Sexual Harassment? Nein Danke

I’d like to apologise to gay men for today’s post as I realise the scenario I am about to unfold is highly unlikely, but it’s the best I can do.  So here’s the thing: a while ago after Donald T***p had come out as a predatory crocodile with his talk about grabbing women by the p***y and after women the world over had called him out on normalising sexual assault, a man I happened to be talking to (a friend of a friend) began to opine that being grabbed by the genitals was a fairly minor affair.  Before the argument could get out of hand, he’d been shushed by our mutual friend and we got on with having dinner.  But later, I began to think about how one can explain how it feels to such a bloke.  How do you get this across?  Because saying, ‘imagine if a woman were to grab you by the d**k’ just doesn’t cut it.  That situation is not the same because the power relationships are not the same – and that’s exactly the point.  To grab a man by the genitals might be construed as a come-on; to grab a woman by the genitals, quite apart from being painful, is not only an assault but an assertion of power; even of possession.

So, the best I can do to convey what the Donald Trump ‘genital grab’ might be like for men, is as follows:

Imagine you work in an office where the Big Boss is gay.  He’s aggressively, flamboyantly gay and if he fancies you, you’d better watch out.  Don’t get in the lift with him, don’t bend over anywhere near him and don’t do anything that might be misconstrued as encouragement.  At all costs, avoid being in the same room with him.

Now, imagine that despite your precautions – wearing high-necked shirts and loose-fitting suits and never, ever making eye contact – the Big Guy takes a fancy to you.  He is so arrogant that he thinks because he fancies you he has a right to do something about it; so he calls you into his office so he and his colleagues can have a good look; he gets you to run errands and whenever you pass in the corridor he makes personal comments like ‘my, you’re a big boy aren’t you?’  Every day he swings by your workstation and hangs over your chair to look at your computer screen, all the while making suggestive comments.

Of course your instinct is to get the guy in a dark alleyway somewhere and deck him.  But that would be unwise; because first of all this guy is powerful.  He works out and could probably deck you first; and then you’d be out of a job.  But even if he doesn’t, he never goes anywhere without a couple of henchmen, so you’d be mad to try.  You could always change jobs of course, but chances are in every workplace your boss is going to be a horny aggressive gay guy.

So that gives you some idea of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of workplace harassment.  And once again I apologise for the analogy – but it’s the best I can do.

Kirk out

PS in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #metoo campaign someone has come up with a much better idea.  Men: don’t do anything to a woman which you wouldn’t be comfortable with another man doing to you – in prison.

That does it for me.

Quaker Blogging?

In some ways I approach this blog the way I approach a Quaker meeting.  A Quaker meeting is silent unless – and until – somebody speaks: and whilst you might think that describes just about any meeting, let me assure you there is a lot of silence.  This is because you are supposed to not only think before you speak, but speak only when you feel led to.  It’s not about saying something that’s on your mind, or coming to meeting with some things you want to get off your chest.  Speaking during meeting is called ministry, and it is supposed to be something you feel irresistibly led to say: as if it will burst out of you otherwise.  This is not a comfortable experience.  I have spoken a few times and it feels very much like somebody prodding you in the ribs until you can’t take it any more.  You are not in control of this process, it can come upon you quite unawares, and it can be nerve-wracking, even quite scary.  So that’s the first thing: speak only when prodded.

You are also supposed to subject your speech to various tests: to ask not only ‘is it true?’ but ‘is it helpful?’  We all know people who make a point of speaking the truth, but whether we find it helpful is another matter.  Kindness is another consideration and there is a fourth but I can’t remember exactly where to find it.

Why did I start on this?  Oh, yes: because I was thinking about blog posts.  I started this blog as a discipline, writing every day whether or not I had something to say – and that was good for me at that time.  But now, nearly nine years later (good god, is it nine?) I post only when I have something to say – and days or even a weeks can go by without that happening.  But do I subject these posts to the other tests?  Do I think about whether it’s kind or truthful or helpful?  Or do I think about whether it’s interesting, attention-grabbing or clever?


While I ponder that, I am getting ready to book my place at yearly meeting.  This is a national gathering of Quakers, and it will be interesting to find out the answer to my question: with thousands in the same room, will that result in more silence – or more talk?

Kirk out

Misery Loves Company but Company Does Not Love Misery

I’ve been thinking about a woman I know – let’s call her Linda.  Linda is a talented and potentially interesting woman; she is creative and has an unusual history.  But I avoid her as much as I possibly can.  Why?  Because, frankly, Linda is a misery.  Sure, she has problems: who doesn’t?  I know I have.  But Linda is unhappy.  I don’t know what has caused her to be this way: I don’t mind listening now and again, but when a person’s conversation consists of nothing but problems, compassion fatigue sets in.

