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The Dangerous World of Gay Cures – Patrick Strudwick

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Tonight, Europa Hotel played host to the annual Belfast Pride Amnesty International lecture, as part of Pride Week. I was at the event and, for those of you unlucky to miss it, I thought I’d take some notes and write up the meat of the discussion, and my two pennies on the issues raised. It’s also the first time in a while that I’ve thought back to my own difficult period, one I rarely talk about from when I was around 14 and 15, where I was involved briefly online with such a ‘cure’ support network.

Please note that, whilst I tried my best to note what was said, I cannot guarantee any of my quotes of Patrick are entirely verbatim. I hope, however, that I caught the gist of it!

A bit of background; Patrick Strudwick is an award-winning journalist, a significant amount of his accolades coming as a result of his exposé on psychotherapists. Amongst others, he has written for Gay Times, as well as the Guardian, Times, Independent and others. It was whilst working for the Independent that he published “The Ex-Gay Files: The Bizarre World of Gay-to-Straight Conversion” which is where this lecture basically takes off from. Thanks to his efforts, the British Medical Association condemned attempts by psychotherapists to change anyone’s sexual orientation, as well as raising flags that instances of NHS paying for these treatments on the taxpayer should be investigated.
His work centred around two “stings” on prominent psychotherapists Paul Miller and Lesley Pilkington, resulting in wide-spread criticism of these and similar psychotherapists, and has prompted conversations within government on whether “gay cure” therapy is valid, and whether it should be allowed at all. It has also seen him under some criticism for his role in so-called ‘entrapment’, and has even been accused by the Church of England, in their newsletter, of being a Nazi!

After a brief introduction, Patrick got right to it, describing how exactly this all came to be. It was a simple situation, he found out about a conference being held in London on the subject of reparative therapy, and talked with his editor about going along undercover to see what was said. He described being “astounded by the ‘hate’ on display”, noting with a little emotion how the sight of a young man being ‘treated’ in front of a live audience is not an experience he will ever forget. Having had some experience, once upon a time during my own troubled days as a young teen, with an email group called People Can Change, I can only imagine how that went, and sympathise with the young man. As Patrick noted himself, LGBT people are not “broken” or defective – the LGBT community has been through so much but is so strong and filled with such nice people, scarred sure, but so special.

He took it upon himself to dig a bit deeper, and asked one therapist, a Dr. Paul Miller, if the good doc could offer him some help with his own ‘same sex attraction’, as well as asking him about other therapists that might help (to which he was also pointed to Lesley Pilkington). Both separately agreed to treat him, and he began treatments in parallel, undercover. Lesley will come later, but Paul was who he talked about initially.

Dr Paul Miller is, by the way, Iris Robinson’s ‘lovely psychiatrist‘. With Paul living in Belfast and Patrick in London it was decided to do the sessions via Skype. Patrick describes the general process;

“They started what I call a “wound hunt”, a cause for the homosexuality. All the usual causes, was I bullied? Nope. Was I abused? No. I was lucky, I grew up in quite a liberal family, one quite modern on views on gender roles. Paul was a bit at a loss. Finally, Paul discovered my father was a physicist and since I am quite an artistic person, he decided that we didn’t bond properly because of the contrast with my Dad’s analytical approach to things, and as a result I had ‘sexualised’ the desire for the bonding.”

Miller described the attraction to men as cannibalistic – basically that “you have sex with a person who has something that you want”, in this case, male attributes, male affirmation and bonding. The idea is very common among the cure lobby (I can attest this was the case from my experience), but I would generally describe it now in my opinion as a pseudoscience. Interestingly, Patrick discussed that, during their sessions, Paul Miller admitted that he still masturbates over gay porn, despite assuring Patrick that he was himself cured using these methods. His other advice to Patrick was to get regular ‘male massages’, in an attempt to get ‘healthy’ male contact (I don’t quite understand how getting massages from a hot guy is somehow healthy male contact, as I wasn’t aware this was a common hetero-guy thing!), as well as being naked in front of a mirror, touching himself and affirming himself of his own masculinity. When done via Skype, it’s all a little creepy really.

It gets worse, after Patrick told him in a later session that his experiences with the mirror and masseuse were causing him to become aroused, he was told to “close your eyes and focus as I talk to you… ” whereupon Paul began to describe Patrick ‘s body, all the reasons it is attractive, as well as asking how Patrick feels about what he is saying. I mean, I get in context what Paul is doing fits with his idea of the treatment, but if it were some guy adding you on Skype, MSN or whatever and complimenting your body, talking about whether that gets you aroused…

Patrick lodges a complaint to the GMC; they commissioned a consultant psychiatrist who somehow concluded that conversion therapy is no better or worse than any form of therapy, as the evidence is just as good for it as other common therapies. Fortunately, Paul is now heavily sanctioned by his body – he how has to have a supervisor in all his sessions!

