en English

New Zealand author, Caitlin Spice, joins Dr Helen and Marianne to discuss her latest book, Raven Wild, which features a transgender protagonist. Caitlin talks about how her writing helped her to escape her feelings of gender dysphoria and express herself long before she came out as trans.

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please contact us via the Help Centre. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss, or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us. If you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

 

Links:

Raven Wild Promised Land Tales eBook: Available on Amazon

The No Sleep Podcast: https://www.thenosleeppodcast.com: WARNING: This is a horror fiction podcast. It is intended for mature adults, not the faint of heart.

Follow Caitlin on Twitter: @catespice

Reddit No Sleep: https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/

 

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The GenderGP Podcast

The Importance of Trans Characters in Literature

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Dr Helen Webberley:
Hi everybody. Helen and Marianne here today. Our guest today is a lady called Caitlin Spice. And I’m going to hand you straight over to Caitlin to introduce herself and tell us a little bit about her and her work and well, all about you. Welcome Caitlin.

Caitlin Spice:
Hi. So yeah, I’m Caitlin. I, um, am a writer of various things of young adult fiction, horror fiction, and most recently children’s fiction. Um, and I took a bunch of sort of trans activism work in New Zealand and yeah, that’s me.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So tell me about your writing. What do you write? How did you get into writing young and adult horror? Is that, is that how you started?

Caitlin Spice:
I actually started out writing as a hobby when I was a teenager, probably a similar story for lots of trans people. I escaped into different worlds to cope with my situation and my writing was one of those worlds. So I spent a lot of my teens writing copious amounts of staff. I have huge followers of my writing from that time.

Dr Helen Webberley:
That’s interesting. Isn’t it? Um, Marianne, we often see people hiding in different ways or not hiding, or it’s finding some way of expressing themselves. That’s just to release that kind of that inner feeling, isn’t it to be themselves?

Marianne Oakes:
I talk a lot about that. You know, some people say to me, I didn’t realize was trans till later, but then when you look back at the life, what they’ve been doing to express themselves one way or the other. So yeah, it’s not unusual to hear that, you know, expressing ourselves to, shall we say all throughout the years.

Caitlin Spice:
Definitely.

Marianne Oakes:
how, how have you found that your writing has been received by the wider community Caitlin, if that’s not too big a question?

Caitlin Spice:
So how I sort of started becoming known as a writer was on Reddit. I started out on a place called writing prompts where people would literally throw up just random prompts for people to write on. And, um, yeah, sort of, uh, of a rest of the finished, the first person who puts up a good prompt, gets all the upvotes and gets all the attention. And I’m very quick at writing and very quick at coming out with new and interesting ideas. Uh, I quickly got very popular on there. And from there I moved onto another part of Reddit, which is called No Sleep, which has the, I guess, is the horror area of Reddit. And that had a similar sort of structure, except for why you submitted your own story with them, a bunch rules. And I got very popular on there. And at that point I wasn’t out as trans on the internet or anything. I was just, just another horror writer.

Marianne Oakes:
You weren’t expressing, um, anything trans through your writing?

Caitlin Spice:
No, no. So, I mean, I transitioned back in 2007 and I got into this, this sort of writing gig online about 2015. And I was just, yeah, I just, wasn’t interested in talking about trans stuff online at that point and just didn’t really tell anyone.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So what changed? How did it develop? Between 2007 to 2015 and to the present?

Caitlin Spice:
I started getting more vocal when we started getting an uprising of the gender critical ideology in New Zealand. Basically we had a group start up here and several very vocal gender critical people started trying to push themselves into the news and media. And I got sick of it and decided it was time to start saying things in opposition.

Marianne Oakes:
Have you experienced—I’m assuming that as soon as you start to push him back, that a lot of attention would be popped straight back onto you. So how, how have you coped with that?

