Hell in a Handbasket: Thoughts on Order, Chaos and Control

Looking back, I’ve written a number of posts that take aim at the comments sections of online news articles. In the back of my mind, I know that the Internet is riddled with hate-spewing trolls, but I still find myself drawn to them. I guess I’m hoping for that one comment that falls under the banner of honest debate – the “Holy Grail” of comments. It can be quite fun poring through the randomness that is troll logic, but it’s also quite concerning that others will see the volume of troll posts and believe they represent a consensus; adopting their views rather than engaging with them.

When I shared a link to my John Lewis article on Twitter, a couple of fellow musicians replied. Within their short discussion, it was asserted that, when things change, people don’t feel in control; however, nobody has control – it’s just an illusion created by civilisation.

It’s funny how something as simple as a tweet can inspire complex thought. Do we really have no control over anything? Beyond our own absolute position in time and space, I don’t think so either.

Think about time in terms of order and chaos. The past, I believe, represents order. In computing terms, it’s like a file that lacks random write permissions: it can only be read from or appended to. The future, on the other hand, is chaos: a vast void of uncertainty. We have knowledge of the past to inform and help plan for this future based on probability but, morbid as it may seem, we are always aware that the future holds just one certainty: we will die at some point in the future; we just have no control over when. With this in mind, the future can be frightening.

This fear of death is not necessarily physical – one can fear a social death where inflexibility leads to irrelevance, invalidity and isolation. When non-trolls proclaim that the world’s going mad or the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, I believe what they are referring to specifically is a possible future with little to no precedent to base it on – a future they either can’t envisage or a worst case scenario. Going back briefly to the subject of gender, by replacing the long-held concept of a monochrome binary with a more colourful alternative, we are causing chaos in the form of incompatibilities with whatever we built upon it – hence the hostility over things like sports, bathrooms etc. Because we have no control over the future, those who lack the flexibility to adapt to it become defensive, fighting for their own social survival.

But remember: there are no guarantees. This worst case scenario could be one of a billion possible outcomes with equal probability. You can, however, address the incompatibilities and stack the odds in favour of a more acceptable outcome. How you do so is up to you: do you reject any responsibility and insist the other party just “deals with it”, or do you collaborate on a more inclusive solution?

The answer, I believe, lies in how far you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone; to open a dialogue you cannot control with those you perceive as a threat? It’s a gamble, but life is full of gambles.

Every once in a while, a small bet on long odds leads to a big payout.

Weighing in on John Lewis “girls and boys” clothing range

One story that’s hit the news in the past few days is that John Lewis, a British retailer, has produced a line of gender-neutral clothes for children. I don’t shop at John Lewis myself, but full respect for the move: It’s a great reaction to the growing concerns that childrens’ fashions are still rooted in anachronistic stereotypes.

The reaction in both the press and on social media has been quite off-balance. With few exceptions, the reports I’ve read have a very noticeable lean towards the negative: The Mirror and the Huffington Post are the only reports I’ve seen with any kind of balance or neutrality.

Yes, there’s been a lot of “outrage”, “backlash” and calls for a “boycott”, but it looks to me like a complete over-reaction:

  1. There was no indication of a “median” reaction so it’s unclear what proportion of people reacted positively or neutrally.
  2. With some comments, it was doubtful they’d even read (or understood) the whole story, given how many believed this was a plot to put dresses on boys. All John Lewis did was remove the gendered stereotypes and produce a range of clothes that could be worn by both boys and girls. If there was no demand from parents, there would be no supply.
  3. There were some comments stating that this would cause mental health problems in the future. These are only predictions, not facts, and they didn’t come from people with a background in mental health or child psychology. The demand for childrens’ clothing without stereotypes is relatively new, so without any case studies, the future effects cannot be predicted with any kind of accuracy.
  4. Some of the comments published came from middle-aged people who are less likely to be buying clothes for children, but more likely to hold conservative views on gender.

I’ve also noticed some of the logical fallacies at play – I’ve loved learning about these. The examples are not real quotes, but they are based on common comments and tweets:

  • Appeal to Tradition: “we’ve had gendered clothing for years and it’s never done us any harm”. While that may be true, it does not imply that non-gendered clothing must be harmful.
  • Red Herring: “But there are children starving and North Korea might be trying to nuke us”. A distraction away from the topic of discussion into something less relevant.
  • Appeal to Common Sense: “It’s common sense that boys and girls are different, therefore they need different clothes”. Yes, they are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re polar opposites.
  • Appeal to Popularity: “The majority of people won’t buy this, so why bother?”. The majority of people live on land, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit selling house-boats.
  • Appeal to Fear: “If you put your son in these clothes, they’ll get bullied and picked on”. It’s also possible that they won’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that all of this negative reaction is down to that last one: fear. More specifically, fear of change; I’ve seen this recurring in whatever social subject I research.

Change is inevitable: with every generation comes new technologies, new possibilities, new outlooks. Our children are both the workers and the customers of the future, so businesses look to them to keep pace with the competition and ensure their survival; that’s exactly what John Lewis has always done. The only way to stop change altogether is to stop everyone from having children!

This is not about giving into political correctness either because your freedom of choice remains unaffected. Billions of people worldwide have Facebook accounts, but nobody is forcing you to sign up for one; likewise, you still have a choice what you clothe your children in – nobody is saying you must buy only unisex clothing. If they retracted the line following the “outrage”, minimalising the offence caused to conservatives, that would be giving in to political correctness.