“Was I a difficult birth? I thought all births were!” – Patrick Strudwick

As I said, in parallel to Paul Miller, he was being seen, this time in person, by Lesley Pilkington; again, a wound hunt, was he bullied, abused, this time a bit more insidious; “I think it will be there,” she said. “It will likely be a family member” and that it will have been “repressed”. Very dangerous words from Lesley, reminiscent of stuff I’ve read about false memory syndrome. She prayed to God to ‘bring the memories to the surface’, as well as asking increasingly bizarre questions, any freemasonry in the family (apparently there is a correlation!!!), was he a difficult birth? (Patrick joked – ‘I thought all births were!’). Lesley instructed Patrick to pray every time he had a sexualised feeling about another man, again Patrick joked with the audience – “I don’t have time!” – which got some laughs.

Where the Lesley case got interesting was what I brushed on briefly earlier. She let it slip about her NHS connections, basically a means by which she got her patients to get referred to her by the NHS, thus leading to free treatment for them by her (oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned yet – they charge!). Regardless, after more complaints made, a hearing was scheduled and cancelled, citing apparent panel difficulties; apparently you can’t have people who are too religious nor “too pro-gay”. Patrick noted how silly this position was, comparing it to how if it was a race discussion you’d not try to avoid using people who were ‘too black’, in fact you’d definitely encourage them to be on such a panel!
The story was somehow leaked, despite anonymity involved, and claims were made of witness intimidation by parties close to Patrick. The Daily Mail reported on the “expert defence witness being intimidated”, despite the fact that in the proceedings, no witnesses had been lodged by the defence at all! Even during the ordeal, Lesley made claims that she could “still feel the need from [Patrick] to be cured”. Top tip – she lost, and was struck off from her professional body – her appeal failed this year!

Patrick commented on some of the other good changes on this front in the last while, such as Core Issues – in April Mike Davidson lost his professional standing after the radio show by William Crawley. In London, an advert series on buses was banned from showing their ex-gay posters. Adam Chambers – prominent in the organisation Exodus International – admitted recently that conversion therapy “doesn’t work in 99% of cases”. In fact, this resulted in a public spat on Facebook with Joseph Nicolosi, who stated words to the effect of “I never said I could cure someone; the attractions will persist in some manner for the remainder of their life”. A commonly cited researcher, Dr. Robert Spitzer (see? I was involved with these jokers!), apologises to the gay community for saying his research led people to believe same sex attraction was a condition to be cured, admitting that the work was flawed (which is clear from the get go, it was not initially peer-reviewed, and when it eventually got published, two-thirds of the reviews were critical of the paper). This makes it all the more ridiculous that organisations still cite his work! Bans and restrictions are happening for this kind of treatment these days – USA, Holland, age bans and health care coverage bans. Even the Omagh Council supporting marriage equality!

Patrick took some time to go onto the really dangerous world of gay cures, with such troubling practices as corrective rape, and religious exorcism. He highlighted that, whilst things are getting much better here, places like Malaysia have recently announced funding for curative methods of correction of SSA, with such statements as ‘curb this negative phenomenon’, or sending 50+ boys to gay cure camp to learn masculinity. In many cases, the choice is ‘jail or treatment’.
In South Africa, a 13-year-old girl was correctively raped for being out. Similarly in Jamaica – women who were repeatedly followed from village to village. This is absolutely abhorrent, and only made worse when a (of course male) US judge make stupid statements such as this, about allowing lesbians in the military – ‘giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream’. I mean, holy crazy-judges, Batman! That’s just mental!
How about at-home exorcism; kits and guides to how to ‘pray the gay away’?

So what keeps Patrick going? Meeting the victims, seeing the damage it has done, seeing self-harm scars, ‘psychological torture’ of those who have been through this. Powerful stuff.

His closing statement; We will never escape prejudice if the idea of choice still exists. That leaves us no better than a criminal who chooses to commit a crime.

The following is my notes on the Q&A session, again I tried my best to be accurate, paraphrasing but preserving what I can, and to see who asked, but I’m afraid I don’t know everyone who spoke!

