A rose by any other name will still shank you if you pick it up wrong.

I have recently/finally managed to change my legal name. Recently, because that’s when it happened. Finally, because I’ve been wanting to do it for 4 decades. It’s been, and still is, a bureaucratic game of Jenga – you need something with your new name on it in order to get something with your new name on it in order to get something with your new name on it. That aspect of it is still A Process.

Socially, though, it’s not really been A Thing. My friends are a merry band of assholes with a perverse tendency to respect people’s personal agency, even when they don’t agree with it or don’t see the point, so the conversation has tended to go:

Me: “Yo, fuckface: this is my new name.”

Them: “Huh. I’m pro’lly gonna fuck it up some until I get used to it.”

Me: “You and me both.”

Them: “So you changing pronouns an’all?”

Me: “Nah, don’t give a fuck about that atm.”

And that was that.

I have a tendency to forget that there is a Rest Of The World, though, and that, occasionally, we are forced to interact. Cue a near-infinite number of conversations on six major themes:

  • “But I liiiike your old name!” Feel free to use it, then. I’m done with it.
  • “But why?” Because, obviously, the reason I’m doing it affects the validity of my choice. (Oddly, “because I fucking hate it,” without any further explanations, is apparently a Good Enough Reason.)
  • “I hate my name too!” Change it, then. I ain’t stopping you.
  • “This is too confusing!” Sorry?
  • “What do you want to be called, reeeelly?” A very valid question, because I would obviously have gone through a legal process and a bureaucratic nightmare just to get a new name I didn’t want to use.
  • “Your old name was better for girls.” Noted.

The advantage of being an asshole is that I find the above conversations perplexing or fascinating, rather than invalidating. None of the people who react in that manner are people whose reactions I value, so they simply do not have the power to invalidate me. They can irritate my last nerve, but that’s about it. They can call me anything they like. I reserve my right to answer or not.

Unfortunately, they are not entirely wrong. My old name IS better for girls. The new one gives no clues as to my sex or gender. Within my friends group, that doesn’t matter in the least, because we do not determine how to treat people based on their sex or gender.

Let me repeat that: we do not determine how to treat people based on their sex or gender.

It all stems from our notion that people’s genitalia, gender identity, and gender expression have no bearing on their abilities and worth as a human being. I know that it’s totally far out, but we manage to make it work.

I spend so much time inside that bubble that I forget what life is like outside. It all hit me rather rudely last week when my online/offline split became painfully obvious. In “real life,” I am a person who people barely glance at before classifying as “a small woman.” Online, I have a boy’s name (cos that’s the most common assumption) and a boy’s cartoon as a profile picture (cos I like it a lot, and I would give both tits and a kidney to look like that). Observing how much that affects how far my voice carries is seriously frying my brain.

Example: a tap broke in my house just before Christmas. Every single conversation I’ve had with plumbers about the issue (and yes, there have been several) has included me having to prove that tap was broken. I had to present a detailed list of the tap’s symptoms, as well as its history. When they turned up at my house, I had to demonstrate that I used the tap accurately. Lemme repeat: I am a 43-yr-old person, and I had to demonstrate that I know how to extract hot water from a tap. The plumbers still had to test for themselves that I wasn’t doing it wrong, and that the tap was in fact broken. Once they had scolded themselves, they took time to explain to me that the tap was not in fact working, and that it was A Problem.

It pissed me off, but it didn’t surprise me, for the simple fact that that’s how it almost always goes. I am small, squeaky, and (presumably – people don’t check) I have a vagina, so I obviously don’t know anything about home repairs, cars, chainsaws, self-defence, technology, and anything else deemed “manly.” Men explain things to me, but men aren’t the problem: a whole bunch of people, regardless of their gender, treat my voice as less valid than that of larger, maler people. The fallout is that, whenever I want to say something, I first have to fight for my right to have an opinion.

The same used to happen online… until I changed my name. It took me a while to notice it, because the change only shows itself when I move outside of my online community, but now I can say A Thing and all I have to prove is said thing’s accuracy. Nobody disputes my right to speak. Nobody demands to know my credentials before I am allowed to speak. People fucking listen to what I’ve got to say first, and then they agree or disagree depending on whether they agree with my content or not. It’s like magic.

It’s also disgusting. I don’t know what to do about it. I have this constant urge to warn certain people as to the content of my pants to ensure that they know who/what they are talking to, because I know that the only reason they’re talking to me as if I were an adult person capable of intelligent thoughts and worthy of expressing them is that they think I’m packing a dick*.  I know that, because I still remember how they treated me when my name indicated to them that I was peenless.

I don’t want sexist assholes to treat me better because of a misapprehension; that may improve my immediate circumstances, but it doesn’t change how much shit generally sucks in the world. I want them to realise that they are being sexist assholes. I might have to rattle a few cages. Watch this space.


[*Yes, I know that a dick does not make a man. But, for the people I’m having this issue with, it does.]



[Trigger warning for just about everything. Not kidding.]

The problem with people like me is that we have more than one problem.


I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have Issues with a capital “I”: mental health, physical health, substance abuse, family difficulties, and so on and so forth. Depending on the point of view one takes, they are either doing exceptionally badly, exceptionally well, or anything in between: what you know or don’t know about their life will affect your opinion of how they are managing. The less people know about the landscape of their lives, the more they concentrate on a single aspect at the exclusion of everything else around it, and the more likely they are to judge them as “failing.” They’re failing at life. They are fuck-ups. And, one way or the other, it’s generally their own fault.

They could do this. If only they would do that. What they should do is… This kind of sentence often really brings home the cluelessness of the people spouting it. The vast majority of that advice stems from the fact that the folk in the peanut gallery believe that the problem they are gawking at is the only problem in play. They completely ignore the fact that problems often spout from, or at least are interconnected with, other problems. Because of that, the solutions offered are usually utterly impractical. That is not obvious to the people force-feeding them to near strangers.

For instance, let’s take my acquaintance “X”. X has dysphoria, clinical depression, chronic anxiety that currently prevents them from working and occasionally has them home-bound, a history of eating disorders and self-harm, chronic digestive issues, and a variety of other problems that are acute enough to affect their life (e.g., vision impairment, a learning difficulty, severe abandonment issues resulting from actual abandonment, et al.). They have recently (in their early twenties) received a tentative diagnosis of neurodivergence. Since their last crisis, when the fallout of a physical ailment kicked off a whole host of psychological issues, they had to be literally talked off a ledge by a therapist three times. Most recently, because therapy was deemed not to be making them better at a sufficient enough rate, they were cut off from it. Shockingly, that news has caused a flare-up in all their other issues. They are not doing great.

Now, the standard advice that is spouted at suicidal people is stuff along the lines of “remember the impact your death would have on your loved ones” or “forget your pain and find meaning by making yourself useful.” Problem is that X’s suicidal ideation does not exist in a vacuum. Those solutions aren’t viable solutions for them; in fact, they are profoundly anti-useful. Their family of origin has let them down badly and repeatedly, and continues to do so. If they focused on the impact of their death on them, they could very well decide that, actually, topping themselves would be a good thing, that it would finally bring their family release from having to put up with them – a sentiment their family members have often shared. At the very least, X’s death would stop them being hurt by their neglect and abuse. If X looked at their chances of helping anyone else, they might come to the same conclusion: at present, they can’t even help themselves.

