Out on a dike

Out on a dike phr. [mid 19-C] (US) going out in one's best clothes. [DIKED DOWN] I'm out as a dyke, occasionally out with a dyke. What I do when I'm out on a dike can become your business once I write about it here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Somewhere in the rainbow

The Pride season has started. On Sunday I went over to Birmingham for an hour to squeeze myself through the crowded streets. I amused the people selling the 'end homophobia' wrist bands by picking over the rainbow ones. A rainbow colour version is now available to complement the pink.

"They're all the same," they tell me.

But I see otherwise. The letters don't begin in the same place; there is always diversity within the rainbow.

"It depends what part of the rainbow you want to start in," I say.

I know I have a definite leaning towards reds, oranges and yellows. I choose a band with the letter 'e' stamped firmly within orange, the message leading into yellow and finishing just before the blend to green. This is the message I want to be seen, preferred colours uppermost on my wrist.


One day last week, at work, I returned to my computer from lunch, shook my mouse as usual to bring the monitor out of sleep mode, and found an instant messenger window on my screen.

You are gay

I stare, only for a few seconds, before clicking the message window closed. A lot of thoughts run through my head in these short seconds. I make a moaning sound aloud - not more of these messages! Every now and then a student (it's always presumed to be a student) abuses this service and distributes a message to the whole network, either to prove they can or because they really do believe they are having a one-to-one conversation. It's a blatant contravention of the university computer user policy which everyone must sign up to. The game, perhaps, is in the sender hoping they are anonymous enough not to be identified by the IT system managers. Catch me if you can!

I know this isn't a message just for me, but could it be? I wasn't in the office to witness the collective pop-up on all our screens, the one that makes us all react in some way as we're distracted from our other demanding windows. My moan goes unnoticed. What did my colleagues feel/think when those words arrived on their screens, if they received them at all? I can't ask, for wouldn't that make me seem paranoid? They already laugh (affectionately) when I treat machines as animate objects (and what's wrong in believing the printer, especially, performs more efficiently when I offer soothing tones rather than shouting at it, even if shouting makes me feel better?) There is no one using my computer, and my computer alone, to point a finger at me. With all the thousands of computers switched on at this moment around the university network, the sender was bound to hit lucky.

But this message does feel like a pointing finger. Is that finger accusatory? Jibing? Or is that finger affirming? I know it can be affirming. "Yes, I'm gay and proud to be. Thank you for noticing." It is this contradiction, the uncertain motivation behind this message which makes me uneasy.

Why would someone choose to send this message? It doesn't feel affirming. Suddenly I feel isolated in my office, knowing my heterosexual colleagues are unlikely to be carrying on such an internal debate. I know about the pointing fingers, 'lesbo' shouted from cars, whispers passed down a line, 'there's the lesbian', the crowd mentality of jeering, pornographic pictures of women being thrown my way. My world hasn't been like that for a long time. But elsewhere it goes on, and it's never too far away. The times I've heard 'You're a lesbian' as accusatory far outweigh the affirming. The first time I kissed another woman passionately was in a public street, late at night, there weren't too many around to see. "Lesbians!" someone shouted. "Yes, yes, yes, this is me!" I wanted to shout back. I've always remembered, more than our kiss, the fear in the other woman's eyes, the way she said, "We can't do this."

The message bothers me so much because it's not the first time uncomfortable references to someone's sexuality have appeared on my computer screen. When there was a string of them I know the whole network received, messages which were, that time, clearly touching on very personal lives - "Look at that guy over there", "[Name of person] is gay, he's in the library" - I reported the offence. I was assured the matter was being dealt with; the sender would likely lose their computer access rights.

So, I don't need to report this; IT Support Services will already be well aware. The university will reiterate its policy and make it clear that this is an abuse of the computer systems. But is that the whole of the offence? I know what concerns me more. Why should one of our students feel it is necessary to send this message at all? What is being done to challenge this message's inherent homophobia? What message does each of its recipients take away?


