Safety harness

In which I demonstrate the efficacy and necessity of a safety harness.

Dome pin

With friends to erect the Geodesic dome. I thought we could build the top section first, and do lower circles later, but not with these steel units. Each pins to the next hexagon or pentagon with two pins to each side. Mark, whose dome it is, does construction professionally but made the dome as a hobby. He is generous with encouragement, enthusing about our contribution. “Are you happy to climb?” Yes. Yes, I am.

It has been raining, and the segments are slippery. In walking boots, my foot will be still at the join, but not in the middle. The lowest strip has been assembled already, and I climb up with Mark to put the next row on top, aligning the loops to let the pins drop in. I have a belt to hold pins, and a long strip of metal to hammer them in.

The next row is easy enough. Andrew and Tim hand us up the segments, and we pin them in. The following row we have to lift the segments into position. I notice how I compare myself with Mark. It is his dome, and he has erected it several times, and yet I want to be putting as many pins as he. I am pushing myself. At that point, the rain has stopped. The lower segments are dry, and my foot will not slip placed on the middle of the pole. You can get into a rhythm, stepping up the middle, hand holds easily reached.

We have a short break. It is raining again. The poles get slippery, but we hope to continue. Now, we have to hold the segment above the half way point, as that is its centre of gravity. Mark is doing most of the work. I struggle, now in a safety harness, clipping and unclipping it. It gets in the way, holding me below where I need to be. Working together, we can get the loops in line to put the pins in, but it is so frustrating when they are not quite aligned or slip out of the way. Segments just off the ground are wet from the wet grass, and my boot slips.

Down I go. I am hanging a short way above the ground, with a graze, scratch and spectacular bruising on my bicep, shouting.

Mark holds two pins to the scratch, to cool it down. I could hold them myself, but I am just happy to be valued, to have this sign of care for me.

After lunch, I went up again with Mark and Andrew.

-How do you feel about climbing again?
-I would like to do it, but have no particular thing to prove, and am not attached to it.

However, I really want to go up again. Now, the segments are leaning inwards at a sharp angle. We have to bear their weight as we pin them in. Andrew, climbing for the first time, is a lot faster than me. The belt carrying the pins is very heavy. Before we finish the final row, I have to come down, nearly weeping with frustration.

I have learned a lot from this, of how I am. I was comparing myself to a man, who should be far better than me at this task, and pushing myself near to exhaustion: I could barely clamber round the segments before I came down, and was still ashamed to descend before the last row was complete. That shame means that I won’t stop until I am dangling on the end of a rope(!) and also punishes me with misery, where I could reasonably be proud.

The thing I learned about you is you are a really hard worker, said Jude. Some might see that as patronising; I was glad of it. I have been thinking, since, of being so driven, which has caused me to stop. I could, perhaps, notice the achievement.

Covering the dome

People are strange

Why on Earth would I tell that story in that way?

I imagined explaining to Rachael why we could not agree to do some task, and beginning by disclosing how a number of Quakers decided that I am very bad indeed. But why say that? It is ridiculous!

-To be understood. To gain sympathy.

-To alienate. To push away sympathy, and be judged. This is not necessarily incompatible with the former motive.

-To prove what I am saying. I could merely say, “We can’t”. Like it or lump it. Instead, I imagined giving a long story explaining to force her to see it exactly as I do, a story, an understanding which I have rehearsed, myself,

possibly seeing it better, possibly reinforcing blind spots-

There is a useful goal in here somewhere. I want her to do the job herself, and not blame me. Possibly, though, I want to maintain my own self-concept, though that motivation is shadowy and I am not clear how it works. Whatever, there is a useful goal, but it is not my primary purpose.

Pat came to talk to me, of her Buddhist group having internal ructions and various people storming off. Not what you think of Buddhists, or Quakers, perhaps, but we are human. Andrew wrote, I find it ironic- and a little sad…that you and I, Quakers both, can be at loggerheads. But of course we are. We have different views, and I particularly resent that his solution to something I did not even see as a problem would be me walking more than ten miles in total, at particular times however inconvenient to me. Had I not checked with him, I would not have known of this brilliant plan even now.

