Deferring gratification

Children who can defer gratification do better in later life. Children were offered one marshmallow immediately, or two if they could delay eating the first for an unspecified time. The ones who managed to delay for the longest, did best at college and in finding jobs later. The ones who delayed the shortest time were most likely to go to prison.

My friend said this was a matter of employing reason to overcome emotion. The rational mind thinks things through, the emotional mind follows impulses. But here the only motivation for wanting two marshmallows rather than two would be emotional, a desire to eat something sweet. If the children had been offered ice-cubes, unless it was hot and they were thirsty, they would not have bothered.

So it is a matter of having a particular skill- deferring gratification- rather than being “rational”. He found another false way of denigrating emotion: impulses are emotional, but so are long-term desires.

The way we think of these things affects how we can respond to them. Application is a skill to be developed, laziness is a vice to conquer, impulsiveness is a bad quality, these are things to be altered not personality traits. Brains are plastic. I feel seeing them in terms of developing and practising skills is useful, but also note that these things are difficult and take energy, and can be more difficult if you are tired. And motivation matters: if I have a clear understanding of how an act will benefit me, I am more likely to do it. Often, we do things because they are conventional, or because someone else wants us to.

Here I read a tactic to resist the temptation of a particular pleasure: think of a different pleasure. Children told to think of the marshmallows as fluffy clouds resisted temptation longer than those told to think of them as sweet and chewy, but those thinking of crunchy pretzels resisted longest. Thinking of the pleasure you could not have helped resist the temptation of the one within reach. Children who resisted the temptation also chose to distract themselves.

However that too might work for avoiding an immediate impulse, but not for doing something irksome. It would be better to find pleasure in the irksome task, or imagine what good it will accomplish. Think that you will have the pleasure in the future, rather than merely of having it.

Trans picnic

Content: self-harm.

Above us in the park four flags proudly flew, the transgender blue pink white pink blue on a pole and three others on a rope between two poles. One was lilac white green, which I identified as the colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and which I now see is the genderqueer flag. Should there be separate symbols for genderqueer, genderfluid and non-binary? It would only be a problem if anyone pledged allegiance to one over another, and saw the other as definitely a different identity. These ideas and symbols will flourish or wither, as people find ways of transcending gender rather than defining themselves against it, or across it.

I thought at the time it would be good to get a photograph of me with the flags in the background, to associate myself with them, and trans rights campaigns. We curate our image on social media, and that would be me claiming my allegiance. I could have asked someone to take a few on my phone. Now, I wish I had. I didn’t: the sky was grey, but colours can be tweaked; I would have had to ask someone, but they would have; I don’t know why I didn’t.

Someone wants a pronoun circle. What’s that? You say your name and pronouns. We did not do it; but again that is stating who you are, before witnesses, which can be affirming or terrifying.

There were some good looking young trans men there, some with beards, one small for a woman and still binding. There was one on an afternoon out from the mental hospital. He had scars all the way up both forearms, and dressings the whole length of both arms, which he would run his fingers over, perhaps to feel the pain of the wound. He was in a general ward, at first, and now psych, where he has his own room: among the men, which pleases him.

He’s the answer to the Mumsnet crew wailing that their distress requires trans exclusion. A feminist would argue that women suffer from patriarchy, that “femininity” restricts them and that male privilege benefits trans women. So women need women’s space, and men should not be allowed in whatever we are wearing; and women should be able to be themselves without having their breasts removed. My answer: we exist. He knows he is a man. They patronise him by wanting to enforce their solution on him. His distress should matter to them: I can sympathise if mine does not.

We exist. If gender diverse people are allowed to work out our own way, including transition if we want it, we will explode a bomb under patriarchy which will demolish it. If transition is restricted, we have hormones and surgery to prove we are real trans. If it is permitted, we feel less pressure.

A man came over from the friends of the park and wanted to take photos for their facebook page. We demurred, not all of us would want our pictures associated with those flags. Even I did not: I did not have that photo taken. I am glad I was there, glad I was with my kind, and still ambivalent. The image is not the same as a photograph.

Trust, safety, clarity, kindness

Here are today’s thoughts, not at all random, which I am trying to fit together in order to understand the world, my place in it, and myself.

