“Use it for food, don’t buy drugs with it!”

urban-poverty-1-1562388Every person who asks me for money on the street has a different story, but they’re all the same. I need money to get into the shelter. It costs £14. Or £16. Or £20. It’s always a different number. I know the next question that’s coming, if I am honest and say I have no money I can really spare. Well, I have £12. Can I swap it for a twenty pound note? I rummage, and produce a crumpled fiver from the bottom of my wallet. I tell her, I have less than ten pence in my bank at the moment. This is all I have. Her face falls. She wanders off, clutching the note, to ask someone else.

Now, there aren’t enough homeless shelters in my city to match up with the number of prices I am ‘quoted’ for how much it will cost the individual in question to get in for the night. I have had personal experience of people – people who became very good friends of mine, who ate at my Christmas table – who begged for money on the pretence of saving it for shelter entry for the night. In the case of my now-ex (the friendship disintegrated for other reasons) friends, they were comfortably housed, and begging to feed their heroin addictions. That is not the case for everyone, or even the majority of people who I give money to in the street, but it is likely that in some cases, the person begging is not homeless, and/or that the money I give ‘fuels’ addiction (be it to illegal substances or to alcohol).

One lady, who I know fairly well, asked me for a pound a few months ago. As I gave it to her, she said to her boyfriend, “Okay, now I can get a tin… oh.” She looked back at me. “I shouldn’t have said that. Do you want it back?” She was – and still is, as far as I can see – so far into an addiction to alcohol that she was reduced to begging strangers for money so that she could drink. So that she could feel human. So that she could feel something. Or, perhaps, to feel nothing at all.

Sadly, at least in my city, there is little camaraderie among the homeless community. They are generally eager to downplay each other’s problems to the people trying to help. Talk to A about B, and you’re told that B has a comfy flat and an iPhone hidden away. Talk to B and you’ll be told A lies about being a domestic abuse survivor to garner sympathy so she can raise money to buy a bottle of vodka every night. Talk to C and he’ll tell you that A and B have both been in trouble for robbing old ladies.

Not all of it can be true. The truth of it seems to be that A, B, and C all realise that the money isn’t endless and they are fighting among themselves for what little they can get. If one of them can put you off the other two, then they ensure all of your money goes to them and not the others; they’re fighting for scraps with the very people with whom they have the most in common. I find it desperately sad that they feel the need to turn on one another rather than banding together to help each other out.

Every person who asks me for money on the street has a different story, but they’re all the same. A lot of them are genuinely collecting up cash to spend on a night in a shelter out of the cold, or to feed themselves for the day. Some of them are genuinely homeless and sleeping rough, but will spend the money on drugs or alcohol anyway. Some of them, I dare say, are housed to some degree of comfort or another, and are ‘scamming’ people for money to buy drugs with.

To be honest, I can’t tell the difference by looking at a person – nobody can separate the ‘scammers’ from the ‘genuine’ on sight alone – and frankly, I don’t care. Once I’ve given money to a person, I honestly couldn’t care less what they do with it – the moment it moves from my hand to theirs, it belongs to them as much as if they had earned it sitting in an office or laying bricks.

The mindset that a person can do as they please with the money given to them doesn’t just make sense morally, but logically as well. If a person with an addiction needs £10 worth of drugs and manages to get together £10 by begging, they will eschew eating food in favour of drugs. An extra £2 (or however much) could be the difference between drugs alone, and drugs plus a sandwich. I’d rather an addict took drugs and ate as well, than took drugs and starved herself. In the words of an addict I spoke to, “No addict will choose food over drugs once the need is there.”

It doesn’t help anybody to infantilise people living in abject poverty, least of all the people themselves. For the longest time, I couldn’t fathom what the people doing the infantilising got out of it either. Then it dawned on me that it is, simply, that it helps them to feel superior. By telling a person who is begging “Use it for food, don’t buy drugs with it!” they get to feel smug.

They aren’t homeless or vulnerably housed. They aren’t addicts. They aren’t reduced to sitting in a cold, damp doorway, being spat on by strangers to whom their very existence is an affront, their last vestiges of self-esteem slipping away, asking people they don’t know for money.

