An Open Letter to Colchester @LibDems Parliamentary Candidate Mr Martin Goss

No legacy is so rich as honesty ~ William Shakespeare

Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people. ~ Spencer Johnson

It may sound like a cliche, or a banal aphorism, but such is the caustic nature of politics these days that it might be worth remembering that we really should expect our politicians to tell us the truth – and that the public whose votes are requested should have a right to expect that from their political leaders, or those who hope to be political leaders.

Maybe it has something to do with the brutality of austerity, the chaos of Brexit, or the influence of Presidents and Prime Ministers who treat the truth like a hand-me-down pair of old shoes, but honesty seems in short supply from our leaders right now – and as a disability and equal rights campaigner, I know just how badly lies end up oppressing the marginalised when the truth no longer matters to our political and community leaders.

It ought to matter, then, that those who seek to represent us in Parliament set a higher standard than that. The consequences of dishonest political leadership are rarely paid by the politicians, but by the most vulnerable, the poorest and the most marginalised. And that begins by telling the voters, truthfully, who you are.

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It was a simple enough question, which could have been answered quickly – why is the Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate in Colchester, Martin Goss, calling himself the Liberal Democrat ‘Parliamentary Spokesperson’ instead of ‘candidate’,  when (as far as I know) absolutely no other candidate for the next General Election refers to themselves that way – not even the ones who are currently sitting MP’s.

I have checked on some other LibDem candidates, and they all use the word ‘candidate’ to describe themselves, so it doesn’t appear to be some sort of national policy by the Liberal Democrats. In that case – what makes Mr Goss so special, or different, that he can call himself  ‘parliamentary spokesperson’? Because my curiosity was peaked, I asked him via social media – he didn’t respond, and I waited a while and tried again. (And I made sure I was being polite about it).

He blocked me.

This, I’m afraid, only made me more curious – if the reasons for Mr Goss calling himself something other than a ‘candidate’ were transparent, why be so coy? Why avoid simply answering the question. I tried the local LibDem leader and local LibDem party – again, no response. In one attempt to avoid answering the question, Mr Goss tried to imply I was using the campaign account for @eactnowuk for political purposes – apparently oblivious to the fact that the campaign of which I am co-founder was set up for explicitly political purposes. (Slightly beside the point, but Mr Goss appears to have a hard time with the idea that disabled people don’t have equal rights because of politics).

He did, very briefly today, surface via email when I errantly used the word ‘representative’,  perhaps hoping for a ‘gotcha’ moment, and demanding proof from me. He’s been less eager to respond after my apologising for any confusion and posting that apology publicly.

No, I don’t think that Mr Goss incorrectly using the word ‘spokesperson’ will deny disabled people rights – but I do think that if Mr Goss is unable to be transparent about this, what else would he be prepared to be less than transparent about?

It is a simple question Mr Goss: why do you – and you alone of all of the other candidates across the country – refer to yourself as a parliamentary spokesperson? Do you regularly go to parliament to consult with the parliamentary party? If so, does that interfere with the role that you have been elected to – that of local borough councillor?

Or is it somewhat less prosaic than that – is it simply, and as I strongly suspect, that your ego got the better of you, and you don’t have the integrity required to be honest with yourself, far less the voters of Colchester?

And who knows, you may even have answered that question by the time a General Election is finally called, but if you haven’t, you can be assured that I will be at every hustings, asking that question as many times as it takes for you to answer it.

Sincerely

 

UPDATE: Yesterday morning I received a reply to an email which I sent to Martin Goss, the Liberal Democrat party and others, about the use of the term ‘parliamentary spokesperson’ (his facebook campaign page is listed under that title). He was sorry to hear that my chronic pain issues continue, and then turned his attention to the political campaign group EActNOWUK, of which I am co-founder. He criticised using our email for political purposes, (something something, impartial, something), and said it would be more appropriate to use my personal twitter (which I initially had, and he’d blocked me rather than answer me, so). 