Caitlin Spice:
Uh, I mean, as you probably are aware, it was incredibly abusive off the bat. Um, I have coped as well as I could. I mean, it gets pretty nasty. I’ve had to, um, engage. there’s a New Zealand group called NetSafe that they’re sort of sanctioned by the government to like be our online protectors, I guess. And I’ve had to approach NetSafe several times about several of these people.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah. How difficult for you starting or to be trans-inclusive and your writing in to, to go say from horror that I won’t say it wasn’t inclusive I can’t say what. Was it difficult to, to introduce this into your writing? Was it there waiting to come out?

Caitlin Spice:
Actually, I think my first No Sleep story was called “We Put My Brother in A Mental Institution” and it was a story about a trans woman, she’s the brother in the story. Obviously, it’s a not great person telling the story about this trans woman. And so probably my first popular story on no state was a trans story. So it’s been there since the beginning.

Marianne Oakes:
right is he still popular with, uh, with younger, with younger readers? I was going to say, with trans readers, but with younger readers. Is that still your target audience?

Caitlin Spice:
I mean, the, the stuff I put out as sort of targeted at young adult and upwards, some of it is probably just playing adult sort of pitch it that it can be read by teenagers and young adults and adults.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So you talked about NetSafe in New Zealand, quite often here in the UK. When, when, when we are struggling, whether we’re a trans advocate or whether we’re trans ourselves, when they’re struggling a bit and we ask for help, that help doesn’t, or that help is different if the agenda is transgender. How did you find asking for help? Did you, did you get what you needed?

Caitlin Spice:
I guess I mostly got what I needed, but it was difficult to get across to NetSafe that the people I was dealing with were not reasonable people. I got the impression from my interactions with NetSafe that generally they deal with sort of really mundane spats between individuals and there’s none of this sort of intense hatred and ideology driving it. So they’re a little taken aback by how the people that are contacting were behaving. Like they’re obviously we’ll give them warnings and stuff and say, don’t do this and don’t do this. We’ve got an agreement between you and Caitlin now. And they would just ignore it or try and work around that and whatever way they could.

Marianne Oakes:
what do you think it’s driving the, um, I was going to say hate? I was going to say there’s been, um, reforms, uh, being debated, uh, to the gender recognition act. And the longer that, that political debates going on, the worst the hates built over here. I just wonder what’s driving it in New Zealand. Is there a political shift or is it just the, the ripple effect from places like the UK and America?

Caitlin Spice:
That’s being directly driven from the UK, the founder of the only TERF group here is a woman from the UK and her offsider is a woman from the UK.

Marianne Oakes:
I feel, I need to apologize for that.

Caitlin Spice:
It’s okay.

Dr Helen Webberley:
That’s awful, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry. That’s really shocked me actually goodness, I don’t know what to say about that. That’s really, that’s really awful. I mean, the very fact that they, that these groups exist or that they’ve got such a powerful voice or that they’re so strong is terrible, but then when their reach extends a long way that’s really terrible.

Marianne Oakes:
What is the climate like then in New Zealand? Because I’ve kind of get a lot of positive affirmation from New Zealand and Australia, we spoke to a lady there who’s been rewriting the, uh, the guidelines for good transgender health care in Australia recently. And that the impression that I get is that it is progressive on these things, but then we speak to people like yourself and it doesn’t feel like there’s a great, it’s a great deal different than in the UK. Are these people affecting the political and social climate?

Caitlin Spice:
I think then not as they’re not affecting it as much as they want to, their only real victory was, uh, just for some background or just to explain that we basically have self-ID in New Zealand for passports and for driver’s licenses. And I was myself and our lawyer, we were the ones who pushed through the driver’s license change. And so there’s been a push to change birth certificates, so that they’re in line with that because it’s stupid having one form of identification that’s not self-ID when the other two are. And so there was a bill going through parliament and that had reached at second reading and it was going to go through to its third reading, but it got halted, um, by this local TERF group. And it’s been stalled indefinitely now.

Marianne Oakes:
Similar to the UK from the sound of things.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah. The usual story, you know, um, reasonable concerns about women and girls and changing rooms, et cetera.

