Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sunday Short - LARP: your prejudice breaks my immersion

This post is inspired by some conversations and mutual rants on my Facebook feed. Names are blanked out as this was not on a public filter. 

The subject of today's post is that of how people fight against the notion of using the correct pronouns and gendered terms for people. I have chosen to take excerpts from a thread of people who were all "on the same side" in this battle and who were collectively venting their frustration at people who look for any excuse not to use the correct pronouns for people when asked to do so.

This mutual annoyance had been triggered by a series of comments on a LARP specific facebook page in which a person had said they had some wooden pronoun badges available for people at an upcoming event. They also shared the relevant rules pages of the event that explained both acceptable in character (IC) and out of character (OC/OOC) language and the in character attitudes toward both gender and people who are trans and/or nonbinary. For the most part the responses were positive and supportive. Many people expressed excitement at how these would be personally helpful, while others expressed mild confusion to the concept along with their support and promises to do their best.
This is exactly the sort of response you would hope for.

Of course though there were those who adamantly insisted that it was all too confusing for them and others who insisted that having to use correct pronouns or seeing setting appropriate pronoun badges would "break their immersion". But more of that later.

I wanted you to see it from this angle as I think often in these situations, the minority group being targeted feels they have to go to great lengths to stay polite and reasonable and any show of anger and annoyance is seen as being unreasonable, demanding and disruptive. What's not understood is that actually these things really do upset people, that restraint is not just tedious but emotionally draining and actually, in safe spaces people have a lot to say. Not only that but that this isn't one or two individuals nor is it just those who are personally impacted there are many others who offer their support.

These excerpts are taken from a much larger discussion.
NB when it is necessary to differentiate between people posting I will refer to them by the colour used to blank out their names.

screen shot of a Facebook post. The posters name and profile picture are obscured. transcript below.
[red person] [LARP list - Empire - small rant cw. misgendering]
I am gonna start by saying I'm angry, but not necessarily at anyone in particular.
Yes, one guy said that PRONOUN BADGES BREAK HIS IMMERSION-ish. And sure he was way privileged but not malicious. Although it annoyed me because this was posted in the AMAZING [name redacted]'s post about their awesomeness to get IC pronoun badges out, supporting transfolk (including me!) And some cis-jebend comes out with this?
Nah bruv. Back of the line!
As was pointed out, there is (meant to be) no gender bias in Empire, but it's not gender blind.
Also if pronound badges break your immersion ... just ... really, it breaks your immersion?!?!
Luckily, though it's not about you or your immersion. It's about avoiding misgendering, which can be HORRID btw.
Luckily ppl have been amazing in response. 
I mean this sums it up really. It's frustrated and annoyed and the poster just wants to have nice things and not be misgendered.

Yet when a person starts complaining about having to call people by the correct pronouns that's what they are doing. They are knowingly getting a part of somebody's identity wrong. People will come up with all sorts of excuses about why this should be ok , or about why they should be excused from the basic courtesy of calling people by the name and gendered terms they are comfortable with.
As we shall now see.

Screen shot of facebook comments. The first comment is by ORANGE and has two short replies from RED and PINK. There is another comment from PINK. Both comments have a number of like, love and funny reacts.
 [orange person] Know what breaks my immersion? the tractor that empties the toilets. Know what form of immersion I'm happy to deal without? Actual literal tonnes of human waste.
[red person replies] YES!
[pink person replies] Hahahaha. Giggling at my desk here.
[pink person] If a wooden badge breaks his immersion, I dread to think what potion lammies, the caterers, the use of normal money to buy things, monstering battles, referees, the toilets, the continued existence of Silverstone on the edge of hearing and time-out do. But I have a long standing solution to people with immersion problems. It involves a large paddling pool and I didn't need it last event. 

Immersion, for those not familiar with the term in this context, is the concept of being fully immersed in the make-believe world of a LARP. It is how much you feel that it is all real as it is happening and "buy-in" to the game. It's not essential and it's never going to be 100%. At the end of the day we all do know we are at a game and this isn't real life. Some degree of immersion really can make for a better game, there's little argument there. We often strive towards as compelling and "believable" setting, story and characters as we can and that's great. If you don't LARP think about sitting down to watch a film or read a book and getting totally engrossed in it so that the mundane world is temporarily shut out. It's a much different experience than when people are rustling bags of crisps, talking and walking across your view of the movie screen.
But, our orange and pink people above aptly describe, there are always going to be intrusions. In a fest LARP they can range to basic modern sanitation like emptying the portable toilets to things designed to make the games work like referees (I've included a brief glossary of terms at the bottom of this post). We just work around them, accept them and carry on with our game.
The references to Silverstone by the way is because this game happens to take place near Silverstone Race Track and though we never run on major F1 days there are often other race days on which can sound like an alarmingly large swarm of wasps.

To argue that with all that, pronoun badges and calling people the right terms is immersion breaking is a weak excuse. It's churlish and transphobic. It's finding the thought of being reminded to use the correct terms so outlandish and unreasonable as to be more disruptive than a septic tank being emptied.
Not only that it is selfish. Even if it were somehow terribly disruptive to be reminded by a small wooden badge what pronoun a person uses, it presumes that your own sense of immersion and experience of a game is more important than not misgendering somebody for an entire weekend.

