Monday, 23 June 2014

Being a care leaver, being a survivor.

What does it mean to be a care leaver? 
In policy terms it means a relevant child or former relevant child who has been under the care of their local authority as a young person. For the purposes of our everyday lives I will discuss what being a care leaver means on a practical, emotional level and what it means within society. These discussions may not be confined or limited to purely legal definitions depicted in government policy.

The experience(s) of young people in care is one of the most important  measurements of society’s values.We need to talk about our experiences in care, because they shape who we are after care. We are taught how and where we fit into society whilst in care. But we also learn about how society functions in relation to us because being in care means you are very aware of how the state treats some of its most vulnerable citizens. The entire country’s ideas and values are built around the government and politics of the time (whether people agree or disagree with them is less important than the fact they exist.) And because so much of our interactions with the local government are taken up by initiatives and new schemes (does anyone remember free laptops?), we understand which parts of our lives society sees as important and which parts it chooses to forget or ignore.

 Abuse, representation and reality
For example of young people in care being yardsticks of values I will discuss a time paedophilia and child abuse were less discussed, engaged with and investigated. An instance of this is the widely discussed case of Jimmy Savile, whose celebrity status and power gained him entry to the homes and lives of vulnerable young people in care.  In the 2012 documentary produced by the BBC entitled ‘Jimmy Savile What the BBC knew’ the  investigators spoke with people who were in care and abused by (or witnessed abuse by) Savile.  Young women were often taken out in Savile’s car and didn’t realise that his actions were abuse, some even believed them to be romantic. In a lot of cases it seems safe to say that the lack education on relationships that these young women received contributed to them believing the interactions they had were healthy, and the abuse they endured was a ‘trade off’ for escape from their homes and for getting some attention that made them feel important. This, along with the workers in the homes being in awe of Savile, and the Police dismissing the young people's reports meant that many of these young people, now middle aged and older have never spoken about their experiences.

So celebrity culture, the police and the care system created a free pass for Savile to abuse young women. 

Obviously some things have changed now. There is policy in place by for both the police and local authorities that should prevent this situation from happening. It is worth noting that this policy is often overlooked, or ignored by the police in situations relating to rape. Sometimes those who work with care leavers and young people in care don't get given the practical skills to put the policy into practice. This isn't the fault of those people, but rather a result of policy being written with lots of jargon and little understanding of how we live our lives.  Thus we see that the power dynamics of young people in care (with little or no power and understanding of the love and care they're entitled to) and adults with power over young people means that abuse occurs often. And just as often is goes unrecognised. 

Most recently there was the representation of (again sexual) abuse in the  Channel 4 drama The Unloved, this time they showed a young women being abused by a member of staff. The media often uses young people in care as a story, they sensationalise our experiences and turn us into statistics to scare their readers, but the media is often silent on other forms of abuse and the rest of the difficulties that face young people in care and care leavers.

Why abuse. why now?
I’ve had many interactions with other care leavers, at special events, and just personal chats and what seems most common is the widespread experience of abuse, before, during and after they have been taken into and left care. Obviously sexual abuse is important, but I’d like to define a few other kinds and open discussion about one. Physical abuse is  violence and physical harm, neglect is failing to meet a persons care needs, emotional abuse is bullying a person verbally, psychological abuse is more commonly understood as ‘mind games’. Abusers can be people in authority or our peers, it can happen at any point and all abuse is wrong.

 Most of the people in care I have spoken to and all of the care leavers I have gotten to know (and myself) have experienced at least one of these forms of abuse, usually more. I’ve never attended an event for care leavers that didn't turn into those present talking about their horrible experiences. Drunken foster parents, possessions stolen, or kept, physical harm, blame, lies told to social workers. I think one of the most important things I can say is- I believe them all. Care leavers and young people in care are so often not believed, so often people tell us that we ‘must’ have done something to provoke abuse towards us, but abuse is always the choice of the person committing it. We are not responsible for their actions. Because of the poor resources and structures that aren't effective we often have to work very hard to keep ourselves safe. That may be one of the reasons why so often care leavers live with a fight or flight response. We have strange habits, we may appear unusually protective of our possessions or unusually relaxed about them.We may get very upset when certain topics are mentioned, or seem very detached when we talk about topics that other people think are sensitive. We might feel scared that our homes and our things are going to be taken from us, this isn't because we're unnecessarily paranoid, but because we have been taught that this is what we deserve and should expect.

