On anti-trans panic in the self-defense community

I am seeing an increasing number of self-defense specialists jump on the anti-trans bandwagon under the guise of helping to protect cis women from cis men. I’ve got some problems with this (and no, it’s not just because I’m trans).

The core issue is that good self-defense should focus on teaching people realistic tactics to deal with real problems. If someone is teaching you tactics that don’t work, or tactics that work against imaginary or highly unlikely problems, you might want to question what you’re actually learning and what for.

Working out if a tactic is realistic or not is relatively easy:

  • Can you actually do it?
  • When you do it, does it do what it’s supposed to?
  • Are you likely to be able to pull it off in the relevant situation?

If the answer is NO to any of those questions, then the tactic in question is not realistic for you. It might be perfectly good for a different person who has a different body that responds differently to the same situations, but that won’t do you a lick of good. Self-defense should help you defend yourself. If it doesn’t, then it’s not self-defense.

Working out whether a problem is real is either really unpleasant, or a little bit more complex. If you have already faced that problem, or you personally know people who have faced that problem, then you know that the problem is real. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they are gaslighting you, and they are a problem.

If you have no personal or second-hand experience of a given problem, we can do one of two things:

  • We can look at the statistics of that problem occurring;
  • We can carry out a risk assessment.

Statistics require us to have access to the relevant data – e.g., hospital, police, or court records. These statistics can give us an idea of how prevalent a problem is, but have some serious limitations. Firstly, not all self-defense issues make it into official records because not all self-defense issues are classed as crimes – if you have checked my work on creeps, you already know why this is important. Secondly, statistics don’t tell us whether a problem is likely to impact us. For instance, 1 in 5 emergency room visits in the United States are allegedly due to injuries sustained at night clubs or bars. That’s really sad, but if you don’t anywhere near night clubs or bars, those statistics do not apply to you.

Risk assessments are more specific. They are procedures that require an assessment of:

  • The likelihood of a problem occurring – i.e., how likely you are to have to deal with it;
  • The potential impact of it occurring – i.e., how badly you’re likely to get hurt if it does happen.

Both of these factors need to be taken into account when assessing a risk. For instance, were I attacked by a crocodile, I would most likely die a horrible death. However, as the nearest crocodile is in a zoo 138 miles away from me (I checked), I am not going to prioritise crocodile defense at present. In fact, were I to do so, I would be displaying signs of a mental health condition (most likely a Specific Anxiety Disorder, aka a phobia).

Let’s apply these concept back to the issue of how dangerous trans people are in public spaces – which, for the majority of the public, is… not actually about trans people. The most common concern is that cis men will pretend to be trans women in order to access women-only spaces, where they will be able to attack cis women. As a result, some people claim that in order to protect cis women from cis men we should restrict the rights of trans women – e.g., by banning them from public bathrooms, changing rooms, and so on. Let’s ignore the fact that this approach punishes trans women for the potential misdeeds of cis men, and focus on the risk assessment side of things.

Are cis men pretending to be trans women a potential hazard to the safety of women? Yes, inasmuch as literally any person is a potential hazard to literally any other person. I’m the size of a twelve year old, and I can still think of a dozen ways in which I could hurt someone considerably bigger than me. People can hurt people. It’s a thing that can happen and does happen. How likely are these particular people to hurt women, though? What is the actual likelihood of the average cis woman to have to defend against a cis man masquerading as a trans woman?

As we discussed earlier, there are two ways of looking at this: statistics, and risk assessments.

Have you noticed how when people talk about real or pretend trans women attacking cis women, they never seem to quote an actual instance of this issue occurring? I noticed it because it’s pretty weird – in most instances where people talk of clear and present dangers, they tend to refer to past instances of that danger taking place. So I did a bit of research, and I could not find any instances of any such assault taking place. There could be an issue of underreporting, but even then it’s unlikely that it would result in literally NO reports (if you know of any, please link in the comments! I am genuinely interested.)

There are numerous reports of attack involving trans people in single-gender spaces, but in all of those incidences, the trans people were the victims. So, yeah, current statistics do not support this concern.

As for risk assessments, the questions we have to ask are:

  • How likely is it that a cis man would masquerade as a trans woman in order to attack cis women?
  • What is the likely outcome of such an attack?

As for the first question, it is conceivably possible that a cis man might decide to do that. However, that person would have to overcome serious difficulties and put himself at great risk.

For a person who went through a testosterone-led puberty, changing one’s body in order to “pass” as a woman requires ongoing medical care in the form of hormone treatments as a minimum, and often also permanent treatments like surgery and hair removal. In order to access those, in the UK one must:

  • Change one’s legal name to one that matches the gender they claim to be.
  • Live under that legal name for a minimum of two years.
  • Either wait 3.5+ years for Gender Care consultation through the NHS, or pay in the region of £1k+ for private treatment.
  • Undergo psychological evaluations over the course of a year and a half, during which time one must convince two or three different therapists of one’s need to transition.
  • Once one has been formally “diagnosed” as trans, they must either wait anything from six months to three years for treatment through the NHS, or pay thousands of pounds for private treatment.

A cis guy could, of course, just claim to be a trans woman without medically or socially transitioning. However as “non-passing” trans women are subject to intense public scrutiny, his chances of being able to harass women would actually be less than if he’d just carried on presenting himself as a cis guy. Furthermore, as trans women are disproportionately at risk of interpersonal violence, he’d be risking his life in the process.

It is conceivable that a cis guy might be willing to go through all that, but it is unlikely. There are much easier and much less risky ways of gaining access to potential victims. Joining a mixed self-defense class, for instance, would be quicker, cheaper, and safer, and carries a much greater chance of success.

What about outcomes? If a cis guy did decide to masquerade as a trans woman to attack women, the outcome could be awful, same as if he attacked women without going through the masquerade. We’re talking anything up to rape and death, so, yeah, not great. However, this does not erase the significance of current statistics and risk assessments. A terrible outcome with a near zero chance of taking place doth not an emergency make.

I’m not gonna rant about transphobia here, because I don’t see the point. However, I’d like for people to consider this question: if a self-defense instructor is trying to make us fear a non-issue, are they a good self-defense instructor? Do they deserve our time and money? Would we be willing to buy their products if they tried to sell us an equally unlikely fear, and if not, why not?


I’ve been doing quite a lot of neurodivergence advocacy lately, and I noticed a shift in how I swim through my world. I thought I’d write it all out, as it might interest or help other people.

Now, this blog isn’t about my dogs, but my dogs will feature. I know what the internet feeds on, so for context:

This is Gamble, aka Gamboltumble, aka Gambolino, aka Wingnut. He is extremely ADHD and basically perfect in every way.

This is Selma, aka Selly, aka Sillyselly, aka Fluffbutt. She lived on the streetz for at least three years and is very much her own person, but as her chances of surviving the collapse of civilisation are about 12x mine, I can’t really fault her.

And this is Addy, aka Baddie, aka Criminal Dog.
Do not be fooled by the meek exterior and ickle white toesies: Criminal Dog is a criminal. Her heart is full of crimes. Alas, due to a very bad start in life, her brain is full of anxiety and PTSD. A lot of her anxiety is around strangers, particularly strangers moving around. After a few months of informal desensitisation, I decided it’d be a good idea to take her to a dog training class. It was that or hiring a half a dozen strangers to walk around us while she works through her fears, and I can’t afford that.

