Poem: Upstanding Up, Standing Upside Down

I looked at it backwards

or perhaps as a mirror would,

though not would I claim to have

perfect my view –

there is too much to see that I

would not see

for me to say that

and to have that

be true;

 

But I am not her who suggests

that her theory is

somehow the only

and, exclusively

true –

I merely suggest

though you think me in jest

that the platform you

stand on is placed

to allow you

to see what you’ve heard

is the only good

view;

 

I merely invite you

– though not to delight you,

or have you drawn in

to some sticky old web –

to consider that we

are unable to see,

this earth in its whole

and the whole of its globe –

not even if one had the

vantage of space –

for your eye would not travel

the whole of its grace.

 

But you could perhaps travel

o’er more of its face.

 

Oh I see you still

claim I am in the wrong

place.

But I did not speak here

to drag you from

that space –

just to invite you,

and perhaps to remind you

that neither should you

claim to see,

what no human eye

could perceive.

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Poem: rude pain

 

tis not poetry

that I need

when the pain

bites,

once

twice

thrice;

but words like

fuck this

bugger it

bollocks

tits.

When pain bites

every

single

day

I WANT TO MAKE IT FUCKING GO AWAY.

Deep Fried Mars Bars (5): On The Experience of Discrimination In The Workplace Because of Mental Health Illness and Disability.

This post discusses direct discrimination and trauma: and whilst I share this because I want other people who deal with discrimination to know that its not normal, not okay, and that they are not alone – self care matters more than clicks for me. 

 

I’d been jobless for 3 months when I began working at my last place of employment. It was a casual contract at first, and was never meant as a career move; most of the staff, except for a small handful in the office, were there on the same basis – it was work, it was January, and it paid cash weekly.  That was in 2009/2010, right before the Equalities Act came into place.

Eventually, I was taken on full time – finding other jobs had been difficult, and by then there were a core group of us who pretty much looked out for each other, and largely got on. When the work you do is repetitive, and your role is to deal with angry people on the phone, getting on with your co-workers makes even the most unpleasant day in the job more bearable. And it had counted for a lot, a little later on, that my then manager had gone out of her way to help me, when caring for my late sister became so difficult in the months before she died, so that I could keep the job. I was a single parent with teenage children and I couldn’t afford to be out of work.

Near the start of 2015, something happened outside of work which had a direct impact on my mental health. Whilst I did not know that I was, in fact, dealing with the onset of PTSD, I had dealt with depression most of my life and to start with I thought I just needed to more actively manage that side of things. But over the course of that year, increasingly there were symptoms with my mental health which I had not dealt with before,  although I wasn’t truly conscious enough of them to articulate what was happening to me.

Nevertheless I advised my employer that there was an issue outside of work which was impacting my mental health, and that I had spoken to my doctor about being referred for counselling.  The waiting list for that (because I cannot afford to go privately), was quite a long one. But as the situation which had triggered my PTSD progressed, it became harder and harder to get through even the most uneventful day.

My physical health (which for a while hadn’t been right) was also getting worse. I was struggling with constant migraines, eczema (which had become an issue for the first time a couple of years previously) all over my face and scalp, and a recurrent bladder infection which persisted for months. It wasn’t exactly great but my doctor said I just needed to get my mental health under control.  I wasn’t convinced that my physical health issues would be resolved by my simply ‘calming down’.

By May 2016, I barely knew which way up I was standing. Having told my employer – at every monthly performance review – that I was struggling, I was at a loss as to how to keep coping with work. At that point I was effectively talking to myself: my team leader noted it (and did whatever she could God love her), but otherwise it didn’t flag anything up further up the chain, because nobody who was supposed to, was looking; and even if they had, there were no policies or procedures in place that could have been utilised. 

There were days I had to keep checking the calendar, to make sure it wasn’t suddenly the 1970’s again or something. Perhaps I could get another job, I thought.

All of that went out of the window over the course of 3 days in May 2016, when I attended an anti-fascist demonstration (in my own time). Afterward I was doxxed online, and several hundred right wing extremists made rape and death threats. The extent of the doxxing became apparent when I got a call to go and see the HR department at work on the Tuesday afternoon.

