Review – The Larkspur Series: Caught & Collared/ Bought & Sold

A couple of things before we start – I don’t read or enjoy “romance” as a genre. The majority of romantic or romcom films seem preoccupied with the notion that indecisiveness and poor communication methods are all that stand in the way of true love. Romeo and Juliet, for example, would have ended far differently if their mail carrier hadn’t just YOLO’d the day off work. 

However, please note I used quote marks around “romance”, because I think there is an issue with including all romantic stories within “romance”. “Romance” is a fantasy. It perpetuates some often very harmful messages about what we should expect from relationships. As a cis woman, a number of different media sources taught me that unrequited love was superior to any other type and not a potential gateway to unhealthy obsession (see: Friends); that if he truly loved you, he would humiliate himself to prove it (see: any bloody 90s romcom); and that if I could get him to open up emotionally, I would be truly blessed to see this side and thus have a duty to change him (see: any piece of romantic media EVER).

The thing is, I believe in romance and, more importantly, I believe in the romance at the heart of Bought & Sold as it takes some of these tropes and grounds them in reality; it emphasises that love isn’t just about big gestures but surviving the day to day challenges together.

To understand Bought & Sold, I need to discuss why I fell in love with Caught & CollaredBought & Sold is now available for pre-order as the second book in The Larkspur Series by Morgan May, the first being Caught & Collared, which introduced the reader to Aden Brand. Aden is a professor of Russian literature who is struggling to deal with the recent death of his father, Gale. Aden and Gale had a difficult relationship to say the least. To manage his deceased father’s affairs, Aden has to return to a house he hasn’t been welcome in for 17 years. Upon his visit to his old family home, Aden faces an awkward reunion with Kristoffer Rask, a man that Aden has tried very hard to forget for (oddly) 17 years, with little success. 

Their relationship is complicated, but Aden has needs that only Kris can satisfy.

OK, you know what? There’s no need to be coy about this. This is a novel where the main characters (and quite a few others, really) have BDSM sexual relationships. Aden likes to be dominated. He wants to submit and be “owned”. Kris is happy to oblige.

If you are of the opinion that BDSM is inherently wrong, then I’m not sure what to tell you. If that viewpoint is based on Fifty Shades of Grey, I could see where you got that idea because Fifty Shades features a character whose idea of caring is to be a jealous, weird stalker who randomly appears in women’s apartments, but LOL it’s OK because he’s rich or whatever.

Ever since Fifty Shades came out, I’ve read with interest the different takes from those involved in BDSM, mostly criticising Fifty Shades for lack of realism and portraying BDSM as a character flaw to be fixed. I am a Feminist and I believe that BDSM has consent at its core, more prevalently featured than in a lot of other “mainstream” sexual practices. There are rules and each partner needs to be clear on what they are. However, it is the submissive who determines what they are comfortable with. They set the boundaries. They are the ones who can say one word to stop everything.

If that’s not for you, that’s fine. I personally don’t get the obsession some have for feet, for example, but I don’t find it necessary to go around shaming anyone who takes an above-average interest in toes. I just don’t think you get to tell two consenting adults what they can or can’t do during sex simply because you don’t understand the appeal.

If your first thought when hearing the initial setup of the series is “Ah, so it’s Fifty Shades of Grey but for two men!”, I’d understand your initial reaction, but would vehemently disagree. For starters, the Larkspur series is written by someone who has actually researched BDSM rather than just maybe watching that CSI episode about a dominatrix (yes, it was a fun episode, but you know what I mean: it was BDSM as palatable for primetime). In both Caught & Collared and Bought & Sold, there is consideration about what consent is and why it is given, and Kris’s desire to dominate isn’t written off as shorthand for an abusive childhood like Mr Grey’s rather thin background story. It’s evident that Morgan May has put thought into the relationships and how the sexual elements provide a vital foundation for them. The sex isn’t just decorative; it moves the plot forward, and is used to convey a variety of emotions in the characters, including vulnerability, anger, need or rapture. The characters’ bedroom antics are an essential part of the plot.

There is another major difference between this and the slew of BDSM novels which erupted after Fifty Shades made bondage mainstream-marketable: the Larkspur series introduces characters, not archetypes. Kris is tender, affable, regret-filled, and resolute; compared to Christian Grey, whose two modes are controlling and, well, more controlling, there really is no competition.