I fully expected it to suck for me. I’m no stranger to dog training, and I have never found a class that didn’t suck for me for the same reasons most classes that train physical skills suck for me: I do not respond quickly enough to instructions, I forget series of instructions, I am uncoordinated, there’s a bunch of stuff I am physically incapable of doing without hurting myself, I can’t reliably tell left from right, and so on. This isn’t stuff I do on purpose, or because I don’t care. I don’t actually enjoy sucking at things. Unfortunately, I have auditory processing problems, working memory problems, dyspraxia, unstable joints which have led to a bunch of injuries, lateralisation problems, and the list goes on. I am neurodivergent. While my brain is a heap of fun and I love it, it does struggle with some stuff. As a result, I tend to suck at learning physical skills in a class setting. And as a result of how instructors interpret my sucking and respond to it, classes that that train physical skills suck for me.

This class is no exception. Things started to go sideways during the first lesson. Gamble was excused from training as he is already perfect, and Selma and Criminal Dog behaved much better than I expected them to. However, it became obvious that the trainer didn’t think the same of me. He didn’t talk about it with me – had he done so, I would have explained my situation (although, 99% of the times that doesn’t seem to work). Instead, he started to make snide remarks about me, both to me and to the other participants.

In the olden days, before I knew that I’m neurodivergent and what that entails, that would have hurt. I have never suffered from an innate respect for authority, but I did use to care about people’s opinion – even the opinion of people whose opinion on literally any other subject would have been wholly insignificant,. That made no logical sense, but I couldn’t do anything about it: if anyone told me, directly or indirectly, that they disapproved of me or my behaviour, that hurt. The only exception was in cases of open warfare, when I was dealing with overt bullies; in that case, all the rules I normally lived by went out the window.

I have blogged in the past about the relief I used to feel when a creep turned out to be a predator, and I was finally able to give myself permission to deal with the issue without having to worry about the social implications. The same phenomenon applied to dealing with people who seemed bent on making me feel bad about myself, setting my social group against me, or on making me do things they knew I didn’t want to do. Open, overt bullying is easy to deal with, because the worst that can happen is that you, huh, get horribly beaten up or killed. Bullying that skirts the line between what is socially acceptable and what isn’t is a nightmare, though. If you don’t react to it, it will go on forever, but if you take action and you are deemed to over-react by the people around you, you will be the one at fault. It’s exactly the same situation as with creeps vs. predators, really; clever people learn how far they can push things so they never get punished, but you will if you speak out against them. As a result, it’s easy to end up stuck in no man’s land, waiting for things to escalate so you can actually take action.

…or, rather, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The creep script is designed to trap you in your own insecurity, which gives the creep the chance to victimise you indefinitely without suffering any consequences. Thing is, we don’t have to follow that script. And if we don’t, if we refuse to step into the role the script sets for us, then the script falls apart. It becomes a one-sided monologue that doesn’t give the creep what they want, and might make them look mighty weird to any onlookers – or to onlookers able to recognise what they’re looking at, anyway.

I discovered that by accident when I started to write about creeps. All of a sudden, instead of being worried by the possible social costs of having to deal with them, I was interested in observing their behaviour in action. It was like being an entomologist, and finding a bug under your bed: you don’t really want bugs down there, but hey, look, a fresh specimen! It turns out that creeps really don’t like to find themselves at the receiving end of that kind of attention. It doesn’t just throw them off their game: it picks their game up and throws it right out the nearest window. They are left with two options: either they have to back the hell up and give up on you, or they have to escalate their creeping to the point where it might become socially unacceptable, which is the point where it might also become socially punishable.

It looks as if the same might apply to petty bullies. It definitely applies to this bully, anyway. You see, I’ve been so immersed in writing about entrenched ableism in academic and medical settings that when he started to throw bullshit in my general direction, I automatically started to examine and dissect it. That didn’t give me the chance to respond to it – or, worse, to react to it. Instead of getting flustered or mouthing off, I pondered. His script became one-sided, and he clearly doesn’t like that. So, instead of changing my behaviour, he is changing his. By the end of the second session, he had graduated to increasingly obvious manifestations of threatened authority: looming over me (I am very smol), setting me unachievable tasks, spouting non sequiturs about his (totally irrelevant) qualifications, and making comments so pointed that they make other participants wince. Problem is, that’s making him look bad, and it doesn’t really bother me. I’m genuinely intrigued as to how far he’s going to go before he either gives up on reforming me, or gives me my money back and sends me on my way. I’m good either way.

What is interesting about this whole thing is that I didn’t do it on purpose. i didn’t set out to work on my self-esteem, develop resilience, battle my RSD, or anything like that. I just immersed myself so deeply into ableism as a community issue, as a societal issue, as an issue that affects children I would like to see growing up a lot less messed up than me, that I no longer see it as personal. It isn’t personal, really; it isn’t about me, about who I am, or my value as a person. It’s about other people’s inability to accept the validity of other people’s experiences, needs, and limitation. It’s about ableism, and while it touches me personally, it says nothing about me as a person. It doesn’t make me any less; nothing that guy says can make me any less now, because he has revealed himself for who he is. I wouldn’t stand for him treating another neurodivergent badly, and everything I would say to that person, I can say to myself.

So, yeah, that’s the point of this blog: learning about -isms is often deemed as difficult or even harmful, but it’s actually pretty damn liberating. I hate the word “empowering”, but it applies here. This stuff is liberating, it really is. It takes a personal issue and shows it to be societal, and while that doesn’t resolve it, it can make it cut less – or cut in a different way, anyhoo. It might not makes us unstoppable, but it makes us harder to stop. At the very least, it can make us incorrigible; and for people dealing with the kind of nonsense we have to face every damn day, that’s a pretty good place to be.

(Before anyone asks why don’t I just quit, two reasons: Criminal Dog actually needs this, and you pay for the term in advance.)

Teen Dating

I don’t generally go looking on Facebook for nuggets of wisdom, but sometimes I stumble upon them. Today is one of those days.

Context: a meme is circulating about how parents can look after their dating teens, as follows:

The responses to it are a great source of information not just about people’s opinions, but about their backgrounds and life experiences. For instance, some people maintain that parents have no business getting involved in their teens’ relationships unless the teens themselves want them involved. And, OK, yeah, family boundaries matter… but I was not aware that pedophilia was no longer a thing. Teens might not want their parents to pay attention to their relationships – I sure didn’t – but that doesn’t mean that they are not in danger of being abused. So, yes, it is incredibly important for parents to respect their children’s autonomy and to teach them about healthy boundaries by demonstrating them in real life, but it’s also important for parents to protect their children from abuse.

