Tag Archives: sexuality

ULTRA FEMMO (A response to Jemma O’Leary of the University Times)

In the wake of Jemma O’Leary’s interesting column  ‘Ultra-Feminism is Eroding Our Values’ on the university times website, a lot of people asked the question just what is an Ultra-feminist?  Well I’d like to take up this mantel and proudly declare myself an ultra feminist.  I claim it not because I think all the lowly men-folk in this world ought to be made slaves that carry me around like Cleopatra and feed me grapes for the rest of my life, but because I am a screaming, raving, hardcore fan of feminist theory.  I’d just like in the spirit of sisterly debate to rebut a few points Ms. O’Leary made in her piece.  I promise that I’ll try not to oppress anyone too hard under the hard sole of my Doc Martens and sexual liberation.

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I just really like critical theories that point at the world we live in and go ‘hey, here’s some stuff that seems RIDDLED with problems. Can we get some maintenance guys in to look at this? There’s a light bulb gone in the gender relations department.’ Feminism is essentially a strand of critical theory- It was created, generally, by people looking around, seeing that there is a whole world of stuff to examine through the prism of gender (or class, or race, or whatever) and went with it.  That’s all.  Much as I would love to think that feminism has become so influential in the corridors of power that it could even approach being an oppressive force, I don’t think that’s true sadly. In a country that doesn’t even have free right to choice for it’s citizens and less than 10% of the parliament is represented by women, I don’t think Ms O’Leary has a strong case.

Ms O’Leary also talks about how she, in her personal opinion, thinks feminism has gone ‘far enough.’ Well, I think I can agree with her in so far as it’s done wonders for women like us- both university students, both from presumably comfortable backgrounds.  She’s right that generally speaking, we’re doing okay.  We get to sit around in seminar rooms and read about all this stuff and decide for ourselves what we’d like. We have protection in employment, pretty good maternity leave ahead of us and anything that we need that our country doesn’t offer to us, we can pay to travel out of Ireland to get it (we also have the freedom to travel wherever we like without suspicion, as western ladies) Yeah, We white middle class western ladies have it pretty sweet.

It’s like Lucinda Creighton when she spoke of how proud she was to be an Irish woman, and how she thinks it’s a grand county to be a lady in. Well, it’s great if you’re university educated, middle class, in a well paying job and don’t have to look beyond your own experiences for things.  If my and Jemma’s experiences  were the sole barometer by which we measured how all 3.5 billion odd women in the world were getting on, I might agree that we ought to tone the feminism down a tad. Perhaps.

But it’s not. We live in a world where class, gender, sexuality and race all intersect in fascinating ways to create the accepted structures of power. That’s how you get cases like Slanegirl- Variously described by the delightfuls on twitter as a ‘skanger’, a ‘knacker’, a ‘dirtbird’ and a good old fashioned slut.  It’s not that all the feminists were crowding around to defend this girl to the hilt; it’s that in the face of a torrent of online abuse and mirth at the picture of a public sex act, it was the girl getting all these names thrown at her.  The man in this story was ‘a pure lad’ a ‘lucky bastard’ or a ‘dirty fucker’- but there was still a sort of shrugging ‘eh… fair play’ reaction to his part in the act.  The girl was the dirt bird.  It goes back to all these double standards we have about sexuality, and the roles we give people in sex.  Which while we’re at it, sucks for everyone.

Women are told by society that sex is a chore and something that needs to be endured to please men. Men are also told this and that reinforces the idea that women need to be sort of coaxed into the act.  Like they’re an easily spooked pony, you must always approach a lady from the side.  I’ll also point out that the entire field of masculinities is a feminist critique of the expectations placed on men by a gender binary and how deeply screwed up it is.  Just look at the absolute goldmine of essays on breaking bad and masculinities recently.  The expectations placed on dude by the patriarchy are crushing for the men who don’t easily fit into them.  Personally, I strive for a feminism that allows us all to shag without shame and with respect for each other.

I just question what ‘values’ Ultra Feminism is eroding and why they’re such a great idea anyway.  Why is that value that sex is basically dirty and gross and people are gross for doing it something that needs to be protected from erosion by the sea walls of patriarchy?  Why does the value that women ought not to criticise or speak up but rather elegantly and gracefully take it on the chin something that ought to be preserved?  Ms. O’Leary doesn’t make a decent case for this at all.  The entire idea of Critical theory is that it challenges these norms and forces us to examine them.  It’s the similar to Marxist critique of capitalism- just because you have a few problems with the way the world works doesn’t mean every single Marxist is out there tearing it down.  Feminists simply point out inconsistencies in our social world. That can be uncomfortable for us all- being forced to acknowledge our own privileges and biases- but it’s important work and it certainly doesn’t need to tone it down.

