Labels, Boxes, Attraction

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Over New Year, I had the following conversation while I was away doing youth work.

Youth: are you a lesbian?
Me: nope, I’m queer.
Youth: so you’re a lesbian.
Me: no, because I don’t just fancy women…
Youth: so you’re bisexual?
Me: um, no, it’s complicated…I’m asexual.
Youth: ??????
Me: *braces self, commences long explanation of asexuality and the difference between romantic and sexual attraction*

This is exactly the reason I prefer to identify as queer – the long explanation of exactly who I’m attracted to and in what way is exhausting. And honestly, irrelevant to anyone who isn’t a) dating me or b) trying to date me (which by the way, I’m flattered, but very taken). That said, as an attempt to try to explain why queer is such a useful shorthand,  I’m going to try to explain how different types of attraction work. For me personally. Please don’t take this as a blanket explanation, attraction is wibbly-wobbly and confusing, and not everyone experiences it the same way.

Alright, so since I mentioned the asexuality thing, I guess we should talk about sexual attraction. That is, wanting to have the sexy times with a specific person. If you’re sexually attracted to someone, you want to do sexy things with them specifically. I’ve heard this is a thing that happens…(this is an asexuality joke. because i don’t ever want to do sexy things with people. because i’m super duper asexual. try to keep up.) Anyway, being asexual means you (or rather, I) don’t ever feel that. I never look at someone and think ‘yep, I’d like to put my naked body near theirs’. (NB, asexuality is a slippery fish and some asexual people have sex, for various reasons, but the point is that they’re not sexually attracted to anyone.)

‘But Elleni, you said you’re into multiple genders of human! How can that be the case if you don’t want the sexy times?’ Excellent question, imaginary second half of this conversation. For me, the answer to that is romantic attraction – i.e. wanting to do romantic things with a specific person. I realise that ‘romantic things’ vary from person to person – for me, that includes stuff like cute dinners out and holding hands in the park and kisses on the lips, but what makes something romantic is basically that one or both parties think it’s romantic. I told you attraction was wibbly-wobbly. Anyway, as I was saying, I’m romantically attracted to multiple genders of human (please don’t be awful about ‘multiple genders’. thanks.) This is made more complicated by another fun label I have collected, which is demi-romanticism. This essentially means that you (or, again, I) don’t feel romantically attracted to someone until you have an emotional connection with them. I realise this sounds kind of intuitive, and like The Millennials have made up a word for a thing that everyone experiences, but…love at first sight is apparently a thing? and so is going on a date with someone you’ve never met? and so is asking someone to be in a Relationship with you having only been on a few dates with them? All of which are things I would argue are romantic attraction without an emotional connection, and are therefore things I do not understand.

But wait! There’s more! Yeah, sorry, I’m not done with Attraction 101 yet. If you’re still here, give yourself a tiny round of applause.

Sensual attraction is a weird one. It basically means wanting physical affection with a specific person, in a non-sexual way. So that might mean cuddles, holding hands, kisses – whatever you personally define as non-sexual contact. This is a particularly confusing one when you’re sensually attracted to someone but not romantically attracted – you might want snuggles and hand holding with someone but without any romance. Which is basically what close friendship is for a lot of people, but for various reasons I am not super keen on physical affection with most people, so if you get cuddles from me, you should feel special.

Okay, last one, I promise. I’m not going for an exhaustive list here. But this is an important one for me personally, because for a long time I thought this is what people meant when they said they were sexually attracted to someone. Aesthetic attraction is when you think someone is pretty/cute/handsome/etc etc, but you don’t want to do anything about that. So like, I think this girl in one of my seminars is super pretty, but I’m not going to ask her out or anything.

I have no idea if this has made any sense, but hopefully it’s at least explained why ‘queer’ is so much more convenient…and also why ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ aren’t quite right.

My favourite explanation of the difference between choosing labels for yourself and having someone decide what you should identify as is this: as any cat owner will tell you, choosing to get in a box and being put in a box are very different things. I’ve chosen to get in lots of little boxes, but for convenience, I’ve put them all in a bigger box labelled ‘queer’.

xx

PS. I promise I didn’t write this as a practice for explaining asexuality and aromanticism in my dissertation. Mostly. (My dissertation is about queer relationships between women in Austen novels. If you care.)

PPS. I don’t mind explaining some of this stuff more, but maybe Google first? Also, don’t be straight-up terrible. Thanks pals.

Sex and Religion and Stuff

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Hey there friends. It’s been a while. Sorry about that, I’ve been busy doing various things, including but not limited to: writing essays, doing exams, going on cute dates, being on various committees, taking lots of medication, being diagnosed with more mental illnesses, and panicking about my life/future. But I’m back – for a bit at least, until a ridiculous summer of dissertation reading and youth work. It’s possible that I do too many things with my life. That’s not what this is going to be about though – this is basically the extension of and/or a more coherent version of a conversation I had with my girlfriend about the social expectations around sex. At the end of that conversation, my conclusion was ‘I have been screwed over by religion and men, and I’m sure everyone has been screwed over by society’. So this is how we got there.

Disclaimer: we are both pretty flipping asexual (click here if you’re all ‘???’) and so we’re probably more aware of the ways sex is pushed as some kind of social obligation, but that doesn’t negate the points I’m going to make, I don’t think. Second disclaimer: have as much sex as you want with whomever you want as long as everyone involved is consenting to it, I’m not here to police you.

