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?

Ideology, Feelings and a Catholic Blog

I saw a link on Facebook pointing to an article published by the American College of Pediatricians, entitled Gender Ideology Is Harming Children. The person who shared it on the group was seeking a discussion on its content; they had read it expecting the usual anti-trans diatribe, but found it more explicitly advising against gender-reassignment surgeries and treatments for young children. Fair enough – surgery and psychology are two separate disciplines.

Whilst looking a bit deeper into the subject, I came across this blog post that referenced the same article, seeing it as evidence of their anti-trans prejudices, corroborated by a professional medical body. I would have commented but, whenever I’ve written a counterpoint on a religiously-themed blog, it never gets past their censors – no matter how respecfully it was written. Some days, it’s good to have a blog of your own!

Except it was hard to tell just what their argument was, beyond mere stating examples and expressing astonishment at them.

In the first few paragraphs, they cite the case of Scottish mother Kerri McFayden who is allowing her child, assigned male at birth, to live as a girl. Besides claims that she is “promoting confused thinking”, what was it about McFayden’s case that they disagreed with and why? If the child’s happy, why does it even matter? Personally, if I’m confused by something, I do a bit of extra research or ask for help… from the seems of things, she’d already done both of those!

They then go on to repeat sections of a Time magazine article that promoted young people choosing their gender, remarking that they were choosing from “the 60+ options offered by Facebook” rather than remaining “as God made them”. Ironically, the ACP article they are using to back up their stance states that gender “is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.” – in other words, you can’t choose the biological sex you were born with – nobody can – but choosing one’s gender is down to personal expression; no different to choosing which football team to support. If you feel a sociological and psychological connection to West Bromwich Albion, perhaps out of local pride and how you like wearing blue and white stripes, you’re not going to listen to anyone saying “Your thinking is confused! You’re either Chelsea or Arsenal!”

Further down the article, they state: “We are told to consider all these identities as normal as we approach the new godless, genderless frontier of the future. Everything depends on feelings not facts.” How’s about this then….. [drum roll]…

Feelings ARE facts!

Well, they are – they’re just facts that exist on an individually internal level. As I write this, I’m feeling moderately hungry. FACT! I’m also feeling slight discomfort in my back from having sat in my chair for the past hour. FACT! I also feel like knocking down an ice-cold lager with my dinner tonight. FACT! As these facts relate to me and me only, I can’t support them with peer-reviewed evidence, nor can you claim they’re incorrect. How is that different from a biological male who says “I feel I’m a woman”?

All becomes clear towards the end: “We are dooming children like this to a life of hell on earth and, then, to one in eternity as well for their supreme revolt against God and nature”. If they are expressing themselves in a way that is natural to them, what exactly are they revolting against? Also, back on the subject of facts, where exactly does it state – as a proven hard fact, complete with empirical evidence – they will be forced into eternal torment for doing so? You feel that they will – that’s a fact – but what are the chances? The so-called “hell on earth” that they’d face is not so much because of their choices, but because of those who see it as their duty to invalidate those choices. If, as the ACP article states, gender is a psychological and socialogical concept, then you can hardly claim a centures-old book from the Middle East has absolute authority over gender: our knowledge of human psychology has become far more advanced in the centuries since. Our understanding of gender is relatively new, and whenever there’s new learning, there will always be resistance from those who adhere to the old learning. But, as through history, the old learning fades into obscure footnotes.

Besides, if being genderless is so heinous… what gender is God exactly?

Losing My Religion Part II: Dealing with the last big trigger

Although such a thing doesn’t happen as much as it used to, whenever my mood takes a significant dip, Captain Paranoia burrows deep into my long-term memory, resurfacing with a handful of mental images I believed were long-forgotten. Stupid things I’ve said or done, mistakes I’ve made, chances I’ve wasted and any number of past regrets. When the Captain returns from the depths, he always says “Do you remember these? You were soooooo stupid back then! What on earth were you thinking?! You want to learn about who you really are? Well there you go. That’s you in a nutshell: complete and total idiot… and once an idiot, always an idiot!

It’s getting easier to ignore the Captain, but sometimes the painful reminders don’t come from him.

Trying to distance myself from, or come to terms with, my time in the church is still a major hurdle because the triggers are all the more real. I’m still, technically-speaking, a member of the church. I’m still on the electoral roll (not that I’ve been to an AGM in five years), and the Standing Order still goes out every month in my name for tax purposes. Even small things can trigger bad memories – earlier, when I saw a Phatfish CD in a local charity shop, it reminded me of the many times I was required to lead the music group in yet another rendition of This is My Worship. That’s another thing – in my head, I’m well and truly done with the music group, but I’ve never officially left. It just feels like a loose end I don’t want to tie up.