In order to actually understand their situation, you’d have to look at where the shit started to hit the fan, at how their issues developed over time, and at how those issues interconnected and interconnect. Certain questions would then come up that may shed light over the problem as a whole: for instance, what type of family ignores that one of their children has a severe vision deficiency and a learning difficulty until after they have “failed” at education? What does it take for them to ignore years of eating disorders? Is encouraging a person who grew up in that kind of environment to latch onto it in moments of abject desperation really a good idea?

The more you look, the more questions pop up. Is X’s eating disorder a stand-alone problem, or a coping mechanism for their dysphoria and depression? What came first, the raging IBS or their control issues around food? Is their anxiety a mental health issue, or the appropriate reaction for a person who is currently under-resourced and over-burdened for dealing with everyday life, and acutely aware of it? Is their life fucked because they are depressed, or are they depressed because their life is fucked?

If your focus is on fixing rather than classifying, where do you start? What do you address first, the self harm or the stress and anxiety that trigger it? If there is nothing to be done in the short term to relieve the root causes of the issue, is fighting against the symptoms worthwhile, or should that time, energy, and resources go somewhere else? What do you prioritise? What do you try and change and what do you ignore? If their life ever stabilises at a level that they consider “functional,” should they stop there and call it a day, or keep pushing for “better,” risking to fuck it all up again?

I’m wired weird, and I know it, but the question I ask myself the most, is “how can I help them?” Oddly enough, the only answer I never come up with is “hey, let’s spout facile solutions at them that only underline how actually fucked up they are, because not one of them is actually practical.”

It’s not just about X. I don’t know anyone who has a problem they are struggling to manage who doesn’t also have other problems. Sometimes those problems are a cause, sometimes an effect, and sometimes they co-exist; but unmanageable problems hardly ever exist in isolation. Solutions that assume that are simply not viable.

I have never met a teenage prostitute who came from a loving, functional, supportive family. I have never met an addict who wasn’t somewhat involved in the criminal world, even if “only” at the purchasing end of things, and whose home life was unaffected by their habit. I have never met someone who was perfectly healthy in body, mind, and spirit, and just woke up one day and found themselves anorexic. Even random events leave a trace: I have never met a rape survivor who managed to put that experience in a box and leave it behind. I am sure that this kind of thing happens, because people are wonderfully varied, but, in my experience, the vast majority of people who really struggle with a thing are actually struggling with a whole host of things. Most of them started life at a disadvantage. As they went through life, the challenges they “failed” to meet heaped further disadvantages on them. If they are lucky, they manage to keep their head above water by juggling the issues they are managing, which means that they are working infinitely harder than “normal” people and still barely making it. If they are unlucky, enough of these issues hit them at the same time, and they flounder. Some of them drown.

Some of my favourite people are dead. From a certain point of view, it was their fault. They should have battled their addictions, not engaged in dangerous behaviors,  sought psychiatric help, sought better psychiatric help, and so on and so forth. They should have made better decisions. They should have led better lives. You can’t help some people.

That is what people see, from the outside. What I  see are people who try so fucking hard, every moment of every day, with scant or no support, insufficient resources, and the constant, gnawing feeling that life is a game they don’t know how to play. They know they are fucking up. They know that they could do better, and they know how they could do better, but that “could” is a hypothetical: the fact is that, right here and now, they can’t. They don’t have the resources to manage any better, and sometimes that kills them.

And, to add insult to injury, their public epitaph is an F grade on life.


Doing right wrong.

Today, the interwebs brought me a blog intended to be a conversation with Oprah re. her efforts against rape. I’m not going to link to the original article, partly because I don’t want to send traffic to it, and partly because sending off flying monkeys to attack other people’s castles isn’t part of my conflict management style. For the purpose of this exercise, all you need to know is that the article included the following comment:

“You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage – what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame – maybe that as well. Not small moments.

But Oprah; what has changed?”

I’ve got two answers to this.


First, I’m going to answer the question posed: what has changed?

We have ripped the bandaid off a festering social sore.

A lot of men who were unaware of the extent of the problem and how close to home it had hit (yes, they shouldn’t have been, but they were), now can’t hide from it.

A lot of men who were unaware that they were part of the problem now can’t hide from that.

A lot of women who thought that they were alone in their circle now know that they are not, that they can reach out to people who will understand them and support them.

A lot of women have learnt that the shame lies in being a rapist, not in being the target of rape.

Yes, this won’t help women defend themselves against the stranger who leaps at them from out of the bushes and hits them on the head with a brick. But that isn’t the most common problem most women face most often. This isn’t helping women defend themselves: it is making it less likely for them to find themselves in a situation where they have to. And yes, because the results are not immediate, they may benefit future generations more than they benefit us here and now. We get the work, other people will reap the bulk of the results. And you might see that as unfair (boo hoo) or worthless (selfish much?), but that’s how non-violent social change works. To ignore its value is to ignore how privileged we are to be here and now, in a society that is full of flaws and problems, but is infinitely better for at least a proportion of us than any of its previous incarnations. We didn’t fight for the society we have now: we have inherited it from the people who came before us and didn’t shy away from fighting battles they couldn’t “win” during their time on earth, because they saw the value in the war as a whole.


That’s half the issue. The other half is possibly even more important, and it’s something I want to say to YOU, dear reader, not to the writer of the original piece.


If someone comes at you with a reason why your efforts are wrong, why you think you’re pulling in a direction but what you’re likely achieving is its opposite, that’s what we call “constructive criticism,” which is helpful, though painful. By all means, listen to them, critically evaluate their contributions, and adjust your efforts if required. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I am talking about those people who try to tell you that what you are doing is not enough, and that the solution is either to do something else entirely or quit altogether. They might be right, in a way: their approach may be more direct, more impactful  – though, often enough, it is simply more epic, simply more in line with a white Western man’s idea of what “heroism” should look like. That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.

The problem is that you might not be able to do that other thing at all. It may be simply beyond your means and abilities. Or maybe you could do it, but not today, because today you lack those resources. Today you were going to do a thing, but it is not the thing, and, now that you’re comparing it to the thing, it looks pathetic.

STOP THERE. Seriously. That line of reasoning is fucked. It’s going to fuck you up. It’s going to fuck all of us up.

Whatever you do today that moves things in the right direction, is a move in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if the shift is so small that it can hardly be measured: it’s a shift, and shifts are incremental. The tiny thing you do tomorrow will add to the tiny thing you did today, and two tiny things add up to a less-tiny result. If you do a tiny thing every day, that’s 365 tiny things in a year: the cumulative result may be palpable.

Then there are the ripples. You did a tiny thing today. Someone saw you, or you told a friend (which, incidentally, would be TWO things you did today). That gave your friend enough of an impetus to do a tiny thing themselves, so tomorrow TWO tiny things will be done. If you carry on as you are and they follow your example, the day after four tiny things may happen, and so on, exponentially. How many tiny things does it take to build up into a big thing? I don’t know, but I do know that there are a lot of people out there. If we all did a thing, however small, I’m willing to bet that the impact would be noticeable.

