A few weeks ago, a friend of mine started a thread about how many people’s post-apocalyptic survival teams always seem to include a certain type of person (often a badass), with a certain type of skill (mostly killin’), and utterly exclude a whole load of other people who are also very useful. Even the people who remember that survival is about more than slaughter tend to focus on a limited range of practical skills. We are all in agreement that, when the shit hits the fan, people are going to have to pull their weight. But is the only way to pull one’s weight to kill, farm, or build? What about everything else?

If I had to pick one single type of person to include in my survival team, I’d call dibs on nurses. They can do a ton of medical stuff, they are unflappable, they are used to working with insufficient resources, they can handle people who are losing their shit, and they are not affected by normal human weaknesses, like requiring food and sleep. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: every nurse I know is also something else. Their skills don’t start and end with their job. They garden, knit, weave, fix cars, speak several languages, shoot, pickle vegetables, bake, go mountaneering, and so on and so forth. They aren’t unique in doing so, either: a whole load of people in real life have a whole load of skills. Not only that, but – shock, horror – those skills may not be thematically consistent. A few years ago, my main hobbies were MMA and crochet. One of my friends is a professional juggler and a qualified psychologist. I seriously don’t know anyone with a postgraduate education who isn’t both nerdy as hell, often in fields that have nothing to do with their studies, and physically capable. People are infinitely more diverse and useful than fiction gives them credit for, and we buy way too much into the fiction.

People are also breakable. I’d rather take a troupe of people with diverse, overlapping skills over a single ninja killing machine. Whatcha gonna do if your ninja gets hit on the head by a falling coconut and croaks it? Even if your single superhero is a paragon of usefulness, the fact that they inhabit a single, mortal body is a fairly significant drawback. I find the cultural obsession with survival = loneliness highly problematic, and the fact that it hinges on ignoring a whole load of reported history even more so. But there’s more.

We don’t just glorify a rather narrow set of skills as survival-worthy; we also totally blank out a very large set of skills, namely soft skills. The modern narrative totally ignores that survival is often facilitated by community, and that communities have their own needs. People who mediate disputes, who can get people to come up with and stick to rules, who can set up networks of exchange, who can carry out emotional first aid, who can cheer people up and calm them down, who can tell stories to pass the long winter nights, who keep social memory alive with their mythmaking… If we look at successful communities in survival situations, they have included those people. And yes, those people were also generally good at something practical, but the soft-skill side of their contribution wasn’t secondary. Yes, Maslow teaches us that we must meet our survival needs first, but, when we’re working together, the ability to work together is instrumental to that. And it isn’t a byproduct of knowing how to grow turnips, slaughtering calves, or building rafts.

As a culture, we seem to have an odd way of prioritising concrete, action-based skills over soft skills, even though those soft skills are often instrumental in making the action-based skills function. It may be partly because we can’t articulate those soft skills as well. There are job titles for people who make things and we spend a lot of time teaching them to children, but the few titles for people who help communities function are vague, and often somewhat dirty-sounding, possibly the result of the bureaucratic and political systems we’re swimming in. I think there is more, though; we are just oblivious to the fact that soft skills are valid, stand-alone skills. We treat them as if they were just there, available to us without any need to plan or work for them, and we treat the outcome of their effort like spoiled teenagers treat the washing up or the laundry: as something that just happens.



Why all the hate?

Once upon a time, I went skipping and hopping around cyberspace, carrying a basket of goodies for grandma, until I found myself in an unfamiliar and rather dark corner of the interwebs. Some of the people there were wondering about the current (at the time) controversy around Milo Youknowhoimtalkingabout. I can’t even remember which controversy it was; I know it was not the recent one about killing journalists, and not the huge trainwreck about condoning paedophilia… Which, in itself, kinda makes me think that such incidents are overabundant in the dude’s life, which in turn makes me wonder about his intentions, but that’s a whole other story.

The folk in question were absolutely puzzled by some people’s reactions to Milo. The guy is Jewish, openly gay, and dating a POC: why on earth do The Liberals object to him? What is there for them to object to? Isn’t he a Liberal wet dream? Surely all attempts at silencing him are clear indications that The Left is gruesomely hypocritical, as well as utterly fascistic!

I lack basic survival skills, so I piped up. I proposed the possibility that The Liberals in questions do not object to Milo because of who/what he is, but because of what he does. His words harm individuals and groups of people, and do so by design. The objection is to that harm, not to him as a person.

Crickets chirped for a few moments, and then the conversation resumed, neatly hopping over my interjection as if I’d never spoken. Being used to such occurrences, I picked up my basket and hopped and skipped to a place I might enjoy more.

