Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the theft of the riches of a culture by members of another more powerful culture. Law and the market do not recognise the rights of particular cultural groups to their heritage. Fortunately, people do, more and more: it is accepted that only actors from a particular ethnic group should play characters from that group. On a related issue, often disabled actors play disabled characters: we value their experience.

Illustrations. I am delighted that Scottish Country Dancing is worldwide, and that people with no connection to my culture want to dance in this way. The high point was Frae a’ the Airts, a book of dances from all over the world. Our dance was rigorously defined by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, in Scotland and out of it, with precise descriptions of figures and steps so that people dancing it anywhere are probably doing it in the same way; and people coming to it are generally concerned to get it “right”. Others add to our tradition, respectfully, sharing our joy not appropriating it.

Is it cultural appropriation for an American WASP to learn Spanish? Motivation matters. It is a difficulty to overcome, having to learn the dominant language where you are, and non-native speakers have the advantage that they can talk amongst themselves and not be understood. Learning the language to take away that advantage would be a motive hostile to the group. Learning it to communicate with people who have been unable to give the time to learn the dominant language is generous. That article linked argues that the claim that language learning will always be cultural appropriation obscures those situations where it is, including, per Orientalism, the attempt to define and analyse the less powerful culture from the point of view of the dominant culture.

However, that angry rejection of any attempt to approach me as cultural appropriation serves a useful psychological purpose, empowering the person who adopts it. It could bind them into their culture, with a group whose body language worked the same way, subtly different from that of the other group. It could give a sense of belonging and self-worth. I hope a person can grow beyond that, valuing the allies outside their own group, even developing an understanding of the persecutors, but self-acceptance is a necessary first stage. Internet fora are not only for establishing truth, but also, legitimately, for gaining reassurance. We need safe spaces before we can venture out into the wider world.

There are two ways of judging cultural appropriation: by the intention of the user, and the effect on the other. The effect on the other matters: ignorant insensitivity is not OK. The cultural artefact is beautiful, and should be treated with respect. If you despise my culture and the things I value, you despise me.

Psalm 137 is one of my favourite Bible passages. The psalmist is in the blackest pit of despair, desiring murderous revenge, and God is with him.

For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!

And some culture is world culture. We all benefit from the legacy of Shakespeare, and Murasaki Shikibu.

William Blake, Albion Rose

Live Another Day

Three days later, I find myself thinking of Jack Bauer’s act in the last series of 24 with shock and horror.

It’s last year’s television, shown now weekly on the free Murdoch channel in the UK. Spoilers, obviously. That Murdoch channel is ludicrously called “pick”- “refuse” would be a better name, it has cheap and tedious programmes of police car accident videos, but occasionally other drama. 24 is “sponsored”: “Oikos sponsors indulgent entertainment on Pick”. The film is of a middle-aged woman eating some gloopy stuff while half-naked men dust her living room. “It’s aimed at me!” I thought.

So it seemed. Margot Al-Harazi has gained control of seven US drones, equipped with missiles. This middle-aged woman does what she likes: she tells men what to do, kills people, and blows things up. I really enjoyed the first eight episodes. Margot’s husband, an alleged terrorist, was killed in a drone strike and she wishes to kill the US President to avenge him. I watch the Americans throwing their weight around in London, and the portrayed British weakness, sucking up and incompetence in this American series, and cheer her on. She shows intelligence, determination, and even principle- which is more likely seen as fanaticism.

Episode eight ends with Heller walking to the centre of the pitch at Wembley, and apparently being hit by a missile.

I should have stopped watching then. In the next episode it is revealed that the video feed to the missile controller was disrupted, and Heller escaped. Heller’s apparent noble self-sacrifice, which had the potential to be moving and cathartic, could not be tolerated on this drama: the “good guys” must never suffer. A very minor character has an heroic death, and that’s it.