One of the reasons the world is as fucked as it is is that individuals don’t bother to do the tiny things they could do, here and now. They consider their own efforts worthless, so they do nothing at all, or they spend their lives building up to The Giant Thing that they will one day do; only that day may never come, and today’s opportunity is lost forever.

Doing what you can isn’t a worthless effort, even if it doesn’t look anything like what your hero would do. The only thing that can make your impact worthless is doing nothing because you can’t do enough.

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Stand up. Some days it will be all you can do, and by virtue of that fact it will be enough.


Those are my answers. I thought they were good answers, cos they are relatively logical-sounding. I could, like, plot out some charts to expand on them. Then a friend of mine wrote something and reminded me of something that I’d forgotten: that there is more to this than logic and charts. That people actually fucking matter.

I’m going to leave you with it,  because it’s bigger and stronger than anything I could ever write on this or any other subject.

“Something really strange happened. For the first time in twenty years, when I had one of my usual nightmares about rape, in my dream I called the police! I think it’s because of the #metoo movement.

And, in my dream, the police came.”



I have a lot of friends on Facebook who have had very different lives from me and/or who do not share my thoughts and beliefs on a number of subjects. The only trait we reliably have in common is that we have very high standards as to how debates are to be carried out, which allows us to discuss extremely thorny subjects and disagree in a civil fashion. We may be uncouth in many respects, but we debate well.

On the 2nd of April 2017 one of my friends “liked” a post from one of his friends, which made said post turn up on my newsfeed. The post in question was a lengthy diatribe describing said friend’s friend’s thoughts about LGBTQIA+ people who believe that they are experiencing discrimination or victimisation because of their LGBTQIA+ status. According to said person, homophobia and transphobia just aren’t a thing anymore. Nobody cares who sleeps with whom. Nobody cares what’s in your pants. Any LGBTQIA+ person who think they are being discriminated against is deluded. What is actually happening is that they must be treating people around them badly, so the people around them treat them badly in return. Any difficulties they are experiencing must stem solely from their (mis)behavior.

That kind of statement would have pissed me off pretty much under any circumstance. I have a metric fuckton of LGBTQIA+ friends and associates. I watch them live their lives and I see the discrimination they face, both from individuals and from institutions. I see that my life is much easier than theirs for the simple reason that I pass and they don’t. Even if I didn’t have that personal information, plenty of LGBTQIA+ people are out there, speaking about their experiences. They might not all be 100% truthful and accurate 100% of the times, because they are people and sometimes people get things wrong, on purpose or by accident. However, to turn around and tell an entire community of people that they are all misinterpreting their own lives is, well, it’s kinda bigoted against them. It is pretty much doing what it claims cannot be happening: lumping all LGBTQIA+ individuals together and being openly prejudiced against them.

It gets better, though. The reason I know exactly when that post was written and liked is that it showed up on my newsfeed directly above this article about the gay purge in Chechnya. On one paragraph, I have a dude hectoring the LGBTQIA+ community about how prejudice against them just isn’t there. On the next paragraph, I get told that not only gay people are being arrested and killed by the Chechen government, but that its officials are denying the existence of said gay people:

A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the report in a statement to Interfax on Saturday, calling the article “absolute lies and disinformation.”

“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” the spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told the news agency.

“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Mr. Karimov said.

To say that the juxtaposition of the two posts got me a bit twitchy would be an understatement. The whole thing got me so pissed off that today, several months later, I’m still seething about it. Or am I?

At the time I didn’t say anything. I wanted so very badly to link the article as a response to the first post, because if that didn’t get the point across then nothing could. I didn’t feel I had a right to, though, because I hadn’t been invited into that conversation. I would have been piggybacking on my friend to disagree with his friend, and that seemed discourteous. I let a point of etiquette and my pride in my debating standards silence me on an issue that couldn’t be closer to my heart. If I’m pissed off now, I can’t even tell whether it’s at the purge, at the comment, or at my silence. It’s probably a combination of all of the above. It’s only my silence that shames me, though.

I was talking about the whole affair with a friend a few days back. I got pissed off all over again. She got pissed off too. We had a little moment of shared fury, and it made me feel good. It wasn’t just that my feelings were being mirrored: it felt good to reaffirm that I have people in my life who share my beliefs. I’m not the only person to see how fucked up this whole thing was. I’m not the only person who cares. If neither of us do or say anything about it, though, does our opinion matter?


Geek Fallacies of Bullying

A friend of mine recently experienced a rather nasty bit of overt fat shaming on a HEMA community board. Moderators handled the incident in questions swiftly and resolutely, to everyone’s satisfaction but the bully’s. As conflict resolutions go, that one was great. It sparked a conversation, however, about how unusual that kind of positive outcome is, and about how bullying in HEMA and more generally in nerd/geek communities is generally regarded, or rather disregarded. What became quickly apparent is that most of my nerdy friends have:

  1. Experienced or witnessed bullying within their communities, and
  2. Been told that the bullying didn’t count or should be disregarded or tolerated, for reasons.

In a nutshell, rather than going “OMG THIS IS AWFUL”, we found ourselves going “OMG I HAVE SEEN THIS SO OFTEN” and coming up with additional examples to add to our list. We found this worrisome and disappointing, even more so when we’ve all been told time and time again that nerds don’t bully: that’s what jocks do.

The truth of the matter is that nerd/geek communities are in the middle of a bullying epidemic that affects people both within and outside of those communities. Worse than that, they are often in denial of the problem, which prevents them from dealing with it. Which is why, after the Five Geek Social Fallacies, The Geek Social Fallacies of Sex, and the Geek Relationship Fallacies, we feel compelled to present you the Geek Fallacies of Bullying.


1. I don’t see it so it doesn’t happen.

This fallacy causes people to deny that bullying is a problem in their geek space. The two most common rationalisations for this are:

  1. “I don’t get bullied here, so nobody gets bullied here.” If it doesn’t affect me, it cannot possibly affect anyone else. My experience is universal and absolute.
  2. “I don’t see it, so it’s doesn’t exist.” I call this the “Belgians are a myth” fallacy: I have never met one, so they’re clearly unicorns and anyone talking about them is just making up stories.

Sometimes the underlying reason for that kind of experiential discrepancy is pretty obvious, if anyone cares to look. For instance, we may find that men don’t experience misogyny, white people don’t experience racism, able-bodied people don’t experience ableism, straight people don’t experience homophobia, cis people don’t experience transphobia, and powerful people don’t get picked on at all. It should not surprise anyone if someone who is not in the target group for certain problems does not experience that problem. However, this does not stop some of those unaffected people from turning around and telling those who are in that target group that they must be imagining their problems. It is the equivalent of a 6’5″ male bodybuilder insisting to his girlfriend that she can’t possibly be experiencing sexual harassment because it never happens to him, or it never happens to her while he is around. It makes little logical sense. If done deliberately, it’s also gaslighting.

