Butch / Femme Bullshit

26 March, 2013

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with society’s gender expectations. It’s probably because my parents tried to raise me and my sister gender-neutral – at least, that’s what I was told. Despite the party line, my sister had Barbie dolls, and once when I was very young my sister and I swapped clothes – Dad came out into the yard and told me off: “You know what they call boys who wear dresses, don’t you?” Actually, I had no idea, and he didn’t clarify the issue for me.

But this isn’t going to turn into some story about transvestitism or sex change, or using trendy words like “ver” and “cis”. I’ve never had a problem with my gender or sex. Sex: I have XY chromosomes, so I’m male. Gender: I’m not masculine or feminine, I’m ME. I really don’t understand the issue everyone else seems to have with gender – “OMG I’m too/too little masculine/feminine.” It’s like worrying that you like or don’t like tomatoes – it doesn’t matter, and it has no moral implications.

But I’m the only one who thinks like that. Gay or straight, progressive or conservative, everyone seems to buy into the fundamental importance of gender. The only difference is that some people flip the usual sex/gender alignment. So what? It’s still the same old game: one is assertive, the other is receptive. This is assumed to be the only possible sexual model.

And yes, although having no interest in gender roles has been inconvenient for me (being bullied or dismissed for being “queer” because I don’t play the masculine game), the saddest implication of all this plays out in the bedroom. The mandatory masculine/feminine roles mean that sex always has to be about power. The truth which we are not permitted to deny: you can’t have sex without the ruler and the ruled, however liberal or queer the participants may claim to be. I play these games only grudgingly and never with real pleasure. My partners sense my disinterest in the game, and GTFO ASAP.

I have noticed some dominance games in my sexual imagination in recent years, which I think derive from porn. Porn is based very much on the gender game – male = predatory brute, female = exhibitionist victim. Feminists complain about the sexual victimisation of women and the feminine, but usually blame it on men, maleness, masculinity, patriarchy. They don’t take into account that these roles are enforced just as much by feminine-identified people as by masculine.

You are probably struggling to understand my point of view. It’s okay – I’m coming to accept that I am in a minority of one. Insisting on being myself without regard for the demands of gender roles (apart from fairly conventional dress, for defensive purposes) inevitably alienates me from society, plus means I don’t get laid. It’s lonely, of course, but I couldn’t live with the empty falsity of the alternative.

[This post was written because I tried to talk about these issues in a forum thread called “Delusions of gender” – I was banned for “narrow-minded bullshit”, because I mocked the whole butch/femme game that even “genderqueers” play (I did not criticise any individuals). Are people who take gender roles seriously an oppressed minority? Very fucking far from it. I guess I just touched a nerve.]

Okay, here’s where I willingly forfeit all credibility:

There’s nothing wrong with instant coffee. In fact, on average, it’s as good as “real” coffee.

I have had some mediocre-to-bad “real” coffees, including one memorable cup of gritty, oily swill which I refused to finish. Even drinkable “real” coffee is often somehow plasticy in taste to me. Is this what happens when coffee-snobs freeze their coffee to preserve its freshness? (My understanding is it actually ruins the coffee by changing the structure of the oils.)

There are some mediocre instants, of course. The worst I’ve had was Pablo, which was quite thin and sour. The “upmarket” instants are usually not as good as the generics. I think this is partly due to the granulated form which they impose to make the stuff look more authentic. In fact, instant coffee is coffee beans, cooked and ground to a dry powder. To granulate it may require a coagulant, which might alter the flavour.

Another thing to remember is that instant coffee should be made with water that is hot BUT NOT BOILING. Boiling overcooks the oils and changes the flavour. Otherwise, instant coffee is simply a brew made from roasted coffee beans – in other words, it’s coffee.

Perhaps you should take the above with a pinch of salt, though, as what inspired me to write on this topic was this: tonight I tried dry instant coffee powder for the first time. I’ve read about straight instant coffee being used in the military, and by students, and lately I’ve been annoyed by the extra minutes taken in the morning by the need to prepare and then drink my morning mug. So I stuck the teaspoon in the can, took out a medium size helping, and put it in my mouth.

I had wondered about how instant coffee could be swallowed, since it’s a dry powder – woud it stick to my mouth in an unshiftable film? Also, of course, I worried about the taste. Coffee is famously bitter – would pure coffee be “too much”?