And they would never be in that position, of course. Never mind that the difference between comfortable and homeless can be less than three month’s pay. They are so convinced that they will never be in that position because they are a better person, that they trot out inane instructions on what the person in receipt may spend their ‘gift’ upon.

I don’t regret the money I used to give to my addicted ex-friends, and I refused the alcoholic lady’s pound back. If I gift something to somebody, it shouldn’t come with provisos. A gift doesn’t come with strings attached. And a gift is exactly what it is when one gives money to a homeless person. To add a proviso is, essentially, to treat them like a child; to “pay them to be a good girl/boy”. I’d rather encourage adults to be adults, and to make their own decisions, than to presume for one moment that I know more about their life than they do themselves.

Hopefully, someone out there will have changed their mind after reading this, and will consider gifting to someone who begs on the street next time they are asked. That’s all I can ask for of you, readers – don’t ignore everyone on the basis that some might be lying, and consider the autonomy of the person to whom you are giving a gift – and it is a gift. Let your kindness be kindness unmarred by pseudo-parental finger wagging, and your generosity be generosity without restrictions.

Fat Phobia and Thin Privilege

Today, folks, I want to talk to you about fat. Specifically I want to talk to you about fat phobia and thin privilege. It’s disturbing to me how many people are unaware or unwilling to believe that fat phobia exists, and how many thin/’average weight’ people are either unaware of or refuse to accept the privileges they have over fat people.

So, what is fat phobia, and what is thin privilege? For a start, the ‘thin’ in ‘thin privilege’ does not mean “size zero”. It means “of ‘normal’ weight”. Some examples: If you can walk into Top Shop, Miss Selfridge or any other high street fashion shop and know their size range includes your clothing size, you have thin privilege. If you can book a flight without fear that other passengers will hope like hell they’re not seated next to you or worse, that you will be refused entry to the flight because of your size, you have thin privilege. If you can happily travel by car or bus or train and know that the seat will be built to accommodate your arse, you have thin privilege. If you can visit your doctor without being constantly berated about losing weight and having every physical malady you suffer attributed to your size and nothing else, you have thin privilege.

Fat phobia is thin privilege in action. Fat phobia is the media’s insistence on sensationalising the ‘obesity epidemic’ and consistently and continuously painting fat people as lazy, unhealthy slobs. Fat phobia is in the general public’s pervasive and misguided belief that fat automatically means unhealthy (I’ll come back to that later). Fat phobia is in the refusal of clothing manufacturers to accommodate fat people when designing clothes, meaning that the majority of us end up spending twice as much in our ‘specialty shops’ as a thin person would on the high street. Fat phobia is in the medical professionals too lazy and indoctrinated to do their jobs, instead sending us away every single time with the instruction that if we lose weight, we will magically no longer be depressed/have CFS/have a broken leg (I’m kidding, sort of, but it really is that bad). Fat phobia is this society, which operates on a fat=bad belief and systematically beats down anybody who dares to disagree.

Many of my thin friends – women especially, women whom I otherwise think of as good, intelligent, progressive women – get massively defensive when I talk about fat phobia and thin privilege. “But skinny people are oppressed toooooooo!” I hear. Yeah, I get it. You went into a shop and ZOMG that top was too short/hung wrong on you. But do you know what? I didn’t even bother going in, because I knew I was four sizes larger than even the largest size they offer. You tell me you know how I feel because that top ‘didn’t fit you right’. We have totally different ideas on what ‘doesn’t fit’ means. To you, it means it didn’t flatter you. To me, it means it didn’t actually cover the intended body part. You were walking along the road and someone shouted that you were too skinny, or told you to put some meat on your bones, or blah blah blah? It is not the same as having the entire world consider you evil, the bane of society, and too stupid to know what’s good for you.

I said I’d come back to fat=unhealthy and how fucking ridiculous that is. I was going to in this paragraph, and then realised that Kate Harding said everything I wanted to say, and far more articulately than I could have hoped. I suggest you go and read her post before you comment with a ridiculous and misguided statement like “Don’t you know there’s an obesity epidemic?” “Don’t you know that fat kills?” “Haven’t you ever heard of Type 2 diabetes?” “Don’t you realize how much money this is going to cost society down the line?” “Won’t someone please think of the children?

