Category: a thing or two

Mar 30

are transsexuals female?

Bitching on the beauty pageant circuit is hardly news, but in attempting to make it a little more political, Jenna Talackova has managed to gain some media coverage as the first transsexual to enter (that anyone knows of) and be disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada competition for failing to meet the main requirement of the pageant – that she be female. The other requirements for entry into the Donald Trump-owned extravaganza are that the women never have been pregnant or married. If he could get away with it, I think Donald would be demanding vestal virgins to worship at the temple of Trump, but he has to make do with the possibility that the entrants might be virgins.

The response has, unerringly, been in support of Jenna – it’s a violation of her rights as a woman, transgender and transsexual men should be able to do anything a woman can etc – and has been dominated by male journalists drooling over her long legs, huge breasts, and enormous hair. You might think, it’s just a beauty pageant, who gives a shit, and, to a point, I’d agree with you. But I happen to think that beauty pageants represent a retrogressive step in the quest for sexual equality, pitting women against one another, from birth in the case of baby pageants, based on little more than their ability to say “world peace”, wave, slink, pout and smile. There are more rewarding abilities which the many millions of pounds could be spent fostering. Beauty pageants are social phenomena that reach into the far corners of this solar system and the next if the Miss Universe title is to be taken literally and are, therefore, culturally significant. Girls (and some boys) dream of entering them, journalists write about them, a fortune is made promoting them, no matter how fleeting their fame, people follow the stories of the winners, and I’m here writing a blog post about them. So, as a starting point for debate on the issue of what makes gender, they’re as relevant a platform for cultural comment as any other.

I don’t think Jenna should have been disqualified – she deserves some reward for all that she’s put her body through and, if the Miss Universe Canada is what she’s after, then give it to her and good on her. I do, however, object to her automatic classification as female.  Jenna isn’t a woman and all the huge hair, bee-stung lips, breast implants and man-made vagina aren’t going to make her one. Just because she no longer has a penis, doesn’t, by default, make her female. The female gender isn’t a depository for anyone who didn’t want to be a boy. (I realise I’m using the female personal pronoun, but attempts to create one that is neither male nor female don’t seem to have got much beyond “herstory” and “womin”, which is a whole other issue.)

A few years ago, the short-lived Observer Woman magazine (there was never a Man magazine – seems the editors thought the sports section was it) ran an issue on “radical women”. Included in it was an interview with Candis Payne, the first transsexual to star in a primetime soap (Billy Baldwin’s love interest in Dirty Sexy Money). I complained to the editor, saying that, were the issue about radical men, I would applaud Candis’s inclusion as a man who had shown tremendous courage in his determination to change genders, but as a woman, she seemed to have done little more than land a role as a transsexual. The acting profession may be brutal, but surely that isn’t so significant an achievement as to be considered radical.

The roid-fest that is Mr Universe is running sometime later this year. I’d be curious to know the reception a female-to-male transsexual would receive if he attempted to enter. That said, the appearance of the contestants in the Miss Figure category already defies gender stereotypes so, maybe, there isn’t the same desire to flout them by hoping to pass as a man. My muscle bulk is concentrated in my gluteus maximus so there’s not much chance of me getting through the first round, but if she’s still in love with her new physique, Jodie Marsh might make it.


Mar 01


I’m a cosmo sexpert!




Feb 28

Unlikely Icons. Number One: The Brussel Sprout

Few things so neatly divide a people as the Brussels Sprout.  The love camp tends to base its preference on taste and a positive association with festive occasions.  The loathe camp, on the other hand, is peopled by victims of childhood neglect, abuse, and the British education system who were forced to eat every last one of their sprouts.  Why the perpetrators of their abuse chose Brussels sprouts I don't know, but the little things have been used to torment children since the days of Ancient Rome.  Perhaps, in anticipation of the emotional baggage to which they were to contribute, they were made a member of the cruciferous ("cross-bearing") vegetable family.  Tantalizingly close to a combination of "crucify" and "lucifer", it wasn't a foreboding of inedible school dinners to come - it refers, only, to the cross-like formation of the leaves.

There you go - utterly useless information about something pretty insignificant that, none the less, has the power to divide a dinnertable.


