First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

All posts by Katy

Entrepreneur, activist, thinker, writer, speaker on business, equality, diversity, human rights, gender, LGBTIQ, motivation, economics, social change, faith, language. Polymath, geek, comedian, Hebraist, linguist, theologian, philosopher, techie, bibliophile, gardener, cook, guitarist.
First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

First ever King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018

After ten years of Norwich Pride, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk saw their first LGBT+ Pride with 1200+ people parading (double the expected numbers) through the shopping streets and weaving their way to the Walks for stalls, music and talks. There was a great community atmosphere, a same-sex marriage proposal (she said yes!), a solid presence by Norwich-based venues, organisations including the Catherine Wheel, Mature Gay Community, Proud Canaries and more, and people from other Prides.

Ely Pride had taken place the previous week (historically, the cathedral flew the Rainbow flag), Colchester the same day. East Anglian Prides are growing and our communities are changing. We need more rural and regional Prides like this, away from the mega city Prides in order to reach counties and communities that may not experience the level of LGBT+ acceptance that other places may currently enjoy.

To paraphrase Audre Lorde, “We are not free until every LGBT is free” to live authentically, without stigma or prejudice, love whom we love, and be who we are without impediment or challenge.

Rainbow drag queen Titti Trash & Katy Jon Went photo opp with Christian protester at King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride
Rainbow drag queen Titti Trash & Katy Jon Went photobomb with Christian protester at King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Pride

Allies outnumbered protesters by hundreds and thousands to one. Christians marching with Pride, in clerical vestments or other identifiable ways also exceeded by at least 10:1 the solitary protester with a cross – who at least consented to a photobomb by a drag queen and head-to-toe rainbow me chanting “love is love” and giving him a hug.

The tide is turning, history keeps being made, and society is changing. 

Julie Bremner speaking at King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride
Julie Bremner speaking at King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Pride

There were talks from Julie Bremner of Norwich Pride about why we still need Pride, another person spoke eloquently of our history of protest and activism to gain equal rights, and then after one of the organisers spoke, I was asked to say a few words – and “a few” is not in my vocabulary! It will always be a tad preachy and political, occasionally irreverent, but hopefully not irrelevant. 

Speech given at #KLWNPride

“Ten years of Norwich Pride from the original 500 expected to 2500 plus that turned up and quickly three to four times that is a sign of what can be achieved; mighty oaks from small acorns grow, as the saying goes – no wood jokes please 😉

Norwich Pride this year made me realise how much harder it would have been coming out for a decade without a local Pride to transform my city, my community, the bars, streets and shops to LGB and Trans positive places. To move from suspicion, persecution and opposition to tolerance, acceptance and welcome.

The growth of Norfolk LGBT visibility and services over the years has been primarily Norwich based. Our 10 trans and non-binary support groups, dozen LGB+ groups, half-dozen venues, are mostly Norwich-based, though they dwarf what is available in neighbouring counties let alone other parts of Norfolk. We had a North Norfolk Pride 9 years ago, Ipswich one year, Colchester for the first time last year and again today, Ely for the first time last week. Who would have thought ten years ago that Ely Cathedral would be flying the Rainbow flag.

Supporting rural and regional Prides and solidarity with distant persecuted ones such as Pride Uganda has always been a part of Norwich Pride’s hope and vision.

Supporting other places, other Prides, supporting each other is critical.

Unity does not mean we have to agree, but how we disagree and engage is seen by all, especially the cishet public and allies that have been a part of creating a city and a county that increasingly accepts and welcomes LGBT+ customers, residents, events etc

Katy Jon Went speaking at King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride
Katy Jon Went speaking at King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Pride

Division such as TERF v Trans, the online backlash against genderfluid queer lesbian Ruby Rose for not being lesbian enough to play Batwoman. The number of times I’ve been called the wrong kind of trans, not LGB enough, or witnessed pain or surgical point scoring in disabled, intersex and other communities. We shouldn’t be playing oppression bingo or privileging one discrimination over another.

Feminist Transphobes, Black Homophobes, Gay Racists, Disabled sexists, Transgender misogynists all exist. Love is love has no room for hate.

Unity is our strength against the tyranny of the majority but healthy diversity, united in our difference not monochrome uniformity is what makes us even stronger.

I was torn between wearing my trans colours outfit, Dr Martens, and flag, as I did at Norwich or the rainbow one today. I think the Rainbow symbol is more important than ever.

I mean it’s been great to see a dozen identity flags at Norwich Pride and here today but the Rainbow flag will always remind me of our history and unity.

The rainbow is our symbol because of its diversity. Red and blue, orange and purple, green and yellow, the whole gay, queer and minority sexuality and gender identity spectrum together. The rainbow is not just 6 stripes nor its original 8 colours, it’s all of us together. A common humanity, mutual respect, and human rights for all.

So, today, is a day to celebrate our diversity, but not accentuate our disagreements, to join together to get better respect, rights and resources, to fight together but not each other. Tomorrow we can discuss those things, today we Pride!

I’ll end with a quote from former United Nations leader and Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan who died this morning.”

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”

Rainbow umbrellas in The Walks at King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Rainbow umbrellas in The Walks at King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Pride. Photo © Katy Jon Went

More images from King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Pride

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Hundreds in Norwich protest Donald Trump

I for one am glad Donald Trump is here. More so, Melania, who may be more sensitive to the voiced and visible opposition, and not having Trump’s ego as an echo chamber filter. The protests, some 70+ around the country with some 400-500 showing up in Norwich, EDP and an expected 70,000+ people in London that turned out to be closer to 250,000, including many from Norfolk, cannot go unnoticed by him or his 1000 person entourage. US news channels are already running footage of the baby Donald blimp. These protests will reach America.