Most watching probably identify with the “Hero”, Jack Bauer, who is happy to torture bad guys. None of the threats against him can last long. It is one man against the world, yet he always triumphs. There are comprehensive recaps, so it would take significant limitation to intelligence before the viewer did not understand in each scene what the threat and the Macguffin were. We learn of a task, and the overwhelming odds confronting him, yet he strolls in and does what is needed.

Michelle Fairley, photo by Mayra ConsignoI hardly thought Margot would win in the end, but when Bauer finds her he first shoots her, not killing instantly but disabling her. She could be captured and tried, but instead he throws her out of a fifth floor window, killing her. There is a shot of her falling, bottom first, and one of her on the ground in a pool of blood. Someone found this so delightful that he pointed a video camera at a telly, so he could share it on Youtube: comments include “Best Bauer kill EVAH!”

That shocked me. 24 is a simple tale, and simple folk could be motivated by seeing the hero so easily accomplishing his goals to attempt their own; but such simple tales usually have second chances and the chance of redemption, and I expected Margot’s survival, possibly even her escape to plot again. Life is cheap in this series, and wordless mooks fall in gun battles every episode. That does not matter because they are not real people, only a momentary problem for the hero or someone else who falls to the baddies. Margot has some characterisation, motivation, personality. It troubles me that she would be seen by anyone as merely the enemy, to be killed.

Age Teaching Youth circa 1785-90 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940

Transferable skills

Of course I could be an engineer.
I write poetry!
It involves putting things together, with precise rules,
to create something beautiful.

Of course I could be a lawyer.
I write poetry!
It involves the use of words to convey precise meaning
or sometimes, obscure it.

Of course I could be a teacher.
I write poetry!
My control is perfect
and appears effortless.

Of course I could be a doctor.
I write poetry!
I know everything
and provide comfort.

Of course I could be God.
I write poetry!
Here is the peace that passeth all understanding.
Here, ye may find rest for your souls.

Self-respect III

Always we begin again…

There is a human being. I know it.

The way I have chosen to live with myself, to bear

I feel surrounded by threats of Death.

How to start this? The self-concept and the organismic self. Human beings have the bit of ourselves we deem acceptable, and we imagine we are that person. This means we deny real bits of ourselves, and imagine we are a particular way without being that way.

There is no “Low functioning me”. There is I, responding emotionally to what I perceive, and the emotion motivates action. Fear, anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise, desire; attraction and aversion. Ideally, I am aware of all my emotions in a situation, which may appear to be in conflict.

Ideally I can visualise goals in the future, and have motivating feelings about those. Ideally I can contain disappointment, balanced with a sense of achievement. It feels as if I could have a rational part of me encouraging the emotional being, pointing out all the good in a situation-

managing this with Love

considering the animal, the emotional being, as a partner, friend, a pack-horse which does all the carrying so should be cared for.

It feels as if what should be the Encourager has been filled with resentment: yes, I know, no part of me is without emotion: my old unconscious emotions, anger resentment frustration and fear. Or Rage and Terror, at the world but principally at me for never being good enough.

I reprogramme myself. Bring it to consciousness, think it through, see all the positives, find my motivation and if my motivation is to stay inside watching TV and not come out that is OK too. That is a way I self-care. Self-care is important. I might find better ways of self-caring, but mine is better than alcohol. If I can value myself as I am, then I can self-care well.


That psychiatrist pointed out my coping strategy- “You compartmentalise”- and I went to work on it, thinking, “How I am Wrong?” And now I have an answer: it enables me to block off and judge particular emotions which disturb me, and stay with the ones which make me comfortable; and a way forward beyond reflexively compartmentalising: to sit with uncomfortable feelings, permitting them. For I cannot block them out completely.

But that “high functioning me” feeling good about myself, still gets self-respect from what I achieve, mainly, what I feel others will value, whether I am right about their judgment or not. I want self-respect from who I am. I want to respect that pack-horse, the emotional being feeling fear and sadness and wanting to Hide. It wants to survive in the best way it knows, and I can respect that: the survival instinct in animals is Strong.