 Our experiences of abuse are real, they are difficult to process and we carry them with us as care leavers absolutely every single day. This is not to say we are weak, or we can’t let go of the past, or we can’t form healthy relationships, but that we have a very different experience to our peers who have not been in care. Of course other people can encounter all the forms of abuse I have listed above, so what’s the difference? 

 What's new?
Being 'looked after' by the state/government means we are automatically at the mercy of whoever is in power. And the people in power may change and have different ideas about how to run the country, and how much funding the local authority(/ies) should have. In fact, from what I have seen, funding problems are more consistent than any scheme or project. Funding is reallocated or the terms of receiving it are changed, it's suspended, lessened or replaced with alternatives but this usually means the same thing- less money for those who need it. This is the same for all who need the help of the government, from people's benefits to hospitals to libraries. Very often care leavers are seen as an unnecessary expense.

I don’t want care leavers to feel oppressed or like they have to put up with endless suffering, but I feel it’s really important that we name the harm and sadness caused to our lives by the ever disappearing funding and the bureaucracy we encounter in just trying to live our lives. I think we should call it 'administrative neglect'. Our needs as care leavers are being ignored by the administration the people high up who run the government.

 This is not about the people who have cared for us, or social workers, it’s not a personal problem, it’s a problem with the system. It's a problem with the people who decide that our local communities can cope with millions of pounds less. The problem becomes real when the local government decide us, care leavers, are the best place to start cutting that money from.  This is offensive and unfair because the person deciding to cut funding has never lived in a kids home, has never run away from foster parents, doesn’t understand that university funding is sometimes the only reason some of us consider university. They are not qualified to make decisions about our lives, (but, just like the examples from before) because they hold power over us they are able to make choices about our lives that negatively effect us.

Why does it matter?
There’s a very important reason for us to recognise the failures and abuses that have happened; they impact our quality of life and our mental health, our aspirations, our physical health, our living conditions, our opportunities and self-esteem. Without understanding how these problems have changed our lives we can't begin to think about recovery. Much of the time care leavers attempt to go on with their lives like other people do, we get jobs, have families, or form relationships, but there’s always something that seems different. Often these walls of a life that we’ve built for ourselves fall down, and we feel unable to perform the average tasks to keep our lives flowing normally. It can be as simple as being scared to open letter, or as complicated as being scared to interact with the state via the NHS and not seeking adequate medical help. When this happens, we blame ourselves. Self-blame can tear lives apart, can make us believe that we didn’t try hard enough, or that our interactions with drugs, or with the judicial system are just incidents we’ve brought on ourselves. The reason we need to recognise administrative neglect is that these cuts often mean that there's not enough resources to teach us how keep our lives going, and how to mend them when they break. If that is the case, then the system of one person holding power over another is harming people. If, like I said earlier, young people in care and care leavers are the yardstick by which we can measure the values of society then what does that say about those values? It often seems like the media who were so interested in reporting about how many of us are 'victims' of sexual abuse don't want to report when powerful people in our country make cuts that make our lives worse.

So where does this leave us? 
Well often care leavers will find solace in another community, it might be friends we’ve met through college or university, it might be a community based around drugs, or other young parents, or a political community. I’m not here to say that any of those are wrong, we do what we need to do to build ourselves a family, to make decisions for ourselves, to get support.

One of my communities is feminism, (women’s rights) which is tied up a lot in children’s rights too. In  feminist discussions people who have experienced abuse aren’t called ‘victims’, they’re called survivors. If there’s one thing I would encourage all care leavers to do it is this- the next time you think about how you have been treated, or any abuse received and begin to feel weak remind yourself that being stood where you are now means that you survived it. You have overcome it. And though there might be nights when you feel anxious or scared, though you’re not always managing to juggle adult life just you, getting out of bed this morning (or staying in bed for a rest) means that you are surviving.