There are those who say you get more conservative and right-wing as you get older, but I can’t see that happening to me. I refuse to be one of those frightened old men, clinging on to nostalgia. Life experience gets you so far, but it doesn’t imply greater wisdom or superiority over younger people, nor does it provide an excuse to stop learning.

Children live in the now, and I think that should continue throughout your life. You can learn from the past, but you can’t live in it; you also can’t predict the future, but you can influence it.

Longing for the past or fearing the future only makes you miserable in the present.

Trying to see the real me

One of the reasons why I’ve been posting more gender-related posts over the past week is because I’ve been trying to figure out more about myself, and it’s been at the forefront of my brain a bit too much.

As I was growing up, from adolescence through to my early 20’s, I’ve been mocked or criticised for what others perceived as wrong, abnormal or unacceptable. I had no interest in sports, so was often criticised for poor-performance when school P.E. lessons forced me into playing football and rugby. The P.E. teacher even pulled me aside once and told me I must “put more effort in”.

A word often thrown at me during those years was sad. Not sad as in unhappy, but sad as in socially-inadequate or undesirable. This was 1995/96 – in the era of Oasis and Spice Girls, I was digging 70’s Prog Rock. I couldn’t help it: I just preferred music with a lot more substance so, to me, Oasis sounded boorish and lazy while the Spice Girls were mere plastic, mass-market pop. I liked Oasis a bit more around the Heathen Chemistry era (2002), but by then it was too late.

I was also not one for “going out”. I’d go to the cinema with a couple of friends, or to a concert, but that was about my limit. I certainly wasn’t going out every weekend to the places “people my age” went to – it just didn’t appeal to me, but I was made to feel like I was abnormal for thinking so. I was even told that “I wouldn’t meet anybody” if I didn’t go out. When I got home after meeting my now-wife for the very first time, my mom asked me how we’d met; I lied to avoid the “sad” stigma she applied to dating agencies.

I’ve also had two serious bouts of depression and anxiety within the past ten years:

The first time, the expectations of others was pulling me in opposite directions. My son had only just been born, and my wife was suffering with post-natal depression – while she was trying to cope with all that, I was thirty miles away at work, trying to leave my home life at the door, as was expected of me, and pushing myself to succeed. The extra money was very-much needed with an extra mouth to feed, but to get promoted required me to overcome my introversion and become more visible – as if introversion was something that could be cured or grown out of. The pressure got too much, and I just snapped.

The second time was similar too – significant pressure from work, and a home life that left little opportunity for “me time”. I felt like I was merely existing, and failing in my duties as a husband and employee. I was also having trouble sleeping with so much whooshing around my head every night. I was off work for several weeks, taking professional counselling with a more specific focus on self-esteem. It’s not easy undoing 30+ years of criticism, mocking, social-programming and bullying, but I’m trying to keep what I learned in mind.

That brings me to today. I’ve made significant progress in regards to my self-esteem and self-confidence over the past year, but I still feel as if I’m holding myself back.

One theory I have is that it has something to do with “identity”: I don’t want to take the easy route and conduct myself according to pre-packaged, or stereotypical, identities. I want to build my own, free from the confines of arbitrary characteristics such as my race, nationality, age and sex – I didn’t choose to be born in the late 70’s as a white, British male, and I don’t want to behave like one. When I walk out of the door, I want the world to see me in the analogue way my wife does, not the digital approximation that marketers or the media would say I am.

I’m also quite concerned about the obstacles I’ll face. While I’m trying to break my programming and ditch the inauthentic parts that came from social conditioning, I recognise that there are many who rely on, or are even protective of, these unwritten social norms. They’re like a comfort blanket that keeps the world clean and organised. I’d like to be very open about myself and who I am, but I get the impression that, if I do, I risk being seen as a threat rather than an individual: a threat to society, a threat to my family and even a threat to my children. I’m aware that such people will not be in a majority, and that there will be others who believe the complete opposite, but the fear of confrontation and the risk of damaging existing relationships is still very real.

A big part of me wants to say “bollocks to all that – just do it!”… but am I ready for the big reveal?

Meet Brother Hyles Part 2: Walk This Way!

Ladies, Gentlemen and everybody in-between… I am proud to present… more from Fundamentalist Christianity’s answer to Trinny and Susannah… PASTOR JACK HYLES!

In the first part, we learned that:

1. Pastor Hyles doesn’t like men with long hair
2. Pastor Hyles doesn’t like women wearing trousers
3. Pastor Hyles thinks that those who do are going to hell

I pick things up at the second part of his sermon, entitled “The Devil is using long hair on men to break down the barrier between the sexes.”

In the first part, I could respond to some of the sections quite seriously but, in the second half of the sermon, he goes way off the chart so what some of my responses lack in length, they make up for in flippancy.


Marshall McLuhan asked theoretically, “In what may seem a ludicrous statement, they are sending a message to all who will listen: ‘We are no longer afraid to display what you may call feminine. We are willing to reveal that we have feelings and weaknesses'”

Yes. We all do. It’s part and parcel of being human. We all have strengths and weaknesses, even Pastor Hyles, but we play to our strengths. I have quite a strong sense of detail and logic, but I don’t have an abundance of confidence and charisma. That’s why I work as an Analyst and not a Sales Rep.