Let’s call a spade a spade here- O’Leary isn’t talking about the erosion of ‘values.’ She’s talking about the erosion of norms, and not making such a hot case for why they’re so great in the first place.

Really at the end of the day, Ms. O’Leary is saying people are ‘ultra fems’ (I do love this term, and hope that she won’t mind me nicking it for my own purposes in future) are out of control because they dare to criticise. ‘Critical’ is a very loaded word when it comes to women.  All their lives women are cautioned against being a shrew or a nag, or being too loud.  Being ‘Critical’ is kind of code for ‘being a bitch’ or ‘thinking too much into these things.’ But when you really examine feminist theory- And I mean get a cup of tea, a pack of biscuits and really sit down to get to grips with it- you’ll find a multitude of voices.

It’s not a monolithic structure with ONE opinion, that opinion being CRUSH THE MEN.  There are actually lots of ideas and opinions about lots of things- about body image and policing, about gender roles, about Trans women, about race, about class- and yes, some of these theses don’t include a disclaimer that says ‘by the way we recognise that men aren’t all pigs, some of them are rad.’ That goes without saying. You’re not going to get much out of feminism if you just read The Second Sex and How to be a woman then dust off your hands and declare it all a bit of a faff (although I do recommend reading both as an excellent articulation of basic theory and a silly but enjoyable memoir respectively). If you look at the wealth of feminist literature out there- From the big guns of the 70s like Greer and Dworkin right through to the bloggers and activists of today, you’ll see a lot of variety and lot of discussion.

So yeah, I don’t think Ms O’Leary is, as she so elegantly put it ‘a cold-hearted bitch.’ I think she’s a little blinkered, possibly a bit sheltered to the wider field of feminist theory and activism. I think she probably forgets that she, like me, grew up in the age immediately prior to camera phones being carried by every person in Ireland connected constantly to twitter and Facebook.  We both had our teens played out in relative, blissful privacy and all our moments of ill judgement or drunken revelry were carried out away from social media and only the stuff of mere rumour.  I think in short that she’s being a little judgemental in writing a piece that writes off an entire field of critical thought as going ‘a bit too far’.

Sorry if you were expecting me to smash a table or scream ‘INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY’ at you for a few paragraphs.  That’s not how the Ultra Femmo rolls.

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Niamh ‘Battle cry of the Ultra Femmo’ Keoghan

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FEMINISM GETS YOU LAID MORE (A guest post)

I have an illness that’s stuck on shop demo.  Since last Thursday I have had a sore throat, fever, dizziness, nausea, motherfucking partial blindness, aches and pains, shivers, cold sweats, a chesty cough and a congested nose.  I haven’t been able to do much except lie in my bed, cry and occasionally roll over and beg for someone to make me tea.  

Obviously in this state, I haven’t been able to write anything so it’s lucky for me that I had a guest writer lined up!  This Blog all about why Feminism facilitates rather than impedes people getting laid is all the more relevant now considering the recent totally rational backlash to feminist ideas surrounding consent, masculinity and sexuality. We seem to be in a bit of a series at the moment, discussing why feminism is not at all anti man or anti sex.  Of course, seeing as my own sexual activity is a bit limited, I thought I should call in the services of someone with a bit more experience in the matter.    

Our Guest Blogger is a noted sex positive feminist, erotic writer and enjoyer of sex who very kindly sent me on this post explaining how by furthering the cause of feminism, you are likely to get laid a lot more.

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Hello, lovely readers of BHT! It’s very exciting be here, talking to you, hoping I might be able to entertain you for a few hundred words.

I’ve had too many conversations with straight horny college boys [henceforth SHCBs] – and read about too many other conversation with SHCBs – who complain about feminism in one breath and complain about not getting laid as often as they’d like in the next. Anti-feminist SHCBs probably don’t make up a huge percentage of this blog’s (lovely, charming, intelligent, sexy) readership, but if there are any lurking – and for the amusement of the rest of you – I would like to offer up a primer on why SHCBs should like and indeed vocally support feminism.