What really impressed me about Caught & Collared, however, was that it was a touching exploration of grief. Aden has lost a father, and he struggles to reconcile this sorrow with their estrangement. Caught & Collared deals honestly with trying to mourn and bury someone who abandoned you, but someone whom you still love nonetheless. On top of this, Aden has to contend with his mixed emotions upon being reunited with his first real love, Kris. With flashbacks to the cause of their initial separation, the origin of Kris and Aden’s current situation is slowly revealed amongst a set of complex characters.

If you haven’t read Caught & Collared, I advise you to go find it now and stop reading this review because, by nature of me discussing the sequel, there will be some mild spoilers. Caught & Collared is a fantastic start to a surprising series, so go check it out.

Now, SPOILERS. Kind of…

Bought & Sold starts with Kris and Aden settling into their new domestic bliss. Dogs, lazy weekends walks, hooks and rings attached to the headboard for use during their playtime, and so on. However, all is not well: ex-partners (old and new) and Kris and Aden’s own bad habits hamper their attempts to try and build a life together.

The sex scenes are again fundamental to the plot and well-written; they are powerful and charged whilst also being natural, telling you a lot about who the characters are at that point. Thankfully, there is no ridiculous Red Room, just their sub/dom lives built into the fabric of their day to day activities. If you hate OTT, cheesy sex scenes and prefer your filth to be sexy AND believable, this will certainly meet your needs.

Besides this, there are a number of other things I found intriguing about this instalment in the series. The first was the realism of their circumstances: Aden was shown as still in mourning whilst navigating his new happiness, demonstrating that just because one thing goes right in life, it doesn’t magically erase the other issues. It feels important to point this out as the start of a romance is often portrayed as the cure to all of life’s problems. It’s not, and it was refreshing to see this dichotomy of real life acknowledged.

Yet again, the characters are convincing, likeable, and rounded. Celia, Kris’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, could easily have been a cardboard cut-out villain, a deceitful bitch who is the cause of her own despair. However, Morgan May manages to do what so many erotica authors fail to: she develops characters. This isn’t done with some ham-fisted “and he was good all along!” revelation. It’s achieved through peeling back the characters’ motivations to display what really drives them. Yes, Ceila has betrayed Kris, but the reasons why she continues her self-destructive behaviour are more nuanced than the reader might first think. You can still hate her, true, but Morgan May also allows you to empathise with characters who, on paper, seem easy to despise. There is subversion in a sense here, but only of the reader’s assumptions.

However, what I found truly fascinating was that Bought & Sold deals with Kris’s life without Aden. Caught & Collared was focused upon Aden’s past experiences, his viewpoint. In Bought & Sold, we get to see Kris’s life during their 17 year separation. His feelings of regret underscore his romantic decisions, fleshing out the person Kris really is at the start of the first book. These flashbacks culminate in a scene at the end of Bought & Sold that filled me with a sense of stupid optimism and, dare I say, joy. 

I cared about these characters and what happened to them, not something that always happens in what Morgan May herself describes as “fucky” books. However, with Kris’s flashbacks, May allows the reader to understand more about who Kris is, and what motivates him to care for Aden in the way that he does. It’s a genuinely illuminating insight into their relationship, as well as adding new dimensions to events from the first book.

Bought & Sold’s resolution thankfully steers away from overly-dramatic gestures; though there is a confrontation, what leads to it and the way it is played out shows the characters to be just normal human beings struggling against their own nature and circumstance. 

I’ve recently seen reviewers criticised for not giving “a balanced view”, as if it’s the reviewer’s job to present both sides of an argument. It’s really not. A reviewer’s job is to give their opinion and to say what they got from the experience. If you’re not sure if The Larkspur Series is for you, you can take my word for it, or you can take a deep breath and give it a try. You may well find the series to have genuine heart and charming characters, with well-written sex scenes and an intriguing story. 

You may also be pleased to hear that Morgan May is already planning several more instalments. You may then realise you’ve discovered your new favourite author.

Getting better

Anyone who knows me will tell you I can sometimes be… challenging. 

Yeah, sure, that’ll work.

I have a tendency to self-flagellate, self-deprecating to a fault, which for me is a symptom of my low self-esteem. In recent years, I’ve been doing better. Writing has certainly helped with that. However, one thing I still find difficult is dealing with social situations.

I know how to act like a normal human being most of the time, my friends acting as a safety valve so I can be my usual weird self. It may sound like I’m making a massive deal of something which is fairly everyday. Surely everyone is a little quirky, right? 