His press conferences in the last few days included calling the UK a hotspot – yes, we are! That Brexit is failing because Theresa May is not doing it the way he “told” her to, and is not what the people worried about immigration voted for, that Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister. In fact, the two are so similar in terms of their buffoonish foreign diplomacy, I can see why he thinks that.

Adrian Holmes, Green Party, addressing Norwich Protests Donald Trump
Adrian Holmes, Green Party, addressing Norwich Protests Donald Trump

Trump’s improving national 41-47% and among Republicans 90% approval ratings suggest he may even get a second term! Right now, he is comparable to Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama in his ratings and that’s with what ought to be a ratings-dive-inducing separation of children from their parents at immigration assessment and removal centres, and being hapless in their attempts to reunite those families.

Three generations of protest inc Dr Ian Gibson, former Labour MP, Julie Bremner, & Joe aged 6, Norwich Protests Donald Trump
Three generations of protest inc Dr Ian Gibson, former Labour MP, Julie Bremner, & Joe aged 6, Norwich Protests Donald Trump #nationalisethegolfcourses! 

Shockingly, many people agreed with him. It’s not just Trump we’re dealing with, he’s tuned in to a generally right-wing working class feeling among many that they are losing their white culture, that their jobs and housing are under threat from immigration. I mean 53% of US women voted for a misogynist President.

That Donald Trump chose to do an interview with Britain’s leading political media, sorry, I mean the Sun, shows the level he is at and aiming at – and sadly it works, that’s why he got elected. Instead of appealing to people’s higher instincts, he’s appealed to the lowest base instincts of fear and self-serving protectionism. That was how Hitler got elected – democratically. Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times calls it a “trial run for fascism”. It’s happening in Italy with its Roma census and in Hungary criminalising aid to migrants, testing the market to see how much xenophobia they can get away with.

Organiser Julie Bremner alongside Adrian Holmes, Green Party, addressing Norwich Protests Donald Trump
Organiser Julie Bremner alongside Adrian Holmes, Green Party, addressing Norwich Protests Donald Trump

Now I’m not really comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, however, my issues with Trump are that he is part of the past. He is a throwback, part of the resistance to progressive social and global change. He has halted and, in some instances, rolled back LGBT rights in the US, he is anti-environmental protections, he has stereotyped, ostracised and scapegoated everyone from Mexicans to Muslims. He has joked about pussy-grabbing, and dating his own daughter. He wants to make abortion illegal and to punish the women having them. If this man is the so-called Western “Leader of the Free World” then it’s a different century he’s living in, rebooting a cold war and the language of nuclear war, including the sexist values of the 1940s and 50s.

'Big Baby' American John Behm protests Donald Trump in Norwich
‘Big Baby’ American John Behm protests Donald Trump in Norwich

He has taken America back decades in terms of internal and external foreign relations, with Muslims in general, and people who are or were immigrants. Whilst Trump, Putin and Kim Jong Un may appear to be friends now, his Twitter foreign policy pronouncements that involve bragging about the size of his… erm, nuclear button, are lunacy not diplomacy. This is not the Obama and West Wing White House we grew to love but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A friend pointed out that in psychology terms a cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect, where people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is, seems to be affecting Trump’s beliefs in his own genius, something he reiterated this week: “I am a very stable genius”… “I am more popular than Abraham Lincoln” (there wasn’t polling in his day!), “I feel unwelcome in London” but “the people of the UK love me“… His favourite words this week are “Very”, “Amazing”, “Strong”, and especially “Great”.

Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology, at the University of St Andrews says:

“To be contemptuous of Trump denies his power and diminishes him. Contempt and derision are excellent mobilisers of collective action. So… use satire and wit… Create a carnival of resistance. Reaffirm core values of humanity over inhumanity, inclusion over exclusion, hope over hate”

'Dump Trump' & 'Toddler Tantrums Start Wars', Norwich Protests Donald Trump
‘Dump Trump’ & ‘Toddler Tantrums Start Wars’, Norwich Protests Donald Trump

It’s time to dump the Trump before Western diplomacy and values retreat any further into the dark ages where hate and lies are legitimised, Islamophobia is rife, racism and xenophobic nationalism become ingrained once again.

“the toxic ideologies of ‘Trumpism’ are flourishing around the world” – Caroline Lucas

He has bragged that he has property everywhere in UK, that people love him and think him great. That an “honest” UK poll would show that Brits love him. The pro-Trump demo, not surprisingly being co-promoted with “Free Tommy Robinson”, had 700 down to go, compared to the 70,000 for the anti-Trump one, at which three times that showed up, whereas pro-Trump saw just a few dozen!

The level of Donald’s denial is despotic and delusional. For him MAGA is more like Make Trump Great Again – the alternative reality TV show. Better to see him as a participant on The Apprentice – special President’s edition, and collectively say “You’re FIRED!

Signs protesting Donald Trump in Norwich
Signs protesting Donald Trump in Norwich
First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Maya Angelou & Martin Luther King anniversaries. What can they teach us?

Today marks a significant confluence of anniversaries. It is 90 years since Maya Angelou was born and it is also 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two dates, two greats. Both worked for human rights, dignity and respect. Indeed, they worked together in the 1960s when Angelou worked as a coordinator for MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou - You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I'll rise. Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a childhood rape, teenage pregnancy, and sexuality doubts, indeed her range of occupations is rather enigmatic and curious: “Angelou drives cable cars, cooks, pimps, does exotic dancing, turns tricks, and sleeps in abandoned cars, all the while poring over serious literature.” – New Republic

She was a touring cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess and through hooking up with a South African freedom fighter moved to African becoming an editor-journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the early 1960s, the years of decolonisation. 

