Tuesday, November 25, 2014

4 (of 4) A Very Fixed Idea of What It Means To Be A Man. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year.

Part Four: A Very Fixed Idea of What it Means To Be A Man

This is the fourth post after 'An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals. Sponsor me for Movember'.

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember. To raise awareness of men's fertility.

After discovering the fertility issue with me, then the fertility issue with Davina and then two rounds of IVF that failed we were somewhat bereft.

It made us reflect on what was important to us. We spoke, discussed, argued and debated.

We also discovered for ourselves that creating a family is what’s important for us. We began to realise that there is no set form to what family is. It can be created in many ways: adoption, surrogacy, and donor eggs/ sperm to name three. Family means many things and we have energy and love to give.

January 2014 then, we began to look into adoption. We attended an information evening, had a call with a social worker and then a visit from one.

All the way through, I felt a certain trepidation and nervousness amongst the couples. But there seemed to be a greater sense of partnership. In beginning to examine adoption, the differences between men and women were less apparent. With fertility treatment it was much more stark.

Was it resignation on the part of men?

As it happened, we didn't choose to start the adoption process: they requested we use contraception for two years as it started. This is to protect the children being adopted. Many come from an already traumatic background and coming into an adopted family - only to be playing second best to a new baby - would likely be too much for them to handle.

And too much for the adopted family to handle.

The request to use contraception and commit to adoption felt like a door slamming on the possibility of conceiving another way.

So, we took our attention off all of it.

Perhaps it was resignation on our part.

Throughout last year, I found myself less and less willing to share with people what I was dealing with. Through this year, it's been the opposite. I've become more and more willing to share, culminating in my participation in Movember.

This year, I also discovered I had a very fixed idea of what it means to be a man.

It was a standard. An ideal.

I had to be strong. I had to be a provider. I had to have chiselled features. A lean body. A rock.


I was meant to be a father.

And I decided that it was unreachable.

Through this year, I've realised all I've done in my life is rebel against that made-up, inherited, 'standard' of masculinity. It's informed so many of my actions: the way I prefer the company of women; the way I find it hard to be around lots of 'traditional' male-macho-nonsense; the way I feel I have to stand out in order to get attention; the way I'm perfectly at home expressing my feelings; the way I don't enjoy participating in competitive sport.

If there was nothing to rebel against, what then?

A new thought presented itself to me: perhaps masculinity could be my ongoing creation.

Growing my moustache has been a reminder of my frustration, sadness, and anger at not demonstrating my masculinity by having children.

The issue is constantly in my face. Literally.

However, there could be a more empowering way to look at it.

Growing my moustache has been a reminder of the possibility of men sharing, communicating and supporting each other.

Perhaps that's what Movember is really about.

A biology teacher called Sam at the school where I teach told me that women learn about the symptoms of testicular cancer and how to spot it.

Because men avoid the issue and don't want to talk about it. The women nag, push and make the appointments.

It's the same with men's mental health.

It's the same with men's fertility.

So please, sponsor me.

Thanks for reading.

Click here for the beginning of the story: Part One: It Doesn't Happen To Us

Monday, November 17, 2014

3 (of 4) An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year

Part Three: 'An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember. To raise awareness of men's fertility.

After the first round of IVF failed in May 2013, we had to consider what next. I discovered that a lot of people have more than one round. I was still hopeful. Although numbers had moved in the right direction, I was still having a crisis of masculinity.

Even before the first round, I kept thinking to myself that it would work. This particular life challenge would be over and could get on with Fatherhood. I'm a man - that's what I was meant to be doing. It is my purpose and destiny.

I wanted a valid reason to come into work tired. I wanted to be woken up by a baby's frustrated cry. I wanted to pass on my genes - all my grandparents lived past 80. Three into their 90s.

It's all about me dammit. I want life to go my way.*

So, we thought about it carefully - and chose to go for another round. There was no actual explanation for an embryo not implanting - but we thought it would definitely be worth another go.

Over July and August, Davina did it all again. I did my bit. We had all the visits to the clinic. The injections, breaking, measuring, disposing, checking.

And hoping.

And getting the news.

