Category Archives: The madness of Mark

I Self-Identify as a TERF

We hear a lot these days about ‘self-identification’ – the right to define yourself as whatever you feel you are and not be defined by society.  Now, in theory I am all for this; but in practice none of us exists in isolation.  We all have relationships, we all have contexts in which we exist.  There are tensions between the individual and the family; between the individual and group; between the individual and the wider society in which we all exist.

The individual ought not to be completely defined by society.  The society in which I grew up tried to define me in certain ways: that I should look a certain way (wear skirts and make-up), behave in a ‘ladylike’ manner (no swearing, no drinking pints) and aspire to a certain level (marriage and work as a teacher or nurse).  The career options for most girls were office work, factory work or the two professions I have already mentioned.  You were expected to work until marriage and if you worked after marriage, to do so part-time.  You were not expected to aspire to anything higher.

But nor do I believe that the individual has an unfettered right to self-identification; to demand that society (which is after all, other people) accept whatever they say they are and adapt itself to their needs.  And my fear is that the gender debate is heading in this direction; of saying that there are many genders and that a person should be accepted as whatever gender they say they are and called by whatever name and pronoun they wish.

Now, leaving aside the wider issues, which I’ll come to in a minute, this presupposes certain difficulties right away.  It’s hard enough to remember names at the best of times: we live in a mobile society where most of us meet new people all the time; so that to remember a variety of names and pronouns which do not correspond to our previous experience of gender, can be confusing and difficult.  To be berated if we fail adds insult to that injury: I once went to a ‘conference’ on gender where there were seven or eight of us, and to remember who wanted to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ or – god help us – ‘ze’ was beyond me.  I suspect the average person in the street wouldn’t even try.

To sum up so far: society has certain expectations, that a person will present as either male or female, and be addressed accordingly.  Some people don’t fit into those categories – or don’t look the way you’d expect their gender to look.  Some people demand the right to be treated as whatever gender (or non-gender) they say they are.

So much for the social difficulties.  Now for the relational ones: as I’ve said before, if you are in a relationship and one partner decides to self-identify as a different gender, that has implications beyond their individual rights.  It has profound implications for a marriage or long-term relationship because that relationship is effectively being expected to switch from straight to gay – or the other way round.  It may be that some people’s sexuality is fluid, and that they can make those adjustments without too much hassle.  Equally it may not.

As far as parents are concerned (I don’t speak from experience here, so feel free to argue the point) I suspect it’s less of an issue.  The parent/child relationship doesn’t depend on gender the way that a sexual relationship often does, and although there may be profound adjustments to be made it doesn’t threaten the basic relationship.

So much for relational problems.  Now to speak of wider society, and a number of issues which are emerging.  Should transgender people be able to use the public loos of their choice?  I guess where there are cubicles it might not be so important; but I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with someone who may still be physically male using a public toilet at the same time as I do.

But this is the tip of the iceberg.  Should trans women be able to join women’s groups?  Should they be able to sit in on sessions where women are discussing intimate issues such as abortion and abuse?  Would you feel comfortable with that?  I’m not sure I would.

Then there’s the thorny question of what you might call privileges gained as one gender being carried over into another (I realise I’m concentrating on M to F trans people here, but that’s where most of the problems are).  Should athletes who still have a lot of masculine musculature be allowed to compete as women?  Should men who gained certain positions at work be allowed to retain them as women?

And why is all this happening now?  Is there an element of men wanting what women have, now that women have (supposedly) equal status?  Is it womb envy?  Or can you be born in the ‘wrong body’ and if so, how?  We must be free to ask these questions, but there is a great deal of resistance to debate, particularly in what I’m going to call the trans lobby.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging, that we must accept the new status quo without question.  Well, sorry – but I never accept anything without question.  Ever.

Which leads me to my tongue-in-cheek title.  Because of course I don’t self-identify as a TERF: nobody self-identifies as a TERF because it’s like one of those irregular verbs:

‘I have doubts about the trans debate; you are prejudiced: she is Germaine Greer.’