Content note: the rest of this post will include discussion of sexual assault, rape, and rape culture/victim blaming.

I’m not really sure how to structure this to make it coherent but I’ll do my best. If it’s a jumble I apologise in advance. So first things first, religion is problematic (which is probably shocking to nobody to be honest). This doesn’t mean I don’t love Jesus, just that the culture of religious communities – specifically in my experience Christian communities – can be damaging, for various reasons. There’s a tendency in Christian spaces not to talk about sex, and to just have it as a given that everyone is straight (i.e. both sexually and romantically attracted exclusively to people of the “opposite” gender to themselves) and that everyone is going to – or at least intends to – wait until they’re married to have sex. And so nobody addresses the grey areas and just plain inaccuracies in that. I’m barely going to scratch the surface of this because there are many many things I could talk about, but I’m just going to mention the ones that I talked about the other day, because I have the most coherent thoughts about them currently. (If anyone would be interested in a whole blog post about how Christianity is problematic about sexuality specifically, let me know? Love a bit of controversy and whatnot).

There’s a whole discourse about where to ‘draw the line’ and when something becomes ‘real sex’ and therefore Bad and Wrong (if those are your morals or whatever). Because of taboo and stuff the only times this is really addressed in Christian communities is either in outdated or “hip” books about relationships, or in awkward whispered conversations at youth camps. Neither of which are ideal. Also, spoilers, sex is sex is sex. I’m not trying to ‘draw a line’ of Sinfulness here, I’m just saying, lots of things are sex, not just the ‘standard’ penis-in-vagina business. The issue with not acknowledging this is that it causes a tonne of angst and stress, both with people trying to figure out what’s Okay and also by giving people a bargaining chip, because they can say things like “it’s not really sex so it’s fine”, which makes it difficult for people to feel confident saying no to things they don’t want to do. Obviously, pressuring someone into anything sexual is not cool and is also illegal, but it doesn’t help when society and religious culture is pushing a certain definition of sex and specifically condemning that, leaving loopholes for coercion.

Also, assuming that everyone is waiting until they’re married to have sex means that sexual attraction just isn’t discussed in Christian spaces, and it took me until second year of uni to figure out I don’t want to have sex because I’m asexual and not just because I’m ~waiting for my husband~. Not that there’s anything wrong with people making that choice, but it being an assumption discounts any other reasons for not wanting to have sex, which means figuring out sexuality becomes more difficult. (Side note, sexual attraction and romantic attraction are different. Google it, unless you know we’re good enough friends that I won’t mind explaining.) Not to mention the fact that it took me a Good While to realise I’m queer at all, because Christian spaces are pretty aggressively heterosexual.

Another reason why not acknowledging that all sex is sex is damaging is that it makes it really difficult for people who are sexually assaulted. There’s already a vicious narrative that people, especially women, ‘cry rape’ when they regret a sexual act (which by the way, is utter nonsense – less than 1% of reported rapes are false allegations, which is way lower than the number of falsely reported burglaries, for example), and internalising that means that people are likely to doubt the legitimacy of assault anyway. But if someone has spent their whole life being told that one specific act is sex, and they are sexually assaulted but that specific act is not performed, two things might happen: they might not think it’s legitimate assault because they ‘didn’t have sex’, or they might think they just regret it because they now know it was sex – especially if they’ve been brought up in a religious context which has taught them that having sex outside of marriage is sinful and will send them to Hell. Supporting survivors of sexual assault goes further than just saying ‘I believe you’, giving someone a hug, and making them a cup of tea. Challenge cultural norms, in whatever spaces you’re in. This doesn’t mean changing your morals necessarily – you’re more than welcome to think that it’s ill-advised to have sex before marriage, and to want to wait yourself – but challenging the idea that not all sexual acts are sex, or that only one thing is sexual assault, helps to legitimise people’s experiences.

I essentially have no idea if any of this was coherent, so apologies if this was some kind of jumbled nonsense. I suspect this might be ~controversial~ but please be nice to each other. I am not condemning anyone’s sexual choices as long as everyone involved is informed and consenting.

xx

My Body, My Rules

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(By the way, this isn’t an April Fool. Just for the record.)

I think most people at home have decided that since I’ve been at uni I’ve become a radical hippy activist, to which I say they clearly haven’t met some of my friends. However, they’re not totally wrong. To begin with I was sort of secretly refusing to do “typical” activisty things (I mean, not the actual activism, but the “activist culture” things, for want of a better phrase), but then I dyed my hair, and that was that. Which means I have no reason not to admit that at least part of the reason I’ve pretty much stopped shaving my armpits is political. Obviously there are other reasons (laziness is a big one to be honest, I like to spend as little time as possible on how I look for the most part, hence my hair kind of does what it wants and I wear little to no makeup on a day-to-day basis) but I’m not going to pretend that it’s not a little bit political. Not in a ‘look at me I’m a feminist!!!’ way, though.

It’s for all the girls who are made fun of at primary school because they hit puberty before their classmates.

It’s for the kids of all genders who ask their friends/sisters/cousins why they don’t shave, because ‘isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?’

It’s for the girls who dread swimming lessons and wear long sleeves and jeans in summer.

It’s for the kids who don’t realise that women even have body hair, because it’s such a social taboo.