[Note for all the already-feminists: all of the things I’m talking about have vastly huger consequences for women than they do for SHCBs, obviously, and please don’t think I’m trivialising that. But “what about the menz?!!?” is a frequent if stupid complaint and “the world doesn’t in fact revolve around you” is a fact some SHCBs struggle to understand. So here’s an alternative response.]

FEMINISM GETS YOU LAID MORE

Reason #1: Feminism makes it safer for us to respond to you hitting on us (and for us to hit on you)

There’s no cute way of putting it: if I flirt with someone at a party, decide I’m not interested, and then later on they rape me, there is a 5% chance that person will ever be convicted. There is a pretty decent chance that anything I say about their actions won’t be believed, and if they boast about getting with me, their friends will congratulate them.

This kind of puts me off flirting with people at parties.

Anti-feminist SHCBs complain – frequently – about women falsely alleging rape. But believing and supporting rape victims, as well as squashing anyone who says things like “a no is just a yes that needs some persuasion” or catchier, rhymier versions of that complete bullshit, is a great way to reduce the number of rapes. If “rape” is eliminated as a possible outcome of “hitting on cute SHCB” then I will be a whole lot more likely to ask SHCBs if I can buy them a drink.

Reason #2: Feminism does not like transactional sex

If I can buy them a drink? Me, a lady-type, buying a boy-type a drink? Isn’t that all back to front and terribly modern and think of the children etc?

By “transactional sex” I do not mean prostitution. I mean the faux-prostitution of “you buy me dinner, I give you a blow job.” Where sex is something that men want and women endure in exchange for something else.

This is not a good approach. I mean, I like having people buy me dinner because I am a poor student, but there’s no dinner/blow job causation here. Sex happens when both parties want sex, not when one party has spent the required amount of money. Maybe this doesn’t mean more sex, always. But it means sex where both people want to have sex because having sex is fun and enjoyable, not because stuff has been bought. Isn’t that way better? And less expensive?

Reason #3: Feminism does like contraceptive choice

You know what else is expensive? A baby.

If having a baby was a possible consequence of having someone put their penis in my vagina – if I could not get condoms in every corner shop and my preferred brand of the pill for €10/month and the morning after pill for €40 and if all that lot fails then an abortion an affordable Ryanair flight away – if all of that did not exist, I would not be letting anyone put a penis in my vagina. I probably wouldn’t let anyone put a penis near my vagina. I would probably start exclusively dating ladies, in case the proximity of a penis tempted me.

Really, “an abortion an affordable Ryanair flight away” is not good enough (I am lucky enough to be able a) to afford it and b) to be an EU citizen and thus able to come and go as I please – there are a lot of women in Ireland not in that situation), but it has been a long, hard, feminist struggle for all the rest of it as well. Wanting to put your penis in a vagina while wanting to restrict what the vagina-haver does with the consequences of that penis-putting is… my kindest option here is “optimistic.”

Reason #4: Feminism does not like body policing

SHCBs, hands up if you fancy this hypothetical woman: size 8, tallish, able-bodied, white, DD boobs, blonde hair down to her nipples, mostly hairless below the neck, no stretch marks, spots or general standard-issue crinkly bits.

That’s OK, I think she could be hot too.

Now take your hands down if you would sleep with a woman who did NOT match that description.

I really hope there aren’t any hypothetical hands staying up. If there are, lads, I have news for you, you’re not going to get laid very often.

Our culture is really good at making women who don’t match up to all or most of those criteria feel shitty about themselves. That sort of feeling shitty about themselves that results in “No sex with the lights on in case he sees my crinkly bits” or “I’d love a shag, but I haven’t shaved my legs in a couple of days so I told my SHCB that I was busy tonight.” This is colossally sucky for all concerned. Obviously body policing occurs for men too. But the amount of things on their bodies that women are supposed to care about – and feel insecure about – is ridiculous. SHCBs, when you say that women with armpit hair are gross, 1) you’re shitty human beings but 2) consider how much your boner would actually care.

Reason #5: Feminism does not like slut-shaming

“Why won’t any of these disgusting dirty sluts sleep with me?!”

This one should be self-evident. If someone will think less of me for sleeping with them, I am not going to sleep with them. If someone is going to insult me for sleeping with them, I am not going to sleep with them. If someone is going to mock me with their mates for sleeping with them, I am not going to sleep with them.

I’m kind of a slut. I use slut to mean “person who has a lot of sex” and I use it in a neutral/positive way. But I don’t fuck anyone who uses it in a negative way. Because I only sleep with people who like me, and someone who casts a moral or social judgement on women who have a lot of sex does not like me.