This is what Dawn Michelle Williams has to say on the subject:

  • Talk to kids about how a good relationship should look even before they’re in one.
  • Also talk about what a bad relationship looks like. Including what constitutes abuse by a partner.
  • Make sure they know that you do not have to be married, living with a partner, be an adult or experience physical violence – to experience “domestic abuse”(a better term is relationship abuse imo).
  • Emphasise that some relationships start out well but over time gradually worsen – early signs include complaining about aspects of appearance, seeming very put-out if you spend time with other friends instead of them, continually talking about how awesome an ex is. These can be ways to erode your confidence over time or the early stages of isolating you.
  • Emphasise that at any point they feel upset, worried or scared they can walk away from that person and you’ll collect them with no judgement, and that they can end the relationship because they are entitled to be treated well.
  • Be a great role model in your relationships – this is a major factor. What they see you experience is what they will believe to be normal.
  • Avoid telling your child that you loathe their partner – if they’re not a good person they will likely already have begun planting seeds on your child’s mind that everyone is against their partner and so this will only serve to “prove them right”.
  • Believe me that teens can be really good at hiding what is going on. They aren’t going to want you to ban them from seeing their partner – either because they don’t realise that what’s going on isn’t ok, the partner has them convinced they’re not worth any more than what they’re getting or has made threats- so they may not open up to you. The better and safer your relationship is with them the more likely that they will.
  • Finally talk about this from both perspectives before they start having relationships. Not just what they should expect from a good relationship but also in terms of how to be a good partner.

This is important. Unpleasant, but important. It is particularly important because children learn from what they see. The vast majority of what passes as “romantic” in the media would be straight-up toxic in real life, but we normalise it. We normalise it every time we don’t call it out when we see it.

The more children know about these issues, the less likely they are to need adult intervention – or, hopefully, the more likely they are to seek adult intervention if they need it. Not breaching the subject with them because “they are too young to know” means that they could stumble into dangerous situations without realising it. And by that point, it might be too late to stop them from getting hurt.

Kink shaming? Not really.

“Kink shaming is not ok!”

I am seeing variations on this message more and more frequently of late. This gives me pause, not because I think that kinks are shameful or that kinksters should be shamed, but because of the context in which this message routinely pops up. In the vast majority of cases, what is going on is not kink shaming: people are being shamed for being creeps or sexual harassers, not for being kinksters. The issue isn’t their kink: it’s the setting in which they choose to manifest it.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you have a shoe kink. Some people may think that’s a bit off, other people may think that it’s cool, and some won’t have an opinion either way. Most people, however, will respond badly if you choose to volunteer information about your shoe kink in a non-sexual setting. If you go up to a colleague, a random stranger, a shoe salesperson, or literally anyone who is not consensually involved in your kink and you spark up a conversation about how you want to fuck their shoes, they might be a bit taken aback, to put it mildly. The issue isn’t with your kink per se; it’s with the fact that you’re being a total creep by forcing sexual information on people who haven’t asked for it. You are violating boundaries as a minimum, and you could easily venture into the realm of sexual harassment. If people respond badly to your behaviour, they are not kink-shaming you: they are creep-shaming you, and they have a right to. And it’s no good turning around and trying to shame them back because kink-shaming is eeeevil, because that’s not the issue here.

This applies to all kinks in all settings, including the interwebs. If someone is having an online conversation in a non-sexual space about a generally non-sexual issue and you interject information about how it is a source of sexual arousal for you, you are being a creep. If you tell an individual who is not involved in a consensual sexual interchange with you that whatever-it-is makes you want to fuck them, you are sexually harassing them. If they challenge your behaviour or straight-up ban your ass, you are not being oppressed. They are not asking you to stop with your kink; they are asking you to take it elsewhere. They are asking you to stop behaving like a creep around them. They may be giving you extremely helpful advice about how to stop being a creep in general – advice that could save your bacon if you heed it, as well as saving a lot of people from having to deal with your misbehaviour.

This isn’t an issue of critical mass, either. If two or more kinksters bump into each other in a non-sexual setting and fall into a mutually enjoyable and publicly visible chat about kink, that doesn’t make it alright. They are still violating everyone else’s boundaries, because they are still forcing sexual information on unconsenting third parties. They are still being creeps; they are just being creeps together, which doesn’t make it any less creepy. The fact that they are all having fun doesn’t erase the inappropriateness of their behaviour, or its impact on third parties. They don’t have to stop having fun together, but they do need to take it elsewhere.

Literally and metaphorically speaking, most people don’t want your sexual stuff thrust down their throats without prior arrangement. It’s all about consent, which applies to words as well as actions. If you don’t know how to establish consent, there are plenty of good resources out there. And if you routinely violate people’s consent… Please don’t. You are making the world unnecessarily unpleasant for a lot of people. And if those people respond badly, it’s not kink-shaming, and it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

People may also object with particular vehemence to certain kinks because of additional factors. For instance, people may respond very differently to hearing about a shoe kink, a pregnancy kink, and a lactation kink, and that’s not a sign of repression or oppression. Quite simply, people feel generally less protective of inanimate objects than they do of pregnant parents or breastfeeding infants. By expressing kinks centered around vulnerable individuals in non-kinky settings, you are triggering people’s natural instinct to step into a protector role. And this is still not oppression because what you are experiencing, yet again, isn’t kink shaming. It’s creep shaming. It’s sexual harassment shaming. It’s potential pedophile shaming. It’s also the result of the very real dangers posed by the sexualisation of early parenthood on real parents and real children in the real world. A study from 2020 revealed that one in six women have faced unwanted sexual attention while breastfeeding in public. If you don’t understand why that would make most people twitchy, then I don’t know how to explain that to you, but here is a suggestion: have a lactation kink if that’s your jam, but take it to Kink.com, not MumsNet.

The same applies to literally all kinks. If you want to share your kink, go to kink spaces and find other kinksters to kink with. If you have the urge to wax lyrical about it, plenty of people on Archive of Our Own will be glad to read all about it. FetLife is free and full of great people. Whatever your kink is, there are plenty of spaces where it is not only accepted, but welcome and valued. You can’t expect the same reaction in non-sexual spaces, however. There’s a place for everything, and that ain’t it.

And if you slip up in a non-sexual setting and people call you out on it, do yourself a favour, and don’t use your kink as a shield – or, if you do, think about the impact of your actions. You might just be trying to save your ass in the moment, but if people actually buy into what you are saying, you will end up paying for it later. Plenty of people are kink-positive but will baulk at the prospect of having to accept a kinster’s right to interject sexual content into any and every settings. Do you really want to teach them that kink tolerance is an all-or-nothing deal? That there isn’t a difference between a kinkster, a creep, and a sexual harasser, and that to accept one they must accept them all? That your right to your kink trumps their right to consent? And do you honestly believe that kind of argument isn’t going to turn around and bite you and the entire kink community in the ass?

Be a kinkster if you want. But Sir, this is a Wendy’s.

Pitch perfect

That self-defense “theory” about how high-pitched distress noises stimulate violence in third parties seems to be doing the rounds again. The version I heard most often derives from stories about dog attacks on small children. It’s 98% bullshit, and 2% incorrect reframing.