When I went to school, I learned very quickly that not only did no one share my enthusiasm for being a writer, I was considered a bit strange. I obsessed over things they didn’t care about. I used words they didn’t understand. I had trouble just having fun and enjoying what they liked doing and so started to fall into a “brainiac” persona to protect myself. If I was going to be bullied because I didn’t fit in, it was going to be because I was smart, dammit. This resulted in me becoming standoffish and appearing, for want of a better word, smug.

When I was older, my father mentioned that I might be coming across as arrogant to others. This was after I’d finished my GCSEs and was planning A Levels. When people commented it was unusual for someone to be taking 4 A Levels, I said, “I got really good grades at GCSEs (I did) – I think I should be able to cope!”

Looking back on the words I used, I cringe, because I can see how they could be interpreted as boastful and big-headed. What I meant, and what I was unable to articulate, was that I had driven myself to study bloody hard, that I “knew” I was capable of doing well if I put my mind to it. 

Dad pulled me up on it because he knew that other people think the things you say about yourself are about them. Whilst I was really saying “I am not allowed to fail and I will endanger my own sanity for this”, according to my father, other people heard “oh, and *you* aren’t trying hard enough”.

The funny thing was, I didn’t give a shit about what other people were doing. This was because failure really wasn’t an option. It wasn’t conceivable.

It is addictive to aim for your goals and reach them consistently. I had invested much in this persona of the swot, and it had protected me during later years of secondary school. I flavoured that facade with a dash of sarcastic bitch to those I considered hurtful pricks, vowing that I would never again let them see how much they destroyed my overall confidence.

It’s a strange juxtaposition to have a lack of self-esteem whilst having total confidence in your academic ability. I think this was because it was a life raft, something that saved me from drowning. A shame, then, that it was an illusion.

As you can imagine, such delusions only last so long. University nearly destroyed me because it was the first time I had ever felt truly challenged. I wasn’t prepared for that. If failure is not an option, what happens to your reality when the impossible comes true? 

And it’s a stupid fear, a dumb fear. Of course I could fail; why not? Everyone can fail.

But at that point, having so deeply invested my self-worth in my academic ability, it wasn’t something I could even comprehend. If I didn’t have that, what was left? After all, even though I wanted to write, I never finished anything because it was too much of a risk. Maybe people wouldn’t like it. Maybe they’d think it wasn’t funny. Either way, the idea of writing brushed too close to the possibility of failure for me to ever really commit to it.

It took me a few years (a decade, perhaps) before I began to address the issues underlying everything else. Like I said, I do better these days. For starters, I write now.

However, I still need to take a moment to cope with being with other people. Sitting on a train every day is fine because we’re all wrapped up in our own thoughts, preparing ourselves for the day ahead or decompressing at the end of it. I had to attend some training today and, before we started, I said some hellos and caught up with some emails. A few others did the same. Behind me, I overheard some older women pointedly talking about how they hated it when everyone was just on their phones or iPads and not speaking to each other. 

I found myself getting angry, annoyed that they didn’t get it. I wanted to tell them that sometimes the ability to be alone is actually a massively useful coping mechanism, preventing people (especially me) from getting overwhelmed. That it helps me be sociable, encouraging me to reach out to friends and say hello when I really just want to put on the mask and pretend. Yet I said nothing to the women because I knew that, even if they nodded along as I explained, they would just dismiss the idea as soon as I had gone.

The strange thing is, I take it as a good sign for my own sense of self that I got angry; past me would have internalised their comments. Past me would have analysed my own actions for days. Past me would have prayed to be normal (yes, I used to do that). 

Tomorrow night, a play I wrote is going to be performed. For me, this is something I could never imagine happening 10 years ago. Of course, I’m still terrified about the whole thing.

 Will people like it? (Maybe)

Will people laugh? (Hopefully)

Will people understand my weird similes? (Perhaps it’s best they don’t)

And I’m scared I’ll fail. What’s different this time is that I’m doing something because I enjoy it. I’m writing not because I know I can do it, but because I want to do it. I’m writing and submitting work because I have a better sense of who I am and am more comfortable in my own skin than ever before, even if that is as someone who knows she’s sometimes very uncomfortable around others.

I’m more able to recognise that there is a need for social graces at times, but that there’s no point trying to fit in 24/7. Accepting that (and having the confidence to challenge someone trying to enforce their ideas upon me of how they think I should behave) means that at nearly 35 years old I think I may finally be starting to become the person I actually am. 