Marianne Oakes:
And just to clarify what you said before you and a lawyer were driving some of this change.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah, so I talked to, I was complaining with some friends of mine about the fact that you could get your gender marker changed on your passport with just a statutory declaration, but to get your marker changed in your driver’s license records, they wanted your birth certificate changed and our passports are an internationally recognized document and driver’s licenses not. So was the driver’s license held to a higher standard? And so we made a case saying that that was essentially discriminatory, and against human rights act and we want, and they caved.

Marianne Oakes:
Really? Uh, I mean, that’s, that’s genuine activism working as well. That’s all, it’s really nice to hear.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah. It was a nice little victory in that same, that’s something I’m fairly proud of.

Dr Helen Webberley:
so Caitlin tell us about your latest book “Raven Wild”, because we love it. And we saw a lovely flurry of mums of fans, youngsters saying things like, “We love, love, love this book, and we need to put it on Christmas lists” things like that. So, um, it touched our lives over here. So tell us, about it.

Caitlin Spice:
um, so there’s two previous books in this series. There is “Promised Land”, which has the first book, which is about a farm boy and a Prince who fall in love and have a big adventure, actually the other way around, have a big adventure and then fall in love. And the second book has, uh, two young women who have the big (unclear 11:10) and fall in love. And so the natural step to take was the trans book. And a lot of people have been asking for the Trans book since the 1st book came out with the same-sex relationship between two young men, but the creators of the Promise Land world Adam and Chaz, they said they wanted to do it in the right order. They wanted to do the gay and lesbian books first. So when they did the trans people book came around and complained, why was there a lesbian book? Why, why you making a book for women and girls? And we actually did get a little of that. When we started advertising “Raven Wild” advertising the Kickstarter, we got lots of people saying, where’s the book for women? Why is the book about woman? Why does it have to be a trans love story? Like actually, well, we already have the book about two women. Please go and buy it.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Good well done there. And how’s it doing? Has it been well received across the world or is it geographically?

Caitlin Spice:
Well it has as much as it can be One of our biggest problems is we don’t have international distributor. We’ve only got, basically in New Zealand and Canada and if we could crack the UK and the US market. That would be a huge, huge thing for us.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Well, it’s certainly touched us over here.

Caitlin Spice:
That’s good to hear. I’m very pleased.

Dr Helen Webberley:
It’s really, I mean, it’s really lovely isn’t it, Marianne? To see this inclusive arts and culture media. Um, we were just talking to someone on the podcast the other day about a trans person in “Neighbors” the Australian soap, so it really helps, doesn’t it? And often we hear about people who don’t have that voice. Like you have been the saying at the beginning Marianne, often people knew that something wasn’t quite right, but didn’t understand what it was. Couldn’t put a voice to, it didn’t know what the words were and books, television, art, and Reddit posts, all of this gives is a language doesn’t it, and gets that word and education its lovely.

Caitlin Spice:
And that was one of the biggest things that Raven Wild, I talked about that the Kickstarter and a couple of other interviews that we did, that it would have been really important for me as a child to have this book, because as far as I was aware back in, in the eighties, I was the only person like me. And so I didn’t know that other people like me existed and it was very lonely.

Marianne Oakes:
Uh, talk about, um, you know, my generation growing up in the UK, there was only two ways, three ways you would know anything about gender variance. One of them was the sensationalist stories in the newspapers. The other would be through erotic reading at best. Um, the other way would be through comedy or, do you know, uh, media portrayals in, in the films. And, uh, recently just watching the film Disclosure, I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but I realized how I bought into these narratives. And it just reinforced the shame to see now that people are reading, writing books that are targeted. That’s why I was kind of keen to say is this for young readers? Because there was nothing. Where do young people learn about gender variance? Uh, where do they get, where do they find their identity? Uh, who do they relate to what characters? So, I think it’s fantastic that people are writing these kinds of stories.

Caitlin Spice:
And it’s definitely a lot more of them these days. My book is not the only book like this by any means. There’s, super loud. There is one called Prince and Night, I think. And there’s another one. Um, gosh, I can’t remember it. Um, Julian and the Mermaids or something like that. There’s more and more kids’ books coming out that while they’re not necessarily trans, they do show gender variance in a normal way.