Feb 12

Get your rocks off on a Sunday morning

Dislocated my shoulder this morning which is always super fun.  I’ve done it before and have been to hospital so many times, even at the end of a 48-hour shift, the doctors recognise me.  Most of them are the baby doctors, delighted with their stethoscopes and still green enough to think that primum non nocere actually has a practical application.  I try to be helpful and tell the sweet nurse a joke in the hope it’ll make him stop looking quite so nervous as he flits about and dashes off, reappearing with my old friend, the canister of entenox.  He tells me I’m doing wonderfully and I’m very lucky because there’s a registrar on duty who’ll be in to mend my shoulder in just a moment.  She appears, looking about fifteen like they all do and starts moving my arm about.  I close my eyes and try to think of being in bed with this man I don’t know very well but who I’ve taken a liking to and looks like he’d be fun, but I just can’t get the image to appear.  Years ago I had some hypnotherapy and, though I never found it much use, something must have worked because whenever I’m on entenox, all I see are green grass and fluffy clouds.  I try saying sex sex sex sex sex to myself (silently, I think) in the hope it’ll make the the grass and sky bugger off, but it won’t so daisy-flecked meadows and no man it is.  The nurse says something about what sounds like “the kent technique” but turns into “cunt technique” in my head.  Off my face on entenox, I think this is absolutely hilarious, of course, and start thinking about how it could work.  Having a man’s head between my thighs would be a good distraction.  It wouldn’t make the pain go away, but it would give me something to think about or something to make me think less, anyway.  Think I might have to have private health insurance to get that sort of care, though, so I decide to solve complex philosophical conundrums instead.  I once went to a philosophy lecture at which some people were debating the difference between brain and mind and wondering round and round if there was one.  The lecturer said the debate was 20 centuries old so you’d think they’d have come to some sort of conclusion by now, but apparently not.  I thought it was pretty bloody obvious there was a difference, but I didn’t know any of the key phrases so just let them ramble on and did my best to look fascinated.  Anyway, I’ve solved the debate for them.  My theory is that, if the mind and brain weren’t separate entities, my brain couldn’t send messages to my nerve endings alerting them to the pain I couldn’t consciously feel and my mind couldn’t have me tripping along through a meadow solving 2000-year-old problems and working out the precise logistics of cunnilingus-based pain relief.  So stick that in your pipe, Plato, and pass it along to Descartes.  I realise it might not be water-tight, but there’s a certain clarity that comes with befuddling drugs.  My shoulder’s fine now.  Next time it’s out, I think I might give the God debate a shot.  That seems quite popular and it’s gone on long enough.



Jan 21

Birthing Aliens: The Movie

A take on life pre- during and post-hysterectomy.  A funny take.  I think it’s funny, anyway – doing it kept me entertained when I wasn’t allowed to do anything beyond lazing about in enormous knickers and, occasionally, a lovely dress.  (Turn your speakers on for the funky tune.)


Nov 29

Stalked by a psychic

I’m being stalked by an online psychic.  She started off quite nice when I clicked on the ad and said yes I’d like a free online psychic reading.  Her site said she had to spend the night tuning into me then would send me the reading the next morning.  When it arrived, it rambled on and on promising romance just around the corner, irresistible offers, a period of great creativity, exciting possibilities, an unexpected and wonderful gift, recognition for great professional achievement – everything short of a lottery win, basically, and all the things a girl wants to hear.  I got a bit bored about half way through because she hadn’t exactly gone out of her way to come up with anything super exciting or useful and she’d spelt my name wrong so she can’t have been that tuned in.  I didn’t take her up on the offer of another psychic reading at 25% off or 30% if I shared the offer with my friends.  She wrote again a few times over the next couple of weeks with increasingly urgent subject lines about just how fabulous my life could be if I followed her guidance, signing each one “Your devoted friend, Tara”.  “Great good fortune is at your doorstep,” she said, then “An urgent and personal message”, “Read this quickly, there is no time to waist” [sic], and “here at last is the solution to all your problems”.  Then she seemed to think a different tack was needed if I was to stop my foolish, misguided ways and look, instead, to her for guidance.  She told me “Something is happening”, “72 hours from now it will be too late” and “I have to help you make the right choice”.  She felt “an urgent need to prepare your astral chart” after “a strange premonitory vision” and discovered that someone was out to harm me.  She said she could tell me everything – how to “neutralize the harmful actions of someone close to you who wants to ruin your hopes and dreams, and turn your entire financial situation around and attain the balance and harmony of a happy life”.  Yesterday’s instalment was “Do you want to face these terrible moments alone?” followed by a plea in block caps underlined four times to sign up for my “sensorial vision study and you ritual of ultimate protection, which we’ll have to perform as soon as possible”.  All quite tantalizing stuff. I was going to block her, but I’m quite intrigued to know which armageddon is likely to befall me next.

