Monday, 23 May 2011

Being the Change (by Lotte/Cassian)

In light of recent discussions at Radical Routes, the definition itself of "Radical Social Change" has come into question. Since I feel like a bit of a freak, and not for want of trying to be otherwise, I thought I'd pop in and say a little bit about my radical social change at the moment. (To recap: as members of Radical Routes we're required to do 16 hours of radical social change per week.)

The thing is, I don't really feel like I have a choice. (Technically I do, in that I could just lie back and stop trying to have basic rights, but there we are.)

I'm genderqueer. I feel a bit weird saying it out loud even now! Everyone has a different definition of this word, but for me it means that I feel like I don't have a gender at all. My preferred pronoun for myself is singular "they/them" and I'm happy with anything that's not he, she or it. Don't get me started on a genderqueer wardrobe when you're committed to secondhand clothing, you're on benefits and you've got a chronic illness that prevents shopping.

I did a Google image search for "Queer bra" to break up
the enormous block of text that is this post.
This is my favourite of the results.
No, I don't understand either. Why are they lying on a car?

So, all that is fine. Having worked out yet another thing that is freaky about myself, I feel relieved for having worked it out. But when people say things like this are a choice, I want to stab them with forks (perhaps a Genderfork?). And when people imply that I would want to choose it in order to be difficult, I want to stab them with rusty forks. To do so may count as social change, and on their part it may count as suicide to disrespect me in this way, but despite these motivations I hold back. I think time spent not stabbing people with rusty forks maybe should count towards my social change.

People who're out and proud speak of coming out as being not one big event, but as infinite smaller ones. The same is true of being genderqueer, only more so, because I have to come out to many people more than once. I'm female assigned at birth (FAAB, dahling), and basically look (at the moment) like a tomboy. I'm really trying to look less like a woman, but most people don't realise that there's anything aside from man and woman. Upon meeting anyone I'll be seeing often, or who needs to know these things, I will explain that I'm not a woman but I'm not a man either. I will explain the pronouns, and about not using "she." My new acquaintance will appear to understand and be sympathetic. Some time later, unless the person is queer-savvy or particularly thoughtful and respectful, they will use "she" or refer to me by my feminine birth name.

My bank insists on me having a gendered title on record and on all correspondence. Don't you think it's strange that there's one title for men, three titles for women dependent on marital status, i.e.: relation to a man, but NONE at all for people whose gender is unclear? In written communication, that seems pretty lax to me. I have asked to change my name from GenderedName to Cassian Lotte, but they refuse because I want either the title Misc or no title at all. (Edited later to add: They've now changed my name, and this is some kind of awesome stuff they say about titles.)

When I go to a restaurant or cafe, chances are there won't be bathroom facilities I can use unless I want to wave the disabled card. Underwear for FAAB people assumes that I want breasts to be big and obvious, or at least supported, but I want mine to be not there at all. (I had to spend a lot of money on a chest-binder from overseas.)

For something like gender that's so basic to human life and yet irrationally has so much meaning, every moment of my life is radical. Every time someone makes an assumption about me I am committing an act of radical social change to speak up and be myself. Why yes, you're right, I do have a vagina. What does that have to do with what we're talking about? Oh, I see, it means that the clothing I buy, the TV shows I watch, the people I fall in love with and the food I eat is affected by my vagina. Thanks, I'm glad you let me know, because here was me ignoring my vagina in my day-to-day life. And now I can tell people about my genitals through the act of dressing, watching TV, falling in love and eating. How kind of you to tell me over and over again when we've only known each other for five minutes.

Fortunately, there is a bright side.

The phone rings. It seems to be a telemarketer.
Me: "Hello?"
Them: "Hello, is this the lady of the house?"
Me: "Not exactly. Who's speaking, please?"
Them: "Is your mother or father in?"
Me: "I'm 24, I live alone. Who is this, please?"
Them: "Could I speak to the lady or the man of the house please?"
Me: "There are no men or women living here. WHO IS THIS?"
*beeeeeeeep* as they hang up.

