Friday, 27 January 2012

Trans news analysis preview

    Regular readers of this blog will know that I have something of an interest in language, and how it is used in relation to us.
    In pursuit of that interest, I have been looking at how we are treated in the media, and to that end I have been collecting as many news stories on transgender themes as I can.
    Last March, I wrote a little piece of software that checks Google News feeds every day on a range of keyword searches designed to find as wide a range of transgender news stories as possible from the widest possible range of sources and from all corners of the world. Since I will soon have a year's worth of data, I have been working on some code that analyses the stories and allows a human-readable view of the language trends.
    It is too early to show anything meaningful, but I thought I would share the following graph by way of a preview. It shows the story frequency by source, for British publishers only, and it shows pretty clearly which outlets have something of an obsession with us. The Daily Mail was not just the most frequent publisher in the UK of transgender related stories, they also top the world rankings. At number two was the Huffington Post, and at number three was the Guardian, for the curious.
    Expect to see something more meaningful from this data set in March. At the moment I'm playing with analysis scripts and with display ideas. I will also release my processed data sets, should anyone else fancy their own analysis.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Gate valve

    Salt is the enemy of old cars, it makes them rust in all sorts of exciting ways. The council spread it on main roads in winter to allow idiots in modern cars not to have to drive carefully on frosty mornings, so at this time of year a drive of more than a few miles will expose your ride to more of the stuff than is healthy for it.
    So people like me, custodians of Rusty Old Wrecks and their ilk, are faced with a challenge in the winter months. Cars need to be driven, if you don't use a car for a few months you'll find that bits of it no longer work when you return to it. But driving it on main roads brings salt, and that's bad. So we pick dry and fine winter days like yesterday, and venture forth on the most salt-free roads we can find. For me yesterday that was a well-worn run round a couple of the villages near where I grew up, the council never salt minor roads.
    January days can be beautiful. Yesterday saw the sun poking under patchy grey cloud with a bit of haze, lighting up the countryside in rays like the Promised Land. The muted greens of winter roadside verges and fields of winter wheat seedlings were briefly rendered emerald, and the browns and greys of the dormant hedges and trees gained flecks of gold and red.
    The car didn't show its five decades as it started almost on the button. Coolant and oil as they should be, all hydraulic systems responding well to a repeated cycling. The charging was a bit lacklustre, but what do you expect from Lucas, Prince of Insufficient Light.
    Not everyone will understand this, but it's fun piloting a geriatric car through country lanes in January.
    I was assaulted by one thing though. Back in the summer, the Wreck's heater valve started leaking. Car heaters run on engine coolant, so leaks are generally a Bad Thing. New heater valves for a Wreck are only available as reproduction units, and at eye-watering prices, so I simply piped the entire heater out of the system and kept driving. Really, I've paid more for entire Wrecks than what they want for a new heater valve!
    I meant to fix it, I was going to ask a heating engineer friend to source me a microbore gate valve as a substitute. But somehow I never got round to it, so the car still doesn't have a heater.
    Rather cold, bimbling through the British countryside in January in a five-decade-old car with no heater.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Everybody's an expert

    You soon find when you embark on a treatment such as laser hair removal that you are bombarded with advice. Your practitioner has got everything wrong it seems, all your hairs are going to go white, you'll end up with an interesting pattern of indelible red marks on your face, it'll take far more treatments than necessary if you do it that way. And many more permutations of that theme.

    There's an important thing to remember when faced with such a confusing array of views.

Number of procedures of which the person offering advice has experience: ONE.

Number of procedures of which your laser practitioner has experience: MANY THOUSANDS.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Why I will never be a Feminist

    Scary stuff, testosterone. I remember over twenty years ago as a spotty young oik, suffering the full effect of having large amounts of it coursing through my veins. For a rather difficult few years my brain felt at times like a barely manageable mix of aggression and carnal desire with a sensory focus between my legs.
    I guess my contemporaries must have had the same experience, though their reactions seemed to be different. Slipping as I did into a cycle of depression that lasted for nearly two decades I never really participated in the meat market of teenage dating, they seized their new challenge with enthusiasm.
    Against this background as we make the difficult move from teenager to adult we form a lot of the views and prejudices that stay with us for the rest of our lives. I pity young women in this situation, faced as they are with young men of their age driven crazy by their hormones. Their adult impressions of men in general are formed by observation of the gauche sex-crazed youths who employ ever more desperate tactics in an attempt to seduce them, and not surprisingly some of them exist in an atmosphere of contempt for what they see.

    It's not the most attractive of traits, instinctive contempt for a group of people.

    It's easy enough to foster. If a group tells itself another is worthy of contempt for long enough and it passes without challenge, it becomes received opinion, an attitude beyond reproach. The pages of history books are full of episodes of the unpleasant aftermath of those moments when contempt has been fostered between countries or ethnic groups.
    I guess we are all guilty of it, to a greater or lesser extent, I for instance would readily admit to an instinctive contempt for the staff of some British tabloid newspapers. But that's a matter of personal taste rather than outside influence.
    Contempt starts to worry me when it becomes a central plank of an ideology. And I see contempt at the heart of the ideology of Feminism. It's received opinion among Feminists, that you can advance the most outrageous statements about men, or even those born male-bodied, and they will pass without comment, be applauded even. And subscribing to an ideology within which such casual misandry is acceptable is not healthy.
    Now you're probably getting ready a comment here about how laudable feminism is, and how I've got it so wrong. And at face value, you have a point. But take another look at the preceding paragraph. I've talked about Feminism with an upper-case F, as shorthand for its use as an Ideology, a Cause even. Consider the difference between a conservative and a Conservative as a parallel, or perhaps a democrat and a Democrat if you are American. With a lower-case f, feminism is self-evident. I doubt there are many women who would not call themselves some kind of feminist. I certainly think of myself as one. My concern is that with that upper-case F, Feminism is not doing enough to ensure that it does not become just another twisted ideology sustained only by hatred for an enemy.
    And that is why I will never be a Feminist, only a feminist.