She had a life of adventure and yet seemingly overcame adversity at every turn by luck, love, and self-belief. Nonetheless, she seems to have spent a lot of time in her life and her writing still searching and exploring herself.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Her words, worn of experience and yet polished to be poetry, if not a little preachy, remain timeless, and she is one of the most oft-quoted people on motivational memes.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969

She lived with many loves, had many lives, and published no less than seven autobiographies. The most famous, remains, her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969.

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”

In 1972, she penned the first screenplay written by a black woman.

Receiving dozens of honorary degrees in her lifetime and a full-time professorship, despite no college degree, she was someone who succeeded irrespective of background and didn’t see “can’t” as a word in her extensive vocabulary.

“We must confess that we are the possible.”

From her time in the 1960s with MLK and Malcolm X to 2008 when she witnessed the inauguration of the first Black President in Barack Obama, though she backed Clinton, equality made limping progress. Angelou uttered then, that:

“We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.”

Growing up, but not yet full-grown or mature. We have a way to go.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta:

“This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”

Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate. Fifty years ago today. 

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

United in their attitude to hate

Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou, alike, defied their haters. Their responses of love, resilience, and determination, remain inspiring after their deaths. 

“You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou

Maya spoke about being a blessing, of being a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. MLK’s words I take as inspiration every time I speak about our response to hate, violence or bigotry:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King

There’s still much to fight for

We don’t live in a post-civil rights era, we are still fighting for equality, still needing to celebrate diversity and be welcoming and not merely tolerant of difference.

We still need twenty-first-century visionary leaders, pacifist in intent, passionate in expression, powerful in action, and political in achievement.

To the Martin Luther Kings and Maya Angelous being born today we celebrate you. To those being cut down in their prime (two teens yesterday in London), we commemorate you.

Whether you live to 39 (MLK) or 86 (Maya), make a difference, and be memorable by removing the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and choosing not to be limited by your education, sex, colour, age, or any other social categorisation. You are the difference, you are the change.

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Online Hate – Words will never harm me, or will they?

My emotional spoons are spent. Defending oneself against attacks based upon ignorance of both fact and zero personal acquaintance seems a futile endeavour. Were it not for my inner justice and defence mechanisms I might just let it lie. I would probably be better off was I able to bear the injustice of false accusations and insinuations floating around. I could never be a full-time media glare person for I’d ever be fighting off the slings and arrows of bigoted hate and sharp criticism. My anxiety and sensitivity couldn’t take it.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me

Online ad-hominem attacks are like playground bullying without the sticks and stones. The difference on social media is that when one is surrounded by bullies, it’s not a class or year-group but potentially hundreds and thousands or more. It is that much harder to just turn the other cheek and not seek to defend yourself.

“A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword” – Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621

Carry the Ideal Waterman pen, the weapon of peace, l'arme de la paix
Carry the Ideal Waterman pen, the weapon of peace, l’arme de la paix

If the pen is mightier than the sword then sometimes it is as much a poison pen as a weapon of peace or beauty.

I love words. The longer the better! Words though, however simple, are neutral munitions that can be used and misused in the name of any cause. 

Gerard Kelly wrote in awe of words and of Dylan Thomas‘ poetry that:

“To love words. To take account of their power. To stand in awe of their beauty. To splash and swim in the rivers and tributaries of thinking they make possible; going where they take you; trusting them to guide; knowing that the waterfalls they bring you to will leave you stronger, not drowned.”

Artist Johann Heinrich Füssli, Henry Fuseli's painting of Odysseus facing the choice between Scylla and Charybdis, 1794-6
Artist Johann Heinrich Füssli, Henry Fuseli’s painting of Odysseus facing the choice between Scylla and Charybdis, 1794-6

Sadly, I feel drowned and not stronger by a torrent of online abuse, caught between Scylla and Charybdis or the clashing Symplegades, between a rock and a hard place.

The reason? Trying to steer a middle course between hardened opinions, polarised politics, and the victim-centric anger and hate that comes from suffering and oppression and yet leaves little room for gentleness, patience, or understanding, let alone benefit of the doubt.

It’s not the first time by a long chalk. I’ve been hammered by the gentle folk of Mumsnet and other feminist forums. I’ve been falsely accused of terrorism, rape and paedophilia online just to get me in trouble with the police in attempts to ruin my reputation. I’ve received death threats for being political and opposing Brexit or standing up for migrants. I’ve been attacked in transgender forums for being open-minded, moderate and willing to listen to those who oppose trans rights, some of whom are labelled quite accurately TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists).

“The dash of a Pen, is more grievous than the counterbuff of a Lance.” – George Whetstone, An Heptameron of Civil Discourses, 1582

Keyboard warriors seem to have become just as vehement and sometimes venomous as their real world counterparts. Discourse is rarely civil. It is easy to lash out first and think about the impact second, if at all. Distance in argument or debate makes personal attack easier, the things we wouldn’t say to each other’s faces.

“The tongue is mightier than the blade” – Robert Graves, quoting Euripides, Claudius the God, 1934

Self-defence involves verbal justification, reporting, blocking, or just taking time-out.  When I was repeatedly attacked online, dozens of times in a week, the Police simply said “come off social media then”. Apparently, sharing your opinion online means you are not entitled to fair treatment.

“The toll and troll of online aggression hits deep into real-world emotions and mental health.”

Take care how and whom you debate or challenge online. Being gracious, courteous, offering the benefit of the doubt, costs little extra, but makes the world a better place to achieve common aims.

Choosing between self-defence and self-care does sometimes mean taking a break, but it would be better if we lived in a world of greater care, that was more considerate in how we argue, comment, respond, or challenge. 

In the end, I will, of course, return to the fray, to countering hate and injustice with love and understanding, but when the spoons are replenished. 