There are real stories of dog attacks on small children crying in distress – child falls off a bike and starts wailing, dog savages it in response, that kind of thing. The reasons these attacks make good stories is that they are rare and shocking. The reason they are rare and shocking is that dogs are not wired to respond with violence to the cries of distress of their pack members – and yeah, for a socialised dog, humans are part of the pack. Socialised, healthy, normal dogs usually respond to in-pack cries of distress either by running the hell away or by trying to provide assistance, depending on the situation and the personality of the dog. For a dog to attack a creature manifesting pain, that creature must stimulate the dog’s predatory instincts. Again, not something that would happen to a normal dog dealing with members of its pack.

Trying to extrapolate human behaviour from dogs’ is a bit… creative, I guess? It always seems to involve a lot of picking and choosing the behaviours in question. I mean, I know a lot of dogs, and most of them are infinitely more likely to eat faeces or roll in them than to attack small squeaky children. The available statistics supports my observations, but nobody seems to care about that, somehow. Anyway, even assuming that dogs and humans were wired to respond to the same stimuli in the same way, the same rules would apply; i.e., for a human to be triggered into attacking another human in distress, they would have to classify the distressed human as a prey. And that classification would have to come first: another human being doesn’t suddenly turn into a potential burger because they squeak.* Were that the case, the human species would have gone extinct at around generation two.

By all means, the self-defence community is at liberty to continue telling women and children that if they manifest their pain in the way that comes natural to them, some people may see that as an invitation to cause them further harm. But they should have the decency to tell them what that means: that those people never saw them as fellow humans in the first place. That they were predators seeking targets way before the incident took place. And, most importantly, that the crimes and abuse they perpetrate isn’t and never was something that their victims caused.

*There is an exception. Some people have extreme pain responses to high-pitched noises, and some people respond to pain with aggression. This isn’t personal: they would respond in the same way to a running drill as to a crying child. The noise is the issue, regardless of its origin and cause. This is unfortunate for all involved, to be sure, but it doesn’t transfer the blame for resulting incidents on the person making the noise. And you know what else it doesn’t do? It doesn’t excuse grown-ass adults telling people naturally more high-pitched than them that it’s their fault if people choose to hurt them.

Vibes vs. social cues vs. scripts.

This is largely a brain dump , although it might turn into a proper theory later. For the record, I’m currently listening to “You Say Potato: A Book About Accents” by Ben and David Crystal. The book examines the impact of accents and the associated stereotypes on people’s perception of a person’s intelligence, education, social position, wealth, and overall worth, and that is kicking off all manners of dark thoughts in my intemperate brain.

My tentative theory is as follows:

There is a difference between the ability to read vibes and the ability to read social cues. Neither of these abilities implies a willingness to take up one’s expected role in a social script. And absolutely none of the above has a damn thing to do with a person’s level of interest in interpersonal connections.

A lot of the times, people complain about third parties “being socially inept,” often but not exclusively in the context of neurodivergence. The argument often goes:

  • X person said/did something that bothered me.
  • Thus, X person must either be unable to perceive my botheration, or to be trying to bother me on purpose.
  • In the former case, X person must be unable to operate according to societal norms. In the latter case, X person must be unwilling to operate according to societal norms.
  • Either way, X person must not care enough about me, or about people in general.

Aside from the fact that there is no connection whatsoever between ability and interest levels – a person may care very much about a thing, yet be unable to do that thing – this argument is the result of an unholy mishmash of interconnected but separate concepts. X person may be perfectly able to read the vibe of the room; i.e., they might know that you are bothered by something. Being able to read vibes is a power many (but not all) people have. X person may, however, be wholly clueless as to what you are bothered by. Their ability to work that out has very little to do with their empathy, and nothing at all to do with their level of interest in interpersonal connections.

Working out what bugged a person hinges on one’s ability to rewind the conversation and pinpoint where and how it went off the rails, which are two totally different skills hinging on a number of factors. The ability to rewind a conversation relies on working memory, auditory processing, and probably a load more stuff I can’t think of at the moment. A person with poor working memory may not have logged enough of the conversation to rewind it, and that is not a manifestation of lack of interest. A person with auditory processing issues may be in the same position due to different causes; and, again, this is not a reflection of a lack of interest. The inability to carry on that internal rewinding can present an immediate and unsurmountable barrier to self-correction. This is particularly true in cultures where asking questions like “What did I do wrong?” is unlikely to yield useful results because the operant belief is that answering that type of question correctly is also wrong.

Cultures and subcultures where one must not speak one’s mind directly don’t just make it harder to pinpoint what the issue is; they actually create the need for said pinpointing. In groups where saying the wrong thing immediately leads to someone speaking up and pointing out the issue, one does not need to carry out an investigation to gleam the very same information. Personally, I find that left-leaning people who are Millennials or younger are more likely to provide that kind of feedback; when you put your foot in your mouth, they immediately ask you to remove it by using their actual words. If the situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and adjustments are made to avoid future reoccurrences of the issue, the relationship remains untarnished by the “conflict”, or may actually be strengthened. That is rarely the case when I interact with people my age (Xennial) or older, who have a far greater tendency to interpret any attempt at course correction as a personal attack and/or a breach of the social contract. My observations cannot be generalised, though, because my social experience is far too narrow and too quirky to be indicative of trends in society at large.

Once one has worked out What One Has Done Wrong, that’s where things get really interesting, and where issues of social roles and scripts really come to the fore. Many of our social rules are context-dependent; for instance, the way you speak to your mother isn’t the way you speak to your child, and neither are much like the way you speak to your boss or to a doctor. Getting this wrong can have negative consequences. Talking baby talk to your doctor may get you attention, but probably not of the right sort unless you’re looking to get locked up. Telling your boss that you hate them and slamming the door in their face may have different results from carrying out the same behaviour at home. I could come up with infinite and ever more absurd examples, but the bottom line is that the ability to switch register when dealing with different people in different settings is something most of us have and use regularly and automatically, without ever thinking about it. Most of us pick the register we deem appropriate to the conversation at hand, particularly when we want that conversation to go smoothly.

This is the gnarly bit: different rules apply to a conversation depending on the perceived social roles of the participants, and there is no guarantee that all participants will agree to said roles. In conversations between a doctor and a patient, for instance, there is an assumed disparity of knowledge, authority, and power between the two parties. The doctor is assumed to know more than the patient, and the patient is expected to listen and follow the doctor’s instructions. The patient’s respect for the doctor as an authority should be reflected in their tone and manner of speech. How that respect should manifest is also context-dependent, and one of the main factors in play is the perceived position of the patient on the social hierarchy as compared to the doctor’s. Patients deemed to be well-educated, well-heeled, or in possession of their own personal penis are often guaranteed a greater degree of conversational latitude, because their position in the social hierarchy is relatively close to that of the doctor. The opposite applies to patients deemed to be significantly socially inferior to the doctor. If you don’t believe me, try walking into a hospital wearing dirty overalls* and tell me how that goes for you.

When those assumptions doesn’t match reality – for instance, when a patient’s level of education and experience is higher than expected – things can go awry. While some doctors respond by adjusting their register accordingly – e.g., by switching from providing reassurance to providing information, or to providing information in more technical terms – some respond by becoming defensive, aggressive, or obstructionary. This isn’t a reflection of the patient having Done Something Objectively Wrong. The patient went off script, though, and a lot of people treat that kind of thing as an infraction, regardless of the causes.

