Sunday, 16 July 2017

Why A Female Doctor Who Is So Important

13th Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker

Image Source: @BBCDoctorWho

Today, it was announced who would be playing the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who. That person is Jodie Whittaker. A woman.

This is huge. It shouldn't be, but it is. As a fan of the show, I am absolutely over the moon that we will have a female Doctor. At last. I can't tell you how emotional it makes me that next year, we will get to see a woman having adventures, travelling through time and space, saving lives and saving the world, in a lead role, every week.

Young girls will be able to watch the show, and see a woman, like they will grow up to be, as the Doctor, not just the Companion. They can imagine themselves going on adventures not just as the sidekick, the helper, the assistant, but as the one with the power. They will see a woman saving lives, instead of needing to be saved. They will see a woman with such intelligence and knowledge, making plans and strategising. They will see a woman being strong and powerful and in control.

We've seen more of this lately, what with the female cast for Ghost Busters and with Wonder Woman. But Doctor Who has a unique opportunity here. A person who was a man for centuries will now be a woman. Sure, the Doctor is an alien rather than human, and so is separate from us anyway, but I'm sure while becoming a woman may not necessarily be a surprise (Missy), it will be a shock. Will the Doctor experience gender dysphoria perhaps? There are trans themes here that could be explored, but only if they are dealt with respectfully and sensitively.

But there's also a chance to show the effect of sexism. The Doctor has always had the privileged of being deferred to as a man, if alien. Will the human race be so accepting of the authority and power of the Doctor, of the President of Earth, when she's a woman? That's if they even know the Doctor is the Doctor, but I'm sure the Doctor will experience the everyday sexism as a woman. Will the Doctor be catcalled, maybe? Will her ideas, thoughts, opinions be dismissed? Will she be listened to? Will she have to work that much harder to be heard, to prove that she's right? Are things more likely to go wrong because the Doctor's not listened to because she's a woman?

There's the Doctor experiencing sexism, and then there's the audience seeing how the Doctor is being treated differently to how she's used to now she is a woman. There is a lot the show could do here to explore and discuss gender inequality and sexism, and the conversations or change in perspectives they could spark.

I'm also interested to see what will happen in regards to the Doctor's sexuality. We've had Captain Jack Harkness, who is omnisexual, and Bill, who is gay. I don't remember the Doctor's sexuality ever being mentioned, but he has fallen in love twice, with women - with Rose and with River Song. The Doctor doesn't fall in love that often, and not all his companions have been love interests, but Rose and River will always be important to the Doctor - the Doctor will always love them, no matter what his gender. And what if the Doctor as a woman meets someone who becomes just as important? Will the Doctor, as a woman, be gay? Or will her sexuality be fluid? It's not impossible for a person's sexuality to change; they can believe they were one sexual oritentation, and then later discover they are another. So it wouldn't be surprising, necessarily, if the Doctor, as a woman, were to fall for a man. However, I think it might mean more if the Doctor were to remain attracted to women.

As I said, the creators of Doctor Who have a unique opportunity here. I am so excited to see what they do with Doctor Who next. Of course, Doctor Who will still be Doctor Who, the show at it's essence won't change. It will just be interesting to see this new change. Of course, there are more steps that could be taken. The actress they chose could have been a woman of colour, right? There are those fans who will have a problem with a female Doctor, so maybe they want to make changes one step at a time. A woman first, a person of colour next? I don't know whether that's necessarly the right thing to do, even if that is what they're doing. But it's a step in the right direction, at least, and I can't wait to see Jodie Whittaker in action.

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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Battling Anxiety in the Face of Terrorism

Red leaves against a blue sky

Living with a mental illness in a world where terrorist attacks are becoming a common occurrence is difficult. From what I can remember, the number of terrorist attacks has increased at an alarming rate since the Charlie Hebdo attack in France in January 2015. Wherever terrorist have happened, the news of each one has hit me with such sadness, fear and despair. This year it's felt constant - it's already June, and I can't count how many attacks there have been - and with each new attack, the longer it's taken for me to shake off the despair. So much death, so many injured. And the fear. The fear has been really difficult for me to get past.