OK on to the next round.
Screen shot of a Facebook comment with three replies. two names have been obscured the third is mine. Transcript below
[red person] HALP
What can I reply to comments such as "[name redacted] see this is my problem to me, people are people regardless of these endless labels, we all are just people" ??
That's GREAT that you do and fab. The label, the one you scorn that helped me find who I am "Agender" is part of my IDENTITY. Don't DISMISS MY IDENTITY JUST YOU DON'T SEE IT.
[Robin Tynan] "though we are all just people labels are commonly used in our culture and language. Since we use them all the time for people it's a good idea to make sure we use the correct ones. Also while you may be happy to have any random word used to describe you, others prefer if the language is more precise. It's just personal preference and there's no harm in respecting that."
[green person] With an axe?
[Robin Tynan] ^ wait ignore me, do this.
What we have here being quoted by Red Person is a frustratingly common rhetoric. "We're all just people", "I don't see labels". Yet people do see labels. Most people are comfortable being called by their own name and not by somebody elses, or even by a variant of their name. I have worked with a Steve and a Stephen, they were very different people. Steve hated being called Stephen and vis versa. Equally, a lot of people get ranckled if they get a letter addressed to Miss instead of Mrs, Ms instead of Miss or Mrs instead of Ms: that's not even misgendering, they're all female but we know that in our culture each of those labels confers different meaning and so we like the correct one to be used. Most cis people don't have the discomfort of being routinely misgendered but wouldn't hesitate to correct somebody if they incorrectly used Sir or Madam - and those who got bullied when younger for being "like a boy" or "not manly enough" may particularly be sensitive to what pronouns and gendered terms get used for them.
And that's just us as individuals. Have you ever patted somebodies dog and said "How old is he?" only to be given a firm "She is eight." . So many people are very quick to make sure the "correct" labels are used for creatures (and even things, like boats and cars) who have no concept of English language let alone sex and gender.
This is a common and shared experience. Most people actually do care about and use labels far more than they realise and I can't think of anybody I have ever met who has genuinely appeared not to care. Yet when it comes to asking people to respect the pronouns of people who are trans and/or nonbinary people forget a lifetime of experience and turn into egalitarian hippies who shun labels and social constructs like gender. Its insincere, it looks insincere and it infuriating. Again it's hurtful and transphobic and unnecessarily passive aggressive. If these arguments only apply when you are in a conversation about trans and nonbianry people then you are discriminating against them and acting with prejudice.

Screen shot from facebook showing a comment and subsequent replied from the same person. The second reply itself contains a screenshot from elsewhere on facebook. Name obscured, transcript below

like, I'd already ranted about [name redacted]'s first comment last night, and it's like, it's not enough she's not being coddles for not being able to use "they/them", she then has to continue plowing in with her fucking aggravating comments. like SHUT THE FUCK UPPPPPPPPPP [name redacted].
[purple person replies] Honestly, Like, this comment is the only reason I engaged with her second comment. Like, first of all, there's no "problem". Second of all "if I'm uncertain"?? THE POINT OF THIS IS TO MAKE [SURE] YOU'RE NOT UNCERTAIN. THIS THREAD [the original] IS LITERALLY TALKING ABOUT HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU'RE CERTAIN ABOUT SOMEONE'S PRONOUNS.
[quoted excerpt from original thread] perfect I am older than the average LARPer and therefor find adjusting my language hard and have been known to cause offence inadvertantly. In an effort to prevent this if I am uncertain I use the person's name instead of pronouns. Problem Solved.
As you may have noted, Purple Person has some strong feelings here. You might think some of their responses are an over reaction, but I absolutely 100% agree with them and they are far from an over reaction. (keep in mind this response was not said directly to the offending person, the wrath was reserved for elsewhere). I want to focus on the quoted excerpt here. It almost sounds very reasonable and quite nice. They are making an effort aren't they? What's wrong. 
Well read it again, and read it from the point of view of who it is aimed at.
"I am older than the average LARPer and therefor find adjusting my language hard and have been known to cause offence inadvertently." This is actually a good start. Because you see, we're all human, we all make mistakes. People who are trans sometimes make mistakes about their own names and pronouns especially if they haven't "fully" transitioned or have to use one name in one context and another elsewhere. Adjusting language takes time. 
The thing is, most of us realise that firstly, if you make a mistake, most people aren't actually offended. They aren't because, mistakes happen. A single mistake isn't a problem. But reading between the lines here we know that this isn't a one off slip of the tongue. It's multiple mistakes. It's repeated "mistakes" it's mistakes with no effort to really learn and no real concern about the impact. You think you've likely caused offence. You know your actions are less than good. 
Secondly, this sort of statement should really be followed by an apology. There is no apology, just a statement that you know you do it wrong, you know what you do may hurt people and that's it. That's pretty self centred and pretty crap.
Now on to the second part "In an effort to prevent this if I am uncertain I use the person's name instead of pronouns. Problem Solved.". Really as Purple Person pointed out, you have already been given a solution to this, an aid so you don't have to just know or try and remember: pronoun badges, the thing you are grumbling about. This has a number of issues. Pronoun badges are things which many trans and nonbinary people have decided they are comfortable to wear and understand that it makes it easier for people to use and remember their pronouns and genders. When ti comes to dealing with "isms" and discrimination against minority groups it's very important that we listen to those minority groups. They are generally best placed to know what solutions will work best for them as they are the ones with first hand experience. So here we have a number of people who belong to a minority group saying "this is a tool which will help all of us, please use this to reduce a problem we experience". To be completely ignored and then to see somebody declare their own "solution" completely ignores and disenfranchises the minority group. It serves to assert the majority as the dominant voice over the minority.
The "solution" itself is a problem. It ignores the problem and erases a core part of the issue. If the issue is having genders recognised and respected including both nonbinary and binary genders, then a solution that seeks to ignore those and just use a name means you are neither recognising nor respecting the person. It also means that you are treating trans and nonbinary people differently to cis people. Other people are afforded pronouns and appropriate gendered language in a natural use of the English language: trans and nonbinary people will be referred to differently only using their name in a manner that is awkward with common English language usage. 

As previously Purple Person also highlights the use of excuses designed to place a person's comfort above a person's right to be recognised as their own gender (which is literally covered by the Human Rights Act 1996). In this case the excuse isn't "immersion" it is age. People are well aware that people with a lifetime of using one set of language may struggle changing that language, as noted above we all make mistakes and that's ok. However there is a marked difference between those who say "ok it may take me some time to get used to it, it's unfamiliar" and "I'm old so I find it difficult so I'm going to fight it.". Furthermore we aren't actually talking about anything particularly new here. People of any age are used to using a singular they/them - it's something we have done for a long time if we weren't sure of a person's pronouns e.g. "do you know when they called?" or "I got an email from Alex, I will reply to them later.". People are also used to being polite and respectful and using the pronoun, salutation or name asked of them: to use an earlier example "It's Mrs, thank you" "oh, sorry, Mrs Reynolds". Being polite and respectful around what people are called is nothing new and has little to do with age.