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master- that’s all.”

I was struggling to understand the difference between interest-relative invariantism and contextualism, both concepts in epistemology. IRI is a theory about how knowledge works, contextualism is etymological, about how we use words like “know”. Both say how important something is to me affects what evidence I might need to “know” it. Possibly I know nothing, I merely have reasonable beliefs. It is important that I can change my belief on becoming aware of contradictory evidence, rather than doubling down, but that uncertainty about things which I could reasonably believe should not prevent me from acting. This had me weeping repeatedly and copiously.

I was cycling up a hill, where cars park down one side of the road and there is not room for vehicles to pass each other beside the cars- so they must wait in gaps in the parked cars to let others pass. A lorry was waiting for me. As I struggled past, the driver shouted, “Go on, love, give it some!”

I am told that my greatest strengths are Forgiveness, Bravery, Fairness, Kindness and Creativity. I do not bear grudges, such that I find it hard to imagine that others do: it takes a leap of empathy to see that another might hold a grudge in a particular situation.

A benefits client was walking in a railway station when a man he did not know jumped up on his back and slashed him across the forehead with a knife. His self-confidence entirely evaporated, and he did not want to go out. He got disability benefits, but when they were reconsidered three years later they were withdrawn: arguably he should have got over it. I can’t remember what was the result of our appeal, but think we won. Similarly, a man who lost his forearm in an accident got a high level of disability benefits, but after three years they were cut- probably the decision maker thought he should have got used to doing things one-handed by then. I doubt we won but can’t remember.

Caroline asked, how did you feel about that lorry driver? I think his shout is probably not simple encouragement, but misogynistic. Perhaps he thought I was younger than I am. Certainly he thought I was female, and if he realised I am a trans woman he might have been abusive in a different way.

Why might it be a good thing that there are tensions between people in a Quaker meeting? I feel often we deny them as too frightening. One said, if we can hold the tension it can keep us listening to the Spirit and each other. If we can bear Unknowing, we can learn and grow. It brings us to useful change- which I find painful, hence the crying. Or I am crying at the pain of not being aware of myself.

Possibly it would be best if I were effectively lobotomised by strong antidepressants, and worked shelf-stacking in a local shop, say thirty hours a week, walking home afterwards to watch television. I might then be useful.

When my Friend ministered in Meeting that she felt abandoned by Britain Yearly Meeting because Truth is intensely important to her and BYM was denying the truth, I felt intense sympathy even though I understand the Truth she thinks BYM is denying is that trans women like me are men who should be excluded from women’s spaces. I don’t think that’s true. Possibly it would be in my interest for her to simply lose interest in worshipping with us, feeling betrayed, because then she would leave and the tension I feel worshipping with her would reduce. I see that. And it would not please me: and I see that as a strength in me, a virtue or good thing, rather than weakness or worthlessness. I want her to feel able to remain, and I do not want to abnegate myself to achieve that. I want a result which honours me as well as her. That’s new, that self-respect. It pleases me.

Possibly my former sense of safety, which enabled me to take action in the world, arose from male privilege. I believe I should be capable of effective action because that is the state of white educated males. Women have to be more circumspect, including trans women: something can go wrong at any time, like being slashed across the face with a knife by a random stranger. So epistemological scepticism, claiming we can’t know we are people in a Real World, rather than a brain in a vat, a character in a computer simulation, a spirit tortured by a malevolent sprite, whatever- has the value of showing the world is unpredictable, sometimes we do not know what will happen, and it can be really as bad as a stroke or heart attack or random attack. It can keep philosophers on their toes, and also me, in my Real Life, like a parable forcing awareness of possibilities and uncertainty. But I feel such scepticism is too strong, making too much possible information simply incredible: it washes out degrees of incredibility, which are useful to see.

Things can really be that bad.

I must do what I can.


I cannot help comparing myself to the group. After seventeen years on hormones, I have beautifully shaped small breasts, but I notice on my age group the breast sags enough to hold a pencil underneath. Mine look improbably youthful, though small breasts sag less. My aureoles are small, and the nipples quite flat, flatter even than the men’s. Even if someone only looked at my breasts, they would see I am a trans woman. But then one notices the whole person, and I don’t feel that is some excluding mark here: we are a diverse group, and I am accepted.