It’s for the girls who steal their mums’ razors to use in secret because they aren’t allowed to shave.

It’s for everyone who thinks body hair on women is ‘gross’ but on men it’s ‘rugged’ and ‘natural’.

It’s for the girls who forgot to shave today and don’t want to take their jumpers off even though they’re far too hot.

It’s for everyone who is involved in creating and upholding ridiculous beauty standards, and ridiculing women when they don’t adhere to them.

It’s for every man who thinks that women are obliged to be aesthetically pleasing to him, and who is offended when they aren’t.

Mostly, though, it’s for myself. It’s a way of starting to reclaim my body by doing what I want with it, not what other people want. I like how my armpit hair looks when it’s purposefully unshaven better than when I try to keep it shaved but end up with stubble. I like not having to spend extra time in the shower (again, laziness). I like contrasting it with makeup and plucked eyebrows and feminine clothes, on the days when I want to. It’s worth saying that I definitely wouldn’t have felt confident doing this, let alone talking about it, without the supportive group of activist friends I have at uni.

I’m not saying I’m never going to shave my armpits again – I definitely will, for various reasons. But that’s a choice that I’m going to make for myself, because I want to, not because someone else says I should. And yeah, there will be some places where I purposefully dress to hide my body hair (like my grandma’s birthday, which is next week), but I’m not obliged to make my body a political talking point all the time. But if being comfortable in my own skin is revolutionary, then I’m going to make the most of that, at least some of the time. Because after all, I am a radical hippy activist. Kind of.

[Disclaimer: I’m not saying everyone should do this. People should do what they’re comfortable with, and I will never judge anyone else on what they choose to do with their body.]

I’m also going to leave a link to a blog post written by a friend of a friend, which does a much better job of explaining the implications of this than I have: https://anaischarles.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/shame-womens-body-hair/

xx

Something that made me happy today: free cake!

Radical Self-Love, Feminism, and Jesus

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Hello. I still exist. Apologies that this isn’t going to be, like, ‘Fun Stories from Elleni’s Recent Life’, because too many things have happened since I last blogged and if you want to know how my life is going you can just message me…or you’re a stranger, in which case you don’t care. Anyway.

I’ve been thinking recently about self-love, and self-care, and how it’s sort of part of many of the things that are important to me. I am very bad at looking after myself. Partly because I have many mental health issues, but also because I’m generally rubbish at remembering to eat/sleep/do nice things for myself.

Self-love and self-care are huge parts of feminism. In a society where women are consistently told they aren’t good enough, or they aren’t doing things in the right way, or they only exist as girlfriends, daughters, and wives, or they don’t meet the beauty standards created by the media, actively being good to yourself is a kick in the face to a culture which tells you you should constantly be criticising yourself and trying harder. Taking time for yourself, doing things that make you happy, in a society which tells you to expend all your physical and emotional energy on being acceptable to other people, and doing things that make other people happy, is a radical act. Having supportive networks of women & non-binary people who celebrate each other for who they are and not what they do is revolutionary and joyful and so important.

I think the same applies to Christianity. Jesus loves you as you are, right now, and nothing you do or make or spend energy on can make him love you any more or any less. He loves you because you’re you. So feeling guilty for not being productive, or self-critical because you don’t look the way society says you should, or feeling ashamed that you aren’t acting in a way that our culture deems acceptable for whatever reason (excluding, like, actual crimes, obviously) is not what the loving, revolutionary Jesus of the Bible wants for you. Looking after myself and loving myself is a reminder that Jesus loves me as I am. He thinks I’m super cute, because he made me super cute. He doesn’t care if I missed that seminar because I overslept, because his love for me isn’t based on anything I do or don’t do. He doesn’t want me to feel guilty for the symptoms of my mental illnesses, because he loves me with all the baggage and rubbish that I have, and he’s not going to let me deal with it on my own.

The other day, I posted a selfie with the caption ‘if you don’t think I look adorable today, you’re wrong’. Because I did look adorable. And that’s worth celebrating, in a culture which tells me I don’t, and with brilliant, adorable women & non-binary folks who tell each other they’re amazing, and with a God who knows everything about me and loves me more than I can ever love myself.

xx

Something that made me happy today: free dessert!

#Lancspocalypse

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Come on, you knew I was going to blog about this.

I’ve had a bit of a week. In all honesty, the past three weeks have been a bit ridiculous in general, for reasons that are both irrelevant and also not ones I want to share with the internet at large. (Good things and bad things – I’ve had all the feels.) However, point is, the apocalypse happened – actually, one of my favourite things about it is that everyone independently decided that it was in fact the apocalypse, and has continued to refer to it as that (when I turned up at one of my friend’s houses, she said she was glad to see me because it proved that the Rapture hadn’t happened if the Christians were still around).

Time is a bit blurry when everything is dark and soggy, but I’ll do my best to get this somewhat chronological.

On Saturday, I did my laundry, skyped my family, and then got ready to go out. It was raining a bit. By the time I was on a bus to campus to predrink, the bus I got on had standing water inside it. We weren’t particularly phased, we just hoped that the club would still be open once we got back into town. Spoiler alert: it very much wasn’t, being 3ft under water at that point. We got the bus back into town earlier than we planned to because it was all kicking off a bit, and while we were waiting, all the power went out. We thought it was just on campus, and got on the bus, but the further into town we got, the more we realised that the whole of Lancaster (and, as it turned out, Morcambe and Cumbria) had lost power and was somewhat submerged. At this point, we still assumed that everything was going to carry on as normal – I sort of expected to wake up to my light switching back on. Phone signal got a bit dodgy, but that’s Lancaster for you.

