Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Techno joy

Three techno gadgets which would my improve life immeasurably:

1. A service which would automatically email me around the middle of the month, saying "Seriously, Han, you're probably not pregnant. It's okay. Why not wait a week and then freak out, for a change? And even if you were - you'd deal. You work for an abortion fund, for heaven's sake; you've got contacts."

(NB I feel it is my duty as a #prochoicefriend to note that you don't actually need contacts to get an abortion in the mainland UK. You just need a GP. And if you're from Ireland or NI, you just need one contact, and that contact is me, and you already have that one.)

2. Some technical wizardry which would detect both my relative level of exhaustion and my proximity to supermarkets. When both reached critical levels concurrently, an automatic siren would sound, and a kindly voice would say, "Love, you look like shit; while I applaud your optimism, you are not going to cook a delicious tagine, mushroom tart, or smoked cheese and new potato pie. You are going to stuff down a barely-cooked pizza down your neck before collapsing into bed. And you will feel a lot better about this if you don't spend a tenner on delicious fresh ingredients and then while away the next week watching them gently decompose."

3. I'm desperately fighting my inner consumerist, so I am not going to end this by saying 'an iphone'. I'm not, I'm not, I'm ... ye gods, keep me from ebay.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Liebster love!

Well gee, check me out: the marvellous Deb of small house, big picture blessed me with a Liebster Award, making me truly giddy with gratitude. The rules: post the award logos, answer her short questionnaire, and pass it along to two other bloggers (who must have fewer than 200 followers). Hold tight...

1. Favourite book? Damn, you couldn't start with an easier question? Is it cheating to say 'all of them'?

2. Do you read real books or ebooks? I've recently commandeered Flat Boyfriend's ipad and turned it into my ebook reader - apart from the practical reasons (lots of books in one little space! Lighter than a hardback, when I already have constant shoulder pain from carrying around so much clat! No awkward crossover period where you either have to carry two books, or end up reading the sodding Standard out of desperation!), it's amazing for getting old or out of print texts that you'd never be able to find anywhere else. I'm researching the life of Maggie Fox at the moment, and there's a wealth of primary sources available online for the princely sum of Absolutely Nothing.

That said, I have this tendency to put things I like in my mouth, and biting a not inexpensive bit of technology that technically belongs to your boyfriend's employer is not generally recommended. Neither is reading it in the bath. Plus you can't lend them to friends, or buy them in charity shops, or scribble shopping lists in the back...

3. Which art form offers you the truest expression for yourself? Ah, writing. I dabble in various other bits and bobs - knitting and drawing are just for fun, to make a thing that I want to exist in the world. Singing is very expressive emotionally, but I'm (a) not a good enough musician for it to be properly satisfying, and (b) too overly analytical for it to express everything rattling around in my head - you can't really set a 2,000 word essay on British attitudes to immigration to music. (Though I did once manage to get a line about the gender pay gap into a love song, so, there's that.)

4. Favourite genre? I'll read pretty much anything, to be honest. Not promising I'll finish it.

5. What makes you laugh? Black humour, filthy humour, and really obvious blatant sexism, weirdly enough.

6. What makes you cry? Sad stuff? Depression? And, when I'm feeling pent up and peculiar and just need a good cathartic cry, I will watch the prom episode of Buffy season 3 where they give her the award for Class Protector. Never fails.

7. What is the one thing you can't do that you'd love to be able to do? Go through life without the constant inner monologue of 'I am SUCH A DICK'.

8. If you were given an opportunity to spend one more day with a friend or family member who has passed away, what would you do? Just talk. Talk really openly and honestly with my Nana. She had a strange and difficult and fucked up life and it made her bitter and distant and I'd love to hear about it from her, if she could get past the taboos and reticence of her generation and just lay it all out there.

9. Do you write? Constantly, in my head; haltingly, in reality; painfully, when it's fiction. I haven't tried for years and the giddy vista of possibilities is both exciting and paralysingly scary.

Pass it along:

My first nominee is the delightful Maggie of Courage Doesn't Always Roar. Full disclosure: I used to babysit this pint-sized wunderkind, and like to think I played some minor part in her development into the unimaginably awesome lady she is today. She's only recently started blogging, but I have high hopes - her recent post on stigma and mental illness was extremely powerful.