The attack on London Bridge was the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to my anxiety. With all the other attacks, despite the range of emotions I've battled with, my anxiety hasn't been a problem. But with London Bridge - the third attack in the UK in three months - it became too much, and my mental health couldn't take any more, and I've had a bit of a relapse. I went to work yesterday, and anxiety was pretty much a constant all day until I came back home. I work in the West End, and with how popular and busy an area it is I've been worried that it's a prime area for an attack. Only last Wednesday I was talking about the attack in Manchester, and saying how I felt it was only a matter of time until the West End is hit. Three days later, London is hit again, and my fear rocketed. I was lucky that I was able to keep my anxiety at bay enough that I didn't have an anxiety attack, but I have never experienced the affects of anxiety for so long - for most of the day.

Now I'm off on annual leave for six days, and it would be so easy to just stay in and not go out - especially as the weather isn't going to be great this week. But staying in because I'm anxious is just not something I can do. I'm fortunate that my anxiety is mild compared to others, but if I am to give into it, I can feel that it would only get worse, and it would just get more and more difficult to go out. What I'm struggling with is that this fear I have is not irrational, the thoughts that scare me are not irrational. Terrorism seems rife now, and I don't think it's irrational to think that I could potentially, at some point, be in an area where a terrorist attack happens. Likely is a different matter, but it's not irrational. I can't tell myself it won't happen. I can tell myself it's unlikely, try and convince myself I'll be fine, but I can't tell myself it won't happen. But at the same time, I can't let my anxiety or terrorism stop me from living my life.

I went out today, shopping. I could have gone local, grabbed what I needed, and got home quick, but I didn't. I chose to go to a shopping centre. I looked around some shops, bought a couple of tops, picked up the few things I needed, and ate out. I was out for a few hours. It was hard, but I knew I needed to do it. And it wasn't that bad, as I knew it wouldn't be. My Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is recent enough that I still remember my strategies, how to get through things, and I was fine. This one day isn't going to stop the anxiety, it's going to take time, and going back to work on Monday will be difficult again because of the area. But I'll keep working at it, and trying and, moving forward. It would have been easier to stay home, I would have felt safer staying home. But that wouldn't have been harmful and unhealthy. So I'm proud of myself for going out, and so glad that I managed to stay calm throughout.

I know that what I'm going through is nothing compared to what the families of those who have died, those who are injured, and those who witnessed it. But all of us are going to be affected by these attacks, and those of us with mental illnesses may be even more. And we've got to look after ourselves. Today was me looking after myself, and me living my life as usual.

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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Race for Life 2017 - Our Fight to Beat Cancer for Everyone

In May 2014, my Nan was told that her lung cancer was gone, and that after six gruelling months, she was in remission. To celebrate, my Mum and I signed up for Race for Life 2014, to happen in July, to raise money for a charity that would continue to help people like my Nan. In June, however, my Nan had a seizure. She was rushed to hospital, and after undergoing numerous tests, she was that that she wasn't, actually, in remission, that the cancer had spread to her brain. There was nothing they could do. They gave her six months.

Me and my Mum after completing Race for Life 2014, wearing our medals

So it was with a very different mood that Mum and I took part in Race for Life 2014 on a wet, rainy day in July. It was no longer the celebration we thought it would be. It was hugely emotional. What we were doing, the money we had raised, wouldn't help Nan. She wouldn't make it, she wouldn't win her fight. But still, we did it for her, thinking of her the whole way. It was us sticking up our middle fingers to cancer. It might be taking my Nan, my Mum's mum from us, but we were doing what we could to help stop it taking other people's loved ones from them. We were doing it in the hope that the money we raised would help other people going through what we were, what my Nan was, in the hope that other people would be saved, that eventually, a cure would be found.