When the inability to appreciate that people’s experiences can differ is combined with unquestioning belief in the good of one’s community, this denial can go even further. Carriers of this extreme form will deny that an event took place even when there were reliable witnesses or the incident is recorded. “I can’t believe it COULD happen here” or “I can’t believe one of us WOULD do that” trump the fact that it DID happen and one of us DID do that.

Sometimes the denial will take the form of an appeal to science. For instance, I have no scientific data to support my claim that there is bullying in geekdom, hence there is no valid proof of my claims, hence there is no bullying. That is not how scientific proof works, but that fact does not deter some people from using science as an excuse for their rejection of reality. Personal anecdotes, however numerous or well-documented, are entirely worthless because “the plural of anecdote is not data.” The fact that, by that metric, we should all refuse to learn anything from anyone’s personal experience, including our own, doesn’t seem to factor.


2. It’s not bullying if We do it/if it’s done at Them.

Many geeks, particularly those who grew up before geekdom gained mainstream cool, have had horrible formative experiences with bullying and ostracism. Those experiences contributed to forming their self-identity as perennial social outcasts. Regardless of how their lives have developed since those events, in their internal narrative they are always the Victims, never the Bullies.

Their victim narrative is so strong that it can lead them to believe that:

  • nothing they do can ever be bullying;
  • any behavior that upsets them, including requests to moderate their own behavior for other people’s sake, is a form of bullying.

This fallacy doesn’t just make them oblivious to the nature of their behavior and its potential impact; it also makes them extremely resistant to external corrections, however gently they are put forward. They will treat “please do not do X at me” as an act of oppression if coming from outside their community, an act of treachery if coming from within, even when X is widely regarded as a heinous behavior. This is connected to Geek Social Fallacies no. 2: friends accept me as I am, hence anyone who doesn’t tolerate everything I do is not a friend, and is rejecting and betraying all of me.

The victim narrative can be extended to the whole of a geek community, or even to Geekdom as a whole. In this extended form, this fallacy causes the carriers to believe that no geek can ever bully, and anyone accusing them of doing so is inherently evil. They will therefore automatically defend all geeks from all accusations of bullying, regardless of the availability of proof to the contrary.

The victim narrative also neatly cleaves humanity into two groups: the minority of suffering geeks vs. the majority of evil bullies. Nothing that is done to non-geeks can ever be bullying, because they ARE the bullies. At most, it can be retribution, even when it is pre-emptive. If the non-geeks respond badly to the way in which the geeks are treating them, this further proves that they were bullies all along, regardless of how justified their reaction may be.

The misogynistic variant of this fallacy stipulates that Women are never Real Nerds: they are just pretending to be, either for attention or to infiltrate and damage nerd spaces. Therefore, they deserve anything that happens to them. This can make a geek space completely toxic to women. Sometimes this fallacy affects attractive women in particular. Many nerds exist in a state of hope/despair of finding an attractive woman who shares their interests and so will drive off attractive women pre-emptively. However, women who are deemed “not attractive enough” may also come under attack, because they are letting everyone down with their unattractiveness. Regardless of any rationalisations as to why a particular woman may deserve to be mistreated, the bottom line is that Women are One Of Them, They are Evil, and They Deserve It. This attitude can be particularly heinous when sexual entitlement and sexual frustration combine, causing the affected geeks to categorise all women as iniquitous gatekeepers of their own vaginas and mistreat them accordingly.


3. It is bullying, but it’s OK because of Reasons.

This fallacy is an expansion on number 2. The carriers know that certain behaviors (e.g. defamation, insults, harassment, threats, public humiliation) are bullying behaviors, but they believe that, because they are taking place in a particular space or are being carried out by a particular person or persons, they become magically ok.

Examples of this are:

  • “It’s not real bullying if I laugh while I say it.” I can call you anything I want if I find it humorous, and if you don’t find it humorous then it’s your sense of humor that is at fault.
  • “I’ve had much worse, so this is OK.” Any behavior not as bad as the worst thing that ever happened to me must be tolerated. Those who are not suffering as much as I did are not really suffering.
  • “They are bullies, but they suffered so much in high school so it’s only fair/right for them to take it out on the normies/pretty girls/jocks.” Being awful is OK if you are just paying it forward.
  • “They’re a creep/harasser/bully/actual rapist/actual Nazi, but look at all they’ve given the community!” People who are important in the community are held to a much lower standard of behavior.
  • “They’re a creep/harasser/bully/actual rapist/actual Nazi, but it’s consistent with their chosen nerd interest so it’s obviously OK!” People who choose to portray characters who carry out bad behaviors get a pass on those behaviors at all times, in or out of costume. For instance, if your nerd interest covers a historical period when women were treated as inferior creatures, you get to treat women as inferior creatures at all times, because you are being historically accurate. By this logic, if you re-enact a plantation owner, you should get to use the “N” word with impunity, even when out of costume.
  • “Anyone who accuses the Old Guard of being toxic clearly just doesn’t understand that’s how the Old Guard is.” This generally stems from two sub-fallacies: either those who have behaved badly in the past are simply used to it and get a pass on all future bad behavior, or respect for Our Founders must trump all other considerations.
  • “It’s not real bullying if I use posh or technical words to do it.” For instance, if I call someone “a retard” that is name calling, and unacceptable, but calling them “educationally subnormal” is just making a factual statement and gets a pass. The fact that I’m saying the same thing is of no consequence.
  • Corollary: “It’s not a real threat if it’s not physical/I am not screaming/I know I can’t carry it out.” For instance, it wasn’t a real rape threat because I delivered it in writing, I didn’t use full caps, I know I don’t have the money to fly out to your city, and I’d be too scared to actually try pulling it off.


4. It’s bullying, and it’s not OK, but it’s The Way Things Are For Us.

When the community identity is tied to being a Victim or Outcast, being bullied is simply the cost of entry. “People like us” get bullied, so we must put up with bullying, even when it comes from within our community.

This can be used to justify attitudes and behaviors that are absolute no-nos in most social spaces, such as overt racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. When those behaviors take place in a nerd space, they magically morph into the natural order of things. Those at the receiving end should submit to the behaviors because, as nerds, it is their lot to suffer.

When this fallacy is turned towards those who are perceived to be Not Real Nerds, a component of victim blaming is added to the mix. For instance, the suffering of women in nerd spaces is their own fault, because they chose to enter the nerd space. What do they expect, coming into a men’s sport/hobby/martial art/profession? If they wanted somewhere safe, they should’ve taken up knitting! This can be used to justify extremely high levels of misbehavior, including sexual assaults and physical harm, because “boys will be boys” and “this is a physical activity and accidents will happen.”

An even more malignant form of this fallacy elevates being bullied to an essential formative experience for all nerds. Bullies are seen as performing a service to the community: they are helping Real Nerds grow and develop in their nerdness, while weeding out those who are Not Real Nerds. People who are bullied should be glad of the experience, because it will toughen them up or make them Real Nerds. Rather than push for an end to the behavior, they should embrace their suffering. When the fallacy becomes this pathological, all affected relationships can become abusive. When it is embraced by the whole community, that community can become extremely toxic, and help to perpetuate the abuse.