William Crawley: “A freedom question – don’t they [the therapists] have the right to try, for those who aren’t happy being gay?”
Patrick Strudwick: “No, because it doesn’t work, and because it harms. It is right to help, but not with trying to turn them! For people struggling with accepting their orientation, you can work throught that issue, but not with the idea of a cure. If someone went to a doctor because they were black, saying they were unhappy being black and wanted skin bleaching treatments it would be clearly morally wrong to do so. They should follow the Hippocratic oath; and given that majority of those going through it are left psychologically worse off, it isn’t in the best interests of the patient. Conversion therapy breaks the entire process of good psychotherapy, as the therapist is imposing their values onto the patient. It’s worth noting that Joseph Nicolosi claims not to be religious but in fact is, and the majority, if not all, of this therapy is religious in nature.”

William Crawley:  “What effect has it had on you personally?”
Patrick Strudwick: “This isn’t about ‘me’, but I thought due to my liberal upbringing I would be impervious. But my enquiring nature means the ideas got in, and the messages started to ‘whir around his head’. Caught me off guard. I think to myself ‘Imagine the effect on someone extremely vulnerable?'”

William Crawley: “There are claims often made that this is entrapment?”
Patrick Strudwick: “No, don’t misunderstand. ‘To lure someone into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do’ is entrapment. It was very clear that, for these therapists, this is what they WOULD always do. The GMC reports of 1 in 6 therapists on their books that have tried or considered trying some form of this therapy. Given that, their reluctance to pursue the case might be a matter of ‘if we axe this guy, where does it end?'”

John O’ Doherty: “Were you ever asked to give money?”
Patrick Strudwick: “They don’t do it for free, I had to pay for it. When I first ‘hooked up’ with Paul Miller, the cost was quoted as approximately £150 per hour. When I told him I was an aspiring psychology student, his rate became £30 per hour. It’s a business, less so in UK, but in the US, it is very much about money. Consider particularly the African states, often offering up “the gays” as a scapegoat results in a very attractive proposition for governments and communities.”

Theresa Cullen: “Although its important to talk about third-world cases, we can’t ignore that things like corrective rape are happening closer to home.”
Patrick Strudwick: “High sexualisation of lesbians has happened amongst straight men due largely to porn, where the girls are typically joined by a man later – it gives the notion that lesbians are just ‘waiting for a man to come along and cure them of it’. We should also note the supply-demand loop they create; they claim that gays are unhappy and need treatment, making gays unhappy due to the homophobia in society!”

Unknown: “It isn’t us that need the help here, so how do we shift the focus onto them needing help?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Pathologising them is perhaps unhelpful, the important thing is to keep a positive campaign, saying we aren’t broken, and that all hate is wrong.
William Crawley: “I find it is important to personalise the issue, it’s easy to be homophobic about an abstract concept, but once you have a gay child, friends etc., well we can see what the studies show.”

P.A. MagLochlainn: “Has any connection been shown to the Christian Institute, who have a lot of money, and peddle lies using leaflets and other means?”
Patrick Strudwick: “I don’t know, but there is irrefutable evidence that the American Christian right fund organisations in the UK, they have a fighting fund to fight cases like mine in Europe and internationally. Even some third world pastors have built careers on homophobic rhetoric, because they get the funding that way. Unfortunately, fear pays.”

Unknown: “I feel that, to do a lot of harm, you simply have to be a little intellectually dishonest. Causation vs Correlation [my words] is in a lot of their arguments, particularly about the ideas of experiences that are common to many gays.”
Patrick Strudwick: “Its a way of luring in as a clever trick; questions like “Did you ever feel abandoned?” Well, who hasn’t! “Overbearing mother, distant father?” Again, pick a random person on the street, and they’ll agree! In the same way, horoscopes, cold reading, even religion! If you need something enough, you will find it in what’s said. It’s general enough that something will always apply to everybody. Abuse has been shown to have no effect on sexuality, but admittedly in some cases on, say, your drive for sex. But not sexuality.”

Unknown: “Has any research been done on GPs to guage THEIR prejudices?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Well, I’m not aware, no. GPs tend to not be well trained in psychology issues. I would like to see GPs and even psychologists go through specific LGBT training. Rules need tightened – anyone can currently call themselves a therapist; you don’t have to belong to a body, and even then you can charge for it!”

Fidelma Carolan: “Where do you feel there is a link between legislation and cultural change; will banning the therapy actually stop it?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Well, California has passed this law against performing any such therapy on under-18s. It should not be necessary, psychotherapy should be regulated on this and many other issues, and that would eliminate a lot of the problem.”