 

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

International Transgender Day of Visibility as the Political gets Personal

For Trans People, the Personal is getting very Political

If the personal is political, then being trans has certainly become overly politicised in the last few months. Most transgender people just want to get on with their lives, not poke their heads above the parapet and be overtly public each Transgender Day of Visibility (#TDOV). 2014 was called the  “transgender tipping point” and 2015 the year of transgender visibility, but 2017-18 is fast becoming the year of the war on women and trans.

Sex Wars and Gender Recognition

The Gender Recognition Act (2004) aided that for some but not for all since it was not relevant to many transitioning people being mainly a requirement for pre-Equal, well Same-Sex anyway, marriage legal innovation. It is now front and centre of the new battle within feminism(s), the so-called “War on Women”, discussion of who or what is a woman, access to single-sex spaces and support services, and updates to the GRA.

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall”

We divide and misrule at our peril. Surely, to stand on the right side of history is to be on the side of progress towards human rights for all, not resisting them. Fourth-wave feminism understands intersectionality and trans sisters far more inclusively than second-wave feminism. This unfortunate fight is as much a battle within feminisms as it is between genders. Interestingly, just 59% of Mumsnet users call themselves feminists yet many have joined the trans resistance, i.e., are resisting the extension of gender-identity rights.

That said, there are peaceful cooperative ways to discuss legal provisions among those that are affected by the laws. Though, to be honest, since the majority of trans people don’t even bother with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and have been accessing the most appropriate spaces and services to their gender or stage of transition for years, it hasn’t been a ‘problem’ until now. Equally, over half-a-dozen countries have introduced gender self-ID since 2012 to no known problems.

The UK seems to be unique in perceiving it as a massive attack upon the rights of and risks towards women. It is also tearing the Labour Party apart, much as the current discussion of alleged anti-semitism within it is. The vitriol of calling both trans activists and ‘TERF’s (see below) ‘Fascists’ is laughable since the majority of those fighting each other are Socialists, Marxists, and generally people on the Left of British politics, several of whom have been suspended or ejected from the Labour Party over this issue.

Who or What is a woman, BBC, 30 Jan 2018
BBC ‘Who, or what, defines you as a woman?’ Featuring Katy Jon Went and Linda Bellos

Visible Transgender History

One vocal opponent (aka ‘TERF’ or a Radical Feminist who opposes the inclusion of trans women in female spaces and a term considered a slur by them despite its reasonably accurate abbreviated description) said this week that “Transgenderism wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist 30 years ago.”

That is akin to the Australian MP, Bob Katter, who recently claimed that LGBTI people had only been around for 60 years.

The willful ignorance of the history of transgender, third gender, and gender non-conforming individuals, is astonishing here. Not to mention, the nearly 50-years-ago trans-washing of the Stonewall riots (1969) and the numerous trans women and transvestites involved in protesting police violence and state criminalisation of LGBT people. 

“people have been crossing gender boundaries for millennia and in all kinds of civilisations” – Christine Burns, History Today

All of these transgender people (a third of whom are trans men) and thousands more clearly existed 30 years ago and had surgeries more than 40 years ago:

Lili Elbe (1882-1931), Alan L. Hart (1890-1962), Michael Dillon (1915-1962), Roberta Cowell (1918-2011), Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), Jan Morris (1926-), Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy aka Coccinelle (1931-2006), Renée Richards (1934-), April Ashley (1935-), Lou Sullivan (1951-91), Caroline Cossey (1954-), Stephen Whittle (1955-). 

Medical Research & Mutual Respect

“Respectful, calm debate is necessary. How society and medicine deal with gender requires critical review in terms of the potential for unintended harms, even if there are no easy answers.” – Dr Margaret McCartney: Medicine must do better on gender, BMJ

Ongoing research is clearly needed and continues to show a biological/nature more than social/nurture origin of gender identity without it being a question of respecting people’s self-identity, whether part of gender dysphoria or not – something I struggled with for years

“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity. Although the specific mechanisms guiding the biological underpinnings of gender identity are not entirely understood, there is evolving consensus that being transgender is not a mental health disorder.” – Endocrine Society

We sorely need a message of mutual respect and inclusion not trans exclusion, but the way it is being discussed in a verbally violent polarised way is making it a debate about people’s identity, human rights, legal protections (I admit these go both ways within the EA, but not the GRA) and making it seem as if trans women don’t care about natal women’s rights to freedom from abuse.

We should be fighting abuse together

Violence towards women is something that should not be projected onto the vast majority of trans women as if it were some kind of demonising 1980s homosexual moral panic.

We need to fight and protect against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DASV) together not apart.

The majority of the victims are indeed women (including trans women) and the majority of the perpetrators are men – 90% of whom are known to victims, so the idea of ‘stranger danger’ and men using female self-identity to access women’s safe spaces is an extreme rarity and not indicative of real trans lives. 

Transgender Day of Visibility TDOV
Transgender Day of Visibility TDOV, 31 March #TDOV2018
First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Past and Present Inspiration to be the Change that makes a Difference

The inspiration of dreamers

One of the first records I bought was Imagine by John Lennon and like him, I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always believed the world could be a better place. His life like other great dreamers was cut short by violence.

“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” – John Lennon

Martin Luther King had a dream, was also shot dead, and whilst he precipitated change in his country, yet the work goes on. Black Lives Matter shows the need to keep at it, that progress is not instant but builds a head of steam and gathers momentum. It took 46 years from MLK’s “I have a dream” speech until Barack Obama became the first black President.

Eight years before MLK’s speech Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus back in 1955. Nine months before Parks, a 15-year-old teenager, Claudette Colvin did the same. These women had had enough of being pushed around and treated as second class because of both the colour of their skin and their sex – double discrimination and oppression, because “we don’t live single issue lives” – Audre Lorde.