Secondly, I'm gonna blow your mind and nominate a blog that has no relation to feminism whatsoever. No, not anti-racism either, nor trans issues or LGB equality or sex workers' rights or literally anything in the social justice canon. This blog: is about shoes. And dresses. And generally looking awesome. Again with the full disclosure, this lady is an old school friend of mine, but stop crying nepotism - her pictures are lickably good, her prose is witty and entertaining, and her sense of style is just breathtaking. So here you are: Lizzy of Scientist Chic.

Thank you, ladies, and happy Friday x

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Boys, girls, scripts and expectations

It was that part of the night where the non-smokers start sidling up to you and begging for alms. Flush with duty free goodies, I was doling them out like sweeties, giggling when their delicate oesophagi encountered the hardcore that is Chinese Marlboro reds. As is the way with booze-fuelled conversations, we skipped from subject to subject; I went on a particularly incoherent version of my "marriage? What the fuck is that about?" rant, demanded life histories of anyone and everyone, and, inevitably, we ended up on bisexuality. (Until fairly recently, basically everyone I was close to was either a gay lady or a straight man. Which is fine, but sometimes you just need to talk about dick, you know? With someone who isn't your mum. Thus the addition of a Heterosexual Lady Friend and a couple of comings-out of the woodwork-closet are extremely welcome.) (Vaguely-related aside: I think it may serve the revolution better if I refer to my two closest pals as Straight Best Friend and White Best Friend, respectively. That should fix things.) (I think about this too much.)

So BBFF observed that, for him, divvying up his romantic history into dudes and ladies was akin to distinguishing between blondes and brunettes: a completely arbitrary distinction. We whizzed on to another topic before I could figure out exactly why that didn't ring true for me, so, in true overthinking it fashion, I've been mulling on it for a couple of weeks and will now blog the fuck out of it.

I think it's to do with expectations, with accepted scripts. Cliff Pervocracy talks brilliantly about this with regard to poly relationships and kink: because 'kink' contains such multitudes, you can't just whack someone on the butt and hope they're into it. You might as well strap them up to a cart and put a saddle on them and hope that's what they were after. The only way to find out what they want, whether that meshes with what you want, and how you might both go about getting off is - horrors! to ask them.

Similarly, when romancing girls, the Boy Meets Girl / Boy Hits On Girl / Kissing / Touching Above The Waist / Touching Below The Waist / Waggle Penis In Vagina / Snooze plan of action doesn't apply - because no one's a boy. The simple fact of not resembling the characters in every blah blah romcom ever means that it's that much harder to fall into the well-worn path of least resistance: instead of trying to squeeze yourselves into the oddly-shaped spaces represented by Lustful Boy and Willing Girl, you have to write your own story. Like Cliff says: "There’s no conventional path-of-least-resistance way to date three people, so you have to work it out among yourselves."

Then there's the crotchy bits themselves: if we're talking about cis people, it is, generally speaking, easier to give a guy a good time. Obviously it will be better if you're paying attention, and ask questions, and make sure you're doing whatever it is that makes him feel like WOAH than the thing that will just result in a functional orgasm, but - all else being equal, going in with no knowledge of a particular chap's particular predilections, you can probably bring things to a fruitful conclusion. With a woman, it doesn't really matter what the last six girls you slept with liked: you need to know how her junk works, and to do that, you're just going to have to ask. Doing something delightful there when she wants you to do it two millimeters to the left (to the left) is probably going to be worse than useless.

I mean, it's not like it's impossible to avoid the Dominant Relationship Narratives when you're shacking up with a dude, as demonstrated by the fact that I live with a very heterosexual straight man and have yet to use our washing machine, while he quakes in fear at the prospect of using a screwdriver. (This is not a double entendre.) It's just a lot easier, when you hit a bump in the road, to reach for a pre-approved script, rather than diving into the messy and painful - and ultimately liberating - process of figuring out what it is you actually need.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Pregnancy: Battling my personal demons

And lo, here endeth the 120th episode of Hannah's Pregnancy Scares (series 3).

I have come to view these monthly fun-rides as something akin to the popular televisual behemoth Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every month (episode), I (Buffy) have to battle the terrifying prospect of unplanned pregnancy (a demon of some description). While some months this is merely a fleeting panic (run of the mill incompetent vampire), series openers and finales tend to feature some more daunting foe - a busted condom (The Master), exciting new symptoms which the internet says may denote pregnancy (Warren), or a tardy period (Adam). Some allies, such as the pill (Angel) turn on our heroine and become enemies (evil sex Angel/crippling mood swings and a complete lack of sex drive).