Just over nine months after being told she was terminal, in the early hours of Saturday 4th April 2015, Nan died, surrounded by her family. Those nine months of watching her deteriorate are some of the worst of my life. Seeing this fierce, strong woman who was so full of fun and laughter, who I was always in so much awe of, become a shell of herself. The tiredness. How fragile she became, the slightest bump doing so much damage to her body. The lack of  strength that led to her being bed bound. The loss of hand-eye co-ordination as well as loss of strength in her hands, meaning she needed us to feed her, help her drink, help her smoke - the vice she went back to once she knew she was going to die anyway. The loss of memory, forgetting people's names, wasting her strength to ask something she'd already asked. How she remembered wishing me Happy Birthday when she hadn't, and when Mum told her she hadn't, used the very little strength she had to whisper-gasp-sing me Happy Birthday. She died 20 days later.

Later that same year, on Thursday 10th December 2015, bowel cancer took her sister, too. In the following year, on Wednesday 6th July 2016, their brother also died from lung cancer. In the space of 15 months, cancer stole three people from our family. It's been an absolutely heartbreaking few years for us. So much loss. So much grief. So much anger. All because of cancer.

And that's why, on 24th June, Mum and I will, again, be taking part in Race for Life 2017. This time round, we will be doing it in the memory of our loved ones. We'll be doing it for my Nan, who didn't make it. We'll be thinking of her the whole time again, and it will be so much harder. But we'll be doing it in the hope that others will win their fight, that others won't have to experience the grief of losing someone to this terrible, harrowing disease. We will be doing it as a thank you for the care Nan and her siblings received throughout their treatment. This will be our fight to beat cancer for everyone, and it will be even more emotional than the first.

And so I ask if you would mind sponsoring my Mum and I, to raise money for Cancer Research UK, to bring us a few steps closer to ridding the world of a disease that has destroyed so many people's lives. Anything you can spare will be greatly appreciated.

You can donate at our fundraising page here. Thank you so, so much.

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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Show a Little Kindness

Two people standing next to each other, making a heart shape with their hands

About two weeks ago, I was out shopping. Feeling hungry, I decided to stop for some lunch at McDonald's. It was during the Easter holidays, and it was pretty busy. Almost all the tables were taken. A woman with two children was looking for somewhere to sit. They were going to go into a booth, but it hadn't been cleaned yet. I was sitting at a table for two on my own; to my left, there was another free table for two, and to my right, a pillar with another free table for two next to it. I told the woman I would move to the other table, so she and her children could have the two tables together. Her eyebrows raised, her eyes widened. The woman was surprised by my offer, and so genuinely grateful.

About ten minutes later, another woman was looking for somewhere to sit. There was still very little room available. She looked at the seat opposite me, looked at me, but then continued to look elsewhere. "Excuse me," I said. "This seat is free if you want to sit here." This woman's initial reaction, too, was the raising of her eyebrows, the widening of her eyes. Surprise, shock, followed by grateful smile. We had a quick chat about how busy it was, and continued eating our food.

Later that day, I'm on my way home on the bus. It's not hugely busy, but there are a fair number of people on it. A woman comes on the bus, and at this time, there are no window seats available, and she is going to have to sit next to someone. She looks around, hesitating. Just as she's coming up to where I'm sitting, she looks down at the seat next to me, then up further down the bus. I notice that my undone coat has fallen partially into the seat next to me. I move my coat and shift over a bit, to make sure I'm fully in my seat. The woman realises I'm making room for her to sit down. Again, surprise, then gratitude.

I found it really surprising that each of these women were surprised by my actions. I don't know if it's because I look much younger than I am, and perhaps younger people aren't known for being accommodating. All three of these women were Muslims in hijabs, and perhaps they're not so used to white people being kind. Or perhaps, in general, people just aren't that nice these days.