Sunday, May 22, 2005


We failed to predict the winning song in our house, but overall the British public got the top two countries right, giving 12 points to Greece and 10 points to Malta. Romania took third place, a real surprise to my ears! Israel was close behind in fourth.

Votes in our household gave the top spots to:
  1. Israel
  2. Spain/Malta/Bosnia & Herzegovina/Latvia (equal points)
  3. Greece
There was a definite plethora of drums and bhangra beat this year, but the anthemic ballad can still pick up strong votes and it was a relief to come across one or two. Maybe more countries should go down this route next year. The UK, of course, is unlikely to win ever again.


Wear with Pride

This week upon my wrist I wear a band.
It says end homophobia. It’s pink
and made from silicone - designed to stand
hard knocks, demand attention, make you think.
I’m waiting for the first engaged response,
for someone who will read the message whole,
not those who, from embarrassment, ensconce
themselves in ignorance. It could cajole
another to come out, to know they aren’t
alone; perhaps encourage others to
condemn discrimination, so they can’t
refuse to bid such prejudice adieu.
Ironic, then, I don’t wear everywhere,
in case the homophobes are waiting there.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Dressing up ... as Ms Pitstop

Some photographic evidence:
As Penelope Pitstop for 'Wear it Pink' Day, 29 October 2004, raising awareness of breast cancer.


Dressing up ... as a bear

As Arthur Itis Bear in April 2003, raising awareness of arthritis, while working for Arthritis Care.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Today's eclectic mix

I've been away for over a week. It's ok, I have been writing - just not here. I even had an afternoon in the sun on Sunday. Ironically, because I was working. The university had a marquee at a local agricultural show. The giant rabbits were our most popular exhibit. Best not to enquire further on that one. I did offer to dress up as a giant rabbit but it's better to have the real thing. Anyway, it really was sunny on Sunday afternoon so it would have been far too hot in a rabbit suit. Dressing up as a rabbit is possibly something I'll never add to my list of having dressed up as Wallace (of Gromit fame), a teddy bear and Penelope Pitstop (all in the name of serious work, of course).

I've started writing sonnets. Someone out there knows why. I've also started doing Su Doku puzzles. I'm pretty sure these two facts aren't related, although both activities require counting. Su Doku up to nine, and sonnets up to ten syllables in iambic pentameter. There's rhythm and rhyme in there somewhere. I'm aware there's far more to the sonnet form than counting. Su Doku style puzzles are a version of the logic puzzle, using process of elimination, 'if not this, that' techniques. I've always been quite fond of logic puzzles - satisfying rows of ticks and crosses and a definite result. There's a satisfying form to the sonnet, I'm discovering, and that can bring clarity, too.

With all these new experiences, it's quite possible I'm strengthening the connections between my brain cells. The Spanish course has finished now so I do need to maintain the learning experience. I find if you keep learning the world slows down a little bit. Days seem to last longer when you're busy enjoying new things. More gets crammed in rather than the usual routine. It's easy to overlook routine and it can feel like the days have gone by in a blur without anything of note happening. On the other hand, it could just be short term memory loss. Another good reason to keep learning.

I'm limbering up for the Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday (tonight's the semi-final). I will need my best counting skills to join in with the scoring. The Eurovision Song Contest is a significant occasion in the calendar for me. This year is the 50th contest. It's not really a song contest at all. It's cultural camp delight - and highly political.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Making friends

The last week has certainly been interesting in its mixture of highs and lows. I'm not going to dwell on the lows. I can only come up from a low, so I might as well give my time to the highs.

I made a friend this week. It becomes harder to make friends the older you get. Or is that just a myth I've swallowed? One thing I know is that the older I get the more I've realised how many different ways there are to make friends. That's not to say that it is any easier to make friends; I just realise that there are more possibilities for 'meeting' people who inspire and give something to my life. The world really is smaller now with the web and email. I can feel close to someone I've only typed words to on a computer screen.