I'm accosted in the street by a Christian who wants to talk to me about God.
Them: "Come into this church and listen to my talk! You'd be very welcome."
Me: "Thanks for the offer, but I am Pagan and very happy in my faith! I hope the talk goes well, though."
Them: "Even more reason to come on in!"
Me: "Well, I'm not exactly resistant to hearing what other people have to say, but why not give me a bit of an overview before I head in, so I can decide if it's something I might like to hear?"
Them: "Okay! Well, finding a common ground might help. Do you feel that there are some things, some acts, that are fundamentally immoral?"
Me: "No, I think we as human beings ascribe morality to meaningless acts."
Them: "But there are things that everyone can agree are wrong. Take, for example, adultery."
Me: "I'm polyamorous."
Them: "But that's deceit!"
Me: "No, I'm very honest in my relationships. A basic part of polyamory is the idea that everyone understands what's going on and everyone is consenting. There's no deceit. You could argue that there's less cheating than in monogamy, though that's not always true."
Them: "But you must, in your lifestyle, feel that sleeping with two people is dishonest, and you can never truly love someone and be happy."
Me: "You can, but for the most part that doesn't apply to me. I'm asexual."
Them (with anger/disbelief): "So you're polyamorous and you don't have sex??"
Me: "My sex life is none of your business, but for asexuals in general, relationships are very much not at all about sex."
Them: "Hang on, talk to this man about religion."
They then refer me to someone who proceeds to tell me that I am doing everything wrong and I am wrong as a person, that I shouldn't want to be the way I am naturally, that I can change who I am, and that his entire way of life is correct and right and good because he believes it is and that makes it true.

It feels like a battle, but it's one I'm happy to fight, because it's harder and more painful to pretend to be a straight, sexual, monogamous woman.

Edited to add:
I was joking earlier at Golem HQ about how this post is a block of text that needs pictures, so I added the photo above that I found on Google Image Search for "queer bra" - it was my favourite result. :D However, I also found this excellent Autostraddle article on buying bras when you're a great big queer. I thought you should know.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

HMO Progress. Hmogress?

A small update on the campaign by Friendly Housing Action to fix the Housing Act and make it so that fully mutual co-ops don't need to have HMO licenses. Basically the good news is that the government has yet again admitted that co-ops should be exempt, and that it intends to fix the issue. They don't want to open up any unintentional loopholes in the law for other types of landlord/organisation though, so further advice is going to be sought about how to word it, etc. Although this doesn't mean the battle is over, as I imagine a tremendous number of small, yet important, things slip through the cracks at Westminster, it is a significant achievement and Friendly Housing Action deserve a massive round of applause for their work.

Full text from Hansard*:

"Andrew Stunell: My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr
Leech) has tabled new clause 26, which relates to a specific situation for
fully mutual housing co-operatives. By a quirk of the legislation, they are
caught by the houses in multiple occupation requirement for licensing and,
sometimes, planning permission. The Department has been lobbied by the
Friendly Housing Action campaign group to secure an exemption for fully
mutual housing co-operatives, and I am very sympathetic to the campaign, as
such organisations were never intended to be caught by the licensing

We have to be careful to ensure that in granting an exemption we do not
inadvertently allow other categories to slip through the loophole, so I am
asking for further advice on how we might achieve that. I hope to return to
the issue at a later stage, so I hope that my hon. Friends will not feel the
need to press new clause 26 to a Division. "

This is a signifiant step forward for the campaign. However, we now need to
carefully manage the passage of the amendment through the Lords. We should
probably hold a meeting during the next gathering to work through this.

* I'm hoping to get a video of this glorious moment, which I will embed as soon as I have it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

How To Buy a House

So far, we are nowhere near being experts at this. In fact, none of us have ever bought one, and although it feels like we've been close, there are no doubt an enormous number of other doomful things which we will encounter next time. Still, in the spirit of encouraging, informing and inspiring the formation of other housing co-ops, we thought we'd share the Golem Guide to How To Buy a House - or at least, How To Get a Bit Closer To Buying a House Than You Probably Are Now.

Snappy titles are not my thing :)

1. Try to give yourself more than three weeks for the process. We can honestly tell you, from our highly-frazzled experience, that house-buying is a lengthy endeavour. Everything will take longer than you expect, even if you over-exagerate your expectations. The universe knows, and will alter the amount of time things take. That's how timey-wimey works.

2. All situations are open to change, often at short notice. In fact, situations WILL change. Accept it, and try to remain flexible.