Dr Helen Webberley:
I think that’s really important, isn’t it? It’s, it’s not about putting this trans person or, or character on a pedestal and shouting, it’s about integrating that trans person into the fantasy, the fiction, the storyline, the hero, the opposite of hero, you know, and just normalizing that sometimes these characters might be trans and that’s, what’s beautiful about it.

Caitlin Spice:
That’s exactly what we did with Raven Wild. Uh, at the very start of the book we get Raven’s transition out of the way almost immediately. And then the rest of the book is just a huge adventure with a heroine who just happens to be trans.

Marianne Oakes:
I talk a lot of the time about, you know, one of the diff— I think the difficulty with being inclusive, I suppose, of any section of society that just as people, most of us are just ordinary people trying to function in the world and really quite unremarkable. And, um, I think probably the block for a lot of people who are not trans is how do we integrate people whose lives aren’t that remarkable? I had a friend who used to edit a trans magazine and said after about the first three coffees, they were fed up because it was just—

Caitlin Spice:
Same story?

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah. So I think, you know, having creative writing that can integrate it in a equal way to any other section of society I think its fantastic.

Caitlin Spice:
Definitely.

Dr Helen Webberley:
I’m also interested. I mean, I often tell the story about when I was consulting with a family once a few years ago and they were telling me that their child was unhappy and they didn’t, nobody knew what was wrong. Nobody knew why the child was on her feet. You know, everything seemed to be going positively for that child, but the child was very unhappy. And then literally two o’clock in the morning, the child burst into their mom’s room and they had been reading something on their phone and they burst into the room and they said, “Mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, I know what it is. I know what it is. This is what it is.” And it’s such, such, such a revelation for that family, and I’ll never forget that, that, that moment, the weight thing is so powerful for them. And I think the other, my other kind of feeling about, um, trans youth in families is the other story I used to hear a lot was when the child or young person is just locked away in their bedroom and they never come out. And if you go into that bedroom space, you can see them expressing themselves through computers, through cosplay that even though they spend so much time creating that character, that’s, they’re out there on the internet, in their games and what have you, because that’s the only way that they can express. And then later on, actually when you, when you affirm that child’s gender and allow them that space, then they can then come out of their bedroom and come downstairs and actually express it through themselves in their real world and not just the internet world. So I’m really interested that you were, you were saying Caitlin at the beginning that you, you know, you used, um, writing to escape into your different worlds to kind of experiment, I guess, with, with what your feelings were inside.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah. Yeah. I was also an art student and, and that really helped me as well because I used to draw a lot of pictures of myself as a girl. Basically I take my facial features and then I’d put, you know, long hair and earrings and stuff like that. So that really helped me visualize who I could be.

Marianne Oakes:
Uh, just following on from what you were saying there, Helen as well, you know, a lot of children do start expressing their agenda through video games, you know, pick, choosing, uh, avatars. I don’t know, I’m not going to even pretend to know a lot about video games, but I know that some have shape shifters, and that’s very popular. When I talk to a lot of the, uh, the younger trans people, you know, discussing how they discovered themselves. It was through video games, you know, not everybody’s including myself in this. I’m not very good at art. I could never have drawn myself in any other way, other than as a stick person, but, uh, you know, for people that haven’t got that, that there are other ways of finding yourself and finding a way to express your feelings without, or while being able to stay safe without making yourself vulnerable.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Do you interact with your readers in any way? Do you get to hear people that have read your stories? Do you have any, is that a thing these days in the writing world?

Caitlin Spice:
It is for me, because approximately half of my No Sleep stories have been produced by the No Sleep podcast, which is probably the biggest horror podcast on the internet at the moment. And they have, um, a couple of groups, they’ve got a Facebook group and they used to have comments up on their website and there’s a subreddit for them as well. So there’s a lot of reader feedback about all the stories on the podcast and because I’ve had so many, I do get a lot of feedback about my writing.