That it didn't work.


I remember really really really thinking it would work. And on finding out it didn't, numbness settling in.

We had a follow up meeting with the head of the clinic. Davina could barely sit in the room. I had set aside feelings to listen as the woman spoke of 'unexplained fertility' and 'it's difficult to know why' and 'we understand that it must be hard' and all the other nice things they're trained/ expected/ wanting to say.

I then remember being at home and eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry's in about half-an-hour.**

As we started to communicate with those close to us, both Davina and I realised there was only so far we could go by ourselves. Counselling was the next step - recommended to me by Lyndsey (my sister) amongst others. So we did. Davina's workplace is enlightened enough to offer counselling services. I took advantage of the free session the clinic offered.

It was useful to be able to examine what I was thinking, how I was feeling and what I was doing. It was less about finding answers and more about asking decent questions to open something up.

I also found limited support on web forums. They made me feel less isolated. Fertility Friends and the Infertility Network were two I discovered. However, I've only posted on there two or three times.

I wrote something describing my situation - requesting a male viewpoint. What I got was 'I'm not a man but...' or 'My OH (other half) hasn't said anything like that, but I think...'

Now, over the years, I have trained, explored, challenged and pushed myself to open up deeper and more effective levels of communication. I am able to describe how I feel. I can get to the heart of what's going on for me very quickly.

But are most men really an inarticulate bunch of neanderthals?*** It would seem so. There is so much support for women. And so little for men.

IMHO there are a certain pressures 'society' puts on men to be a particular way. Of course 'society' puts all sorts of pressures on women and people in general too. But the silence is stifling around particular issues surrounding men.

My feelings come in waves: pain, regret, rage - smallest thing can set me off - seeing a colleague’s car with a baby seat, watching a young family go shopping, or making space on the tube for a woman with a 'baby on board' badge.

I’ve learned to ride the waves rather than attempt to shove it down.

It's not about a voice for the voiceless. It's articulating the inarticulate and emoting the emotionless. We want to talk. We are capable of communicating. I have male friends who are utterly amazing: the conversation will move seamlessly from an in-depth discussion about Star Wars, to debating the vagaries of the financial system, on to some terrible teasing and ending with us being able to say how much we love each other.

I'm not alone.

I build and maintain a brilliant support network of family and friends. They know who they are, what to say and how to say it. And even when they don't - the message gets through. I'm so grateful.

We can communicate.

But awareness needs raising.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part Four: A Very Fixed Idea of What It Means To Be A Man

* Throwing my toys out of the pram.
** Hey - I don't drink alcohol or smoke - but sugar is a drug.
*** Or maybe women are just far more self-aware and able to communicate?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

2 (of 4) Things. Just. Happen. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year

Part Two: 'Things. Just. Happen.'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember. To raise awareness of men's fertility.

It's gone for 2015!
In January 2013 Davina and I made the choice to have IVF. We started researching and found out that in our area we weren't entitled to any treatment on the NHS.


That meant going private and paying a fair amount of money - which we were perfectly willing to do. So we began the process - which involved more tests for Davina.

In the meantime, I started taking a supplement in an attempt to improve my statistics.

Then in March 2013, we found out that Davina also had a fertility issue. Apart from the fact it meant it wasn't all my fault, it also meant the chances of us conceiving naturally were now *tiny*. It also began to make us think about members of our own family who didn't have children. I began to wonder if it was all a genetic jackpot and divinely determined.

When we told our families - they were wonderful. My Dad said he was glad that we had each other - whether we have a family or not. My Mum just said she wanted grandchildren. My Mother-In-Law said we should think about going to church...

It really helped put the whole thing in perspective.

We pressed on with the measuring, the timing, the paraphernalia. And Davina went on a physical, emotional, hormonal, and intellectual roller-coaster.

It was as much as I could handle just to listen and be there.

We went through what is often called 'The Two-Week Wait' amongst those who have had IVF.

And found out that it failed.

It was about this time that my emotional response kicked in: rage, upset, frustration, sadness and settling on indifference with occasional cynicism.