He went on to criticise me for not providing ‘legal reasons’ for why he could not refer to himself as a spokesperson, and to explain the following in relation to the use of the term of ‘parliamentary spokesperson:

The team used “Parliamentary Spokesperson” is perfectly legitimate to use and in any correspondence other than using a completely different term up until now, you’ve not actually pointed out how factually or legally this term is actually incorrect.
I am indeed a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in Colchester for all Parliamentary related matters.
I am also the adopted Parliamentary Candidate for Colchester and have been since late 2018 where Colchester members voted to select me overwhelmingly.
This seems indicate a few things; the Colchester Liberal Democrat Party chose to use the term; that he was considered (or considered himself) the ‘parliamentary spokesperson’ before his selection as prospective parliamentary candidate, and that his role is in addition to his selection to stand as MP. (I would also point out that it was only the constituency party who voted for him ‘overwhelmingly’, but I appreciate that spin is often considered important by politicians).
In light of that, I had a number of questions, to which I await a response:
1. What are your main functions, tasks, duties and responsibilities as a ‘parliamentary spokesperson’?
2. How often are you required to attend parliament?
3 Who do you work and liaise with at parliament, what type of questions and issues are discussed and how often do you report back to your constituents (not just fellow LibDem party members)?
4. Since I can’t find another LibDem candidate who refers to themselves as you do, and cannot find any reference in LibDem literature or online information about parliamentary candidates being called anything other than that, was this your idea, was it discussed with the national party leadership, and who helped set up any formal structures with the parliamentary party that would enable you to carry out that function?
These are serious questions, and as somebody who wants to earn the votes of the people of Colchester I am sure you will have no problem in answering them fully and transparently. 
I await a response with bated breath…..

Misogyny in Medicine: Dear Dr Dick – ‘Woman’ Does NOT Equal ‘Hysteric’. (cn: references to menstrual bleeding, chronic pain and miscarriage)

Back in January 2001, I had a hysterectomy at the age of 32.  I had begun fighting for one 7 years previously, after 15 years of pleading with GP’s and gynaecologists to find out what was wrong with my reproductive parts, and for all but one of those years being told that there was nothing wrong at all. (Because having  3-4 week long periods of bleeding, and then a non-stop period of bleeding lasting over 15 months is of course perfectly normal, as any person who menstruates will tell you). That I had 2 live births at all, let alone the two – now grown up – sons that I have, will always be a miracle to me.

Had I not moved to Sheffield in the 15 months before my surgery (because GP’s tend to be better educated about these things where there is a specialist centre for reproductive issues), I would not be alive. At that point certainly, both the care and treatment my GP and consultant gave me were amazing, and life saving. Having endometriosis, adenomyosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a botched sterilisation resulted in endometrial cells infecting the cysts around my ovaries, and my elective surgery began literally minutes before the blood poisoning already underway would have been irreversible.

So bad had been the pain that post-operatively I didn’t even need a paracetamol – any discomfort from having to be cut open was nothing at all in comparison. Overnight, I had lost a stone in weight just from the fluid retention in my uterus having been removed. Within weeks, I felt like I was re-born. I was, I thought, finally cured. I left my abusive marriage, and took my children 250 miles away to start over.

The single biggest obstacle to accessing diagnosis and treatment throughout the whole of that time was the succession of GP’s and gynaecologists who refused to believe that I was in pain at all – yet nearly twenty years on, I am more than aware that it is too often still a battle for women across the gender spectrum to receive any recognition of physical pain, let alone receive the right support for the reasons which they experience it.

It wasn’t my first experience of being disbelieved about pain – shortly after I started school just before turning 5, I began having migraines and ‘absences’ (which I still have). I had all but given up hope that those would be taken seriously. If you are a woman (trans or cis, non-binary, gender fluid or gender queer) or read as ‘femme’, then the chances are that the pain you experience is likely at some point to be disbelieved. That possibility is an even more likely assumption if you are black or of colour, and/or autistic and/or disabled.

I do know that there are many healthcare professionals who seek to work in partnership with their patients, and who listen to and believe their patients. I met one this past weekend.