The power was very much not back on when  I woke up. Also, there was no phone signal. None of it was particularly fun at this point, but the scariest thing was not being able to contact anyone – both people outside of Lancs to tell them I was okay, and people in Lancs to check they were alright. A lot of people turned up to our house to use our gas oven (the CU VP cooked a few of us really good food and it was wonderful). We went on a walk to the park, as did lots of other people, it turned out, because there wasn’t much else to do. We had no light, no hot water (I had a cold shower and I very much do not recommend it), no phone signal, no open shops, no way to get money out, no internet, and the train station was out of service. I managed to get signal at a very specific place and found out that my friend’s house still had power. At hers, I found out that Uni had been cancelled, along with all deadlines and exams being postponed, and that everyone was being advised to leave – or if they couldn’t, people on campus were being evacuated into the Great Hall. I’ve never been more glad to live in town. I managed to phone home – my mum asked ‘so how much of Lancaster has a power cut, then?’ – and also found out that one of my friends was in her house by herself and was leaving the next day, from her housemate who had already gone home and texted me. I had also heard rumours that the part of town she lives in had power back. It was about 10pm at this point. Everything outside was pitch black – like, really really pitch black. I am not a spontaneous person. Yet for some reason, I decided to walk across town and knock on her door, and hope that she let me in. She did, and she offered me a drink, and we chatted for hours and slept very little. It was sort of lovely (except the bits where we were freezing cold despite being cuddled up in her bed, and very anxious because we could hear the weather outside).

The next morning – Monday? – I put her on a bus and came back to my house, where we also had power back. Several of my friends left that morning, and then I got a text asking if I wanted to go to the pub, because what else do you do in the midst of an apocalypse? Obviously I said yes, because the idea of mulled cider and friends was much more appealing than the idea of sitting in my house by myself. While we were at the pub, the power went out again. I went home to grab some stuff, found out I still had power, and charged up all of my devices. Then I went across town to my friends who didn’t have power, because again, friends and darkness is more fun than loneliness and electric light. It was all very surreal. Also, at this point, I’d had 2 hours sleep in the past 30-ish hours, so when it was suggested that we all walk over to our other friend’s, someone made me go to bed instead and I am so grateful.

I slept in my friend’s bed and everything was so much better in the morning  – I was actually sort of functioning, we had power back (but were being asked to conserve it because it was still just generators) and contacting people was a thing we could do again. I walked into town to buy apocalypse supplies – as did most of Lancaster, it seemed – and then went back to my friend’s with a couple of other second years. I had some wine. I briefly went to a spontaneous CU social (in the pub – essentially most people just drank their way through the apocalypse; I know people who weren’t sober the entire time) but then went back and chilled at my friend’s house. I slept over, again – at this point I’ve essentially moved in (but I’ll probably sleep in my own bed tonight. Maybe.)

Aaaaand now it’s today. I’ve done some (minimal) tidying – turns out when about 50 people use your oven and drink in your house, it’s not the cleanest it’s ever been – and put my laundry on because power is suddenly a thing I need to take advantage of while it exists. Yesterday when it started raining, I panic-showered in case the hot water went off again.

It’s all very surreal now. Nobody really knows what to do because Uni is cancelled and any plans for socialising that were made pre-apocalypse have been scuppered either by venues being flooded or by people going home. A fair number of us are still around, but we’re not sure what to do with ourselves. It’s been very strange. Hopefully we have power back now for good, but there is more rain forecast for tonight, so who really knows…

I’m incredibly thankful for all my friends who have offered power/food/hot water/company/alcohol/cuddles/beds. One of my friends said that the apocalypse has made her realise that ‘the things that are most important to humans are community and debauchery,’ and judging by the past few days, she’s not wrong.

This is where I want to say something intelligent about climate change and weather and such, but essentially what it boils down to is that we need to be so much more careful about what we’re doing to the planet, because it’s a very real thing that is really happening, and I hope that people are going to take it more seriously. Also, candlelight is atmospheric and cool. Also, at least we know that we survived the practice apocalypse, so hopefully we’ll be fine when actual severe climate change happens. I’m going to leave it to my friend who’s already said she’s going to write a ‘really well-referenced angry blog’ about this stuff, because I know she’s going to do a better job than I would.

It’s very weird that the rest of the country has just been living their lives normally while we’ve had chaos and anarchy all over the place. I’m glad I didn’t bail as soon as the power cut out though, it’s been kind of nice at times – although all the socialising and love would probably have been better with the lights on.

xx

Something that made me happy today: electricity. It’s still a bit of a novelty.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood

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Sisters, sisters, we want freedom, freedom!

All your racist, sexist borders we don’t need ’em, need ’em!

Myself and my demo buddy at Yarl's Wood.

Myself and my demo buddy at Yarl’s Wood.

I was up at 5am and awake for 20 hours yesterday. I am currently eating the first proper meal I’ve had for 41 hours. My body aches all over and when I showered this morning, I showered off a tonne of mud that was ingrained under my fingernails and such. This isn’t because I’m not looking after myself properly at Uni. This is because yesterday, I went to the #ShutDownYarlsWood demo in Bedford.

