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 LGBTPride 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
Dr. Seuss would be 112 today, and certainly the non-conforming characters in his books never felt like acting their age, or following conventional wisdom, instead they offered sage advice for breaking out of the box, and being yourself, without limits.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote some 60 books, selling over 600 million copies, whose challenging quotes still resonate today. His birthday, March 2, has become the annual date for National Read Across America Day and comes the day before World Book Day.
“The more that you read, The more things you will know.
The more that you learn, The more places you’ll go.” I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
Theodor Seuss Geisel, author, illustrator, cartoonist
Geisel said he was saving the name ‘Geisel’ for the Great American Novel, instead he began to use his pen name ‘Dr. Seuss’ during his time studying at Dartmouth College and continued whilst studying for a PhD in English Literature at the University of Oxford (which he did not finish, though in 1956 Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate). It was at Dartmouth, as editor of a humour magazine, that he was caught drinking gin with friends in his room, during the time of Prohibition, and so with encouragement from his Professor of Rhetoric he continued clandestinely under his nom de plume. He once described himself as “subversive as hell”.
From 1927 he worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and other publications, including as chief political cartoonist for the New York newspaper, 1941-43. At the latter newspaper, he produced some 400 political cartoons such as this one:
America First, “and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones but those were foreign children and it really didn’t matter”.
Perhaps, as relevant now under Donald Trump’s presidency as during the 1940s.
During World War II, he joined the Army in 1943 as a Captain and was made commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.
His first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street did not appear until 1937 and his most famous, The Cat in the Hat, only came out in 1957.
Top 12 Best Dr Seuss Life Lessons Quotes
Or perhaps just 8, given that some are of uncertain attribution, even though they are Seuss-ian in nature and intent.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Happy Birthday to You! (1959)
“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen Hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regrets. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”
“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“Don’t give up! I believe in you all
A person’s a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!” – Horton Hears a Who!(1954)
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” – The Lorax (1971)
“Only you can control your future.”
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” – actually Robert Fulghum,True Love (1997)
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – of doubtful attribution
Dr Seuss (originally pronounced Soice) wrote and illustrated subversively to open minds, encourage liberal reading and adventurous lives. Horton hears a Who! was allegedly an allegory of the Hiroshima bombing. Thomas Fensch describes its ideas as “universal, multinational, multi-ethnic. In a word: Equality.” – Fensch, Thomas, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss, (2001).
He even wrote under a female pen name, Rosetta Stone, Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!! (1975). He remains loved and controversial to this day, but with some books still achieving half-million-a year book sales, he can definitely rest assured that he encouraged millions to read.
National Hug Day was an idea put forward by one Kevin Zaborney in 1986. Whilst January 21 was not overly significant it fell halfway between New Year’s and Valentines. Zaborney thought US society was “embarrassed to show feelings in public” and hoped a National Hugging Day would help change that, but actually didn’t hold out much hope that it would catch on. Well it did, and nearly 20 years on, folk are still hugging. (If you want more cuddling cats then read to the end!)
Free Hugs Campaign
Across several continents, during public demonstrations or random acts of kindness, one can often witness people offering “FREE HUGS”. A phenomenon that began in Australia around ten years ago and has since taken off everywhere.
Over 77 million people have watched this “Free Hugs” video:
I’ve participated in Free Hug events, even a public mixed-sex kiss-in to challenge public perceptions of same-sex displays of affection and homophobia. I’ve also done cuddle workshops, had cuddle buddies, and queued for hours to hug with Amma, the 34-million-people-hugged queen of hugging. Amma, or Mata Amritanandamayi, says her only religion is love. Hate and war aren’t working, so perhaps we need a revival of 1960s-70s peace and love.
As an atypically unreserved Brit, I can safely say that most of us consider our American cousins overly huggy, not me I can’t get enough of them – giving or receiving. That said, research has also shown that many European nations, such as the French or Spanish, spend even more time hugging or kissing.
