Trigger Warnings

April 28, 2012 § 9 Comments

A proviso, before I write anything else – this post doesn’t come with any specific goal in mind, or an agenda beyond the broadest ‘let’s keep talking and try to make things better in a general kind of way’ – so, the usual one. With that said – trigger warnings. Shall we?

I’ve come fairly late to the concept of trigger warnings – the areas of the internet I tend to frequent (JSTOR, I’m looking at you) aren’t exactly overflowing with them. But the more I avoid my paperwork the more I read blogs recommended by friends – and the more I’ve noticed them. For the most part used, it seems, as red flags before pieces detailing assault and abuse, particularly of a sexual nature. Increasingly, perhaps (?), to point out instances of bullying and general cruelty – “trigger warning for fatphobia”etc. The condition being triggered usually left unstated – the few bloggers I’ve seen go into detail have discussed PTSD – particularly PTSD brought on by abuse.

So far, so useful – and, loving and having loved a fair few people with PTSD resulting from rape and abuse, it seems eminently sensible to signpost content that could bring on an attack. But, more than that, the words “trigger warning” call to mind something far broader and, also, even more personal. The symptoms of other conditions/states that can also be triggered by something posted by a friend or a stranger, how exceptionally varied those triggers can be, and the question of what we’re meant to do with it all?

The extremely personal – I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder when I broke down at the age of thirteen. It could be an aspect of my bipolar brain – it could be its own special thing. It’s certainly integral to my character – but a monstrous shadow side to the main event. I don’t use the word “monstrous” lightly. Having OCD doesn’t mean checking the front door is locked three times before you go out. It isn’t a funny meme you circulate, or the exclamation “I’m being so OCD!” when you catch yourself being a little anal-retentive. Like a great many people with OCD, the compulsions that manifested to “deal” with the obsessions were to do with cleaning – some of the very worst triggers anything that reminded me of just how very unclean this world is. Without years of CBT, psychotherapy and drugs, these are the symptoms that could be triggered by something as seemingly innocent as a dirty joke:

  • A continuous panic attack lasting up to forty-eight hours.
  • Washing with bleach.
  • Having to stay in the shower for several hours.
  • Not being able to leave the house for several days, due to panic and sickness.
  • Washing until my skin broke up and bled.
  • Retching, sickness and collapse from sheer disgust.
  • Gargling with soapy water.
  • Not allowing anyone to touch me (easily months at a stretch).
  • Getting rid of every item of clothing I was wearing when I was triggered.

I’m not overly fond of writing those down, and I could write plenty more – and not one of them is out of the ordinary for someone suffering from OCD – one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses. The reason for writing them down isn’t to try to throw my own special pity party – but to share the gravity of what being triggered means to someone with OCD.

 

And to share the fact that, though I am now able to control the compulsions (the obsessional nightmares are always with you, though practice has made them easier to corral), there’s probably not one person in my life who hasn’t set off my triggers. And not one social networking site – and most of the people I interact with online. From random tweets about digestive health, to details of people’s erotic practices – I’m glad people are able to share their lives without shame, but it’s not something I could even encounter in passing without the aforementioned years of CBT, psychotherapy and my lovely, lovely drugs.

Again, this isn’t to revel in self-pity – and nor is it to try to make people feel guilty. But it is to make the point that triggers are incredibly diverse – triggers that set off serious and painful symptoms. And that not one of us, no matter how kind, how empathetic, how thoughtful, is likely to get through the day without triggering someone, if we move beyond the smallest circles of those we know/know us the best. Among people I’ve known, and some I’ve loved, these have been the triggers that have set off serious symptoms: any mention of death, any mention of disease, certain (random) words, consensual sexual acts that could suggest nonconsensual acts, positive mentions of something that was personally sad (for example, prochoice writing about abortion), mentions of certain films/directors/writers/artists…if I asked you to add to the list in the comments I’m sure we’d never stop. Not once have I seen a trigger warning relating to any of these. Where’s the cut-off between ‘worth warning’ and ‘not worth warning’? By including some warnings and not others, do we tacitly condone the idea that some forms of anguish are more valid than others? But, if we tried, how could we hope to find a list extensive enough to allow us to warn everyone away from what could hurt them?