The need for self-respect for what I achieve prevents me from achieving.


I feel surrounded by threats of Death.

The reason I presented male so long is that I thought I would die. I thought the monster would get me. Dr McGrath found me struggling to preserve a fragile sense of self and I still am, now by compartmentalising, by denying the parts of myself I fear or despise. Only the desire for survival is strong enough to make anyone cut off parts of ourselves.

If I can love myself I can love others, and if I could Love others and the institution I could do that job.

Monet, still life with apples and grapes

In Malta

Russell Crowe is difficult to work with. On the set of Gladiator, he demanded that the whole crew applaud him every time he came on, even on the thirtieth take. He demanded that adulation. This is not a sign of a colossal ego, but an addiction. To be so dependent would be very vulnerable indeed. Oliver Reed, by contrast, would go out drinking with the technicians, not The Star with the lesser mortals but blokes together, anyone who would drink with him.

My friend managed the extras, from the poorer rural areas of the island. They were not particularly well educated. He would tell them where to go, and they would refuse if they did not want to. Several threatened to knife him.

The photo is me on the set of Gladiator, in 2002: it had been left to decay.


He was delighted to find the Maltese café, where we had Maltese-style pastries and Kinnie together. He told the waiter, and they reminisced a bit. He was particularly delighted with Kinnie, the Maltese soft drink which is available on Amazon, made with oranges and tastes a bit like Irn Bru.

He was angry with Quakers, and I took it on myself to apologise on our behalf. He had been a speaker at our LGBT gathering. We had had six speakers each with twenty minutes, and some small group discussion, and Rosie had stood to object. She did not want to listen to the self-important “great and good”, she had come here to have a voice herself. People said that now was not the time to object to the programme for the day, but she persisted. He thought she should have been told to leave if she would not shut up immediately, and was amazed that she actually got five minutes to speak. She had that one brilliant line, there were two people in this body and one of them had to go, but after that she whinged about Bristol Labour Party and the Women’s Committee, and Bristol Quakers, treating her unfairly. These were stories we all knew, and saw little point in hearing again. He got that impression.

He told me she had behaved like a toddler, and should not have got her way. It cannot be pleasant to get your way in that way, always to be fighting, he thinks.

When I told Rosie she went on about being a pioneer campaigner for trans rights, and being a person whose “medical dysfunction” had been corrected, entirely different from “transvestites” who might need changing facilities.

The anger of the oppressed

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Googling i rise without quotes produces this poem as the first hit, deservedly so. It is beautiful. I heard Tony read it yesterday. He could not make it boring, but there was none of the passion I would put into it. I don’t know what Tony has faced, but it seemed the white, cis-het(?) man had not felt broken [with] bowed head and lowered eyes in nights of terror and fear. I would put contempt, and rage, and passion, prowling like an animal as I said it, feeling the triumph. Tony did not include the verse on diamonds, because there was a girl of eight present- I would let her make of it what she would.

But I am not sure I should recite it. I can enjoy it, and cheer Maya Angelou on, but it is not for me.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I cheer her on as a fellow human being, but not as “Sister” in this case, for this is not my heritage.

A problem with free speech is that the loudest voices are those of the privileged. They have the access to print and the education to express comfortable ideas in exquisite prose. The voices which need heard are those of the excluded, pushing back against the clichés of the Kyriarchy with authentic human feeling.

So, this comment thread. I responded rudely, angrily, dismissively, and at only one point offensively, when I was triggered by a comment about a ridiculous, obvious cross-dresser at a bus stop- plunged right back into that brokenness and misery and lashing out. Seeing this, my enemy sought to trigger me again. But I laughed at him.

Beside this the hurt anger of the privileged, that what they have always believed is challenged, has no value. Waken up and show some empathy, and then repent of your claimed hurt.