She’ll be the one in the back row, by the way, making notes on what works and what doesn’t, not so she can use it as yet another torturous reminder of fucking up, but as a means of getting better.

The Unfinished Work

Photo by Emma Bailey

It’s taken me a long time to write about the Women’s March London for several reasons. Firstly, I was ill (at this stage, I’m not sure I remember a time where I haven’t been hacking my lungs up). Secondly, it’s been hard for me to pin down my thoughts because, well, I’m not quite sure yet what those thoughts are. I’ll try my best to sort through them as we go, but I will be writing more at some point, I’m sure.

I was looking forward to the march, but also had a sense of trepidation. On the train ride up to London, I folded my sign in half and stowed it in my rucksack. I wish I could say that was for practical reasons, to ensure it didn’t get damaged before I met up with my friend. It wasn’t. The truth is that I was a little afraid. I wasn’t afraid of the police (and more on that later); I was worried about the glances of others.

To be exact, I was worried about the judgement of others.

Because people do judge you. I’ve heard and read a lot the last few weeks and days about why on earth women feel the need to march, whether we understand what we’re marching for, and so on. I’ve even heard women discuss feminism as a dirty word, proclaiming that they have never been treated differently for being a woman.

By the way, my answer to that is, how would you know? How do you know, for example, that you haven’t been passed over for interview because a male member of the short-listing panel didn’t want to hire young women “in case they get married and pregnant, and then have to go off on maternity”?

That’s a real-life example, by the way; stunned when I heard this from a now-former colleague a few years ago, I politely reminded him that to exclude anyone based on their marital status or pregnancy was discriminatory and he could get our workplace sued under the Equality Act if that ever happened. I told him that these things were irrelevant to whether someone could do the job. He had looked surprised, before shrugging a reluctant acquiescence. I was still quite young at the time and in a new role, but I wonder whether I should have challenged this more besides just mentioning his remarks to my manager; I also wonder how many interviews he had conducted over the years.

I don’t work there anymore, thankfully, but those thoughts come back to me now and again.

I’ve also heard women talk about how things are much better than they used to be, that we have made progress and what are we complaining for?

I’m sorry to break this to you, Janet, but things being better is not the same as equality, and excuse me if I don’t excitedly clap in glee that things have “improved”. Marital rape, for example, was only recognised by UK law as an actual crime in 1991. It still happens and will not decrease unless we push for better education that women are not objects, not property, not the subject of anyone; not unless we push for the eradication of the laissez-faire, everyday sexism that litters our schools, workplaces and homes; not unless people accept that rape is caused by rapists, not whether a woman “deserved” it or not.

My point is that just because things get better, it doesn’t mean the job is finished. That’s why I was marching; to remind and highlight there is still work to be done.

When I arrived in London, I met up with my friend and grabbed a coffee from a place that insisted on describing cup sizes in terms of colours rather than, well, sizes (a grey or a yellow size? That is some Dali-esque bullshit, right there). Pink-hatted women holding signs wandered past, smiling and joking. Eventually, we joined them and headed off to the march. The atmosphere was jovial, almost party-like. I was rather proud of my sign and, taping it to the stick I’d dragged along, waved it high above. It prompted quite a few smiles (although one French guy did stop me in confusion to ask what Star Wars had to do with the march). It also acted as a talking point, and a woman with a similar sign started speaking with us.

It turned out she was an American, and I offered my condolences. “My husband is a Brit,” she said at one point, “After Brexit, we kept telling ourselves it was impossible that both our countries would lose their minds.” She later grinned and wondered aloud why she hadn’t married a Canadian. It was a funny coincidence to me, as I’d suggested earlier to my friend that Canadians would now be worth their weight in gold to Americans wishing to emigrate.

The woman was white and her family came from Florida, half anti-Trump and half pro-Republican (“an important difference to being pro-Trump”, she told us), and that the election had divided them. She added that she was telling people she wasn’t there to protest, but to march in solidarity (“because it’s called a march, y’know”), to show that we were not alone.

I found it odd that she didn’t want to be seen as protesting; I guess protesting may have negative connotations to her.

We parted ways. She seemed like a nice woman, but I wondered whether she had any such inclination to stand together before Trump had appeared. He is fast becoming a figure of hatred, unifying people in a way only a villain can.