“Well,”” somebody says, “what about Jesus? He had long hair.” You’ve got to be kidding! “Well,” you say, “in all the pictures I’ve seen of Him, He had long hair.” What kind of camera was used to take that picture? Was it a Kodak? You know where we got those pictures? We got them from sissy artist who had long hair. If I drew a picture of Jesus, He would be balding!

Nobody really knows what Jesus looked like. He may have had long hair, he may have been balding, he may have had short hair. We’re in the realms of Schrödinger’s Haircut, where Jesus has every conceivable hairstyle… even a Skullet. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong. Nil points all round.

In Asia, men hold hands. Why? They do it because pagan religion is in Asia.

No, they do so because it’s how their culture expresses friendliness – just because it translates into something else in America does not change its original context. Also, congratulations on potentially offending almost half a billion people. Have you met Boris Johnson, by any chance?

In Russia, men kiss each other on the mouth! Boy! I’d go to the electric chair first!

Again, culture. That’s another 70 million people potentially offended. I’d recommend you stay out of Russia but, given that this is 1972, you probably weren’t planning a visit.

EDIT: Hyles’ ultimate fear:

1fncps

I was watching a basketball game the other day. The announcer came on, and he was a doll! You men who cover up you ears with your hair, you’re pitiful! It just curls around so only your beautician knows! Ladies, if your boy doesn’t want to show his ears, cut them off!

So, by that logic, if the boy doesn’t want to show his doodle, that should be cut off too? Wouldn’t that make him even more of a woman? Come on, Hyles – show some consistency man!

You high school girls ought to go home tonight, take every pair of slacks you own, and destroy them. A lot of them would if you mothers would keep you noses out of their business in that respect.

Being a bit paternalistic, aren’t we? I think someone’s taking a bit too much interest in the teenage girls’ wardrobes.

Let me tell you one reason why I’m against a female wearing slacks. A female in slacks can sit like a man with one leg up on the other knee, and they do it. No female ought to sit like that!

Show me the passage in the Bible that explicitly tells women how to sit.

Go on.

There isn’t one, is there?

Thought so.

Do you know what? We ought to have more girls at this meeting on Thursday night to learn how to be gracious and feminine than we have at any other activity in this church, apart from soul winning. You mothers ought to insist that your daughters get up here and let someone teach them how to walk and sit.

In other words, you want girls to come to what is, in effect, an obedience school. You’re equating teenage girls with unruly dogs – you know that, right?

I go to Hammond Baptist High School sometimes an, even though the skirts are long enough, you can see as much when the girl sits down as you can see when a girl is wearing a miniskirt. Why? They have not been taught how to sit.

How about we teach Pastors not to look up girls’ skirts when they sit down?! No wonder rape culture is still an issue.

In this class, on Thursday nights, they have the girls bring an encyclopaedia. Do you think they study that encyclopaedia? No. They put it on their heads and the girls learn to walk like girls. (Any boy who can take three steps without dropping is not right with God!) A girl ought to know how to walk like a girl. Girls are not “one of the guys.” Don’t walk like one!

Girls are also not robots, yet it sounds like you’re training them to be one.

Walk this way! Talk this way! Hey… there’s a hit song in there somewhere…

Bugger, Aerosmith beat me to it.

(EDIT: I can access the whole of Wikipedia on my phone. With my phone on top of my head, I was able to take more than 3 steps before it fell off. So does that mean I walk like a girl? To be honest, I couldn’t give a rats arse if it does.)

You say, “Brother Hyles, I’ll just pack up and go some place where a preacher doesn’t preach like this.” Well, good! It will keep us from borrowing two and three quarters of a million dollars. You can do it, but you know that the unisex crowd is pleased with your trousers. It’s time we had an old-fashioned altar call about women wearing britches, just like we do about drinking and smoking and gambling and everything else.

And you’ll be preaching to an old-fashioned congregation that, in time, will dwindle into nothing. If the Great Commission calls on you to spread the Gospel to all corners of the earth, why are you so intent on pushing people away from it?

While I’m at it, let me just pay my respects to the women’s liberation movement. I think everyone in it is right.

Wait. WHAT?!

They’re not women; they ought to be liberated! I think they’re right; they’re not Miss or Mister or Mrs. They’re just Ms.!

Oh, you were demeaning women again. This is becoming a recurring thing.

Then you fellows, for Pete’s sake, or Harry’s sake, or anybody’s sake, don’t walk like a girl- swinging your hips and being prissy as you walk! If I walked like that, I would go down to some Texas ranch and ride the wildest Brahma bull they had. You say, “I might get thrown off!” That’s exactly what I had in mind! You say, “He might stick his horns right through my gizzard!” You’ve got my second idea too, but at least I would come back a man! I would rather my boy have a bull’s horn through his gizzard and bury him tomorrow than for him to priss across the platform like Miss America.

I could hear through the channels of history the collective relief of all the women in the congregation as he lays into the men for once.

So, basically, what you’re saying is that in order to be a REAL MAN, you have to be BRAVE… and that bravery should come in the form of RECKLESS STUPIDITY. Tell me this, if America needs REAL MEN, then why are you trying to get them to come within an inch of killing themselves just to prove that they are?!

I’m teaching grown men how to walk. I’m teaching them that a man doesn’t lean back when he walks; a man bounces when he walks and walks like he’s going somewhere. I wouldn’t have to teach them if you moms and dads would teach them when they were kids. Cut their hair! Take the make-up off of their faces! Take your dresses off their bodies! Put some blue jeans on them! Let them get in a fight every once in a while! Make boys out of them, and I won’t have to try to correct them when they grow up!