I remember knocking on their door, I remember being asked to come in. I remember being told that the company had received telephone calls from people who had told them that unless I was sacked then ‘certain violent threats’  had been made. (The police confirmed to me the nature of the threats). I was advised that the recordings of the calls (all incoming calls to the company were recorded) had been sent to the police. I was then advised that I was to be investigated for bringing the company into disrepute.

There isn’t much about most of the rest of the next few days I remember. The police told me the threats were credible. The investigation of me by my employer happened. (They decided I hadn’t brought the company into disrepute).

A couple of weeks or so later I made a mistake at work which cost a couple of hundred pounds.

Most of those weeks are a blank in my memory. Every time the phone rang (and my job was customer service via the telephone, in the main) I was triggered into what I now realise were flashbacks, and that I had been suffering with them for some time by then. Especially the telephone line that those calls had been made on, because whilst I had not actually taken the calls directly, I took the telephone line which the calls came through on. And the online threats had involved hundreds of people.

After a few weeks, I begged to be taken off that one telephone line. But I was told that if it were really a problem I would have asked sooner, and anyway it ‘shouldn’t be a problem for me’ because I had never taken the calls. Oh, and by the way you’ve made the mistake and we going to have to discipline you.

I fell apart. I crawled to my GP on my day off, and unspooled in her office. She signed me off work for 3 weeks and told me to get out of my employers clutches as soon as was humanly possible. I was given more drugs (yay!) and a referral to the local mental health crisis care team. A week later I had a telephone appointment with them, and they and they referred me to the team who deal with complex mental health care needs. I was formally diagnosed with PTSD a few weeks later.

I  was feeling a little stronger, when I went back to work: I needed to get my employer to understand that I would go through with the disciplinary (if they insisted on having it, given that they had received my doctors note, which used words like ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, ‘stress’ and ‘insomnia’), but I needed time for the meds to kick in, time for the diagnosis process to complete, and for me to be taken off the phone line, so that I could cope a bit better.

They insisted on the disciplinary procedure continuing. They were provided with the information about why the last 18 months (at least, by then) had been difficult*. They had the sick note from my doctor advising them of (some) of the symptoms I as dealing with: I was, nevertheless, told that unless I could provide proof of my PTSD (which was formally diagnosed a couple of weeks later), the assumption was that I was not being truthful about my mental health. Again they reminded I never personally took the calls. But they took me off that phone line, and agreed to wait 2 months before beginning the disciplinary process.

[*This was extremely personal information, which they not only failed to record and take into consideration – they also tried to persuade me that I never advised them of it, in order to cover up the fact that they had not recorded it or taken it into consideration. They made my manager sit there and tell me I had never said it. There’s a word for that: its called gaslighting].

I was isolated from my colleagues. Not in a physical sense, but in every other sense. I was under suspicion – and I was now very angry about it. The slightest thing would result in me becoming snappy, and for a very long time, I felt afterward like the kindest thing I could do for my colleagues was never come back to work. Shame is horrid and the idea that I was making their lives harder filled me with it.

The disciplinary happened: somehow I was able to make them see, without using the words ‘constructive dismissal’, that it would better if I wasn’t sacked. If this seems like a very few words to describe what was a hugely traumatic process, you’d be right. I had to explain how trauma works to them, effectively putting my own on show, and describe what a flashback was like. I needn’t have worried about that bit though, because I suffered a flashback during the meeting, which had to be held in two stages. They insisted it was my responsibility to provide all the resources, education and information that they would require (if I was telling the truth).

I remember listening back to the recording of the first meeting later (some days later): I could hear myself, straining to explain that I was trying to highlight the institutional nature of the problem – almost apologising for the inconvenience I was probably supposed to believe I was causing. And I heard a reaction I hadn’t registered properly in that room: It was as if the words ‘it’s institutional, I want to resolve this amicably’ were translated into ‘you’re all terrible people’ in their ears. Expressions of personal offense were made to me, as if I my disability (and their failure to manage or support me because ‘proof’) was an inconvenience for which I were personally responsible.