I wasn’t sure it mattered (there’s not much to be achieved by adopting a “I was into feminism before it was cool” mentality), as long as the new marchers took the time to acknowledge the work already started and fought for by the feminists before them, the women of colour and LGBTQAI+ women, the women who’ve had to fight for far longer than the women who had just woken to the facts of oppression. It didn’t matter to me what time they arrived to the cause, as long as the march wasn’t just treated as a pat on the back to make people feel better that they had taken part somehow, a cause abandoned when it was just getting started.

Mostly, I wanted this march to mean something, to shake people out of their cosy routines. Some people I knew seemed concerned when I said I was going on the Women’s March in London. One told me, “Careful they don’t kettle you!”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, kettling is a method used by the police to confine a group of protestors to one area. It’s not fun. I went to the Mayday 2001 anti-capitalist demonstrations with a friend; she was and is a photographer. She’s also the friend who came with me to the Women’s March (we’re like little protest buddies).

Thanks to the notoriety of the Mayday 2000 demonstrations which had quickly descended into violence, she didn’t want to miss an opportunity to take photos of this potentially historic event. Arriving in London in 2001, we witnessed protesters held captive at Oxford Street and Regent Street.

At the time, when I explained to my father (a veteran of the anti-war and anti-racism protests in the 60s and 70s) that the organisers had announced their intended meeting location and time on a website to all and sundry (including the police), he had merely sighed and muttered, “Bloody amateurs”.

My friend and I had avoided the confinement and emerged unscathed, and she managed to get the shots she wanted. My favourite was of a guy protesting from the top of a lamp post, who clearly regretted not thinking through his idea of sitting up there for what would soon become hours, naked and wrapped only in a thin, white, slogan-splattered sheet.

So, when someone told me to be cautious of kettling during the Women’s March in 2017, a whole 16 years later, it’s not like I wasn’t aware of what that could involve, or how quickly it could descend into clashes with the police.

However, my reaction was to laugh at the suggestion, and say, “We’re not going to get kettled!”

At the time, I couldn’t quite work out why I was so confident. My first thought was that the police would have no cause to be so brutal. Unlike the Mayday demonstrations, there was no plan to fuck shit up on Regent Street, no outward intent to cave in a Starbucks’ window or two. A different kind of policing would be used; after all, riot gear and batons would look out of place at a march predominantly focused upon solidarity and equality.

As I stared around at the mainly white crowd, the odd smattering of anti-racism and Black Lives Matter placards dotted about, I was reminded of Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen and how a lot of the women there that day may have found themselves suddenly wading through ideas and concepts they hadn’t necessarily dealt with before.

It then occurred to me then that the biggest reason I was confident the march would go off without an arrest was that it was a march mostly made up of white women.

Before people start accusing me of blaming white women for something, let me explain. Yes, the rhetoric surrounding the march was firmly stood in the non-violent camp; the optics of a police baton crashing down on a women’s pink-hatted skull would have been less than desirable under those circumstances. But let’s not kid ourselves: if the majority of women on this march had been women of colour, we may well have seen a different approach by police. Words like radical and troublemaker get thrown around at women of colour if they take a stand. In comparison, white mum Sally, with her homemade sign about Trump liking golden showers, is just seen as a middle class woman on a day out. Replace that pussy hat with a hijab and the attitude towards her would have been markedly different from both the media and the police.

I’m not just bashing the police for the sake of it; they have a terrible record of treating marginalised communities badly, from tazering their own adviser on fighting racism (because they got him mixed up with a different black man), to spying on families of murdered black men, to the Met chief himself admitting there is institutional racism within the police force and that if you are a young, black man, you are “much more likely” to be stopped by police than if you were white.

The difference is that people of colour are perceived as a threat, much more so than white women in pink hats, and that’s because being white is seen as being part of the establishment, and thus not a danger to it. I don’t agree that’s right, by the way, that being white automatically makes you “one of them”, but tell me the last time we had a black prime minister, or a government cabinet filled mainly by people of colour, and I’ll shut the hell up.

During the march, a group next to us struck up a rousing version of the American gospel song, “When the Saints go Marching In”. I couldn’t help but frown; I was brought up Roman Catholic, now very lapsed and, as such, have an aversion to anything that exalts the idea of suffering to gain heavenly reward. It’s a narrative that tells people it’s fine to endure terrible treatment because at some point God will reward them, even though they might live horrible, miserable lives. It’s a narrative designed to advocate obedience, and I only shook myself out of it when, at 14 years old, I just could not reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with one who punished gay men and women simply for being gay. It seemed to me God ought to have better things to do than concern himself with two people who loved each other, and my whole-hearted abandonment of faith followed shortly after.