Unknown: “What about the ex-gays who say not that you can change, but instead just say you can be abstinent?”
Patrick Strudwick: “As a non-religious person, the idea of abstinence is difficult for me to comprehend. Abstinence means going against your natural instincts. ‘Tolerance of homosexuals but not their practice’ is an awful concept as you are denying many of your own followers real love. It isn’t the role of a therapist to bring someone to such a decision, if someone came to you saying they were being abstinent and wanted to talk about it, sure, help them through the associated issues, but never to recommend it or say that you can help them do it!”
William Crawley: “They see gay is an identity, and say let’s not take on that identity. They say gay does not exist, in the same way as a rapist, you don’t take the identity of a rapist. They view it like an addiction, and say let’s address that. However, some theologians are beginning to come out as pro-gay. I appreciate the off-the-record tradition but it’s happening, even here in Northern Ireland. So don’t talk about sex, talk about love as that is understandable to people, to congregations. It’s easy to dismiss sex, not so easy to dismiss love!”

Unknown: [Recounts a personal story of his religious parents cutting him off upon learning he is due to get married, including discussions with parents around biblical passages] “Gay marriage is not about religion but about love.”
Patrick Strudwick: “Thanks for your story, this is a reminder that it isn’t all ok now, it isn’t easy and fun to be gay. A lot of people go through a hard time. Isn’t it ironic, we are talking about love, and yet many religions reject it! If your god is about love, then what’s the problem? I’m an atheist, but I can’t understand the point of worshipping a god that only accepts certain definitions of love. We must also hold the word gay, as William said, the organisations don’t like the power of that word as they reject the concept, they are terrified of it.”

Gareth Johnston: “It is like a see-saw, and as a tipping point, yes you can take away from the bad side of things, but how do you add to the good side? How do we reinforce the liberal people of faith to influence their churches?”
William Crawley: “Well for a start, and this isn’t a silly point; go to church. In the USA, the statistics show that the more liberal a church, the greater chance of it closing. People (an organisation called Soulforge) actually mobilised to move across the country to the vicinity of the most homophobic church in the USA (next to the Westboro Baptists, at least), and join, and basically infiltrate and change it from within. Even in Northern Ireland, many churches are becoming, off-the-record, much more accepting of gay people. Many priests and leaders have a vested interest in not being public on their true beliefs, and if only they did, they would change the society around it.”

 

With that, the session was over, and it was only left to Patrick to sum up his thoughts on his message:

“The more people hear it, the happier I am.” – Patrick Strudwick

 

In closing this write-up, I’d just like to say that I found the entire discussion very interesting, whilst being very familiar with a lot of what was said, from my experience and from media coverage. It was great to hear it directly from the man involved, and I think that he has done a huge service to the LGBT community as well as the psychology community – because in my mind, ditching such dead weight associates can only be a good thing for their organisations!

Peace, out!
Matt 

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I now officially have too many video games

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Star Ruler - The game in question, the cover grabbed me cos I'm a sucker for these kind of games!

I did something that finally made me realise I think I have too many games 😛 No “I told you so” please James!

So, I was in town, buying a present for my dad’s birthday, and also killing time because I had an appointment at Specsavers to go to. So, I call into Game, see if there are any bargains, and for the first time in a LONG time in Game, I look at their PC collection, paltry though it is. And I see an interesting looking space game – a soft spot of mine is space games in general.

The game in question, the cover grabbed me cos I'm a sucker

I barcode scan it with Google Goggles, to get reviews and price comparisons; no better online prices than £9.99 which is the Game price… and the reviews are average, 6 – 8 out of 10, so I decide to take a chance on it. I go home, and start playing Baldur’s Gate II again, without even opening it. “Aha!” you might be thinking. You might think that the fact I didn’t open the game immediately and try it as the sign I’m talking about. No. That is a bad sign 😛 but it isn’t what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is, the next morning when I go into uni, I have one of those weird brain moments where, for no reason, you think of something suddenly. And my sudden thought, “Hey, see that game I bought yesterday? Isn’t that one I bought on Steam a while back?”

Yup. Right there. There it is. “Star Ruler”

Aw crap. It was even installed, like I'd planned to give it a try sometime soon.
Aw crap. It was even installed, like I'd planned to give it a try sometime soon.

So, the good thing is I have the receipt, and haven’t broken the seal, so I can and will return it; I want my £10 back! However, it highlights a problem I’ve been having with Steam for a while now. I feel less like a gamer now, and more a game collector. Like stamps. Only for me it’s games, and the collector book is Steam. Take a look at this shit: http://steamcompanion.com/calculator/id/gyaku_zuki. 158 Steam games with a total value of $1746.43. Now, granted, most of my games were not at the price that calculator uses. Between free games, Indie Bundles, 75+% off deals on Steam, my real ‘spent’ total would be a lot less. But that is 158 games!!! And I assure you, a good half of those I have probably never played through!