The Tipping Point

The 1969 Stonewall Inn riots that kicked off the LGBT Pride movement were actually the third resistance event in a US city against Police homophobia and transphobia (LA, 1959; San Francisco, 1966), but the tide had turned. The people fought back.

Other movements like #MeToo, #GenderPayGap, and #MarchForOurLives – one of the biggest youth protests since Vietnam, create momentum and a tipping point when people say enough is enough.

What inspires me to keep going in my activism is both the history of past examples: Lennon, MLK, Rosa Parks, and Audre Lorde:

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

But also the role models of now. Like Parkland, Florida’s amazing Emma Gonzalez or Malala Yousafzai

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

We haven’t arrived, there is more to do

We haven’t yet reached the tipping point on, for example, FGM, for which there’s not been a single successful prosecution yet in the UK.

For a supposedly developed, civilised world we are in a mess. There remains so much more to be done on people trafficking, on equality and diversity, on mental health compassion and advocacy, on welcoming refugees and migrants, on giving everyone similar educational opportunities, on ending gun violence.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Be different, be the one and not the many, and make a difference

Being able to reflect on history means I know that change can and does happen, and each time it began with one person. A past relative of mine wrote the speeches for William Wilberforce in the UK to end slavery, another worked as a spy and interpreter alongside Tito in Yugoslavia with the resistance against the Nazis.

We can make a difference, and it begins often with a small act of resistance and others then joining you. Be the person who says “enough is enough”, and “now is the time”. 

We can be the change:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

And we should not wait:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Stephen Hawking, a long history of defying the odds of the dice thrown him

Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

Stephen Hawking, a fellow alumnus of my adolescent alma mater, St Albans School, has just died, over 50-years after he was forecast to by doctors upon his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. Stubborn and resilient to the last, he also added humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges.

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking

“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”

Even in his older years he still regarded himself as a “child, who has never grown up”, maintaining his curiosity till the end. Best known for A Brief History of Time – on many people’s shelves but less often read, we were lucky to have had his challenging mind and courageous heart on this planet and in this universe for so long.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Hawking was a profound thinker who found women more complex than the universe, questioned religious and scientific views alike, but for all his deep wisdom and intelligent theories, I like his saying that –

“It matters if you just don’t give up.”

At school, apart from traditional studies, he messed around manufacturing fireworks and building computers, the latter inspired and aided by his British-Armenian Maths teacher Dikran Tahta, of whom Hawking said:

“…behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher”.

Although intelligent, Hawking was initially not very hardworking nor academically successful and used risky tactics in both his studies and when coxing an Oxford University boat crew resulting in a few scrapes and crashes. Too busy “enjoying himself” rather than working, he spent an average of just an hour-a-day on his degree. 

“I was never top of the class at school, but my classmates must have seen potential in me, because my nickname was ‘Einstein.'”

He described himself as essentially an introvert yet needing the stimulation of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Stephen Hawking said: 

“I need discussion with other people to stimulate me. I find it a great help in my work to describe my ideas to others. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, the mere fact of having to organise my thoughts so that I can explain them to others often shows me a new way forward.” 

He did not see progress as inevitably leading to utopian improvement, instead, he cautioned that greater inequality could result.

“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” Hawking on Reddit

Given that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the reigniting of Cold War tit-for-tat expulsions between Britain and Russia, and sitting alongside the incendiary dialogue between North Korea and the US, one hopes that Hawking was wrong that:

“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”

To most people, it is Stephen Hawking’s mind that inspires or his positive attitude in overcoming disability. To me, it was his attitude to life and his mental health that encourages me.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

His changing health being the biggest adaptation he had to choose to deal with. He recognised that you could not be angry with the world and be a part of educating it.

“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”

Focus on the good, on what you have, be a glass-half-full person:

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

Not only intelligent but wise Stephen Hawking used humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges, his legacy is his spirit as much as his mind. He chose Je ne regrette rien, on Desert Island Discs, and that is as inspirational an attitude as all his writing.

 

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

Norwich Reclaim the Night – Fighting for Safer Streets not Infighting

The third Norwich Reclaim the Night took place on International Women’s Day 2018, spearheaded by UEA students and young intersectional and international feminists. It was inclusive of trans and non-binary people, as well as men, focusing on safety for all not gender. Sex worker freedom from violence, intimidation and harassment was also signposted. This was feminism for all without any infighting or exclusion.

Rallying talks and emotive poetry (all with content warnings) raised the issues of violence against women, of “Yellow Peril” racism on the streets, of domestic and sexual abuse, of hate crimes, and of the need to take back and create safe streets for all. The evening began with a talk about Leeway domestic violence and abuse services and also fundraised for them.

“Many marches are women-only and sadly some groups have discriminated against trans participants… We came out to show that Norwich is no longer a place where you can be harmed or discriminated against for the colour of your skin, your faith, gender, sex, nationality or sexual orientation.” – UEA event organising group

March chants – and Poppy Rose was in good voice, included:

“Love, not hate
Makes Norwich great!”

and 

“Claim our bodies
Claim our right
Make a stand
Take back the night!”

Norwich Reclaim the Night marchers 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Norwich Reclaim the Night marchers 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

The march of some 50-plus people was one of solidarity, safety, and sensitivity, looking after the welfare of everyone involved, several of whom spoke of surviving sexual abuse or other forms of harassment. 

Spanish feminist solidarity at Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Spanish feminist solidarity at Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

A number of young Spanish feminists found the event on Facebook, and were surprised more wasn’t happening on International Women’s Day whilst reflecting with sadness that they weren’t home in Spain during its first nationwide feminist strike of some 5 million women.