No animals were harmed in the making of that conversation, but it stayed with me. It was as if the people involved genuinely couldn’t comprehend that someone may object to people’s actions rather than to them as people; or that some actions may be condemned because of their impact, regardless of who is committing them. I didn’t stay there long enough to work out what exactly was going on because place wasn’t conducive to my well-being and happiness, but I was intrigued.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted a link to this article, which reported that scientists found that, neurologically, dislike and dehumanisation are two different things. I don’t know a damn thing about neuroscience, so I can’t even begin to quality-check the article or the research that spawned it, but the concept tallies with my experience. It also tallies with Rory Miller’s concept of “othering” and the affordances that it brings.

I wonder now if the difference between dislike and dehumanisation was at the root of that conversation about Milo, way back when. I wonder of the people involved, the people who couldn’t hear me, are so used to dividing the world into “us” and “them” and behaving accordingly that they cannot comprehend of another way of doing business. They cannot understand of judging actions as utterly separate from actors, or judging actors solely by their actions, because that kind of mental mechanism is alien to them. Of course, in thinking this I’m guilty of precisely the same kind of thinking… but it’s got to be OK in this instance because it’s me doing it, right?




I’ve been going on about my neurodivergence a lot lately, and that has sparked up a ton of interesting conversations about labels. I’ve been waiting for it all to congeal in some kind of logical structure, but it’s not happening, so here is a pile of label-related stuff.


Are labels bad or good?

To me, that’s like asking “are screwdrivers bad or good?” A label is a tool. Do you need it? What are you using it for? Are you hurting yourself or others with it? A screwdriver is useful if you’ve got some screws to deal with. It’s not much use if you want to brush a kitten. It won’t do you much good if you stick it up your nose, and you might want to think about it before sticking it between someone’s ribs.

I am personally rather conflicted about labels and diagnosis in general. I didn’t get mine until rather late in life, partly because some issues just weren’t popular knowledge, but mostly because my mom would have rather pushed me under a bus than be the mother of a wonky kid. Not getting diagnosed while being placed under intense academic pressure “encouraged” me to develop some nifty coping strategies, but it also meant that I struggled for years and years without even knowing that I was struggling. I had no idea that I was overcoming issues most other people never face. I am pretty pissed off about that. On the other hand, I am painfully aware of the fact that now, with the kudos parents can get in certain circles by having “special” children, I would have suffered the opposite fate: my mother being very persuasive, I would have been diagnosed with everything going, gotten medicated to within an inch of my life, and probably only got enough help to make my mom the Best Neurodivergent Mother Of The Year. I am 100% sure that my life would have sucked much more with that kind of “help” than without.

However, I still find my labels useful. I use them for:

  1. Reminding me of the way in which I differ from other people. That gives me a better understanding of the causes of certain interpersonal issues, which is nifty. Perhaps more importantly, it enables me to be kinder to myself. I need things that other people may not need. That’s just the way it is. The ideal person to ensure that I get those things is me. It’s a damn sight harder to look after myself if I ignore my own needs.
  2. Explaining to people why what works for them might not work for me. Most people assume that their experience is universal, and many will fight you to the death if you try and convince them otherwise. Being able to say stuff like “that type of motivation doesn’t work for me because I have ADHD” tends to cut down on a lot of crap.

I find labels less useful for:

  1. Self-limitation. “I might as well not try to do X, because I have ADHD” isn’t terribly useful to me. I could think in those terms, but I choose not to. The line of thinking I favour is “how can I help myself do X, taking the ADHD into account?”
  2. Emotionally blackmailing others. There is a line between arranging a mutually comfortable middle ground between myself and others, and demanding that they ignore their own needs because my neurodivergence demands it. It ain’t even that fine a line. I don’t want to be that person.


That ain’t even real!

None of my diagnoses are official. I picked one up entirely by accident; I was tutoring students with learning difficulties, I asked a couple of odd questions on some topics, my supervisor grew suspicious and ran a couple of tests, and – hey, presto! – dyslexia. My ADHD diagnosis is from a professional self-assessment test, but I’ve not bothered getting it formalised by a medical professional. I could probably insist on getting some official tests, but my life doesn’t require that. And – and this is the important bit – the lack of a professional seal on my diagnoses doesn’t make them less valid or less useful.

Official diagnoses, particularly those coming from schools, tend to be a reflection of the results of the impact of an issue – not of the impact of the issue on the person, but on how it affects their performance. Little Billy is struggling to learn to write, the school runs a few tests, and it turns out he’s got dyslexia. Little Bobby also has dyslexia, but his grades aren’t affected enough for anyone to notice. Maybe he lucked out and he managed to pick up enough workarounds (thank you, cursive). Maybe his parents force him to work on his homework until it’s perfect, so he’s exhausted and desperate but making reasonable grades. He still has dyslexia. He’s still working harder than his classmates, because he has to manage the work and the workarounds. He still has the superpowers dyslexia gives him. He could still benefit from knowing that he sees the world in a slightly different way. And, whether he gets a diagnosis or not, his dyslexia is just as valid as Billy’s.