One thing I’ve managed to avoid so far is a face-to-face confrontation. I’ve seen a few members around, and have exchanged a pleasantry or two with them, but there are some members who I hope I never bump into. They will ask the one question I don’t want to be asked: why don’t you come to church any more? In their eyes, I’ve just gotten a little lost and they can help me find my way back to the right path. All it takes is an invitation to the Alpha course… or to Back to Church Sunday… or to one of the more “fun” services… or, better yet, to a social. Something to ease me back onto the path of salvation by showing me that church, and church members, aren’t always dull and dreary.

They assume my faith is intact but my relationship with the church needs a bit of a bandage, and a little pastoral care will soon fix that. It’s not that simple. I’d woken up to realise that my faith was always paper-thin, and I was merely trying to convince others that it wasn’t. My path is no longer the Christian path: they mostly run parallel with each other, and occasionally merge, but I simply cannot let myself sleep-walk through the rest of my life. For me, living equals learning, and you can’t learn anything with a centuries-old book filtering what you see.

Most importantly, though: I’m not going to try and change your path – please don’t try to change mine.

Captain Paranoia: Round Two… FIGHT!

While Captain Paranoia took a bit of a beating on Sunday, I’d knocked him down, but not out. I think I just made him mad.

Last night, my wife informed me that her nan had indeed reacted to my denim skirt. Later that afternoon, she was asking my in-laws questions like “was Simon wearing a skirt?“, “why?” and the ultimate doozy “well, what does [my wife] think?“. As I tried going to sleep last night, Captain Paranoia struck back. “See – I told you it was weird. You’re going to be the laughing stock of the family now. If I were you, I’d give up now while you still have some dignity left.”

I will admit I did feel a little delayed embarrassment, but that was just the Captain preparing the ring for battle. Seconds out… Round two!

Let’s look at the evidence. All of those questions were perfectly valid and there was no hint of malice within them. After all, she’s in her 80’s, not very net-savvy (if at all), and I’m likely the first man she’s seen in a skirt this far south of Scotland. She was being curious, and nothing more. She’d have gotten more comprehensive answers had she asked me those questions rather than my in-laws, but what can you do? However, by asking that final question, I don’t believe she knows just how awesome her granddaughter is.

But “why“? Beyond comfort and temperature control, was there a deeper reason? That was the worst question I could ask myself at that time of the night, but it was worth thinking about.

I suppose, at a very low level, I’m quite open-minded and curious – I’m not complacent with the knowledge I have and there’s always room for more. I read a lot of information on-line, I ask a lot of questions, I research the answers, and I draw my own conclusions. When I asked the question “why are men allowed to wear skirts in some countries but not in England?”, the top-level answer was obviously going to be “but we can – it’s not against the law”. That then leads to the question “well, if it’s not against the law, why don’t we?”, and the first answer to that is either “because we don’t” or “because nobody else does”.

I love those sorts of questions – the one’s that don’t tend to get asked out of pure complacency and acceptance. If you look at the historical evidence, men in England did indeed wear skirted garments in previous generations, but with the advent of the industrial age, trousers became the more practical option. As generations passed, trousers became the de facto standard for men, and the reasons behind their dominance steadily faded from memory. So what’s stopping us from re-thinking the concept of a men’s skirt in the information age? Well… nothing!

One of the obstacles in the way is, I believe, pessimism. When you have a decision to make, and you weigh up the pros-and-cons, do you start by listing the pros or the cons? Do you give a con a heavier weighting than a pro? I was certainly guilty of both of those things, and the Captain is still trying to keep me doing so, but you lose sight of the positive aspects.

For me, they are more practical and comfortable because they fit me better, they provide better ventilation in warm weather, and allow greater freedom of movement (which you need when picking up after a four year-old). It’s a boost to my confidence and self-esteem because it forces me to re-think the neurotic thoughts that remain in my head, allowing me to come further out of my shell. It makes an interesting alternative and, as such, is much more fun. And yes, I also believe they can look good – it’s all down to how you feel.

Besides, I’d already put so much thought into the matter, it would be a waste of energy not to. Can’t you tell? I’ve just written a four-paragraph answer to the question that would still be answered if I’d skipped the first three. So much for not over-thinking things!

But one thing’s for certain: you won’t win this round either, Captain.