Taste: I drink black coffee, with a little sweetener to take the edge off, and actually I found the powder no more bitter than the usual experience. More interestingly, the flavour had a bit more richness and complexity than the diluted form. It was not unpleasant; I didn’t go “Ick!” and instantly reach for the water. OTOH, I admit it’s not something I want stuck in my mouth for the rest of my life.

Dryness: It was not nearly as bad as I expected. The powder absorbed my saliva to become a paste not unpleasant in texture. A couple of swilled sips of water washed it down easily. There is a slightly deadened aftertaste in the centre of my tongue which I imagine would get a bit unpleasant if I did this frequently.

Caffeine: Well, I’m awake, aren’t I?

So, to sum up: The bad image of instant coffee is just that, an image. And taking the powder straight is doable, and indeed not unpleasant!

EDIT: I’m not sure if this is psychosomatic, but it does seem that eating coffee results in less efficient caffeine absorbtion. If I eat the same number of spoonfuls I would ordinarily put into a coffee drink, I do seem to end up with less of a buzz. Something to bear in mind.

I last took this test years ago, when it was on a different site, but my result hasn’t changed, right down to the equal bard-thief ranking. In the detailed stats, it’s nice to see I am not at all evil. 🙂

I Am A: True Neutral Gnome Thief Bard

True Neutral characters are very rare. They believe that balance is the most important thing, and will not side with any other force. They will do whatever is necessary to preserve that balance, even if it means switching allegiances suddenly.

Gnomes are also short, like dwarves, but much skinnier. They have no beards, and are very inclined towards technology, although they have been known to dabble in magic, too. They tend to be fun-loving and fond of jokes and humor. Some gnomes live underground, and some live in cities and villages. They are very tolerant of other races, and are generally well-liked, though occasionally considered frivolous.

Primary Class:
Thieves are the most roguish of the classes. They are sneaky and nimble-fingered, and have skills with traps and locks. While not all use these skills for burglary, that is a common occupation of this class.

Secondary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Callarduran Smoothhands is the True Neutral gnomish god of stone, the underground, and mining. He is also known as the Deep Brother and the Master of Stone. His followers enjoy mining – especially for rubies. Their favorite weapon is the battleaxe.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Lawful Good —– X (1)
Neutral Good —- XX (2)
Chaotic Good —- XXX (3)
Lawful Neutral — XXXX (4)
True Neutral —- XXXXXXX (7)
Chaotic Neutral – XX (2)
Lawful Evil —– (0)
Neutral Evil —- (0)
Chaotic Evil —- (0)

Human —- XX (2)
Half-Elf – X (1)
Elf —— XXX (3)
Halfling – (-2)
Dwarf —- (0)
Half-Orc – (-4)
Gnome —- XXXX (4)

Fighter – (-6)
Ranger — (-2)
Paladin – (-5)
Cleric — (-6)
Mage —- XXXX (4)
Druid — (-1)
Thief — XXXXXXXXX (9)
Bard —- XXXXXXXXX (9)
Monk —- XX (2)

Somehow this is so telling. A WordPress blog called “People are Garbage” has one “Hello world!” entry (full text: “Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!”) – and 316 comments consisting entirely of robospam.


A definition of art

22 August, 2011

A work of art is a beautiful, made object.

I arrived at that definition while trying to clear away the Romantic and Modern dross that has accumulated around the concept. In essence, art (deriving from the Latin, roughly meaning skill, craft or technique) is a thing created by a person (so a sunset may be beautiful, but it is not art). It is created to be beautiful, i.e. its function is aesthetic, not practical (hence Wilde’s assertion that art is useless). And its virtues proceed from its being an actual thing that exists in the world, not a concept or ideal.

What do I mean by ‘beautiful’? Obviously there are artworks which we can enjoy which don’t necessarily fit the conventional idea of beauty. But if they stimulate us in a pleasant way, then I would call them beautiful. (And if we find them genuinely unpleasant, we avoid them.) But still, what is beauty?

Recall Pinker’s description of music as “cheesecake for the mind”. I think that fits with my materialist idea of what art actually does. In the case of music, patterns of vibrating air are received through the senses, and stimulate electrochemical activity in the brain which we find rewarding. Proportions and textures and interrelationships are arranged in patterns which we perceive to be “right”, for whatever psychological or biological reason.