Episode 1, Series 1: our intrepid young warrior first encounters this deathly foe. Off falls the condom, fizz goes the spunk, 'yikes!' say the teenage fornicators. Luckily, she was on her way to the family GP anyway, and she's read her Sugar magazine and is thus armed with comprehensive knowledge of the wonders of the emergency contraceptive pill. "So I had a mishap today and need the morning after pill, and I'd also like to go on hormonal birth control," she says, briskly. Family GP gives her a sorrowful look and a twenty minute lecture on responsibility before finally doling out the goodies. Teenage Fornicators hold their respective breaths for three weeks and celebrate the late arrival of the scarlet tide with a couple of cans of bitter purloined from our heroine's mother's fridge.

Episode finale, Series 1: Have I mentioned how enthusiastically I support sex education in the Scouts? The problem is that penis-owners get a whole lot of schooling in how to put a condom on - but precious little in how to remove their rapidly detumescing member from the Shame Cave of their lady friend without said prophylactic falling off. In fairness, no one is at their most alert twenty seconds after orgasm, which is why we need to train people in the whole process, rehearse it, military-style, over and over until it's as instinctive as slapping your Oyster card on the barrier. You're not awake at 8am, but your inner autopilot knows how to get you on the tube.

Not being registered with a doctor, our jizz-filled heroine traipses to the nearest walk-in clinic, which happens to be the incredibly busy A&E department of her local hospital. (Hi, the Whittington! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN.) She's called by one doctor who asks her why she didn't just go to the chemist and buy it over the counter (BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE THIRTY POUNDS, DICKWAD). She's called by another who hands her a cup and tells her to wee in it. She's called by a third doctor who finally gives her the prescription she so craves - and doesn't ask for the cup of wee. After a two hour wait at the pharmacy, she guzzles down a superdose of exciting hormones and considers hying her ass to a nunnery.

Episode 2, which should more properly be a one-off summer special, has been covered in excruciating detail here. To insufferably quote myself:
I remember lying in a grotty flat somewhere in South London while millions of industrious spermatozoa made their intrepid way towards my cervix, with the opening credits of Look Who’s Talking playing on a loop behind my eyelids. And I was terrified.
Being in minimum wage employment by this point, our pregnancy-evading protagonist takes the executive decision to splurge a whole thirty pounds on getting emergency contraception over the counter. She calmly and confidently explains to the pharmacist what she needs. The pharmacist gasps, flusters, insists on taking her into a cupboard-like consulting room to hold her hand and tell her that she really should be more responsible and that this is actually a really big deal and that sex is not a casual thing. Through a combination of deep breaths and reminding herself that the sooner I get this damn pill, the sooner I can arrest the evil trajectory of the sperm invaders and get myself a really big egg sandwich, our heroine manages not to swear, punch the lady in the face, or say, "for fuck's sake, why is it that people always take the opportunity to lecture me on responsibility WHEN I AM DOING THE MOST RESPONSIBLE THING POSSIBLE? Would you rather I go home and cross my fingers for a month? No, you'd rather I never have sex with anyone, and I actually quite enjoy doing that, so GIVE ME THE MOTHERFUCKING PILL AND KEEP YOUR COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT OPINIONS TO YOURSELF." Admirable restraint, really.

Through a combination of stress and hormones and general freaking out, the sneaky Sacred Womyn Moon-Time hides out in the wings for an extra week, just to make us sweat. When day seven dawned without a shepherd's warning, our uterinely-challenged star took advantage of her mama's visit to beg for a £20 loan to buy a pregnancy test. The Unimaginably Excellent Mother held her 'third time lucky' daughter's hand while the latter whizzed on a stick and had the good taste to not even mention grandchildren.

Series 3, Episode 1: You guys, how much sex are people in south London having? We went to every single chemist in Elephant & Castle and it took six - six! - before we scored the very last dose of levonorgestrel to be found in the borough of Lambeth. In one of the many queues we languished in that day, I moaned about the obstructionist pharmacist you may remember from Season 2, along with Season 1's fan favourite doctors, and quite possible the very first responsibility lecturer from the very first episode of this deeply boring series. My gentleman paramour said, "Wow, you're making it sound like you do this every week."