These lady-gardens may be better pruned and groomed than mine. I could at least epilate around my navel, there are a lot less hairs there than there used to be, but there are still a few, and I am self-conscious. I go without my wig. One is not supposed to stare, but sadly I do.

We are an educated and mostly spiritually aware lot. I sit in the sun discussing morality and The Trolley Problem. Having compared my body to others’, mostly I lose my self-consciousness and enjoy the company. One has an all-over tan, he does this a lot, but most of us have white bits.

There is a ten yard long, oval swimming pool, slightly more than waist-deep. In the heat, we bob around in it, chatting. I kneel up on the bottom, swaying as the water moves. We can make it into a whirl-pool by all walking round clockwise, pushing the water ahead of us. Once the water is in motion, we float in it, swirling round, fast enough to bang my head on the steps and bumping into each other like soft dodgem cars.

The other exercise is to be held as we float. The water does most of the work, but two to five people stand around us, supporting us behind the head, back, and legs. If only one person supports, we can use a float under the ankles. I feel my trust in the people and the water, open one eye slightly and see the roof-beams move slowly past. It is delicious. I notice a slight tension in my abdominal muscles and want to relax completely.

I think of Carol, who did shoulder massage years ago, and observed I was not relaxed. Rather, I was co-operating, moving my shoulder or arm along with her but simulating surrender rather than making it. She put her arms around my neck as though to break it, and I was not unduly bothered, trusting her- but I could not relax. Now, I am mostly relaxed but for that abdominal muscle.

In this exercise, which is loving and delightful, I am working: I notice my sensations and thoughts and analyse them. I am analysing all the time. Always I am in the words, in my head. I ask to be supported in the small of my back, and relax more. Deliberately I turn my attention to the feeling of the water moving around me, splashing over my legs as I am held higher or lower, wanting to feel it directly rather than analysed and mediated through words. That is, I am working all the time. How should I be, in the world? How may I be like that?

Then I enjoy supporting. I want to give the person the most delightful experience. I feel five supporters on one person floating are too many: six people are probably enough to have two enjoying floating. We feel no need to discuss what we are doing. Next day D supports me, with a float under my ankles: I feel she does it beautifully, varying my sensations.

We have group sharing sessions, lolling in the pool. Things are coming up for me. It is not just a pleasant weekend under canvas, I am noticing how I am with other people. Other people are so strange! As I get to know myself better, getting beyond conventional understandings I picked up of how a person should be to see how I really am, I see them better. The person next to me shared, and I wanted the group share to go the other way round the circle, so I would not be next. I was silent for some time, wanting to honour and voice my negativity, balancing it but not denying it. I said, “I am Abigail. I could run away cursing and screaming. Instead I choose to throw myself into the Love”- and fell forward under the water. We were open and relaxed; and possibly this helped others be even more open as they shared. People said things I will remember, increasing my wish for their good.

We had to get dressed to walk up to the ridge, looking out to sea and on the other side over the valley inland. Walking through mature woodland was lovely, looking downhill from the path through the luminous dark. I talked of that suicide, and one said, “From another point of view it is the greatest gift anyone can give themselves, to stop their suffering. And, if you were my client I would tell you to think what you strive towards rather than flee- you say ‘I will not do that'”. I want to survive. Is there more from life than that?

We were camping inland, but I wanted to see the sea since I was so close to it. Picked up from the station, I asked to go to the beach first before the site. We paddled, and watched people swim in the sea.

Motivation III

It is like living with a sulky teenager. You get up at a reasonable hour and just before leaving for work in the morning you say, “You know you’ve got that to do today? You will do it, won’t you?” And the reply comes back, “Yeah. Don’t you trust me?” Then in the evening you get home and say, “Did you do it?”

-Why didn’t you do it?

Irritating. But I really did intend, and I don’t know why I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to, or thought something would go wrong, perhaps. It is like watching someone else doing something incomprehensible and trying to work out why they did it. I don’t consciously understand my motivations.