As we had all the trips to the clinic, I saw a book people could write words of inspiration, hope or pain. Every time I went, I would read a few notes. I didn't feel so isolated.

I noticed that every single message was written by a woman. For a woman. Men were undoubtedly going through stuff. I know I was (and am). But why so silent?

I'm grateful for the support of my friends and family.


But there were certain things started to come up frequently on conversation that contributed to my frustration like:
1) You need to stop thinking about it/ relax/ take your mind off it (or some other trite nonsense).
2) I've got a friend who  was about to have IVF when they found out she was pregnant (Just. Go. Away.)

Also - our contemporaries were all getting pregnant and having children. We'd find out in conversation through friends and relatives.

And on Facebook. A stream of grinning pregnant pictures. And then the babies.


Eventually, after talking with friends and family - and consciously letting go. Again and again. I've got to the point where I've *started* to stop taking everything so personally. I've realised it's not that good things happen to good people. And it's not that bad things happen to bad people.

It's simply: Things. Just. Happen.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part Three: An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals.

Friday, October 31, 2014

1 (of 4) It Doesn't Happen To Us: Why I'll Do Movember Every Year

"Changing the face of men's health"

Part one: 'It doesn't happen to us'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember.

Before: October 2015
Most people have heard of Movember - men growing a moustache through the month of November to raise awareness of male health issues including:
- prostate cancer
- testicular cancer
- men's mental health issues

I'm doing it for all of those things.*

But also to raise awareness of a problem that's close to me personally - men's fertility issues.

In the same way as men's mental health issues have a certain stigma and silence attached to them, so do men's fertility issues.

Men don't get mentally ill. Or have problems producing a baby. It's doesn't happen to us.

My wife (Davina) and I started trying for a baby in April 2011. It's been a journey that's still going. And it's still difficult. And we still have no baby.

But I've discovered a lot about myself, fertility and our marriage along the way.

I had my first test in April 2012. This is after a year of trying. We went to the doctor together and he explained the process. No I didn't submit the sample there and then - I had to produce it at home and get it to the hospital within a certain amount of time.

It turned out that I had enough of them (count), they moved well (motility) but only 1% were formed normally (morphology).  The normal level is between 2% and 6%. My doctor at the time said it only takes one - and that 1% wasn't a problem.

Davina had a bunch of other tests up until November 2012 - that turn up nothing. Based on the information we had - it was all OK. The medical professionals we spoke to said keep trying.

February 2013 I have another test. Again I have enough of them (count) and they move well (motility).

But 0% have normal forms.

This was upsetting for me. It doesn't happen to us. It can't be happening to me.

I begin to question everything and search for a reason for this - as do the medical professionals. I get asked questions like:
Do you smoke? No.
Do you drink? Nope.

I start to wonder if it was my diet and general health. Yet by all the basic measures (weight, waist measurement, body fat) I was in good shape.** 

In fact I'm in better shape and health *now* than I was in my twenties.


What I know now, is that there are a lot of men (and couples) who have fertility problems. But it's a Great Unspoken Thing. I think it goes to the very core of what it means to be a man if you can't have children.

But it's difficult to talk about.

I'm now all for men getting themselves tested to find out the state of their fertility: whatever their age, whatever their relationship status. It's just "expected" that we'll all be able to have children easily.

Or not.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part Two: Things. Just. Happen.

*And I'm really glad that Men's Mental Health issues have been added to the list - my Father-in-law lived with bi-polar
** The Movember website has a really good set of information on general health.

Friday, June 27, 2014

At first I was afraid... (Saying Goodbye to the Class of 2014)

Sung at the Leavers' Do, 2014, to the tune of 'I Will Survive'

The names have been changed to protect the guilty.