As you can see, I don’t believe in a literally spiritual dimension of art. I don’t think that a great artwork exists somehow beyond time, space and conventional morality. I also regard “profundity” as a product of perception, and not as a special mystical insight. I can reach the end of Bruckner’s 9th with a sensation of intellectual and emotional ecstasy, profundity and insight – but what is this ‘insight’? The world has not changed, and neither have I (except perhaps in becoming more sensitive to aesthetic experience).

I don’t think this way of looking at art diminishes it or my experience of it. Art still affects me; it’s just that I don’t proceed from that effect to the notion that I have received mystical (or sociopolitical) insight.

I’ve been thinking about architecture, prompted by watching Grand Designs and reading this thread.

I don’t want to go into a long rant, so I’ll just state some basic principles which underlie my tastes:

Architecture is not sculpture. We’ve been sold a bill of goods as far as “human”, “playful” postmodern architecture is concerned. A provocative sculpture is not the same as a good building. I call these things “gimmick buildings”; they are amusing in the short term but banal and annoying in the long term – and the long term is what architects should be thinking of. In fact, in practical experience, these are generally bad buildings. You can’t make a comfortable home out of a concept, however “visionary” that concept may be. (Nor can you redeem a Modernist box by pasting a sneering caricature of a past style over the facade.)

Modernism was wrong. Critics and defenders alike of Modernist trends usually overlook that Modernism was an intellectual trend imposed across society, not confined to any one area of life. The Modernist impetus to wipe out the “redundant” past, and create superior new forms from nothing except abstract ideology, is visible in Communism (and, disguised, in Fascism), architecture, music, writing, education, etc., etc. A few worthy creations labelled Modernist do not justify the eradication and derision of all the old ways; we see that the best of culture usually arises from organic development, and not by reinventing the wheel.

Flat roofs are stupid. Unless you are building in a place with NO precipitation (and with no massive duststorms), flat roofs are impractical, expensive to keep up, and more liable to fail disastrously. (They also often are eaveless, so that modern “pure” box buildings are streaked with grime from the run-off, and in hot countries the lack of eaves means you use more energy keeping the interior cool.)

Doors are for closing. Sure, you may feel, in some hippyish way, that living without the artificial barriers of doors and walls will lead to some sort of freeing of consciousness, spiritually and politically and environmentally. But do you really want your kids to hear you fucking (or you to hear them) from the other side of your open-plan communal dwelling? Do you want to smell someone frying garlic while you are having a shit (or, God forbid, vice versa)? Do you want to try figuring out the household finances while listening to the kids playing on the X-Box and the spouse watching a movie? The invention of the door was one of the major events of civilisation, because it was a revolutionary machine for keeping bad air (and predators) out, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and getting silence and privacy in which to think for yourself. Don’t throw that gift away.

Windows have consequences. Just in the last year or two, a new building went up at Sydney University which is basically a glass box suspended in the air. It will cost a FORTUNE to keep cool in summer, and warm in winter. The advantage of this design? Well… I suppose it’s cheaper to build a giant greenhouse than to drop a billion dollars worth of gold bricks into the ocean. There is that. Oh, and, of course, it has a flat roof.
The opposite approach is also used – great concrete bunkers (often university libraries) with tiny slits for windows that are practically useless, and make the occupants feel like prisoners.
This is also the place to mention that great hypocrite Mies van der Rohe, who berated his clients for installing curtains or blinds in their windows, which should have been kept pure and bare, and meanwhile, in his own home, Mies was surrounded by bourgeois chintz.
Nowadays, many commissioners of domestic fish tanks architecture have drunk the Kool-aid, and, like self-flagellating monks, willingly expose themselves to the glare of the sun and the gaze of their neighbours, all in the cause of Modernism. As with open-planning (see “Doors are for closing”, above), it seems that Modernists regard the desire for privacy as something shameful. Like Victorians trying to prevent masturbation, Modernists are horrified at the thought of a person going about their business without the constant supervision of their family or co-workers or neighbours or random passers-by. What have you got to hide?!? Take all the doors off their hinges, confiscate all blinds and curtains. Be Healthy and Clean and constantly visible to all. I suspect all this enforced openness has a deleterious effect on the psyche.

Apart from the above approaches to avoid, here are some positive suggestions:

Subtle ornament. All the great buildings of the past use elegant, repeated motifs to make them seem organic and alive. However, please note the word “subtle”. Giant flashing lights installed at one metre intervals across a bare concrete plane are not subtle.

Regularity, but softened. The human eye loves symmetry and regularity, but this should not be overdone. Patterns of regular repeating features should be occasionally broken up with an element that complements, not contrasts, the overall scheme.