Simon 1 – 0 Captain Paranoia

There is a follow-on story to the one I posted earlier this week. Late last Sunday, long after I’d shut down any attempts at going out-and-about in a kilt, my wife made a suggestion. She said I may be better-served by going for a skirt designed for women. Same purpose, just lighter material and no pleats. I will admit, I wasn’t sure.

Fast-forward to mid-week, after I’d disassembled and re-evaluated the problem, and I felt it was worth a try. After a bit of research, I felt the best first-step was with an A-line denim midi-skirt; it would have the same flare as a kilt, the same length and in a unisex fabric.

Four days later, one arrived on my doorstep. When my wife saw it for the first time, she commented that it looked a lot better than my kilts. I must admit, it felt a lot more casual than my kilts – closer to the skirts worn by men in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Besides, it has a zip and a button at the front so, considering it’s not marketed as “unisex”, it’s still rather convenient when nature calls.

With today being Mother’s Day here in the UK, we ventured out to visit my in-laws. They’re very easy-going, and had seen me in my kilts several times last year, so I knew it wouldn’t be an issue. When we arrived, my wife noticed that her nan’s car was parked outside. Just to paint a picture, she’s close to 88 years old, a regular church attendee (and former church warden) and lives in the Tory safe-seat of Sutton Coldfield. Her reaction was, contrary to expectation, minimal. My wife said she gave me a rather odd look, but I hadn’t noticed – I give my kids rather odd looks when they do strange things or spout random nonsense, but it’s just a sign that they’ve got a good imagination.

The only comment came from my four year-old niece, who said I looked “weird” in a skirt. I took that as a compliment – after all, our culture would not be what is is today without the weirdos and oddballs of the past to stir things up.

Where I take victory from this is the fact that I didn’t talk myself out of it at any point – and there were more than a few opportunities to do so. I feel real progress has been made, and a lot sooner than I’d thought. My wife set me a challenge to wear skirts every day when we go away for the weekend in a month’s time – with the penalty of “wimping out” being not going to a local pub that serves delicious rotisserie chicken.

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The Danger and Futility of Healing Through Religion

During my research for future posts, I came across a blog called “Healing from Cross-dressing“. It’s a blog run by, and with contributions from, former Cross-dressers who, through their Christian beliefs, have recanted their old ways and are now helping others to do so.

Before I begin, I’ll just say that if that’s what they believe, far be it from me to criticize. Their methods and motivation, on the other hand, I’m not too sure about.

Deuteronomy

Whenever I research such things, the book of Deuteronomy is an old chestnut that I see around a lot. Whenever a short-and-simple quotable is needed to demonise an entire demographic, this book is full of them. In this case, Verse 22:5 is the one most-cited:

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.

What I recall of Deuteronomy’s many laws can be split into two areas: ritual and moral. The ritual laws are there to constantly remind you of what’s ultimately important which, in the Christian faith, is obviously God. It’s the same as kissing Sanka’s lucky egg in Cool Runnings to remind them of why they were competing in the Olympics. The moral laws – murder, theft, assault and all that – are the ones that form our legal system today. If putting on a “woman’s cloak” was heinously immoral, it would have become illegal in most countries with a Christian majority but, as it stands, Cross-dressing is as illegal as other so-called “abominations” such as eating bacon, trimming your beard, eating with foreigners and being a shepherd.

The most detailed commentary I read of this passage – approached with significantly more emphasis on historical culture (let’s not forget the law was passed down to cultures many centuries and many miles distant from our own) – said this:

The danger of “cross-dressing,” according to the analysis followed here by Rashi and the Shulhan Arukh, is that it might allow men to enter women’s groups and women to enter men’s groups. In societies in which gender segregation was widely observed, this subterfuge was seen as a real danger.

Today the concern would be that men or women would sneak into the other gender’s locker rooms or bath rooms. Given that men and women in our society mix freely in other settings, it is hard to see how heterosexual adultery is a particular danger of what is called “cross dressing.”

Here, we see where the moral code applies- it doesn’t condemn the act of cross-dressing in itself, but the motivation for doing so. Women can go around wearing fake beards if they want to, as long as they don’t go to any stonings. Why? Because it’s written… that’s why!

Bit of Python – love it!

Addiction

Comparing Cross-dressing to a drug addiction seems a bit of a false analogy as it ignores the myriad of reasons some people cross-dress in the first place.

C10Ka6lXAAALeDaIf you’re an entertainer who regularly cross-dresses in public because it’s how you earn a living, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing you can do about it either – ask Brendan O’Carroll to relinquish his role as Mrs. Brown and I’m sure he’ll have a few choice words in response.