At first I was afraid
I was petrified
That ... would never get
His work in on time
But there were so many nights
Where ...  got the questions wrong
 ...  grew strong
With time in the gym so long
 ... won’t go back
To that Essex place
When he can ignore all his teachers
But he’d better get that A
 ... don't know his tables to get by
He won't crumble
Just don't ask him six times five

And there's  ...
With a drink or two
As long as it's dramatic
He'll say something to you
 ... with a cricket bat by his side
Won't say much
He'll just give the same old smile
 ... will try
To be on time
 ... was eating gulab jamun
Never at school before nine
Let  ... go on and on
He's 18 can buy alcohol
Will he survive?
Without  ... at his side?

hey hey

Vocal Adlib

You must move on
From this place
Where  ... changes uniform
Every single day
 ... plays with tennis rackets and his balls all the time
He won't fumble
His French is fluent all the time
And you see  ...
Somebody new
She's not that chained up little person
With a good grade or two
 ... the one
Who's always got some rude asides
He's never humble, he'll work at Next for a long time

And  ... won't mind, He will revise
As long as he's with  ...
He'll know he'll be alright
They were the ones
Who would drum and rap all the time
 ... might smile
Despite Spanish football's demise

Where's  ... ?


It took all the strength he had
Just to make a start
But in the end  ... as head boy
He played his part
With  ... checking that he didn't get too mad
He worked hard
Just don't mess with  ...'s dad
So now go
Walk out the door
Don’t turn around now
Cos your life will be much more
Weren’t we the ones who got you to revise
You think we’d crumble
Your teachers worked towards the skies
Go on and fly
And you will thrive
As long as you remember
Ewell Castle deep inside
You've got all your life to live
Just make sure that you give
And you will thrive
Remember Ewell Castle deep inside
Deep inside

Monday, May 12, 2014

Speech From Goan Oral Histories Book Launch

This is the first post in a long time.

I've been writing more on my Daily Insight site.

The writing below is actually the speech I prepared for the book launch for the Goan Oral Histories Project. This is something that bid for and got money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Selma Carvalho asked me to give a perspective as a "Younger Goan". The speech was very well received - and I was particularly aware of the fact my mum, dad, sister and wife were all in the audience...no pressure...

Oh and apologies to any Liverpool fans - I wrote and delivered this before the outcome of the Premiership was decided...

So read, enjoy and and comment.


I’ve got three areas to talk about today - something about the past, something about the present and something about the future. The twist is at 37 I’m representing the young. (Hands up if you’re under 40?)

But my two main points are: one -  this book and being here gives me a sense of where I’ve come from, where I am and where I’m going, and two - integration is inevitable.

First the past. It’s 1980. I am sitting in playschool. We are playing a game.I put my hand down on the table. Someone else puts their hand on top of mine and we take it in turns. Then we put down our second hand. And we take it in turns. Then we pull out our first and...you can imagine my fun as a four-year-old. One time though, as I put down my hand on the blue plastic of the table, I think - ‘my hand isn’t like them, that’s not right.’ It was the first moment I decided I was “different” - my hand was brown, everyone else’s was pink. The challenge of fitting in began…

Fast forward to my teens and in about 1992 I start playing guitar. I hear stairway to heaven by Led Zeppelin and it changes my life forever. It also changes my sister’s and my parents because I practise and obsess over the song for hours. And hours. And hours. The floodgates open: Jim Hendrix, Metallica, Black Sabbath. Now don’t get me wrong - music was *always* around - my dad played guitar - but learning to play heavy metal and getting into the associated scene gave me a group to feel part of. I had blue hair and a long beard. I got tattooed and pierced. I finally felt part of something. In my desperation to fit in, I felt most at home in an anti-establishment scene! They didn’t care what the colour of your skin was - as long as you loved the music. At that point I would rather be judged on my clothes and the colour of my hair than the colour of my skin.

Getting older as I moved into my mid-twenties. I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It had a profound effect on me. There was a section he wrote about the pride and power he felt standing side to side with his own people. Apart from my family, I’d never felt that. Not a real sense of community in the sense Nelson Mandela was writing about.

So when I heard about a young Goan event happening right next to where I worked I had to go along. Up until that point I had not had a very good experience with younger Goans. Nope - I’d been judged a bit for being a heavy metal fan. I’d had a few young Goan friends when growing up but most of my friends were white middle class. I’d already written off the Goan community and turned my back.

As I walked into the pub in Holborn, my expectations were low. I dressed as *I* felt comfortable...so I stood out like a sore thumb. Like my brown hand amongst all those white ones. But I started chatting to people. The music played. I danced. And actually I had a good time! I  thought of Nelson Mandela’s book and resolved to do something.