TERF is a label used for others; hence no-one is likely to self-identify as one.  But we need to debate these issues, and we need to do it respectfully.

And we need to do it now.

Kirk out



Filed under friends and family, politics, The madness of Mark

News! News! Good News!

No, I haven’t gone all evangelical on you: I just wanted to post some news about OH’s book.  As well as being out in paperback and widely available:

…… it has just been nominated for a prize!  Yep, ‘Replicas’ is up for the James Tiptree Jr award:

So that’s all good.  I’ve finished reading it now and will post a review at some point: suffice it to say that for a person who doesn’t generally like SF, I found it surprisingly readable.  And that’s not down to the author being OH: let’s face it, there’s a lot of his stuff which I find amazingly unreadable…

So get your copy now!  Buy buy buy!

Kirk out

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Never a Crossword?

Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic.  Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.

First, the composition of the clue.  Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.)  So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other.  Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:

Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)

The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore.  Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty.  The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore.  Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.

Another feature is anagrams.  Let’s consider this one:

Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10).  Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc).  So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition.  From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree.  I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.

Another common feature is a pun.  Here’s a nice example:

Consummate marriage?  Not so (9).  In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate  as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be.  The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)

The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:

sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)

The definition could be either sluggish or home.  Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly.  If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t.  The latter is more promising.  Now to the last bit: beneath home.  The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters.  So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin.  Not a word.  Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath.  If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert.  Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.

OK here’s a couple for you to try.  Answers are below.

drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)

a supporter of mine (3-4) 

decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)

Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air.  But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end.  But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:

And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:


Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:

and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)

Kirk out

Answers to crossword clues:

nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)

pit-prop (a pun on mine)

niece  (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)

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Yes, My Other Half’s Novel is Out in Print!!!

Today’s news is that OH’s novel Replicas which came out in Kindle form a few months back, is out in print!  I haven’t actually read it yet because I can’t read books from a screen, but here’s the link:

So get yours today!  Buy buy buy!  Delivered in time for Christmas!

Oh, and I hope it’s OK to link here to the Insecure Writers’ Group, as Friday is so close to Christmas…

Kirk out

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Intelligent Design? Think Again, Guys!

A few years back I was struggling to use a gadget that was too stiff for me when another woman stopped to help.  She struggled too; then she said, ‘men design things for their own strength, don’t they?’  It brought me up short, because I’d never thought of it that way before – but she’s right.  And it set me thinking.

It’s not only ‘manly’ gear such as drills and chainsaws that this applies to (though it is annoying to have to grip a ‘hand-held’ sander with both hands in order to stop it going off on its own) – I don’t have particularly small hands for a woman, and yet I have daily struggles with objects that have presumably been designed by men without any thought taken for the 51% of us who might want to use them.

Take my thermos.  It’s one of the elegant metal ones that don’t have a breakable interior; it has no handle and is therefore presumably designed to be held in one hand.  Yet were I to try this I would risk spattering myself and the library with scalding tea.  Oh, sure, I could’ve got one of those nice pink-patterned thermon (I think that’s the correct plural; if I say thermoses OH will have a seizure) but they don’t hold enough tea for any sentient human being to sustain life.  And there’s the rub: if you want any deviation from the supposed norm you have to pay extra and get it in pink.  So that living in this world as a woman you can come to feel a little bit like Gulliver in Brobdignag.

Kirk out










Filed under friends and family, politics, The madness of Mark

Lady of the Rings

When I was getting married, my mother-in-law to be decided to give me an engagement ring.  She meant well, but I really didn’t want an engagement ring because we’d never actually got engaged so, although I was very pleased with the plain gold wedding band, I didn’t like the engagement ring with the huge rock on it, and pretty soon I broke it.  I think it probably lasted about three weeks.  This may have been some sort of Freudian slip on my part, or it may just have been that I am about as delicate as an elephant and don’t deal very well with fragile things.  Give me something robust – something that can stand up for itself.  Give me things that will put up a fight.  I can’t be doing with the fiddly, the filigree or the frangible.  Give me solid.