Purple Person made a lot of good points and one final thing I'd like to explore from their posts that is important to us all is, as they put it, "the pity party". That's really what a lot of this comes down to and I have already talked about it briefly: the idea that it is all about them. Somebody is making a polite request and sharing some useful information that helps a group of people: people reply in a way that recentres the conversation around them and how they feel about it. Let's be clear here, the original post wasn't a debate, it wasn't even a discussion. It was for the sole purpose of providing information. That it became a point for people of the same minority group to show appreciation was a bonus. There was no need for people not of that minority group to voice their opinions. Asking respectful questions "is it ok if ..?" "where can I find out about ..?" is one thing, challenging and arguing is another. 
Not everything is about you. Or me. Or them. Or that person over there. There are some people who are in more privileged groups, that is they are not in a minority or have any protected characteristics, who are very used to things being about them. The whole reason we have minority groups is often because our culture is set up to serve one particular group of people: names white, British, straight, male, able bodied and cis-gendered. The more of those groups you fit in to the more the world is set up to benefit you. People who find themselves in several of those groups often seem to express shock and annoyance when conversation doesn't revolve around them and there is a natural tendency for them to try and shift the focus. 
This means they are taking the voice away from an already underrepresented group. That's literally discrimination.

Face book screen shot with person's name obscured in blue.
[blue person] OOC prejudice sneaking IC breaks my immersion.

I love this comment. It sums it all up very well in my opinion. Plus I like a bit of dry humour. 
You think a small pronoun badge makes the fanatsy world a little bit less real for you? Well your prejudice makes the real world a lot harder for me and many others.
It's not a competition. It's not about trumping people. It's about being a reasonable person and sometimes putting people's real world needs above petty annoyances. 

A pronoun badge shouldn't break your immersion, but if it does, suck it up.


LARP - Live Action Roleplay
IC- In character, when a person is playing as their LARP character. Can also refer to things happening within the game world that the characters are experiencing.
O/OC - Out of Character, when you are being yourself and not your character: things experienced in the real world, not in the game.
Immersion - the sense of being part of the game world and story and experiencing things as your character
Referees - people who help to run the game usually in the function of enforcing or facilitating rules. They may be present IC or OC.
Monstering - the role of playing a non-player-character or monster instead of your own character in order to provide plot or action for others. Often means taking a turn playing "the opposing side" in a battle.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

A Question of Horses and Ethics

[content note: animal death, mentioned throughout. Detailed discussion is flagged within text]

Yesterday (9th June) I went to Bramham Horse Trials. It’s an international event with a number of competitions going on but the main events are the CCI3*, CCI3* u25 and CIC3*. These are top level1 Eventing competitions with highly qualified horses and riders in. For a horse nerd like me it’s super exciting. Even if you aren’t a horse nerd, like the friend accompanying me, it’s a fun day out. You get to see the horses being ridden cross country, in a gorgeous English country park setting, taking on some pretty impressive jumps and obstacles.

Overall it was a great day out. I didn’t quite get the experience I wanted due to my chronic health issues: I had been struggling in the run up to it and had to hire a mobility scooter on the day to get around. Both my health and the scooter meant that haring around the cross country course wasn’t on the cards for me. But just being in that environment (and on a lovely summer’s day) was great. I got to see gorgeous horses, event riders I admire, talk about horse things, be surrounded by Good Dogs look at fancy horsewares and drink pink lemonade.

Image shows to black and white photos side by side. In the first is me wearing a wide brimmed black hat, black T-shirt with a hand print on and glasses. The second picture is a view of the control panel of a mobility scooter with show jumping arena int he background.

As an aside can I note how pleased I am that there is a company that specialises in day hire of mobility scooters at these events. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to go had it not been for them and I know I wasn’t alone in that2.

The day however did have a low point which I absolutely can’t ignore, even if I wanted to. Those of you who follow equestrian sports or eventing may have already heard that a horse died at the event: Second Supreme ridden by Chuffy Clarke.

A horse dying at a three day event is always tragic. Thankfully these days it is pretty rare but that only goes to make it more tragic. Being at the event where it happened lends a certain poignancy. Being on the course and stood at the fence only a few feet away from it is heartbreaking.

And that’s where I was. One of a handful spectators stood on the landing side of fence 24 who saw Second Supreme stumble and fall and the response that followed.

What happened

The following paragraphs are going to explain what I saw in some quite blunt terms. This is as much for my own catharsis as it is to try and explain to people what happened and to help understand the implications.

Coming up to the fence Second Supreme (known as Ed on his yard) was lacking some impulsion – the oomph that helps make a good jump – was lacking, but this fence was near the end of the course so it wasn’t surprising when it looked like he needed a big effort to get over the fence. But the landing was just, not right. It’s hard to put a finger on it but it was just slightly awkward. As the pair tried to move away Clarke did her best to “pick him up again” and get him moving forward, but he just wasn’t moving right. His left hind leg wasn’t stepping properly and the foot was bending incorrectly, and turning under instead of down. He took a few stumbling steps as Clarke tried to get him moving and then starting with that odd left hind his legs just buckled and he fell on to his side. 

Clarke extracted herself and took a few steps away looking shaken and confused (it’s standard to step away from a fallen horse as they can flail a bit with their legs as they stand up and it can be dangerous for people on the ground). Ed didn’t attempt to right himself though, he lay there, his head down breathing heavily. At this point the stewards, one of the on-course vets and Clarke were attending to the horse. The tack was removed, he had cool water poured over him, and examinations began. Clarke was now holding her horses head in her lap and looked to be in shock, she was clearly distraught and had people looking after her (I don’t know if they were friends or course stewards, though I know her team rallied around quickly coming from the stables and finish line). 