 

You know, I could go on. If the average woman didn’t have to work 13.9% longer to earn the same amount as the average man, maybe she would have more average time to have some average sex with him. Maybe I would have been having sex with SHCBs more often this past year if I hadn’t needed to go on so many sodding marches for the sake of basic bodily autonomy! Sex with SHCBs is a LOT more fun than standing in the rain chanting “never again,” but I direct you to reason #3. There are a whole load more things I could list here, but frankly rewriting feminism as a movement to get SHCBs laid more becomes depressing if you keep it up for too long.

Feminism! Good for women, good for horny college boys who want to get laid more often. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Over and out. 

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Niamh ‘I’m Niamh Keoghan and I approve this message’ Keoghan

Please don’t be alarmed- I’m not trying to oppress you

Lately, on my wanders through this world, I’ve encountered a strange phenomenon in Ireland and the discussion around feminism.  This is when I throw up one of my feminist cards- like talking about rape culture, or casual misogyny, or consent- I’m usually rebuffed with ‘well what about the MEN? Men get oppressed by sexism TOO, you know?’ And this makes me sad.  Because most of the people who say this are very cool, groovy, right on people who are concerned with justice and fairness.  We’re on the same page, guys.  We shouldn’t be fighting!  But most alarming to me in the ‘mens rights’ camp is one John Waters, who has been on my radar for a long time.  Oh Mister Waters.  I used to read you column in the Irish Daily Mail back when I was a baby writer.  You taught me more about writing than anyone else- I just didn’t do whatever you did.  Lately he’s got a gig trotting onto various radio shows and wailing against feminism and women’s rights as infringing on the rights of men.

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Now, Mister Waters is absolutely, 100% right in saying that men are oppressed.  Try getting married to your male partner or adopting a child to raise together or indeed, even try walking around town at night holding hands.  You’re pretty certain to get a shit storm of abuse.  Also rather oppressed is the Trans man, who some feminists have said very mean things about and who a lot of people will still be really resistant to accepting.  Oh, if you’re a working class man or a man with a mental illness, you’re likely to get shit too.  If you’re a man from the travelling community you’re probably getting a fair bit of ‘we have the right to refuse admission’ off bouncers and dying about 10 years earlier than your settled peers.  So yes, men are oppressed.

But the men that are decidedly NOT oppressed are ones like John Waters and David Quinn.  Middle class, comfortably employed, conservative, catholic broadsheet columnists are doing pretty okay in this country.  You’re not being oppressed on the basis of your religion or your gender.  If you’ve been interned without trial for simply being a catholic well then you’re totally being oppressed, but somebody talking about the massive industrial scale slavery that religious orders ran or the institutional rape that was covered and perpetrated by the Catholic church  isn’t.  If I have to as a feminist deal with the stupid shit Caitlin Moran has said on twitter then you guys have to deal with the criticism of your religion’s hierarchy.

I should probably point out here that I have heaps of what is now fashionably called ‘privilege’.  I’m white, straight, comfortably supported financially by my parents and studying at university.  I get misogynistic comments and sexist bullshit but it’s usually of a sort that doesn’t ruin my life or severely impede my liberty.  I get a little bit more bother for being outspokenly atheist and left wing than I do about being a woman, generally.

That being said, I do get some strange comments.  When I’m told to cover up and not get drunk in order to avoid getting raped- guys, why doesn’t this attitude to rape bother you more?  I give out about rape culture and a lot of guys take offence to the idea that women are always victims and men are always the rapists.  But this ‘look after yourself and avoid dressing a certain way’ is so insulting.  It basically says the men can’t control themselves- that if given the slightest chance, they would rape a woman for showing skin or being vulnerable.  It reduces men to animals unable of control or restraint or respect for bodily autonomy.  I think about the men I know- the kindest and most polite gentlemen you’d ever meet- and I know that’s wrong.

But yknow, women do get oppressed and in Ireland, we were fucking chronic for it.  In my lifetime, there were Magdalene women imprisoned in laundries.  Women had to sneak over the border to get contraception and sneak it back.  The original premises of the Irish family planning association had a back exit just in case they were raided.  Information about abortion- not even the procedure itself but information about it- was banned from distribution.  Women weren’t even trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies with all the relevant information and options.  Symphesiotomies happened until 1986.  In the same year a fifteen year old girl gave birth and died in a grotto in Longford.  People see Nell McCafferty on telly and roll their eyes.  I get hounded for expressing the apparently radical opinion that I should have a voice.