She hasn’t been to my house, that I know of, but she does seem to think she’s seen into my soul which probably means more to her.  I hope so – she’d be the most annoying person to have around.  Sort of block caps with a falsetto delivery.


Oct 29

Birthing Aliens

The fibroid in my uterus is so large, the doctor says, it feels like I’m pregnant.  I tell him I’ll be seriously pissed off if I am and the only way it could have happened is through some sort of alien abduction where they sedated and impregnated me.  If something green and vaguely humanoid (or not) bursts out of me like it did to Sigourney Weaver in Alien, spawning a frenzy of feminist critiquing, I’ll go with the abduction theory.  Another possibility that the doctor doesn’t suggest but that I’ve heard of, is that there are bits of a twin I sort of ate in the womb.  A friend of mine had the cells that make up teeth and hair attached to one of her ovaries.  Barring either possibilities, fibroids it is.  The doctor says I’ll need a scan to find out how far the fibroids have spread so we can decide on the best way to treat them.  He says there are treatments to shrink and remove them without affecting my fertility or damaging my uterus, but a hysterectomy is the most common procedure.  Taking out my womb.  Right.  I tell my mum about it who, unhelpfully, says that “the alternative lot” would say that, because I spent time thinking about having my tubes tied a few months ago, my body has responded by making the decision for me by filling my uterus with benign growths.  What a load of fucking shite, is all I can think to say and I take out my irritation at the idea that people get the conditions they deserve on the clips I hammer into the wall to hold my telephone extension cable in place.

Georgia, Minnie and Olivia come to see what I’m up to and give the cable a nibble in case it’s one of the delicacies they’re convinced they’re going to find on the floor one day.  Olivia’s booked in to get spayed the week after next and, as she boings about, over-enthusiastically nibbling bits of me, I wonder if she’ll know something’s changed.  Will she feel suddenly incomplete – somehow less of a doe because she has a gap where her womb used to be?  Does the inability to have baby rats make her less female or won’t she care because it’s just a process and, though an instinct to care for her young would kick in when they were born, there’s no emotion attached to any of it – it doesn’t come with the baggage humans attribute to it?

Being female is something I know quite a lot about.  I am one, for a start.  I’ve spent a great deal of time talking, thinking and writing about being a woman – who we are, why we behave the way we do, what we want, what we don’t want, what we’re told we should want no matter how damaging it may be, how we are versus how we’re supposed to be.  I’ve been calling myself a feminist since my teens.  I sign petitions against the stoning of rape victims accused of adultery.  I lobby MPs for women’s right to have equal representation in the workplace and education; access to free, clean and legal family planning, abortion and aftercare; to be free to dress and behave however they want without fear of assault and, should they be attacked, to be able to report it and seek prosecution without being subjected to attempts to discredit them at every turn and to the sort of interrogation usually reserved for criminals.  I campaign against the sexualisation of girls from an increasingly early age which has led to the loss of childhood to porn; the sexism and mysogyny gone viral in our media; and the societal attitudes that allow pictures of women breastfeeding to be banned but groups who make jokes about rape defended as examples of free speech.  I’ve read the books and written one of my own, looking at the ways indecent exposure affects and reflects our views of male and female sexuality.  I’ve got a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt, dammit.