Some background: Yarl’s Wood is an immigration detention centre for women and families (but it’s mostly women who are held there). People are detained illegally. The conditions are unspeakably horrible. The government has recognised it as a ‘centre for national concern’. And it’s part of the wider (huge) problem of people being deported, detained, assaulted and treated as inhuman simply for living on the other side of an imaginary line on the globe. This is a deeply personal issue for me – I’m what’s technically known as a ‘second-generation immigrant’ – that is, my grandparents were immigrants. My dad’s parents moved here in the late 50s/early 60s from Cyprus. I call myself half Greek, although my dad is a British citizen and therefore so am I. The only reason my grandparents weren’t detained and/or deported when they arrived is, honestly, pure luck. There is no difference between my grandma and the women inside Yarl’s Wood. As the protest chant goes, no human is illegal. And that’s why I was up at an obscene hour yesterday morning.

We set off (after standing in the rain for about 20 minutes because we were all too sleepy to realise we could sit in the minibus while we waited for people to arrive) at about 7am. The next two hours were spent in one of the quietest minibuses I have ever been in – most people were either napping or trying to. It was still dark out, and periodically chucking it down with rain. After our first stop, my friend gave the most eloquent and succinct legal briefing I think I have ever heard. We wrote the legal support phone numbers down on ourselves purely as a precaution – you’re not likely to be arrested at a peaceful static demo which is led by ex-detainees who really don’t want to get into trouble with the police. I buddied up with my patriarchy-smashing partner in crime, who now appears to be my oppressive-structures-smashing-and-anarchy partner in crime, which I’m totally down for.

After driving for what felt like a million years, to the sound of rain and pop-punk covers of Top 40 hits, (with some great quotes generated in the chats we were having, such as ‘…and that’s why we should all practice political lesbianism’) we arrived at Bedford train station, where the coach was going to pick us up. It was pretty surreal sitting on a coach full of activists, who were all super chill and lovely, and knowing that within an hour we were going to be yelling and raging all over the place. Me and my friend were talking about how protest buses should get videoed to “prove” that we’re not just angry irrational youth who just want something to shout about. As we drove towards the detention centre, it struck me how horrifying it would be to be driving that route as a detainee. It’s so isolated, and Yarl’s Wood is an incredibly intimidating structure.

It’s impossible to describe the atmosphere of the demo itself. It was one part anger/adrenaline, one part love, one part solidarity and one part harrowing emotion. I’m going to link a couple of videos of it and I’m sure more photos will surface in the next few days (my demo buddy and I are secretly hoping to get into a paper because so many people took photos of us. That’s what you get for holding what appeared to be the only sign that actually said ‘SHUT DOWN YARL’S WOOD’. We held onto it all demo despite the fact that it was slowly disintegrating due to the downpour at the beginning and the intermittent showers.)

There were apparently over 1000 of us – one estimate was 1500. In any case, it was, according to multiple sources, the largest demo at a detention centre in Europe, ever. I have never heard a crowd chant and yell and sing (yep) louder. There was a group of protesters who managed to get a banner over the top of the fence with the help of a couple of pretty treacherous-looking, and probably slippery, metal ladders. We heard ex-detainees speak of their experiences, and current detainees from inside the fence – both the chants they were yelling, and via a megaphone-amplified phone call. To begin with, my buddy and I were just chanting and holding our sign and waving at the women inside, who were waving and holding banners from their windows. But we got too ragey (or at least I did) to just stand around – once you hear first-hand how horrific it is from someone who’s inside while you’re outside with your privilege and your freedom, just standing there doesn’t seem enough. It was a peaceful protest, but that doesn’t mean we were just chilling. People were bashing on the fence which separated us from the centre, so we joined in. I did not realise how much rage and adrenaline was rushing through me until I picked up a piece of wood that was lying on the ground and started bashing on the fence with it. It wasn’t just aggression, it was righteous anger and I felt simultaneously powerless and powerful. I couldn’t get those women out, but I could sure as hell let them know we were there and we cared and we wanted the fence down for good. It didn’t matter that it was raining. It didn’t matter that my arms already ached from holding the cardboard sign above my head for hours. It didn’t matter that it really, really hurts to hold onto a splintered piece of wood with your bare hands and bash a massive fence with it. What mattered – what always matters – is solidarity.

We had to leave probably an hour or so before the end of the demo because it took about 5 hours to get there, and the same on the way back. Walking back across the fields was a surreal experience. We could just wander out of a detention centre, admiring the sunset. The 3 police officers who were there watched us leave and did nothing. What makes us any different to the women they keep inside? Me and my protest buddy held hands, because of the mud, but also I think we both needed to for emotional reasons. It’s difficult to process, especially when you’re both hugely sleep deprived and haven’t eaten for too many hours, and are running on adrenaline and caffeine.

On the minibus home, I half-napped, half-listened to my friends discuss politics and linguistics, until the first service station. We bought wine. We spent the rest of the journey home passing round bottles of cheap rose  and singing a weird mix of protest songs, pop, 90s stuff, Disney, and traditional things that everyone knows. It was surreal, but I don’t think I’ve been happier all term. Of course you get an “activist high” when you do something like that because of the adrenaline, but that’s not why you do it. It helps you get through it and, depending on the situation, helps you not to realise how much danger you were in until afterwards (my friend said it’s the reason she’s okay with throwing herself into situations where she knows the police could be violent). You do it because people need help, and there’s only so much they can (and are) doing for themselves. The women who are locked up, treated like animals, separated from their families – they need to know we care. At the end of the protest, the crowd was yelling ‘we love you’. That’s what those women need to hear – and that’s what we need to let drive our actions.