During the march, some dozen men on the streets asked me what it was about – there was no mockery but positive approval. Women standing in the queue for nightclubs gave us whoop-whoops as we passed, a couple of times cars honked their horns in solidarity.

This is indicative of how positive Norwich can be.

Unlike other Reclaim the Night events across the country, such as in London, which is considered a ‘women-only’ march, Norwich’s variation promotes an all-inclusive attitude towards supporting all individuals who may be affected by sexual harassment. Second year student, Ryan Jordan, who also delivered a speech and performed several poems, said,

“When I performed, my heart was pounding at first. But in the second half, I thought, ‘I’m with people who are amazing, and in Norwich you feel that you can do anything, unlike London…You’ve got a beautifully different array of people. It feels so safe. And UEA has always been very accepting. I feel okay being myself, and I feel that’s what Reclaim the Night is about.” – Ryan Jordan, as reported by Chloe Howcroft

As an invited speaker, for the second year running, I was loathed to draw attention to the issues of trans people, particularly trans women, and especially on #IWD, but current media headlines necessitated it and it was a safe place to do so given how inclusive an event the organising team had made it.

Here’s what I had to say:

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018 speech

“Reclaim the night is an annual march … intended to reclaim bodily autonomy and space that is often stolen from us by gendered and sexual violence”
Or so says CUSU.
 
Student-organised Reclaim the Nights tend to be women and non-binary, and male allies and victims inclusive – many don’t even mention trans inclusivity as it’s taken for granted that trans women would be included in women.
 
Meanwhile, “London Reclaim The Night is a women-only march.” and and some groups within the London Feminist Network have actively organised against trans or sex worker inclusivity.
 
Manchester, Brighton, and happily Norwich etc are all trans inclusive.
 
“All genders welcome. This is a sex-worker inclusive event, and we actively advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work. This is also an explicitly trans inclusive march. Given the chequered history of Reclaim the Night elsewhere in the country, we consider this vital to state clearly, and to do all we can to challenge the worrying rise of so-called radical feminism” – Brighton
The UEA-led Norwich Reclaim the Night proclaims “let’s make Norwich safe for everyone” 
 
Trans people are no safer on the streets than cis gender women, creating safe spaces on our streets, at our workplaces, in our homes (where 90% of DASV occurs among people we know, ie not stranger violence) is about protecting the vulnerable and policing the aggressors, not stereotyping and dividing down overly-simplistic/reductionist gendered lines. 
 
Solidarity, inclusivity, and intersectionality should be with all victims of violence and gender-based oppression. 
 
We should be fighting oppression, arm-in-arm, not fighting each other.
 
Artist and friend, Katherine Gilmartin, says:
 
“Boss babes see one another fighting for not with other women and systems.”
One Billion Rising, International Women’s Day and Reclaim the Night are all occasions when I prefer to emphasise women and girls and not draw attention to trans specific issues, but the current heat on trans women makes it unavoidable.
 
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Reclaim the Night. Photo by Helen Burrows
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Reclaim the Night. Photo by Helen Burrows

It is claimed that trans women mark the same level of risk to cisgender women as cisgender men do when in fact they are themselves at a higher risk of some types of abuse and attack (and ironically trans women as perpetrators of extreme violence pose a greater risk to men rather than women!)

 
This debate has not moved on in a year and trans women remain under fire for “Not being real women”. It’s time for all women, all minorities and/or oppressed to stand together for equality, human rights and mutual respect. It’s #PressforProgress not regress.
 
Reclaim the Night and Take Back the Night began in the late 1970s, a time when women and LGBT people had been standing side by side to advance gay rights and women’s rights. 1970s American lesbian radical feminists embraced their trans sisters until the 1979 publication of Janice Raymond’s Transexual Empire and attacks on Sandy Stone. Now it appears some women and media muck-rakers are trying to take us back to the 70s! 
 
It’s an age-old war fast becoming an old age war. It is dividing feminists of one generation from feminists of the next. It is defeating our common aims of reducing violence and oppression because we are divided against ourselves. 
 
Today has been used by a number of feminists as an opportunity to leave the Labour Party en masse for its defence and inclusion of trans women (in accordance with equality laws).

Transgender activists and the real war on women, Judith Green, The Spectator, 8 March 2018

The first attack, I mean “free speech debate”, that I saw in the media was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and was by Judith Green of A Women’s Place UK calling it “transgender activists and the real war on women“.

I would have thought that the real war on women was from Boko Haram, Saudi Arabia, FGM, everyday sexism and stereotyping, Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and
 
TimesUp, Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
TimesUp, Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

Not from a handful of trans people who in almost equal numbers now are traversing the gender divide and leaving biological birth essentialist determinism behind thus showing that neither the gender construct nor birth lottery need define you. Surely, that IS feminism?

We are stronger together than tearing each other apart. I am proud and pleased that the April WOW festival in Norwich, like Reclaim the Night, is trans and non-binary inclusive, male allies and victims of abuse and gender role oppression also.
 
It is time we stood together, 
it is time we rise up together, and
it is time we marched together, 
 
to reclaim the media high ground, 
to reclaim our study and workplaces, and
to reclaim the day and the night as sisters diverse but not divided!
 
For united we stand, divided we fall. 
Safe streets for women, trans and all!
 

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

One Billion Rising, Norwich rises up to say Time’s Up on VAWG & DASV

[There are no apologies for what follows, on a day such as this, these things need to be called out, trigger warnings of statistics of abuse but no details of abuse]

Norwich Rising (EDP report), in its sixth year, is a part of One Billion Rising, founded by Eve Ensler in 2012 and celebrated usually on 14 February to combat and end violence against women and girls. In 1998, the V-day (Victory, Valentine & Vagina) movement grew out of her Vagina Monologues performances and a campaign to support domestic violence shelters and agencies. Art and activism come together to support female victims of abuse.