I appreciate that official diagnoses are extremely important when trying to get help. I appreciate that self-diagnosing is fraught with dangers, particularly if one is of an anxious disposition. But I still wish the gatekeeping on this issue would die in a car fire.


You would say that?

A million years ago, when I was taught how to teach people with learning difficulties, I was told that I couldn’t say that someone was dyslexic. I had to say that “they have dyslexia,” because “they were more than their disability.” While I appreciate the intentions behind that kind of effort, I think they are ultimately rooted in the problem they’re allegedly fighting against.

I am dyslexic. I do not “have dyslexia,” because my dyslexia isn’t a disease. Those kind people banging on about how “I’m more than my dyslexia” can fold their banners up neatly and stow them, because duh. Of course I’m more than my dyslexia; but it is a part of me, a vital component of the way in which I interact with the world. It’s not going to go away, and I would not want it to. If you took my dyslexia away, you wouldn’t have a better version of me; you’d have a different person. Maybe that person would be cool, but they wouldn’t be me. Furthermore, calling me “dyslexic” doesn’t make me feel less, because being dyslexic doesn’t make me less. Anyone who thinks that is coming from a position of entrenched ableism, and the problem sits with them, not me.

….but I still say that “I have ADHD” because that’s the way I’ve learnt to say it, and it rolls of the tongue more easily than saying “I am an ADHDer”. If any of y’all has got a better option, I’ll take it.

Which isn’t to say that people don’t have the right to pick their own labels, or that communities don’t have the right to fight against stigmatising labels. I am merely curious as to where the focus of our efforts went. If those terms weren’t considered offensive or limiting, using them would be a non-issue. Is banning those terms really the best way to fight against the associated discrimination?

I am starting to think along the same lines about other terms, particularly those relating to the effects of trauma. There is a big push in self-defence to stop people from labelling themselves “victims,” “damaged,” “broken,” and so forth. The idea is that such labels are self-limiting and/or manipulative, and that is probably about half right about half of the time. It ignores the fact that words can mean a lot of different things to different people, and can be used for widely different purposes.

“Weak” labels aren’t necessarily used for self-flagellation or emotional blackmail. For instance, people may call themselves “victims” because they are innocent of what happened to them, and holding onto that fact makes them feel better. The label doesn’t have to carry any connotation of permanent damage; it can merely indicate that something majorly bad happened to them, and that they weren’t at fault.

A friend of a friend commented that she labels herself as “broken” because she is aware that she has suffered and still suffers as a result of her early trauma. She lives with limitations caused by that trauma. If her abuser had broken her limbs in a way that rendered them permanently damaged, people wouldn’t begrudge her the label, right? But because it’s “all in her head,” she has to fight for it. I hadn’t considered that point of view before, and I only disagree with her because I’m painfully aware that people are assholes about physical damage, too. Chances are that she could have no working limbs left, and people would still begrudge her the way she chooses to label herself – and it would all be done for her own good, to give her more agency, because that’s totally how that works.

As for labels becoming so sticky that they become an obstacle to recovery, any label can do that. The problem is how the label is used, not the label itself. And if that’s the concern, replacing “weak” labels with epic ones is not going to help matters, so we ought to toss “survivor” right out the window.

I think we should be able to pick up and use the labels we find useful in that moment, and discard them when we no longer find them useful. This is going to sound unduly Zen, but our self isn’t a constant; why shouldn’t our labels change as we do? And, if we allow ourselves to try labels on and pick the ones that truly fit, the ones that make us better able to face the day ahead, should any third party really have any say in it?





I’ve been listening to the Odyssey at work, as one does. I’ve not read it from cover to cover since I was eight or nine – yes, it’s perfectly normal. The book was lying about the place, nobody told me that it wasn’t suitable for children, so I picked it up and read it. Although I dropped Greco-Roman mythology as soon as I discovered that there were other kinds, some of its lessons stuck with me. One of the main ones is about how varied the Greek concept of “hero” used to be.

Achilles was heroic for being able and willing to kick alllllll the ass. Odysseus was heroic for being cunning. They were both special, both admired by a whole load of people, but they were hardly similar. A whole load of other people around them were considered special for all kinds of other characteristics: strength, bravery, honesty, steadfastness, loyalty, craftsmanship, etc. Even people who seemed to be at a clear disadvantage could be special. Someone could be special for their athleticism, but they better not feel too superior to someone with a physical disability. The latter person may excel at poetry, politics, or some kickass craft that made them just as special, but in a different way. People were valued for what they could do better than other people, and their help was sought in situations where those skills were deemed useful. That’s what I got from the stories, anyway – maybe people looked at Odysseus and found him lacking for not being honest enough, or looked at Achilles and deemed him a blockhead, and the poets just left that bit out. As a child, however, I was struck by how totally different people could still be special and valued for what they could contribute, rather than being measured against a fixed standard and found wanting.