5. Don’t bring politics into our hobby.

The above statement turns up so often in any discussion of nerd misbehavior that it has become a cliche. On the surface, it sounds perfectly reasonable: people choose their hobbies because they are fun, “politics” are not fun, hence politics are spoiling those hobbies. The underlying fallacy and the ways in which it manifests, however, are far from benign. What it boils down to is that “this nerd space is a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community. Anyone who suggests otherwise is unsafe, is not welcome here, and should be ostracized.”

This fallacy encompasses a number of other Geek Fallacies, most notably Geek Social Fallacy 1: Ostracizers Are EvilGeek Social Fallacy of Sex 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about and Geek Relationship Fallacy 2: Disagreements mean we have to break up. Basically, people who raise any issues of internal misbehavior are potential ostracizers, hence evil; they are turning the situation into a social conflict, hence making it inherently worse; and they are risking the disintegration of the geek space, or even the eradication of the whole of Geekdom.

Carriers of the non-pathological form of this fallacy are extremely conflict-averse, particularly when that conflict is social. They do not trust their own ability to navigate the perilous waters of social interactions and they fear that any resulting change will be inevitably disastrous, so they seek to squash all complaints before they can wreak havoc. The validity of those complaints is of no consequence to them, because avoiding conflict takes priority over all other considerations.

Carriers of the malignant form of this fallacy are incapable of seeing any criticism as constructive, or to comprehend that whistleblowers may act out of anything other than a malicious will to destroy the geek space. Rather than ignoring complaints, they will turn on the complainants, seeking either to make them go away or, in the most extreme form, to hurt them as badly as they are trying to hurt the geek space.



As for the original Geek Social Fallacies, “each fallacy has its own set of unfortunate consequences, but frequently they become worse in interaction.” For instance, carriers of 1, 4, and 5 will react to any mentions of bullying in their nerd space with “I didn’t see it so it didn’t happen” + “If you don’t like it, you are not One Of Us” + “You are trying to damage Us, so I will damage you more/first.” They will therefore over-react to any and all complaints, however minor or reasonable, by escalating into full assault mode. The resulting all-out conflict will be seen as the fault of the complainant, obviously, because They Started It.



Widespread bullying, its denial, its defence, and the retribution against people calling it out, all combine to make a number of geek spaces incredibly toxic. The toxicity may manifest either towards all its members indiscriminately, so everyone is awful to everyone at all times for no reason, or it can be targeted against particular members of the group, who become its scapegoats. If those scapegoats are unwilling to submit themselves to that behavior, their departure from the space is seen as proof that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This dynamic manifests itself with painful regularity against women. It couldn’t be that their complaints are valid and their departure perfectly justified. No: they must have joined the nerd space purely to stir shit, and it’s just as well that they finally went away. This obviously also means that we should regard all women who approach us in the future as accomplices in this malignant vagenda against our space, and treat them accordingly right from the start.


What can I do?

It can be extremely hard to eradicate fallacies from our thinking. It can be particularly hard when we believe that, because we are aware of them, they can no longer affect us. Fallacies are slippery customers: if we believe ourselves immune to them, that’s when they can really get their teeth into us.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t all strive to modify our thoughts and feelings, or at least control our behaviors – and yes, the two things are wholly separate. I may feel extremely aggrieved against someone, for whatever reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I have to act that feeling out. I may resent the pretty girl for being pretty, for being here, for being so much like other pretty girls who spurned my affections, for just being… but that doesn’t have to translate into me being awful to her. I might not understand why a sub-community of my community insists that it is painful to them when I use certain terms… but I can still stop using those terms, because their feelings are valid even when I don’t share them.

Those of us who manage nerd spaces can help by de-normalising bullying behaviors and applying consequences against them. We have the power to decide how our spaces will operate, after all. Yes, acting on that power may cause us to lose some associates (against Geek Social Fallacies 2: Friends Accept Me As I Am, and 3: Friendship Before All). It may cause some social upheaval (against Geek Social Fallacy of Sex 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about). We may end up having to ban some people (against Geek Social Fallacy 1: Ostracizers Are Evil). However, we can remind ourselves that losing those people won’t necessarily turn our social circle into a social dot, because they are not the only people who will ever like us, or at least tolerate us (against Geek Relationship Fallacy 5: We are the only members of our species). On the contrary, making our spaces less toxic may encourage a much greater number of people to come in and stay.

Ultimately, what is really at risk here? Does anyone actually believe that it would be a bad thing if we all were to be a little bit nicer to each other, but for the wrong reasons? Is there really a risk of Geekdom falling apart through an excess of mutual consideration?


Just so y’all know, this is out as of today:

For a change, it doesn’t come with a Surgeon General’s Warning, but it’s not terribly light, either. The only trigger warnings are foul-ish language (but less than in anything I ever did before), light violence, off-camera sexual violence, unhealthy relationship dynamics, and a metric shitton of institutional oppression. So, yeah, happy holidays and all that.

Magnum Nopus

99% of the time, I hop and skip through life aware of the fact that I’m a non-standard-issue human being and perfectly comfortable with it. I can’t grok mainstream media, all of my favourite books are out of print, advertising baffles me, I zig where most people zag, and I’m cool with that. Every now and then, though, I experience such a large disconnect between the way I look at the world and the way the world is described to me that I think I’ve gone insane. Literally. I’m not being ableist here: sometimes my reactions and opinions are so widely different from that of most people that I question my sanity.

One of the situations in which I experience this more and more frequently is self-defence advertising. I’ve not run a comprehensive survey of the field, so I could be talking trash, but I’ve noticed a shift away from traditional advertising strategies. As those mostly consisted of alpha-male fantasies for the boys and scare tactics for the girls, a change ought to be a good thing. Except that this one isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

The problem isn’t what is being left behind, but what is being embraced: the shift is towards more “traditional” marketing strategies, including things like:

Forced Teaming. When the instructor pretends to share a predicament with a customer. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this. This can be done in terms of a shared fears or problems (e.g., “we all have X concern” when the victim profiles of the instructor and students are wildly different), but also shared goals for the school or system (e.g., “we need this programme to reach a wider market” when the “we” somehow magically includes the customers).

False Charm and Niceness. When the instructor is overly friendly to customers in order to gain their trust. (E.g., by faking a personal connection or interest that just isn’t there, such as asking personal questions and tuning out the answers.)

Typecasting. When the instructor uses insults to get customers to buy a product or participate in an activity they would otherwise pass up on. The customers will do something they might not want to in order to counteract the insult. (E.g., “you’re too proud/ scared/ weak/ girly/ stubborn/ insecure/ whatever to do X.”)

Loan Sharking. When the instructor pushes unsolicited freebies to customers to make them feel obligated to buy additional products. (E.g., “you know those free videos I sent you? They cost a lot to produce, but if you buy our DVDs…”)

Discounting the Word “No”. When the instructor continues to push a product regardless of the customers clear rejection. (E.g., literally any attempt to push a product when a customer has stated a clear “no”, regardless of content.)