I know all this stuff – I’ve got a head full of it.  What I didn’t know was what my uterus had to do with any of it.  I campaign for women’s right to choose what they do with theirs, but until I found a fuck-off fibroid in it, I’d never really thought about my own.  I’ve known I don’t want kids for the past few years – I don’t like most of them and the unrelenting labour of caring for them makes me want to have a nap just thinking about it.  I used to think, if I got pregnant, I’d have an abortion, but then my nephew was born and the smile he gave his mum when she said “and it was you in my tummy!” made me realise I couldn’t go through with it.  Thinking that, if I wouldn’t get an abortion, it was better not to get pregnant in the first place, I went to the doctor to ask about getting my tubes tied. I smiled while he drew a diagram of my reproductory system and explained which bit was which and where the clips would go.  He told me it was irreversible (it isn’t, though reversal success rates aren’t brilliant) and there was a great difference between not wanting to have kids and not being able to.  Therefore, I needed to consider it carefully.

Now, unless a less invasive procedure works, I’ll be having my womb taken out.  No fibroids, no periods, no babies.  It’ll be super!  I think, but I’m not always sure.  I know we’re not just our reproductive systems.  I know it’s just anatomy.  I know my womb isn’t some dumping ground where fibroma flourish to punish me for all my no-children-thank-you thoughts.  I know a womb maketh not a woman.  I know there’s a helluva lot more goes into being a woman than the ability to reproduce, but there’s this thing like a tiny stick figure in my head that says, minus a uterus, I’ll somehow be less of a woman.  It’s a pointless and nonsensical thought, but it’s there.  Like there’s no pleasing me – I might not want to have kids but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be able to have them even though I don’t want them.  I want to tell the stick figure to shut up.  It’s my womb and I’ll have it taken out if I want to!  My friends make me laugh, telling me it won’t make the slightest difference, I’ll always be “all woman”, and asking if I’ll still be able to orgasm – “First things first honey!”  Yes, lots of orgasms and no babies or periods, I say.  Of course, this might all be academic.  I’ve read about the other treatments so often I’ve started dreaming of a powerpoint presentation on them given by my doctor (in stilettos for some reason) so it’s not like I don’t know there are other ways to go.  Maybe the £21.99 investment in a mooncup won’t be a waste of money (it’s not like I can give it to the charity shop), maybe I’ll still get periods, maybe that stick figure will go away till it finds something else to make me wonder about, maybe I’ll have all those orgasms and no kids or periods.  So many maybes.  There’s one thing of which I’m certain, though – if there are any aliens, teeth or hair in there, I don’t want to know.


Sep 22

For the love of ladybits

As an antidote to a post I wrote a little while ago about the negative depiction of women in advertising, I thought I’d look for ads that present women in a way that doesn’t mutilate, degrade, objectify, murder or beat them. I put “female-friendly ads” into google and got a list of adverts for flatmates, a travel guide for lone female travellers, and “pre-loved, female-friendly rabbits in need of a good home”. I already have a flat, am not planning a trip anytime soon, and, if I have anything else in my flat that nibbles and gnaws, it’s only a matter of time before they take out a supporting wall.

Some companies make an effort, but I didn’t spot anything revolutionary. Dove’s tried very hard with their Campaign For Real Beauty, telling us it’s all right not to look like a swizzle stick and everyone’s beautiful so long as they’re smeared in moisturiser and airbrushed like the “normal women” in the ads. It’s all very well-intentioned, but it’s still women standing around in their knickers or naked, smiling because they’re oh so smooth. It’s easy to make women living in relatively privileged circumstances look peachy. What about the legs of a woman living on the streets of Kabul or the hands of a Somalian woman scrabbling in the dirt trying to find somewhere to plant seeds so she can hope to feed her children? If Dove could make them look like they’d spent a girly weekend at the spa, I might be a little more convinced of its beautifying properties.

With the exception of PETA’s supermodels posing naked because they’d rather do that than wear fur, charity campaigns tend not to show women just as passive objects. They’re usually presented as victims of the treatment against which the charities are campaigning, but it’s a necessary shock tactic, as though, unless a woman is shown beaten to a pulp, no one will believe it happens.

I eventually found this ad by the makers of the mooncup. It’s got pubic hair and the word “vagina” in it. There’s none of the blue dye we’re all supposed to bleed and that causes teenage girls, in their thousands, to think they’re hemorrhaging because their blood’s red and it hasn’t replaced any reference to genitals with “feminine”. This shouldn’t be exciting – it should be no surprise to have either in an ad for something you insert into your vagina – but it is. I realise the hair is actually grass and it’s green, but people get very inventive with their pubic hair, dyeing it every shade – it’s not like we’ve all got the same colour.