Ever since a work accident when I was 18, my left shoulder has always bothered me. It would ache more in the cold and wet, and as the years progressed, it hurt more and more just to sit at my desk and work. The occasional aches became a continuous throbbing pain that only eased when I got home from work and layed down. The throbbing pain was joined by hot fire, tingling and pins and needles down my arm, and the bones began to crunch more noticeably. Then my right shoulder began to hurt too. Fatigue became nauseating, I developed allergies and transient symptoms. After a cardiac crisis, I was told to see a rheumatologist (since my cardiac crisis was a severe inflammation of the cardiac muscle and pericardial sac.

It took over a year, but then last summer I saw a local rheumatology consultant. If I had hopes of answers to what was happening to me going in, they were dashed almost as soon as the appointment commenced. For various reasons I will not yet go into detail or name names. But the ‘diagnosis’ I came away with was ‘an hysterical dependency’, along with the judgement that my disabilities were ‘a predicament of my own making’.

I rejected his recommendation to see a psychiatrist. He gave me a neurology referral grudgingly.

Yes, I have registered a complaint. I’m still trying to get a follow up from that complaint. And I’m not going to any detail yet because I haven’t decided if I can or should take that complaint further.

I was furious, and told my GP so, and demanded I get referred to another rheumatology department for a second opinion. I saw a second rheumatologist this past weekend, and got a second opinion. I am so glad I did.

She listened. She asked careful questions carefully. She went through my entire history with me, and helped make the physical examination as comfortable as was going to be possible. She was autism aware, and respected my intelligence. And then she gave me a preliminary diagnosis of fibromyalgia and arthritis, and ordered blood tests to eliminate any other underlying autoimmune issue. She was glad to hear that I was seeing a neurologist, since she was concerned that a neurological root for certain of my symptoms be eliminated.

She took the time to look me in the eye, and tell me that I wasn’t making it up in my head and that my pain was, and is, real. When she heard that I was sofa surfing, she asked how she could help with that.

The NHS, such as it still is, and what little is left of it, is responsible for such great improvements in patient care. It shouldn’t be unusual for a woman to receive the respect of being believed.

At the end of my first appointment with the rheumatologist I will refer to for now as ‘Dr Dick’, I told him that I knew my body better than he did. His retort was that he knew rheumatology better than I did.

Just like all the gynaecologists who told me the same thing, and who were wrong and failed to diagnose real problems which nearly killed me – Dr Dick was wrong because I DO know my body better than he knew his rheumatology, and he failed to diagnose real problems because of personal bias, and gaslighted me by trying to convince me that I was simply being hysterical.

I am not hysterical – but I am angry. And right.

 

poem: ricochet

i constant ricochet between

what you say and what you mean

what you fear and what you dream

what you hope,but strain to trust

for it is true –

you constant ricochet between them too

and that zig-zag has blurred your view

for the love that you feared lost

never did

abandon you

 

Oh if you could but trust,

this sickening bounce, at last

would stop.

poem: beneath the apple tree

beneath the dappled beams of sun

that fall between the leaves of that old apple tree,

from which you picked forbidden fruit when young –

and kisses too, for love is bold

where lovers think that they must slip out silently –

you stand now a sturdy man for me to see

 

your frame fleshed out by lovers hands,

and tempered by the scars of grief, when rage stole more

than your belief, tho’ that too was undone;

the apples on that tree, still grow so sweet beneath the sun

no rage could sour that love that carries on.

 

and though you haven’t climbed the tree,

in all the years since he was gone –

those broughs are made more sturdy,

by those same years – soft blossom on the tips of those old boughs,

still bloom like tears;

and heralds fruit plucked by those with faith,

to reach for love made sweeter by the wait.

 

 

poem: inappropriate

how should i say it?

what words should i use,

to point to uncomfortable things that you do –

 

when you’re snippy cos you think that straight

folk

ain’t properly being acknowledged for what they do;

 

as if we should be grateful that you don’t complain too much

about that;

yes, how should i word that?

 

or when you’re reminded

that you’ve paid no mind

to disabled people –

(why, no! of course you never meant to be unkind).