Emotional blackmail. When the instructor makes customers feel obligated to buy into activities or products, or swamped by guilt if they resist.  (E.g., “if you don’t sign up to extra classes, we will have to let one of our instructors go”, “if you don’t attend the weekend seminar, the school will lose money.”)

Negging.  When the instructor makes a deliberate backhanded compliment to a customer to undermine their confidence and increase their need of the instructor’s approval, thereby buying into their products. (E.g., “You move pretty well for a weak/ fat/ old/ disabled/ female person”, “I love how you don’t care when you mess things up”, “Congratulations on your grading! I didn’t expect you to pass!”)


So what? Self-defence is an industry. Self-defence instruction is a product. Self-defence instructors are specialists; they have a right to make a living from their work. The strategies I listed are mentioned in many if not most marketing books (though often under cuddlier labels) because they work. Why shouldn’t instructors market their products by using tried-and-tested marketing strategies?

My problem is that these strategies turn up in other places. I cut-and-pasted the first five from the Wikipedia list of Pre-Incident Indicators from Gavin DeBecker’s “Gift of Fear.” If you Google Emotional Blackmail, you’ll be inundated with pages about domestic abuse. The seventh is a standard pick-up artist tactic. All these tactics are routinely used by predators, abusers, and creeps to gain access to and manipulate their chosen targets.

Ah, but self-defence instructors use these tactics for good! They want their customers to access products that will benefit them! They are merely appealing to their customers’ monkey brains…

…And that’s when my brain start screeching at me that I’ve gone and lost it, because, to me, that kind of statement is a nail against the chalkboard of reality.

I understand how you can sell a self-defence product by using abusive or predatory tactics, same as you’d sell a car or a telescope. You want to shift a product and these tactics facilitate that process: no problem. I’m totally with you.

I do not understand, however, how you can sell the ability to self-defend while normalising abusive and predatory tactics. You are literally training your students to fall for these traps, to treat them as benign. You are rewarding their failure to pick up on them, or to notice them but go along regardless. You might be preaching about the evils of loan sharking in a class, but if you got your students into that class by loan sharking the ever-loving shit out of them, what do you think is actually going to get through, your words or your actions? And considering how many self-defence students are past or current targets of domestic abuse… No. Just no. You cannot teach them to defend themselves against their abusers by embracing their abusers’ tactics. It just can’t be done.

The correct answer to emotional blackmail, negging, discounting “no”, loan sharking, typecasting, false charm, and false teaming is “fuck off”, or permutations thereof. If you are making your students rep any other answer, you are making them rep failure.*

I don’t care what your motivations are: what you are doing is actively diminishing your students’ ability to self-protect. I don’t believe that your class content, however good it may be, could ever make up for that.

At the very least, if you’re going to use these techniques, call them by their names. “I emotionally blackmailed my students into joining the weekend seminar.” “I used typecasting to get them to compete.” “I loan-sharked them into buying the DVD series.” And if you cannot use those words in association with yourself, if you find them so unpalatable that you have to resort to cuddlier labels even though you know their proper names, then this mismatch ought to tell you something.


*Yes, OK, sometimes people are perfectly happy to be manipulated. However, I personally believe that they should do so consciously, and without ever discounting the fact that they are dealing with a manipulator.

Little Mx Manners’ Guide to How Not To Be A Gaping Dickhole* – Interwebs Version

Those of you who know me in real life are painfully aware that the mere thought of me writing an etiquette guide to any activity involving hoomans is laughable. When they were handing out social skills I was either surreptitiously reading sci-fi under my desk, writing stories in my head, or somewhere else entirely, most likely doing something reprehensible. However, it has been brought to my attention that there are people who have this “social interaction” thing down even less than I do, which is saying something. The attention-bringing was brought by a veritable plethora of people who got their ass slung out of my page for not only behaving horribly in the first place, but doubling down on their shit when I called them on it.

This brief list of guidelines aims to bridge the gap between people’s social skills and the standard of behavior that won’t get them into trouble in the more manicured parts of the interwebs. Hell, if everyone made a good-faith effort to follow these guidelines, maybe the interwebs wouldn’t be the repugnant cesspit that they so often are.

Mostly, though, this is a warning: pull this shit on my page and I won’t give you a second chance to do so.

Don’t say something over the interwebs that you wouldn’t say to that person in real life. There are notable exceptions to this rule, e.g. messaging your stalker ex to tell them to stop getting in touch so you can report their sorry asses to the police, coming out to your extended conservative Christian family, etc. By and large, though, if you wouldn’t open your mouth and let those words fall out of it when in the presence of a person, you most likely don’t want to let your hands type it, either. The interwebs grant us a huge degree of impersonality, sometimes even the illusion of anonimity, but there is an actual human being at the other end of all your interactions. If you are more of a dickhole long-distance than you would be in person, you might want to have a good think about why that is. If you’re generally abusive to people this rule won’t help you, but I don’t think there’s any helping you anyway.

Conversations have a topic and a tone; heed them or go play elsewhere. Conversing with people is a cooperative effort: two or more individuals decide to engage in a mutual exchange of information according to mutually agreed behavioral standards. If you barge into a conversation about cupcakes to discuss eclairs, you’re being a jackass. It doesn’t matter that you know that eclairs are the real desserts: they are not what the people engaging in that conversation are talking about. If you barge into a conversation that is being carried out according to certain standards (e.g. no swearing, short comments only, start every comment with “as the oracle foretold”, whatever) and you breach those standards, you are also being a jackass. If you barge into a conversation and demand that the topic or tone be changed to suit you, guess what? Jackass, again. You are always free to start your own conversations on your chosen topics and run them according to your preferred standards. If you can’t do that because nobody ever joins them, yeah, well, maybe it’s because they think you’re a jackass.

A gentleperson’s home is their castle, even when that castle is virtual. Here I’m assuming that I’m talking to people who are aware of the basic principles of decorum when one goes visiting with someone or enters a public establishment. Carrying those principles across to virtual locales would go a long way towards turning the interweb into livable spaces. Would you stand in the middle of someone’s living room and scream abuse at their partner? If not, don’t do it on their FB page. Would you walk into a church and scream that god is dead? If not, don’t do it on a church forum. Would you put up a sign to your store on someone’s balcony without their consent? If not, don’t use their pages to push your product. And so on, and so forth. There are obvious limits to this: would you stand in the middle of your home, beat the crap out of your partner, and expect third parties not to have something to say about it? Would you display a nazi flag on your balcony and not expect your neighbours to give you the stink eye? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And if you are one of those people who demand that all such limits should be tightly defined, justified, and copied in triplicate or they don’t count, I refer you to the above paragraph: you’re rule-lawyering yourself into jackassdom.

Don’t expect free passes just because you’re in a virtual setting. If you know that screaming abuse at someone’s partner in their living room would get you thrown out of their house, there is no earthly reason to be surprised when doing the same on their page gets you thrown out of there. And if it gets you thrown out of their lives, that shouldn’t come as a shock, either. Your virtual interactions are as real as all others, and can carry real repercussions.