My friend noticed my reaction and asked what was wrong. I explained my issue with the choice of song at a march aimed at throwing off the shackles, and she grinned.

“You know,” she said, snapping away with her camera, “I think I can best sum up your view of life as ‘Well, that’s lovely, but -’!”

I shrugged and acknowledged this was a problem I had. “I just can’t seem to like anything for what it is on the surface,” I said, playfully bopping her on the head with my sign. “I find it really hard to just accept things for what I’m told they are. I need to question everything.”

It’s this trait, for good or worse, that makes me look at the Women’s March with perhaps a different perspective. Whilst many are celebrating it as a sign of defiance, of solidarity, I’m thinking about what we do next. I’m thinking of how we can do better, how we keep going with this. One march doesn’t solve everything; it’s what we do afterwards, the changes we make in our everyday lives, that solidify this as a more than just a nice day out. It doesn’t weaken us to ask whether we are showing the solidarity we should be during gay pride or anti-racism marches as well; it strengthens us. After all, acknowledging that you live a relatively privileged life is the first step in addressing the inequality in others’.

If we can do that by embracing the fact that we need to show up all the time for the disaffected and the marginalised, not just when it affects us, maybe that’s a start.

Acceptance: a game review


Before I start, some quick definitions (via good old Google):

Transgenderdenoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex

Cisgenderdenoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex

Now, onward!

As someone who’s often dealt with the common assumption that both my parents are white, and endured the inevitable guessing game of what kind of mixed race I actually am, identity is a deeply relevant issue to me. Acceptance is a game about identity, but it is not about searching for yourself. You know who you are; this game instead focuses upon the perceptions of others, and who they think you should be.

I must start this by saying that, despite being a cisgender woman, I still don’t exactly know what that means for me. I identify as female, but only in the sense that this is biologically what I am. I’ve never been “girly”, in that sense, but I am a feminist and agree that gender is performative (i.e. society dictates what is thought to be acceptable behaviour as men/women, and we act accordingly). There are some things I do which are considered traditionally feminine in Western culture, such as wearing makeup and dresses. However, I also like things that could be considered masculine, such as playing computer games, or debating ideas in public forums. If you scoff at me labeling the latter as a perceived masculine domain in Western culture, I’d like you to think about how many times a woman discussing an issue has been shouted down, interrupted, or described as bossy, shrewish, or shrill (*cough Hillary Clinton cough*) because women are not supposed to be argumentative. If we do debate, it’s always seen as a negative.

So, I’ve never really cared much for the arbitrary distinctions of what behaviour is considered feminine or masculine (after all, why is blue a boy’s colour, really?). Instead, I find that the reason my gender matters to me is due to how people react and relate to it.

The point is, I know what my gender is and society (positively or negatively) treats me as such.

Acceptance sets up the premise that what you believe your gender to be is unimportant, at least according to those you encounter in the game. This is a short, visual novel game, up for pay what you want on, being a haven for non-mainstream narrative games, and created as a part of Jam for Leelah (JfL). JfL was a 2015 charity event set up to honour the memory of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17 year old girl who committed suicide after her family forced her into “conversion” therapy and refused to accept she was female.

Acceptance was made with this in mind, adapted from a Twine game which was, according to the game’s page, “made around three years ago by a Trans woman in the early stages of gender transition”.  The story is by Laura Kate Dale and 8BitGoggles, with coding by Lex Roberts, and music by Joanna Blackhart. Laura Kate Dale is herself a celebrated games reviewer/journalist, most recently famous for founding Let’s Play Video Games, along with Vikki Blake and Joe Parlock, and for revealing details of the Switch and PS4 Slim consoles before Nintendo and Sony held conferences.

She is also transgender and a suicide survivor. Laura Kate Dale has said that she created the game in order to give cisgender people an idea of what is is like to be transgender in modern Western society. In an interview from 2016, she stated that it was important to raise awareness, to give cisgender people more of an insight into what a transgender person can face on a daily basis.