I don’t think that trigger warnings as they stand are a bad thing – knowing what being triggered has done to me, what it does to those I love, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through something similar. But I don’t believe that the discourse surrounding triggers and trigger warnings has been wide enough, has counted enough experiences – or has reached to the roots of the problem: how do we communicate in public spaces that maintain the air of the confessional box? How do we conduct quasi-private conversations when we can be heard by so many, and cause accidental pain to those listening? Ultimately, how do we explore our myriad problems, adventures and joys in a way that continues to challenge, while providing a way out for those who need it?

Personally, I’m not close to knowing. But I think every issue could stand to have a multiplicity of voices raised in discussion, so here’s mine.

A little whimsy, perchance?

April 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you know me, even a little, you’ll know that I’m easily bored. And taken to making up – well, not so much ‘tall tales’ as ‘meandering, inconsistent tales of whatever caught my eye last’.

 

So, I was avoiding my paperwork, and thinking about Tesla, and how much I miss Paris, and may have rambled on about living in the 19th century with said scientist. And the wonderful Lyman Gamberton, also knowing of my adulation of Holmes, put pen to paper.

 

like a boss

 

Episode One: “CN Holmes and Nikola Tesla VERSUS The Disapproving Victorian Pod People”

 

Episode Two: “Holmes and Tesla VERSUS The Manarchists of Montmartre.”

 

If we beg them really sincerely they may make this happen. Mr Gamberton – more procrastination, please? This world needs a little more fancy.

The beauty myth and me…

January 24, 2012 § 13 Comments

 

…or “The terror of eschewing Photoshop”.

 

I often feel like I’ve failed, somewhat, at being convincingly male because of just how hard I’ve found it to throw off expectations of idealised “feminine” beauty. Luscious hair. Pouting lips. Perfect skin. All the time – no exceptions, no flaws, no excuses. Despite knowing it for the bigoted bullshit it is. Despite not wanting to look typically female. It goes very deep. And it’s something I’ve been wrestling with since the photoshoot for Ashes and the gradual publication of the pictures (and very beautiful pictures they are too – all thanks to Robin Conway). Because we didn’t use Photoshop. I couldn’t, in good conscience, have asked Robin to use Photoshop. But seeing a real, lived-in face, rather than some smoothed-over approximation of humanity – and realising that other people are going to see it too – it’s frightened me more than I’d care to admit.

 

After several months of getting used to it, I would probably say that this is one of the best photos I have of myself. It’s just – right. And the first time I saw it the only thing I could think was: “Dear god! The acne scars! Dark circles! Incipient wrinkles! I can’t put this on an album – no one will listen if they see this face!” The sheer ludicrous sense that, on an album where I pretty much vomited up my guts for the world to see, the packaging on the outside should still be polished to the uniform blandness of what passes for attractive in the parlance of mainstream marketing.

I don’t have a particularly deep point to make with this post. Just to say that, well – it brought home to me just how much work we have to do to fight against a beauty myth that makes us feel so ugly. That I never want my future children to look at a picture of themselves and judge it, harshly, in comparison to a computer generated image of what a human being “should” look like. That people you might not expect to see themselves as ugly might well do, at least some of the time. And that I’m trying.

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How to nab yourself an intellectual in one easy step*

December 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

*Wait, sorry. Two easy steps.

 

First – become an intellectual yourself. To the library!