I need to stop responding to these Steam sales 😛

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Stupidest Cardinal in the world?

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Hoo boy. I’ve reached a threshold of sorts about these religious nutbags.

Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien. You. Are. Not. Worthy. Of. RESPECT. And I will give you NONE. Deciding to take himself to the Sunday Telegraph to bash at gay marriage, this idiot basically trolled the entire country.

I’m working off the PinkNews articles on this issue, and I’m going to discuss his spewings in the order presented in those articles.

Cardinal O’Brien writes: “On the surface, the question of same-sex marriage may seem to be an innocuous one. Civil partnerships have been in place for several years now, allowing same-sex couples to register their relationship and enjoy a variety of legal protections. When these arrangements were introduced, supporters were at pains to point out that they didn’t want marriage, accepting that marriage had only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman. Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.”

If we’d asked for marriage then, would you have given it to us? So to be honest, if some gays WERE sneaky and did it the way you are trying to imply, good on them. It isn’t like you haven’t used any dirty tricks, or worse, to us LGBT people, no? But that aside, do you honestly think your “warning” that marriage would be demanded matters at all, that “scaremongering” matters? If equal marriage is the RIGHT thing to do, does any amount of scaremongering on either side make a difference? No, it does not. Your argument is invalid.

Moreover, to suggest that SOMEHOW civil partnerships are “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved” is a profound and unbelievable ARROGANCE that I cannot believe you can even make. You, a dried-up, old, celibate, single priest somehow are telling me that my relationship is somehow harmful, not only spiritually (which was a totally expected statement from a priest) but both physically and mentally. Really? How exactly is my relationship at any more risk of either than a ‘straight’ relationship? I don’t mean offence, but many abusive or manipulative relationships occur in both straight and gay marriage. Shouldn’t you be against ALL relationships? Or is it ok when the relationships create some troubled or untroubled little children for your church to systematically neglect and abuse, sexually? Or did you forget that scandal in favour of a ‘blame the gays’ approach?

Mr O’Brien claims: “Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists. Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense. But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else? In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.”

Damn right. I don’t care. YES. It IS about redefining marriage. So what? Is your marriage so on-the-rocks that the slight ripple that gay marriage being legal will create will doom yours? And about fucking time that EQUALITY be taught in schools. For far too long, schools escape the rules that the rest of us have to abide by, able to turn a blind eye to bullying on grounds of LGBT, and in Northern Ireland, the ability to avoid equality legislation altogether.

Redefine society? Yep. How horrible that society will change for the better. How detestable that society will become more equal. You see, it isn’t about the LEGAL rights. It’s about how it sounds. Straight people get MARRIED, gay people get PARTNERED. How degrading. We’re second-class, with nothing like the respect that is given to the relationship between a man and a woman. If you can’t see that, well the priesthood must not really care for IQ much, does it?

Words get redefined all the time, and just because something has been around a long time does not protect it from being wrong and incorrect. And while we’re on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, please, quote the full Article, please:

  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
It does NOT say man + woman. It says men and women, plural, and it praises the family, not a defined parental unit of man + woman. Nothing I hate more than someone intentionally misquoting.

Mr O’Brien writes: “Their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right. There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become blasé about the importance of marriage as a stabilising influence and less inclined to prize it as a worthwhile institution. It has been damaged and undermined over the course of a generation, yet marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that the children born of those unions will have a mother and a father.”

What an old-fashioned fool. Did you emerge from the 12th Century? Marriage is about producing children? What about whether people are suitable parents? What about infertile couples, should we nullify their marriages now?

“This brings us to the one perspective which seems to be completely lost or ignored: the point of view of the child. All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well-being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be. Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.”

No, all children deserve to begin with a family that loves them, whatever that family is. Don’t use lies and bullshit studies to try to say that only man + woman can raise well-adjusted children, that viewpoint has long-since been refuted. I mean, have you even used Google? ^_^

Mr O’Brien also appears to suggest that gay marriage may lead to three way marriages: “Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another? If marriage is simply about adults who love each other, on what basis can three adults who love each other be prevented from marrying?”

Absolutely. If three people love each other and pledge their fidelity to each other, you honestly think that preventing them from marrying is going to stop them? I’m not advocating for polygamy, but it probably already happens. But for now, that’s for another day. Saying that somehow allowing gay marriage will instantly allow all sorts of other stuff is scaremongering. Fucking hell, look at the fight we’ve had for gay marriage – just imagine having another decades-long fight for polygamy!!!

He also claims that schools will become forced to stock “homosexual fairy stories” in their libraries.