The game begins with a warning: depending upon the choices you make, there may be sexual assault, assault, harassment, and suicide to contend with. This is because these are things transgender people often face; the number of transphobic hate crimes trebled between 2011 to 2015, and only 19 of the 582 crimes reported in 2015 were prosecuted. I can already hear people thinking, “But, Angie, you fabulous bastion of awesomeness, cisgender men/women also deal with these crimes regularly!” I’m not disagreeing, and it’s not right to do those things to anyone, regardless of gender or any other categorisation by which we define ourselves. However, this game’s aim is to show the harm we do on an everyday basis, to show cisgender people that we can often, without thinking, create a transphobic culture.

It’s asking cisgender people to be more aware, to try and see the world from another perspective.

The game focuses on the negative ways transgender people are treated, and I might normally say that this is a one-sided view, that there are probably also very positive interactions in everyday life for transgender people. However, Acceptance acknowledges this: on the Main Menu screen, there’s a statement that says: “Some days are worse than others, that’s just the way it is.” This game’s aim is not to say that good things can never happen, but rather that very, very bad things can as well, and are likely to do so.

Acceptance is a game which challenges you from the start. You are asked a simple question: Are you a Man or a Woman? As a cisgender woman, I answered accordingly, only to be instantly told by the game that I was wrong. The game told me that I might think I was a woman, but I was clearly a man, and nothing I could say would change that fact.

From that moment, I was placed in the supremely uncomfortable position of having someone else tell me who they thought I was – what I thought did not matter. Having dealt with people in the past doubting me about my mixed race heritage (to the point where one very “subtly” asked to see a photo of my mother, an unspoken demand to be given evidence that I was indeed half-Filipino), this was a profoundly familiar feeling.

As the game continues, it takes the player through a day full of people either misgendering you (getting called “Sir” a lot, in my case), excluding you, and/or generally treating you as something other. You may experience common forms of abuse, ranging from whispered remarks about being a pervert, to having punches thrown at you.

I noticed, as I was playing, that I was making certain choices. I could go swimming or go to the gym, for example. I chose the gym. My reason was that I wanted to avoid being shouted at, because being unable to mask my body’s real shape at the pool would be a dead giveaway, surely? That, for me, was the moment I realised my behaviour was being controlled by how others in the game would react. I was avoiding possible confrontations, and thus limiting my participation in the world.

It’s a feeling that resonated during another section. There’s an option to walk home either down a busy high street or along a quiet road at night. As a woman, I instantly found myself choosing the high street because women are taught that walking down an abandoned road in the dark is just inviting trouble.

I suddenly realised what I was doing and found myself empathising with transgender people over this issue; Western culture teaches potential victims to fear and plan because it’s their fault if something happens – we are taught that it is our responsibility to not be attacked.

“I mean, she chose to get that drunk.”

“Who walks through there at night?!”

“Well, look at what she was wearing…”

During different playthroughs of this game, things were done to me despite the fact that my existence did not endanger or harm the perpetrators of this abuse. I was made to suffer purely because my very being offended someone. It’s a dark and unsettling experience, emphasised well through the stark art and beautiful swells of music.

This game is about acceptance, but not necessarily about accepting who you are. It’s an effective story about the continual struggle for society’s acceptance, the begging and pleading for what are just basic human rights. For a few brief minutes, you are given a sense of how it feels to be told that everything about who you think you are is wrong, and that you must therefore be treated as something lesser. If, maybe just for moment, you find yourself realising how much our society goes out of its way to alienate and isolate transgender people, then the game will have achieved its intended message.




I miss the days where I could take joy in the absurdity of real life, be that me mistaking a fellow commuter for a hell-beast cat, or me accidentally cock-punching a rather surprised businessman. OK, so the absurdity of my life, anyway.

I haven’t written anything on this site in a while for a few reasons. One is that I’ve been working on other things. I’ve recently finished the first edit on Echoes of Bethaira, a fantasy novella featuring a female protagonist who doesn’t really give two shits about discovering who she is and quite likes denial, thank you very much.

I’ve also written a one act play and some short stories, with plans to write another short play. Yay me.

The other reason is that, well, it’s become increasingly difficult to find pleasure in the ridiculousness of reality when that reality has been 2016. An international refugee crisis used as propaganda for the extreme right wing during Brexit. That bloody bus. Being told that the reward for austerity is, surprise surprise, more austerity. The NHS being dismantled as a man with no employment experience in any health service bleats on about how doctors and nurses should be working harder, seemingly ignorant to the fact that these people do work hard and aren’t exactly buggering off every other week to Tuscany. A candidate for the UKIP leadership getting into fisticuffs with some UKIP MEPs. A Labour leadership election that was, at the very least, ill-thought out, as the PLP believed that by stamping their feet and showing Corbyn that they didn’t like him, he would just have to go, ignoring the fact that this isn’t Mean Girls.