At this point the vets had already erected a portable screen but from our position we could still see. Ed was now lying very quietly with visibly laboured breathing: it was likely a sedative had been administered. Another vet had joined and the equine ambulance (an adapted horse trailer) had pulled up. It was clearly very serious. There were whispers that the horse had gone into shock or had a heart attack, which was far more serious than the broken bone or sprain we had “hoped for” with the initial stumble. As the second screen was erected around the scene those of use not involved waited, subdued a stark contrast to those who arrived cheery licking ice creams fresh from other fences and who didn’t know what had happened. We heard a few huffs of breath from Second Supreme and then nothing but muted voices, and then the winch. I think we all knew what the result was even if we didn’t want to admit it. As the screens were lowered and the ambulance drove away Clarke was led by friends and family to a waiting car.

You may ask why I stayed and watched it, you may even think I am gruesome or insensitive for doing so. First I want to make clear that this was not morbid curiosity, rubber necking or delighting in other’s misery. It happened right in front of us, literally feet away. When these things happen a sort of bubble is created centring around around the incident and including those who have been impacted or involved some way. Simply due to proximity my friend and I were in that bubble. Leaving that bubble is difficult. Though we were not in a position to help, aside from the fact that there were better qualified stewards and medics on hand I was on the mobility scooter and not especially fast moving, we had still been some how caught up in the event. We weren’t alone. There a few others near by who were similarly frozen in place. When something like that happens walking away can seem like a callous act, as if you are shedding yourself of any association. I couldn’t leave somebody who was hurting. For my own anxiety too I had to see it through I know the outcome – even once home I was scouring twitter and equestrian news sites for information.

At the time of writing the cause of death was given as “unknown suspected to benatural causes” according to the official statement from Bramham.

Now you know what happened you may understand why my response to the whole event has been a bit muted despite other highlights. But it’s also given me a lot to think on and it’s a very difficult subject to wrestle with.

Chuffy Clarke and Second Supreme competing in the CIC3* at Barbury 2017. Picture by Peter Nixon

Knowing the risks

Almost everybody competing and working in horse sports love horses in general and especially the horses they ride or care for. Therefore loosing a horse in any circumstances is hard. As with any activity, there are risks and we know that death of the horse is one of the risks, especially in high stress events like cross country. Now there are things we can do to mitigate these risks – the horse is trained carefully and only asked to do the harder courses when they are physically fit and shown they are capable to do so. They have excellent veterinary and other health care year round and the events have vets on site. 

A major component of three day eventing are the trot-ups: before each phase of competition the horse is trotted in front of a team of senior vets who look for lameness or other signs of potential problems and given a brief examination. If there is any suspicion of issues they are held and given a more thorough examination before being able to carry on with the competition. If a horse is competing in a CCI3* you know that it is fit and healthy enough to be there and has been prepared. This reduces the risk of incident and death. Of course mistakes can and do happen, but again these are mitigated as much as possible – a fit horse is less likely to stumble, a good line into the jump is safer, there are safe options if you horse isn’t jumping well, the very design of fences has changed in the recent decades to reflect better understanding of risk and safety.

Horses are also surprisingly fragile creatures. I have known of people who have sadly lost their horse after an accident while it was out grazing. A horse was put to sleep at a competition last year after falling while walking back to the stable and sustaining a major break.

We know that these things happen.

It’s very difficult to deny though, that sometimes we put them in situations where they are more at risk. Though I am strongly of the opinion that most horses competing in cross country genuinely enjoy it, it still isn’t a natural activity for them and they are there because we choose to train and ride them in these physically intense manners.

This is something that is hard to rationalise both as an animal lover and as a vegan.

Ethics, horses and being vegan

Part of my personal ethics behind being vegan are to do with the exploitation of animals. Putting animals into unnatural and often harmful situations for human gain is unethical. And yet I ride horses and enjoy watching equestrian sports. It’s can be difficult to wrestle with that at the best of times but when faced with tragedy in such a visceral way I think it’s important to stop and think about these things.

So obviously we can look at the incident itself. Was it an act of abuse, neglect or cruelty? I know there are some people who would say that any horse riding but particularly cross country is inherantly abusive or cruel to the horse. I am not one of those people. I think some riders and owners can be cruel and abusive but I don’t think the riding or the sport itself is the cruel thing. I think horses can and do enjoy it. I think it can be done safely and in a way which is not just not-bad but is actually beneficial to the horse if we consider their bodies as we would human athletes – we would rarely if ever accuse a top athlete in peek fitness of self harming for the training they do, in fact we often aspire to be more like them. In some ways we can apply this to well trained horses, they are in peak physical fitness. However like humans, once you start pushing the body or concentrating on competing you may be more susceptible to injuries. It’s not unknown that a lot of athletes sustain multiple and recurring injuries as a result of their training and competition, especially if there is a fixation on “being the best”.

This is where ethics come in to it and questions of informed consent. A human athlete can make decisions for themselves about if they think it is worth risking those injuries and if they are happy with what that might mean for their future a health. In the case of horse riding, it’s not the horse making that decision, we have to make it for them. Is it ethically sound for us to decide it’s ok to put horses into a position that risks their health and even life? Is it ok for us to make that decision when a horse may not know of the risks or the safety measures in place?
Additionally when the rider is injured or struggling they know if it’s ok to push on or if it’s time to stop (well most of the time). The horse can’t tell us. Even with some of the amazing bonds these horse and rider pairs have, as with Chuffy and Ed, and with all the practice of reading horse body language in the world they can’t just tell us if they are feeling a little off. Especially mid way around a cross country course. Did your horse clip a fence because he wasn’t paying attention or you asked him to take off a fraction late or is it a sign he’s starting to feel unwell? We don’t know. We just don’t.