And that bothers me. These women were surprised that someone was showing them some kindness. That's just terrible. What kind of a world do we live in where the reaction to kindness is surprise? I know in various parts of the world, things are far beyond ideal. We don't live in the kindest of worlds where the people in power are pretty much encouraging that we treat those who aren't the same as us differently. There are so many of us on social media who actively criticise these people. I know we want a more accepting world who treats everyone equally. Which is why it bothered me so much that in one day, three different people were shocked to be shown some kindness.

I just expect better of us, you know? Something I do automatically, without really thinking about it, isn't something others do. And that's not ok. We all talk about wanting the world to be better, but that's got to start with us. Human to fellow human. Showing kindness or compassion. Being friendly and polite. It's not hard. It doesn't cost you anything. And by those ladies' reactions, simply by being nice to someone, you can brighten someone's day.

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Thursday, 13 April 2017

There's Always Hope: On Bullying and 13 Reasons Why

Trigger Warning: This post talks about bullying and suicide.

Please note: This was a difficult post to write. This isn't something I like talking about much, or that I like remembering. So please forgive me if this isn't up to scratch with my usual writing.


13 Reasons Why TV Show Poster

Yesterday, I finished watching the Netflix original show 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of a YA novel of the same name I read several years ago. Hannah Baker has committed suicide, and she has left casette tapes behind, detailing the 13 reasons - the 13 people - who led to her taking her own life. I don't think I could ever articulate how much this show has affected me. It deeply upset me. But for the right reasons. Hannah Baker committed suicide, because of how people treated her and the bullying she experienced, and no-one saw the warning signs. No-one.

This series is so incredibly important. The only way to know just how powerful this show is is to watch it. It shows you how small actions that might seem like nothing to you can have such an impact on others. This show could help so many people. So many. Not only those who are depressed and/or feeling suicidal, but also open the eyes of those who don't realise the impact their actions can have. This is a fictional story, but it's true that teenagers have taken their own lives due to bullying.

I felt I needed to highlight just how important this show is, but to contribute, in a small way, to the work this show is doing. By telling a real life story - but one that has a different ending to Hannah's - in the hopes that it may show people who are feeling similarly to Hannah that there is hope, that these feelings don't last forever, and that there's light at the end of the tunnel.

A girl sitting on a bench, her hands either side of her as she looks down sadly.

When I was 16, I cried myself to sleep almost every night. I was bullied - mildly bullied, as I always qualify to myself; I didn't experience anything like what some people do. Nothing like what we're seeing Bex experience in Eastenders today, and nowhere near as bad, in some cases, as Hannah experiences. But if 13 Reasons Why shows us anything, it doesn't really matter the level of bullying you experience. I was bullied, and my life felt like hell.

Most of the time, I was invisble. I always preferred that; going under the radar, not drawing attention of the mean, popular crowd. (I would like to point out that being popular doesn't automatically make someone a bully. Not all of the popular people in my year bullied me, but all of the people who bullied me were popular). When they didn't notice me, my school life was more bearable. But being invisible is a form of bullying in itself; I wasn't worthy of notice. I was happier at school when I was invisible, but I was always aware of how people saw me. Not cool enough, not attractive enough, too smart, too well behaved, too quiet, too shy. But not being thought of, as I said, also has it's affect. Not good enough, not worth enough - not worth anything.

But then there were the times when I wasn't invisible. When I was noticed, but not for the right reasons. There was a guy who thought I fancied him. I didn't. At first, he would tell me stupid jokes. So stupid, they just weren't funny. And I would be criticised for not laughing. "I know it uses all the muscles in your face, Joanne, but just smile!" He would continue to try and tell me jokes, each one worse than the one before. It got ridiculous. The jokes were ridiculous. I laughed, because it was just so stupid that he thought I would find these jokes funny. That was funny. And I laughed. That was my mistake. It led to more attention from him, him bringing me to the attention of others. He would tell people he was the only person who could make me laugh.