Really what John Waters and David Quinn are afraid of isn’t being oppressed.  They’re afraid of losing the position of power and privilege that the Irish catholic male has held since 1922.  They don’t like women speaking out because they then lose the ‘right’ to speak for them, act for them and make decisions for them.  They wail oppression when the old taboos are broken- when we criticize the church openly and bitterly, as it should be criticized as an institution.  You can’t claim to speak for ALMIGHTY GOD and ask us to lay off when your massive rape ring is uncovered.  That’s insulting to your members, your followers and insulting to everyone else.

Women don’t always just get oppressed for being ‘the women.’ Often it’s influenced by race, by ethnic background, by social or economic status.  One of the challenges of feminism now is how we collate all these different little bullshit things and kick them down.  But whatever the complications and challenges of the movement, You simply can’t ask women to get back in the box.  It’s arrogant.  Please stop politely and reasonably asking to be treated as something more than a baby and cake dispenser, because you’re oppressing John Waters.  Stop politely and reasonably asking for reform so that childcare and custody are equally shared between parents.  Stop politely and reasonably asking for equal marriage and gay rights.  Stop politely and reasonably asking to change things, because it’s making John Waters feel challenged.  Yeah.

I’ll get right on that.

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Niamh ‘crushing you with the boot of my polite requests for fairness’ Keoghan

Beyonce

This column originally appeared in the Student Standard volume 1, issue 1 on the 12th February 2013.  The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent new source and can be read online here 

published here with kind permission of Keith Broni, editor of the Standard.

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Bank Holiday Tuesday 12th February 2013

Beyonce

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Another year, another Superbowl Sunday passed with me in bed early, not willing to stay up until 5AM watching the most excruciatingly boring sport known to man (Worse than Cricket, Curling and Lawn Bowls put together because AT LEAST those sports don’t stop for a little rest every every.  single.  Play) only for the faint promise of nine minutes of Beyonce that I could catch on YouTube the next day.  No, I experienced the superbowl the way I also experienced the Late Late show’s debate on marriage equality last week- tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate, following the proceedings via twitter.

Twitter is a great medium for experiencing telly, a crowdsourced annotated commentary of whatever happens to be on.  It’s basically watching highlights that are tailored to your own personal tastes- so in my case, the Superbowl coverage I saw was mostly ‘When’s Beyonce on?’ Then hysterical tweets when she actually did come on (SHE’S SO GOOD AT WALKING!) all about the dancing, the costume, the choice of song (‘Baby Boy?’ Really?  That song was lame back in 2004.  Come on Bey, do Bootilicious, come on-OH MY GOD THEY’RE DOING BOOTILICIOUS) and of course, the fact that Destiny’s child had ‘reunited.’ When really, all that happened was that Bey got her moderately famous backing singers back.  I always liked Kelly Rowland. She reached a minor solo peak around 2003 when I first got into pop music.  Sadface.  Oh wait, now they’re doing single ladies- I have to do Single ladies on this deadly silent train now, excuse me.

The Bey halftime show was a bit of an experience for me, watching it on my phone on the train to Maynooth Monday Morning.  It was when I finally sort of ‘got’ Beyonce.  We’ve long had a complicated relationship because she just doesn’t really have a lot of songs I can groove to.  Bootilicious and Single Ladies are aggressively good and that is Beyonce at her best.  Telephone is an over produced masterpiece of pop excess.  If I were a boy and her other break up jams always felt a bit flat to me.  It never really captures the actual pain of a break-up- they’re more like revenge dreams.  I’d theorise that ‘If I were a boy’ is really a dissing of the sort of casual misogyny  that’s common in most hip hop and rap.

Beyonce isn’t particularly titillating.  She’s too fucking scary to be titillating. Compare some of her earlier videos- writhing on  a beach because Sean Paul is just too hot to comprehend (note- it was 2004 after all) in baby boy, to the aggressive dominance of the Single Ladies dance.  Single Ladies is an aggressive, iconic song.  It’s not sensual- it’s a war cry.  She’s strong and she will fucking TRASH YOU in a song if you wrong her.  She’s not pandering to sexism so much as sticking a sharp heel through it.  Men do fancy her (note-I fancy her.  everyone fancies her. don’t lie.) but she’s not for a moment subservient to any man.  She consistently out-earns her husband.  All you need do to set off any woman born between 1980 and 1993 is to go up to her and ask earnestly ‘Kelly, can you handle this?’.  You will be treated to every woman in the vicinity shrieking the lyrics to ‘Bootilicious’ at the tops of their voices.