Chuffy Clarke and "Ed" Second Supreme. Photo by Ben Clark

For many riders, whatever their discipline whether they ride for pleasure or too compete, how much your horse trusts you is a big part of the bond and relationship they have with their horse. It’s all about trust. You ask the horse to do things and trust they will listen and not endanger you, they trust you to negotiate them through tricky situations that their tiny horse brains can’t deal with. Sometimes that’s walking past a scary looking wheelbarrow in the corner of the arena, and sometimes that’s going over a big jump and ditch. They trust us to look after them, not harm them and get them through scary or tough situations.
That’s a lot of responsibility in the owner or rider’s hands and it is something that has to be taken into account when we make our risk assessments or decide how, when and where we ride horses.

So back to the vegan question and ethics. As noted earlier a lot of vegans believe that no horse riding is ethical at all (or carriage/trap driving). They class it as subjugation of the animal: of making the animal do things against their will or without consent. Now, as touched on earlier there are ways we could say that we are not doing things against the horses will: we can read body language and behaviour and you get a feeling for the horses moods, likes and dislikes. I would be lying though if I said that we always respected those. Much in the same way a parent may say “I know you don’t want to go to school, but you have to go to school.” A rider may say “I know you don’t want to leave the paddock but you have to come and get tacked up.”. Additionally there are some vegan’s and animal rights activists who argue that any tack, but especially bridles and bits are cruel and abusive. Now obviously there are times when a bit or bridle can be used in a cruel or abusive way but that is more down to the individual rider than the nature of bridles and bits in general. But do horses like being bridles and bitted? Well that’s a loaded question and seems to be very dependant on context. I am not going to get into the whole debate about bitting that has been running in perpetuity in the horse world but I would say that there are some horses who behave very differently with and without bits and not always in the ways you may expect3. Suffice to say I don’t subscribe to the “bridles are bad and people who use them are bad” thought.

If you feel this is getting a bit long and rambly, you are right and I apologise but I hope you are seeing some of the ethical concerns I have been wrestling with over the past day.

What next?

Let’s look at some of the implications and what this sort of incident actually means.

Firstly regarding the specific incident there will be an investigation in to it.
That does not implicate Chuffy Clarke in any wrong doing it is simply a necessary process to go through as part of the ever evolving risk assessments of the sport. The investigation will be carried out by one or more of the governing bodies of the sport (the FEI and British Eventing) as well as the Bramham Horse Trials organisational team including their senior veterinarians. Things that will be looked at include the course design (designed by well respected rider and trainer Ian Stark), if there was anything missed in the vet checks, the overall health of the horse (including an autopsy) and, how the ride had been up until that point including Clarke’s riding.

It may be that one or more people made a mistake or did something wrong, from stewardship to vets to rider, that triggered or lead to the incident. If there was a mistake it may be that that in itself wasn’t enough to have lead to the death of a horse or to anything being have done differently. They may decide that something was at fault that could have reduced risk or prevented or mitigated the incident. In those cases they will then decide if any punitive action is needed4 or if it is simply a hard lesson learned and that it won’t be repeated.

Clarke is undoubtedly going through a very tough time and will be taking her own time to think over what happened as she comes to terms with the loss. If there was rider error then it is hard to imagine what tougher punishment could be doled out than having to be a part of a tragic accident and suffer that grief. Even without rider error, it is an astoundingly difficult thing to deal with.
She will be going through her own process of considering ethics and risk assessments, but from a very different point of view to me. Her information is different and her priorities as well as responsibilities: even if we were all to mutually decide that horse riding is unethical and we should all stop right away, she still has other horses who need exercising and looking after properly (and no, the answer isn’t simply turn them all loose) she has a responsibility to her horses if nobody else.

Additionally any investigation of this nature gives us more data to plug into our risk assessments. If there is any inkling that some action could have reduced the risk of such and accident then that’s going to be factored in to any future course design, rules and events. It’s unlikely that any one incident, even as tragic as this would result in a sudden or dramatic change to how things are done, but it would be added to our cumulative knowledge to help improve things in the future or to make small but necessary adjustments.

Now what it means to me personally. What does all this amount to? I don’t know. I do ride horses, I do not currently compete in any discipline or own my own horse. That in itself limits the impact. Do I believe I can be a vegan and still ride horses. Yes, I think so. I think it’s important to fight for best practice to be minimally invasive, campaign for better regulation and call out genuine abusive practices when you see it. I think it’s important to me to learn to ride well in a way that puts minimal stress on the horse. I think it’s important for me to learn methods which don’t rely on out of date or harsh methods.
I think we can ride horses in an ethical manner. But I do think that has to be done with consciousness and care and that we do reassess what we are doing periodically, even if there hasn’t been a tragic accident to prompt you.

I am not currently sure what I feel about eventing and cross country. That’s going to take some more processing and I think some more research. Though I ride I am not an eventer and I don’t know the ins and outs of it like other people. Learning and understanding those things is going to be key to making a decision on how I feel about eventing and how that relates to me as a rider and as a vegan.

Horses, just like any other animal should have the right to be treated fairly and not to be forced into activities which put them at undue risk or harm. That remains important to me.

Photograph of me riding a chunky brown and white horse. They are in an indoor arena.

Most of all right now I am feeling very sad that I witnessed something so tragic and I know that that is nothing compared to what Chuffy Clarke and her family and team must be going through. I can only hope that they have the time and space they need to recover and process their thoughts.

1OK almost. There are also 4* events that are bigger and tougher, but there are only a handful of them worldwide
2Mobility Scooters were provided at the event by
3A good video summing up some of the issues can be found in this youtube video by trainer Shelby Dennis
4The FEI has a mixed history of how much impact their sanctions and official warnings actually have with some riders being known repeat offenders. This is an ongoing area of contention but things are improving and it does not mean that there is no repercussions for riders or others who do things wrong.