If cross-dressing is how you get your motor running, so to speak, you might be able to replace it with something else, but if it gets your partner’s motor running too, what’s the harm? Poking your nose into other people’s love life is a sure-fire way of getting said nose broken.

Seriously though: spread your search a bit wider, and you’ll find a significant number of cross-dressers who testify to having done so since they were very young. Children can be quite curious and fickle – for them to carry something with them throughout their life, it must really resonate with who they are. I discovered my love for music at a very young age – 4 or 5 – and I’ve not exactly grown out of it thirty years later. I’ve still got the first single I bought back in 1985.

I doubt anyone who has cross-dressed since their infancy is able to just switch it off and keep it switched off permanently. If you put the “addiction” in your brain yourself, you can remove it – if it was there to begin with, it’s there for life. It’s like if someone has a natural speaking voice in a higher register, you can’t exactly train them to defy their vocal cords and speak in deeper, “masculine” tones. Besides – why would you? Don’t answer that one, Brother Hyles.

Healing

I believe trying to “fix” someone through guilt and shame is rather dangerous in certain circumstances. In children, a little guilt and shame is needed to instil a sense of empathy, but it only works on behaviour they have control over. Making someone feel guilty for something they have no control of is going to have severe effects on their mental health. The stronger their efforts to abstain, the easier it becomes to relapse. The more they relapse, the worse they feel about themselves. The worse they feel about themselves, the less stable they become. Is it really worth the mental damage just because your interpretation of a single Bible verse condemns it?

It’s the same as trying to “cure” homosexuality: you may feel like you’re doing them a favour by cleansing their soul, but when the cleaning products you’re using are so abrasive, you end up scrubbing away a little piece of them each time.

If God made us all who we are and, as I’ve heard many transphobic pastors yell, God does not make mistakes, then what exactly are you trying to correct?

How can you be so certain that what you’re fixing should indeed be fixed, and that you’re the one to fix it?

Could it be that their higher purpose is to show you what you need to fix within yourself?

Declaring War on Captain Paranoia

Even though I spent most of last year trying to reduce my stress and anxiety levels and improve self-esteem and self-confidence, I’ve not really kept up with it during the winter months. For a couple of days this week, the weather has been absolutely terrible so, rather than head into town, I’ve legged it into the car park and sat in my car for an hour. Usually, I plug my earphones in and listen to an album, but today I only sat through one side. For the remainder of the hour, I sat, I thought and I read.

Last Sunday, we were discussing going out as a family to a National Trust property or just somewhere local. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my kilts back out and carry on where I left off last year. I went upstairs, got dressed, and when I came back down, I asked my wife “does this look all right”. Her response was along the lines of “Well, yeah, but your kilt could do with being ironed and it looks pretty windy out there. You’re going to be very cold.” – I agreed with her instantly.

Now, I recognise it was pure optimism on my part, and sensible realism on my wife’s, but it knocked me down a little – not in a toys-out-of-the-pram way, but because I felt that, by asking her opinion, I was looking for a get-out clause. I was talking myself out of it yet again. I’d always convince myself it was the wrong time, wrong place, wrong weather – and when the right time, place and weather came along, I’d find some excuse, however small, to talk myself out of it. 9 times out of 10, it was the fear of embarrassment, ridicule or – in extreme cases – physical harm. It’s something I’ve carried with me since my teenage years when my internal program was instructing me that social inclusion is critical, and embarrassment leads to exclusion… so avoid it at all costs.

One thing I promised myself I’d try to do this year was to fix problems rather than avoid or accept them, and the first step is always to recognise them.

Whilst sitting in the car, I looked for various sources that showed positive experiences and reactions to men wearing skirts and kilts out in public. I actually came across quite a few. One wore them to work for a whole week as part of his normal attire, another was about singer/songwriter Will Young’s experiences, and another showed a video of three other men who took up a similar week-long challenge.

 

In the latter, all 3 felt at first as if everybody’s eyes were fixated on them – but there was one moment in the video that spoke quite loudly. One of them was told by a friend that “nobody cares that you’re wearing a skirt except you“. He was absolutely right! For all my experience last year, I experienced no negative reaction beyond a couple of immature remarks, yet here I was ignoring the facts and focusing on a hypothetical worst-case scenario. It is what Ben Elton dubbed Captain Paranoia.

BenElton
Ben Elton: The left-alignment of this photo was completely intentional.

My next stop was to find ways of dealing with paranoid thoughts. There is a Mental Health charity in the UK called MIND, and their website is a font of useful information. Reading their digital booklet on paranoia highlighted that my thoughts were just that. I was being completely over-sensitive and basing my negative thoughts on emotion rather than evidence and experience.