This sounds fantastic. But seriously, what exactly is a ‘homosexual’ fairy story? I don’t know about you, but the biggest fairy story I know, the Bible, is all over the place. Personally, I prefer a story with a happy ending, thanks 😀

He also compares gay marriage to legalising slavery. “No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage. Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave.’ Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?”

Keeping a slave = demeaning a person to the extent that, unpaid, you have them serve your every whim. If you keep a slave, you are a terrible, terrible human being. How exactly is allowing gay people to marry in any way equal to ordering another person around, with no hope of freedom? I mean, what a lie. It’s total FUD.

 

It’s people like this that get me angry at religion. You wonder why there are so many people without faith, when you are so out of touch and nausea-inducing?  As my friend Adam said, it’s almost the perfect pro-gay strategy. I’m not sure we need to even say anything, as people like that just look like absolute fools to, I hope, the majority of logical-thinking people. Go back under your rock. Get out of my life, let me live equally and stop thrusting your religion, your sexuality, down my throat. Sound familiar?

When I went husky trekking, with Bessy Bell Husky Trekkers

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Huskies!

Recently, as part of my 25th birthday present, my wonderful boyfriend arranged for us to do something really different – Husky Trekking! He found an organisation called ‘Bessy Bell Husky Trekkers‘ that advertise the experience in Northern Ireland. He found it originally through Groupon.

 

Now, husky trekking isn’t exactly the first thing you think of in Northern Ireland. Believe me, I thought the same – “Don’t you need snow?” I thought. NUH-UH! It may often be cold and shitty in Northern Ireland, but we don’t get nearly enough snow to make snow sledding possible. The alternative? Scooters!

Matt controls his husky
They may be RIDICULOUSLY cute, but they are very strong dogs! Though, to pull my weight, they’d have to be 😐 (Pic taken by James)

Yeah, it’s a big wheeled scooter, and a dirt / gravel track. Think your typical country lane, more used to tractors than cars, and that’s essentially the idea. It was an incredibly picturesque environment, with rolling hills, forests, puffy clouds, valleys and even wind turbines (which personally I think look rather nice despite what others may think).

Vanishing Point - Our route to the forest
Vanishing Point – Our route to the forest winds into the distance. It was a great day for it!

You can see what I mean, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t make for a smooth ride! You are teamed with two dogs each, and basically the dogs are well trained to run! They were SUPPOSED to respond to commands… but mine didn’t seem to!
I took the lead with my two dogs, Sasha and Hank, a beautiful mother and son combo! James followed with Jack Leaper and Starsky, the instructor followed with Monty (he was strong enough to pull her alone!) and we were off – down the track and winding into the forest. Surprisingly, the take-off was relatively easy, I’d expected from the instructor’s comments to get a real jolt as they started. After a few seconds of gathering my balance, the trekking was a go in earnest. You DO have a brake in the scooter, for if the dogs either get a bit too fast or they slow down and you begin to gain on them (wouldn’t want those ropes tangled!)

Sasha and Hank
Sasha and Hank

The route was nice, a good few kilometres if I recall. Some great bits of speedy downhill action – where I went rolling right into a big puddle the dogs stopped in! And of course, there were some uphill segments where the dogs needed a hand, queue me and James swiping furiously at the ground to get some speed up; a good enough workout for us let alone the dogs!

It was a fantastic day out, the only criticism being it was a little short for the money, and a bit of a hassle due to some Groupon confusion – but I had a great time during and after the actual trek, just interacting with, petting and cuddling the huskies! Some nice photos too of course 😉

James and Starsky
James and Starsky – He was a lovely pup, very docile. Starsky wasn’t bad either 😉

The location is, admittedly, a bit out of the way, it is a rural estate very close to Newtonstewart. It took us two hours to reach the town by coach, and for a small additional fee the organiser picked us up and dropped us off at the bus stop. This was pretty important – otherwise I don’t know how we would have got to the actual site!

Monty looking proud and windswept
Monty looking proud and windswept – very photogenic, or maybe just a poser 😛

It was a great day, as I’m sure you already gathered. I highly recommend the experience (even Gary Lineker enjoyed it!) and it totally confirmed to me that I realllllllllly want a husky :’)

Hank begging
Come on, who wouldn’t want one of these?

Big big big thank you to James Copeland, my wonderful boyfriend and partner, who got me the gift and went through the hassle of booking, having the original Groupon get cancelled, and having to rebook and pay a bit more for that and transport. I really appreciated it, it was such a unique gift – love you <3

Peace, out!

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Sonic is 20 – A look back through two decades of cool blue

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I wish I could meet the Sonic Team someday. I’d like to think I could ask them some tough questions – ‘What the hell was Sonic Heroes?’ being one of them. Truth is, I’d probably revert to a giggly little boy again.