Social scripts are important. We all rely on scripts to navigate our social and professional lives, and we do so because scripts can make our lives easier. Thing is, that’s only the case when everyone signs up to the script in question and to their role in it. That isn’t always the case, and the difference between what’s script-appropriate and what we deem to be Right can be significant.

For instance, the script-appropriate response to mansplaining is simpering – and please note that I said “script-appropriate”, not “right.” Simpering proves that the interlocutor has received the mansplainer’s message – that they are intellectually or culturally superior – and that they are in agreement. Aside from meeting the mansplainer’s emotional and social needs, it also closes the script, which can actually reduce how long the mansplaining goes on for. After all, the ultimate point of the behaviour is a power exchange, not an exchange of information.

I am not advocating simpering as the stock response to mansplaining; quite the contrary, in fact. I am not terribly in favour of rewarding behaviours I consider despicable. My personal choice is to step off-script – or, rather, not to step into the script in the first place. It’s not my script, after all: I didn’t pick it and I didn’t sign up to my role in it, so I assume no responsibility in making it go smoothly. That means that my interactions with mansplainers routinely go awry. On most occasions, that suits me just fine. I am able to read the mansplainer’s bad vibes and to pinpoint their cause. I am, however, unwilling to modify my behaviour to rectify the situation. That’s not because I am unfeeling, uncaring, or antisocial; I simply have no interest in interpersonal connections that require me to debase myself in order to appease others. That kind of relationship doesn’t satisfy my needs and runs contrary to my beliefs, so I don’t get into it.

That doesn’t mean that I deliberately antagonise mansplainers. I couldn’t if I wanted to, because I wouldn’t know how. If I pretended not to know something to trigger someone’s need to educate me, the resulting lecture would not class as mansplaining, after all. I believe the behaviour to triggered by the mansplainers’ assumptions of my knowledge, abilities, and position on the social hierarchy, and those assumptions are often based on factors outside of my control (most commonly, my accent, sex, and size). The only way in which I can disabuse the mansplainers of their misapprehensions is to not take on my half of that particular script. Alas, they tend not to like that.

I’ve picked on mansplaining because it’s an easy example of the phenomenon, but the same issues apply to all kinds of interaction. Just because I don’t play along with a script, it doesn’t mean that I don’t see it, don’t know it, or that I am unable to understand the social and emotional consequences of letting it go wrong. I am just unwilling to take up roles that make me want to gag. When I do, the result is such a pathetic simulacrum of interpersonal connection that it holds no value for me.

This theory, such as it is, has fascinating implications for neurodivergent people, as well as many other minority groups. We are routinely assumed to be less capable than or straight-up inferior to neurotypical people, either because we cannot do certain things or because we do them differently. The less we are able to mask as neurotypical, the more inferior we are perceived to be, and that often results in assumptions as to our rightful place on the social hierarchy. Those assumptions come with a whole load of baggage, including the role people expect us to take in certain social scripts. When we refuse to play ball, or simply thwart a script by not being as helpless as we are supposed to be, that is misinterpreted as our inability to pick up social cues or emotional vibes. We didn’t pick the script, nor did we sign up to our role in it; we were crowbarred into it willy-nilly. All we are trying to do is to have a social interaction that doesn’t require us to misrepresent ourselves. Yet it is is our fault, the reflection of our social cluelessness or lack of empathy, when the script falls apart, and the person who started it all hurts their own feelings as well as ours. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it.

*For those whose immediate reaction was that wearing dirty overalls in a clinical setting is inherently disrespectful: hate to break it to you, but people busy doing physical jobs do get sick and have accidents that may require immediate medical attention. That’s, like, a thing that happens. And the way they are dressed should not have an impact on the level of care they receive, but it often does.

On the weakness/acceptance of The Youth Of Today

I keep seeing posts from Boomers saying that Millennials/Xennials are either infinitely weaker than their predecessors, because so many of them suffer from physical and mental ailments, or infinitely more accepting than their predecessors, because so many of them are so open about discussing their physical and mental ailments. I gotta ask: do Boomers read actual books? Because, sorry, but no.

Literature and historical accounts from every age I can think of are solid with mentions of physical and mental ailments. They are literally all over the place, affecting people of all ages, genders, and walks of life. Seriously, my memory is awful, but I would struggle to think of a book or story from any kind of bygone era that does NOT include the mention of someone who is ill or disabled in some way. I am sure there must be tons, obvs, both among the ones I’ve read and among the countless I’ve missed, but I doubt that they would be in the majority. So I am seriously at a loss as to where the impression of a roughty-toughty / inherently uncaring past comes from. It definitely doesn’t come from the study of the information said past left for us.

I reckon what has changed is that:

  • More people know more words and concepts about physical and mental health. Until conditions are discovered and popularised, people have a tendency to talk about them in rather woolly terms. That doesn’t mean that said people don’t suffer from those conditions. Our ancestors who lost partners or children and “spent the rest of their lives in deep mourning” were probably suffering from clinical depression. Those to whom a traumatic event happened and “were never quite right again” were probably suffering from PTSD. Victorian and Georgian accounts are full of people suffering from “their nerves”, having “funny turns”, or having to be shipped off to healthier climes, to the country, or to specialist treatment centres. All those people were probably ill with actual illnesses, but the words and concepts weren’t there to adequately describe their experiences (and, if they were females, they were obviously just suffering from that). That doesn’t make their ailments less valid.
  • Literary taste has changed over the ages, and this particular age is full of trauma and illness porn. A lot of people enjoy very graphic descriptions of various forms of suffering, while past authors (or, at least, the ones I’ve read) tended to incorporate illness and suffering into their stories and accounts without rolling around in the gory details.* Combined with the lack of knowledge on health subject, this meant that past authors didn’t write “Tortured By Love: The Sunday Times Best-Seller about Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy”; they wrote “The Secret Garden.” And marketed it to children.
  • A lot of ailments were so normalised that they weren’t seen as ailments. Children caught random diseases and died, or were damaged for life; big whoop. Older people were disabled; so what? What do you think “getting old” means? Young people suffered accidents or events and were also disabled; yeah well, kind of unfortunate, but it happens. Addictions were only really an issue when they were addictions to something Foreign, like opium; a man who drank himself to death or bet away the family home was just some dude. Whether the same criteria were applied to his wife depended on the social mores of their subculture, but young women “wasting away” after a break-up or “having a turn” and killing their infant children and/or themselves were definitely One Of Those Things. And when something is normalised, it has a tendency not to gain center stage, both in historical accounts and as part of a story arc. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. It’s just there so much of it about that nobody makes a fuss about it.
  • As some Boomers are so fond of reminding us, “we” used to put Those People away – as in, our society had institutions where visibly ill individuals could be sent to, likely forever. Some families just sequestered their malfunctioning members, a la Jane Eyre. But as contemporary accounts show, “we” also had countless visibly ill individuals, in particular individuals from the poorer classes, who just got on with life to the best of their abilities, because that was the only option available to them. Many of them died younger that they might have if they could have received adequate care (“A Christmas Carol,” anyone?). And I think it’d be disingenuous to argue whether that shows that society is more or less accepting than it used to be while ignoring purely practical issues. People who needed wheelchairs but couldn’t get them weren’t seen wheeling around, because duh. People using wheelchairs weren’t seen cavorting in areas where wheelchairs couldn’t go, also because duh. That doesn’t mean that people needing wheelchairs didn’t exist, or that their lives were devoid of joy or meaning just because they were less visible. And it doesn’t say a damn thing about the people using wheelchairs now.