I don’t believe that there will be big changes to the government structure that will allow young people and care leavers to exist free from administrative neglect. But I do believe that the idea of a society where people in care are treasured and not condemned to suffering through administrative neglect is an idea worth hanging on to. After all, we’re all allowed to hope, right? Until the point when this is a reality I’ll stand tall with all of the other people who have suffered abuse in care and as care leavers and say- I’m not a care leaver, I’m a care survivor. Because you can take the kid out of care, you can't take the care system out of the kid, and if I'm going to carry so many experiences with me, I want to do it as someone who is still standing, I want to do it as a survivor.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

If I should die today...

If I should die today, I trust my housemate to hide my sex toys from my grandmother.
I give him full permission to redistribute my lesbian erotica to a closeted queer,
with sad eyes, and a quiet smile.
May it help them learn the shape of their pleasure
and some new ways to refer to the vagina.

If I should die today, you can keep my glasses,
if you promise to look through them once in a while,
take a day off now and again, and remember to breathe.
If I should die today I give you permission buy yourself flowers for no reason.
To sing in in the shower, and steal vegetables from big supermarket brands.

If I should die today, I hope my ex-lovers speak to one another and compare love letters.
I hope they forgive me for my bad spelling.
I hope they remember the nights when we swapped dreams for kisses
when the rising sun was our own personal spotlight.
If I should die today, I hope every orgasm you ever have
feels likes a personal gift from whatever god or political figure you believe in.

If I should die today, I hope you all remember how unapologetically
fat and queer and northern and working class I was.
Should you ever forget please please check my tumblr.
If I should die today, take a memory each from my memory jar.
Plant it in your pocket, grow your own happiness,
dance to LCD Soundsystem.

If I should die today, I know I'd want to be remembered as
flawed and fabulous.
So there are some things you should know.
I never really stopped thinking of Pluto as a planet.
Sometimes I was too tired to listen to you, so I just nodded.
If I should die today, remember that I would never lose an argument.
I'd just lose people.

Remember there were times when I drank too much and cried on buses,
times when I gave crumbs instead of talk to people sitting on pavements.
Times when I watched nurse Jackie rather than reading.
If I should die today, in the last seconds before I pass,
I'll be pissed off for not knowing how the novel I'm reading ends.

If I should die today, there's a story I wrote called Sirens.
It says everything I couldn't.
If I should die today, please don't stop writing letters to me.
If I should die today there's no special wisdom I can impart
no beautiful metaphor I can create
no staggering philosophy.

If I should die today, please mix my ashes with glitter,
throw them at homophobes, and tories and

anyone else who ever acts like your existence is worth less than the organic hand soap at their children's private school.
There are no words I can write in my living room at five past nine on a Tuesday night that will ever describe your worth.
But you are doing just fine. 

If I should die today, please wear fancy dress to my funeral.
Please remember not to pray for me, 
not to name a star after me 
or justify bad decisions with 'that's what she would have wanted'. 
I will only ever want beautiful things for you. 
(This includes revolution.)

If I should die today plant a tree in your garden for me, 
call it hope, 
teach yourself how it comes back to life every spring. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

SPAnswers- g-spot orgasms, masturbation shame, and the possibility of poly.

How can you bring up polyamory within the context of a long term, so far monogamous relationship with minimum pain?

Ellie-I think the best thing to do is have an honest open discussion with your partner about how you feel. If they are shut off to the idea then it’s only fair not to push them into something that they don’t want. If they are willing to discuss or try it but aren’t sure they want to commit to the idea them perhaps start with some very clear rules, guidelines and promise that if they get uncomfortable it can be re-evaluated. I think the main thing is communication and honesty.

 I'm a person with a vagina and I'm confused about orgasms. Should I be striviing for a g spot orgasm? I've never had one but my current partner's ex did and they have kind of implied that a clitoral orgasm is a cop out.