Friday, 13 January 2012


    It's an exciting moment, when about a week after going under the laser your beard hairs start falling out. Right now I'm looking a little patchy, definitely bristly but a little threadbare. In a day or two with luck my chin will be as smooth as the proverbial baby's arse. At least until the next crop grow through.
   I have no regret about losing my beard, I've never liked it and I've always hated shaving. In my life as a scruffy bloke I've thus ended up oscillating between clean shaven and very bristly as I delay shaving until the beard gets too annoying. Ending that cycle will be nothing short of fantastic.
    Everything I've done until now with respect to my appearance has been temporary, or at least reversible. Fingernails and hair can be cut, plucked eyebrows can be allowed to grow back. But lasered beards will not return, this is permanent. Those surrounding me in my daily life will probably not notice and think that I'm simply fastidious in my shaving habits, but never again will they see the bristly me.
    In changing my appearance irreversibly for the first time I have crossed a line somewhere. No possibility of going back, this is uncharted territory.

Monday, 9 January 2012

No pain no gain

    I had my first meeting with the laser on Saturday. Full beard and chin. Ouch.
    There is no shortage of blow-by-blow accounts of laser hair removal in this sphere so I won't bore you too much with mine. Suffice to say it made me yelp a bit and I now have a slightly swollen and red face, with more than my fair share of zits. No pain no gain.
    I'm doing this with the luxury of presenting as a scruffy bloke in my everyday life. My current state can be explained away as an unusually severe case of shaving rash, in the unlikely case that anyone notices.
    I am very glad I am not faced with having to present as female today. Shaving or applying makeup at the moment would be rather painful and probably wouldn't do me any good in the long run. I have a new respect for those who go through this particular part of the process after going full-time, I wouldn't want to go out in the world as a woman looking as I do now.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Cutting some slack

    Plenty of outrage in the news this week, a couple of  celebrity gaffes.
    There was a bit of it from an acquaintance of mine on one of them yesterday. Professor Stephen Hawking said something about not understanding women, and she took offence at that. For her it was a feminist issue, and worthy of railing against.
    I have to say, I don't see it. It was a little old-fashioned, maybe ill-advised even, but offensive? Not really. Just a slightly silly off-the-cuff remark from a 70-year-old academic. And septuagenarian academics are not exactly known for being in touch, are they.
    The whole thing got me thinking. I cut Professor Hawking some slack, not because he's famous or because he's in a wheelchair, but because he's getting on a bit. His world view was formed in the 1950s. It's a bit like your slightly embarrassing elderly aunt who comes out with well-meant pronouncements that were what passed for politically correct politeness when she was a girl in the 1930s but sound ever-so-slightly racist in 2012. There's that rather awkward silence round the dinner table, nobody wants to make a fuss because the poor thing's out of touch and obviously didn't mean it in quite the way it slipped out, but nobody knows quite what to say.
    I think my acquaintance didn't show herself in the best light by her reaction. There are battles worth fighting and there are others which merit little more than a humorous rebuttal. When there is so much real hate speech in the world it's perhaps as well to concentrate on that rather than fire off on the silly.
    There are times when I wish more people thought a little before speaking. When everything we say contributes to our image and credibility, best to make every word count.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New year lethargy

    Right now, I could use a holiday. "You've just had one!" I hear you say, but no, I mean a holiday. As in sun, sea, sand et cetera. And as unquestioned girl, too.
    It always hits me at this time of year, a lethargy. Interestingly something raised by my GIC blood test may provide an answer, I don't get enough light on my skin to break down some of the light-sensitive chemicals my liver sees fit to provide an excess of in my blood. I should try to catch a few more rays, but with a date with the laser on the horizon I'm doing my best to avoid the sun.
    So I'm sitting here, knackered. As is so often the case, some other blog pieces depress me a little. I've written a couple over the last week but not published them, they sound too petulant. Still, writing in any form is cathartic.
    Last Friday was spent walking in the Chilterns with these two, great to find two others smitten with a love of Ordnance Survey maps. Surprisingly, afternoon tea in the rain on a soggy canal bank can be rather fun. And New Years Eve was spent drinking rosé from a box with my wife and our friend R. So it's not been doom and gloom here, more a lack of get-up-and-go.
    I received a letter from the specialist I saw at my last GIC appointment. Summarising our discussion, no surprises. I should have news of my counselling dates before too long. Having something happening at last has been of benefit to me, I find I'm sleeping without medication for the first time in a couple of years.
    So my apologies if you've not heard from me much, I've been a lax emailer or blog commenter. Call it hibernation, and hope I found my buried cache of hazelnuts or something!