‘It’s all change for Thomas’

Yesterday, on the way over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for brunch, we picked up the ‘i weekend’ so that we could do the crossword (I realise how awfully middle class that sounds). After failing to complete said crossword I decided to read an article on page 10 that caught my eye; the front page spoiler was titled ‘New gender balanced Thomas the Tank Engine (with UN approval). Link to article –

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/thomas-tank-engine-gender-balanced-female-trains-characters-steam-team-revamp-multicultural-a8517981.html

The article discussed how this much-loved children’s franchise is getting a makeover with a gender balanced team of engines accompanying Thomas on his adventures. I read part of the piece to everyone and this facilitated a discussion about gender stereotypes in children’s books and television programmes. Our nephew, AJ, is nearly two and has started to watch programmes such as Postman Pat; this show has had a multicultural makeover but still has very clearly defined gender roles. My sister-in-law said that the wives of Pat and his colleagues stay at home wearing headscarves and baking whilst the men in the programme save the day. Fireman Sam has female colleagues, although they all have short hair. Now, there is nothing wrong with a woman who decides to stay at home nor a short haired female firefighter but, in most children’s television programmes, there is a lack of representation of choice and, more often that not, the creation of a hierarchy, often based on gender.

In the newspaper article Ann Widdecombe, an unsurprising critic of the more inclusive Thomas The Tank Engine, was quoted as saying ‘Children aren’t interested in these sort of issues’. Well, of course they aren’t! But, just to make sure, we asked my nephew what he thought of ethnic and gender representation in television programmes he watched… his response… ‘elephant’s ear’ – said whilst pointing at the puzzle he was looking at. Typically Widdecombe missed the point and made an utterly irrelevant comment. As a one off, having female carriages in subservient positions being pulled by male engines has no bearing on a child’s understanding of gender roles and balance. However, it is the accumulative that can have a long lasting impact. Of course children will not be ‘interested in these sort of issues’. They are being subconsciously shaped by the choices we make for them; we are moulding their developing perception of gender by the examples we expose them to. Forgive me for being a bit preachy, but this responsibility cannot be overstated, Ann.

Curse of the big bazoombas.  

‘You are so lucky to have bigger boobs; I wish mine were bigger.’

NO! No, you really don’t.

Breasts, boobs, boobies, tits, titties, bazookas, bazoombas… whatever you like to call them they are, more often than not, an annoyance.

People with smaller boobs want bigger ones, people with bigger boobs want smaller ones… who is actually happy with what they’ve been given?!

Not I, that’s for sure.

I was always a relatively average size, 34C, that is until Christmas of my first year at uni. Something very strange seemed to happen between the middle of December and the middle of January. I went back to halls in January 2007 to one of my housemates saying ‘crikey, where did they appear from?!’. The curse of the big bazoombas had struct.

Now if you are some who likes to lift and push your baps together for a ‘killer cleavage’ then mine would be perfect. If you are that type of woman I suggest you stop reading.

As a slightly masculine-of-centre female, who prefers jeans and a shirt to dresses and bows, my 34E fat sacks are nothing but hindrance.

Let me explain why…

1. They are only ever going to go south. They are, currently, pert and in the right place but I know the inevitable will happen. Droopy boobies here I come.

2. Bras are like scaffolding for the larger lady. I am not one for fancy, lacy bras so I have, primarily, taken to wearing sports bras to keep my bad boys in place and try to minimise their protrusion from my body.

3. Running can hurt with a sports bra on, let alone without! One time, at university, I played a whole 90 minute football match with just an ordinary bra on as I had forgotten my sports bra. Cue a few days of back ache and a supporter asking another player ‘was your captain wearing a sports bra?’. There was obviously a lot of bouncing happening.

4. Clothing with buttons can be a nightmare. I love a good shirt… checked, pinstriped, patterned… a shirt for every occasion. However, so often there is a tugging and stretching across my oversized mammary glands: cue the button gape. Now, for this, there is a solution. Hallelujah Marks & Sparks and their genius hidden buttons creating a perfect fit over the chest. More shops need to follow M&S’s lead.

5. Bigger boobs make you sweat more: fact! Whilst in Vietnam a couple of summers ago, sweating in the humidity was the norm. However, a line of sweat under your breasts is not a good look.

So thank you mother nature. I have no idea where these delights have come from (no history of gigantic jugs in my immediate family) and I wish I had been dealt a different handful, preferable less of one.

A note to my 16 year old self

Dear GG,

So, sort of strange, but this is your future self writing.  You are actually 29 now which may seem old to you, but it is a pretty cool age to be.  At 29 you are married, own your own home, have two cats and teach history in a high school.  I have referred to you as ‘GG’ as you have actually just started writing a blog called ‘The Gutsy Gay’.  This is an anonymous blog primarily about gender and LGBT issues that you share on a social media platform called ‘Twitter’.  Actually social media is a pretty big thing in 2017; it’s a bit more advanced than the MSN conversations you have.  Anyway, I have digressed.

I haven’t written to tell you too much about the future, I actually want to give you some advice about your present.  Sixteen is a pretty important age; you are about to sit your GCSE exams, choose your A-level subjects and I think you have just started your first part time job.  However important these things are I want to support you through the feelings you are having.  At around this time you are beginning to question who you are attracted to; those conversations your friends have about boys don’t feel quite right to you.  You haven’t put your finger on it yet but you have started to look at girls differently.  I know you feel different because I remember those song lyrics that you have plastered over your revision folder; am I right in saying that Avril Lavigne features quite regularly?

Over the next couple of years you have many things that you need to figure out but I want to tell you it will be okay.  I know that one of your biggest worries will be your family and how they may react.  This is probably what most people questioning their sexuality or gender identify will worry about the most: you are not alone.  Let me reassure you that, whilst things won’t be plain sailing, it will work out in the end.  At 27 you got married to an intelligent, kind and feisty woman; that’s right you have a wife!  Your grandparents, parents and extended family were all at the wedding; they love you both dearly.  There will be some ups and downs over the next few years but stay true to yourself and do not deny who you are.  Be honest with people.  However hard the conversation is or however much you think they don’t want to hear what you have to say, honesty is better than lying or hiding from the truth.

You are starting to build a bit of a following on ‘Twitter’ and you asked some people for nuggets of advice they would give their 16 year old self.  I think some of their advice will help you.  Firstly, never be ashamed of who you are.  Being gay is something to celebrate and be proud of: don’t hide.  Secondly, follow your heart.  Be bold and tell people how you feel; if there is a girl you like then tell her.  Never internalise your feelings.  Lastly, be heard, not silent.  There are many injustices in this world that need to be put right.  Always stand up for what your believe in and use your voice to share your opinions with others.

You are about to embark on the greatest journey of self discovery: enjoy.

Love from your 29 year old self.