Linda lives in the same town  as me, and whenever we meet she takes the opportunity to tell me how much she hates it.  I don’t hate it, and I’ve told her so: I’ve been here about six months and in that time I’ve got to know Quakers, church people, Labour party members and others on the Left; folk clubs, beer clubs and cinema clubs.  I’ve got involved with stuff: and that’s the key.  I know some people find integration harder than others, but if all you do is sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you are bound to feel miserable.  If misery is at the forefront of your mind, it will affect your interactions; and if your conversation consists of nothing but misery, other people will start to steer clear.

Yes, positive thinking has its drawbacks, though it can help; but better than positive thought is positive action.  Do something: get involved with projects, interact with people, especially those worse off than you.  There’s nothing like a visit Sound Cafe for putting my own problems into perspective; there’s nothing like hearing about refugees for helping me to value everything I have.  We all have something to be thankful for – and at the risk of sounding like ‘Thought for the Day,’ every night I think about the good things that have happened during that day.  It’s a good practice when you wake up, too…

So don’t be like Linda.  Be like Manny after he’s swallowed The Little Book of Calm:

It’s 15 minutes in.

Kirk out

What’s the Buzz

I’m reblogging this short story because I think it’s excellent

unbolt me

The day had turned out to be really nice. It was late March, or early April, I don’t remember. Who cares about calendars when the sun warms your belly so pleasantly?

I stretched and yawned. I happily glided between wakefulness and slumber. Maja’s winglets shone and lured me. And I could swear they were buzzing with a rendition of ‘Sweet Painted Lady’. I was lulled and aroused… It was getting hot, so I took cover under the leaves.

I don’t know how long I was drowsing, but I woke up because of human yells. I sighed. There’s nothing they enjoy better than making noise and mess. And they call us a plague, don’t they?

The yelling got closer and louder. The ground quaked, the bush shook. Drunk guffaws and ribaldry ripped this calm day in two like a butcher’s knife, beat the bejesus out of it. Someone brayed, ‘Jujube! Regale…

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A Plea for Respectful Debate

You may not recognise this guy, but you may have heard of Breitbart, a right-wing news site which he runs.  This guy is Milo Yiannopoulos, a Brit of Greek extraction who recently opined that trans people are a danger to women and children and a lot more besides.  My impression is that he is an immature self-publicist who says things mostly to shock; frankly I don’t want to give him any more time than I already have.  But it is an unfortunate fact that as far as trans people go, he and Germaine Greer are in the same camp, ie promoting disrespectful rather than respectful debate.  And I want to use this post as a plea for the latter; because we really need it.

There are things I decline to discuss.  I will not debate the question of whether women are equally intelligent to men; nor whether people have a right to be gay, nor whether people of other races are equal to ‘us’.  We’ve had these debates and come to a consensus; and if anyone hasn’t caught up, the arguments are all out there.  But the same cannot be said for transgender issues; and with the best will in the world, many people are genuinely baffled by this.  What does it mean to be transgender?  What are the options?  And crucially, where does it come from?  Is it, as some have suggested, a mental health problem or does the problem merely come from the prejudice of others?  If so, where does it come from?  We need to be free to ask these questions, else how can we come to an understanding?  It’s not good enough to say, as many have, that we just need to ‘accept it.’  I can’t accept something I don’t understand – at least, not fully.

What is clear to me is that previously you were defined at birth by your biology.  If you had female organs, you were female; if you had a penis, you were male.  End of – and any thoughts or feelings you might have to the contrary, had to just get into line.  Whereas now, it’s your thoughts and feelings that define you, and the body has to come into line, even if that means lopping bits of it off.

I’m not happy with either of these scenarios.  But I’m even more unhappy with the seeming impossibility of having any respectful debate on the subject, since I am often told that merely asking these questions is tantamount to denying the trans person’s right to exist.

Please comment.  But please comment respectfully.

Kirk out

Off She Went with a Trumpety-Trump…

Comedians, we are told, are finding it hard to keep up with the antics of POTUS.  What with international gaffes, vitriolic press-conferences, coercive handshakes and a positive hail of presidential edicts, it’s hard to know where to look next.  I draw some comfort, in a sense, from the thought that he is royally screwing this up by approaching the Presidency as though it were like being the CEO of some multinational.  You go in there, you shake things up, you fire everyone who disagrees with you and then you run things exactly how you want them.  As someone recently commented, Trump has to stop behaving like an absolutist monarch (comparisons have been made with Louis XIV) because a democracy is not a company, nor is it an absolutist monarchy.  There are checks and balances; there’s a judiciary, there are protocols.  You can’t just steam in there and do exactly what you want, much as you would like to.