Dr Helen Webberley:
So can you share some with us, anything that touches you? Nice things we don’t want awful things, just nice things.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah, nice things. Um, there was a story they did a pride episode, if so, which is actually my idea. Um, I think the first pride episode was 2018, I think. And so I was trying to collate pride theme stories, and I grabbed one of mine that I had just recently written and it was called “Containing Secrets”. And it was about a trans woman who is being horrifically bullied at work. People say that, you know, the hadn’t really realized how bad it could get.

Marianne Oakes:
That’s really interesting because it’s a bit like the denial of racism. You know, there’s a denial that, uh, society treats us poorly and to recognize our failings as a society. And I think, you know, the fact that people can get bullied just for being who we are, how do we express that? How do we bring that into people’s awareness and actually writing and story lines? And like Helen was saying before, you know, having characters in, just run of the mill soaps is a really good way of highlighting what the real issues are. So sadly, I think they fail a lot of the time to make the point for, yeah.

Caitlin Spice:
Agreed and, and quite often it just sorta turns into misery porn where they’re like, oh, how terrible and tragic for that person.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes, yes, which is can work against us as well. We don’t, want to be portrayed solely as victims.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah. As tragic and pitiable.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Okay. Then the other thing that you mentioned was that you, some time ago, you were, you were kind of quiet and, uh, just got on with your own life and what have you. And then when this gender critical groups kind of started up, you suddenly thought, hang on a minute. I’m not having this anymore. So, you know, there’ll be other people listening who are in a similar position, you know, do you stay quiet and just watch what goes on around you? Or do you say, right, come on, then let’s join this, the argument, fight, uh, campaign, advocacy, whatever. Um, have you got any thoughts on that?

Caitlin Spice:
So I guess, yeah, I do. My, probably my biggest piece of advice is to pick your battles and test the waters first, try it out. And if it’s taking a really big toll on you from the get go, then abandon it because not everyone’s made to be a warrior, everyone’s got their strengths and weaknesses and, and different things. And some of us can’t handle being in the thick of it and can help in other ways.

Dr Helen Webberley:
That is really nice advice isn’t it Marianne?

Marianne Oakes:
Uh, without question I, uh, tend, I feel guilty sometimes I see a whole, uh, battle raging, on Twitter or Facebook or somewhere. And I think I’ll go on and type something. And I don’t think, no, I don’t, I’m going to get sucked in here, and it’ll suck the life out of me. So I tend to then twist it and just post something really positive away from it to just throw out an alternative viewpoint on whatever the topic happened to be. But like I say it you are right, you know, choose your battles, uh, tread carefully and don’t enter some don’t fall into the traps. I think that would be the other thing to remember.

Caitlin Spice:
Definitely. And what you’re doing is just as powerful by posting trans positive stuff, just by being a trans person, living a good life that has probably more impact than the arguing and the fighting online. It just doesn’t have as immediate impact on people like the immediacy of sparing with other people online.

Marianne Oakes:
But I think that would be a kind of a trait of GenderGP, one to Helen that we, we don’t really enter the arguments. We just put out the great stuff. We deal with the bad stuff, but not in an argumentative way would that be fair to say?

Dr Helen Webberley:
I think so. I mean, I think, I think we have the tools to be the warrior, but there’s only, I mean, if I put this metaphorically, there’s only so many guns and cannons and arrows that we have, and do we want to use those against the people that are just in it for the fight? What’s the point of using all of our ammunition on the people who just want the good fight? That was that good day today, by having that really, really, really horrible fight. And then we’ve lost a lot of energy ammunition, power. However, there’s a middle ground of people who are on the fence and not sure they might be joining those others and going, yeah, yeah, yeah. I like this. This is fun. But actually if you talk to them, they’re like, explain it into very simple words .They’re like, Oh no, I didn’t know that. No, no, no, no. I didn’t. I certainly wouldn’t mean to be like that. I didn’t mean that at all. Oh, no, I’m sorry. I understand. And I would much rather we used our ammunition there in education, normalizing trans identities in that way. We don’t waste our energy and ammunition from those who just want a fight, no thanks .but anybody who wants to learn, who wants to join us in work welcome with open arms that is our policy.