 Ellie- Very few people actually have g-spot orgasms, and very few people without a vagina know this. Most people can only have clitoral orgasms, and most people who manage to orgasm during penetrative sex often only do due to the grinding of the clitoris against their partners that can happen. It’s not uncommon not to have had a g-spot orgasm, many people never will, and some might randomly one day during sex. You can’t know whether you ever will have a g-spot orgasm or not, but the orgasms you are having are not cope outs, and are 100% valid

K-There is nothing wrong or less valid about clitoral orgasms, and many many people with vaginas (myself included!) can’t have g-spot orgasms. I personally feel it’s not worth the effort of trying to find an elusive g-spot orgasm when I already know how to have a great clitoral one, but if you feel a g-spot orgasm might be better for you, or is something you want to have, then by all means try to achieve it. Don’t worry if you can’t have them though, or if you just don’t really want to - your clitoral orgasms are just fine! When it comes to your orgasms, go for what YOU want, not what your partner thinks you should be doing

I feel ashamed when I masturbate (I'm a woman). Is this common?

Ellie- This is very very common. As someone who is very open about sex myself, and the fact that I enjoy sex, I very very rarely masturbate simply because I feel ashamed of it. I wish I didn’t. I often feel like a bad feminist for feeling ashamed of it, but unfortunately women aren’t always taught that it’s an acceptable and normal part of sexuality. It’s common but not something you should have to feel. If you can get over the feelings of shame then go for it, and have fun, if you can’t then it’s not your fault. There are even really cute apps designed to help you feel more normal about masturbating, and encouraging more women to feel comfortable doing it!

Pip- It's really common! The thing about sexual shame is that it's not just something limited to conservative communities or religious ones, but because we're socialized amongst and into these things, it effects us too. Sometimes, experiencing sexual shame can make me people feel like their letting the team down, or they're 'not really' feminist or sex positive. But feminism and sex positivity aren't about never feeling internalized sexual shame or misogyny, they're about a remedy to those things, they're about recognizing the causes for them. My advice is 
1. allow yourself to feel ashamed. Let this be OK, for now. Stressing yourself out or berating yourself for feeling ashamed isn't going to improve the situation. 
2. start to re-negotiate your relationship to your genitals and masturbation. This could be by setting some time aside to speak to a councillor, or writing a list of all the reasons masturbation is a positive thing for your body, I suggest looking at some of Dodson and Ross' videos and articles., they even have this handy play list for overcoming shame-
3. work up to seducing yourself. Like any sex lif, the one you have with yourself is susceptible to becoming stale or repetitive. If you feel you can make the time and you're ready to spend some time simply exploring your body then go for it. Light some candles, dress up, watch, read, or listen to something that makes you feel sexual. 
Most importantly, remember that whatever you do is fine. You can masturbate or not, orgasm or not, share your body sexually or not. This is not about how you 'should' feel, it's about how you want to feel. 

Want to ask a question-

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Art and Activism

An interview with Codie Austin.

What role do you think art can play in activism?

Art can play a monumental role in activism. The classic question is whether art imitates life or life imitates art and art that commemorates political struggle reminds activists that there are things to be won, and can give you hope.

Art in itself will never be the revolution, but the idea that one day, children will read poetry, look at paintings and watch films about the occupation of Palestine, the kyriarchal oppression, the destruction and heartache of capitalism, as something of the past is some days all that keeps me going.

Without radical politics and an intersectional understanding of oppression, art is meaningless as a political tool. But sometimes, good politics and art cross one another's path and for a second rather than a record, art encapsulates our struggle and becomes a force for change within itself.

When I create a picture it helps me communicate things without having to engage with an oppressive dialogue. People might see the picture, they might disagree, but the image remains whole and the sentiment behind it is unchanged.

When I edit propaganda or images made by others, I think of it as found art. It helps me re-write problematic assertions.

Is there a specific piece of activist art that you think was particularly successful?

Frida Kahlo's art was exquisite, her work is so often reduced to her self portraits and some work around her fertility but every piece of hers is radical because she was radical. Her self portraits are unapologetic in the face of normative beauty standards, her depictions of Mexican culture show us her unique experience and the suffering of her people. She has a piece on Marxism ending the suffering of the sick and the first time I saw it, it was like a secret she had shared with just me.