I grew up with Sonic – starting off not quite the 20 years ago that Sonic has been around (19 years I have followed Sonic). My first proper console was a Sega Mega Drive that came with Sonic 2, still considered by many to be the best Sonic ever. Yes, I was a Sonic kid, none of this Italian plumber crap. He even had a nerdy wee sidekick in the form of Tails! What more does a young computer and video game nerd need? I even watched the (many) TV adaptations! <3

The Mega Drive, with Sonic 2
So many stolen hours, and frustrated times losing my last life on Metropolis Zone or Wing Fortress :'(
Wing Fortress Zone
The chickens... the fucking chickens hitting you into a parachuteless-skydive...

Pretty soon, I amassed the other Sonics, 1, CD, and of course the utterly fantastic 3 + Knuckles. Even the ill-fated 3D! It’s hard to say exactly what about them does it for me; perhaps its the feel of a great jump when moving at high speeds? Maybe the cute, anthro characters? The villain? Who can say. But I’ll tell you, 1, 2, 3 + K… I played the shit out of these games – to the point I could actually do some of the levels with my eyes closed (not even kidding). Particularly 3, where the ‘big rings’ to get the Chaos Emeralds (and thus transform into the epic Super Sonic) were hidden in the levels. I found them all – every hidden area and route. I wanted Super Sonic potential by the time I hit Marble Garden Zone. And, in case anybody asks, yes I do have them on emulator all over the place, and SEGA you can bite my ass before you even think of suing, as the number of times I have BOUGHT all the old-generation games is shocking. I STILL have them on my working Mega Drive. I also have them on… PS2 (Mega Collections and +), iPod Classic, Xbox 360 (Ultimate Collection), Wii (virtual console). So don’t even THINK about complaining!

Icecap Zone
This is a *cool* level - too much? Sonic 3 + K has music by MJ himself!!!

OK, so if you aren’t a Sonic fan, that last paragraph descended into babble. If you are, you probably know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, after this peak, something went wrong at Sonic Team. A beta (still available around the ‘net) for Sonic 4 shows interesting gameplay where Sonic and Tails are tethered together and it honestly looked like it could have been really awesome. Unfortunately, this was shelved as the Mega Drive was reaching end of life, and SEGA wanted next-gen type Sonic development. They did, however, use the concept in the Sonic spinoff game, Knuckles Chaotix, for the commercially failed 32X add-on.

Sonic 4 beta - Crackers
Some would consider being tethered to Tails to be torture - he has historically poor voice acting T_T

It would be 1998, 4 years after 3 + K, before a new platformer-type Sonic game would emerge (3D and R don’t count). Sonic Adventure was a technically good game, but somehow, in the transition to 3D, the magic was lost. Strange concepts emerged, such as having a human world setting. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite the same game I knew and loved. Whilst Sonic Adventure 2 was extremely fun with a great soundtrack, the same problem emerged – 3D felt wrong.

Sonic Adventure 2 - City Escape Zone
Sonic Adventure 2 - City Escape. The 'Tony Hawk' phase of Sonic's teen years.

Sonic Advance was a boon to me – taking the game back to a 2D sprite based system felt like the old Sonic. I enjoyed these a lot and they had a few sequels. Generally in fact, Sonic on portable consoles seems pretty good, and I wonder if this has been because (until recently) it FORCED the game to be 2D again. And therein lay the answer – I think Sonic Team went to 3D because they felt they had to, unless it simply wasn’t an option. And, I don’t get this at all. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should (I draw parallels to the later MegaMan X-series – in fact there is a very similar progression; great 2D, poor 3D, great 2D portable, back to great 2D console). Unfortunately, even the later portable Sonics became corrupted by silly story concepts that were, frankly, unnecessary.

Sonic Boost by ~sonicbommer
Sonic Boost by 'sonicbommer' - DeviantArt

It’s very simple – Sonic is blue, cool, and moves fast. He didn’t even need to speak until much later! Sonic explores jumpy platform levels, some of which might have a few interesting mechanics, like slot machines and flippers. Throw in some shields and items, preferably with interesting and unique abilities. Add Super Sonic to go even faster. Add interesting boss battles, preferably with the final one being very damn difficult. Anything more – a distraction, for the most part.

We move on once more – to the PS2 generation, where only one offering in the form of Heroes. Less said the better really – again ruined by a silly mechanic that wasn’t necessary, and more characters than you can shake a stick at. PS3-generation, and the plainly titled ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ had potential, but was let down by bad clipping glitches and a silly new character. At this point, I admit kinda giving up – I didn’t go near the Wii offerings due to bad reviews, not wanting to erode my memories further. I hear that in fact, Sonic Unleashed wasn’t bad, interesting since it sounds like it shares a lot with Sonic Generations in the form of 2D and 3D levels (so I might have to give it a try sometime after all – let me know in the comments!).

