, “if you genuinely can’t tell whether your behavior is harming others, that’s a real problem that you should want to solve in a way that privileges non harm, rather than just making space for your ignorance to be comfortable again.” If you are so selfish that you can’t see how your selfishness is not only an issue, but THE issue, maybe you ought to revisit your qualifications for taking part in any kind of social interactions. Antisocial interactions is where you’re at.

Stories.

I’ve been mainlining “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. I’d read it a looooong time ago (mythology was my first nerdlove), but I’d actually forgotten how awesome it is, warts and all. If you’ve not checked it out, do. I recommend the audiobook, if that’s your kind of thing.

As per the book summary, “Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.” The same elements occur in stories from all over the world, regardless of cultural differences. That theory needs to be taken with several pinches of salt, but it offers an explanation as to how we can relate so easily to stories from cultures we know nothing about. We can appreciate the Bromance of Gilgamesh even if we think that “Akkadian” is something to do with Captain Harlock. We don’t need to know much about Gilgamesh’s cultural or physical environment to recognise him as a Hero; we respond to the parts of his story that mark him as one.

It made me thing about a couple of real-life situations I’ve just witnessed. The first one involved a young acquaintance of mine who has recently met a fellow and quickly proceeded to give up her entire life to be with him. Public responses to the events have been interesting, inasmuch as they revealed a clear gender split. Guys have either expressed no opinion or been very positive about the whole thing – how wonderful, how romantic, are they getting married? Responses from women have been entirely different. Not one of them has been positive, or even neutral. Every single woman who has expressed an opinion on the subject has voiced deep concern about my acquaintance’s decision, the possible fallout, and the likely character and intentions of the man involved.

The people watching that simple, everyday story unfold respond differently because they recognise two completely different narratives. The guys see a love story. The women see the start of a narrative of control and abuse.

I originally thought that I had never seen such a gendered response to a story before… But of course I have, too many times to count. Isn’t that what happens when women raise concerns about creeps, and are told by the men in their life that they’re seeing things? The women recognise the elements in a narrative, so they know what kind of story they are in. They can anticipate what will happen next because they know how the story goes. The men don’t know that story, so they don’t recognise its parts. To them, if the inevitable comes to pass, it will come as a surprise.

The second situation showed a different kind of split. A commenter mentioned on my page that his young daughter is only allowed to have social media accounts on condition that she gives him all her passwords. To him, that restriction is a way to keep her safe: there are a lot of creeps out there, and he can’t yet rely on her to make the right self-defence decisions, so he wants to monitor her communications. I’m sure that a lot of people will see that as a perfectly valid parenting choice. A whole bunch of my friends, however, had a totally different take on it. Depriving one’s partner of privacy, and particularly of the ability to have confidential communications, is a standard tool in the abuser’s kit. This kind of parenting strategy can actually weaken children’s ability to self-protect later on in life by normalising abusive strategies. The fact that in this girl’s case her  privacy is breached “for her own good” doesn’t really help, because that rationale is also used as a tool of abuse.

A whole bunch of us looked at the elements of that story and projected a narrative: the story of a girl who reaches her teens, rebels against parental constraints, and proceeds to fly into the arms of a controlling partner because she was raised to conflate control and love. If that unhappy situation occurs, she may not only lack the resources and tactics to resolve it, but even the ability to recognise it. It’s hard to spot that you’re been abused when you’re used to the exact same behaviours from those who love you.

Neither of those stories has to end badly. We’re hopefully being unduly negative. However, even if that’s the case, our mistake won’t be caused by brain worms or a love of drama. We are not making shit up because we like to scare ourselves or others; we are recognising the elements of stories that we’ve seen replayed time and time again. Maybe we’ve lived them ourselves, maybe we’ve “just” watched people go through them; either way, we recognise them, so we identify them as a certain type of story and expect them to have a certain type of ending.

What is interesting to me is that some people are unaware of those stories. On the surface, it could simply be the result of differences in life experiences; those whose lives have kept them safe from that kind of story won’t be able to spot it in the wild. There must be more to it than that, though, because people can learn from each other’s stories. That is why mythologies and folk tales were created in the first place: they allowed people to absorb lessons without having to go through horrible ordeals. The quality of the learning isn’t equivalent, because some lessons you can only learn first-hand, but second-handing it does cut down drastically on death and dismemberment. If you run a cost-benefit analysis, it works out pretty well.

Somehow, a bunch of modern narratives are failing to make it into the canon, and it’s not because they’re rare, or they’re not being spoken about. Some voices are just not being heard. And that not only harms those telling the stories, because having one’s experiences discounted is never a lot of fun, but also those who could benefit from hearing them. We’re depriving people of cautionary tales. And while that has the potential give us countless new heroes,  it’s also filling our ranks with victims and survivors.

Free and not

‘Tis that time of year!

This ebook will be free for 5 days starting tomorrow. Please note that timezones are a factor beyond my control. If it comes up as not free, hold on a few hours. It’s extremely short, so I’d recommend that you wait and save your pennies.

 

This one is not free, but it’s hopefully, worth the price tag. It’s fiction, again, but it’s kinda sorta fantasy, though it’s mostly about messed-up people trying not to mess up their lives. I like it, anyway. If you have a problem with swears and non-binary characters, you probably won’t.

 

Do feel free to share the post or the links therein.

Incel

I recently put a short post introducing the concept of “Incel” on my FB page. In 5 or so years of messing around in the online world of self-defense, I’ve never had to block so many people in so short a period of time. It is painfully evident that there is great resistance against admitting that incels exist, that they are a serious problem, and that they are the offshoot of wider gender issues. On top of that all, there is a ton of resistance against even talking about them.