Here in the UK, at this very moment, there are politicians who want to make obese people pay for their NHS treatment. Many of you might well be going “as well they should, fat people bring it all on themselves!” Well quite aside from the fact that as I’ve discussed, fat people are no more unhealthy than thin people, think about it properly for a second. How would you put that into practice? Firstly, would obese people have to pay for all their medical treatment, or just the stuff that could be caused by unhealthy eating/lack of exercise? How would you determine what caused what? Would thin people also be charged for things that could be caused by unhealthy eating/lack of exercise? How about this – how would you determine how ‘fat’ someone had to be before they were required to pay?

BMI, you say? Well quite aside from the fact that the Body Mass Index is a crock of shite, you’d then have a hell of a lot of athletes (many of whom are considered ‘obese’ according to their BMI because of their muscular build) being asked to pay for their NHS treatment. Using the BMI, it’s utterly unpoliceable. The only way to do it would be to go into intimate and personal details or by looking at people. He’s a fattie, make him pay. She looks thin, give it her for free, even though it’s entirely possible her take-away diet is the cause of her heart attack. And aside from all that, the whole point of the NHS is that it is fair and accessible to all. The heroin addict who’s dying of an overdose has exactly the same right to have his life saved as the nun who’s fallen down a ladder. It’s universal health care. If you start making fatties pay, where do you stop? Alcoholics? People who don’t visit a gym three times a week? People who don’t eat their ‘five-a-day’? People who break their leg while skiing or horseriding (after all, you brought it on yourself by participating in a dangerous sport!)?

Of course some fat people are unhealthy. Some thin people are unheallthy too. It really chaps my hide that fat people are immediately considered unhealthy when I, all sixteen-and-a-half gloriously wobbly stone of me, eat better and am more active than every single thin/’normal weight’ person I know. A thin person who eats nothing but greasy take-away is still considered ‘healthy’ because of their thinness, as long as they don’t divulge their earing habits. But the thin person is thin! so people/doctors generally won’t bother asking about their eating habits because they don’t think they need to! I on the other hand, on my home-cooked, all-vegetarian, low-fat, high-fibre diet, am not only questioned but disbelieved when I explain my eating habits. You can almost see their thoughts behind her eyes. “If she really ate that healthily, she wouldn’t be fat. She must be stuffing her face with crap and too embarrassed to admit it.”

And you know what? I shouldn’t have to explain my eating habits to anyone. I shouldn’t have to feel like, in fact, know that, people immediately put me in the category of ‘unfit’ and ‘unhealthy’ just by looking at me. I shouldn’t have to put up with total strangers and ‘well-meaning’ friends and family members offering unsolicited advice on how I can make myself small enough to fit into their version of ‘healthy/attractive’. I shouldn’t be expected to starve myself and make myself miserable in an attempt to shrink myself that will not work before a doctor will take me seriously and give me the treatment I need. In short, I should not be treated as subhuman simply because my size doesn’t please people.

And you thin people? Yes you, and you, and you over there thinking “but I’m not thin, I have a bit of a belly and I want to lose ten pounds!”? A lot of the time you are part of the problem. I’ve written before about listening to people go on about their weight, and admittedly I was in a shocking mood when I wrote it. But the sentiment remains the same. When you say “I’m so fat” or “I feel fat”, the unspoken ending to that sentence is “…and that’s a bad thing.” And by implying that fat is a bad thing, you are insulting me.

I don’t care how many times you tell me “But I don’t mean you!” or “But you’re not that fat!” or even “It’s fine for other people but I’d feel better if I was thinner!” – you are being fucking offensive. By implying that fat is a bad thing – even the tiny amount you have on your skinny ass – by saying fat is bad you are saying there is something wrong with being fat, and if you are saying there is something wrong with being fat you are saying there is something wrong with fat people, and if you are saying there is something wrong with fat people you are saying there is something wrong with me. However you try to paint it, every time you moan about how ‘fat’ you are, it is a personal insult because of all those unspoken implications which you’ll tell me you don’t mean but they are there.