A commenter railed against the ‘regressive left’ that uses such bullying techniques as banning under the banner of protecting delicate snowflakes from legitimate criticism deemed offensive under the label of tolerance and respect and sensitivity by practicing intolerance, disrespect, and insensitivity. I am not a delicate snowflake- if I were, I would have melted.

That commenter gave as an example of the Regressive Left the University of Ottawa student leaders cancelling a yoga class because it could be “cultural appropriation”. I am unsure of that one. Christianity, generally, proselytises; I have an idea that Hinduism does not. Mindfulness is a religious practice common at least to Christianity, Islam, at least its Sufi branch, Buddhism and others. Stretching exercises are widespread. Yet the privileged take what they want and dismiss the rest, and the outsider must “Integrate” to be accepted.

I rise.

Blake, Inferno, the harpies and suicides

Self-respect II

You do this stuff, then you do it again; then you forget, and revert, then rediscover it, and do it again; and sometimes the full beauty and pain of it comes into consciousness, and it is hard to bear.

To the Quaker meeting. Philip reads from Advices and Queries, considering the calls for more bombing in Syria. If you are being bombed, does the intention of the bomber affect how you think about it? wondered Liz, after. Only in that I would seek to thwart him. I stood to speak: there is so much anger and fear, of those who fear refugees and terrorists, and I want to respect and love the people who are angry and fearful, which means hearing the anger and fear. And I want to respect and love those who will make the decision on bombing: though I stand by the pacifist answer, I must show respect for those who think differently. “Slow, sour, dim” intensifies the beauty by contrast.

Ah. It is always about me: hear the anger, indeed. In afterword, Peter says how few people it needs to get an MP to take an interest: ten, in the case of the planning issue he complained of.

In the afternoon to K– Quaker meeting, their “Winter celebration”. Three people have come from Bedford to demonstrate their singing bowls. The woman who has made them, by beating the alloy, is very thin with short hair.

They strike one. Immediately, it penetrates me, getting to the centre of my heart. Oh, no, not this. They continue striking, and also reading poetry. “There is a field”- “I’ll meet you there,” I know it. “Let yourself open to the sound”- I wish I could not. Here is my sadness aloneness regret. I am crying. Possibly I needed a good cry-

It is not “low functioning me”. It is responsive, fragile, truthful me, me in the world, soft me which is beautiful, vulnerable, necessary, a part of me needing my love, my feminine part which I had to deny, which I have to allow.

I might, just, manage the first stage of metta meditation.

I am very glad Peter R. is here and can drive me home, rather than me being forced to cycle. After a three Samaritans phone calls week, I walked in the park and spoke to a woman photographing wild-fowl and hoping for a good sunset.

That psychiatrist really shook me up: probably for the better. It feels as if I integrate myself. And I will be here again, I cannot just do the work of acceptance once, and it be done.

Blake, Songs of Innocence frontispiece

Self respect

I get a great deal of my self respect from the fact that I am cultured and educated. This makes me interesting in conversation and practised in analysis and argument, and I have a wide range of example situations which might be analogous to what I perceive around me, so can understand situations more quickly.

Do you know, I was going to denigrate that? “It’s not much use except in pub quizzes” I was going to say, and I never do pub quizzes. In my third Samaritans conversation in three days- that psychiatrist really shook me up, something else has been upsetting me- I suddenly thought, the bit of me that loathes and despises all the other bits of me needs to be heard, needs respect and acceptance- if “I” cannot give that, I might at least listen respectfully to it rather than immediately drive it out- for she always comes back. I loathe myself, generally.

Then searching for the Bible verse the parts of the body we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour I discovered Jen Callow, who has found hundreds of parts of her self, and created inner worlds for them to live in and be happy. She wrote, “The soldiers who had terrorised our system were put in charge of security”- for the ability to respond by despising and loathing has value.

Respect, one part for another, loving support and care, is necessary for my better functioning.