Sonic the Hedgehog 4
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - Episode II anyone?

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 emerged for Xbox Live Arcade and PS3 network in 2010 – an episodic take on Sonic and designed as a direct sequel to Sonic 3 + K. I was excited. It promised a return to 2D and a dropping of all ancillary characters. Given how much I loved 3 + K, I really wanted it to be good. And, actually, it was. Just not quite good enough. It felt half-done, the levels didn’t seem as vibrant as the Mega Drive levels despite the HD graphics. Perhaps because of the episodic nature or perhaps it was the loss of little things like the Super Sonic function and the level routes – I never felt encouraged to explore alternate routes. And, like all episodic games, episode II is STILL in development. It is almost 2012! You aren’t Valve, SEGA!

Finally, we arrive at the main item in the article. Sonic Generations – yes, Sonic is 20. Sonic Team, can we have more of THESE Sonic games please?

Sonic Generations starts with a simple premise – time has been broken and as a result, there are two Sonics, the modern one, and the classic one. Also, the time mess has brought all sorts of levels from all over the Sonic timeline together. Exploration and retrieval of the Chaos Emeralds is required to fix the problem. Also, villain.

Green Hill Zone, Act 2
Green Hill Zone, Act 2. For those paying attention, that means this is modern Sonic.

Yes, the storyline seems stupid. But strangely, it isn’t, because the game pokes fun at itself the whole way, little lines the characters throw out that are fan service and joke rolled into one. The levels are based on levels from the past, but there are so many changes and conversions it’s not at all laziness. Act 1 of every level takes place using classic Sonic, who uses only 2D-style (yeah, technically the rendering is all still 3D, but it works this time) and only has his whizz-attack and special Sonic 3 shields. Act 2 uses modern Sonic, in a 2D / 3D mix, and who has his new homing attack and boost abilities. Bosses are infrequent and are mixed between the two (and unfortunately are a little too easy :|).
There are a good number of Zones, 9 in all, and after completing the Zone, you get to perform a set of challenges for that zone, 5 for each Sonic per Zone.  Crucially, these are all different, with some being races against a CPU doppelgänger, some involving the various companions from Sonic, and others just plain unique. They are genuinely quite fun, and really up the replayability. And, of course, you are timed and ranked in all of them, for extra competition.

Level select
Selecting a level - nice touches that help with the game's ease of use.

The Zones are well mixed, including some great old favourites of mine (Sky Sanctuary! Chemical Plant!). And, there are remixes of all the music, so playing Chemical Plant as classic Sonic you will hear a remixed but still very classic Chemical Plant tune, and as 3D you will hear a mixed up version. And, through challenges and ‘red rings’ in the Zones, you can unlock loads more old tunes and listen as you play. It really brought me back, and made me feel like I was playing the Sonic I loved again.

There is included Xbox Live (and I assume PSN) capability in the form of time rankings and ‘how far can you get in 30 seconds’ modes, which are interesting but I don’t think will see heavy use. Friend time comparisons are, as usual, available, as is the ability to see the markers indicating your friends’ 30 second positions. I managed to get a very respectable 3482nd rank worldwide in Zone 1, Act 1, considering how many users there are!

I’ve touched already on the bosses, and I really would have liked a little more challenge in this regard. They are all a bit too easy, including the final boss. What happened to the frustrating but ultimately so-satisfying moments against Sonic 2’s Death Egg robot? Or am I just remembering it as more difficult because I was, like, 7? (Probably :P). Other problems with the game are still the occasional camera-related death in the 3D levels.

But, genuinely, if you have abandoned Sonic to the pile-of-no-hope, please pick it up and try it again. Sonic Generations is honestly probably the best Sonic game since 3 + K. And that’s 16 years. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 16 years for the next good one. You did so many things well in this iteration, from focusing on gameplay, well-done 3D and very faithful 2D, fan service of old favourite levels and music, even Super Sonic! Just make it a bit harder for me next time 😀

Sonic Generations

Sonic will always have a special place with me, and whilst probably over-ranking it a little due to bias, I have to give it 9/10. I really really did enjoy it, and it took me back. And it wasn’t just rose-tinted nostalgia.

Don’t fuck up my goodwill, Sonic Team – I’d hate to have to go Were-Hog on you… (honestly, wouldn’t that make him half pig?)

 

Peace, out!
Matt