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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Family

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In a state of worry, I baked three pounds of shortbread for eight people.

It was the day of my partner’s brother’s housewarming, the day I met my sunshine’s parents. We arrived early, greeted by his brother and brother’s partner. We toured the new house, and sat in the living room.

They were full of excitement; told us how a friend of theirs had painted the word “GAY” onto the wall with their paint samples, and how they had hurriedly painted over the “Y” when they realised family were coming over.

It was still obvious that it had read “GAY”. I didn’t think it would help if I told them, so I kept it to myself.

My sunshine’s parents and two of his other siblings (Catholics, remember?) arrived not long after. I would later discover that they had not been told that I was coming, that his admission a week earlier that he was seeing me had been the only warning they got.

We shook hands, made vague “nice to meet you” noises. I’m crap at all that. Food and wine made for a welcome distraction.

I made a joke and my sunshine’s dad laughed for a good thirty seconds. Maybe it was going to be okay.

I didn’t talk much apart from that (I don’t talk much in large groups at all). Dad drank too much wine. Mum doesn’t drink at all these days, apparently. I was introduced to them by name, but I struggle with names. The labels don’t seem to fit them yet. I don’t really see them as people yet.

The happy homeowners announced their engagement; a magnum of champagne was uncorked. At least three of us didn’t drink any, so I can only wonder at where it all went.

“GA” apparently is the name of the paint colour: Green Apple. That was a better cover up than the blob of Kiwi Crush used to mask the “Y”, at least. I wouldn’t have bought it, but I generally spot “gay” when nobody else does. It’s a gift.

I learnt very little about them really, and gave no reason for them to like or dislike me. My sunshine has inherited his mother’s ears, but otherwise looks very little like them. I think that’s because he is full of youth, and they are both quite incredibly old.

The worst case scenario would have been my packer slipping from its perch and bouncing, gracelessly, onto the living-room rug. That didn’t happen.

His dad misgendered me with only his last word to me, and then slipped out the door as Sun corrected him. I’ll blame the wine. His mum said that we should come and visit them. I’ll take that.

Family isn’t always easy. I wrung my hands so hard I had to rub ibuprofen gel into my wrists to get to sleep. But I can see the value in it.

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The Reassurance of Placebos

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A while back, I posted about how homeopathic remedies are pure distilled water, and a waste of money. However, one reader pointed out that their surgeon had recommended it.

Now, far be it from me to be cynical and point out a possible conflict of interest (companies touting homeopathic remedies pay medically qualified professionals to put in a good word), because it’s possible that there’s something else at play here- the wonderful world of the placebo effect.

Everyone and their aunt knows about the placebo effect. Take an inert substance such as sugar pills or a saline injection, and somehow, you feel better. It will affect the strength of every remedy you take- you get better faster when you know you’ve had your medicine.

Big pills work better than small pills. Coloured pills work better than white ones. Injections work better than pills, and sham surgery is even better. Taking placebos decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and releases chemicals in the brain.

Two separate studies, one on sufferers of migraines and another on IBS, showed that patients self-reported an improvement in symptoms even when fully aware that the pills they were taking were functionless placebos. It should be noted, however, that these self-reported improvements may not actually reflect physiological differences.

On the other side of the coin, we have the nocebo effect- a pill or injection causes harm to a patient, simply because they believe it will. So, if you’re of a pessimistic nature, reading the list of possible side-effects might actually cause you to experience them.

Either way, the capacity of the human brain is absolutely staggering.

In the UK, the prescribing of placebos is seen as irresponsible, as it relies on deception. However, food supplements and complementary therapies rely on this deception to shift stock.

Remember what I said about colours? How many of you have seen food supplements in colour-coded bottles? Red for men’s health, yellow for women’s- it’s all calculated to have the maximum psychological impact. These colour associations also differ from culture to culture.

I know how much we crave that panacea, that one pill that will make us healthy, happy and great in the sack, but the sad truth is it probably isn’t out there. Coconut oil will not fix everything. Acai will not fix everything. Aloe vera will not fix everything.

Maybe, just maybe, we had it within us all along. Maybe we can harness the power of the placebo to do whatever we dream of. Maybe not invisibility or flight, but maybe the strength of mind to forgive someone? The willpower to save a little money for the end of the month? The energy to make lunch the night before work?

It’s worth a try for the little things, I think. Downing a multivitamin pill every morning with a glass of water and a wish- today will be just that little bit better than yesterday.

Weather permitting, of course.

The Ace In the Pack

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When I was 18, I met a guy. He suited me. He was the first person I ever enjoyed having sex with (and he certainly wasn’t the first person I tried to have sex with). We moved in together, we planned to get married. We stayed together for three and a half years, and ended the relationship on a mutual basis.

I think the person I was back then did love him. But when I came out as trans, he couldn’t understand. And I became a more confident person, a person who had grown too much to fit the box he wanted me to.

I don’t for one second miss him, or wish that we had got married. But he is undeniably a part of my story.

Recently, he admitted (though I had for some time suspected) that he is asexual. This has left me feeling rather odd. For three and a half years of my life I pursued a sexual relationship with somebody who was completely indifferent to it, and would often have rather not had sex.

I think I had always sort-of known. Early on, I placed a moratorium on masturbation- because I knew we would never have sex if he did. Although he agreed to it, I still feel a little strange now about having done it.

I feel like the consensuality of every time we had sex has been called into question. I see those three and a half years now as being not normal, that I imposed rules that were unfair. That, if only we had been able to talk about it, we might have come to a solution that suited us better than whatever that was.

Ace erasure is definitely part of the problem, but also I know the kind of person he is. I can’t see him admitting to someone that sex holds no appeal to him, because he knows the value of it in terms of cementing romantic relationships. He’s willing to play the game (as best he can) if it gets him what he wants- a nuclear family.

Right now, I feel all kinds of guilty. Although I know that some people manage to make asexual/allosexual relationships work, I couldn’t knowingly consent to be in one. Is that discrimination or a legitimate preference? I’m monoamorous- I need the love of one person to be happy. I want to get sexual fulfilment from that person, because personally, the romantic bond I experience through sex is dependent on it being a shared experience.

I’m still friends with him. Could I watch him get into a relationship with someone else, lying by omission every time he gets into bed with them? Or would I say, “You know he doesn’t care for it?”

Honestly, I can’t say how I actually feel about this, because I just don’t know. I know it’s hard being ace, because you’re excluded from this whole mating ritual thing society has going on, where it assumes that everyone experiences sexual attraction. I feel like I did a bad thing, to be honest. But I also knew that I hadn’t put his asexuality into words in my head. I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t think he did either- I think he thought everybody probably felt like that. Had sex because it was what people do.

It’s probably going to trouble me for some time. All I can do is move on in my life making sure the relationships I’m in are fulfilling for all concerned. He is a part of my past-and that he will stay.