Having succeeded in demonstrating to my employer that I had a leg to stand on legally, I hoped (for reasons more to do with utter exhaustion then naivety) that my employer would see the sense in putting into place to the type of measures they are supposed to, in terms of mental health disability and the Equalities Act. I mean, they had wheelchair accessible toilets, so its not as if they were unaware of their own obligations.

It became apparent very quickly that I might have saved my job, but my employer had made themselves only as acquainted with the Equalities Act as they needed to, in order to pour as much oil as possible on what were some very troubling waters. (My HR Manager, at the second stage of the meeting, had proudly produced a good number of information leaflets from a certain well known mental health charity in a bid – I assume – to avoid my doing anything expensively legal).

But I was still expected to provide ‘proof’ my mental health disability (since being signed off, and having flashbacks at work, was otherwise assumed to be some enormous ploy on my part not to have to work); they never once were able to comprehend that this was the foundational discrimination from which all else flowed. Not even when they put that to me as a reasonable request, on the grounds that ‘other employees had lied about having mental health issues in the past’ (or more likely couldn’t meet the employers unreasonable standard of ‘proof’) did they seem to realise just how egregiously they were still actively discriminating against me.

And I was ostracised still further from my colleagues.

Whilst my mental health wasn’t getting any better, my physical problems also got worse. Getting to work on time, and then completing a full day, got harder; the physical pain increased and the fatigue was unbearable. I would climb out of the shower before heading to work, and then have to lay down to let the fatigue induced nausea pass. The manager did their best, I know – but it came down to the same thing, every time: if I was struggling to meet the hours, well then maybe.. and if I wasn’t performing up to speed then maybe…  The points racked up on my Bradford Score; the ‘maybe’ [we might have to let you go] was left constantly hanging in the air. I would stare at every ‘position vacant’ ad I could dig up, applying for as many as was possible.  (At some point before I left I was told that I shouldn’t let my growing Bradford score cause me stress, that they weren’t planning to use it against me… for now… but provided I ‘proved’ I was telling the truth of course…) My monthly wage (I was paid hourly) got to barely covering the rent.

By May of this year, I could no more complete a full day of work than I could recite a Greek play. Nearly daily, multiple, flashbacks, and constant pain and exhaustion resulted in my being signed off for 3 months. 2 weeks later I was hospitalised with a serious cardiac crisis –  which at least had the happy side effect of making it clear that my physical symptoms were because my immune system was screwed.

I resigned from work on health grounds after I got out of hospital. At least now I can put it behind me, I thought. And for a few blissful weeks, I didn’t think about it at all. The number of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks began to subside a little. Being under orders to do absolutely nothing created space, out of which came the unexpected pleasure of discovering that I could crochet like a demon. (I’m cack handed Lil with a pair of knitting needles).

But I couldn’t escape it forever. Seeing social media posts from former colleagues a couple of months later, (speaking of my now need of a wheelchair to go anywhere as further ‘evidence’ of my need for attention), slapped me hard in the face and reminded me that leaving my employer did not mean that the culture of discrimination had left with me: that had never, ever been my fault. (I’ve kept the screenshots of that of course. I’m not publishing them because its the culture that needs to change, and personal attacks help nobody).

I even have a letter from my employer, from during the constructive dismissal process, in which the HR Manager implicitly states that they are not in compliance with the 2010 Equalities Act (y’know, the law), by explicitly stating that they will be seeking to put those policies into place. I have debated whether to include a picture of that in this blog post – but this isn’t about revenge.

I have not named the company (though not as a favour of any kind to them), because the point of this post is primarily to be able to say to other people – if any of this is happening to you, it is not okay; it is not normal or acceptable to be treated like that; your employer really does have an obligation under law to make reasonable adjustments to your disability. There are people you can contact about that too, if you need legal advise (and if you feel able).

Discriminatory employment practices also leads to people internalising a culture where it becomes the norm to make pejorative, derogatory assumptions about disabled people , and no part of that is okay either.