Pat told me that because I had thrown a wobbly inside the Quaker meeting, and gone to sit outside in the sun. I would not have done that if I thought I would be harshly judged for it. I was sitting thinking of how I would respond to her, while she was talking, but the main message she got over was, “People are strange”. She repeated this several times, and only because of that it got through. Yes. Possibly others as well as me have fixed ideas about how people should respond, and get surprised. Rather than giving a long complex explanation about group dynamics, I said, “Sometimes a row clears the air”, which said all I needed to say.

So I resist experience, and resist my own responses to it, and that involves me in so much work. Instead being open might frustrate me less. This huge heavy framework of my responses to situations just gets in the way, but putting it down frightens me.

So I reassure myself.
I am learning.
I don’t get everything right, but I don’t need to; it is usually right enough.
I have been learning, all my life.
I am good enough.

I am away from the blog for a bit, but hope to be writing again soon.

Degas, little milliners

Why are they wrong?

James wondered why any Christian ever might disagree with him. Fortunately, he has the answer: they are ensnared by the World, and have not allowed the Holy Spirit access to every area of their heart. When they do, they will think exactly as he does, and leave behind the things he disagrees with- which are “The World’s System”.

This absolves James from thinking. Anyone who disagrees with him is simply less spiritually mature than he. When you have had the same inestimable blessings James has had, you will think just like him, and if you do not, and go to Hell- well, the ways of God are strange.

Whereas, we do not all follow the same path of spiritual maturing, but learn different lessons at different times.

One has only so much head-space, and surely it is better to devote it to learning what is Right, what I Believe, than to listening to wrong people. This short-cut absolves you from ever having to refute them. Their ideas are not even wrong in an interesting way, so should not detain us.

I give some attention to any opinion. Possibly, it will increase my understanding. I might be happier with more confidence in my own opinion. There are many good choices: like the supermarket cereals aisle, there might be a best cereal but there are many which are good enough; with so many things one can be wrong, but not wrong enough to hurt. I am giving more attention to attitudes, ways of being: some people with ways of being with others, or in the world, radically different from mine, seem effective or happy and I might learn from them. Though some are merely an awful warning.

Like James, I experience God as changing me, bringing me to health. The changes are unimaginable beforehand, sometimes inexplicable after. It is one reason why I am religious not atheist: I do not proceed by rational argument, but sometimes against what had seemed rational.

Degas, at the milliners in gloves

Why we should fire nuclear weapons

In the film War Book, a character makes a case for firing nuclear weapons on the basis of honour. Yes, British bombs will kill 200m people, and make retaliation likely, even the obliteration of Britain; but firing them is the right thing to do.

His comparison is a day when he and a friend skived school, and went for a walk on Hampstead Heath. They were late starting puberty, and desperate to avoid the school swimming gala. Their fathers found out, and offered a choice: they would, if he chose, write a note excusing him from attending school that day. But that would not be true. He would be failing to take the consequences of his actions. He was suspended for a week, and nearly lost his place at Cambridge.

Of course we should fire the weapons! We should stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. A piece of doggerel from my childhood comes to mind:

I don’t want to look at myself and know
that I’m bluster, bluff and empty show

And if we do not, our word would mean nothing, and would have meant nothing since our deployment of Yellow Sun in 1959.

It is a difficult moral case to make, made chiefly by appeals to emotion: mainly, disgust for the alternative. We would have been lying, pretentious hypocrites. We would have been making empty blustering threats to bluff others into doing what we say. We would have been dishonourable, and would always be dishonourable. The rational case is possible that from the categorical imperative lying is wrong, but then threats are wrong too, whether they are backed up by intention, or empty.

Unless you are prepared to kill those 200m people, you should not have the weapons. Unless you are prepared for the obliteration of Britain and perhaps the whole world as a direct consequence of use, when others retaliate, you should not have the weapons.

Not having the weapons might mean that others make the threat, and there are honourable responses to that, too, which we regularly prate: we “do not negotiate with terrorists” when a hostage is taken, even though the hostage will die. We could “never surrender to nuclear blackmail”. That is the pacifist response, to do what I consider right, or what I want to do, despite the threats of others.