Want to know how you, thin or ‘average-weight’ person (yes you, in the corner still muttering about those ten extra pounds, I mean you), can be an ally to fat people? Stop moaning about being fat. If you want to exercise and eat well, then that’s a really good thing and I’m happy for you that you want to be healthy. But don’t make it about fat. Don’t talk about how so-and-so has put on weight. Don’t listen to people who gossip about other people’s weight. Stop telling fat people that you know just how they feel unless you are or have been a fat person. You don’t. I know you think you do, but you can’t and you don’t. Stop seeing fat as the ultimate evil. Stop saying “oh, I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet.” Diets don’t work! No, not even if you call them ‘lifestyle changes’! By going on a diet when you’re of average size, you’re perpetuating the fat=bad belief, and (here I go again) being personally insulting. Stop talking about the ‘eeeevil obesity epidemic!!!1!’, stop blindly believing what you’ve been spoon-fed about obesity and health.

Most importantly, stop shaming fat people. Seriously, if shaming us made us thin, there wouldn’t be a single fat person left in the world. That means not offering fat people advice on ‘how to lose weight’, especially unsolicited advice. It means not talking as if being fat is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. It means not poking your fourteen-year-old niece in the belly and telling her she’s filling out. It means not behaving and talking like a privileged asshole when you’re talking about weight, be it your own or someone else’s.

With a bit of common sense and intelligence, we could erase fat phobia entirely. It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with everybody who gives a shit about truth and dignity. It starts with every person who is willing to take a stand, to call people out on their fat jokes, to question the status quo, to stand up to their doctor when he or she starts spouting untruths about obesity and health, to accept their weight and stop seeing fat as the enemy. It’s not. Hatred is the enemy, misinformation is the enemy, the media with its obsession with flat bellies and non-existent arses is the enemy. Say it with me. Fat is not the enemy. Fat is not the enemy. Fat is not the enemy, and I for one will not treat it as the enemy for one minute longer.

This is a repost from an old blog. I talk about myself using ‘feminine’ terms because it was before I came out.

For cisgender people – on why pronouns are important.

Edit: For a guide to the terminology used in this post, plus some extra words you might come across while talking about transgender issues, please see this post on transgender terminology.

A transgender person is a person whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. This can mean someone who was AFAB (assigned female at birth) identifying as male, someone who was AMAB (assigned male at birth) identifying as female, an AMAB or AFAB person identifying as non-binary or genderqueer (terms which mean identifying outside of the male-female gender binary) or an intersex person (someone whose chromosomes are neither XX or XY) identifying as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

One of the most important things for a transgender person is for other people to respect our pronouns. For example, I was AFAB but I identify as male, and for me, people using ‘he/him/his’ pronouns for me and referring to me as male is as important as it is for people to use my correct name.

You might think that pronouns aren’t important. You might think ‘we are all special, gender isn’t important, I don’t see gender’ but that is because you are cisgender (not transgender) and you have never had your gender identity questioned. When you say you are male or female, people believe you without question. For a transgender person, it is often a constant battle to ‘convince’ people that we are the gender we say we are. Having people respect our pronouns is one part of that battle; to have people affirm with the language they use, that we are who we are.

When someone uses the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, it can be very, very upsetting. It can bring back memories and flashbacks of past abuse for that person. Often we have been emotionally abused by people who used the wrong pronouns for us deliberately to make that abuse hurt more. Often we have had the wrong pronouns hurled at us while being physically abused by people who hated us simply for our gender identity.

When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you are telling us that your assumption about our gender is more important than our own truth. You are telling us that it is more important for you to offend us and make us feel uncomfortable, upset, or even suicidal, in order to make yourself feel more comfortable.

When you misgender (use the wrong pronouns for) us, you are saying that our lived experience does not matter. You are saying that you know us better than we know ourselves, and you are saying that hurting us is more important than changing the tiny words you use to refer to us. It is not difficult for a cisgender person to use the correct pronouns for a transgender person. We all make mistakes, but neither is it difficult to own the mistake, apologise and move on.

Another important thing about using the right pronouns is the safety of the transgender person. When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you run the risk of ‘outing’ us (telling other people that we are not the gender we were assigned at birth). This can put us in danger of abuse, or even physical violence.

But most importantly, when you use the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, you are telling us that you are not our ally, you are not our friend, and you are not someone we can trust. You are telling us that your decision to make assumptions about our gender is more important than our dignity as human beings. You are telling us that your comfort is more important than the validation of our identities, and you are telling us that your convenience is more important than our emotional and physical safety.