3. Make friends with any trades people that you can. Find builders, glaziers, plumbers, electricians and gas engineers (you might be surprised to find that you already know people who fit the bill - we were) who are happy to come and look at things for free, and if you find a house you like, take them along. We were really lucky to form some good contacts during the Mould Mansion saga, and will be revisiting these relationships when we next find somewhere we like. All of this free advice is still not as awesome/legally important/project-nixing as a survey, but it will give you a better idea of the property before deciding whether to fork out for one.

4. Temper your enthusiasm, yet be enthusiastic. We wouldn't pretend that we have got the balance right within our co-op, but there is clearly a balance to be sought. Downright pessimism does no-one any favours (after all, you have to have a bit of optimism to be a group of low-income people trying to buy a house in an over-inflated property market) but neither does raging optimism, fun though it is.

5. Surveys are worth the money. Also, they're fascinating. We learnt so much about MM from the survey, and most of it is applicable to all the Victorian housing stock in Swansea. There isn't much over-estimating how useful a survey is to a group of people without a huge reserve of cash sitting in the bank. If we had bought MM, we would have at least known all the major flaws of the property. No big surprises can only be a good thing, although still expect lots of little ones.

6. Get a valuation before doing your survey if you can. Basically these two things both cost hundreds of pounds each. The valuation was what thwarted our hopes of buying MM, and because of time restraints, we'd done it after all the other stuff, including the survey. If your mortgage company won't lend you anywhere near the asking price for the house, move on to pastures new. Or haggle.

7. Once you've discovered that you can actually purloin the funds for the house, get a survey and write a proper business plan. We have worked out a basic budget for what we can afford, knowing in advance what the maximum rent is that we can charge. There's a lot of fine tuning to be done in business plans, but if you can't get an appropriately sized mortgage in the first place, save yourself some time. This is also where your awesome survey comes in. There might be some surprises that need to be accomodated in the business plan, but you can get quotes and include them before submitting everything to your mortgage company. This should hopefully lead to annoying them less and saving you a lot of work. That's what we're hoping for next time, anyway.

8. Look after each other. Primarily we failed on this front by letting individuals take on major jobs with no back up. One person was responsible for all the mortgage company contact, another for all the number-crunching, another for getting all the quotes. Although we did a brilliant job of comunicating with each other, this did mean that if, for instance, the business plan person was ill, or knackered and unable to eloquently explain the finer points of day one work and it's effects on rents, we were all scuppered. Having a second person involved in each task means no one is carrying the entire weight of something. Since we're a co-operative, we're meant to be co-operating, but it's easy to forget when there's so much to be done.

9. Eat cake. Socialise with each other even when there's lots of work to do. Insert lots of innuendo into your meetings (hurrr!). Feel free to stop the entire process at any point if it's all becoming too much. Eat more cake. Look after yourselves and each other, and no matter whether you have a house or not, you will still be improving the net amount of co-operation on the planet, and that can only be a good thing.

So there we are, How To Buy a House from the beleagered mind of someone who has never bought one. This might all be tosh, but our hope when starting this blog was to provide something so that other fledgling co-ops and interested parties can see what a daft, frustrating, awesome experience being a housing co-op can be. We're taking you along for the ride, and that includes all the bits we know nothing about. Everyone has to start somewhere, after all.

If you're interested in doing similar, or are already doing it, or like the idea, or have any good cake recipes to share, then please get in touch.


Thursday, 5 May 2011


AV is so sensible, even six month old babies can do it. Admittedly, the urinal booths are still a little bit high up for Finn's leetle leggies even on his second voting mission, but he still had fun and found the whole situation laughable. I.e.: Why do we even need to discuss this? The solution is clear.

When interviewed about whether or not he thought AV was a good solution, six-month-old Finn from Swansea said, "Bleeeeuuuuuuurrrrrr!" Professional translators agree that he is heartily in favour of AV.

"Although I don't think AV goes far enough, there isn't an option on the card which says, 'I'm voting no because AV isn't good enough.' Since a 'no' vote would be a field day for the Tories, I'm voting 'yes.' It is ironic that in order to avoid helping the Tories we have to vote tactically," says Hannah, Finn's mother, 29-year-old brunette from Swansea.

His uncle made this video, and you should watch it.

He also made this, which is lolarious.