Disability and inclusion

No-one will escape disability, except some of those who die instantly in accidents, which is not necessarily preferable. We will be unsteady on our feet, or unable to stand, having difficulty remembering. We will stretch out our hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around us and take us where we do not wish to go. Those who are disabled now frighten those of us who are fit and well. We see our future, and turn away.

Fiona MacMillan, a trustee of Inclusive Church, at 20 was non-disabled, getting everywhere by bicycle. Ten years later she was in a wheelchair with Tourette’s. She explained this to us: she might tic during her speech; and having explained it, it became alright. As she was speaking, she made a number of high-pitched squeals in mid-sentence. She carried on speaking, and eventually her squeals ceased. At another point she was waving her right forearm, her elbow on the arm of her chair. I suppose the Inclusiveness advance we could make would be for tics to be alright, and for her not to have to explain them. My first understanding of Tourette’s came from LA Law in the 1980s. And if she had had to attempt to appear normal in order not to be judged, her tics would be unbearable and she would have been unable to speak to us.

She told us to do whatever made us feel comfortable, and suggested pacing the floor at the back if necessary. At one point later in the Diversity and Inclusion Gathering, I wanted to, but forebore. I am no longer a member of my AM, and in part that is because I could not sit still in Meeting. However when she got someone to hand round envelopes to the audience, and continued speaking, she would not ignore that we were talking amongst ourselves rather than listening. First she repeated the first line of her next segment several times, then upbraided us for being unable to do a simple thing like pass round envelopes without chatting like silly children.

A new example of “Quakerly behaviour”, which as Mark Russ says must stop being used as a synonym for “good”. I took notes on her talk (which here is filtered through my understanding and emphases).

Disabled people have a lot to teach other communities. Disability is not a matter primarily of biological difference but power. Our stories help us make sense of our lives. Identity comes from experience and insight. The stories we tell define who we are, but who tells them affects them.

Nothing about us without us.

She is not comfortable being defined by one word “Disability”. We did an exercise stating different parts of our identities: many identities makes a minority of one (I am aphantasic Scottish trans Mensa-qualified Christian, and that may be enough). Lots of things make up our identities.

Her illness is not tidy. Its effects on her physical and ccognitive capacity change all the time. Medical science about it is guesswork. To call her a person with a disability is a lazy, simplistic shorthand. She is neurodiverse, and a wheelchair-user. The labels are useful if adopted for ourselves. Society does not know how to be inclusive. She has to deal with the reactions of others, embarrassment, fear, etc, and their effect on her. (My bereaved friend found herself reassuring or even counselling people who came to condole with her.) When she gets a new personal assistant, she has the person go around in her chair to find what it feels like. She is living on the edge, and it is difficult. She reflects and remembers others’ experience and viewpoint, but is more comfortable with broken, vulnerable people. Her attention slides off the surfaces of complete people (like Jesus, come not for the healthy but the sick). She learns to be amazed. She has to remind people that her illness is not a moral fault or in her control. Accepting and knowing herself, she can accept and know others, and share what she knows of human difference.

How hard it is to be vulnerable! Austerity has cut benefits, and the aggressive measures to cut benefit fraud which is less than 1% of benefit payments hurts people, as well as demonises us as scroungers.

She struggles with loss, rejection and blame. We should be honoured as guests or members of the community. We are not all the same, and our stories are worth hearing. Painful things happen to her hourly, but they are less painful in a community trying to know better so it can do better.

The church cared for people on the edge, which was counter-cultural, but this can be mere charity, looking after needy rather than valuing their gifts. Disabled people want greater autonomy, to be agents of change. 11m disabled people were born healthy, and are adjusting. 43% of adults over pension age are disabled.

There are different models of disability. The medical model analyses the function of a body, and the body is fixed to fit norms. Disability is an individual problem. The social model says people’s difficulties are caused by the way society is organised. Now, public buildings should be designed so that the experience of everyone entering and moving through the building is the same, whether they walk or go on wheels, an architect tells me. There are also Christian models of disabled people as passive recipients of charity or even being punished for sin.