There was another guy, not a friend, exactly, but someone I was friendly with. He never, to my knowledge, said a bad word about me. He was playful and silly, and he liked to try and wind me up. After lunch, my year would have to line up in our classes before being allowed back into the school. He would tap me on the shoulder, and then look elsewhere, pretending it wasn't him. At first, I was never sure who it was, but after a while, I realised he was always near when it happened. It was him. It was annoying, but in an amusing way. In class, whenever he walked behind me to get to his own table, he would mess up my hair. Not badly or anything, just a quick rub on top of my head as he walked by. Again, annoying, frsutrating, but still kind of funny. There was nothing malicious in what he was doing. It was just who he was.

But the other guy saw what he would do, and started copying. He would mess up my hair. He would tap me on the shoulder. It's the same actions, right? It shouldn't make any difference. But it did. He wasn't trying to make me laugh and annoy me at the same time, he was laughing at me. Other people would see, and laugh, too. What was innocent and amusing became torment. But wouldn't stop there. When he thought the teacher wouldn't hear, he would whisper my name to get my attention. When I automatically looked up on hearing my name, he would wink at me, or kiss the air. As he did, everyone around him was already looking at me, waiting to see my reaction, grins on their faces, lapping up how uncomfortable it made me feel.

And it got worse. This guy made plans. At the end of one lunch time, when my year was lined up, waiting for the teachers to arrive to send us in, he put his plan into action. Loudly, so that a lot of people could hear, he began to humiliate me. He made a big joke about how he fancied me. talking about how hot I was, how I got him going. He had prepared clever little rhymes, things he would sing-song, commenting on how I looked. While he laughed. While my class laughed. While those on eaither side of my class laughed. Because he was loud. This was his performance, and I was the butt of the joke. It was all just so funny, him making it clear how ugly he thought I was, by saying the opposite, how he would never, could never, want me, by saying how much he did. A girl in the line a few people behind me asked her friend, "Surely he can't be serious?!" To which her friend replied, "Of course not, it's Joanne. She'll never have a boyfriend."

I stood there, facing forwards, as the seconds dragged by, hearing these people laugh at my expense, him saying these cruel things, trying so hard not to cry. All I wanted to do was run out of the line, into the school from the playground, and then out the doors. I wanted to leave. I wanted to escape. But I didn't want to give them what they wanted. I didn't cry. I stood still. I put a neutral expression on my face, as if I couldn't hear. I didn't react.

That came later that night, when I was in bed. Because it wasn't just the humilation, though that was bad enough. It's what they were all telling me. I was ugly. I was nothing. I wasn't worth the dirt under their shoes. I was nothing. And this is just one guy over several weeks, but he wasn't the only one. There were several people who would go out of their way to make it clear to me that I wasn't good enough, I wasn't liked, I wasn't wanted. And, individually, these small little things might seem like nothing, but collectively, it hurt. It hurt me. Remembering it still does. How worthless I felt. Because they're all saying the same things, and they can't all be wrong, surely? So I must be worthless. I must be nothing. I must not be good enough. I must be ugly.

The pain, the emptiness, the loneliness Hannah feels in the second half of the series, I related to. When she talks about how she was just a problem for everyone, I got that. I got it into my head that no-one actually cared. Despite evidence to the contrary, I believed my friends didn't actually like me, they just felt sorry for me, pitied me, but they didn't care. I believed my family didn't love me, but they were stuck with me, they had no choice. Neither my friends nor my family did absolutely anything to back up what I was thinking. My family only ever showed me love. And yes, I would get into fights with my friends occassionaly, but they did care about me. But these people got into my head, and twisted things. I would lie in bed crying, viciously telling myself how I was nothing, I was worthless, I wasn't worth the ground beneath anyone's feet, that nobody cared, and everyone would be better off if I never existed. I know how that sounds. But for all those months, I was never suicidal. I was extremely unhappy, I was unhappy being me, but it didn't occur to me to kill myself. My thoughts didn't go from "They would be better off if you never existed," to "So you should just end it."