Don’t yuck someone’s yum. Remember that kid in school who never got invited anywhere because they’d always find fault with whatever it was people were enjoying? That kid who, when you got an A- on a test, would ask you what you got wrong? That kid who would celebrate your new shoes by reminding you that they’d get scuffed in no time? That kid whose bike was newer, whose mom baked better cakes, whose dad drove a bigger car? That kid who was going to have a real Laserquest party, not just play with squirtguns in the garden like you are doing, I mean, seriously, this is all you’ve got for us to do and we should pretend we like it? When you wade into a conversation where people are enthusing over something just to vent your negative opinion of it, you are That Kid. Disagreeing on matters of taste isn’t the same as providing factual, useful information about an issue (e.g. “if you bought X model car you need to get it checked at a garage because there’s been as safety recall). Your tastes and standards are utterly subjective and no more significant than those of any other person. You don’t get to decide what is “good” and what is “bad”, only what you like or don’t like. And if you believe that your need to ventilate your negative opinion trumps people momentary happiness, please bear in mind that kids only ever went to That Kid’s party because it was at Laserquest.

Don’t yum someone’s yuck. Someone doesn’t like something in their life: their job, their partner, their family, their body, the pudding they get at lunch, whatever. You might think they should like those things, and that’s your prerogative, but telling them so is not a great idea. Aside from the fact that you’re deciding what they should and shouldn’t like without access to all the information they have (maybe they are supertasters; maybe their stepmother is a Klingon and they don’t want to out her), your preaching won’t make them like those things any more. If there is any change at all, is that they’ll like you less. Which doesn’t meant that you’re obliged to listen to people moan about the same thing on repeat, particularly if it’s something they could change but don’t.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with any sentence containing the word “just”. I don’t care what the problem is and I don’t care what your knowledge of the issue is. If you feel remotely tempted to stick a “just” in your response, stop and consider what that word implies about your attitude, and how it would feel if you were at the receiving end.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem by saying that you don’t have that problem. Aside from the fact that in that context nobody cares, it looks like gloating at best, a gross deficiency in empathy at worst. And if you don’t see how that’s a problem, I’m be happy to diagnose you long-distance with the latter.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with uninformed advice. People don’t need to waste time reading crap, even when it’s your artisanal, organically-grown crap. People definitely don’t need to waste time reading crap when they are busy dealing with an actual problem. People also don’t need to get hurt because you decided that your need to look or feel all-knowing was more important than their need for informed guidance.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with advice you gleamed from Wikipedia. In real life you might interact with people who do not have access to the internet and are struggling to find out the answer to something readily accessible (true story: when kiwis first appeared in shops back home, my mother didn’t know what parts of them were edible). But when you are on the interwebs, you can assume that the people you meet there are also on the interwebs. If their problem could be solved by an answer that comes up on the first page of a google search, they would no longer have a problem. Give them some damn credit.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. But if you’ve just stepped on someone’s toes, intentionally or not, and you want to continue having any kind of relationship with them, you might want to learn to use it.


*It has been brought to my attention that dickholes don’t gape (see comments). I was using it as I use “pie hole”, as in “the hole in which you stick a pie”. As ever, I am for my writing to be non-orifice-specific.


A few weeks ago I met someone who’s never been broken. It was a novel experience; most of the time I tend to naturally attract and be attracted to people who have been broken and came through it. In fact, although that’s by no means my only criteria for determining whether I want to get to know somebody, it’s in there. It’s an unspoken, unconscious (or semi-conscious) question I ponder when meeting a new person: were they broken? How and how well did they get fixed?

I always thought in the past that people who’ve never been broken weren’t really my jam. There are valid, logical reasons for this, first and foremost the fact that it can be so hard to communicate with them. You do or say something they don’t grok, and you have to explain your reasons. Then you have to actually explain your reasons – as in, you have to explain the formation and meaning of your reasons, the reasons why your reasons are as they are. Then you have to explain it all over again, because most of the time whatever it is you said ran full tilt into a paradigm wall and bounced right back. Those times when something makes it through, it often ends up hurting them. People don’t like to be shown that the world is uglier than they thought. I don’t like to be the bringer of pain to people who don’t deserve it, or to feel like a freak at a show. All in all, it’s easier to stick with your own.

This guy, though (this isn’t a romance, btw; the dude just happens to be a guy), seems to be different from the “normies” I’ve met in the past. He’s not oblivious; ugly things don’t happen around him without him noticing. He’s not so timid that trouble can’t find him. He just got lucky, I guess: he happened to grow up in a place that valued his individuality and nurtured his talents, a place that offered him challenges and the resources to meet them at a matched pace. He can do at least as much as I can, though our fields of expertise differ, but the critical issue is that the way he developed his talents is completely different from mine. He built himself by gradually taking on greater and greater challenges that allowed him to develop at a pace that didn’t injure him. I mostly got thrown off high places and had to learn to land.

I guess it comes down to helplessness; there ought to be a better word for it, though, something more epic-sounding, with more teeth in it. We all face gaps between what we have to deal with and what we can do, and there is a level of helplessness in each of them. The situations I’m talking about are when those gaps are so immense that the experience we go through is qualitatively different. It’s not just like being a little bit helpless, but more of it: it’s a whole different creature. And it’s carnivorous.

Being forcibly thrown so far from your comfort zone that you can’t ever remember where you left it is transformative, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of my favourite people had something like that happen to them, and in some ways it made them better; provided that the changes they went through meet your idea of “better”, that is.

For instance, I can take a metaphorical hit and get up. I can do that remarkably well. I am perennially aware that there are hits I wouldn’t get up from, that there are ways in which I can be broken beyond repair, mangled beyond recognition. I also know that I can take your garden-variety hit, though, and I can get back up. I have historical data to prove that. That unbroken guy I met doesn’t have that. Maybe he couldn’t take a hit like I can. Maybe he’d take longer to get better, because he doesn’t have the scar tissue to numb the impact, the familiarity with pain, a set of learnt reflexes leading him towards recovery. He just doesn’t have my mileage.

He’s got something I don’t have, though: the awareness of what “good” feels like. He knows how he feels when things are good. This is going to sound like a nothing kinda thing, but it isn’t: as far as I’m concerned, it’s an almost supernatural ability. He knows what “good” feels like without having to think about it, and he can use that to orient himself and guide his actions. When something feels ungood, he instinctively moves away from it. When he finds himself feeling ungood, he knows in which direction he needs to travel to get back to feeling good. He doesn’t have to think about any of this: he just does it.

I don’t. I don’t know what good feels like. I was talking to my coach a wee while ago and she asked me to go back to a time or place when things were good, body and mind – not “good enough”, but actually “good”. That, for me, means the time before I was two and half years old, three at a push. My head was a mess from kindergarten all the way into my early twenties, I had my first spinal fracture when I was 18. Events have happened at me all the way through. The only time I’ve actually felt all-round good was spent playing under the living room table of my babysitter while she was cooking, and that was four decades ago.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve had a terrible life. I love what I’ve done and I love who I am. I love that I can take a hit and get up again: it makes me feel all resilient and shit. Compared to that unbroken guy, though, I feel like I’m floundering, trying to make up for a lack of awareness and instincts with sheer bloody-mindedness and maximum effort. I feel as if I’m working twice as hard as he is and still coming up short.