Where do most of us meet our friends? At work? At school? There are different kinds of friends, of course. There are those who are going to be there for life, even though you haven't contacted each other for months. There are those you click with fairly quickly and do absolutely everything with all at once and in a flurry until maybe dropping the contact altogether. It's no fun if you're the one that's dropped. There are all sorts of permutations and meaningful relationships inbetween.

We are led to expect that the whole class full of friends at school will gradually dwindle to a handful (that's if you're lucky) of trusted friends once you hit your thirties and beyond - and you're really lucky if your handful includes any of those friends you made at such a young age. Friendships in adolescence are intense. Are websites like Friends Reunited which trade in nostalgia doing so well because many people are desperate to recover some of that intensity of friendship?

I am lucky to have a couple of friends who have travelled with me a long way in my life. I wonder sometimes if the written word is powerful in that. Perhaps it should be encouraged that we write more letters or emails to each other and talk less on the phone. Perhaps it's important to write even to the people we share our homes with and wake up next to. I know a long time ago I rescued one friendship, maybe even formed it as a friendship by persisting in my letter-writing.

But I didn't manage to keep in touch with any of my closest friends from school/university in any way that could be called maintaining a friendship. Not one. I know that some of those friendships could pick up from where they left off, and maybe that's why I'm keen on the idea of a reunion. I had a serendipitous meeting with a very close school friend at a Gay Pride March (of all places) some years ago. The world is small and yet so large. We're distant again now. If only email addresses were permanent ... well ... mine's the same!

Learning to make friends is one of the first and most important lessons for young children, although it shouldn't all be based on 'fitting in'. Keeping those friends takes hard work.

Finding friends, in likely or unlikely places, is still one of the best experiences in the world. Perhaps even more so for me now.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Online Poll

I've voted. Have you?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Wearing well

I promised myself I would have some fresh air this holiday weekend to break up the time spent in front of a computer. I managed 20 minutes this afternoon, sitting with my Spanish books in the back garden, before the rain fell. This all counts towards my Vitamin D intake. I like the outdoors, I really do. I'm just not always sure what I should be doing outdoors. I know where I am in front of the computer.

Still, at least I haven't been working, as in working for the employer who pays the wages. I've been doing a certain amount of communicating, reading and building connections. All good stuff.

I will get out more now that it's May. It's time to look out the spring/summer wardrobe - all those clothes that aren't actually stored away neatly in a wardrobe but sit in a great (washed) heap in the back room waiting for the warmer weather and lighter evenings to come round. It's more exciting this way, not being able to see all the possibilities at once. Every year I discover old friends - a shirt, a pair of shorts - "that's where you got to!" - and they rise to the top of the pile to become favoured garments for the next two months.

That's how life is - this rise and fall, the rough and tumble of the laundry pile. Soon I'll be ironing out the creases of winter, blowing off dust and cat hairs, letting my skin breathe.

There could be plans for a school reunion - although maybe not till 2010. It's 20 years since class of 1985 left Whitecross High School. A lot has changed with the school in those 20 years. (There is now a school website, which appears abandoned and badly needs updating. Perhaps while they're about it the web manager could learn how to spell 'governors'. It always helps if educational institutions can spell.)

I'm one of only 3 from our year who have dared to put photos on the Friends Reunited website. What that says about us, I'm not sure. However, I heard from one of the other photo-posters this week. He reckons I haven't changed a bit. Ah well, perhaps that means I did have an idea at 16 of who I was or was going to be. The glasses (a relatively recent addition, since 1998) and even shorter short hair might not be ageing me just yet, but give it time.

2010 it is. We still don't know who will organise this reunion but my old schoolfriend reckons this "would give us 5 yrs to get in touch with everyone, and enough time for all of us to get rid of those flabby bits etc."

On second thoughts, let's have it this year, while some of the bits are not quite as flabby as they might be.