Yet no matter how much he screws up, his fans still seem to like him.  It’s utterly baffling – and the best explanation of this I have yet heard was on the radio (sorry I’m not providing references today because I simply can’t remember where I read or heard anything, but if in doubt it’s probably either radio 4 or the Guardian).  Someone on the radio said that being a Trump supporter was like being a football fan.  You support your team because you support your team – and moreover, you don’t stop supporting them just because they screw up.  They can play abysmally, they can foul up time after time, they can incur penalty after penalty – but you don’t stop supporting them because they’re your team.  You get up in the stands and you chant ‘America First!’ Saturday after Saturday.

So that’s my thought for today.  Trump is a football team – and though it pains me to say it, he could be Leicester.  He won last year against all the odds, but this year he is royally screwing it up and heading for the bottom of the league.


Kirk out


File:Germaine Greer.jpg

Like many other women of my generation I owe Germaine Greer a great debt.  She put a lot of my life into context and helped me to understand my experiences.  I’m referring of course to ‘The Female Eunuch’ but also to other books, including one on female artists.  I’ve always held her in high esteem – but lately I’m starting to think she’s gone off on one – and I especially take issue with her comments on transgender women -‘Just because you lop off your d**k doesn’t make you a **** woman:

I find these comments unhelpful, to say the least – and far from a positive contribution to the debate.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t have a debate in the first place.  I would suggest that with transgender issues we are at the same stage now, as a society, as we were in the early ’70’s with homosexuality.  It is not now appropriate to ask someone why or how they came to be gay (though you could ask when they first knew) because these things are generally understood and accepted.  We are not at the same stage with transgender people.  Many in society are baffled and confused by what appears to be an explosion in transitioning: many people (myself included) have no idea why this is happening, what it means or where it comes from.  And so we need debate: because without debate or questioning, there is no understanding.  But here’s the problem: the party line on this is that we should not question, but accept, because the very act of questioning is construed by some as an attack on their right to exist.

Just the other day I got into a dialogue on Facebook about whether Germaine Greer should be allowed to address an International Women’s Day event in Brighton.

There are calls for her appearance to be cancelled, which seems to indicate that remarks by a person on a previous occasion, whether or not they are likely to be repeated at the event in question, can cause people to block them.  And I have a problem with this.  Hence the dialogue on Facebook, where f-to-m trans person was arguing very forcefully that Greer should not be allowed to speak, claiming that her remarks have been the cause of suicide in children before now.  This seemed a bit of a stretch to me (not to mention being hard to prove), and so I was arguing in a very restrained way that freedom of speech is important and that I am uneasy about restricting people on the basis of previous remarks.  My arguments were met with a barrage of anger, swearing and vitriol which eventually turned personal, whereupon I commented that I had tried to argue respectfully but was now leaving.  I was then told that my attempt to be respectful had failed – presumably because the very act of questioning is in itself disrespectful.  So here’s the thing – under those rules we stand on very unequal ground, because my interlocutor made no attempt whatsoever to address me respectfully.

It’s clear to me that people should not be given a platform to spout racism, sexism or any other prejudice: in any case, we have laws about that sort of thing.  But should a person be refused a platform because they have previously (even if it was only once) stated hateful opinions?  There’s a fine line here and I’m very uneasy about this.  On the one hand, I know hate speech has an effect on people because we can clearly see the rise in hate crimes since Trump and Brexit – but should the same apply to someone who has expressed certain views on trans people but is giving a talk on a completely different topic?

To be honest I can see both arguments on both sides.  But what I don’t like is being harangued because I have the temerity to disagree with a transgender person on this.  I have every right to disagree – and every right to be accorded respect, no matter how repellent they find my views.

If you have views on this I’d like to hear them.

Kirk out

La La Land – A Love Story

I could be wrong about this, but I think the last time I watched a film more than twice in the cinema was in 1971 when I went to see ‘Love Story’ three times in the same week:

I wept buckets and thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen, though years later when I watched it again I decided it was the biggest load of tripe ever.  La La Land is a kind of love story too, though in many ways it’s not so easy to write about as its appeal is somewhat nebulous.  What is clear, however, is that my admiration is shared by millions, and it has been nominated for an unprecedented number of Oscars: 12 in total – the ceremony is on 26th Feb –

I haven’t quite seen it three times yet; I went by myself last week, tried to go with my son at the weekend and then went with OH last night.  It did not disappoint on a second viewing; and as we came out I was wondering exactly how to convey my reactions.