I have slime in my bicycle tyre, to seal holes less than ¼”. I cycled to Oundle to the charity shops, and found a Laura Ashley dress. Well, Oundle is a smart area, so has good charity shops. The LK Bennett dress was too small alas. It was terribly hot, and slime actually erupted twice from my front tyre, wetting my legs. That might indicate the hole was too big for the slime to cope. I pumped the tyre up a bit, and my foot pump broke.

So I thought, I will cycle into Swanston, go to the fruit stall, the supermarket, buy a pump and call in at the cycle shop. And I didn’t. So I wondered if I had not because of the chance of something going wrong, or possibly having more to do than usual. Or even J’s suicide. It’s a helpless feeling, thinking I ought to do that and not getting the motivation together to do it. Anne used to say “Action” which was enough to get her in gear.

So I thought I would get the bus. That would get rid of one potential problem. Then actually I cycled into Marsby and bought some food though not as much as I would have, finding that my hand pump could get the tyre hard enough and there were no further punctures, that I noticed. I could just get a new tyre, inner tube and slime but money’s too tight to mention. But having that air leak through my tyre, not the wall of the tyre but the tread, means I could trust it less. Of course if I got a new tyre things could still go wrong but might be less likely to.

I am usually safe for the moment if I just stay indoors. Jesus said, face reality. Build your house on the rock. You know how things are and what you must do, so do it; do not deny how things are. However, not wanting to see quite how bad things are, or to deal with the problems, makes sense to me. I know it’s building a house on sand, when troubles come I am unprepared and my house falls down, and still it feels better now but for the nagging doubts where reality can’t be completely suppressed from consciousness.

Or I am psyching myself up to deal with it, like sitting here hoping motivation will simply develop and I will take action. But, thinking, oh I could take the bus, and finding out my hand pump would work sufficiently even though slime blocked the valve, is something like that: by waiting, I become better able to deal with the problem. Just waiting and not doing anything is not always merely silly.

Part of me is the sulky teenager.

I went to Edinburgh, stayed with my nephew, got to know his fiancée a little bit, saw my sister and my other niece’s partner who seems a decent enough bloke, there was no great coming together but it was just nice and I felt auto-schadenfreude: I was glad I was sad when I left, because sadness at leaving shows pleasure in meeting. It is good to see them. Then I saw my neighbour in the back yard, we chatted away pleasantly, I petted her dog, she said “You seem cheerful,” which I heard as a threat. Obviously you are not depressed.

A suicide

“She found a place in the woods, and chose to end her life in a gentle way with an overdose. It was a conscious death.” So, someone found her body, perhaps someone jogging or walking the dog.

I found out she was dead by facebook, which was a shock: various people I knew were paying tribute to her good qualities. I had met J, but did not know her well; I have a vague memory of one conversation in which she seemed to not understand transgender or what it might mean for me. In interlocking social groups, some people I respect and care about were her friends, doing the tributes. Bored on the train, I returned to facebook and learned she had killed herself, and felt such anger at her- how dare she! What a vile thing to do!

I am not currently suicidal, at least not at the planning stage as I was in December, so I decided to use her death to inoculate myself. That anger and disgust- I consciously chose to remember it, so I could recall it when at the planning stage, or even the execution stage, and possibly save my own life.

Angry, I am thinking what a stupid self-indulgent thing to do and self-indulgent is one of my strongest words of condemnation: selfishly putting my own enjoyment before others’ good. Ah. There’s a touch of envy in there. Envy surprises me. Perhaps I am more attracted to death than I would wish.

Emotions can roil, changing quickly, and apparently contradict. Sadness, contempt and pity I understand. Desire: I want something positive out of this, and creating something to talk myself out of self-slaughter might be it.

Sadness. She was a year or two older than me. I don’t know if she was still with that man. I see the sadness of her friends.

Anger with the fucking wisdom-bollocks. There she was, “spiritual but not religious,” consciously choosing death. Such “spirituality” can mean believing onesself capable of handling raw painful emotion, or, even worse, beyond it. She just stops existing: she exists in the memory of friends, and has influenced others’ lives, but she stops growing. She finishes.