Not until one day. I was using some scissors for homework. They were a particularly sharp pair of scissors that my brother and I were only allowed to use very rarely, because we might accidentally hurt myself. As I finished what I was doing, and was putting everything away, I picked up those scissors, and the thought entered my head. It wasn't a thought in words, but just a feeling that everyone would be happier if I wasn't here. Then my sleeves are rolled up, my wrist is facing upwards, and I've got those scissors open, and I'm seconds away, seconds... and instead I launch the scissors across the room, shout at them, "I won't let you beat me!" And then I pick up a pen and pad paper and write a letter to my best friend at the time, pouring absolutely everything out on to the page, tears pouring down my face. I told her everything. I held nothing back. And she was there for me, she supported me. She listened. She listened.

She lived in Somerset, nowhere near me. She couldn't physically be there for me, but she was my outlet, and she listened to me without judgement. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know where I would be now if I didn't have her to talk to. It took a huge amount of courage to talk to her, to tell her everything, but it was exactly what I needed. It didn't make things better, but I felt heard. And she challenged every negative thought I had. She couldn't wave a magic wand and fix everything in my life, she couldn't fix me and how I felt, but the fact that she listened, that I was able to talk to her, was a massive help. A huge help. Nobody else knew what I was going through, not until years later. She was the only person. She pretty much saved my life.

And things did get better. School ended, and I never had to see those people again. The bullying stopped. People talked to me. My group of friends expanded as we became a bigger group with some of the other guys in sixth form - including that guy who used to mess up my hair. I don't know, maybe they were victims of the mean, popular people, too. Or maybe they just didn't want to get the backlash that might come with being seen being friends with me. But there were people who were friendly who had never taken the time to know me before. Sixth form was so much easier. We all felt a little more able to be ourselves. There were more people who liked me. And slowly, those thoughts I had, they started to get quieter. It took me a hugely long time to get my self-esteem up to a healthy level. Years. But things did get better, I became happier. Now? I'm happy with who I am, with how I look, with my life, and don't give much of a damn to what anyone else thinks. And you can get here, too.

And the road to healing started with talking. I cannot emphasise enough just how important it was that I had someone to talk to. That emptiness, that pain, is too much to bear on your own. It's a heavy weight, and will only get heavier. If you're feeling at all anything like I did, like Hannah did, talk to someone. Anyone. A friend, a family member, a teacher, a co-worker, or an organisation like The Samaritans. I promise you, someone will help. This doesn't last forever. There is another way out. There's nothing wrong with asking for help.

You are worth so much more than you can ever possibly imagine. There are so many people who love you, even if you think there aren't. There are people who care, and there are people who would desperately try to help you if they knew. It doesn't have to end here. Talk to someone. There is happiness in your future, I promise you there is. But you have to fight each day to get there. I know that seems hard and scary, but there are those who will fight with you. Don't give up. There's so much more you have to give. Keep going, keep fighting, and talk to someone. There's always hope.


Go to 13ReasonsWhy.info for organisations in your area who can help.


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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Letter to Death on the Anniversary of Nan's Death

Two white lilies on a grey background, one still in the process of blooming

Ever since seeing Collatoral Beuaty, I have wanted to write my own letters to Love, Death and Time and other abstract concepts, like Howard does, but for other reasons. This is my first letter.

Dear Death,

It's been two years today since Nan died. Two years.

I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in heaven or the afterlife, or anything like that. Nan has simply gone. However, I like the idea of you being some kind of entity, one who looks like Helen Mirren rather than those images of the Grim Reaper we see. Having this imaginary idea makes me look at Nan's death in a different, helpful way. The idea of Helen Mirren turning up, sympathetic and sad, to take my nan's hand and lead her away from her pain and suffering feels good. Rather than focusing on what you took from me, from my family, I instead think of the peace and relief you gave my nan.