I’m all for examining the present against the past. But when you’ve gotta rewrite the past to make a point, that point probably doesn’t want making.

*EDIT: As a friend of mine pointed out, there was plenty of trauma porn in past ages. Lives of the Saints, anyone?

Lost in translation

As of this week, I have to add a new item to the ever-growing list of Things I Simply Cannot Do: playing Dungeons & Dragons with middle-class people. And the resulting mental fallout is (un)surprisingly depressing.

It isn’t purely a class thing. Being of a somewhat writerly disposition, I enjoy the character and narrative development side of role-playing. I like to create characters that feel real and to watch them interact with their settings in ways that are consistent with their personality and abilities. Many other players are in it to win encounters, solve mysteries, and level up. The disconnect is unfortunate, because it makes the game jarring for everyone involved. For me, it means that instead of feeling like I am writing a good story, I feel like I am reading a bad one. That’s suboptimal, but I could probably deal with it.

What I cannot deal with is the alternative reality aspect of the issue, and by that I don’t mean the myths & magic side of things. I can suspend disbelief long enough to accept that my character is purple, has horns and a tail, and can shoot fireballs out of his hands. What I cannot fit in my brain is the possibility that a group of adult humans would apprehend an armed serial killer, lead him off into the night without disarming or binding him, and then be taken by surprise when he turns around and attacks them; yet that’s what my little crew did, not two days ago. Let me reiterate: we suspected that someone was a serial killer; we told him that we suspected him and were bringing him to justice, in a place where justice = death; we walked him out of a public, crowded, easily-secured building into the night, in a town he knew and we were unfamiliar with; we knew that he was armed with at least three easily-accessible daggers, yet we did not disarm him; and when my character suggested at least tying him up before going anywhere, everyone laughed and told me that he was an idiot. Sorry about the ableist slur, but they did; in fact, the precise sentence used was “his village is missing an idiot,” to which the only objection raised was that he was probably not missed.

It gets better: when the miscreant flipped out and got into some weird-ass combat stance and I shot him in the face with a fireball*, the DM queried the realism of my reaction. That wasn’t because fireballs aren’t really a thing; he wanted me to justify why and how I would be able to shoot one without prior warning. Why would I have been able to react so quickly? I mean, when five perfect strangers kidnap an armed murderer under pain of pain, they obvs wouldn’t expect him to react badly. Why would he? Why would anyone?

I just can’t operate like that. It makes my brain hurt. Worse, it makes my soul hurt. It makes me feel lonely, because I just cannot connect to the people around me. Although we are allegedly sharing an experience, our realities are so different that they hardly overlap. The effort required to explain myself and my actions is so extreme that it makes communication difficult and connection virtually impossible. I end up stuck on the outside, desperately trying to translate myself into someone the people around me can understand. And I know that a lot of these thoughts and feelings are the result of my rejection sensitive dysphoria, my early trauma, and my lifelong other-ness playing tricks on me, but that doesn’t stop it being A Thing. I am infinitely more lonely in a room full of people who can’t see my reality than when I am actually alone. When they refuse to accept my reality even when I explain it to them, that’s worse. When they openly mock me for trying, that’s pretty terminal. Thing is, that’s normally how it goes. The instances of someone Actually Getting It straight away are so rare that I can count them on one hand. I can count the instances of said person turning around and helping me present my case to the group at large on one thumb. It all goes to shit so often and so reliably that I should be used to it by now, but I’m not. It hurts every time.

That’s probably why the recent Murderer Kidnapping Incident has kicked out so many of my mental bugs out of their usual crevices. It made me revisit my usual theories on the nature of the relationships neurodivergent people form when masked (I think of them as parasocial, even though I know the term is incorrect. If anyone can come up with a better one, please stick it in the comments). It made me think back to all the instances when I was surrounded by people I couldn’t connect with because we were approaching the same experiences from wildly different angles. It made me think about the whys of it all. It kind of makes sense, what with me being neurodivergent, trans, acespec, queer, foreign, and not built to industry standards, but I still reckon that the biggest hurdle is that my socio-economic status really needs that hyphen. I am educated well beyond the point of usefulness and I have lived most of my life hovering around the breadline; that’s not normal. It’s no non-normal that it makes it almost impossible for me to find a place where I fit, even when I technically belong there. I mean, I spent this morning washing dogs’ arses while listening to a university lecture about the impact of the Viking slave trade on cross-cultural integration in Europe. The people who value me for the former are hardly likely to want to hear about the latter. The people who care about the latter don’t tend to socialise with people in my economic bracket, and not just because they’re snobs. We just don’t hang out in the same places, largely because I can’t afford to go there. I probably wouldn’t go even if I had the money, because I prefer not having to earn money to spending it, but the fact is that I am effectively priced out of their hypothetical friendship. When we happen to interact, we often fail to connect because of everything we don’t have in common – which is often a whole lot, because our life experiences have been so very different.

It’s a thing. It sucks. Being reminded of how much of a thing it is sucks, too. It made me really miss the people with whom I never needed to translate myself, because we have enough of a shared background that they just get me. I haven’t met enough of them and I haven’t been able to hold on to most of them, which is suboptimal. Missing them hurts; but it doesn’t hurt half as much as the feeling of disconnect I experience when I fail to translate myself adequately for normies to even begin to get me. Even when I succeed, when I manage to build a bridge over a lifetime of divergent experiences and expectations, having to put in that effort hurts. And there is no guarantee that the resulting “connection” will make up for that.

*It was actually burning hands, for those in the know. I love me some burning hands.

Trans Awareness, belated

Trans Awareness Week falls on the second week of November. True to form, I missed it, but better late then never, right? So here goes my Trans Awareness Week announcement:

Be aware. I’m trans.

This is gonna come as no news whatsoever to those who know me personally. I am not famous for my subtlety, so the people around me have known it for as long as I have – three years or so. I should have worked out it sooner, but, huh, I kind of got distracted. This is actually what happened.

Back in 2014 or thereabouts, a prominent self-defence instructor started railing against the horror of “bathroom bills” forcing people to allow trans folk to excrete their waste unmolested, and baffled the hell out of me. You see, by then I had been going potty like a grown-up for nearly four decades. In my experience, if you are in a public bathroom and other people’s genitals are causing you any sort of inconvenience, the problems is not the style of the genitals in question; one of you is just going to the bathroom wrong. Yeah, predators could pretend to be trans in order to enter the bathrooms of people they wish to victimise, but that would require them to be both very dedicated and very bad at their job. Trans people get routinely treated like shit, in and out of public bathrooms, and they’re often under constant scrutiny by all and sundry. Generally speaking, if you want to do something illegal and very much frowned upon, it pays not to paint a giant target on your back first. There is statistical evidence of bathroom assaults involving trans people… but all of those assaults were perpetrated against said trans people. Also – and I honestly don’t know how this can come as a surprise to people allegedly interested in self-defence – all manners of unsavoury things go down in public bathrooms all the time, and have done so since time immemorial. So, like, maybe instead of hand-wringing over the fact that trans children – one of the most victimised demographics in the world – may be pretending to be trans in order to victimise other children, we could actually design school bathrooms that aren’t the epicenter of violence, abuse, sexual predation, and bullying in children’s lives? Jus’ sayin’.