Human scale. Low ceilings and narrow corridors are oppressive, because the person feels confined and restricted; towering ceilings and huge doorways are also oppressive, because the person feels dominated and lost. If you are a human being, you will know what the happy medium looks like. Apply that to your buildings. Remember that the ratio of height to width determines scale, but the amount of light in a space is also an important factor.

Sun and shade in 3:2 proportion. This is a rough ratio for designing outdoor spaces, so that people can shelter from the elements (and not feel exposed like ants on a rock) without being mired in gloom. For indoor design, I’d suggest reversing the ratio – certainly not exceeding it, because a degree of shadedness makes people feel safe, and this shouldn’t be sacrificed to an abstract notion of “openness” (see also the above section “Doors are for closing”).


An article about British conscentious objectors during World War One made me aware of the way these events of mass unthinkingness become a kind of totalitarianism against people who have their own minds.

It also makes me think again about how difficult it would be to avoid the draft. You’d have to move, but who would take you in? And how could you get or keep a job? Those without money would need friends or relatives to hide and feed them, or else they’d be sent off for the slaughter.

Selected passages:

In the spring of 1916, Britain had begun conscription, and some 50 men who were among the first to refuse it were forcibly inducted into the army and transported, some in handcuffs, across the English Channel to France.

“We have been warned today that we are now within the war zone,” he [conscientious objector Stuart Beavis] wrote to her [his mother] stoically, “and the military authorities have absolute power, and disobedience may be followed by very severe penalties, and very possibly the death penalty.”

Periodically they were summoned to hear announcements of soldiers sentenced to death for desertion or disobedience.

After it [the war] began, people jeered him [antiwar activist Keir Hardie] on the street in London and mobs hooted and sang “Rule, Britannia” to try to drown out his speeches. … A newspaper printed a cartoon showing Kaiser Wilhelm II giving “Keir von Hardie” a bag of gold.

“Kill Germans! Kill them!” raged one clergyman in a 1915 sermon, “ . . . not for the sake of killing, but to save the world. . . . Kill the good as well as the bad. . . . Kill the young men as well as the old. . . . I look upon it as a war for purity. I look upon everybody who dies in it as a martyr.” The speaker was Arthur Winnington-Ingram, the Anglican Bishop of London.

Women stood on street corners handing out white feathers, an ancient symbol of cowardice, to young men not in uniform.

[After the introduction of conscription] The authorities started raiding soccer games, movie theaters, and railway stations to round up military-age men who were not in uniform.

Violet Tillard, an NCF [No-Conscription Fellowship] activist, served two months in prison for refusing to reveal its [organisation newpaper press] location.

Ramsay MacDonald, an antiwar Labour MP, had not gone to prison during the war but had been under police surveillance and was repeatedly stoned when he spoke at peace meetings. Angry patriots had even voted to expel him from his golf club.


And some curious touches:

The [No-Conscription Fellowship, or NCF] organization’s chairman, wrote one delegate, “did not wish to incite further attack by the noise of our cheering. He therefore asked that enthusiasm should be expressed silently, and with absolute discipline the crowded audience responded.” When Bertrand Russell addressed the gathering, he was “received with thousands of fluttering handkerchiefs, making the low sound of rising and falling wind, but with no other sound whatsoever.”

…a lawyer on the government side, Sir Archibald Bodkin … protested angrily that “war will become impossible if all men were to have the view that war is wrong.” Delighted, the NCF issued a poster with exactly those words on it, credited to Bodkin. The government then convicted an NCF member for putting up this subversive poster. In response, the NCF’s lawyer demanded the arrest of Bodkin himself, as author of the offending words. The organization’s newspaper called for Bodkin to prosecute himself, and declared that the group would provide relief payments to his wife and children if he sent himself to jail.

…often the only meat on sale in Germany was that of dogs and cats. A foreign visitor described what happened when a horse collapsed and died on a Berlin street one morning: “Women rushed towards the cadaver as if they had been poised for this moment, knives in their hands. Everyone was shouting, fighting for the best pieces. Blood spattered their faces and their clothes. . . . When nothing more was left of the horse beyond a bare skeleton, the people vanished, carefully guarding their pieces of bloody meat tight against their chests.”

When he [Bertrand Russell] arrived to begin serving his sentence, the warder taking down his particulars “asked my religion and I replied ‘agnostic.’ He asked how to spell it, and then remarked with a sigh: ‘Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.’ ”