I stop thinking about how unfair it is, I stop thinking about how angry I am. Or rather, I'm less angry that she died, but still angry that cancer caused her to die. It's probably a mercy that she died when she did, because I don't know how Nan was coping with living in that body; the memory loss, the lack of hand-eye coordination, meaning everything had to be done for her, being so weak and exhausted she was bed bound. And the pain, the pain that was only staved off by medication that made her sleep. You taking her when you did was a mercy, and as sad as I am, I can feel better about it.

As I said, I'm an atheist, but Nan wasn't. She believed in God, and she believed in heaven. And for her sake, I hope I'm wrong. I know, if I'm right, she wouldn't know any different; she would have died, and that would have been it. But I hate the thought of her being cheated somehow, that she didn't get to go where she thought she would. Though, I suppose, it doesn't make any real difference. I'm an atheist, but I'm one who doesn't have anything against religion or faith, it's simply something I don't believe. I've seen the good faith does, and I suppose it worked that way for Nan; even if there is no God and no heaven, believing there was as she was dying probably made it easier to cope with. Soon she'll see her mum again.

But I do like the idea of heaven. Although heaven is linked with God and religion, it's an idea even atheists fall back on when trying to explain death to children. And though I don't believe it, it's still nice to imagine Nan in heaven, at a cloudy bar, drinking everyone under the table, flirting outrageously with Charles Bronson (the actor - she really fancied him), and having a great time with her sister and brother, who joined her later. The thought puts a smile on my face and makes it a little easier to deal with the pain, even if I don't believe it to be true.

All of which makes it easier, today, to think less about how I've lost her, and more about the great memories I have of her. Us jiving at parties. Her cooking me steak-in-gravy when I came to visit. The caravan holidays she would take her daughters, grandchildren, foster children, and sometimes the children she used to child mind on. The Saturday mornings she would take us down the high street, buy us something from the pound shop, and take us McDonald's in the afternoon. The nights she would go down the pub and take me with her, when I was a child. The nights, as an adult, when I would take her down the pub. The lunches I would take her out for. So many good memories. So many.

So although I'm so upset, and I miss more than I could ever express, today, on the anniversary of her death, I can smile. I can smile for all the memories I have, for how much I love her and she loved me, and for how lucky I am that I had her for a nan.

And I'm no longer angry at you, Death. I forgive you. In fact, I'm actually grateful. You took my nan from me, but you stopped her suffering. Thank you.

Jo

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Friday, 31 March 2017

A Wish For Your Birthday: A Letter to my Best Friend's Little Girl

A photo og little girl standing at the water's edge on the beach, looking out to the horizon, taken from behind

Dear Minnie,

Today is your third Birthday. Over the past three years, I have loved hearing about the little person you've become, with your individual little personality. I know you love Disney movies, and at the moment, the animated Beauty and the Beast seems to be your favourite - though I have to say I was over the moon when your daddy sent me a video of you singing along to The Little Mermaid, my favourite Disney movie. I know you like being read to, going to the park, going swimming, and visiting your local farm to feed the goats. I know you like dressing up for days at nursery, that you like helping your parents bake, and you love cats. I also know that in a few months time, you're going to become a big sister. You've just found out, and you're so excited, though impatient for the baby to arrive. I imagine you're really looking forward to helping mummy and daddy help after your little brother/sister.

You probably don't know yet that I call you Minnie,  - or if you've been told, you probably don't understand why. I've called you Minnie since before you were born - before, even, your mummy and daddy knew you were going to be a little girl. As my best friend's baby, you were my mini-bestie, and, thankfully, you were a girl, so "Minnie" could stay. Again, as my best friend's baby, I loved you automatically, like people automatically love the babies family members have. And although I called you Minnie because your daddy is my best friend, the more I hear about you, the more I think you're amazing, and it matters less now who your daddy is; you're my mini-bestie because of who you are. To me, you kind of feel like family, even though you're not. And I worry for you.