My other cause of puzzlement is supremely embarrassing. Basically, I didn’t understand what “trans” meant. I knew that there were men who liked to wear women’s clothing and women who liked to wear men’s clothing, and that the former suffered more for their sartorial choices. I knew that there were people who didn’t give a flaming fuck about gender rules and roles, and wore and did whatever they felt like. I knew, from a lifetime of personal experience, that living like that is not without its costs. What I didn’t know and I couldn’t understand was the identity side of things. I understood biological sex, but gender completely eluded me.

The self-defence instructor in question actually spent a fair bit of time explaining it all to me. At the end of it all, I realised something that had never, ever occurred to me: other people had a gender. They didn’t act a gender – as in, they didn’t just blindly do whatever society deemed appropriate for people with a certain type of genitalia. Girls were girls and boys were boys and people actually had a gender.



Sorry and all that, but up until then, I thought that most people were very, very silly. As far as I was concerned, the gendering of things was just one of many sets of arbitrary social rules made up and enforced to make life unnecessarily complicated. When you set the table, knives go on the right and forks go on the left; if you get it wrong, a grown-up will shout at you. When you go to a party, girls wear skirts and boys wear trousers; if you get it wrong, a grown-up will shout at you. I kind of assumed that people just got fed up of getting shouted at and gave up what they actually wanted for the sake of a quiet life. In all honesty, I still do. I am willing to accept that most people have a lil’ gender inside, because most of my friends say they do and they aren’t liars. But when that gender comes with a whole set of rules and conditions… Nah, sorry. Not really my scene.

But I digress.

It’s 2014. I have just realised that gender is a thing that in fact exists, and people are s’posed to have one. I am very surprised and also kind of confused, because I don’t work like that. So I go to my then-partner, and I tell him that I don’t identify as a woman. I don’t identify as anything. I don’t identify. And he turns around and laughs and tells me that of course I don’t! My womanness is such a deep and pervasive part of my identity that I can’t even see it, that’s how much of a woman I am! Duh and double duh!



I kinda shrug and go with it.

It took me another three years to realise that no, I’m actually agender. They weren’t three wasted years. I consumed a load of trans media to Educate Myself. I wrote a book with an agender narrator, and spent a considerable amount of time coming up with a valid reason as to how she might have ended up like that. I did plenty of other stuff, too, but I sure did a lot of trans-related stuff. And all the way through it, I honestly thought that I was just trying to figure Them out – Them, those mysterious trans people, so inscrutable and complicated and

Yes, I really am that dense.

I can’t actually remember how it finally sunk in. It did, though, so I told my closest friends. The general response was “Huuuuuh, yeah? So, you watched the new Star Wars yet?” It turns out that when you live outside of gender for a number of decades, you end up being close to people who don’t actually care about what gender you are or aren’t. So my friends asked me about how I felt about it (very excited, somewhat apprehensive), about what pronouns I wanted (at the time, I wasn’t sure), and that was pretty much it. They didn’t see me any differently because they had never seen me through a gendered lens, because that’s not how they roll. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

As I settled in my self-discovery, I tweaked my life a bit. I got a new legal name, one that didn’t actually make me want to vomit. I tried various pronouns to see how they felt. I reviewed past relationships, romantic and not, and recontextualised their struggles in light of my lack of gender and gender awareness. I faced the fact that I’m dysphoric as all hell, which really vexed me: how can I have gender dysphoria when I don’t even have a gender? Like, seriously, it makes no sense! For a while, I hesitated to identify as trans, because I misunderstood what transness mean: I saw it as going from one thing to another, and I had not in fact moved. I still sometimes hesitate to call myself trans because I don’t feel that I work hard enough to earn that. All I do is whatever feels right for me, and while that’s not cost-free, I will never pay as much for my self-actualisation as the average trans woman. In a way, it helps that I don’t “pass” and probably never will: people who don’t actually know me see me as a tiny, titsy woman with an inappropriate taste in clothes and hobbies. That’s not how I want to be seen, but there is nothing I can do to fix that, it keeps me relatively safe, and it doesn’t cause me major psychic damage. I don’t care enough about how strangers see me for it to hurt.

So why the fuck am I writing a whole public document about my transness? Two main reasons, really. First and foremost, representation. I rejoice every time a trans person comes out, because yay, good for them! I rejoice mightily if said person is cool, because yay, one of us! Like seriously, Elliot Page came out as trans three days ago, and I’ve not stopped squeeing yet. I am not cool by any stretch of the imagination, but there may be a stray trans person out there who might find some comfort in knowing that I’m here and I’m me and I like it. I like it a lot.

There’s also the issue of truth in advertising. I am a person who wrote a book titled, “A Woman’s Toolkit.” I have written ad nauseam about violence, abuse, and recovery from a woman’s perspective. At the time, I was telling what I believed to be the truth. I still believe it to be truth from a practical point of view: when it comes to that kind of interpersonal issues, my identity is fairly immaterial. I am seen as a woman, hence I am treated as a woman and expected to react as a woman. When I disappoint people’s expectations, I am punished as a woman. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be people rushing to discredit my work because I didn’t have the right to write it.

…and it literally just occurred to me that some people will discredit my work because my transness means that I’m delusional, attention-seeking, or both. Honestly, I only just thought of that. I spend so much time with people who aren’t raging transphobic douchebags that I literally forgot that such people exist. Yes, life can be that good.

Anyhoo, this is about all I’ve gotta say. I’m agender and I’ve always been, but it took me a long time to figure it out. It took me a while to come out with it, too, because I kinda like my private life to be private. I am not going to change my name on my old books, because that’s a royal pain in the ass. Some people may have a different perception of the value and relevance of my work, but I can’t help that. They probably wouldn’t have liked what I’ve got to say, anyway. I am still on an indefinite hiatus, because writing about self-defence was really not good for me. So, huh, goodbye and stuff.

72 hrs

This blog is about the side of ADHD that hardly gets a mention because it makes you bleed inside, where nobody has to clean it up.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is defined as “extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life.” That’s when it’s defined at all, that is; it currently isn’t a diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and it’s rarely discussed by therapists. I mod a page for ADHDers and hardly a week goes by without someone asking what RSD is and being shocked at the realization that it’s been a massive influence on their life and their therapist never mentioned it. When it is mentioned, it’s often of the purpose of invalidating it. Everyone is upset by rejection and criticism; it’s an essential part of being a social animal. If we didn’t care about the opinion of the people around us, we’d be even more dysfunctional than we are now. ADHDers just make a big fuss about RSD because of the whole emotional dysregulation thing. We’ve just gotta learn that our feelings are unjustified and how to put a lid on them, and it will all be a-OK.