Firstly, it’s the kind of film you can’t imagine being made any more.  I don’t just mean a musical – there have been musicals including Mama Mia, which I walked out of after ten minutes – but a musical which is neither ironical nor cheesy.  It’s quite a feat to pull off in these cynical days; and part of its appeal is that somehow the music and dance are woven almost seamlessly into the plot.  With most musicals there’s some action; then the characters pause a little, the music gets louder and you know that here comes another set-piece dance routine.  Not so with La La Land.  For a start, one of the characters is a musician, which helps weave music into the narrative.  But the film kicks off with a line of cars outside LA, stuck in a traffic jam.  Suddenly one person gets out and starts to dance and one by one all the others join him, dancing on the car bonnets, on the road, on the roofs, on the hard shoulder – everywhere.  It sounds cheesy but it’s actually hypnotic: and I think the reason people love it so much is that it’s a happy film.  It’s happy without being cheesy and it’s innocent without being naive.  It’s not a sentimental or rose-tinted love-story but neither is it dystopian or cynical: and to my mind one of its best features was that the actors are interesting rather than beautiful.  Although the woman is glamorous (increasingly so as she becomes more successful) the camera never ogles her.  She is stylish and interesting: she is not a sex object.

The plot is somewhat thin, but it’s not about the plot; it’s about our emotional engagement with the characters and their passions.  It’s about not giving up on your dream – which is something I can totally relate to as I’ve never given up on mine.  I don’t want to tell you any more about the storyline, not because of spoilers but because it’s not really important.  What matters is your engagement, exuberance and sheer – well, happiness.  And from the first moment I was hooked.

I know just enough to be able to tell that the cinematography is stunning – but not enough to tell you exactly how: if I ever get to see it with Daniel I’ll get back to you on that.  There is not a bum note anywhere – in the settings, the music, the acting, the dancing – nowhere.  It is just about damn perfect.

Go watch.  See it at the cinema because a good film deserves that.

Kirk out

Why Trump?

When I hear people expressing support for Trump – I don’t mean the rabid xenophobes, but the ordinary, otherwise relatively sane folk who think he’s ‘the best of two options’ or like him because he isn’t a politician – I feel like this.  I feel like someone whose friend has got into a relationship with an abusive partner.  I want to scream at them: ‘but can’t you see what he’s like?  Look at his previous partners!  Look at some of the things he’s said?  Why do you want to be in a relationship with him?’  And this imaginary friend says, ‘Oh, but he loves me.  He makes me feel great again.  He does just what he says he’ll do even if no-one else likes it.  He’s not a typical boyfriend.’

You can say that again.  DJT seems to know even less about the American political system than I do.  He seems to think he can run a democracy like you run a business: you steam in there, change everything, fire everyone you don’t like and issue a series of fiats.  Then when people complain you fire them.  If your fiats are against the rules, you change the rules.  There’s only one thing that matters and that is to be the boss.  No-one says NO to Donald J Trump.

Like so many abusive partners, Trump is a supreme egoist.  He cares for nothing so much as for having his own way.  And like my imaginary friend, his supporters cheer him on.  Why can’t they see it?

Kirk out

The Year of Sitting Comfortably

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

You will only recognise those words if you are a) Old Like Me or b) young and into cultural irony like my son: I continue to be amazed at how much stuff from my youth he recognises because it’s referenced in things he watches.  Anyway, are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin: because today’s post is about the lost art of storytelling – by which I mean the old oral tradition of face-to-face narration (I realise plenty of stories are being told in print or on film.  Incidentally, remind me to post a review of La La Land.  I saw it on Friday and it is beyond description, but I’ll try.)

What started me off on this was – well, first of all it was because the title came to me and secondly because there is in Loughborough library a storytelling chair.  It’s large enough for one adult and one child, and it’s decorated with ladybirds.  Lovely, I thought, just right for a parent to read to a child.  And then I discovered that it’s actually an electronic chair: you sit in it and it tells you stories – and that seemed sad to me.  It seemed alienating and distancing – and moreover, a waste of money, especially as the funds had been raised by Friends of the Library and could have been spent on an ordinary comfy chair destined for face-to-face storytelling.

One of the first TV programmes I ever watched after we got our first black-and-white set was ‘Jackanory.’  This was a storytelling programme and as with all TV programmes, sitting comfortably was a prerequisite.  Jackanory went on for years and featured famous actors and actresses reading from a book, interspersed with pictures.  It was a simple but effective format.  Nowadays we have to turn to the radio for storytelling, but once every two months I go with Ruth to a group called Telling Tales.  The Leicestershire Guild of Storytellers puts on this event in Leicester and it features a mix of traditional and modern tales from a huge variety of cultures.  Last week we had stories from India, Norway, Germany and Iran, as well as my own largely descriptive account of the garden of the vicarage where I grew up.  I love telling stories and hearing them, and it is my firm belief that we need a return to our oral traditions; to go back to face-to-face storytelling.

And poetry, of course.

Kirk out