 

All done? Then onwards to phase two – bake some cheese scones.  Seriously. They’re like catnip to the kind of people who like to sit up late discussing the ongoing ramifications of the works of the Second Viennese School on the twin fields of  contemporary art and music – and if you’re fond of my blog I suspect you may also be fond of those kind of people. Maybe it’s how well they go with red wine and coffee. Maybe it’s the fact that they can keep you going when all you’ve been living off is red wine and coffee. Maybe it’s simply the fact that blue cheese still kind of says “I have sophisticated tastes. No, really. Look – eating mould with a smile”. Whatever it is – if you’ve found an intellectual you like, but aren’t quite ready to hit them with the multiple orgasm brownies then I highly recommend you whip up a batch of these and invite them round for a little “I’ll show you my (ongoing literature review for doctoral research) if you show me yours”.

 

You will need:

 

  • 350g self-raising flour or 350g plain flour with 3 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 85g butter (if unsalted add a pinch of salt to the recipe)
  • Herbs and spices. I like 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1 tsp dried sage. Rosemary is excellent, as are dried chilli flakes.
  • 300ml carton of buttermilk
  • 100g very strong cheddar, grated
  • 50/100g blue cheese – cambozola, gorgonzola, stilton are all good – Saint Agur is my favourite.

 

1. Preheat the oven to 220C, line a baking tray with baking parchment and clean, dry and flour a surface you don’t mind getting covered with dough.

 

2. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour/raising agents until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. You need cold fingers for this – and if you’ve never done it before then check this out.

 

3. Mix in your spices/herbs and grated cheddar.

 

4. Mix in the buttermilk by hand – you might not need to use it all – you’re looking for a soft and pliable dough, not a stiff one. Resist urge to make double entendres out of my cooking instructions.

 

5. Press out dough onto your clean, floured surface and cut into scones – use a cutter or a clean glass/mug. This recipe should yield 8-12, depending on how you press out the dough.

 

6. Transfer to baking tray and press the blue cheese into the surface of the scones. Bake for around 15 minutes.

 

 

I'll admit, not particularly appetising yet

 

 

7. Best served warm, buttered and to the strains of an “is it bickering or is it foreplay?” kind of conversation. And good luck!

 

Don't forget the candles. Sensitive eyes from all the reading, don't you know?

 

 

 

 

“Real” Names

November 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

It comes up on a fairly regular basis – and maybe it’s time for a little explanation. As is the case for nearly everything in my life, it’s neither as scandalous nor as glamorous as a lot of people assume it to be. So – “what does CN stand for?” – or its unpleasant cousin – “what’s your real name?”

 

Well, it is my real name, thank you very much, unpleasant questioners. On all my legal documents and everything I’ve put out into the world.

 

In terms of what it stands for – it doesn’t stand for anything – it is just itself. It comes from somewhere, but that’s not the same thing.

 

Again, dull dull dull – my parents gave me two names, the first of which began with C and the second of which began with N. If you were bored (or creepy) enough you could look up the relevant pages of The Times and The Telegraph for the birth/death/marriage announcements. They never suited me, and they never felt like my name. But my initials did. So I started using them more and more until it seemed ludicrous to keep a legal name that wasn’t actually my name and never had been. So I got a deed poll and that’s that.

 

I do feel lucky – because I never had to worry about choosing a name to fit my gender. One of the reasons my birth name didn’t suit is, it’s true, because it was girly and pretty and sweet – but it was only one of the reasons. I knew it wasn’t my name long before I could articulate being trans (kind of a hint, I guess). It’s probably a good thing – I only would have ended up with something horrendously over-the-top, with some kind of obscure literary/musical heritage so that I could always start up with, “Actually, I think you’ll find, my name…”

 

It has a lilting sound, looks unusual and feels good in your mouth when you say it. Make of that what you will.

The funny thing about being a musician…

September 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

…is that people think you’re cool when you’re actually not. I’m a big fan of the News Quiz. And Radio 4 in general. I just thought you should know.

The only kind of agony I care to be in

September 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

 

 

I presume it’s only eased through ridiculous quantities of macaroons. Oh, and sodomy, of course.

 

 

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