And then there’s Donald. Fucking. Trump. A man so vacuous he resembles a black hole, except instead of absorbing light, he obliterates hope and logic. A man who literally just ordered terminally ill people to vote for him. A man who insulted everyone struggling with PTSD by calling them weak. A man who brought up how much he hated Rosie O’Donnell at a fucking presidential debate. Good luck to you, America, because he isn’t popular without reason – there are people in your country who genuinely agree with him, and that’s a national issue you need to discuss, relating back to the schism in the US between the land of the free and the land of division.

Now, we have Andrea Rudd, stating businesses should be named and shamed for how many foreign workers they employ; that non-British doctors are less desirable that British ones (a particularly galling insult considering how ridiculously understaffed the NHS is); that international students don’t speak English well enough and should be made to take a test.

The fact she announced these measures on the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, where anti-fascist Londoners fought Mosley’s Blackshirts, nearly made me die from irony overload.

I wanted to weep when I read her speech, mostly because it seemed that she had no idea what she was talking about. Let’s take the students: there is a test for English skills. It’s called IELTS and, on most university courses I’m aware of, international students need a level 6/7 to meet entry requirements. If they can’t, no course. I noticed there are no statistics floating around to back her up about how many students studying at English universities do not have sufficient language skills. 

As for amount of workers, we’re enjoying a relatively high employment rate. A foreign worker isn’t stopping a British person getting a decent job: crap employers who are incentivised to pay below minimum wages are, or the government, vicously cutting funding to public services and reducing the amount of jobs available full stop.

Also, the idea that only foreign workers are willing to work lower than minimum wage is laughable. There’s nothing about being British that makes you immune from desperation, from working for cash in hand or “under the table”.

There’s this odd theory that if all foreign workers left, there would be enough jobs for British people. The only problem with that is it assumes there are skilled and qualified British workers to fill all of these roles. There was no talk of investing in British education, of training more people. If you think Jeff from Basingstoke is more qualified to be a doctor just because he’s British, you have a profound misunderstanding of the role education and hard work play in obtaining these skills.

Angela Rudd has been quite upset about being called a racist, or having her speech likened to Mein Kampf, to which it does bear a striking resemblance. She asks why we can’t have a conversation about immigration. 

The problem is that the speech wasn’t a conversation, but a declaration that employing foreigners is bad. Why not say “we need to work out a points system” or “we need to decide how many foreign workers can come into the country based on economic factors”. Those would have at least started an intelligent debate about how we measure this, the real benefits we get from EU and international immigration, why nationality matters so much, why there aren’t enough jobs altogether, and how the British people deserve better education and services in order to do the jobs required. An opportunity to stop, breathe, and think. 

Instead we got the old Tory line of fear, of saying foreign = bad, of “if you want a coloured for a neighbour, vote Labour”.

I hope that explains a little of why it’s hard to write silly stories about my adventures in London at the moment. After all, how can you take joy in how ridiculous life is when it keeps upping the ante?

Echoes of Bethaira and general life update

The last 12 hours have been spectacularly crap for various reasons. I can’t (won’t) go in to all of them here, but suffice to say there have been two events in the last day which have just skewed everything and overwhelmed me.

Altogether, life had been going well; I’ve written 3 short stories, I’d entered a couple of writing competitions/calls for submissions, and I’d finally got a handle on the beast they call “tidying the flat”.

But life is what happens while you’re busy making plans and the last 12 hours have been eventful for some very unhappy reasons. I don’t like being cryptic, but these events relate not just to me but my family and it doesn’t feel right to go into detail here.

A few days ago, I finished the last part in my Echoes of Bethaira arc. I was so pleased that I was finally going to make a Monday deadline! The final part in arc one is now up here but it’s now taken a backseat to other things outside of my control.

So, if you get a chance, please read through Part 19, and let me know what you think. I’m aiming to pull all of this together now to redraft, edit, and turn into a novella.

If you do have any comments or feedback (always appreciated!), I will understandably be a bit preoccupied for the next few days. However, I will try to respond as soon as possible.

Happy reading!