The church can marginalise and isolate people, and focuses on adaptations not people- getting in, but not joining in. So we should ask how disabled people can be part of the prophetic message of the church, becoming witnesses not as “bravely” or “cheerfully” coping with difficulties.

We are all a combination of needs and gifts. When our needs are met our gifts can flourish. The inclusive church must anticipate the needs of the people who are not here yet.

We bring our experience of darkness, weakness and restoration, of our bodies, the source of wonder, pleasure and pain, of waiting, anger and forsakenness. We come not as victims but as liberators.

Unity and Diversity

Christianity is filled with dialectic, truths held in tension. So we worship the transcendent God in the immanent Christ, one God in three Persons, Jesus is human and divine, faith is personal and lived out corporately, the Church is a gift of grace and a human institution, the Church transcends culture yet comes alive within culture.

And humanity is all the same, created in the image of God, yet there are differences of culture, faith, tradition, gifts, personality and character. Acts, and Paul’s letters, wrestle with how to live with our differences. At best, we enjoy belonging and rootedness, at worst Balkanisation. Debating whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity should be circumcised or obey the Jewish Law, the apostles and elders commanded only to abstain from meat offered to idols, which later Paul said was forbidden out of practicality not principle. At Pentecost people from all the diaspora came together and heard the Word, each in their own language. Christ speaks to me in my individuality, and binds us into unity. Here there is no Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, Quaker Anglican Methodist or Catholic, but Christ is all and in all.

The concept of race remains as it is a power performance. Power colonises human spaces, and dictates who belongs and who is marginalised. Why is the Church, the body of Christ in which all of us are one, racialised? If Quakers are so strong for Equality, a central part of our testimony and action, why are we so white? This post is part an account and part my response to Prof. Anthony Reddie‘s talk to the Quaker Diversity and Inclusion Gathering. It is filtered through me, a white aspiring ally.

Prof. Reddie has written the book Theologising Brexit: a liberationist and postcolonial critique. Brexit is about what it means to be British. Everyone is tribal, yet the social justice tradition refutes English nationalism. Half of Methodists were Leave voters, Quakers overwhelmingly remain, and the tradition of our denominations inscribes whiteness as normality. When Reddie was ten, he was made to do the Bible reading on Pentecost, and despite intensive coaching finding himself the sole representative of Black people stumbled over the names: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia… I did that reading too, as a child, but I was only standing up for myself, a white amongst whites.

At the time of Pentecost, skin colour was not important, though cultural differences were: the construct of “Race” is modern, part of a biological hierarchy, the product of Empire where Britons nobly took up the White Man’s Burden, and took away South African diamonds.

We are the same, and we are different, and Christians can emphasise one or the other. Who is like me? Everyone and no-one. We are all human, and all have different gifts and experiences. Reddie asked us to position ourselves on a spectrum from emphasising unity to emphasising diversity, and said no-one could be in the middle as reconciling the two was hard for humans. We came out more for diversity.

Reddie said Patriarchy positions women’s bodies. When women watch male strippers, they giggle. Men watching women strip do not laugh. Their male gaze is about power and penetration, constructing women’s bodies. In the same way white is power, normality, not needing to be think about, and Black is Other. The Black person makes a decision about how it is to be enfleshed as black. But the Church was meant to be different. Paul reframed belonging as a relationship, where faith in Christ, rather than blood or kinship, meant we belong. We should embrace our differences and celebrate them, but we use them for power.

In school, a white boy bit him to see if his blood was a different colour, yet the Black people were seen as the savages.

He himself belongs to groups that affirm him. I take this as a confession: he is not immune. His suburb is superior. And at worst, we fight based on these things.

Quakers, he says, are tolerant, kind and affirming. We know that there is power and some are marginalised, yet we talk of our Quaker tradition, opposing slavery, testifying to Equality in our lives and witness, so that it is hard to talk of Quaker racism yet we are the whitest tradition in Britain. We are just as exclusive, but in ways that are more difficult to challenge- for white Quakers, more difficult to see.