 

or if we seem too much to mind

that you’ve given us some little time,

and that should be enough, no matter what

or who

gets left behind.

 

how would you have me say that

in a way that

does not

offend

you?

 

or should we recognise

that you offense

is a problem

too?

 

 

poem: the view from down here

if every time you closed a door, i whistled –

then i would whistle every day, if not each night;

and should i sing with every incidence of rudeness,

i would be singing 3 more hours – tho’ the singing won’t delight

 

if each time some person patronised or patted

upon on my head as though i might play fetch;

i swear i would be howling at the moon dear –

most nights’ till i pass out, or from it retch

 

were i to whoop with wild abandon, and excitement,

each time i find exclusion, i’d be whooping without pause –

and you’d look at me all peculiar and offended,

,for being some great drama queen, seeking overblown applause.

 

when silence is complicit with the order

(wherein this whole wrong self would be much better hid away).

i will howl, and stamp, and sing, and scream and whoop holy disorder

and if that makes you uncomfortable, the exit door is that way.

 

oh whoops, oh dear, and sorry if you thought me

respectable and sweet, or so demure –

i sing of a rude and glorious disorder,

my own italian job, that blows up bleeding doors.

poem: due consideration

 

there is a question you’ve asked me

and you’d like me to give it some thought

but – given the question you asked me –

i must offer this little note;

 

in order to answer a question,

information and facts are required –

and the former is really quite murky

and the latter in silence is mired

 

so whilst your dear hearts intention,

is always awfully good,

some practice of that intention,

would help to improve my mood.

 

action must match hearts intention

till then my own heart i defend

but waits to outflow its contention

that love will win out in the end.

 

poem: when you were only seven

we were kindred once

though we did not know how fragile

were the bonds that bound us then;

for you were only seven, and i was only ten,

 

and when we danced,

you would always spin too fast

and i would catch you then –

when you were only seven, and i was only ten

 

we built a castle and commanded

armies loyal to our cause

and we sang to knock the clouds across the heavens  –

when i was ten, and you were only seven

 

and fast you ran, to scare the fiery dragons

far away –  then you’d wish them back.

that fast again we’d play, but then –

you were only seven, and you would not be again

 

the years advanced upon our armies,

wiping them away – and though it broke your heart

i never heard you say, but you kept a peace and offered it to heaven

that somewhere, you would be forever seven

 

and heaven has you now, and tho its too far to see

the destroyers of  our armies could not take thee from me –

and one day we’ll play together once again.

like we did when you were seven, and i was ten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

poem: exclusion

you do not notice it

– or there were times, perhaps, where you once did,

that with every slamming door

the meaning of my smile misplaced in you belief that you could

shut it again,

and again more;

 

when all my smile meant to convey

that whilst understood,

the slamming of the door was not something that was good

for me;

 

i am no saint and will not for this hurt apologise –

love forgives, and weeps those who weep

that clearer be the vision,

when love patient stoops to dry the eye

 

exclusion makes its scars, this flesh cannot but remark,

tho’ wish i often it would speak in quieter tone;

you hear it,

yet i am left unheard.

It’s a Jungle Out There: Learning the Language of Danger (or, Don’t Dismiss ‘Feminine Intuition’) cn/tw

I’ve been reflecting recently, after meeting up again with an old friend, on how my perceptions of relationships have both evolved and changed: I first knew my friend when I was 18 and she was 3 or 4 years younger, and our families knew each other well. As it happened I was going out withan older member of her family, though it was a less than healthy relationship, for all sorts of reasons.

My then partner was abusive – but so were his friends. More than one or two of them, at one time or another, tried awkwardly, drunkenly or aggressively to shove their tongues down the back of my throat whilst trying to tune my breasts in to Radio Caroline by the magic of using my nipples for dials – and I was 18, and in an abusive relationship. Some nights, my nightmares were made of dozens of free floating hands.