All I ever wanted was for my employer to do the right thing: I told them my house was on fire. They demanded I provide proof that I was burning.

I want to put this all behind me. But I don’t know if my old employer will ever put the procedures for employees with mental health disabilities into place – for all disabilities into place (They still hadn’t when I left. They still hadn’t, and had no intention to, the last I heard).

Having, or developing, mental health disabilities and illness’ IS NOT A CRIME; putting an employee under suspicion of lying from the moment that they say they have a mental health problem is basic discrimination. Refusing to provide support because the employee hasn’t met a wholly unreasonable standard of ‘proving’ they are telling the truth is discrimination. Treating employees with mental health issues like an easy target for dismissal so that you can massage your KPI‘s when touting for other  business, is discrimination. An employer who does that, and keeps doing that, and assumes they can get away with it – is an employer whose practices are discriminatory and abusive.

And it has to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejecting the Narrative of Fear In Trans Exclusionary Feminism And Christianity

Because the woman that I am is, amongst other things, a Christian, a feminist, a socialist, and bi (for all of those things play a part in making me the woman that I am), and because I am also very well aware of the wealth of information there is to support the lived experiences of trans people, I have no doubt at all that trans women are women, and that trans men are men. I believe them.

This acceptance is not universal in feminism – or Christianity; and as the pace of change in the improvements of trans peoples rights seeks to push forward, the old maxims about equal and opposite reactions ring true with conservative mainstream media outlets (as well as the more ‘liberal’), offering national platforms to feminists whose praxis is trans exclusionary.

This is about domination.

Trans exclusionary praxis seeks the right to debate trans peoples existence, because this is about domination within community; a forced debate in order that trans women are excluded and trans men are reclaimed en masse as butch lesbians, even if there is no consent from trans men for that. It is by definition therefore, about existence – because life becomes (or is maintained as) merely existence if you cannot, are prevented from, and actively oppressed from, articulating your identity.

That is not what liberation looks like.

That is what makes white supremacy so dangerous, because it is about the domination of identity. And in seeking a similar domination of (cis normative) identity, this wound we repeatedly inflict on trans people (and ourselves, though that is less the point) is, by definition, violence. Part of the praxis of white supremacy is that it, too, is trans exclusionary.

This is not what justice looks like.

Trans children are depicted as in thrall to a cult, their naked bodies used without consent in pursuit of that narrative. Crude caricatures of bearded men in floral frilly dresses are spun into the narrative – to describe other women in clearly derisory terms, as part of the dismissal of trans women’s identity as women, or to populate fearful, direful tales describing terrifying scenario’s, each more frightening than the last.  How do cries for the right to consent to what happens to our bodies, become warped into the justifying of the commodification of children’s bodies, and the assumption that our children’s sexualities are ours to decide?

This goes beyond a difference of opinion. For fear is to do with punishment: we punish children whose bodies and realities transgress some arbitrary norm. Conversion therapy becomes an acceptable option because our children frighten us, and fear is also to do with control. Trans men who refuse an identity they do not want are punished with banishment to a purgatory ‘non-state’; trans women who refuse to be labelled delusional are punished endlessly, with some feminists spending their entire energies on seeking them out to actively deride them, in accordance with the very standards of ‘femaleness’ that they have rejected for themselves. Because that which seeks to dominate, seeks to control.

When the foundation on which patriarchy was laid – (that females made the babies and must therefore be controlled) – is being defended, in order to exclude trans people, I wonder what people think liberation looks like. When non-conformists become heretics, and the pious claim dissenters will lead you from the one pure truth that will save you – claiming ‘it is the other guy’  keeps us all in a weary, endless dance, where the melody of freedom is replaced with discordant notes that sing of the lure of dominant jubilation.

Liberation doesn’t stand ready with a padlock and key, waiting to shut the door on those who haven’t made the list – a list which protects the conservative,  for the appeasement of the status quo and in service of the already powerful.