Honour matters. Loss of honour is indeed disgusting- you know what I say is true, or do not, and cannot be persuaded, for all I can do is multiply the feeling words. But even attempting to persuade others to desist from wrongful action, by threats, is not honourable.

Also in War Book a man, who will get what he wants by any effective means, persuades a secretary to lift her skirt and show him her knickers. He lies, cajoles, flatters, makes fake promises, and she does it, then at his request turns to show her bottom. In doing this she has lost honour. She has gone along with it. He wronged her, but she wronged herself.

Nuclear bomb

LG+

LGBTIQQAP….?

I am Queer. “Queer” is almost purged of prejudice: in the Universities, people do queer studies, many of us call ourselves queer, though I have met men who have been bullied and assaulted with the word. I want the big tent, including everyone, for nobody is “normal”- a woman who was insistent to me that she was Not Lesbian-

oh, you poor thing, having to have sex with heavy, sweaty men-

has more recently told me that she was thinking of experimenting.

I want to include as many as possible. I don’t know the difference between bisexual and pansexual, but pansexuals do. So stop growing the abbreviation. LGBT is recognised, but does not include everyone. There are far fewer trans folk than gays- four thousand gender recognition certificates in the UK- but T deserves to be in, because for everyone it is a gender identity issue: nobody fits the stereotype “man” or “woman”, but queers fit it less than most.

Intersex, or Disorders of Sexual Development? Is having physical differences different from having mental differences? If they feel it is, then it is; but trying to identify with the Normal people means always having to put on an act, never being able to be yourself; it means that for everyone, not just queers.

What about those extremely feminine men with masculine women? They are heterosexual, but hardly stereotypical. Some of them keep very very quiet about it, and we don’t even have a name for them. Bring them in.

The other Q is “Questioning”, which means most teenagers. A is for Asexual, and Ally- so all decent people are in. So “Queer” means everyone. Welcome to the big tent.

Degas, at the milliner

Seeing me as a woman

Am I a “real woman”? I am real, I assure you. Quite solid. But do people “see me as a woman,” and if not, does it matter? It is almost the first thing even trans folk notice about another person, and if we can’t decide we are as uncomfortable as others are, so often- which is, really uncomfortable.

I met F and her friend Nan, and later F asked me to help move furniture. She told me Nan had suggested it: “so she saw you as a man”. Well, I was happy enough to move furniture, and strong enough for the load F had; and I took my wig off so as not to get too hot doing it: we were out in the country, no-one but F’s removal team of one man and one other woman would see me. Women can lift and carry too, even if on average we are smaller lighter and less strong than men.

Nan had been reasonably polite. We met at the theatre, and had a good discussion about the play, though not about personal matters. So whether someone “sees me as a woman” is different from whether they are polite, or even willing to form a friendship. I asked K if she “saw me as a woman” and she said “I see you as you“- dodging the question- but I call her a friend. I still tend to feel that if someone does not see me as a woman that is a disaster, they will see me as some kind of weirdo, they will be horrified and disgusted, they will snub me- but people don’t, and that is my internalised transphobia. It is me thinking I must not appear trans as if being trans is a bad thing.

And that group of lads in a car, catcalling as they drove past: that could have been because they saw me as a woman. Women get cat-called.

It matters whether I think I appear like a man. In a car with my deaf friend, we found she could hear me if I spoke baritone, but not with my higher voice. I did that for a time, then found it too upsetting. The thought of presenting male gives me the willies. But when I put on a hard hat next week I will not have a wig under it.

People treat men and women differently. Sometimes this is a disadvantage for a woman: women are disapproved of more than men when expressing anger. If you play the game, fit the stereotype, strangers are more comfortable, though they might be happier with me as an obvious queer rather than an apparent man who was very feminine indeed but only showed that gradually.

It is everyone’s experience that not everyone else is nice. We click with some, we wind up others. Few people are particularly rude, and being trans does not make that worse- it is only because I am trans in my own mind.

Degas, At the Millinery

Internalised homophobia

You see, I want to sympathise with the man. However much of a villain he is, he is also a victim.

Disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien still fascinates me. What was he thinking? Possibly, when he was unmasked he was merely a hypocrite: no longer believing any of the doctrines of his church, he still prated what he had to, to maintain his income and power, and access to men for sexual exploitation. Possibly, the homophobia of his church had so hollowed him out that he was no more than that: while St Paul wrote of the Christian being justified, sanctified, glorified, the homophobic church instead took away all truth and honour from the human being, leaving only a husk. Could the truth be more complex?

He would not have started in that way. Quite probably, as a child wanting to be a priest, O’Brien would believe in God the Creator, in Jesus, and even in the human accretions of his church. He would be aware of his sexuality, but be very quiet about it: his church and the wider society, where gay lovemaking was a criminal offence, both told him it was Wrong. Perhaps he thought that God would heal him, or that in celibacy he would find the strength to resist his natural desires.

And then, perhaps, he fell in love.

Honesty, then, would have meant penury, and disgrace in the eyes of his friends, even though honour in the eyes of reasonable people. He would be cut off from his social group, his purpose in life, everything. It would have been better than his final state, but knowing that, then, would have taken rare honesty and insight, which his career would not have prepared him for.

But then, there are so many who find celibacy impossible for them, and find a compromise: cuckolding a parishioner, living with a housekeeper. Perhaps O’Brien’s initial arrangements were not more wrongful than that. Certainly the fact that his partners were male made no moral difference.

Could it be that, at the end, he actually believed what he taught? That gay lovemaking is a serious sin; that all human beings suffer from Original Sin, and that “There is no health in us”, but that regular confession and absolution make it alright? One result of that would be that he would believe consensual sex to be as wicked as the sex he forced. He takes his understanding of right and wrong from his church, rather than from any rational consideration of suffering caused, or the true nature of human beings created by God. The child abuse for which his church has so recently apologised is not an aberration, but a natural consequence of its teachings.

Whatever his case, as well as a monster and wrongdoer, he is a victim, of the thoughtless or cruel homophobia of men he admired and trusted.

Degas, At the Milliner's

George Fox

For man and woman were helpsmeet in the image of God … in the dominion before they fell; but after the Fall … the man was to rule over his wife; but in the restoration by Christ, into the image of God … in that they are helpsmeet, man and woman, as they were in before the Fall. You could read this as a statement for Equality of men and women, but it is not: as “helpsmeet”, men and women have different and complementary roles. Fox was a man of his time. Yet this is revolutionary: we are restored by Christ into the image of God. The Church of England required belief in Original Sin, saying that man is inclined to evil, and the infection of nature remains even in those regenerated by faith in Christ. The Westminster confession said that man could be sanctified, yet remain in part corrupt.

But we, Quakers, are restored to our glory, in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. I don’t think that is unBiblical, particularly, though probably some Evangelicals would, and I am not Marcus J Borg to bandy proof-texts with them. Fox knew and used the Bible as he preached.

I wondered, what are we to make of the Letter to the Governor of Barbadoes, which was in our book of discipline in the 19th century and is still regarded in Evangelical Quaker circles. Much of it is a statement of belief about God, Jesus and scripture. As a liberal-liberal 21st century Quaker, I can say simply, he was a man of his time, and when he calls the Bible the Word of God, whose writers spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit, he spoke the ideas of his time. In following him, I am not to accept his 17th century ideas as a whole, but his way of being with them. So he writes that masters should “pray with and for, teach, instruct and admonish” their slaves about Christian truth: not release them, but treat them as human beings, fellow-servants of Christ. That might mitigate the masters’ bestial treatment.

I love this quote too, the way the words build and dance round the idea, the strength of it.

I must read the Journal again. I want to know this man. And now, an Iris Murdoch quote:

I live in long times, not in sudden present moments. I’ve got to go back to where I am… You don’t understand people like me, like us, the other ones. You’re like a bird that flies in the air, a fish that swims in the sea. You move, you look about you, you want things. There are others who live on Earth and move just a little and don’t look-

Monet, en bateau

Listening

Listening makes me feel good. I don’t do it out of love, or duty; I do it because that is who I am. It confers no rights on me: I have received my reward in full; yet I am well rewarded.