If he seriously wants men to be strong, brave, decisive and dominant – what’s he going to do when someone squares up to him, decides he’s having no more of this crap and tells Brother Hyles EXACTLY where he can stick his walking lessons!


To be honest, I’m glad I’m now at the end of that sermon. That was gruelling! Obviously, I never knew Pastor Hyles, but based on this one sermon, I don’t think I’d want to.

It sounds like he has absolutely no respect for other people, as if he seriously wants to put hard limits on their individual expression so they conduct themselves the way he wants them to – if this was any random person in the street, they’d be brushed aside or dismissed, so he claims God’s authority for himself and uses the threat of damnation to scare his congregation into conformity. Well, the less critically-thinking ones at least. The man sounds like an absolute control freak! He told the women they were behaving like men, the men they were behaving like women and the parents that they weren’t doing a good enough job – pardon my French, but I’d have stood up and told him to mind his own business and go raise his own fucking kids!

It’s worth noting that, throughout the whole sermon, Jesus was only mentioned 5 times. Four of those times were when he was slating the “sissy, long-haired, effeminate, homosexual” artists who painted pictures of Jesus with long hair. That leads me to believe that his sermon was based more on his political beliefs than his spiritual beliefs. The Jesus I read about several years ago was far more concerned about people’s hearts than their clothes.

I’d even go as far as saying he’s afraid. Very afraid. What of, I can’t be too sure. It’s a bit concerning that he spent a portion of the second part sticking his nose into girls’ wardrobes and looking up their skirts to see if they’re “sitting correctly”. And why is he so afraid of men showing even the slightest bit of effeminacy? My guess is that he’s no different from any other ultra-conservative: keep the nuclear family sacrosanct so that more people get married and have children. There’s a 50/50 chance they’ll have a boy and, if they do, buy him some toy soldiers and teach him how to be strong and tough. Got to replenish the army somehow, haven’t we? Especially as, at the time, the US had sacrificed so many families’ sons in Vietnam.

I’m sorry, but just don’t get the “fundamentalist” way of thinking. From this angle, it looks comparable to a factory farm where people are caged, confined and fed a special diet so that they emerge with the most desirable attributes. But like a battery hen, there is no chance at a full life – you’re bound by what is and isn’t written in a centuries-old collection of books because the fear of eternal torment prevents you from taking a gamble on a less-literal interpretation. When I studied the Bible, I always saw the Old Testament as the historical context for the “life manual” of the Gospels. I cannot say with any certainty that Jesus existed and the records in the Gospels are historically accurate, but even if that Jesus exists only on paper, the teachings of that literary Jesus are still highly significant and relevant today. If there is a god (again, I’m uncertain yet open-minded) and Jesus is wholly representative of that god, it gives life a much fuller purpose than the god described by Pastor Hyles.

One thing I am certain though: whether or not a Heaven is waiting for us after death, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t create one while we’re still alive.

Meet Brother Hyles Part 1: God wants REAL MEN.

I was in major need of a laugh, so I went back and had a look at the Divided by Truth website that I talked about earlier – in particular, the page that equated Feminism with Satanism. I’m not really going to comment on that article in particular (I’m still seething at the sexist “Mack Truck” comment) but, at the bottom of the article is a link to a sermon by Pastor Jack Hyles decrying the whole “unisex” movement.

As the page contains a transcription and not a recording of the sermon, I’m going to take it that the sermon actually took place and was not just fabricated and posted on the website posthumously. From the plethora of exclamation marks within the text, I’m also going to take it that there was a lot of shouting coming from the pulpit.

I’m going to go through the sermon, much in the way I did with their “kilts are for sinners” article but, as it’s quite long, I’m going to go through it in two parts – much like the sermon itself – and focus on some of the more “absurdly alarmist” points.


One social expert has said, “By the year 2000, Father will do the dishes and wash the diapers while Mom washes the car and mows the lawn.”

I’m guessing this quotation is meant to imply that, by the turn of the century, traditional gender roles will have swapped around. They haven’t – they’re still the same old-fashioned gender roles. The only real difference is that very few people actually pay them any attention.

I became a father in 2007, and I have changed my fair share of nappies. Even some of the really nasty ones. I’ve cleaned up almost every kind of fluid my kids have spewed, spilled or excreted over the furniture. I do the washing up, I mow the lawn, I clean the car (well, as we don’t have a driveway or a garage, I take the car to someone who will do a far better job than I can for a few quid), I cook, I clean and I do the ironing.

And so does my wife. It’s called “co-operation”. It’s what married couples do.

When a little boy is born, we let him grow long hair and look like a girl, (now I’m going to make someone mad here) we name him Francis, (and one of the best friends I have in this world is named Francis) we curl his hair and put him in what we call a diaper shirt, (which is no more than a dress) and then we wonder why he turns out to be a sissy! Brother, when a boy gets home from the hospital, put him in blue jeans and cut his hair! If you don’t, he’s going to grow up and look like some of you Samsons sitting here in this room tonight!

For the first 18 months of his life, we let my son’s hair grow long. We never curled his hair (he has my genetics so it’d go that way on its own eventually) nor did we put him in a “diaper shirt”. Having had to attempt to remove my son’s dungarees after a rather nasty nappy, I can see why some parents would put their boys in (ahem) “dresses”.

