Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.

Adam and Jeremy, Brighton

Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.

“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.

“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”

“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”

“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”

“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”

I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”

Steve and Pete, Nottingham

I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”

Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”

I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”

Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.

Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”

“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”

“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.

Mark and Richard, York

Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”

Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”

“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”

“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”

I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”

I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”

Chris and Johnny, London

I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.

We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.

“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.

I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”

We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”

While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”

Dan and Justin, Durham

Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.

He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.

I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”

I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.

The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”

I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.

Tea Party for One

Originally posted on Six Months in Sydney

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

Complementary Albums

I try to save weekends for writing about – or even just sharing – things that bring me joy. Here’s some music that brings me joy!

Even in the age of streaming, playlists and songs, I’m still a lover of the the full-length album (and more specifically the pop album). Scot often laughs, but one of my criteria for a really good pop album is “flow” – how well the songs on the album work together in the order presented, and the overall feel of the album. Today I’m taking that a little further, and sharing my picks for pairs of albums that I think work so well together that listening to them together as one is pop music synergy.

Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna & System, Seal

Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor is easily my favorite album to date: I love the songs and I adore Stuart Price’s production. Sitting alongside, though, is another favorite of mine, System by Seal, also produced by Stuart Price. Both are polished dance records with gorgeous layers, synths and sequences. Good beats.

Highlights from Confessions  are Get Together, Let it will be,  and How High, and my favorites from System  are Loaded, Dumb, and The Right Life.

Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell & Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp

A couple of breezy, folky albums that are perfect for Sunday afternoon listening. Although I’m definitely a fan of Goldfrapp, and love Seventh Tree, I don’t know much of Joni Mitchell aside from Ladies of the Canyon.

Top picks from Joni’s album are Conversation and The Circle Game, and, while it’s hard to pick the best tracks from Seventh Tree I’d suggest Happiness, A&E, and Caravan Girl are unmissable.

Zonoscope, Cut Copy & Made In The Dark, Hot Chip

Quirky dance albums are definitely my thing, and though male voices tend not to be, these two albums have the kind of posh non-American male voice that I find pleasing. Both albums are definitely what some people might call overproduced, but it’s the kind of thing I like. Also guitars and a mix of dance and pop will always win me over.

From Zonoscope I recommend Pharaohs and Pyramids and Haning onto every Heartbeat; and from Made in the Dark my stand-out tracks are Out at the Pictures, We’re Looking for a lot of Love, and Hold On.

A Joyful Noise, Gossip & The Family Jewels, Marina and the Diamonds

JB Hi-Fi files both of these very excellent albums under ‘Alternative’, but I’m not sure I agree with them. They’re both really good pop albums, just with growling. As is the (almost) theme, they are a bit quirky, quite dark in places, and have hard-hitting beats.

From A Joyful Noise my favorites are Move in the Right Direction and Into The Wild; and my favorite tracks from The Family Jewels are all of them, but particularly Shampain, Mowgli’s Road, and Hollywood.

Blood Like Lemonade, Morcheeba & The Reminder, Feist

I’m lying to myself a little here – I actually think the perfect companion to The Reminder by Feist is by Damien Rice, and I’ve had more than one evening with those two albums and good red wine, but I’m here suggesting pairing The Reminder with Blood Like Lemonadea perfectly nice and understated album by Morcheeba. Another couple of records that are a little folksy with some quirks, they bring me a sense of calm.

My picks from Blood Like Lemonade are Crimson, Recipe for Disaster, and Beat of the Drum. The Reminder is another one to pick favorites from, but if pushed I’d recommend So Sorry, The Park, and The Limit To Your Love. I also have a deep love for Brandy Alexander and I’m including it here because it reminds me of a friend.

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

nicotweet
@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

grindr1

I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

grindr2

Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

On colorblindness, clothes, and currency

Content notes: this post touches on casino gambling.

When I was 13 Auntie Sue bought me a pair of green jeans for Christmas. These were absolutely the height of fashion, but I was a timid 13-year-old and I did not have the confidence to actually wear them, so Mum took me to the shop, gift receipt in hand, so I could exchange them for a more traditional blue. I picked a darkish pair that I  thought suited my timid style. Something that would make sure I blended into the background, something that wouldn’t draw any attention to me or what I was wearing.

They were purple.

Mum didn’t tell me.

I’m red-green colorblind, which is the standard kind, although my color vision is pretty fucked up. I talk about it a fair bit, mainly because it leads to a fair number of amusing situations (like the purple jeans!), but also because some people seem to find it fascinating. For me it’s a source of frustration more than anything, but I do see how people find differences in perception interesting, so I’m happy to share.

fivedollars
Australian $5 note

The latest source of discussion came from an outburst of shock on my part yesterday when I read on the internet that the Australian five dollar note is pink. There it is over there. Pink as you like. Although not to me. To my eyes it is a sort of blue-green color. Although not to my eyes, I should say. To my mind. After much discussion on Twitter with John B, I worked out that my perception of the five dollar note being blue-green probably comes from my knowing (although not seeing) that the British five pound note is green (although I have always seen it as very definitely blue), and that I see the Australian five dollar note and the British five pound note as being the same color. It seems my brain sometimes perceives color based on not just (or not even) the information coming from my eyes, but from prior knowledge of the color of things that are similar.

fivepoundnote
British fiver that I grew up with. I’m told it’s green.