That’s the theory, anyway. Problem is, this theory is a load of shit.

One of the common issues with ADHDers is that our feelings are very big and very deep, but often fleeting. We can swing from very high to very low and vice versa with incredible speed, and those sudden extremes are often misinterpreted as superficial at best, performative at worst. If we were happy five minutes ago and now we’re in the throes of despair, surely we must be pretending! Or maybe we’re feeling normal-sized feelings, and we’re just constitutionally incapable of modulating our responses to them. It’s part of the condition, innit? We don’t feel better or worse than anyone else; we just can’t control our reactions. We need to learn to express our regular emotions in a regular way, and we’ll be fixed.

Problem is, ADHD feelings really are that big and that deep. Our reactions may be inappropriate, but they are not disproportionate – they are inappropriate with regards to social expectations, but they are proportionate to our internal state. It would be peachy if we could just dial that shit down at will, but the only way to do that is to turn ALL our feelings down (hello, depression and dissociation) or to sublimate them all into an overarching, all-consuming alternative feeling (hello, anxiety and anger). And yes, we can learn to respond to our feelings so they don’t spill all over the place, but that’s hard, and it’s harder when we’re hurting. And when RSD kicks in, we’re hurting big time.

For me, having RSD is like having a bad ankle. I step on something wobbly, my ankle gives way, and I’m suddenly on the floor, unable to stand back up and near-blind with pain. It shouldn’t be like that; thousands of people step on the same damn thing every day and nothing happens to them. The problem is entirely with me and my goddamn ankle. I can’t expect the world to be perfectly flat just to accommodate my problems. I just need to take more care, or to learn to fall over and get back up again.

Thing is, in that moment I fucking can’t, because my ankle is busted and will not hold my weight. And that’s frustrating to those around me, because I tripped over my own feet and now I’m making a fuss and holy hell, why can’t I just keep my shit together? So I crawl around, or hold on to the furniture, and that’s still not normal and still not OK and still frustrates those around me. And I don’t like that, not a bit, so I put my weight on my busted ankle as carefully as I can and still fall over again or hurt myself worse, which is clearly my fault, and the frustration around me mounts until the only solution is to take myself out of the game for a bit, to keep myself away from people and their demands until I’m ready to meet them. Sometimes that takes a long time, because my healing takes a long time, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to speed it up. Sometimes I am overly optimistic, or forced by circumstances, and I get back out there and pop goes my ankle again and I’m worse off than ever. Sometimes I give myself time to heal, and when I come back out it’s too late, and the people I was trying to shield from the consequences of my weakness have long gone.

If you’re now wondering “Who the fuck could be so insensitive as to force an injured person to push through pain like that??” The answer is: you, probably, if you know any ADHDers and have discounted their feelings because you couldn’t share them. Our pain may be inexplicable, objectively unjustified, and “all in our head”, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not real, debilitating, or cumulative. And the kicker is that by discounting it or punishing us for it, you’re adding to it. You’re stomping on our dislocated ankle in an effort to convince us that we are alright. And if we care about you at all, the fact that it’s you doing it is the worst pain of all.

For me, RSD is a sudden depression that undoes in a moment the work of years and sinks me into a world where joy, hope, and beauty are nothing but mockery, and there’s no way out. RSD is the pain of a cracked sternum that stays for days or weeks. RSD is the certainty that I am incapable of real, functional human connections that won’t eviscerate me. RSD is having to think and rethink everything I do or say, because I was doing my level best and I still fucked up and I wrecked everything, so I must be ever vigilant even though I know that it will do no good, because I’m just not good at this. I don’t have what it takes to be a proper human. I never will.

RSD is knowing that my mother was right in forcing me to mask to the point where I couldn’t even remember who I was. RSD is the voice of all the teachers who couldn’t stand me, all the schoolmates who pushed me around, all the exes who took such great pains to explain to me in words and deeds that I am inherently wrong and worthless. RSD is sympathizing with my grandmother’s disappointment at being saddled with such a substandard grandchild. My grandmother lived to 93 and never smiled at me, not once, and my RSD understands that. I’m nothing to smile about.

RSD is stupid, and wrong, and all in my head, and I know it. But it’s in my head in the way that my amygdala is in my head: I can’t just take it out, and I can’t stop it doing its thing. I can choose how to react to what it does, up to a point, but that’s about it. And, in the moment, it’s hellishly hard.

Sometimes all I can do is to get myself out of the way of people, because that’s the best thing I can do to stop things getting worse. Sometimes I do my level best to carry on as normal, even though everything fucking hurts. Sometimes my best efforts avail me nothing, because I can’t meet social expectations, and seeing the disappointment in people’s eyes just gives me another dose of the thing that fucked me up in the first place, and the whole thing spirals out of my control until I am truly fucked, inside and out.

Sometimes nothing much happens, and everything is still fucked, because the experience has taught me that it’s not safe to be me around a certain person. Then I gotta decide: do I want to keep them and hurt myself, or lose them to save myself? Which might sound a bit extreme, but you gotta remember: easily dislocated ankle, and some humans are the living embodiment of high heels. It ain’t their fault, but we’re just not a good fit. That doesn’t mean that losing them doesn’t hurt. The more you care about them, the more they can hurt you, and the more it hurts to lose them. The accountancy of pain is an awful game to play and no way to live, but sometimes all available choices are bad. The only thing I’ve got left is damage limitation. It’s a good way to survive, but in the long-term it really takes it out of you.

The title of this blog is 72 hours because 72 hours ago a friend yelled at me. She yelled at me because she misunderstood what I was saying, because she was stressed out, because of the quarantine. When I tried to clarify my position, she yelled at me some more until she eventually stopped yelling long enough to hear me, and then she laughed, and then we were fine.

Only I wasn’t fine. I was eviscerated with pain, and I couldn’t explain it to her because our brains aren’t tuned the same. I could try to bridge the gap with words, but I honestly don’t think she’d get it because ultimately, rationally, I don’t get it either. I am, quite literally, hurting over nothing, because our relationship has not been damaged by a poxy miscommunication… except that it has, because she hurt me, and that hurt was real even though the issue between us was not. So we’ve spent the last three days hanging out like normal even though things between us are nothing but, even though I’ve spent a truly ludicrous amount of time leaking water out of my eyes and listening to The Eels. I know I’ll be alright, though; had it been really bad, it would have been Robyn Hitchcock. I only hide the knives for Syd Barrett, anyway. So I’m fine-ish. I mean, I am up at 1 o’clock in the bleeding morning writing blogs people won’t read about shit nobody much cares about, and tomorrow I will be tired as all hell, but, yannow, I’ll get on with it. I know I can: I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. But it never gets any fucking easier.

This is what RSD is like for me, and there’s not a fucking thing I can do about it – and yes, I’ve tried, and no, this isn’t a request for your advice on therapy or nutrition or meditation, and if you even think of asking me whether I’ve tried yoooga I’ll spit in your eye. I don’t even fucking know why I’m writing this because the people who’ll get it don’t need to read about it; but hey, I’m fucking trying. I know I am, because my grandma told me so.