I hope that this article has helped you to understand a little bit about why using the correct pronouns for a transgender person is more than important, it is essential for the safety and well-being of the person, and that you will go forward armed with a little more knowledge and compassion, and that you will do the right thing. Transgender people don’t deliberately upset you with the language we use to refer to you; please afford us the same respect.

The Adult Privilege Checklist

I originally wrote this in 2009 when I was writing in another blog. I’m thinking about the way we speak to children today, and I thought it would be pertinent to re-post it here.

I am a firm believer in the personhood of children and that children are an oppressed group. It pains me to see so much child hate within feminism; not from all feminists of course, but there certainly is a lot of mother-blaming and child hate in some pockets of feminism. Many others have spoken eloquently and thoughtfully about this before me, so I’m not going to reiterate what they’ve said. Long story short, I believe that children’s rights are important, and that feminists in being progressive and advocating for marginalised groups of all kinds, should be invested in working for the rights of all oppressed groups – including children.

Reading a post by Elena Perez at California NOW made me think about privilege checklists (like the Male Privilege Checklist and the White Privilege Checklist, for example) and I came to the realisation that, as yet, nobody had written an adult privilege checklist. So with some help from my good friend Jenny, using some of Elena Perez’s ideas from the aforementioned post, I set about writing the Adult Privilege Checklist.

This one is a bit different from previous privilege checklists in that instead of being written from the perspective of the privileged class (the male person, the white person) it is written in the voice of the oppressed class (the child). We came to this decision because written from the adult’s perspective, intersectionality became a problem. Things like “Light switches, windows, sinks and toilets are positioned for me to be able to reach easily” are null and void when thinking about, say, an adult wheelchair user. So we changed it to “Light switches, windows, sinks and toilets are not usually positioned for someone my size to be able to reach easily.” It is our hope that, written from the child’s perspective, the list shows the ways in which children are disadvantaged compared to the majority of adults, as written from the perspective of the adult, some of these would not apply.

It is something of a work in progress, and I’m really hoping that people will chip in with their own ideas, and that this will spark more conversation about children’s oppression and respect for the personhood of children.

So without further ado:

The Adult Privilege Checklist

As a child:

  1. I am not legally allowed to vote, even though government makes decisions about me and people like me.
  2. If I need a caregiver, he or she will not be my peer.
  3. It is often considered acceptable, appropriate and even desirable for my caregiver to physically assault me if I do not please them.
    1. In many places I can legally be physically disciplined in my place of education.
    2. If I am hit, even once, by a loved one, that is not normally legally considered abuse.
    3. It is likely that I am smaller than the person assaulting me, and that I will be unable to defend myself.
    4. If I am behaving in a way others do not like (or my caregiver has decided they no longer wish to be in a certain place), it is considered acceptable to physically pick me up and forcibly remove me from the area/situation.
  4. If I am routinely yelled at, criticized, and belittled in my own home, this might not generally be recognised as abusive behaviour.
    1. My physical and emotional needs are often not treated as reasonable and important.
    2. If I am angry or upset, this is often not taken seriously and I am often condescended and patronised.
  5. I am almost always dependent on others for my economic support.
    1. I do not get to make choices about family finances, when to spend money and on what.
    2. If I am allowed to earn money at all, it will be at a lower rate than adults doing exactly the same work.
  6. I am routinely ignored or told to be quiet.
    1. If I am the only child in a group of people, I will often be shut out of the conversation or patronised.
    2. It is considered acceptable to talk over me or to interrupt me while I am speaking.
  7. When I display age-appropriate behaviour, other people find it unacceptable.
    1. I cannot be ‘noisier/more active than average’ in a public place without people questioning my right to be in that place.
    2. If I am ‘noisier/more active than average’ in a public place I risk myself and my caregiver being thrown out.
  8. I cannot speak in public to a group of people without putting people my age on trial.
  9. I do not have free choice with my language. If I use ‘unacceptable’ words I will often be punished.
  10. If I am suffering from mental health problems, I am often dismissed and have them put down to my age.
  11. Adults often feel they have the right to harass me.
    1. Adults feel it is their right to talk to me even after I make it clear I do not wish to talk to them.
    2. Adults feel it is their right to touch me (tousle my hair, pinch my cheek) without my permission.
  12. Society and the media often portray people like me in a negative light.
    1. The media often describes people like me as lazy, ignorant or criminal.
  13. People often make decisions on my behalf and tell me that they know better than I do what is best for me.
  14. The world is not generally sized to fit me:
    1. I am not usually able to find a seat which is made for somebody my size.
    2. Light switches, windows, sinks and toilets are not usually positioned for someone my size to be able to reach easily.
    3. I cannot be certain that I will be able to lock the door to my bathroom stall or reach the toilet paper once I’m sitting down.
    4. It is very possible that I might find myself trapped somewhere that I cannot leave without assistance.
    5. Silverware, plates, and glasses will usually not be sized to fit my hands.
  15. When eating out, or at a film, the wait time will probably not feel reasonable to me, and if I eat as I would at home I might attract stares and rude comments.
    1. If my wait time for food or entertainment feels unreasonable, and I complain, people will generally not be understanding and apologetic.
    2. I can’t talk with my mouth full without people putting this down to my age.
  16. I might not understand the unspoken rules of interacting in public spaces, they might not feel natural to me, and might not be able to follow them without causing myself distress.
  17. I may not be able to speak my native language with fluency and am often not understood by other native speakers.
    1. It is considered acceptable for another speaker of my native language to laugh at me for my language choices, or inability to express myself.
  18. I am not usually given a choice about my place of education (or whether to participate in education). If I am sent to school I am legally expected to attend, whether it is my choice or not. If I am home educated I might not be given the choice to go to school if I so wish.
    1. If I am late to my place of education I will probably be reprimanded, even if this is the fault of my adult caregiver.
    2. I am almost never permitted to choose my educational curriculum, materials, or pace.
    3. My educational evaluations will often be based on circumstances entirely outside my control–the actions of other students, or of my caregivers, or the learning materials available to me.
  19. If I am feeling ill, I might not be able to adequately express this to my caregiver. If I can, I might not be taken seriously or treated properly.
    1. If I need to see a health professional, I am reliant upon my caregiver to arrange this for me.
    2. Medical professionals often ignore me entirely, choosing instead to speak to my caregiver only about my needs.
    3. I am not able to make my own medical decisions. The right to make these decisions belongs to other people entirely (usually my adult caregivers).
    4. In some places, if I require an abortion, my adult caregivers must be notified, which can sometimes place me in great danger.
  20. I might not be able to attend to my bodily needs (housing, food, water, toileting, health needs, taking myself to bed) without relying on someone else to assist me.
    1. I am often forced to eat foods I do not like.
    2. People might advocate force-feeding me, and this is not often seen as abusive.
    3. My bedtime is set (often arbitrarily) by my caregiver, and I often do not have input on this.
    4. I have no choice about my living space – the house I live in, its decoration, the arrangement of furniture etc.
    5. I often have no choice about my outward appearance – haircuts, clothing etc.
  21. I am usually not given a choice about which religion to follow.
  22. If I wish to spend time with other people, I need the permission and sometimes the assistance of my caregiver to arrange this.
    1. If I do not wish to spend time with a certain person or people, I am not usually given the choice to avoid them.
  23. My sexual development is often not explained to me and sometimes actively discouraged.
    1. If my sexuality/gender identity is not cis and straight, I can expect to be told it’s “wrong,” and efforts will be made to change it. Use of force is considered acceptable in this situation.
    2. It is considered unacceptable for me to enjoy my sexuality.
  24. My belongings can be taken from me (often by my adult caregiver) and this is not viewed as theft.
  25. If I am in public unescorted by an adult, random adults may demand to escort me, and restrict my movements; this is considered acceptable, regardless of my own opinions or those of my legal caregiver.
  26. I am limited in what films I may see alone, regardless of my opinions or those of my caregiver.
  27. It is considered acceptable or even “prudent” for me to be discriminated against and regarded with suspicion when patronising a store or other establishment.
    1. It is often considered acceptable to force me to submit my belongings to a search before/after/during my visit to a store or other establishment.

If you found this privilege checklist interesting, you might be interested in the following (and if you know of other privilege checklists that should be included here, do let me know!):