Over the next few years, I re-formed the YLGS committee, and wrote the constitution. Our events took off. My experience at events was a sense of relaxation. Here were a whole bunch of people I didn’t need to explain stuff to. I didn’t need to explain why my name was James and not Sanjay, why my English was so good, why I ate beef and pork, why my name sounded ‘spanishy-but-I-looked-Indian’ and why my parents being born in East Africa didn’t make me African.

The thing I’m *most* proud of though is the fact that the committee is on its third or fourth version. A whole new set of people keep the organisation going. It’s not the same people year after year.

The organisation started with a clear purpose: build a strong and integrated community of Goans. And I think it’s stayed true to that.

It's because Goans are amazing at integrating. Goans can get on with *anyone* at any point, at any time. We do actually bring people together.

So, the past happened, things change, get over it…

Now my second area is the present. Goa as a culture and area is beginning to appear *everywhere*. Like popcorn beginning to pop. It’s a slow process but it started years ago. At one point there was a Goan family in Eastenders. The Matt Damon film The Bourne Supremacy was filmed in Goa. I go to Sainsbury’s and I see a Goan tomato soup. The Young London Goans Society were featured on Madhur Jaffery’s programme.  People have *heard* of Goa - and as more than just being a holiday destination. I’ve had parents of the boys I teach ask me if I’m Goan because of my surname. To me that’s a huge cultural shift.

And all these little things keep happening. Just last week I got a text from my sister. She was listening to Radio 6 and heard a song that sounded remarkably familiar. It turned out it was a Konkani song! The DJ even explained that it was in Konkani and that it’s the dialect spoken in Goa.

Now I think this book represents something deeper. And I’ve got a metaphor for it. Is anyone a Liverpool fan? So there’s a deeper reason they are top of the league in my opinion. The Hillsborough tragedy happened. But the inquests and investigation is open and happening. It seems as if the *whole* thing is going to receive closure. I do not think it’s a coincidence that Liverpool are top of the league. The club is putting to rest a deep-seated issue.

So for me, in the UK all of these little incidents and references to Goa had no story to give them context. This book is no coincidence. I think the fact that the video interviews are going to be in the British Library *forever* is inspiring. There was no written history until this book - only the stories I heard in my family. I think this book is the most important thing that’s happened in our community for a generation. Why? Because it gives *my* story context and legitimises *my* experience, and my culture - beyond my immediate family. It raises it to a community and cultural level - which is something I’ve always struggled to deal with.

So, the present is happening right now, it changes, get over it.

Which brings me to my final area - the future. I think we can only look forward if we know where we’ve been. The only reason people cling on to the past get all nostalgic is because they’re unsure about the present and insecure about the future. That’s something I’m *totally* familiar with as a person with a Portuguese surname, brought up Catholic, Parents born in East Africa, originally from Goa in India, born in the UK, and  who looks Muslim.

If Goan culture changes and evolves and doesn’t exist in the future - so what? *We* know our story. It’s been captured with this book. I say let’s embrace change as a community. I’ve grown up doing it - my nephews will too.

I recently read an article on online newspaper the Huffington post. The way cultures and people are mixing and inter-marrying - there will be no white people in the US by 2043. I’ll be in my sixties…

So, the future will happen, it will change, get over it.

To finish up I want to paraphrase Russell Peters. He’s an Anglo-Indian, Canadian comedian. And he says something like this.

When I look around London and the UK I see all sorts of cultures and people. Black, White, Brown, Chinese. This kind of thing won’t happen in the future. Do you realise there’s not going to be any more white people? There’s not going to be any more black people. Everybody’s going to be beige. The whole world is mixing. There’s nothing we can do about it. Eventually we’re all going to become some kind of hybrid mix of Chinese and Indian. They’re the two largest populations in the world.

So, my two main points: one: this book and being here gives me a sense of where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m going, and two: integration is inevitable. Goans can get on with anyone. We blend in anywhere and everywhere. I'm already beige.

Thank you for listening.