Which brings me to the title of her new tour- Mrs Carter.  Using her husbands name on her solo tour has been a bit… confusing to people who have always seen Beyonce as a strong independent figure.  Personally, I had actually forgotten Beyonce had a surname at all.  ‘Knowles’ sort of became redundant after Sasha Fierce came out- She’s reached Cher levels of ‘first name only’ recognition.  I had also forgotten Jay-Z had a surname either, in fact I just assumed they were monarchs and didn’t have a need for one, you know?  Privately, Bey and Jay apparently both hyphenate their names, going as the ‘Knowles- Carter’ family.  Bey has said publically that when she’s stressed, she likes to go make love to her husband to chill out.  She is one of the most athletic and accomplished dancers of our generation- I’d argue her choreography will define the dance of our generation in the same way Michael Jackson defined the 80s.  In the promo for this tour she’s dressed  in a Louis the XIV style leotard and a fur cape.  She’s Beyonce.  LADS.  She is Beyonce.  Beyonce is allowed name her tour whatever she wants.

Image (Beyonce for Pope)

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Niamh ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this Jelly’ Keoghan
@Keofunkel

Atheism and me

I'm an atheist but I'd wear this T Shirt.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of people speak about their non-belief in god, and how they feel a bit sad they’ve lost their faith.  They observe those of faith with a kind of longing.  ‘I wish I could believe.’ they’ll fret.  ‘I wish I could believe the way they do.’ I seem to hear this a lot around Christmas time, with all the cribs, the mulled wine, the carols and the family feeling.  It’s easier at this time than any other to feel like you’re missing out by not believing in God or religion.  I’m not one of these people.  I LOL’d so hard at the news that the Pope had joined twitter that I ruptured something.

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Now, let me say outright I’m not getting at anybody for their religious beliefs- as sacred as sacraments are to some, so is their freedom to believe in what they like to me.  I know good Christians, good Muslims, good Unitarians and a load of good wishy-washy non-denominational people with a spiritual bent.  I’m cool with religious people.  It just really isn’t for me.  It isn’t for me for the following simple reasons- when I was religious, I wasn’t very good at it. I’m bad at Catholicism, full stop.  Here are the list of things that made me a bad Catholic.

I’m not good at being told what to do.

I don’t like the taste of communion host.

Incense makes me sneezey

I used to try and take the baby Jesus out of the crib and use him in my dolly’s games

I have masturbated many times a week since 2008

I love eating chicken on a Friday.

I was a practicing-ish Catholic until 2010.  I went to Mass pretty often.  I believed that generally, God had my back.  Even as I drifted from Catholicism, I had my own personal relationship with god.  I had a firm faith in the afterlife.

You can trace my split with the Catholic church back to the early days of 2000, when I had a massive nervous breakdown in Second class.  When I was in second class I made my first Holy communion and so we were taught by Sr.Dympna, a nun who was a very cool old lady but also very firm.  She was old school in a nice way; big on handwriting, sums, nature and common sense.  Being as I was bold as brass, completely disorganized, scruffy and unfocused she had a lot to work on.  In fairness to her, she saw my potential, which many of my later teachers didn’t.  We once had a class inspection by a Christian Brother.

When I was seven I was very sensitive to bad smells.  And that day, the classroom stank of a vegetable stench.  It was everywhere- it was sort of like raw onion.  I still remember the feel of it in my nostrils, choking me.  It was the most horrible thing I’d ever smelled. Even now 13 years later when I get a hint of that smell I gag.  It was in my throat and up my nose and giving me a migraine. I could hardly breathe.

Of course, when you’re seven and you can’t cope with something, you naturally have a little freak out.  I didn’t know where that smell was coming from- I actually think it might have been an onion bulb that the class had in a jar of water, growing the roots- but my tearful cries of ‘the smell! It’s such a bad smell!’ were interpreted by Sr.D as the seven year old saying ‘the christian brother is smelly!’ My mother was spoken to sternly outside the door when she picked me up early for a dentist’s appointment- the nun was disgusted that I would insult a christian brother by calling him smelly, or indeed calling the room he was in smelly!

That’s where it began.

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