I’m better at taking a hit, but I am probably not half as good at avoiding that hit, because I’m not half as good at recognising when situations aren’t good enough. When I’m on the floor struggling to get up again, I have to manually find my bearings, to think my way through where I want to be. More importantly, my idea of what “good” can or should be is precisely that: a hypothetical construct. I have no real feeling for it, and no instinctual drive towards it. Sometimes I think I’m working towards it when I’m not, and that realization often comes too late.

That’s not a nothing kinda thing: that is a giant fucking issue. It’s an issue compounded by the fact that, like many if not most people, I have the tendency to gather around people who are very much like me. Most of us wouldn’t know “good” if it hit us in the face; but hey, it’d take us no time at all to shake that hit off, because that’s our superpower. Our superweakness is that, individually and collectively, we’re trying to make up a good life by trial and error. Even when we succeed it’s fucking hard work. Often enough we don’t succeed. We hit “good enough”, maybe, and don’t even know what we’re missing out.

I found this quote on a website about estranged parents forums (a bloody excellent resource on toxicity in general), and it resonates:

Non-dysfunctional people don’t stay in that environment. (…) What’s left behind are the people too broken to recognize abuse, too hungry for validation to speak up when they see their friends being abusive, too abusive to pass in a forum of healthy people.

There are toxic people out there who are toxic because toxic is all they know. To them toxicity is normal, and to move away from it is an aberration. To my unbroken friend, “good” is normal; it’s the steady state his brain is automatically set to return to. I sit not-so-happily in the middle, aware enough of toxic shit to want to avoid it but with no instinct for finding, creating, or even moving towards whatever lies at the opposite end of that spectrum. I don’t know how to rewire my brain’s compass to automatically point to “good”. As things stand, I might be seeking “good” but I’m set to “ish” at most, and I don’t know how to make that change. I don’t know if that change can be made.

Punishing #2

In the last blog I went on about how we can end up with a deep-set, subconscious belief that bad behavior results in punishment, aka bad behavior results in discomfort/pain, and therefore  discomfort/pain must result from bad behavior. In other words: if we’re suffering, we deserve it.

Here I’m going to list ways in which I see people punishing themselves and others that I think stem from that subconscious belief. I might be wrong. If you find yourself doing this kind of thing to yourself or others, though, you might wanna have a think about where it’s all coming from. And if you find yourself doing it to yourself but never to others – oh hell no! – then you definitely want to have a think, and maybe a chat with an expert in brain-unfucking.

Punishing genuine mistakes. Example: you trip while walking, so you drop your food on the floor, and then you get punished for it. I don’t care about what the punishment actually is. I don’t care about the rationalisations used to back it up. The whole thing is inherently bullshit because you didn’t trip up on purpose. There may be natural consequences to your action: people may be unwilling to replace the food you lost, and if you dirtied someone’s coat in the process you may have to pay for the dry-cleaning. However, adding extra punishment to those natural consequences is just putting the boot in. If it teaches you anything is that making mistakes is way too costly. If you wanna raise children paralysed by their own anxiety of fucking anything up, that’s one of the ways of doing it.

Punishing anything that already caused suffering. Example: you tripped and dropped your food. You have now lost your food. You are foodless. And now you’re getting punished on top of that, as if being foodless wasn’t already a punishment.

Punishing genuine mistakes that already caused suffering. This applies to the example above and makes it exponentially shittier. You didn’t trip up on purpose, you didn’t drop your food on purpose, you now have lost your food, AND someone’s laying into you because of that? Fuck that noise. Fuck it with fire.

This kind of punishment may sound like extreme and obviously bullshit, but it’s endemic in our society, though often less overt. How many people fail a test and are punished for it? How many parents or institutions bother to check whether that person failed on purpose, out of lack of interest or effort, or whether they were victims of circumstance? How many bother to check whether that person is already suffering because they really, really didn’t want to fail?

[I had this at work, for months and months. According to my boss, I was failing to meet certain performance standards, which impacted on my wage. The issue, as I saw it, is that he set those standards without having ever done the work, so they were pie in the sky. Because I don’t like to fuck shit up, however unrealistic said shit is, I was already extremely upset by the whole thing. The wage issue was an additional spray of diarrhoea on a giant, festering shitcake. However, I am also rabid and lacking a basic instinct for self-preservation, so I eventually ended up going up to my boss and telling him that either we needed to get HR involved because I was lazy and failing, or we needed to get HR involved because I was being overworked and failing. What I didn’t know at the time is that HR doesn’t necessarily stand with the person who’s in the right… but that’s another story.]

Turning a one-off mistake into a character flaw. You tripped up and dropped your food, hence you are Clumsy or Careless or a Spaz. (Before you yell at me, I went to school in the 80s. That’s what I got called, not only by my schoolmates but by my teachers. That’s what I still call myself when I don’t pay attention.) This, for many people, is a punishment in itself, but we can easily double up on it. Because you are Clumsy, we can’t possibly let you have nice things, because you’d only break them. Because you are a Spaz, if you do badly in PE we won’t bother to check if there is a valid reason for it (e.g. injury, illness), and if you do well we’ll just chalk it down to extreme good luck rather than any actual effort on your part and mark you down accordingly.

Punishing you forever. You tripped up and spilled your lunch at the age of four. You were sent to bed without dinner for doing that. Now you’re umpteen years older, but the story of your Dreadful Food Spillage and your Malignant Carelessness still gets wheeled out every time someone’s pissed off at you. The punishment didn’t close the book on your alleged misbehavior: you will pay for that mistake forever. Have fun with that.

Punishing you for finding things hard. You should be better than that, so if you’re struggling we must treat you like shit because of it, obviously. The fact that being punished for struggling can actually make you struggle more, so the behavior is inherently anti-useful, is immaterial.

[Personal example: I can’t journal. I really ought to journal because it would help with working out what impacts on my SAD, but every time I try I freak the fuck out because why am I having to monitor shit that other people just get on with every fucking day without even thinking about it? I mean, seriously, what the fuck is WRONG with me? In case you were wondering, this is next-level toxic.]

Punishing you for finding things easy. You did a thing, and you did it well, so obviously that thing is bullshit and you are bullshit and everything about you is bullshit. If it was worth doing, it would have been hard. And you dare to expect that anyone should appreciate the thing you did, or you feel self-congratulatory about it? Shame on you.

This is super fun when you combine it with punishment for finding things hard. It creates a lovely space where you can’t possibly win: if you do well, what you are doing is worthless, and if you do badly, you are worthless.


All of the above is even more fun if you do it to yourself. Walking away from your internal voices is pretty damn hard.

There is probably a bunch more fucked-up ways in which we let people use “punishment” to fuck us up, or fuck ourselves up with it. This is all I can think of right now, and frankly I’ve had enough of thinking about it and I’m going to go off and wash my brain in bleach. If you’ve got anything to add, please make free with the comments section.