Monday, 28 May 2018

When basic needs become a luxury

This is prompted by a post on tumblr that read:

fucked up how cooking and baking from scratch is viewed as a luxury… baking a loaf of bread or whatever is seen as something that only people with money/time can do. I’m not sure why capitalism decided to sell us the idea that we can’t make our own damn food bc it’s a special expensive thing that’s exclusive to wealthy retirees but it’s stupid as hell and it makes me angry [user: @grossrabbit] 

The comments that followed were largely in agreement and it became a post of sharing people's "easy" and "quick" bread recipes with comments about how they couldn't believe that anybody would still buy bread. There was a smug implication that those who make their own bread were smarter for having figured this out and for "beating the system" whilst those who did not cook from scratch were somehow foolish, easily duped, lazy or just not trying hard enough. Because obviously, when it was so easy to make bread from scratch with one of these simple recipes why isn't everybody doing it. 

Before I continue I should point out that I absolutely love cooking. I like cooking from scratch, using fresh and basic ingredients. I even like baking, especially breads. Additionally, by and large I do think that cooking is easier than a lot of people believe and do try and encourage people to give it a go. However, we shouldn't be scratching our heads that it is "viewed as a luxury". That's not the problem. The problem is that for a lot of people in the UK and the US this type of cooking is a luxury and one they don't have access to. The question we need to be asking is "how has something as simple as cooking from base ingredients become a luxury in our society?"

Those of you familiar with my blog and political beliefs may have an inkling as to what I believe is the answer to this question. But before I get into the specifics I want to try and explain to you why the act of cooking from scratch and baking your own bread is a luxury for a vast number of people in our culture. Please keep in mind that I am in the UK and my experiences are based on life in the UK but I have tried to be conscientious of challenges that people may face elsewhere, especially in the US. 

The actual obstacles

Cooking and baking from scratch requires - access to fresh ingredients; time; space.

If you are working long shifts, multiple jobs, studying and working, working and doing child care, working and a carer for an adult you simply don’t have time to bake and cook from scratch regularly. Or you might but you would have no time for anything else like sitting and resting, or enjoying a hobby or activity. If it is something you only get the time to do occasionally then it becomes a luxury.

If you have a disability you may not be physically able to cook from scratch regularly - this is often wrapped up in “time” because it relates to having the time to cook when you are physically capable of doing so. Chronic health conditions or disabilities that limit your ability to do an activity essentially act as a time suck that take time away from you being able to do something. The time and ability to cook becomes a luxury.

Access to fresh or basic ingredients is a difficult one. This is often a balance of time and money. Ingredients that you have easy access to from your local grocery store may be limited. Some base ingredients can be affordable, but others may not be. The alternative is going to stores further away or multiple stores to pick up the ingredients you need. This takes time to do, (there is also the added fuel or public transport costs). This issue can be compounded by health limitations that mean travelling further to go to the shop that sells the thing or going to the big busy market is simply not possible. For people who are limited by resources, budget, time or location, access to suitable ingredients is a luxury.

Then there is access to the things you need to cook. You may be able to find some items cheaply in charity shops but it’s a bit hit and miss and you need the time to be able to wait around for those items to appear or to visit a number of shops to see if they have them in. Or you need to be able to buy brand new. Again it’s a balance of time and money to make everything from pans to spatulas to mixing bowls available (and I’m not even considering electrical items or actual stoves here). Access to that equipment can be a luxury.

Poorer people who live in small homes may have tiny kitchens which they struggle to actually cook in. They may not have space to store a full set of pans or other items, they may not have a stove or working oven. They may only have a tiny fridge and no freezer if at all. Additionally if you are in a house share situation or even if you have a family in a small home you can’t take up a lot of time and space using kitchen facilities because other people need that space too. Having regular, adequate space and facilities to cook from scratch is a luxury.

The real issues

Yes, there are people who manage to cook great things from scratch on a tiny budget or in small kitchens and so on but usually these are people who have other privileges i.e. the person on a tiny budget may work from home and have the flexible time to put the effort in. Additionally these people usually enjoy the process so are getting downtime or R&R from it as well as actual food - there is added value tot he process). I have a friend who has a tiny kitchen but loves cooking and freelances as a caterer - it is amazing how much she has fit into a tiny space and how she has learned to use it, but for her it's not just about getting a basic plate of food on the plate in front of her. There is added value and intensive (her enjoyment and proficiency as a cook) in figuring out how to make the tiny space work.  

When there is an additional benefit to the effort needed i.e. it’s not just about sustenance it’s also about quality time spent, that is motivating factor. We can’t chastise people who don’t get that pleasure and for whom cooking is a chore if they want to spend less time doing and maybe more time doing something they like like reading a book, watching TV or just snoozing.

We certainly shouldn’t chastise people who are already extremely limited on time to not want to spend all their free time, space or money on cooking.

The reality is that in a lot of modern hyper capitalist societies like the USA and the UK, cooking from scratch is a luxury for a lot of people.

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

Chastising people and trying to jolly them along with “helpful” advice about this great bread recipe you have doesn’t help. It doesn’t actually solve any of the factors that is making it a luxury.

All it ends up doing is shaming people who are not able to cook from scratch due to their circumstances. It can also have the effect of trying to make people feel guilty for not trying enough. It essentially says “if you wanted to you could do this. If you wanted to you could spend literally all your “free” time, money and effort cooking, but you don’t want to. You just aren’t trying hard enough.” and let me tell you that is toxic. That is the sort of toxic rhetoric that is spouted at poor and disabled folk all the time.

It’s similar to the people who look at people like Jack Monroe of Cooking on a Bootstrap fame and say “why are the poor people complaining, if they just tried hard enough they could eat fine. If they wanted to they’d have plenty of money for food.”. While completely missing the message that cook books on “how to stretch £5 to feed two people for a week” shouldn’t even have to exist. Jack produced their initial blog posts and recipes out of sheer desperation.

In our society cooking from scratch is for a lot of people a luxury.

The issue is not people being stupid, or not trying enough.

The answer is not to be smug about your bread or to make blog articles about “5 hacks to making soup”. 