Marianne Oakes:
I think some people get power as well from, you know, they know the words that can hurt. Yeah. You know, they can, they can use and just continually, they can just have a shield where they’re not affected by this, that the only people affected are us. And if we’re going to keep running towards them, we’re just going to keep getting punched and we’re going to get tired. And we just got to navigate that because they’re not the majority, they’re the minority. They may have the loud voices. So yeah. Like, you know, choose our battles.

Caitlin Spice:
Yeah. And there’s also the component that after you’ve been doing this for a while, you very quickly get a sense of who isn’t worth arguing with or talking to, you pretty immediately know who’s a troll, who is in it to just to like shit on you. Um, and who’s actually there because they’re a little bit confused about the issue or they want more information.

Dr Helen Webberley:
It’s interesting, isn’t it? And it’s about, it’s like bullying in any shape or form. Bullies will only bully if there is a reaction, because what’s the point of bullying something that doesn’t give you a reaction. You wouldn’t bully a stone what’s, you know, what’s the point, but you bully somebody who was cowering away from or crying or fighting back at you because that reaction is there. So, I completely agree with you, Caitlin. And, you know, if someone starts asking stuff of us. We’ll give them the answers. And then when they’re back again, asking again, saying this point, and actually you realize very quickly, they don’t want to learn, then they just pick it, pick a silly babyish bullyish route and I’m like where is the block button on this one. Don’t want it.

Marianne Oakes:
And like you say, takes its toll on your mental health. That’s the other thing that I do see certainly on Facebook, more than anywhere else, people that come on and they’d been taken on the battles and then suddenly, you know, it’s all about the mental health. And I think we’ve got to have self-care. Well, you know, we’re not, we’re not going to, I don’t think its win or lose, it’s change we are after. Like there’s not going to be a final battle where there’s a victory, it’s change that we want, and we’re not going to change anything by reinforcing the notion that we are all a little bit crazy. So looking after, you know, self-care and—you said it before Caitlyn, you know, I do try to portray myself as just getting on with life that, that this is just a facet of my life, but it isn’t central to it. So, uh, and I think there’s some value in that as well.

Dr Helen Webberley:
And I think, um, I’m aware Caitlin, that it’s late for you in New Zealand. Thank you for joining us, but I want to leave our podcast today with the thought of your book Raven Wild and your character who at the beginning, just transitioned. That’s fine. That was it. And then, then the rest of the story, the rest of this narrative is about that young boy who changed into a courageous young woman that she saves the animal kingdom. And that’s the story. The story is that this young woman goes forward with her power and the tools and her energy and her personality to save that animal kingdom. And that’s the story and Oh, by the way, she’s trans, but that’s just, I love that concept. And oh by the way she’s trans, I love that concept that’s what we’re aiming for. Particularly with trans youth, you know, the great big revelation or all the great big elephant in the room or being trans. It’s just a small thing. We’ll support you with that. But what about the rest of your lives? That’s the normal thing. What about your education, your friends, your family. That’s the important thing for you?

Caitlin Spice:
And a lot of times people will ask me to talk about myself and I know that I’m trans and sometimes I’ll leave the trans bit out. And they’re like, well, why don’t you list that amongst the things about yourself? And I’m like, well, that’s kind of like me being tall or blonde and that’s not relevant to the conversation at hand when say I am listing my accomplishments, being trans. Isn’t an accomplishment. That’s just a facet of who I am.

Marianne Oakes:
Well, sometimes we would argue it’s the least interesting thing about us.

Caitlin Spice:
I would say so myself. There are a lot more interesting things in my life.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Well, thank you so much for joining us today and telling us about your work. And I think when, for me, the inspiring thing, I’m hoping that the listeners will hear is that of the beautiful ways that are to express yourself and get your words and your feelings out there to help you. And we all know that art can help people in that, but that you were able to do that for yourself. And now through literature, you can help other people as well. So join me in thanking Caitlyn for being with us today.

Marianne Oakes:
We really appreciate you staying this late to talk to us.

Caitlin Spice:
Thank you for having me.

Marianne Oakes:
You’re welcome.

Dr Helen Webberley:
Bye bye.

 

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