I’m a recent convert to the mooncup. I’d resisted because I thought it would be like a diaphragm and I’d had a single disastrous experience with that. After an hour of trying to hold onto this lube-covered, coil-sprung, latex orb, assuming every position I thought would help me to “just relax” like it said in the instructions and get the bloody thing in, it pinged out of my hands, hit the wall and slid down the back of the radiator. I tried one last time, he complained he could feel it, we stopped, he picked up some computer science textbook and called his mother. Oedipus The Geek. God, I should have seen the signs. Anyway, suffice to say, the mooncup is nothing like that. There’s no audience rapidly losing interest in the show, for a start. And the mooncup makers have written a song to ignite your ladybits-love. I contributed “cooch”.


Sep 10

Crap on the pavement

Stuff you see on the ground when you should be watching where you’re going.



Aug 19

How to be a lady in an unchivalrous age

It’s a common misconception that, in order to be a lady, you have to be posh. If you speak poshly, people will tend to assume that you are a lady, but accent doth not necessarily a lady make.  No, being a lady is something to which all women may aspire, regardless of background, class, schooling, and whether or not they attended an all-girls Catholic boarding school.  Just follow these simple steps to help guide you, in a ladylike fashion, through the world of dating’s unchivalrous waters.

Step One: Expressing One’s Opinions

Though being ladylike perhaps suggests a certain girlishness, this is unfounded and untrue. Being a lady is not the same thing as being a nitwit. Ladies have opinions, and plenty of them. They are proud of their opinions – varied, interesting, and likely to be vastly superior to all those around her.  What differentiates a lady from her common counterpart is the way in which she expresses them.

Ladies are assertive.  They are not aggressive and, this is of utmost important, ladies do not swear, nor do they replace rude words with silly euphemisms like fiddle-de-dee. No, though she may feel the urge to utter profanities rising inside her, she channels it into cutting remarks. With a vast array of topics to choose from, there is no need to resort to swear words. Ladies may cast aspersions on all manner of displeasing charactertistics and habits in a man: professional capabilities, sexual prowess, choice of alcoholic beverages, friends, spontaneous loss of sight and hearing at the mere mention of any remotely related to domestics. To save yourself from the temptation to roar expletives which will most likely have no effect whatsoever, compile your own list with put-downs for every little annoyance, no matter how minor it may seem, and keep it handy in your purse.

Nor do ladies shout. Unless you happen to have thrown all aspirations to ladylike behaviour out of the window, along with his belongings, in which case raising one’s voice is unavoidable, one must remember that it is the quality of one’s words and not the volume at which they are spoken that conveys one’s meaning.

Step Two: Style

Contrary to what you may think, if you happen to think it, being ladylike does not mean one is restricted in one’s choice of wardrobe.  It is not necessary to limit oneself to skirts below the knee and blouses that reveal nothing more than a mere hint of one’s decolletage.  The crucial element that every lady must remember is poise.  It is not about what you wear, but about how you wear it.  As a general rule, underwear is preferable, but if you can carry off the risk of exposing your lady bits in a dress slit up to here and down to there, with your posture perfect (a lady never slouches) and your head held high, you will give the impression of self-assurance, a trait indispensable to a lady.  Whether you feel it or not, people will sense a certain superiority about you, whether you are in a state of lusty déshabillée or divine in couture.

Step Three: Indulgence

The lady of yore never indulged more than a a nibble of a biscuit and sip of weak, milky tea with the vicar.  Today’s lady must keep up with the times and, though tea with the vicar may be the highlight of the season, nibbles and sips need not be the extent of her indulgence.  It is one’s manners when indulging, not what one indulges in, that are of importance.  It isn’t necessary to learn which fork is for the amuse-bouche and which spoon for the sorbet.  Unless you have a particular penchant for silverware, it merely takes up space in your head you could be filling with slightly more diverting matters.  All you need do, should you find yourself at table with, say, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, is to glance quickly at the other guests and follow their lead.  Be entirely surreptitious or make it look as though you are taking an interest in each member of the party – perhaps use it as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the strapping Lord beside you.  One never knows where such introductions may lead.