Even more interestingly, all the “superpowers” the heroes have seemed to let them down at least once. Achilles had his heel, Odysseus had an uncanny penchant for taunting one-eyed giants… They were special people, but they were also all fallible, and when they were upset they cried. A lot. Hell, if you ever want to get plastered to a Greek myth, take a swing every time someone cries.

Then there’s “300,” and the myriad of copycat movies it spawned. In these modern versions, Greek heroism is very narrow, very prescriptive, and very focused on working them abs. Heroes go out, kick as much ass as they can find, and flex a lot in the process. Nobody cries, obvs; in fact, having the emotional range of a teaspoon is pretty much the only way to be A Man (anger is, of course, not a feeling, because reasons). I find this mangling of very clearly told stories fascinating. The ideal of the Greek hero we end up with is so vastly different from the one we can gleam from the most cursory examination of actual Greek myths that it’s a whole ‘nuvver animal. I wonder how the “300” aficionados would take it if they discovered that their Greek heroes cuddled same-sex friends, wept over each other’s shoulders, and totally lost their shit in grief.

The current representations of Greek heroes speak about us, our culture, our relationship with what makes people special. Greek poets may have provided the backbone of the stories, but it is us, or at the very least our media culture, who are turning them into what they are now. It is definitely us eating them up and hailing them as The Way To Be.

I’m reminded of that glorious article about Kirk Drift, and its TL/DR version. Modern Kirk is a misogynistic uber-jerk oozing toxic masculinity, and has nothing to do with the actual Kirk in the actual episodes of the actual show. We’ve collectively made this new Kirk out of our warped vision of the old one, much as we’ve made our new Old Greek heroes. And these revisited heroes all kinda suck, which doesn’t say much about us.


A couple of years ago or thereabouts, a friend of a friend asked me a question:

“Is the source of your trauma public record?”

I told him that I didn’t know and that I’d have to think about it. I wasn’t lying: I genuinely didn’t know. What do people actually know about my past? My friends, particularly my online friends, know more than is good for them, but what about the world at large?

I’ve blogged pretty openly about some of the shit that went down in my past, and the vast majority of my fiction is not actually terribly fictional, but I’m not sure that enough of my readers have read enough of my writing to get a clear picture. I’ve also not blogged about some of the harder stuff, for the simple reason that I don’t want to. I take an interest in self-defence and I have a vagina, so I’m aware of the fact that a whole load of people assume that someone, as some point, must have attempted a forcible entry into said organ. And yeah, that’s happened, but, to be honest, those weren’t pivotal points in my life. I don’t mean to trivialise the seriousness of sexual assault; it is just that the context of my life has been such that I had more impactful things going on. (Note: that is NOT a good thing. That’s not “resilience;” that’s “fucked up.”)

That was the second part of the question, the bit that I really couldn’t work through: do I have A Trauma? Do I, really? This is a line of thinking that shines a merciless light over the inconsistencies between what I think and know about trauma, and how I apply the concept to myself. I don’t see myself as traumatised. I don’t think I have a right to that badge. Nothing ThatBad(TM) has ever happened to me. I have never been hit by a single, major event that could/should have caused me trauma <<knocks on wood>>. As for the events and situations that left a mark, they shouldn’t have. It just so happened that I occasionally got hit in my weak spots, when I didn’t see it coming, or at times when I was unusually susceptible to certain stimuli. Unfortunate, really, but not traumatic.

I would never, ever apply this line of thinking to any other human. It would never occur to me to evaluate an injury based on my perception of the seriousness of what caused it: “Yeah, well, I’m sorry, but your leg just shouldn’t be broken. No crutches for you.” It would also never occur to me to discount the impact of an injury because other, worse injuries were also present. A broken toe is a broken toe and should be attended to, even if the whole leg is smashed up. Yeah, you want to prioritise the more serious injuries, but that’s not the same as dismissing the rest of them. Rationally, I know that I’m just not looking at my situation from the right angle, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve managed to do anything about it. I’m working on it, though.

Overall, that damn question, so casually thrown, has been plaguing me. The more I think about it, the more it seems to sprouts other questions to which I also don’t have answers. That’s vexing, but it’s nowhere near as vexing as the realisation I had a few days ago: the question wasn’t meant literally. The guy in question was asking me whether I wanted to talk about the traumatic event(s) in my life – a question that, in the context of our conversation, wasn’t particularly out of place. My literal-minded ass, totally oblivious to social niceties, has been chewing over the question like a damn koan, when the dude was just being tactful. I find that hilarious.