If my son turns out to be what Brother Hyles so bluntly defines as a “sissy”… great! I’d rather him be an honest, compassionate and sensitive member of society than a brutish, domineering oaf.

I believe that ladies ought to be feminine and sweet and lovely and charming. I believe men ought to be strong and masculine and decisive. I’m opposed to anything that makes a man and a woman act alike, look alike, dress alike, or talk alike.

Okay, fair enough. It’s not my place to tell you what to believe, but you are kind-of describing a fantasy land. If you expect women to repress their negative emotions in order to be that sweet, lovely and charming woman you want them to be, you’re likely creating an emotional time-bomb. When she explodes in front of you and gives you a harsh lesson in what reality is like for a “conservative” woman, you’d be wise not to remind her just how ‘un-lady-like’ it is to have an angry outburst. And what happens to the men who are more creative and intellectual than strong and decisive? One person from history had an idea of what to do with the less-desirable members of society. It wasn’t pretty.

But I am the man about whom Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have rule over you.” You’ll be a lot better off to tell your girl she can’t wear her slacks because the preacher says it’s wrong- by the way, it won’t hurt her not to wear them- than if you just go ahead and let her wear them.

If you’re going to give people a list of expected behaviours based on what’s between their legs, you’re wasting your time. Micromanaging children is a futile and completely counter-productive effort: the more you try and control them, the more likely they are to resent and rebel against you. I’ve mentioned before – if you are in a position of authority, you must be able to justify why you hold that authority. The same goes for parents too. If you want your children to obey you, you’ve got to convince them as to why it’s in their best interest to do so. Finally, if you want them to approach God with a pure heart, making them so shit scared of eternal torment is NOT going to achieve that.

I am never purposely unkind to anybody who dresses contrary to the way I preach. But I’ll say this much: You’re going to face God for being a part of the unisex movement just as much as a man who wears makeup.

Somehow I think God has bigger fish to fry than who is and isn’t wearing makeup. Personally, when Eddie Izzard goes to meet his maker, I think said maker is going to be far more interested in his inexhaustible charity work than his shade of lipstick.

You know it’s true that if you’re walking down the sidewalk behind some couples, it’s hard to tell which is the male and which is the female.

Why is it so important that you need to be able to visually identify the sexes of two people YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW!? They’re walking down the street minding their own business – perhaps you should try doing that too.

“Today, mothers continue to work their way steadily back toward babyhood, trying on the looks of baby doll, little soldier doll, and little boy doll.” Let me stop and say a word about this. I don’t mind your boys having little soldiers to play with, but don’t give your boy a doll to play with.

[in sarcastic, mocking tone] Because it’s a sin for boys to learn how to become confident parents! That’s a woman’s jon! Men should be out shooting and killing foreign people and stealing their oil! Pacifism is for sissies!

Ad nauseam.

She goes on to say, “Simultaneously the teenage boy, the source of all this feminine emulation, was revolting against his father in the strongest way he could find to express disapproval- unmasculinity. Ornamented in fancy clothes, the young men now seem to dress as young women, masquerading as boys.” That’s not a Christian person saying that; that is the world saying that men and women dressing alike is part of the unisex movement.

This does make some sense, but as I’ve said before, if you’re more of a dictator than a parent you shouldn’t be surprised that your children turn against you. I’ve heard stories of how children in similar relationships can’t wait to start college/university so they can get away from their fathers’ strict control and constant condemnation.

The fact that celebrities like Mick Jagger and David Bowie were crossing the gender boundary shows how lateral thinking became more liberated during the 60’s and 70’s. They had an air of femininity in their appearance, but you never doubted their masculinity. That post-war generation saw women becoming more independent in their appearance and aspirations – the fact that young males were keen to emulate women’s appearance can be regarded as validating their independence and equality. This effeminacy in men was by no means undesirable – a man in tune with his feminine side (we all have one, however small) was less likely to become an abusive or misogynistic husband.

Girls come to my office in deep trouble, and practically every one who does has been told by her mother or dad, or in some cases by both, “Brother Hyles isn’t God. You don’t have to do everything he says.”

Correct. Brother Hyles is a human being and is as corruptible by “the devil” as everybody else. When I was an active church-goer and Bible-studier, I theorised that if “the devil” is the ultimate trickster and liar, then it’s not improbable for him to sow confusion by pretending to be God. This is why I always felt that, if it wasn’t in the Gospel, it wasn’t a true reflection of God. Even though I no longer identify as a Christian, I still follow the Gospel from a philosophical point of view.

Dr. Ralph Grimson is a clinical professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. School of Medicine; he told the American Medical Association, “I believe one of the reasons that young males and females wear their hair alike and dress alike stems from their fear of the opposite sex.”

I’m beginning to think this whole sermon is a result of Hyles’ own fear of the opposite sex. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for women. Or for men, if I’m honest.

For 14 years and 3 months there has been a man behind this pulpit. I may be mean and stubborn, and I may be bigoted, and I may be right-winged- in fact, I happily plead guilty to all of those things- but there is one thing you have had for all of these 14 years. You’ve had a fellow whose tail you couldn’t twist! This country is in dire need of men!

When you have such a stubborn and inflexible approach to life, you lose the ability and the willingness to move beyond the obstacles in your way. In those 14 years and 3 months, the congregation has moved on with their lives, but Hyles refuses to. Rather than catch up with his congregation, his stubborn and conservative solution is to get everybody else to roll back to a point more suitable to him.