It’s not something you would want unless you are sick. Or it’s something I might want for rubbish reasons, like to avoid seeing an unpleasant truth about myself: as a friend said, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Life has been going on reasonably comfortably, there’s some change which will take adjustment, and you kill yourself rather than adjusting.

Jesus said build your house on rock not sand, and that came to have new meaning for me this week: I had loved the verse

hard upon the solid rock
suburban semis stand
Come and see my shining palace
built upon the sand

because I had been told the “rock” was some tawdry ridiculous Christian dogma. Believe as we believe, follow our rules, and your house is on the rock. No- Jesus meant face reality, accept and do not deny reality, and then your house is on the rock. Jesus is right, and the dogmatists wrong. This small epiphany delights me.

“Suffering from clinical depression” said her friend. “Clinical” sounds defensive. No, really, she was really ill, not just feeling a bit down! We use “depression” to mean so many things. I can accept she was ill. “Suicide while the balance of her mind was disturbed”- these are old words, once meaning the difference between burial in the churchyard and burial at a crossroads, being acceptable in the community (because ill) and being irredeemably wicked, sent to the seventh circle of Hell. And also sick, where we imagine ourselves to be sane: she is different, across a line, we would not have that problem, surely.

The medical model, people doing things because of illness, is reassuring, both forgiving the suicide and making those who remain feel safe. Jesus said, face reality.

Suicide is not something you can choose without being sick- either depressed, unable to face reality or your own feelings about it, or possibly facing Alzheimer’s or some hideously painful, drawn-out end. I don’t feel paraplegia justifies it, and tend to feel I would clutch at life, wanting to endure my last twitching, rather than end it early for cancer or MS. I want to survive.

And I get suicidal sometimes. Being suicidal is the sign one is incapable of such a judgment- I cannot commit it without the balance of my mind being disturbed. I hope I will tell myself that, next time.

Don’t out anyone

Should it be a criminal offence to out someone? It is, in the UK, subject to an unlimited fine, in certain circumstances.

Certain people who are aware that someone has applied for a gender recognition certificate should not tell anyone. If someone has a GRC, certain people should not disclose information about their previous gender. Note, it is not everyone who has transitioned, just people who have a GRC, which now may be about 12% of all who have transitioned.

Who? Employees of the State or local authorities, or of voluntary organisations; employers and colleagues, or prospective employers and colleagues. Then, anyone who finds out “in the course of or otherwise in connection with the conduct of business or the supply of professional services”. It is OK if the trans person consents.

So anyone involved with the claim can’t disclose it. Quite right too. And we should be able to get a job without anyone saying we are trans.

No-one has been prosecuted for this offence. Possibly, making it an offence contributes to the social understanding that outing people is wrong: though we both know a certain person is trans, a friend was embarrassed to mention her name to me as a trans woman, rather than as a person, woman, Quaker, whatever.

The people I would like prosecuted are journalists who comment on someone’s trans status. Journalists are acting in the course of their employment when they find that someone is trans, so should fit within the Act. They should not out someone unless it is clearly in the public interest. Victims of sexual offences are granted anonymity under the law, and so should trans people be. My gender change is no-one’s business but my own.

Transphobes in distress

Beware those who know they are righteous.

There is a thread on Mumsnet where transphobes claim their mental health is affected by trans women’s human rights. One feels she is comparable to Sophie Scholl, who was executed by the Nazis for distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich. Ugly Bag claims she suffers from PTSD and GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) after abuse from men, and now is unable to use changing rooms because there could be men (trans women) there. Over 50 had a psychotic episode she attributes to “gaslighting” by trans women on Twitter, and fears being physically assaulted as Maria McLachlan was. Floral Bunting grew up in a fundamentalist church, where she suffered enforced maternity and an inability to earn. Doing It says she shut down her twitter account. Floorplan says she suffers cognitive dissonance when people claim men are women, which hurts her brain and makes her drink too much.

Ova recognises she is unlikely to meet a nefarious male-bodied individual, but is angry about a multi-faceted attack on women. Cleg rages to such an extent it is bad for her. Formally says it is like “verbal rape” and paraplegia. XXRoar says science-deniers rule against the greater good. Skeptic feels steath trans women would violate her by their mere presence. Beee has stopped using youth hostels. Hippie is tearful and hopeless. RaggyDoll is drinking, smoking and self-harming.