What follows is the text of my speech at the event. As someone born male, but now transitioned, and having been in both some amazing relationships and some abusive ones, I am always both honoured and ashamed to be invited to speak at these events. Honoured to be included, ashamed of what (mostly) men have done to women.

That these ‘Rising’ events take place on Valentine’s Day serves to remind us that not all love is loving; that on this day some people would be better off leaving rather than staying in their relationships, and that so much ‘romanticism’ can be coercive control especially when used with ill intent to prey upon the vulnerable.

Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Rising. Photo by Ann Nicholls
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Rising. Photo by Ann Nicholls

Text of Speech

Just walking up to the Norwich Rising event I overheard two guys describing a woman as a fat pussy. When we reduce people to their body parts, we dehumanise them and make abuse easier.
 
This last year has been the year of Donald Trump and pussy hat women’s marches, the year of the #MeToo movement against abuse in the movies and media industry and the likes Harvey Weinstein, the year of the Presidents Club charity dinner for sexist dinosaurs, and just this week the boasting of the Philippine President of how he ordered the shooting of female rebels in the vagina because without one, women are useless. 
 
It’s also been the week of ongoing revelations in the charity sector, of Oxfam’s workers sexual exploitation in Haiti and other humanitarian agencies admitting similar; up to 10% of female workers abroad had been sexually assaulted or witnessed abuse. Even at home, there a 6 allegations a year of abuse in Oxfam shops. 
 
Every year we have events like this, we get asked “What about the men?” Yes they get abused, raped and killed too, but not nearly in the same quantity or severity. Of course we want to end violence and abuse against all people, by people of all genders. The reality, though, is that 3x as many women as men are killed in domestic situations. A third of the men are also killed by men and another third by women who had been abused by men. 15x more men than women are convicted of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is massive, over a million women a year, 10% of all recorded crime, but only 10% are prosecuted, fewer still convicted. Half of women in prison are themselves the victims of domestic violence.
 
People aren’t born abusers, they witness, repeat, and learn sexism from media stereotypes and scenes of graphic sexual exploitation and violence. We need to educate now not later in life. Consent and respect classes for pupils reduced rape offending rates by half in Kenya.
 
The UK government just closed its consultation on the sex education – whilst the opt out is all but gone the way it is taught remains a grey area. It should be compulsory and standardised in all schools. It should not have taken till now to be teaching better attitudes to all, without exception.
 
It may be Valentine’s Day but 75% of femicide murders are committed by current and former heterosexual partners, 75% in their own home and 90% by someone they knew. “Stranger danger” is rare. Nationally, nearly 200 domestic abuse victims are turned away from refuges each day. It’s time to fund services not cut them.
 
It’s also been a year of challenge to trans women and whether they present a risk to women’s safe spaces. Of 4 support services I’ve spoken to in this region they are all trans supportive but also risk assess all service users and workers.
 
Yes, 12 transgender spectrum people committed murders over the last decade, 7 victims were male, 4 female, and 1 was a trans on trans killing. Men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of transgender perpetrators of serious violence. Trans people are disproportionately likely to be victims. 
 
We can all twist statistics, and these figures mask different degrees of abuse, but 1 in 5 men face abuse within relationships, 1 in 4 LGB, 1 in 3 women, 1 in 2 trans people (mostly female-identified), but every one is one too many. Hashtag #TimesUp.
 
It is time to stop violence against women and girls be it domestic, sexual coercion and violence, or ritualistic FGM. Misogyny, molestation, mutilation and murder of women and girls must stop. 
 
Don’t send a card for Valentine’s, send a message – NO MORE violence or abuse.
 
I’ll end by quoting just two verses from the intersectional poem against sexism and racism by Maya Angelou:
 
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
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?
Hugs by Ann Nicholls
‘Shared hugs’ by Ann Nicholls

 

 

First ever King's Lynn & West Norfolk Pride 2018 | Katy

New Year Reflections on Light and Darkness; Health, Wealth and Madness

As New Year 2018 breaks, and on a bright light January mid-winter dawn at that, I realise that 2017 has been a year of two halves or even four quarters, much like the seasons. I’ve diaried most of my non-married adult life, including the last 11 years. Along with an insomniac’s sleep spreadsheet and a bipolar mood diary, I’ve a fairly good idea of my moods and their seasons. 

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

Light and Darkness

I’m going to pepper my reflections with random quotes about light and darkness, which diurnally deliver some of the starkest contrasts of daily existence, but which are at their hardest to endure when the nights are sixteen-hours long and the days excruciatingly short. And particularly hard, when one’s mood is low, insomnia debilitating, leaving one drawing the curtains at midday and getting up as the sun sets in deepest winter. I long for the lengthening days of 2018 as it progresses to June’s summer solstice.

“Every human being is a mixture of light and darkness, trust and fear, love and hate.” – Jean Vanier

MAD, BAD, and SAD

For someone who is or has Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD), with an annual accretion of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s only appropriate that I confess to also being MAD. Whilst calling someone mad is deprecated, it is thoroughly modern to have a Mood Affective Disorder including various depressions, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders – yes I have a GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) too. My OCD seems to be collecting three-letter mental health acronyms! 

“Where there is much light the shade is deepest.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Light falling on darkened tree branches
Light falling on darkened tree branches

The low moods are so deep that you feel your world is going to crush you like suffocating under a mountainous avalanche of rocks and soil or at the depths of the ocean as the air runs out and the pressure crushes your lungs.