When you are looking at a trans person, what are you seeing? Another human being? Or are you thinking about those caricatures, gross in their dripping pathologizing grimness, urging you to mock – or urging you to fear? When the fears that trauma left you with are leveraged, to verbally portray trans women with same urge of exaggeration that is seen in anti-semitic and racist imagery we once thought part of our past – are we using real trauma to justify the blood lust that such narratives tempt? Should feminism becomes another prop that keeps the gates up – or the means by which we tear down the gates? Is equality only defined in terms of equal ownership to the keys to the gates? Because do not forget, those gates are the means by which we are kept shut in, as well the means by which we shut others, out.

Fear is to do with punishment. Liberation is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: The Woman I Am Is A Feeling Too

 

I’m still learning to name

who I am,

who I’ve been

to recognise self and

name all of me;

all that was odd and

jumbled up

like glob-knot of string

I still carefully unwind,

the revealing it brings;

 

 

I learnt to find self by

the gifts that I got

from hands that were worn

but made tender with love;

and tender hands taught me

that what I was given

was not to store up

in some

quiet private heaven –

Justice to fear won’t give in,

and liberation welcomes all in.

 

And it doesn’t reduce us to things

And it hopes and it loves

and it never gives up

and all of the feeling I bring

is part of the woman I am

and I sing

we are bodies

but we are not things –

stop pinning it down like

a butterfly’s wing,

as if that in itself is all that defines

what makes a butterfly

grow wings

to fly.

 

the poet can speak as she finds –

and weeps,

when justice of feeling is robbed,

and speaks liberation in captors retort;

the cage was undone,

but the chain?

the chain

was hung loose round our necks,

once again.

 

 

 

 

On Naming Male Violence and Conquering Fear. (CN)

Let’s name the problem: the problem is patriarchy. It is patriarchy which enables, perpetuates and encourages male violence. Over eons, woven through systems political and religious, and whilst sometimes having to give a little ground in order to otherwise resiliently maintain the status quo, it has woven into our cultures, our systems and our communities the entrenched idea that men will always, and can only ever be expected, to ‘give in’ to the dictates of his primal, masculine, violent nature. And most especially of all, in terms of his sexual desires and appetites. 

It’s how White Supremacy took back the White House.

At every occurrence of male violence (in all its forms), society draws on a constant stream of excuses and justifications, and they are repeated ad nauseam –  as an unthinking reflex, because essentially it is: we have been taught to provide the patriarchy with excuses, even trained to perform what is needed so that those who benefit the most from patriarchy, can thrive accordingly.

It’s why all of those excuses blame the victim.

And women over hundreds of years have heard every conceivable variation, in all its forms, of those ‘reasons’, which are excuses. And we internalised all of that.

When you live under a patriarchal structure, you internalise the oppression: and we examine more, or less, of that internalised patriarchy, depending upon our ability to survive it.

 

It was the patriarchy’s choice.

It wasn’t a red mist, or a *loss* of control when he punched and hit out. It was control he was exerting, not losing.

It was his choice.

It wasn’t anything you did, or did not do; or said, or did not say; or wore, or any other  single thing about you.

It was his choice.

He didn’t do it because he felt overcome. He did it because it gave him dominance.

It was his choice.

And he didn’t do it because he had a penis.

He did it because he chose to.

And that was not *your* fault. It was his choice. It was his fault. He chose. And he chose it, because the patriarchy wants him to have those choices.

 

He didn’t do it because he had a penis. A penis is just.. muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. A penis doesn’t choose.

We want justice – so we have to start overcoming some of our fear. A penis is just… muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. Blaming that won’t give us justice.

Because I want him to take responsibility for his choices. All of them. Because that’s justice. Because they said it was our fault. And it wasn’t. It was theirs.

I want justice.

I want that for my children, for my sons and daughters and my children who are exploring which of those they are; I want that for for my sisters, my brothers, for my ancestors; I want that for a future I will never be a part of.

We dream of building a world where we are safe, free, and have nothing to fear from a man’s choices. 

I know we’ve been taught to make excuses. We’ve been taught to blame ourselves. We’ve been taught to feel sorry, to forgive, and have pity, but not to expect justice. 

Patriarchy is a choice.

It needs to be binary to survive.