They are martyrs, in a “massive battle for the safety of women and children”. Joy compares trans women to Trump and Brexit, anticipating “something bigger on the horizon”. Block fears self-ID will make her lose her sense of self. 67th calls trans women totalitarian science-deniers. Moveable compares trans women to Nazi Eugenics. Ereshkigal (queen of the underworld) is triggered.

And I sympathise. I get it, completely. We should not be enemies. I am frightened of Trump, Brexit and something worse, and do not want anyone tearful or hopeless, leave alone self-harming.

The problem is how they set themselves against us trans women. I could quote trans women who feel equally damaged and hurt, who feel it is the gender critical feminists mocking, blaming and inciting hatred. Human rights law is clearly on our side, and so the Murdoch media empire is using them against human rights law. We should not be fighting. No-one looks less Nazi than a trans woman. The Nazis killed us in death camps. Transition is what we do to ourselves.

I don’t see us coming together. All I can hope for is the end of the consultation, and the mad battle to go on to something else.


Sajid Javid is wrong not to insist on guarantees that Isis suspects will not be executed by the US if we aid their extraction and the case against them. I had the perfect phrase to argue that: “We show we are better than them”. My right-wing facebook friend had the phrase on the other side- “What about the human rights of their victims?” Both certain of our moral superiority, we could argue past each other. How can we come together and hear each other?

Pain on the Train

On the train: “If there was a general election tomorrow I would vote Labour, but that goes against my views on Brexit, because Labour are against Brexit”. Huh. Remainers do not agree with you. He thinks Corbyn is being sat on, waiting for it all to blow over, and say what you like about Thatcher she always shouted what she thought.

He had been on the Trump demo, his first for years. His mate is going to do a sketch on stage as TweedleTrump, with- whatsisname, Rocketman-

– Kim Jong Il?

and some protesters.

-yeah, that would work.

At the bus stop the woman had stayed at Westminster Abbey. Her brother’s partner is a canon, who has a house there with a front door ten yards from the tourist barriers and access to a large garden. It is a pain when you have had a bad day, having to smile for the tourists.

At Sheffield, the railway system appears to collapse. I should have got to Edinburgh at 3.30 and writing now I am on a train at 7, hoping to get there by 8. No Rembrandt exhibition for me today. I got a train to Doncaster, then a bus to York, then a bus to Newcastle where the first train to Edinburgh was packed with people standing.

A woman who does HR for Hilton hotels had set out for York, only to be stranded just outside the station for five hours. She had done no work and got the bus back. She tells me there’s a power cut at the Hilton in York, over an hour so far, and I speculate about cyber attacks. It’s race weekend, and the hotel is full, charging top rates. Fortunately most guests were at the races.

I also met S, a PhD student working on maths and statistics, considering how to gather data for drug trials- when to take samples to see the drug levels in the body. This takes huge amounts of computing power, say twenty cores running for two hours. A colleague uses drones to film the movement of flocks of sheep, with the farmer playing the role of predator, before modelling it. We wonder if we are living in a computer simulation. She is atheist, but believes religion can be useful to build community and help people behave morally. She talks of seeing a car accident and her desire to give worthwhile help- getting someone out of a smoking car before seeing they were just waiting for services, and driving on.

That’s over eleven hours of travelling.

Going back, I see a sign saying, “We want everyone to have a great journey, so please consider others around you”. I love passive-aggressive “please don’t be a dick” signs, and this is a choice sample. I am at rest, as I write two days later, hoping I will be half an hour later than expected so I can claim another refund. The train in front on this electrified line was not connecting to the overhead wires.

I felt sad to leave Edinburgh and am glad of it, feeling it shows both a better relationship with my family and greater sensitivity to my own feelings, accepting my sadness.

A woman who has just graduated in psychology wants more experience before deciding whether to take up forensic psychology or child psychology. From this she could just be interested in how people tick, but I imagine she wants to feel she is doing something useful.