In the midst of the Ferguson riots and response to the Michael Brown shooting one good news story emerged at a Portland demo, that of a kid offering hugs, even to a policeman. Devonte Hart was photographed hugging Sergeant Brett Barnum. According to the original Oregonian article, Hart was holding a “free hugs” sign. Barnum called him over and they talked about the demonstration, school, life and art. Afterwards, Barnum pointed at his sign and asked: “Do I get one of those?”
Commercial Cuddles by the hour
One woman in America has seen her cuddle-by-the-hour at $60 a time therapy business take-off with 10,000 enquiries in the first week! The www.CuddleUpToMe.com site, aka Samantha Hess, offers safeguards and various non-sexual options. She describes herself as a “professional cuddler” and offers to be the “big spoon or the little spoon”, although she is a petite 5ft tall, height is barely relevant when lying down.
Even in the usually reserved and private UK there are cuddle meetups, parties, and workshops, to be found. Bastion of poking fun, The Daily Mail actually has a healthy write up about one. Anna Shekory of Cuddle Workshop and Tom Fortes Mayer of FreeMind are involved in the UK workshops and meetups.
“Cuddle Workshop is not affiliated with Cuddle Parties in the USA. We are similar yet different from Cuddle Party. Like them, we offer a safe boundaried space to explore nurturing non-sexual touch.”
Oxytocin the oxygen of happiness
Call it human comfort, closeness, community, or what you will but one chemical name it goes by is Oxytocin, the cuddle compound, hug hormone, and slightly more doubtfully, the moral molecule.
Oxytocin is my drug of choice. Oxytocin is a very potent and powerful hormone. When we hug, kiss, or share closer intimacies our oxytocin levels shoot up. Half-a-minute’s hugs can raise oxytocin levels and maintain them throughout the day. Hugs have been shown to act an as anti-inflammatory healer, pain relief, mood relief, counter stress and anxiety, increase generosity, trust, ease PTSD, aid social bonding in autism, relieve heart pressure and more!
More oxytocin means less stress, mental and cardiovascular, and an improved immune system. According to Dr Zak, author of “The Moral Molecule“, even hugging strangers releases the oxytocin sense of wellbeing, so long as the hug is permitted and welcomed, I would hasten to add, nor an excuse for a fondle or grope.
Neuroeconomist Zak, or “Dr Love”, calls oxytocin our “social glue” and according to one interviewer has all the appearance of “having been constructed in a laboratory charged with creating the ideal deliverer of TED talks”.
Zak encouraged skeptical New Yorkers at an event called Love Night to embrace each other, “If it works on 500 random New Yorkers, it’ll work for you,” Zak says.
TV and Social Media can be good for you
Feelgood movies can lead to a 47% surge in oxytocin levels. Television can actually be good for you! Especially, if watched whilst cuddled up in bed or on the sofa with another warm human being.
Even Facebook is good for you, or can be when used for positive social interactions in the absence of face-to-face possibilities.
“Social media is often heralded as the end to meaningful interaction” but science can demonstrate a different story. “While studying people’s oxytocin levels after using Facebook and Twitter, Dr. Zak saw oxytocin release in every participant…Though in-person interactions are much richer, he says, there’s room for the Internet.” Commenting on a Twitter experiment, Zak says:
“Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for, E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.”
It is also showing up as a drug to aid against obesity, act an as anti-inflammatory healer, pain relief, mood relief, counter stress, increase generosity, trust, and more. Indeed, “oxytocin is proving to be a crucial ingredient to what makes us human”.
“Studies are showing that it may be effective in treating debilitating shyness, or to help people with social anxieties and mood disorders. It’s also thought that oxytocin could help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, given that autism is essentially a social communication disorder, it’s being considered as a way of helping people on the spectrum as well. And lastly, oxytocin, through its trust-building actions, can help heal the wounds of a damaged relationship — another example of how the mind gets its plasticity.”
The realists and skeptics out there may need to read something more balancing, such as this piece by Ed Yong who kicks oxytocin and Dr Zak back into touch. Further pointing out that for some the benefits may only enhance your pre-existing mindset. One study showed that oxytocin actually caused less trust and cooperation among people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Amanda Palmer in the Guardian writes that if she “were queen for a day, cuddles would be mandatory. I would counter the epidemic of human encounterlessness with cuddle centres for those who never get a proper hug.”