It is not viewed as a luxury. It is a luxury: and that's wrong

The answer is to challenge a society and social structure that has made the very basics of living - preparing food to eat - into a luxury activity. We should be asking why people have to work so many hours each day that putting a ready meal in the microwave is preferable (or the only option) instead of cooking. We should be asking why market forces have made it so that some basic ingredients cost more than pre-prepared ingredients, why these aren’t widely available and why companies are allowed to charge premium prices for limited stock. 

Rather than smugly talking about your sourdough starter and overnight loaf, we whould be campaigning for a Universal Basic Income.

We should be looking at why housing is an ongoing issue, why people are forced into tiny houses, house shares (not happy communes) and sub par housing that doesn’t have proper cooking facilities. We should be asking why private rents have sky rocketed while social housing has been more than decimated and why there are tax breaks to housing developers that push up the cost of buying or renting but not to those who wish to renovate existing housing stock to make it suitable accommodation.

Rather than rapping people on the knuckles for buying a jar of pasta sauce instead of fresh tomatoes, we should be petitioning MPs for tighter control of the rental market and better rights for tenants.

We should be asking we social care and support for disabled people and their carers is so poor that many disabled people end up with malnourishment because they simply can’t afford food, the facilities to cook it or have the support they need in order to feed themselves.

This is not a case of “ho ho, if only those plebs knew how to make this simple loaf!”. This is a case of “why the hell do we continue to support an economic system that makes cooking from scratch a luxury?”

In case it wasn't clear, it's capitalism. Capitalism is the reason cooking from scratch is a luxury.

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Monday, 21 May 2018

Bad days with ME :: AxesnYarn

No Sunday Short yesterday I I hadn't prepped one in advance and my fatigue was too bad yesterday evening. This vlog explains a bit more about about that fatigue.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

RPG and podcasts and diversity!

Several month ago I played in a short one off RPG game called Unfamiliar Heroes - a homebrew RPG system written by Fay Onyx of podcast and blog Written Alchemy. Fay focuses on creating stories fantasy and games with greater diversity. Zer skill isn't just in putting in different faces when it comes to describing characters but considering how their individual differences may impact and help shape those stories. Our game of Unfamiliar Heroes, with Fay GMing, brought together three players with disabilities, chronic illness or neurodivergance. Additionally we created characters that had their own disabilities or access needs and these played an important role in the story. We were encouraged to consider not just what issues the characters may face but how in this magical fantasy world we might manage those issues without erasing them.

The game has been split into several episodes, the first of which are already up, introducing the characters. You can find the series at Written Alchemy, and my episode introducing Taragon Songsteel the orc bard is here.

Our adventure was dubbed The Owlbear Reintroduction Program

ink sketch of an Owlbear 

I also had a part in a short play for the podcast Monsters Out Of The Closet. MOOTC bills itself as a LGBT+ horror fiction podcast and that sums it up pretty well. Each episode has a loose theme with one or two short performances of horror fiction. There is a consistent thread of LGBT+ representation throughout the series be it in plot or characters.
I appeared in Episode 7 - Haunt in the piece Lossless by Taara Rangan.

It was a new experience for me and something I hope I get the chance to repeat!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Sunday Shorts: Seriously, stop making rape jokes.

Two screen grabs of a tumblr post, side by side. There are four panels of gifs from a TV show showing John Barrowman and another man. Transcription below. 
Two screen grabs of a tumblr post, side by side with text. Transcription below 

Picture 1:
[straight-as-a-protractor] Screen capture of John Barrowman presenting a gameshow. The caption reads: "On a clothing care label, which instruction is indicated by a solid black triangle with a cross through it?
Screen capture of a white, bald man on the gameshow. The caption reads: "This is where we want the women in the team back, don't we?"

Screen Shot 2: Continuation of the post by [straight-as-a-protractor]. Screen capture of John Barrowman . The caption reads: "Or maybe you could help with the cleaning of the clothes every so often.
Screen capture of John Barrowman, smirking.

[mmmahogany] #John Barrowman is having none of your misogynist bullshit.

[xgenepositive] I love that Barrowman's response also distances him from the contestant.
"hahahaha women do laundry, right John? you with me john?" 
John "don't lump me in with you, you fucking martian"

Picture 2:
[solarbird] This is what I am talking about when I say that men have to deny the endorsement. This guy wanted Barrowman's tacit support or agreement for his sexism, as part of bonding through humour. John went nope.

The rest that follows is my contribution:

I've been wanting to write a post about this for a couple of days but have struggled with words. However:

Tacit support or agreement for his sexism, as part of bonding through humour

is actually the exact phrase I was looking for.

At the weekend I was crewing an event. At one point I was chatting with another member of crew when another guy came up and joined in. I can't even remember the original thing we were joking about but the following exchange happened:

guy 1: I would totally do X thing.
guy 2: I would have to rape you to death if you did that.
me: Oi, less of that.
Guy 1: I don't mind
Guy 2: I didn't mean it
Me: Well I mind and I don't want to hear that kind of shit from anyone.

The two skulk off.

And it really bothered me. Because yes, I know that Guy 2 didn't actually mean it. It was clear it wasn't an actual threat of genuine sexual violence toward Guy 1.

 It was however, a joke about horrific sexual violence that actually happens in our society and that statistically  happens to minority groups (including women, trans people, non-binary people, disabled people - women in particular -, gay men, ace people, bi people and lesbians) far more frequently that to straight white cis guys like them. It is something that is statistically more likely to happen to me as a visible member of more than one of those minority groups, than to them.

So while it isn't those two guys seeking tacit support for sexism, it is those two guys seeking and expressing tacit support for a culture that includes the violent rape of minorities and bonding over that through humour.

And it is gross.

It immediately made me feel less safe around them. Not threatened, but certainly less confident that I could count on them to be problem free, people I would be happy to be left alone with or depend on in an emergency.

That's why sexist jokes are bad. That's why rape jokes are bad.