Shut down Yarl’s Wood. End detention. No borders, no nations, stop deportations.

Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, for the Union makes us strong!

xx

Something that made me happy today: food and sleep, and being friends with beautiful, inspiring activists.

Don’t hug me (or do. It depends.)

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Every so often, the (quote-unquote) statistic that “everyone needs 8 hugs a day to be mentally stable” floats around the internet/real life/basically I’ve heard it once or twice and it makes a nice segue for what I want to say so hush. I highly doubt that it’s a real fact, for many many reasons that I won’t go into now (but not least because otherwise a lot of psychologists, therapists etc would be well and truly out of a job). I used to think I hated physical contact. My brother is a very huggy person and it made me uncomfortable. My group of friends at school were never super physically affectionate – until sixth form, I guess – which was nice. I kind of decided that hugs were just not a thing I enjoyed, and that was okay.

But as it turns out, I actually really like physical affection, I’m just incredibly picky about who I’ll let be affectionate in a cuddles and hand-holding and such way. I don’t know why. I have lots of close friends who I wouldn’t want to be physically affectionate with (barring, like, a “hi I haven’t seen you for ages!” hug or whatever). But with incredibly specific people, who I can count on one hand (and not even use all 5 fingers), I find physical affection really comforting and generally a good thing. I feel like there is very little criteria for who is one of these few people. They’re all women. They’re all around my age (give or take a few years). It’s sort of similar to the way that I only appreciate pet names from certain people, and otherwise I feel really icky when people use them. Incidentally, there’s a significant overlap between “people who I will cuddle with” and “people who I don’t mind calling me cute nicknames,” although the latter group is much larger.  I wish I could explain why I feel so differently depending on who’s doing these things; it’s absolutely nothing personal.

It does mean, though, that I get kind of needy. I’m so specific about who I’ll cuddle with, or let hold my hand, or whatever, that if I’m with someone who I’m happy to be physically affectionate with, I kind of want a lot of it. Maybe to get the equivalent of those mythical “8 hugs a day”. I’m not really sure where this is going. I’m kind of baffled by the fact that I lived a good 18 years of my life thinking that I hated physical affection; and also that there’s such a specific group of people that I’m now okay with it from. I’m really glad that I’ve found people who I am comfortable being affectionate with in that way, though – although it has created a new issue: turns out I kind of hate sleeping alone now that I’ve realised how reassuring platonic snuggling/spooning is. So what I’m saying is that if you want to come cuddle me that would be chill but only if you’re one of maybe 4 arbitrarily specific people.

Wow, this had even less point than my blogs usually do. I’m sorry. It’s been a long (and not super fun) week. Thankful for wonderful friends.

xx

Something that made me happy today: said wonderful friends being compassionate and understanding and all the other good things.

Freshers, take two

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This weekend, I basically spent 36 hours in bed feeling sorry for myself. My one consolation for this is that at least I got Freshers’ Flu in freshers’ week and not on the week of my birthday, like last year. I realise that I’m not a fresher, and therefore could have potentially avoided flu altogether (or maybe not – you know who you are). However, I was Fresher Repping. Which, in hindsight (and foresight and during-the-week-sight) was a pretty poor decision. Not that there weren’t bits of it that were fun, because there were, but throwing myself into a week of very little sleep, forced socialisation with LOTS of strangers, and pretty intense responsibility, wasn’t the greatest idea when I’m already so stressed out and busy this term/year (if I haven’t already reeled off the list of things I’m doing to you, and you care even a little, let me know). Fresher Repping, for folks who don’t know/whose unis do it differently, involves being around to move the freshers in (8am-midnight on campus…) and then being assigned, with a rep partner, to a flat of freshers who you accompany to college events all week and generally look after. Which basically means, if they want to go out every night and stay out till 3am, you have to too, and you have to act happy about it. You also have to meet up with them every week during termtime to make sure they’re not dead or whatever.

The flat that me and my (female) rep partner were repping had 4 guys in. They’re all really nice, but me and my flatmates were spoilt by having pretty amazing reps last year who we were basically friends with within about 3 days. Whereas our freshers, although they’re lovely, are not people that I’d choose to go round and have a cup of tea with as a social activity. Partly because I’m just not very good at being friends with men (hello, all-girls school for 7 years). Also, they started a mosh pit in the students’ union club and were separated by the bouncers. There is a time and a place for a mosh pit and that is not it.

Having to be enthusiastic and happy and friendly and pep up freshers who are just as tired as you, while running on mostly adrenaline because of exhaustion, too much social interaction, not being able to eat real meals at real times, and anxiety, is incredibly draining. By 6pm on the first day, before I’d even met my freshers, I was ready to bail and go get cuddles and cup of tea from someone. People keep telling me I’ll be glad I’ve done it. At the moment, I’m just relieved that I never have to do it again, and I’m shocked that I made it through the week with only the amount of anxiety and such that I did. It’s made me appreciate how amazing our reps were. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere near as good. Also, I need to learn to say no to things more often.

xx

Something that made me happy today: feeling less ill. Good times.