Series 3, episode oh for fuck's sake: There was not even any reason for this one. I couldn't drink coffee for two days because it made me throw up. After Dr The Internet suggested that I was totally pregnant, I became hypersensitive to any weird symptoms my body felt like throwing at me - which, in your average week, is 'all of the weird symptoms'. Having spent three days emailing my long-suffering Heterosexual Lady Friend once an hour going BUT WHAT IF I AM, IT WOULD BE THE WORRRRST, I DO WANT KIDS BUT NOT NOW AND NOT HERE AND, OH, MY UTERUS JUST DID A WEIRD TINGLE, ARRRRGH, I am sure we'll all be very glad to welcome this morning's return of My Little Friend.

Seriously, you guys. I've been having sex with guys for ten years. That's 120 periods, 120 panics, 120 weeks of wondering 'when am I due again? WHAT IF IT WAS TODAY?'. I'm tired.

To return to our slightly tortured Buffy analogy, is there a way to defeat The Reason Evil (Pregnancy-Related Panic) Exists without resorting to abstinence or hysterectomy? Goddamn.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Things we learnt in San Francisco

1. It doesn't matter how many amazing songs there are about California, you will still have The OC theme tune in your head the entire time you're there.

2. If you were an angsty fucked up kid, and have recently been thinking about how you were an angsty fucked up kid, you do not want to watch The Perks of Being A Wallflower in public. Unless you really feel like sobbing uncontrollably in front of 298 other people plus cabin crew.

3. San Francisco really is as groovy as my inner 13-year-old had hoped, part one: Our bed was designed for a threesome.

4. San Francisco really is as groovy as my inner 13-year-old had hoped, part two: Everything is solar-powered. Everything is vegetarian. Everything is wheelchair-accessible. (It's still entirely made of hills, obviously, but damn do they make an effort - as opposed to mostly-flat London, which has about four wheelchair-accessible tube stations.)

The vegetarian thing sounds like such a minor issue, but it's amazing how much more welcome you feel when you have half the menu to choose from rather than 'omelette and chips' or 'chips'. It's analogous to other inclusivity issues: while I wouldn't claim it as an identity (it is a choice, on some level, at one time, as opposed to gender/race/sexuality/etc, which you're pretty much stuck with; not that I would suck it up and go for a bacon butty if there were no other sandwiches available but you know what I'm getting at), but the feeling of being shoved slightly to the side of the mainstream is similar. Like seeing shelves full of Great White Dudes writing about Great White Dude issues at the front of the shop, while Michelle Tea is tucked away in the Women's Section. So when you go to a lady-centric bookshop, and they have an entire Michelle Tea display, and it feels like such a relief: you don't have to work so hard, make such an effort, because what you need is right there.

That was one of the most amazing things about going to the NNAF conference last year: while most of the time you have this constant apprehension whenever the subject of your volunteering comes up, tensing yourself for backlash or glossing over exactly what it is you do unless you're sure of supportive company - you get to sit in a room full of women shouting "WE FUND ABORTION! LET'S FUND MORE ABORTIONS!". People will laugh at your misoprostol jokes and give you a free badge which says "virginity pledges break more often than condoms". Instead of wasting your energy insisting on the importance of what you do, or defending the morality of it, you can get on with supporting each other to do it better.

Speaking to friends, it seems it's a similar feeling to being in a queer-friendly space when you're used to attracting unwanted attention just for holding your girlfriend's hand, or finally being able to speak your own language after being abroad for so long you even dream in a foreign tongue.

It's one of those things that you don't even notice until the restraints are lifted: you get used to having to tailor yourself and your needs and your opinions to the expectations and demands of others, because that's what not being a hermit is about. But you forget that there are places where you can loudly celebrate the awesomeness of abortion funding - or buy every single book Michelle Tea has ever written - or have six different veggie options for breakfast even if you don't like tomatoes - until you get there. You relax a muscle you'd forgotten you'd even tensed.

5. It sure was impressive how Lincoln managed to Free The Slaves single-handedly, with no help from a single lady or black person! Oh hai.

6. Nowhere in the entire world is more beautiful than Yosemite.