Actually I was 1½ hours later, and it was wretched.

Fat-shaming and Healthism

Fat people can be as uncomfortable walking down the street as newly transitioned trans people- as vulnerable to abuse, and as hurt by it. Fat-shaming does no good: the advice “You’re too fat. It’s bad for you. Eat less, exercise more” sounds good, but everyone knows that stuff. It is a hurtful way of blaming fat people for their problems.

Don’t tell me the answer to my problems, it just gets me to self-blame more. I know what I ought to do, but cannot believe I would succeed, or motivate myself to try.

Though I noticed in my teens that my father would make helpful suggestions, I would dismiss them, and six months later be doing what he had proposed. I transitioned. It involved a lot of work with no certain end, over months, and I was motivated so I did it. Some people lose weight and keep it off.

I am swithering here. I need hope, and belief in possibilities. And I work on other things. But saying it is up to a traumatised person to deal with their problems creates a huge burden for them. Society should work to deal with our collective traumas.

The Guardian had an article against fat shaming, and the comments were almost all dismissive. Most upvotes went to dismissive comments:

-So being fat is an identity now?
-And medical advice is offensive.

“They know that stuff”, I commented. Someone replied, “So why do some people choose to ignore it, then?” “Sounds like common sense to me.” These decent, ordinary people don’t realise they are being hurtful, or perhaps believe they have to “be cruel to be kind”. “Normalising an unhealthy lifestyle is a ridiculous thing to do.”

Comfort eating does not tempt me. I do not overeat. A friend with a long apron and years of variable but too great weight would have a whole packet of biscuits, and “joke” to me about it- “You can’t have just one.” This was a person retired from a highly paid professional job. So I work my way into empathy: I know I have my own self-destructive avoidance behaviours, which I perform because they have value for me. They give me relief. I recognise the harm, and crave the relief. I have many problems, and am working on them, and do not need someone to point out just one and tell me, in a condescending manner, that I should work on that one in this obvious and simple way. And, I take that belief into myself: that I have not dealt with my problems better is a sign of weakness in me. I condemn myself, and my powerlessness increases.

Being fat can come from two distinct causes: comfort eating, an addictive or trauma-suppressing activity, and poor environment with lack of choice. And other things.

I am a taxpayer. Some of that tax goes to the NHS, which includes the profession of dietician. Dieticians give advice on diet and exercise to patients, especially when newly diagnosed with diabetes or other diseases, but also overweight. I like to think that the NHS has ways of promoting health. I hate to think that the work of dieticians might be useless, that they might not get the fat person healthier after all. Thin is not always healthier. Muscle is heavier, by volume, than fat.

And we have a pervasive cultural idea that keeping yourself in shape is a moral issue, and doing things which might hinder that are sinful. Eating cakes is “Indulgent”. I was fascinated to come across the concept of Healthism. It is a belief system that the pursuit of personal wellbeing is an individual moral obligation. Like other belief systems, it seems obvious, just common sense, to those within it. Each individual has the obligation to stay healthy, and some even argue that medical treatment should not be given to people who bring their problems on themselves.

What causes non-communicable diseases such as hypertension? Healthism explains it by diet and physical activity, but research shows racism increases hypertension. If instead of calling diabetes a non-communicable disease we call it a power-related disease, affected by the powerlessness and oppression people suffer, we see better solutions, which might actually mitigate the disease rather than blaming it on the sufferer.

Lack of control over your own life, as in a zero hours contract, causes stress. Racism, trauma, fat-shaming, loneliness and misogyny damage health. Exposure to pollution in air or water or substandard housing reduce life expectancy. Lack of power causes disease. Patriarchy imposes disease on its victims.

Lifestyle, from “bad choices”, is not the main cause of ill health. Oppression is. The answer is a social response, being kind and caring to each other, tackling the problems of pollution and oppression together as a society. We have an “obligation to help amplify others’ voices”.

The word “healthism” helps me see the belief system of personal responsibility and the solution of holding the powerful to account. It improves my self-worth: my situation is not solely my fault, a sign of weakness. Still, the chance of improvement is mostly down to me; but no-one has the right to impose that responsibility on others.