Because they seek tacit support and agreement for sexism or abuse as part of bonding through humour. 

I'm not fine with it. You shouldn't be either.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Ticks, Lyme Disease and LARP

Ticks are found anywhere there are animals, especially grazing animals and those that live in woodland undergrowth.
This is important information if you are a LARPer as many of our games take place on land that is perfect habitat for ticks and the animals they live on. If you spend anytime outdoors in these sort of places you should be aware of what ticks look like and learn the early symptoms of Lyme Disease.
photograph of the back of a child's neck with the hair pushed aside to show a small dark lump embedded in the skin at the hairline. This is an embedded tick.

photograph close up of a person's finger tip. There are four ticks arranged from smallest to largest. The smallest is a fraction of a millimetre. The largest is ~3 millimetres long.  
Look out for ticks
Check your body over each day (before bed or when dressing) for tick bites. Tics usually latch on to feed so run your hands over areas you can’t see clearly or get somebody to help. Look out for bites with dark spots in the middle or small hard lumps - this is the attached tick.
If you find a tick still attached you need to remove it as soon as possible using a safe method. The best method is to use a pair of tweezers or special tick tool to gently grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and firmly pull up and out. 
Other methods such as smothering with vaseline or burning off are not as reliable and can leave you with part of the tick still attached or feeding for longer than you want.
three panel illustration from Kid's Health. Panel 1 shows how to grasp a tick with tweesers for removal. Panel 2 shows cleaning and checking the bite area. Panel 3 shows saving the tick in a ziplock bag for later testing.
Once removed wash the bite and then keep a very close eye on your general health.
The Bullseye Rash
Look out for a bullseye rash as pictured below. 
close up photograph of a person's thigh showing a large circular red rash with faint "bullseye" markings

Large poster from Lyme Disease Association showing a number of different Lyme rashes both typical and atypical.
If you develop a rash even if you didn’t see the tick or know you were bitten get to a GP as soon as you can. This isn’t an A&E (ER) thing but you do want medical attention sooner rather than later. It can take up to 2 weeks for the rash to appear. This rash is an early symptom of Lyme Disease which is a bacterial infection spread by ticks. 

Symptoms to be aware of

If you know you were bitten by a tick or suspect there is a chance you were (i.e. you have a bite but don’t know what insect did it) and start to develop severe flu-like symptoms then go to your GP as soon as you can and tell them you had an insect bite.
Severe flu-like symptoms include:
  • extreme fatigue
  • muscle and joint aches
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • tender glands esp at the neck
  • general feeling of unwell
  • you generally will NOT develop a runny nose or cough
While the rash is a classic symptom of Lyme Disease it only appears in around 50% of cases. Generally if you have a rash or other indicative symptoms your doctor will give you a prescription for antibiotics. This is usually a two to three week course of something like doxycycline. 
With an initial course of antibiotics taken within a few weeks of infection Lyme Disease is usually completely treated and cured, and you will make a full recovery. 
Untreated Lyme can have long term affects on your health and can be serious however by knowing what to look for you can get treated early and be fine. 

Other preventative measures:

Insect repellents - most insect repellent will have some effect against ticks but those containing Icaridin/Picaridin/Saltidin/Bayrepel/Piperidine or PMD/Citriodiol/ Lemon eucalyptus /menthoglycol are most effective. Remember you need to reapply throughout the day, especially if you wash or get rained on.
Clothing - ideally long sleeves and trousers that are tucked in to sock will keep ticks off of you. They can sometimes get inside cuffs and collars though to do be careful to check.
A note for LARPers- all players and crew who take place in games outdoors should be aware of this information. It’s not just combat characters who go crashing through hedges that are at risk. I got bitten at a game in October 2011 playing a non-com who was hiding. The first picture of a bullseye rash comes from a person who was bitten two weeks ago while running a game.

Why do I make these PSAs?

Now for my personal story and why I always link LARP and Lyme. As I mentioned I was bitten at a LARP game. The game was called Winter in the Willows and had us playing animal characters based on the book Wind in the Willows. I was playing a hedgehog. 
During the game we were approached by a pair of otters who were part of an evil cult. These otters radiated a mass fear effect causing all characters within a certain radius to react with terrible fear. Most characters chose to flee. However, me being a hedgehog did what hedgehogs do best. I curled into a ball and rolled into the underbush, quivering with fear, to hide. I didn't leave until the otters were gone and a trusted IC friend came and got me. Excellent roleplay. Very effective.
That evening I had a sore spot on my shoulder. I occasionally get acne or spots on my shoulders and though nothing of it, just rubbed it a bit and carried on with things. Once home from the game I still had the sore spot on my shoulder and could feel a little lump. Because of where it was I couldn't see it. I assumed it was the head of the spot or it had gone a little crusty or scabby. Gross I know but I think we've all experienced spots like that. I knocked the "scab" off and cleaned it and that was it. 
Within a week I started to get ill. I was exhausted, my body was aching, I was getting dizzy spells and my glands were tender. I assumed a bad cold or "post LARP lurgy" - it's not uncommon to pick up a bug at a LARP event after all. But I didn't get better. 
Instead it got worse, but never turned into flu. After two months of this I finally went to a doctor. I was told it was post viral fatigue and I had probably just caught a bug. I was tested for Epstein-barr virus just to be sure but it was inconclusive. Another month passed with no improvement and fatigue and pain that was causing me to miss work. That's when the real testing began. 
Over the next six weeks I had countless blood draws for testing and, thanks to my job at the time being veterinary science, we tested for pretty much everything usual and unusual and down right rare. 
I got a positive diagnosis of Lyme Disease in May, the day before my birthday. That was 6 months after I first got ill. 
I won't go in to the whole story of treatment and doctors because it is lengthy and a bit dull. But suffice to say, 6 months is too late to be starting with a basic course of doxycycline. I'm still ill 6 years later. That doesn't happen to everybody, but really you need to catch and treat it early. 
Don't be like me. Know about ticks and Lyme Disease and look after yourself.