“The sunrise and sunset shows us that in life there are ups and downs. There is light and darkness.” – Debasish Mridha

Whilst many of these seriously affect my wellbeing I also regard them as part of the range and spectrum of personality and psychology. So whether one has the clinical diagnosis or not (I do), one is not one’s label, or doomed by it, since we all experience anxiety, low mood, and the seasons, to varying degrees. The difference is the degree to which we suffer and are immobilised in one’s ability to function in life, hold down a job, pay bills, or maintain a healthy functioning loving relationship.

“Light isn’t always buoyant and shadows aren’t always despair; yet both, I believe, are limitless in lessons that they share.” – Carolyn Riker

Housed but feeling temporarily not at home

The last quarter has been one of my worst in some six years. Brought low by overexertion and exhaustion, insomnia, arthritis, whiplash, chronic anxiety and panic attacks over benefits renewals and appraisals, and a near six-month long house rewire that upended my comfort nest, I became uprooted, homeless within my own home. 

“The most precious light is the one that visits you in your darkest hour!” –  Mehmet Murat Ildan

Yet, I appreciate that I have a roof over my head, just enough flexible work to meet the difference between housing benefit and rent, enough security from family on months I’m short, to avoid a past history of extensive rent arrears and three eviction notices and an unsecured debt-pile equivalent to a middle-class mortgage without any house to show for it.

Others, in worse situations, have seen a doubling of people living rough since 2010, alongside a 50% cut in homelessness funding, a rise in food bank use, people losing their DLA/PIP assessments, being stuck on six-week Universal Credit delays, and seeing mental health services in crisis and special measures as they fail to match ‘service user’ needs. Austerity has worsened our wellbeing and failed in its fiscal justification.

Suicide Safety Net

My own darkness arrived at a time of maximum therapeutic support. I’d just managed to get a second package of 6 therapy sessions within a few years. The first took 3 years of asking and the second, around 6 months. But even with weekly therapy (extended to fortnightly for a longer period), bi-monthly care team support, regular mental health team check-in calls, a loving longterm partner, and a veritable army of support cats – I still suffered 4 days in 3 months where I was suicidal.

“Always surround yourself with friends that have plenty of light in them. That way, you will always have candles around you when days are dark.” – Suzy Kassem

Getting through the immediate seemingly life-threatening panic or manic anger or the aching raw bawling sadness has taken every ounce of my energy, and drawn on the understanding of my lovely partner in ways that I never wanted to. I nearly broke my girlfriend! She is, however, heroic in her ability to separate my needs (without being needy) from any responsibility to solve or salve, only to be a supportive companion and a candle in my darkness.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”  Anne Frank

Fortunately, due to my most serious past suicide attempt five-and-a-half years ago, I’d ensured that my house was empty of the means to take my life (via pills at least). It didn’t stop me from feeling my fragility and emotional rawness of having the same suicidal ideation but a better safety net in place. Driving is dangerous when one feels the power to take one’s own life beneath the foot pedal on an angry with the world day.

Not so Superman/girl

My superpowers have more than once met their psychosocial Kryptonite. I say psychosocial because I’m well aware that it is my psychological wiring and emotional responses to social and financial situations that trigger my darkness, anger, and powerlessness. 

Surviving rather than thriving is a temporary reward and respite. Living to face the terrors and panic attacks of another day. That is why dying feels like such a tempting relief, the only way to take a day off.

“And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” – Mad World

Faerie lights dancing in the relfections of the lens
Faerie lights dancing in the relfections of the lens

I have good days too, and in-between average days, that are nonetheless relief days. Being bipolar I’m never far from depression, nor elation. So I respect both. I can swing from scarily suicidal to aesthetic appreciation of art, beauty, food and kittens in just hours. Sadly, my rapid cycling rollercoaster can look fine, be engaged, and yet hours before or later be considering suicide or lying in the bath wondering what it would be like to drown in nihilistic comfort before the warm welcoming water got cold.

“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.” – Anthon St. Maarten

Life is full of light and dark, morning and night, summer and winter. Contrasts that make the extremes, well, more extreme. The highs are ecstatic and the lows are the end of the world.

“Life isn’t just about darkness or light, rather it’s about finding light within the darkness.” – Landon Parham

Yes, company, compassion, communication, the comfort of friends, are a solace though not a solution during those lonely days, weeks, months, and sadly, years. I’ve been anxious for 45 years, depressed for 15, bipolar (officially, at least) for 5. But, I’ve been alive for 50 years, continually by the thin thread of tenuous determination to live another day – despite several attempts, and many more close calls to end it.

“Why not dare yourself to become a shining positive light where darkness is the only thing known?” – Edmond Mbiaka

Getting through the night

Closing the curtains in winter at 4pm and waking at 4-5am some 3-4 hours before sunrise, leads to hours of wakeful darkness, and how to endure it. BBC iPlayer Radio plays are often an answer or cricket match commentary from Australian timezones.

The constant onslaught of dark days and anxious early mornings is like being pelted with a slinger’s stones or archer’s arrows from an infinite quiver where each would won’t kill you but like a death by a thousand cuts will make you weaker and even less likely to get up and face the next day.

 

 

Those 50 years, which feel like 500 at times, have taught me a healthy respect for mental wellbeing and to take pleasure in the little things like the fact that I woke up well today, and that it wasn’t raining. The longest night is past and longer days are around the corner, the light is returning, spring is coming.

I guess getting through the night is my daily version of other people’s getting through the winter. My rapid cycling mood means I experience the seasons on a quotidian basis. But I also learn from nature, that as sure as spring follows winter and morning follows night, so too will my mood lift or circumstance change. 

“I restore my book to the bracing and buoyant equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature, the only permanent reliance for sanity of book or human life.” – Walt Whitman

Today, I walked among the trees, chatted with my partner, ate simple but tasty food, and stroked cats – lots of cats. I’ve survived another day.