Curiosities and sources of amusement aside, color vision deficiency does have a fairly significant impact on many aspects of life. I won’t say that color vision deficiency is a disability (although some people argue that it is, and indeed a Brazilian court ruled that it is), but it does present challenges and there are things that, because of my color vision deficiency, I Just Can’t Do. Regular followers might know that I used to work as a casino dealer (and I still do moonlight as a dealer for those fun casinos that you often see at events), which is a job where being able to see and differentiate color is very important. The color of gambling chips designates their value, and roulette wheel checks come in different colors to be assigned to different players to give a couple of examples. Mostly I’m able to cope, as the colors are different enough that I can tell them apart, but there have been occasions where I have been stuck.

Outside my professional life, there are heaps of difficulties. The world is set up for people with normal color vision, and most notably the very common use of green/red to mean good/bad or on/off. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to see the difference – e.g. on a tiny LED, the red light and the green light look the same. Identical. Some product labeling that uses traffic-light-style information means nothing to me – or at least nothing at a glance, which is how it is designed. And people so often use colors that are difficult or impossible for people with color vision deficiency to tell apart on maps, charts, diagrams etc. (Public transport maps are notoriously difficult!)

Happily some people do care about this, and go to efforts to make the things they produce accessible to people with color vision deficiency. I was contacted in 2013 by Phillipa Demonte who was working on a paper for the Department of Geosciences at Boise State University and was keen to ensure that the figures that would be used in the paper were as accessible as possible from a color vision perspective. A few people responded to Phillipa’s call, and the general consensus among us was that bold colors and thick lines are easier to see than pastels and thin lines.

 

I hope more and more people take color vision deficiency into consideration when designing things – whether it’s public information, product labels, LED indicators on electronics, or figures and plots in scientific papers. But even if that does happen, I’ll still forever be haunted by those purple jeans. John B told me last night “You dress well and I admire your dress sense; I suspect that colourblindness helps you ditch some prejudices about colours though”. I’m not so sure. I remain super conscious that I might not be able to tell if the colors of the things I’m wearing complement each other or clash horribly. When preparing new outfits I always – always – check with someone that the colors don’t clash. I have to know the name of the color of every single piece of clothing I own – I simply will not wear anything unless I know the name of its color. (This, again, leads to some amusement as when my boyfriend buys me clothes as gifts, my response is almost always “I really like it; what color is it?”.) More often than most people, I Google color combinations the night before I wear anything just to be sure the things I wear will look okay.

Color vision deficiency seems normal and trivial to me, and a lot of the time I find discussion of color perception tedious. I’m predisposed to take into account other people’s color vision when designing things, and I would encourage anyone reading to do the same. And at the very least – warn your kids before they buy purple jeans.

Programming

At the end of 2014 I took a beginners statistics course and was introduced to R, which is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing. It was brand new to me, but I picked up the basics fairly quickly. As is my nature, I played around with it a fair bit, trying things out, and eighteen months later, I know enough to have convinced my boss that I am literally a magician based on what I can produce.

To complement, in the last year or so I’ve taught myself the basics (and a bit more) of LaTeX, which is a document preparation system and markup language. Perhaps just the basics, but enough to produce documents that I’m actually proud to present to management as my work, rather than the (especially now) disappointing documents I used to produce using Microsoft Word.

Despite all this, I still feel intimidated by the idea of programming languages that I don’t know. And it’s holding me back. I think it’s probably because I don’t really have any formal background in computing, and everything I’ve ever learnt has been self-taught, but I seem to pick up the basics of anything I try without any issue.

I taught myself enough HTML in 2003 to be able to build the website for the Leeds University LGBT society from scratch – I did the whole thing in Notepad (the ongoing management of the site was another issue, I hasten to add), but I was scared to learn any CSS because it was new.

When I was maybe 12, I wrote some games in BASIC – from memory a slot machine (poker machine, fruit machine, or what you will) that was pretty simple, but functional; and a safari park management sim – all text based (because I’m not artistic enough to do graphics). The object of that game was to balance the antelope and lion populations by culling or inseminating either lions or antelope on each turn – again, a simple game, but proof that I could write programs, and was good at it.

There’s little point to this post, other than for me to combat the impostor syndrome I suffer dreadfully from. I can’t go back to when I was 14 years old, change my mind and decide to do a Computing GCSE instead of Business Studies (even though, with hindsight, I totally should have) – that would probably have taken me somewhere. But perhaps this can be an inspiration to someone who can make that sort of decision.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?