I worry because of the world you live in, the world you have to grow up in. I worry because you will be treated a certain way because of your biological sex. Girls, even as children, are taught that how they look matters ("Oh, you're such a pretty little girl!"), they are taught from their toys that they are expected to do certain things because their girls (dollies, because girls should become mothers; ironing boards, kitchens, and tea sets, because housework is "women's work"), and that they are expected to grow up and have a boyfriend (Barbie and Ken, not Barbie and Christie), and that people of colour, people of non-Christian faiths, and disabled people are not nearly as important as white, non-disabled people (how many dolls are people of colour and/or wear hijabs/turbans/kippahs and/or disabled are there compared to how many dolls that are non-disabled, white people?).

These messages will only get stronger as you get older. The world will tell you that all things pink, sparkly and glittery are for you, but dinosaurs, rockets and superheroes are for boys. You'll be taught that girls will always be judged on how they look first, before anything else. That girls should seek such judgement - approval - from boys. That what boys think about how girls look and who they are is more important than what they think of themselves. That boys think that judging girls is what they're supposed to do, and not only that, but that girls will always want their attention - and if they don't, then there's something wrong with those girls, and they need to be shown, through verbal and/or physical abuse, that they should always seek out the attention of boys, that what boys think is important, that if you don't react positively to any way a boy interacts with you, you will suffer for it.

You may or may not grow up to like girls instead of boys, or both, or all genders. But the world will tell you that girls who don't like (just) boys, and boys who don't like (just) girls aren't normal. That they are wrong, that they are abnormal, that they are going to hell. You may or may not identify as female when you're older. But the world will tell you that there are only boys and girls, and whether a person is a boy or a girl is dependant on what they have between their legs. The world will tell you anyone with a penis who says they're not a boy and anyone with a vagina who says their not a girl isn't normal, that they're wrong, that they're abnormal, that they're going to hell. The world will tell you that these people aren't ok. The world may tell you that who you are isn't ok.

And I'm scared. I'm scared that you may end up believing them. I'm scared of what you'll experience as you grow up because you're biologically female, I'm scared of how you may be treated. I'm scared of what you may think about yourself.

I'm scared if you don't like (just) boys, you may end up feeling scared because of who you like, and feel like you can't say, and can't be your real self.

I'm scared if you don't end up identifying as female, you may end up feeling scared because of you are, and feel like you can't say, can't be you.

I'm scared of what your future holds, and what the world will tell you about who they think you should be. Because some of this is going to get through. These attitudes are so prevalent, and are everywhere you go, some of it will get through even if those close to you tell you different, insist that this is not the case. I'm scared for you, and I'm scared for your future friends, and other children you're age who will be affected, as they grow up, by the sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted society we live in.

Because I'm scared for your future, I'll do what I can now to try and make a difference, so the world is better as you get older. Through the gifts I send you, I will try to show you you can be whoever and do whatever you want, and that other people in the world - people who don't look like you, people who have different faiths to you, people of different abilities, people of various gender identities and sexualities, people who have mental illnesses - are just as important as you or I.

As you love Beauty and the Beast at the moment, I bought you a few fairy tales; gorgeous additions of Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, as I think it's good for you to have things you do like. But, as fairy tales can be sexist (how she looks is so important, Beauty is named for being beautiful; Sleeping Beauty (again with the beauty) is saved by a prince, though this time by a kiss on the hand rather than on the mouth, but still, problematic as it's sexual assault to do anything to a sleeping person as you have no consent; and so on), I also sent you some books that subvert gender roles and stereotypes; two books about girls who dream of becoming an engineer and a scientist, jobs normally associated with men, a book about a little girl who people always think is a boy because of the things she likes doing and wearing, and a book changes what it means to be beautiful.

And there are more; I have more and I will get more, and I will send them to you. And I hope you will learn from them that you, as you are, who you are, are wonderful, and that other people, as they are, who they are, are also wonderful.

This is what I wish for you today, on your birthday, and every day.

Lots of love,

Red
xx

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