Dr Lenihan told me I compartmentalise, and I feel that I stick the bits of me that are upset or unhappy or resentful, which might burst into tears, in a box and despise them.

I would like Love from outside. My love will have to heal me, but Love from another might assist. (I think of a particular Other, and am not sure it is on offer at the intensity I desire.)

Many healthy people feel they have different parts of themself. Quakers experience the Inner Light, the conviction of Right action for the common good; The Hoffman Process called a human being a Quadrinity, of Body, Spiritual Self, Emotional Being and Intellect. The Emotional Being can seem like a child, but has lived as long as the rest of me; its intense emotions are child-like rather than childish.

I read of those cult victims that they are out of touch with their bodies so do not know when they need food rest or exercise, and with their feelings so that they do not know what they like or dislike. I told Serra I needed to know my attraction and aversion, my Yuck and Yum. I do recognise what I feel, often; and yet these people can marry, though not form a mature emotionally-supportive partnership.

I need to build community within myself.

Blake, Europe supported by Africa and America

Jesus and the Buddha

When Richard was working at Mind, he came across a man who believed he contained the soul of Jesus and the Buddha. They were the same person, which is possible as the Buddha lived centuries before Jesus, though some might think such a powerful being would be more than capable of being both at once.

According to him, a UFO had hovered over him when he was a child, beamed his soul out of him, and beamed in the soul of Jesus and the Buddha.

-So the actual human being has been abducted.
-Yes, he claims to be an alien.
-Has he any memories from before?
-He says not.

That would be quite useful, actually. All those bits where the Gospels contradict each other, he could tell us what really happened. And there are too few parables for three years of teaching: he could tell us the ones which were missed out.

Though he might just say, “A wicked and corrupt generation has asked for a sign”.

So what happened to him? Did the pills take it away? No, Richard did not meet him at Mind, but at the Nupton Quaker Meeting House, where he was preaching to his followers.

Followers!!? It is a good job I had put my teacup down. Yes, there was a woman who wrote a lot of books about UFOs, who interviewed him, and believed him.

Why have we not heard of him? I would have thought Jesus would want to do more than give a talk in the Meeting house. But he is not doing much, this incarnation: he was formerly a Scout-master in Zhuzhkov.

One of my pedantries is that they have been called Scout leaders since at least the Seventies, but I forbore from mentioning it.

The Harrowing of Hell


Trans women do not menstruate. Most people are aware of this; but Germaine Greer felt the need to point it out, yet again. Thanks a bunch, Germaine. But her ignorant and cruel dismissal of women’s experience does not only extend to trans women.

If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. No, actually: the normal range for menarche is 10.5-14.5 years, and The normal variation in the age at which adolescent changes occur is so wide that puberty cannot be considered to be pathologically delayed until the menarche has failed to occur by the age of 18.

Amenorrhea, the failure to menstruate, can be caused by lifestyle, genetic and other health conditions. Girls with Turner’s Syndrome have only one X chromosome, rather than the usual two. They have underdeveloped ovaries resulting in a lack of monthly periods. I hope Germaine would not deny that my friend Colin’s daughter is a real woman.

Because it is always personal. It is real individuals that suffer from these words. It might just be academic for Germaine, but not for Stephanie, or her family. Given that there are more than ten times as many women with Turner’s Syndrome than women with Gender Recognition Certificates in Britain, Germaine causes pain for far more women than just us.

No, I did not find my pants full of blood, but human beings suffer a wide range of anxieties around reproduction. It is not even true that women’s are always different from men’s: only women can worry about needing an abortion, or their own health problems due to pregnancy, but any other anxieties apply also to men, and especially to trans women: can women who have not experienced unchosen childlessness empathise with those who have?

Of course they can. Empathy is possible across a wide range of unshared experiences. Germaine’s insistence that it is not demeans all people, not just trans women; and shows why those who are willing to include us have a more excellent way. Her waving her bloody knickers in my face, when she seeks to exclude me, says more about her than me.

Blake, Malevolence