First and foremost, if you are of the opinion that discussions about incels are a waste of time, don’t engage with them. If you think that other groups are worthy of more attention, go deal with those. But do not think that this gives you the right to derail conversations other people are having on any subject. You only get to control how you spend your time. If this bothers you, you should look into that. Jumping into other people’s conversations to derail them is really not acceptable behavior for anyone over the age of 4.

Secondly, if you are a self-defense instructor involved in training women and you cannot possibly comprehend how some men may descent to that depth of depravity, then you’ve failed at your job. I don’t mean that you’ve failed now, because you didn’t anticipate the Toronto attack, or that you’ve failed in the last couple of years, because you didn’t keep up with the darker corners of the ‘net and hadn’t even heard the term until disaster struck. Your failure lies in not having listened to the women in your life; to your students, your neighbors, your friends, your partners. While the label is new, the attitudes and behaviors manifested by incels are not. The only thing that has changes is that some of the men that way inclined now wear the label openly and relatively proudly, and that the internet has given them the opportunity to coalesce into a movement, and to proselytize.

Incel ideology – and it is an ideology: a system of ideas and ideals – hasn’t sprouted into being out of nothing. It is the misshapen, rotten, extremist version of a whole bunch of beliefs and attitude that are widespread in our culture. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, at least some of the women in your life will have encountered the phenomenon, if not the label. That’s why I firmly believe that if the existence of someone like an incel genuinely shocks you, you just haven’t been listening.

If you did listen, but you didn’t get it – if your reaction to these events is to think “shit, that’s what Deborah was on about when she was describing that horrible date she had” or “man, so when Susan really struggled with her landlord, this is what was going on,” congratulations: you get it. You finally accept the existence of a horror that Deborah and Susan have had to live with. Now do us all a favor: ring them, tell them that you’re sorry, and then shut your mouth and listen to what they have to say on the subject.

But then, we’re not even listening to the incels themselves. Even when they promulgate their ideology loudly and clearly, we dismiss their words. They’re just trolling! And when I ask what makes that trolling OK, whether we’d just put our fingers in our ears and ignore it if an individual was to advocate the mass rape and murder of any other group, all I get is the chirping of crickets.

Incels can’t be a real threat. Come on, they’re so pathetic that they can’t even get laid! As if the fact that in our society young men can gain social status by inserting their penis into as many women as possible wasn’t part of the issue. Women are gatekeeping the incels not only from sex, but from the social standing sex would bring them. Of course they feel aggrieved, and of course they’re lashing out. Boys will be boys!

But don’t make it into a gender issue, for crying out loud. There’s no need for that, even though the incels clearly divide humanity according to gender. Let us ignore the gender component and spend all our energy and effort on being boggled by the chicken-and-egg issue of what came first, the rejection or the misogyny.

If these boys took a shower, put on a nice suit, and learnt some social skills, they could get laid and they’d be perfectly normal. The fact that they regard women as an alien species, or even as a set of interchangeable objects, is but a detail. It’s not as if women cared about being treated like human beings by their partners. The fact that the incels feel entitled to sex and react violently when they are denied it wouldn’t be a problem if they were in a relationship, for sure. It’s not rape if it’s at home, right? Really, it’s all down to the women in their lives. If only women could be nicer, if they learnt to turn men down nicely, or they didn’t turn down so many men…

I read this stuff and wonder about the people who write it. I can’t personally think of anything anyone could say or do that would make me want to advocate the mass rape and murder of an entire group. Apparently, though, it’s somehow normal for men to do that, so women should pander to them for their own safety. Or it’s totally abnormal for men to do that, so those men are clearly whackos and we need to file the whole thing as a mental health issue and nothing more.

Let us blithely ignore that the incel ideology is a mere skip and a hop away from that of Red Pill groups, and that those groups have more than a little in common with our garden-variety pick-up artists. Sure, there is a hell of a difference between believing that women shouldn’t have the right to withhold their consent and buying and selling tricks that will enable men to bypass that consent, but there is a commonality too: fucking is held as more important than women’s agency and welfare. And let us never mention that none of these subcultures would flourish in the absence of a specific market, that of men who prioritize their dicks over other human beings.

Or not. The further you travel down the misogyny spectrum, the less women are human beings. At the extreme end, they are alien organisms tasked with the bearing of vaginas (1) for the use of men. Those familiar with the basics of self-defense should recognize this as basic othering – the same psychological mechanism that enables people to shoot other people for the contents of their wallets and a smartphone. Yet every single time I’ve mentioned the objectification of women in a self-defense setting I’ve been shouted down. Objectification is what the radfems screech about, isn’t it? It can’t be that thing that we talk about all the damn time, that concept we try so hard to explain to our students, showing up in a different setting. It has to be something else entirely – or, more likely, nothing. I’m probably making it all up. It can’t be as bad as I think.

It also can’t be as bad as countless women describe. We must clearly be involved in a collective dream, all seeing this monster that just isn’t there. It can’t be that, actually, the monster is so very similar to people who like to think of themselves as perfectly normal that we can’t admit to its existence. It can’t be that our culture shelters the seeds of these attitudes. Do you remember Harvey Weinstein? Did you ever stop to think that people like him have had the power to control our media, and that maybe, just maybe, that is part of the problem? That countless movies, books, and TV shows are solid with tropes that hurt women by twisting the opinions of men, and guiding their behavior?

If we start looking at the world like that, though, we’ll end up having to look at our own behaviors. We might have to accept that if we tolerate and defend petty, shoddy attitudes towards women (“who wears the trousers in the relationship?”), the only difference between us and the monsters is in how far we’re willing to go. That would be unpleasant. Burying the entire topic is clearly the better option.

 

(1) I have actually no idea of where the incels sit with regards to trans women. I can only hope that it’s very, very far, because the trans community has enough problems without dealing with that.