In addition to talking things through with my wife, I’m going to try practising Mindfulness as a means of focusing on the here-and-now, going with the flow and becoming more self-aware than self-conscious. I also feel this may help with other issues, such as when I beat myself up over mistakes I made back in my teens and early 20’s, believing they still reflect badly on me today.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – but I’ll never know unless I try.

Bowie or Barlow: Dealing with Ennui

This time last year, when I really started assessing who I was and what I wanted, it felt as if I was undergoing some sort of mid-life crisis at the age of 37. At the time, my job security was uncertain and was having to deal with a lot of extra pressure. I’ve not been writing much here in the past couple of weeks because that’s all coming back.

While I was spared from the cull, the role I moved into was not what I was expecting and, with my current objectives, I could do with having an extra brain and an extra pair of hands. I had a pre-assessment for an internal position in the Procurement department last week, which I think went pretty well, and I should know some time next week if I’ve made it through to the face-to-face interviews. A change of scenery and a fresh set of challenges and experiences would be good for me right now, so if I am invited for an interview, I want to put everything I can into it. (I was invited for an interview, but taking recent events into consideration, I felt moving roles at this time would not be a wise decision and so withdrew my application)

With the weather starting to warm up, I’m also looking forward to getting out of this winter slump. I’ve been in jeans most of the winter and I don’t find them all that comfortable, especially when you’re active. I feel so much more comfortable in looser clothing, so I’m looking forward to getting my kilts out once more.

I watched this video on LaylahTalks earlier this morning about blocking out negativity, and it did give me some food for thought. I recognise that there are still some things I over-think to extremes, particularly when they don’t conform to majority opinion, but once I actually go and do it they don’t turn out anywhere near as bad as I think. It just needs a little confidence and a bit of a reality check: I’m lucky to have the support I need.

It boils down to this question: Would you rather be a David Bowie or a Gary Barlow? Both are, without argument, successful musicians but the big difference being that Bowie was always breaking through the boundaries Barlow wouldn’t cross. Almost everything about him was chameleonic, yet always one step ahead of everybody else. He didn’t follow, he inspired. 

Let’s just say that, in my record collection, it’s Bowie 6 – 0 Barlow.

 

Gender, Marketing and a New Year’s Challenge

Last Summer, as previously reported, I made quite some headway into giving society the middle finger and expressing myself the way I wanted to, disregarding the opinions of complete strangers and trying my hardest not to read their minds or interpret their body language. Compared to how I was this time last year, I ended the year more confident and secure but still recognising I’d still got some way to go. Going out and around the Midlands in a utility kilt was perhaps the most outwardly-expressive thing I did towards this, but as the winter has taken hold, doing so has not been a good idea. With management approval, I wore it to work for Children in Need day back in November (which was a bit scary and a little stoopid, but still raised £15), but still feel I’ve lapsed somewhat and fallen “out of practice”.

I’ve become more aware in recent months of how gendered marketing is and why, some examples of which are borderline comical. I found one superficial example in my own home. There are two cans of shaving cream in my bathroom – one “for him” and one “for her” – and I compared the ingredients of the two. Apart from the odd minor ingredient, the only real difference was that my wife’s had aloe vera and mine didn’t, but the mere presence of aloe vera doesn’t make an item “for her”; if I went a little upmarket as opposed to buying my toiletries from Lidl, I would find plenty of shaving creams “for him” containing aloe vera. In a nutshell, the only real difference was that her can was white and pink while mine was grey and blue.

Obviously those who deny that gender is “a social construct” are oblivious to how much money is being made gendering identical items, playing on our insecurities to prevent “him” and “her” from sharing.

If anything, I’m a pragmatist or, at least, I’d like to be – brushing marketing aside, an item’s purpose should be of higher priority than its demographic. Scroll back through the contents of this blog and you’ll see that I’ve also mentioned “Mantyhose” a couple of times. While this would enable my utility kilts to make an appearance during the winter months, and also push my bravery/confidence/not-giving-a-fuck to new levels, there are always safety concerns. I’ve heard stories about people being assaulted for not conforming to the normal expectations of male behaviour and appearance, but in the same breath, I’ve not heard about anything like that happening in the UK. Even so, such an attack would be rare. Would anyone be even remotely bothered, or am I just over-thinking and grossly underestimating the population’s open-mindedness?

2016 may have been a bit of a bastard for many, but I have to reflect on and feel proud of the progress I made. A new year means new challenges, and I want to try and blast even more neuroses and anxieties than I did last year.

“Be yourself. Give your free will a chance. You’ve got to want to succeed” — Jon Anderson