So my mother-in-law, who was probably quite upset by my trashing of her family heirloom, gave me another ring – this time much smaller and neater – and I promptly bashed a hole in the middle of it.  This time it wasn’t replaced: and every time I look at it I feel a stab of guilt at my clumsiness.

When I was at school I got a name for being cack-handed.  This may or may not be connected to my left-handedness in some actions, notably writing; though I was spared the torment of previous generations forced to write with the right hand.  Later in life I developed a little more poise: yoga helped, as did an increase in self-confidence.  But it’s hard to get over your early experiences, and one day when I met those ex-classmates whose idea of me was a klutz, I instantly dropped what I was holding and crashed into the table.  This of course caused a collective rolling of the eyes – a reaction which at my school passed for an uproar.

It’s hard to get out of dynamics which have been laid down in early life.

Speaking of rings, it has come to my attention that George R R Martin (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) was born with only one R.  Do you think he might be trying to ape Tolkein?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out


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Was Petunia Dursley Grendel’s Mother?

I was packing up books yesterday and I came across an edition of Beowulf which I’d bought for Thing last Christmas.  It’s very hard to find presents for someone whose only hobbies are drinking coffee and listening to the radio and who already has more coffee-grinders, cafetieres and radios than any human being has a right to.  So what to get?  I ask.

Oh, don’t bother, he grumbles.  Don’t get me anything.

But I want to!  What shall I get you?

OK then a book.  If you must, he whines ungraciously.  Thanks darling….  But what book?  Aha! I thought when I came across Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic, Beowulf.  This’ll do.  And so I bore it home in triumph and proceeded to wrap it.  But wait!  First it must be inscribed.  ‘To my darling Thing on the occasion of Christmas 2015’?

No!  No, that won’t do at all.  So what I wrote was this:

‘What mysserable gyt was that

who nolde that his wyf

ne bochte hym no thynge for Christemasse?’

Which, translated roughly, means:

What miserable git was that who didn’t want his wife to buy him anything for Christmas?

But, since I know my Anglo-Saxon is basically a collection of half-remembered syllables; and since I also know that Thing can’t stop himself correcting other people’s linguistic mistakes, I also added:

‘If you would your fortunes waxen

don’t correct my Anglo-Saxon.’

You know the phrase, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’?  Well, I also think you don’t know what you’ve got till you start to pack it up.  It’s only then that those long-lost tomes you spent hours looking for when you had time to read them, agree to manifest themselves so that they can be put in a box and left, only to disappear once more as soon as they are unpacked again.  But life goes on and since I can’t stop myself from buying books and since the lovely glossy chunky Oxford Companion to English Literature (1999, ed Margaret Drabble) practically jumped off the shelf and into my arms and since it was only £5: reader, I bought it.  And it is wonderful.  It not only has sections on writers and books but on characters from books too.  Harry Potter isn’t in there yet because the series wasn’t finished, but I’m sure it will be in future editions, if it isn’t already.  And in addition to all that it has sections on literary theory.  I read one yesterday which usefully reminded me of how much I hate post-modernism…

Talking of Harry Potter, that brings me to a strange phenomenon.  On last night’s Mastermind, the only woman (again!) answering questions on the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, gave in answer to two questions the names Vernon Dursley and Petunia Dursley.  Now, I know that Rowling has used some classical names for characters: Argus (Filch) is Odysseus’s guard dog, for example; and Minerva (McGonagall) is the Roman goddess of wisdom – so I wondered if she’d taken the names of the Dursleys from characters in musicals.

But no – when I looked them up, I found only Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle.  Which made me wonder, why had she mentioned them?  And the best answer I’ve found is that instead of passing (in case the number of passes became an issue) she had a couple of names in readiness and used them instead.

Is that wrong?  Is it frowned upon?

I don’t know.  I’m not even sure it’s a good tactic as it has a time implication – but anyway, she won the round, though it was more for her outstanding general knowledge than the specialist subject.  29 points…

I was also surprised to discover that there have been as many female winners of Mastermind as male and that the first three winners were women.  So why aren’t there more women contenders?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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