Wellies, Worship and White Men

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(can we just all pause for a minute to appreciate the alliteration in that title?? okay great, moving on.)

Last week, I spent 5 days camping in a field. We all know that I’m not the world’s biggest camping fan (or if you didn’t, have this), but it’s marginally more survivable if you’re doing it with friends, in a field full of 1000+ students, than with your family, in a field with like 2 other tents. Why was I putting myself through the (cold, wet, muddy) misery of camping? Great question. Because I was at UCCF National Forum, the main training week for CU leaders in the UK. So the fact that my wellies broke, and that I was consistently freezing, was kind of outweighed by the experience of being in a huge marquee with 1000 other students belting worship songs at the top of our lungs, a ridiculous silent disco (made more hilarious by the fact that you knew everyone there was sober), and bonding with the CU camping next to us over the fact that a girl in my CU accidentally exploded the air mattress she was sleeping on. (For a better blog about Forum, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend you read this which my friend wrote; she has basically said everything I wanted to but much more eloquently.)

That week was incredible. Genuinely. It sounds like the least fun ever (camping, Christian teaching, rain), but it was so encouraging and thought-provoking and exciting. However. (Brace yourselves.) I did not attend a single talk, seminar or workshop that wasn’t run by a man. I only attended one (out of…maybe 20?) which was run by a man who wasn’t white. As far as I’m aware, nobody else in my CU attended anything run by a woman, either (and, collectively, we went to pretty much everything). I’m not saying they weren’t good. They were genuinely wonderful. These guys knew what they were talking about, and I don’t for one minute want to imply that they didn’t, or that they did a  bad job because they’re men, or whatever else people are going to say that I’m trying to imply. I’m not. They were great. I’m really glad I went to every single one. But surely, surely there are women, and people of colour, who could have done just as good a job?

Okay, so I know that a possible reason for why there were no women speaking/running seminars/etc is because some Christians have an issue with women in leadership positions, or teaching. Which is a whole other issue that I’m not going to go into right now, because: I don’t know of a single CU where the exec is all-male. Women are in leadership positions. Students in CUs across the country are already listening to teaching by women, letting women make decisions, and generally allowing women to do things that they’re completely capable of. I’m confident that Jesus wouldn’t have tried to stop any of that from happening. He wants to use everyone. So why were there no women teaching at Forum? What’s actually happening there is that (intentionally or not), CU leaders who are women aren’t seeing themselves represented as leaders at the biggest training conference of the year. The message here (which I’m sure wasn’t intended by the organisers) is that men are leaders and teachers. It’s the same issue as exists across the whole of society – without women in leadership positions as role models, women are less likely to believe they can be leaders, and therefore less likely to try to get leadership positions. We need women on our CU execs. Surely there is no member of a CU exec who would refuse to listen to a woman teaching about evangelism simply because she’s a woman. There is no reason not to have women leading meetings and seminars at Forum. (Neither is there any reason to stop women from taking leadership positions in the Church, but that’s a rant for another time).

Men are not the authority on Christianity. Jesus is. Every single human being sucks, and God uses them all. There is no reason to exclude certain groups of people from teaching evangelism. Oh, and the “what if they couldn’t find any women to do it?” or “but men are better at it” excuses? I honestly think they’re rubbish. Not only are there women who absolutely are good – amazing – at teaching evangelism (one of the people I admire most is my grandma, who both lives in a beautifully Godly way and is brilliant at talking about it), but any woman who is a Christian has something of value to say about evangelism. Granted, some will be better at articulating it than others, and I’m not suggesting that we just grab someone random out of a pew in a church and get them to teach 1000 students, but you get the idea. Some people are better at public speaking than others, in general. It’s nothing to do with the fact that they are women. [Side note: there were female CU exec members who were interviewed in the main meetings. I endorse this. However, it’s not the same as having a woman do the main talk. My point stands.]

I feel way less “qualified” to talk about the fact that all the male speakers/teachers/etc lasst week, bar one, were white. But the same points are relevant. Representation matters. However, there’s even less of a “logical reason” for this to be the case (the “women in leadership in Church” is kind of still a debate, whereas there’s never been any supposed theological basis for only having white people in leadership). It’s so dangerous to whitewash leadership like this. I’m not saying that the organisers should have had people of colour (or women) speak just for the sake of it, as a “token” representative, but there are people of colour who are “qualified” to teach this stuff. (Insofar as “qualification” is necessary; the speakers were often people who had jobs related to evangelism or outreach work.) I don’t know why these people weren’t invited to speak at Forum.

I feel like this has kind of deteriorated from logical argument into messy rant. I also don’t want to imply that the week was anything less than amazing; it was honestly one of the best weeks of the summer. But this stuff needs addressing – not bringing it up once I’d noticed it would mean I was part of the problem.

xx

Something that made me happy today: chocolate on sale in M&S

Dear 14-year-old Elleni

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I’m currently listening to the Top 100 from 2010, because I’m gonna do that potentially really cringey thing that people do when they write a letter to their past selves. Getting back into the mind of 14-year-old me (via reading my diary back and listening to the aforementioned music) is very odd. I didn’t realise how many of my memories are from after I turned 14, it’s kind of ridiculous. Anyway, that’s enough intro nonsense. I’ll try to make this interesting to people who aren’t me, but no promises. I do however promise incredibly vague references to things that have happened in my life, so you’re welcome to ask me about whatever, but I’m also welcome to not tell you. Cool.