Maybe that’s why, almost 45 years later, his words still sound stubborn, bigoted and right-winged. Throughout the course of the sermon, he has chastised and brow-beaten many of the people present. That was never going to work. If you want people to change, you inspire them… and you can’t inspire people with such hostile negativity.

Back in my Bible study days, I concluded that God doesn’t make mistakes, but challenges. If you believe that God created two sexes, male and female, and that all people are created by God – where does that leave the intersex minority? They’re not mentioned in the Bible anywhere purely because the people of the time would not be able to comprehend the complexities of child development and hormones, but if they’re still God’s creation, where do you stand? Do you twist some OT verses into black-and-white rhetoric like “God created Man and Woman – you’re neither, therefore you must be the work of the devil”, or do you follow Jesus’ commandment to “love one another”? Last time I read that chapter, there weren’t any specifications or conditions.

I don’t believe anybody ought to be a big bully and go around picking fights. I don’t believe you ought to want to fight. But I’ll tell you one thing! I don’t believe a boy ought to open his purse and get out scented tissue to wipe his tears because he is afraid of the big bully in the school!

And finally, something we can both agree on, but also something of a circular argument. If you emphasise to your kids the need to be strong, assertive and dominant, as Brother Hyles commands, then they will practice that dominance and assertion on others – they will become, in effect, bullies. Instil them with confidence and empathy, and they become productive members of society. No bullies and no fighting equals no scented tissues. Job done.

Ironically, by using the threat of eternal torment to scare the congregation into conforming to your world view, I’m afraid that makes you the bully.

“Sod being gender-normative… winter is coming!” – Experiences with ‘Mantyhose’

A few months ago, I wrote a short post about reactions to what’s known as “Mantyhose” – I know there are afficionados out there that don’t like the term, but it does help avoid confusion when you happen to be writing about them in particular. Here in the UK we’re in the middle of autumn, and while it’s been relatively mild the past couple of weeks, temperatures in my neck of the woods have recently dropped to just below freezing.

I work in an office and I’m sitting down for the best part of my 8-hour shift, so I like to go for a walk at lunchtime to stretch the legs and get some fresh air. While my upper-body is protected from the elements by my shirt and winter coat, my trousers offer only a thinnish layer of cotton and polyester with which to cover my legs. When it’s both cold and windy, my legs feel like two blocks of ice. Being quite open-minded, I bought a couple of pairs of Mantyhose in anticipation. I don’t care what you think or what you say – if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

a04a1280_largeThe two pairs I bought were both made by Polish hosiery experts Adrian – I bought the footed “City” and the footless “Hunter” varieties. You’re not likely to find them on the high street, but you can get them on eBay for around £6 with free postage.

hunterBoth are incredibly comfortable under trousers. When sat in the office, they add a moderate amount of compression (you hardly notice they’re there) which helps reduce any restlessness or fatigue. Outside, in temperatures colder than my fridge, they prove their worth compared to walking with increasingly-numbing legs. The “City” pair are less bulky, but they do occasionally feel as if my shoes are too big; you need socks with the footless “Hunter” pair, which may be preferable if you’ve got new shoes rubbing your feet, but they are made of significantly thicker material. The only major difference between these varieties and women’s equivalents, as far as I can tell, is the overall sizing and the addition of a “male comfort panel” which adds extra room at the front for that place where some men keep their brains.

aec2a1c0870e27cee14e953ea11dc034Would I ever wear them visibly, for example, under a pair of shorts like the model pictured on the left? Possibly. Definitely not with the striped shorts, that’s for certain. It’s not widely-known that men’s varieties exist so, on one hand, I’d like to educate, but on the other, I’d continue to be mindful of time-manner-place:

At an Eddie Izzard gig – definitely. I likely won’t be the only one.

Visiting a National Trust property with my family – very probably.

In a busy town centre – depends on whether the local football team is at home.

In the vicinity of my local pub – definitely not. I think that would be borderline suicidal.

Are people “objects”?

Another day, another YouTube video, another scroll-down to the comments section and yet another question I’m left asking.

The video I was watching told the story of a young couple, both of whom are transgender – not that you’d know that unless you knew them personally or had watched the video.

I scrolled down to the comments section, and there were at least a couple of people asking:

“So what are they?”

Not who, but what! Did this make them gay, straight, pansexual…?

It got me to question why some people feel the need to label other people as if they were objects. I came to think of it this way:

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This is commonly known as a Vinyl Record. It is a disc made of polyvinyl chloride with an etched spiral groove from which analogue sound can be reproduced.

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This can also be described as a vinyl record as it has the same characteristics as the one above. The grooves look identical to the casual observer but there is a major difference between the two – one plays a recording of Scoundrel Days by a-ha, the other Legion by Mark Shreeve. We can verify this by listening to the original master copies of each recording and comparing them to the signal etched in the grooves.

They are objects. They also have labels telling you what they are, so you can easily tell at a glance whether you are about to listen to a-ha or Mark Shreeve. Vinyl records are static and not sentient – the a-ha record will always play the same music every time, as will the Mark Shreeve record. Vinyl records come in all shapes, sizes and colours but, as long as they are made of polyvinyl chloride and have an analogue signal etched into a spiral groove, they will always be Vinyl records.

These are humans. Unlike Vinyl records, they are sentient and not static in that their behaviour is not so accurately predictable. Talk to either of them about a subject, and talk to them about the same subject a month later, and you may find that their two answers differ. Their sentience gives them what’s called a personality, and this personality will be significantly different when compared to other humans.