Strictly speaking, a lady is never seen to over-indulge, but it might make for a boring time if one adhered strictly to this requirement.  Fortunately, there are ways to preserve one’s ladylike appearance whilst drifting along in a haze of bombay schmint.  Being a lady is based, largely, on projection (of one’s image – crucially, not of one’s stomach contents), so should you wish to indulge till your eyes roll back in your head, you may do so on one proviso: you must, at all times, maintain your poise.  Sip your drink from a teacup if you’d like to conceal it (gin tea parties are, handily, quite in vogue), keep your smile soft and your back straight – wedge yourself between cushions or brace yourself against the side of the taxi, if necessary and, whatever you do, don’t allow your smile to spread into one of those ghastly rictus gapes so common amongst the inebriated.  You will frighten children and make your companion think you’re more interested in biting than bedding him, notions you do not wish to encourage.  If you feel yourself gaping, take a deep breath, close your mouth and give a discrete smile.  Dazzle him with your eyes – not your epiglottis.

Step Four: Going Dutch

In a word, don’t.  This is not a calamitous plunging back into the dark days of pre-feminism.  Au contraire, it is a means by which both to assert your independence and judge the likely generosity of your companion.  Always pay either all of the bill or none of it.  By paying the entire bill, you are demonstrating both your financial independence and your pride.  You are a confident woman of means who does not expect to be patronised or resented for being a burden.  It will also give you a brief glimpse into the ego of your companion: if he regards a woman paying for dinner as an insult to his masculinity, manhood, ego, and entire sense of self, just think how incapable he will be of providing you with the male company you deserve.  The last thing a woman needs – be she a lady or not – is a man likely to mope and whine at the merest pinprick to his ego.  As for paying none of the bill, should your companion be so lacking in generosity that he refuses to pay both your share and his, imagine how he is likely to perform in other areas of his life.  Nobody likes a boring bonk.

Step Five: The Kiss Goodnight

This is a tricky area for a lady to navigate because it is so steeped in social mores that it may feel it is out of one’s control.  At this point, you must remember the assertiveness of a lady – not pushy or arrogant, but sure of her own mind and unafraid to heed its wishes.  Never mind what your companion, the body politic or your mother thinks.  The only concern you should have is for your own wishes.  If you have all the patience of a three-year-old at Christmas, then instead of a chaste kiss on the cheek, open the door and zip upstairs, hopefully with your chap in tow.  If, on the other hand, you believe as some Frenchman once remarked, that the best part of the affair is when one is walking up the stairs to one’s lover’s boudoir, an opinion entirely dependent on whom one is likely to find once one arrives, then wait a little while.  Perhaps not so long that, by the time he may make his stealthy way up the stairs, you’ve had to instal a stair-lift.

I do hope these steps are of help.  They’re guidelines only and need not be adhered to, to the letter.  Feel free to make your own additions. Just remember poise, poise, poise.





Aug 18

a little pink for a cloudy week


Jul 26

The Missing Piece


Taken by the port in Cramond.  Someone somewhere is unable to finish their jigsaw.


Jun 25

The Tattoo

The tattoo I finally got in a ‘been thinking about it for months’ kind of spur of the moment.  It’s a line from Ovid’s Letters of Heroines between Laodamia and her husband, Protesilaus, beseeching him to take care while he fights in Troy.  He was dead by the time she wrote it – first off the ship hoping to end the battle and return to his wife, he was among the first killed.

The tattooist swore and grunted like he had some sort of machismo Tourette’s (there were men to impress, after all).  The valium had kicked in so I didn’t mind that he didn’t seem to notice there was a lady present.  Probably deciding I was too posh to get the references, he stopped and rather sweetly asked if my man was a sailor.

There was an enormous couple in there having the dates of when they moved in together tattooed on the back of their necks and a man with his shirt off trying to find a space for  Freddie Krueger and an angel with enormous breasts.  Might have had to reduce the cup size to fit her in.   I felt very restrained standing there with my one line of poetry, but different strokes and all that.  I like reading poems and Mr Kreuger-Angel likes cavernous cleavage and horror films.

I distracted myself with chocolate while his dad wrote on me, apologising in case it was ‘a wee bit nippit’ then limped off home and woke up in the night wondering why on earth I’d written on myself in indelible ink.  I love it now.  Read the whole text – you might think I should have got a different line.  There’s my other thigh to write on.  My whole body, in fact.