Dear 14-year-old Elleni,

Happy Birthday! Things are going to get pretty rough for you fairly soon, so I just wanted to give you a heads-up. Sorry to open with such a grim picture of your life, but I promise it’s not all bad. I just think it’s important for you to know.

Everything you feel is so strong right now. Everything that matters to you matters so much. Try not to lose that, because while at the moment it’s things like boys who won’t notice you (we’ll come back to that one, sit tight) and whether you should straighten you hair (embrace your curls, they will be gorgeous if you let them!), before you know it the things you care about will really matter, and be mostly outside of yourself, and caring passionately about them is going to be so important. (By the way, maybe start reading more about feminism and activism in general now, and save yourself a few years – while your A Level English teachers are going to be amazing about this, you’ll wish you’d learnt about it earlier.) Feel your emotions strongly, recognise that it means you care. Whatever you care about is important and nobody should tell you otherwise.

Alright, I’m coming back to the boys thing because I know it’s basically all you and your friends talk about at the moment. I realise that’s partly a result of going to an all-girls school, but still. You don’t need to worry. I was going to tell you that it’s not important yet, but I don’t want to be totally contradictory. Let me elaborate. Your feelings are important. Boys aren’t as important as you make them out to be right now. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to fancy certain guys, or to have a boyfriend. Don’t feel left out because your friends are in relationships. Spoiler: none of the relationships your friends are in right now last more than a few months. And that boy you meet this summer? You’ll barely remember his name in 5 years. Really. Stop stressing out so much about it, and focus on other things. You’ll have boyfriends in time, and it’ll be fine, but just calm down about it for a while, yeah? Oh, and when you’ve been out with a couple of guys, tell your friends it’s mean to make fun of you for it. Those relationships won’t last, but they matter because they’ll teach you so much. Allow yourself to fall for people; it’s okay to let your walls down. Allow yourself to feel upset afterwards, because broken trust is hurtful. But don’t put so much weight on all this stuff. You’ll get to a point where you’re happier single, at least for a bit. Promise. Oh, and yeah, girls are hot too. That’s okay. Maybe table that thought for a little while because you’re about to have a tonne of other stuff to deal with, but it’s chill. Again, don’t stress. Maybe in a few years Google ‘bisexual’. Don’t freak out on me. Everything gets easier once you get to Uni.

The friends you have right now are so precious. They are the people who will see you go through the worst years of your life (so far) and hold your hand through a lot of it. You’ll fall out, sure, but teenage girls are bitchy (and I know you think you’re not, but you kind of are. Sorry. All-girls’ school.) That said, if they upset you, please just tell them. Please. They don’t want you to feel that way. They really, honestly care about you; trust me on this one. On the flip side, you’re going to meet so many more amazing people once you’re out of school who are going to be so so so important to you, and teach you so much, and let you become something more akin to who you wish you could be right now. These people are also precious. Don’t write people off because of first impressions. Be friends with people who bring out the best in you. Love unconditionally and expect the same in return –  that’s how friendship works. Spend your time with people who let you know you are loved.

Alright. Here’s the less good news. I’m sorry. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of rubbish in the next few years (and that’s an understatement because I know you don’t swear). I could tell you things that would potentially make some of this stuff go differently, but I don’t want to. It completely and utterly sucks, but you won’t be the same if you don’t go through it. But let me tell you this: you will get through it. It’s not all sorted for me right now. I don’t know if it’ll ever be sorted. But it gets so much easier. Hang in there. Look after yourself as best you know how. You are so loved, even if you can’t see it at times. Also, I promise that talking to people – even professionals – about how you feel is going to get less scary as you get older.

Religion is more complicated than you realise at the moment. You’re so trusting. Try and hold on to that, but don’t be afraid to question things. Jesus was a radical. You are loved. It’s okay to not feel sure about things. I don’t have any answers for you on this one. Sorry.

You are yet to live through the worst and best days of your life (so far). You are yet to make the decisions you regret the most. You are yet to receive the best news you’ve ever had. You are yet to meet people whom you will love with everything you have. You are yet to learn so much about what you care about and who you want to be. Hold onto the people who mean the most to you, and don’t be afraid to lose touch with people who make you feel worthless. People are going to hurt you, but people are also going to inspire you and love you and help you to love yourself. You are worth so much, and every day you live through gets you closer to where I am. And it’s a pretty good place right now, for the most part. It gets easier. Hang in there, darling. Let yourself feel every emotion you need to, it will shape you in ways you can’t imagine right now. Celebrate every achievement, because you won’t realise how much you’ve done until much later. Be brave. Take chances. You can do so much more than you believe you can!

If you could see me now, I hope you’d be happy. I’m not who you think I’ll be, but that’s okay. Plans change (I know, I know, we hate plans changing. It’s alright. It’s for the best. You’re starting to learn to love yourself.) The best is yet to come. I’m proof that you can get through the next few years and see it. Get excited!

All the best,

19-year-old Elleni

xxx

PS – please, please, stop brushing your hair all the time. Oh, and when I said to read up about feminism? I meant it.

Alright, I think that’s sufficiently awful. Now I’m gonna go and do something to get myself out of this weird nostalgia headspace I’ve put myself in.

xx

Something that made me happy today: laughing really hard with my family ❤