They can be divided into sub-groups called male and female based on their respective biology, but in terms of personality, the distinction is not so clear. Ryan and Jasmine have biological differences, but there will be areas of their personalities that they share with the other.

But all that is a rather long-winded explanation.

Unlike Vinyl records, human beings are not produced to serve a single, predictable function. They are not cut to spec, nor are they mass-produced – no two humans are entirely identical, ergo they are not objects and cannot be labelled as such.

So, to answer the question of what they are, just so you can give them the appropriate label, there is only one answer:

Humans.

Gender Variance and Bullying: A Quick Response

Picture courtesy of Queens University in Kingston Ontario
Picture courtesy of Queens University, Kingston Ontario

I’m just going to write a very quick post here, again based on videos I’ve watched and comments I’ve read.

It appears some people believe that, if a child shows signs of gender variance, it is the parents responsibility to force their child into conformity. By allowing their child’s variance to continue, they are setting their child up to a life of social exclusion, bullying and maybe even physical assault. In doing so, they are failing to protect their child from potential danger.

If that’s the way you feel, I believe you have your priorities the wrong way round. That is tantamount to admitting that is is not acceptable to raise a gender-variant child, but it is acceptable to raise a sociopath with little-to-no empathy, who believes it is okay to police other people’s appearance and behaviour with physical and psychological abuse. If that’s what you teach your children, then you are setting them up on a path that may lead to criminal behaviour.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am all in favour of gender-neutral bathrooms under certain conditions, but never mentioned what those conditions were. Well, they tie in with what I mentioned above. A lot of my opinions are echoed in this video:

There is a perfectly-rational reason why some women are concerned for their safety in such bathrooms, and so my main condition is something of a root-cause analysis: we stop teaching men and boys all this macho, patriarchal bullshit. You do not need to be highly-intelligent to know that it is wrong to assault women just because you are bigger and stronger than them. Being born a man does not give you this right!

 

“You *are* that crazy, they weren’t born that way”

I recently watched another TEDx video presented by Deborah Siegel on the subject of gendering children. In the video she explained how, as a parent of mixed-sex twins, she was trying to raise them without the typical gender expectations prevalent in the US. I’m not going to say much about the video itself but, just to re-iterate, I do believe in children being allowed to be children rather than segregated into boys and girls – especially at pre-school age. I don’t often talk about my own children on the internet, but at present, my nine year-old son is a lot like me: passive, honest, logical, technical and clued in on the digital world. He is, without doubt, an introverted boy just as I was at that age. My four year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a bit of a blank canvas. Ask her the question, and she will tell you that she is a girl, but a stereotypical girl she is not. While she loves Disney, Frozen and Baby Annabel, she also loves watching Fireman Sam and Horrid Henry, just as her older brother used to, and has developed quite the taste for toilet humour. We may joke about her being “un-ladylike”, but we can’t deny that it makes us both laugh, and she absolutely loves making us laugh. We just let them be who they want to be.

What I’m going to do is throw a bucket of cold water on some of the comments that appear below the video. Comments from people who are, I believe, not parents themselves.

“‘Gender, the idea that someone or something is masculine or feminine is a social construct which is a fancy word for made up.’ Of course that is true if only you ignore our history entirely!”

At the start of the video, Deborah very clearly said that she was a scientist. She defintely did not say that she was a historian. History allows us to learn about where we came from in order to influence where we go in the future, and the same is true here. Gender norms may have had value in decades past, but that doesn’t automatically mean they should continue to do so. The effects of a more gender-blind society is very much unwritten, and can only be determined by future history – personally, I can’t see how segregating children has any effect other than to emphasise we are in a very binary “us vs. them” society,

“There is a reason we have picked up on what boys tend to like and what girls tend to like because most of the time boys do act one way and most of the time girls do act the other, also most of the time sex=gender, but sometimes, when it doesn’t we like to equate this as proof that gender is just something that we made up when in reality we have only exaggerated it, gender has always been a real phenomenon and we can say that it’s all made up but then where do transgender people fit into this world?”

Okay, for a start, learn how to structure sentences and use punctuation. Secondly, we cannot ignore the effects our media has on children. Switch on any children’s TV channel and you will see a rather clear gender-line in advertising: Boys play with Hot Wheels and Monster Trucks, girls play with dolls and anything creative. The only real gender-neutral advertising I see is with things like Play-doh and board games. The only way to determine whether gender is a real phenomenon is to study children who have been left completely to their own devices without parental or media bias. Good luck in finding them.

As for where Transgender people fit into this world, we’re not so much in a different ball-park, but in a different sport altogether. I’d be as curious as anybody to understand how sociocultral gender norms influence one’s decision to change their gender, but until such a study is completed, individual liberty prevails.

“I feel so sorry for those poor children with that crazy mother. She’s gonna make him wear a dress until he loves it.”

If you’d have watched until the end of the video, you’d have learned that her approach was to avoid strictly gendering her children in order for them to independently understand their own preferences, not to gender them the opposite way against their will.

“What happened to parental guidance? Where do the parents come in to explain what is socially acceptable , and what behavior will cause them pain and exclusion?”