One could not listen without communicating first. I am a person who will not judge you, not your past acts nor your character. You check this out, first, a toe in the water before diving in. You need to hear it before you can trust and unburden. Though some people appear this way, and are not: my philosophy student friend remarked that people told him things; he mimicked this sympathetic type, without being it.

People talk because it is a relief for them. You judge yourself, you tell me, I absolve you, you gather the ability and energy to absolve yourself. Or you feel badly hurt, and resentful: I agree it was not fair and you gain relief. When my mother was dying of cancer, she became dependent on morphine. In hospital, some idiot doctor decided to wean her off it- as if addiction could harm her, at all, then. Reducing her morphine gave her needless pain and probably shortened her life. I told this, later, to a trans man, a consultant in palliative care, and he said that oncologists should have known better; and his few words took away so much of my pain.

Sometimes a person is like a bottomless pit of misery. S/he could talk for an hour sharing pain and gain no relief from it at all.

I feel I earth the pain. I do not take it into myself, but offer it up to God, or let it go. I must sympathise: while listening, I am in the moment with the person, feeling with them, accepting them; then after, I shed the pain, taking a moment to cleanse myself of it.

I loved listening. While it was a necessary part of my job, to delve into secret suffering, what a person could not face, so as to get evidence for DLA or IB, I felt as well as helping with appeals I was giving relief. A person would feel less alone.

Some people are good at it. F was the doctor in the genito-urinary clinic, where all the patients are terrified, who would hear the story of the patient being abused as a child. Other doctors would deal with the presenting physical problem.

So why do I not do it now? There are opportunities, such as the Beaumont Trust telephone line for trans folk to call about practical issues or for a listening ear; for more commitment, there is the Samaritans. I do not want the commitment. I see that commitment as holding forth only possibility of failure, rather than fulfilment. I need to learn to trust.

Monet, Madame Gaudibert

Transphobia

I would rather have died than not transitioned. I wanted to die. I had planned to transition, then realised I absolutely had to, Now, when I found myself envying a dying woman. I would have swapped lives with her.

I get read, all the time. Not everyone reads me, but most spot it quickly. I would love to drop into conversation that I am trans, and have someone actually surprised. Sîan might not have spotted it: I was so hot that I took my wig off, and she asked me if I had had cancer- then how did you lose your hair? Stress, I said. If the explanation that I am trans had not occurred to her then, perhaps it would not after.

I don’t know if I would have decided to transition if I had not known of others who had. I cross-dressed without knowing about other people. I might have just dressed female at home. I would have carried on, ashamed and terrified.

I don’t think I have reached my potential. I have been aware of other trans people, had a great deal of support and acceptance, and still suffered shame, and the derision or hatred of a few; and one man could not remain my friend, because he could not see me as a woman.

The Scottish Catholic bishops yesterday apologised to the victims of priests’ sexual abuse. It is a mean, lying apology- deliberately covering up abuse, and attempting to avoid paying proper compensation, is not merely “slow, unsympathetic and uncaring”, but criminal. Yet when I heard of it, I felt such rage. Overwhelmed by the anger of Catholics and others, they make this belated apology, yet they continue to abuse and stunt trans children with their wicked lying teaching that gender reassignment surgery (GRS) and hormone treatments distort the God-designed and God-created human body to the extent that it is a very serious sin.

I wondered what they gained from it. Faced with a person doing something which harms no-one else, which makes them happier, they condemn- to what end? Then there is the evidence of psychological studies that psychotherapy to make someone accept their assigned sex does not work.

Faced with the facts which refute their false understanding of the world, their response is a blank denial. Why? Would they feel uncomfortable to admit they were wrong? Do they wish to simplify God’s creation, and simply deny the bits they do not like? Or do they feel threatened by someone doing something which they would not want to do themselves?

They gain nothing. I enrich the lives of everyone who knows me with my unique perspective on life- just like every free human being. Keith O’Brien, talented enough to be a cardinal, crushed by having to deny his sexuality into a corrupt predator, could have given so much to his church if it had not denied his God-given being. Some people even still oppose equal marriage! They fill me with horror and contempt.

Degas, the milliner's shop