If you are one of the 7-8 million single people or third of the UK that will be living alone as we age, then if the encounter with a cuddle party, meetup or professional cuddler, is just way beyond your British reserve or shyness, what can you do?
If cuddling is out of bounds, try petting
Clinical psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson suggests that “getting a kitten and petting it might have a similar soporific, calming effect.”
That may explain the equal rise of cat cafes and the opportunity to go and cuddle a kitty, or some other furry, if you live alone in rented accommodation that bans pets. People with pets apparently recover faster from illness and find their stress levels reduced. It may also be easier to maintain one’s boundaries with a cat!
Hugs on prescription?
Okay so they may not bring about world peace just yet but they can comfort or console what they can’t cure! So have a hug or pet a cat on me today!
Many are calling 2015 the year of transgender visibility, after 2014’s “transgender tipping point” and Laverne Cox in OITNB, heck we were even “word of the year“. But 2015 also began very differently as the year of trans youth suicides with a spate of them from Leelah Alcorn to many others until March last year when the coming out of a young trans male teen Tom Sosnik put the focus back on living.
With visibility comes equality and acceptance, one hopes, but also a recognition that we have a voice, indeed several voices – for we are a diverse community.
“None of us can represent anyone but ourselves…” – Janet Mock
There are trans Tories and Republicans, Christians and Muslims, politics and religion are no prevention to having gender dysphoria. Though sometimes one can lose one’s job or faith over it.
Does having a platform and a voice bring responsibility? There has been much criticism of Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney for not representing “us”. But they do, in the sense that they represent themselves. For anyone can be trans. We may need to add #notinmyname hashtags to some of their statements though when we disagree over image, progress, equality, and micro-politics.
Lana Wachowski on Vulnerability
If I wanted a voice that came close to my feelings and expression then listening to the funny and profound Lana Wachowski receiving the 2012 HRC Visibility Award and 2014 Equality Illinois Freedom Award had me applauding every sentence. I empathised with her experience of binary discomfort and not just gender dysphoria, being sorted by gender at school, not recognising that gender is a spectrum, not an either/or.
Putting ourselves out there as vulnerable, is the way in which to be strong, one first has to be weak. To gain rights one has to stand up, and be counted, before you have those rights:
“Policy is the battle ground where matters of equality are fought. Policy can institutionalize prejudice or can protect us against it.” – Lana Wachowski
Her being visible was a choice and a sacrifice of a precious privacy that she and her brother had sought to protect since becoming successful filmmakers. She reminded me of the trade-off between public and private, visibility and invisibility, vulnerability and protected, ‘out’ and ‘in the closet’.
“Every one of us, every person here, every human life presents a negotiation between public and private identity.” – Lana Wachowski
‘Coming out’ seems to be in the news all the time, more accepted, yet still a shock to some, and still unnecessary if you are a part of the cisheteronormative default (no judgement intended). There’s still seems to be a mixture of shock and awe when a sportsperson (rare) or a celebrity (more common) comes out as something other than the heterosexual or cis (non-trans) gendered norm.
Speaking of normal, in the context of her pink dreads inspiring children to think outside the matrix, for themselves, “recalibrating the possible”, Lana said this:
“…normal is something that does not have to be defined for you but rather by you.”
SuperTrans – Visibility as Superpower
As SuperGirlin 2015-2016 is to discover once you’ve come out and become visible, there’s no going back (2m54s):
Being Trans is not a superpower, being authentic and visible is. Ironically we spend our dysphoric early lives torn between wanting to be invisible, hiding in the closet, and yet wanting to be seen as our “true selves”.
Bisexuals have a visibility day (23 September) because they are so often erased, so do trans people (31 March) but we tend to emphasize the Transgender Day of Remembrance for those who were killed for being trans (20 Nov, TDOR). Trans people have little choice but to be visible once out, we could do with a national “please don’t look at me day”, sometimes we’d like a day off, to be ignored and not noticed. I’ve chosen to embrace the loss of privacy that comes from being continually visible, and not passing, it does not make me superhuman, I’m still vulnerable, but I like to be seen to encourage others, not just trans, to be empowered to be authentically themselves.