It was a working class environment, but no, that doesn’t make domestic violence more likely. The violence, control or assault which comes from the more privileged social backgrounds just has a slightly different costume, and a mildly altered script. But [usually] LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled working class women are more likely to depend on social assistance from local government, to be able to extricate themselves from the violence. These were the women who were the core of my friendship group – they were hard working and house proud (rightfully so): they make sure the money stretches (less easy now), and get creative when need demands. Long before ‘upcycling’, LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled women knew how make the clothes, the furniture, or that old tub in the shed into something that felt like you had something new, and special.

The trope of the slovenly single parent on a council estate, given flesh via Thatcher’s hardening rhetoric in the ’80’s – and later ‘Little Britain’s’ grotesque cartoon of an over painted child in a pink tracksuit – jars in me, then as now. My family lived on a middle class suburban estate, very nuclear but my Dad’s lower management job was the first of the rungs of management to go in a number of large London-based corporations as they geared up for Thatchers first big privatisation push (so I had comparative but nevertheless very real privilege). But I had gone to a council estate Comprehensive school, and spent most of my early social life on that estate (a whole other story). And then spent the two years I was in that abusive relationship living on another- and I have to tell you (and if I do have to tell you, then considered yourself in receipt of a look), that every single one of those tropes about (usually working class) single mothers was, and is, a long, long way from the truth.

Whilst there weren’t less hands as I got older, I learned to navigate … all that stuff (insert gesticulating hands to indicate unwanted male attention) better. Okay, no, I didn’t: I just accepted I was happier and healthier learning not to be ashamed of being ‘the introverted one’** – so it would be more accurate to say that I’ve therefore spent less time in situations where …unwanted advances might be a possibility.

And no, that’s not the same thing as hiding. Though it is also true that even when you’re disabled, you’re not safer – in fact it’s more likely. A confident introvert doesn’t need to be a dichotomy.

But I also trust my instinct now, sometimes even before the evidence of my eye. My instinct is my instinct for reasons, and I don’t argue with it. If a person gives me certain vibes, that person and I aren’t likely to be developing any sort of relationship. And whilst I will own to being hyper vigilant (and chronically anxious), the reasons my instincts are my instincts, are because they learnt what I was slow to trust.

Contrary to what the patriarchal/masculine/western/christianised tropes will tell you, ‘instinct’ is nothing more or less than a subconscious learning of patterns of behaviour, the identification of trigger points, the body language, the tells – you know, those little signs of trouble; learning the language of danger, and of warning. It’s perfectly logical, and y’all loved Tim Roth doing it in Lie to Me.*** Memory is a muscle too.

There’s also the other face of the coin that comes with the extra vulnerability to coercive control, domestic violence and assault as a disabled woman – that we are simultaneously assumed to be sexless, absent of desire, and undesirable.  (And whilst I love my queer community – no, y’all are no more inclusive than able bodied communities a lot of the time, but that’s a whole other conversation).

So it’s no less a jungle now, than when I was 18, though I’ve through passed from Tropical Forest through to Tropical Savannah (and once, by accident, through a saltwater swamp, though this may be a slur upon saltwater swamps). Also, I’m not alone in sharing that whilst most predators are usually straight cis men, sometimes they are not****, so if you ever feel a bit Lost in a Scrub and Thornbush Savannah with that one I believe you.

* we used to call it ‘going out with’ when I was – well, younger. ‘Dating’ certainly wasn’t a term used within 20 parsecs of where I was spending my youth. I’m also apparently now of an age where I note these things. There’s probably no hope for me to be honest.

** I am the product of an introvert (who did a lot of pretending to be an extrovert) parent, and an extrovert parent, (they’re divorced, and happily so).  And it is possible for an extrovert parent to accept that no amount of cajoling is going to change said introverted child. 

***I once had a knock-down-drag-out with a friend who was one-of-those-screaming-misogynists-with-extra-mummy-issues (who thought of himself as a forward looking and progressive man – and yeah, I know), who insisted that ‘feminine intuition’ (grrrrr) was a nonsense, compared to the slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science, that was the staple of Lie to Me’s 2(?) seasons – slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science being apparently more acceptable than ‘feminine intuition’.  Because of course <insert rolling eye emoji>

**** Yes, women are capable of reproducing patriarchal violence.