Ah – the coveted “social acceptance”. It is not my parental responsibility to teach my children to conform, just to appease those whose opinions do not matter. It is my parental responsibility to love and support them whatever.  If such behaviour causes them to be “excluded”, then they’ll form stronger social circles amongst those who will accept them. Simple as. As a teenager, I was very much the excluded, quiet and studious “nerd” type rather than the more coveted physical, competitive and athletic type. We all have our individual skills and personalities, and in the great wide world, they are ALL desirable. After all, where would the likes of Microsoft, Facebook and Google be without the “socially-unacceptable” nerds?

“Articulate, intelligent, and entertaining speaker, for sure. But what did I learn from this? Nothing. By the way, long before feminism (and I am not one), I disliked pink. My daughter wore blue, green, yellow, red. My daughter, on her own, played with Legos and dolls. She constructed tents and played in the woods. Moral direction and involved parents are more important than going on with gender babble.”

I’d say that you don’t actually understand what “feminism” is given that it’s the diametric opposite of “sexism”. If you learned nothing new from that video, that’s a good sign that you are indeed a feminist in its truest context. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.


As Bob Dylan said over 50 years ago: “The Times They Are a-Changing”, and while there will be many who happily and quietly accept that change, there will always be the few who vocally resist. At the end of the day, I want my children to be themselves, not who they believe they should be – I’ve been there, and conforming to “the norm” is not the golden ticket it’s made out to be. It’s taken me a great deal of hard work to de-program myself from all of that, and my mental health and self-esteem is actually better for having done so.

If you’re a parent, just ease off the pedal and don’t seek to influence what your children do or enjoy. It actually takes less effort and you’ll find they’ll love you more for allowing them certain freedoms.

If you’re not a parent, either keep your opinions to yourself or, if you must post your opinions on YouTube, be prepared to have your opinions challenged by those who are speaking from experience.

Before you can man up, you’ve got to calm down

rikki-tedxwarwick4I guess now I’ve opened my mind to something new, I find myself needing to write yet another gender-related post. Just like the last one, I’ve gone through several drafts and re-writes before actually settling on something. The last draft theorised about whether the gender binary was actually obsolete and unimportant, until I watched this TEDx talk by Rikki Arundel about how gender is important. Watching it reinforced some of the points I was making, but also showed me how I was writing from a personal perspective. I’m still learning about gender identities and gender politics, yet Rikki actually lives it. On my website, I’ve sounded out theories and adopted points of view based on what I knew at the time of writing, but I’m always willing to listen to and learn from other people’s experiences.

Although, on paper, our headlines would appear to be at odds with each other, I was actually approaching my post from a different angle so the two were complementary: gender is important emotionally, but it shouldn’t be important socially.

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Nobody calls me “chicken”

Coupled with a post I read on Paging Dr. Nerdlove about defining modern masculinity, the video highlighted just how little flexibility the male sex has in terms of their gender identity and expression and how aggressively it’s policed. Rikki demonstrated this by showing that, in terms of clothing, Women can buy their clothes from Burton’s (a UK Menswear store) and very few would even notice. If a man shopped next door at Dorothy Perkins, he’s putting himself at risk of hatred, humiliation and even violence for breaking the unwritten “rules” of masculinity. Male culture is beset with bullying and fear as a means of policing conformity; fear is also used to maintain the masculine trait of fearlessness – just think of the effects words like “wuss”, “chicken” and “pansy” have.

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Your wife’s going to kill you, but look on the bright side: at least Needles doesn’t think you’re a chicken.

We’re afraid of appearing afraid, so we overcompensate by ramping up the “bravery” (I use inverted commas as this so-called bravery likely involves reckless stupidity) and putting ourselves at far greater risk just to prove a point.These “brave” men are really just so insecure and fragile in their identity, they cannot stand up for themselves against even mild peer pressure.

 

When I opined about the unimportance of gender, I overlooked something important. When you’re locked into a culture where gender is so aggressively policed and you’re not strong enough to give it the finger, your gender expression is a means of survival. I can’t begin to understand what trans people have to go through just to feel comfortable with themselves, something cis people take for granted, but with the personal, social and political turmoil they’d have to face, I can understand why some would become so emotionally attached and protective of the gender identity they’ve worked so hard for.

But despite our emotional attachment to gender, the social attachment should be minuscule at most. This week, I have to do a compliance course for my new employer, and the handbook I was given in advance had a whole section on conduct and discrimination. It was likely the most thorough anti-discrimination policy I’ve ever read. To put it simply, if I openly discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, sex, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression… I stand a very good chance of getting sacked. This is coming from a major, global organisation. It’s not a radical policy either – every organisation I’ve worked for, whether it be local, national or global, has had a pretty strict anti-discrimination policy. This is why I feel gender should not be important socially – at work, we are required to collaborate and cooperate with each other, so one’s gender is of less importance than one’s skills, abilities, personality and behaviour.

If that’s how we’re expected to behave inside work, what’s so different about behaving that way outside work? What’s so difficult about respecting one’s individuality, or just simply leaving them alone?

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I feel Dr. Nerdlove is correct when they say that some men need to calm down, work on their insecurities and become stronger in a more constructive way though being less quick to anger. While I’m not exactly a prime example of manliness on the outside, I am probably stronger in myself than some of the more “alpha” males. I’m not frightened of or threatened by people who are different to me – at worst, I’m respectfully curious. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me – an opinion is not a fact, and is more reflective of the person making it than it is of me. Most importantly, words are just words. Call me whatever you like – even seemingly insulting names like “lady boy” or “batty man” – just please excuse me if I completely ignore you.

That’s my brand of strength and bravery: brave enough to break the norm, and strong enough to handle the criticism that follows.