So conversation is a good thing, where we speak from experience. White patriarchy gives us crumbs, and we fight over them. We must rise above the zero-sum game. We need to be allies. There is systemic and structural oppression of almost all. We worship a generous God, a God of Abundance, and people of faith should be generous with each other.

It seems to me that the Friend who later shared the Jo Cox quote- the one everyone knows, “We have more in common than that which divides us”- was whistling in the wind, attempting to escape the tension by leaping to one side of it. We should not be fighting, certainly not oppressing, but when we seek to meet each other, to encounter and really see each other, the differences are as obvious as the similarities.

Trans excluders at the “Inclusion Gathering” shock

The Quaker “National Gathering on Diversity and Inclusion” weekend started with a talk from Heather Brunskell-Evans, “philosopher and social theorist”, “Gender concerned” Quaker, campaigner who claims the greatest threat to women’s human rights comes from trans inclusion and “trans ideology”. Edwina Peart, organiser, phoned me up beforehand to warn me about it, saying when we carefully and with boundaries open this conversation we begin to see some similarities between what have been seen as diametrically opposed positions- I don’t believe they are. I applauded the bravery, and felt it might be too much for me personally to bear. I frightened my friend, who emailed, Be just another woman, don’t be the ambassador for trans, let others wrestle with the issues.

The programme, sent to participants on Monday 13 January, said something different. Other arranged speakers were introduced as keynote speakers, but not Heather. Edwina Peart wrote, It is one of my goals as diversity and inclusion coordinator that Quakers sit with issues around gender diversity and trans inclusion and ultimately reach a position. I feel that momentum is building through the strands of work that are occurring under this theme. However, this cannot develop into an active standpoint without the inclusion of the Gender Concerned group. This is an opportunity for deep examination of their position and an analysis of its base. It will encourage us to consider how we can be inclusive and welcoming of trans Friends living their gender truthfully. I do not think a position will be achieved without acknowledging, laying bare and ultimately allaying the fears of some cis gendered women and men.

I found that disrespectful. One “allays” fears that are groundless. Meeting with and hearing anti-trans campaigners, I do not hear fears. Yes, they talk of individual trans women who have committed crimes as if we should all be judged by the worst acts of the worst of us, but what I hear is righteous anger. They think it is part of the systematic disrespect the Patriarchy shows women that they should have to share spaces with trans women, and women’s spaces are valueless if trans women might be there. I am aware Heather in particular finds the thought of chest masculinisation surgery, which she would call double mastectomy, revolting.

As far as I understand it, she finds gender stereotypes oppressive, and finds that oppression only gets worse when we are driven to surgery to alter our bodies in order to escape them. Whereas, in the imperfect community we find ourselves in, I find surgery a completely reasonable thing for someone to choose. She thinks we will find freedom from gender norms by rejecting the norms but valuing our beautiful bodies. I think freedom from the norms is harder to achieve than that, and any tool- even surgery- should be permitted. This is different from the usual trans view, that trans people need surgery to cope with gender incongruence.

This is my disagreement with Heather. Continue reading

Moulding reality

Something to look forward to changed to something to dread. “What do you fear?” she asked. That I lose my shit completely, and collapse in a puddle on the floor.

But my worst fear won’t happen.

My friend said it was a good thing F was speaking, and I should on no account answer her. My friend’s hope was that people would get sick of her stridency, and not of mine. I hope for something more: for unity including her, and me.

I said, I am going as a contributor, then, misunderstood, had to qualify that. I am a participant without a particular time for speaking, but intend to contribute, not merely listen. Everyone who shares a meal with me will rise blessed by the experience. Another said, that’s a tall order. Take care. But, the risks are what might make it worthwhile! No progress can come without risk! And the intensity I bring is my contribution.

It might actually be too much to face. I would be sitting quietly in an audience while intolerance was presented as rational argument and concern for vulnerable women and children. I find persuasive falsehoods particularly horrible, particularly prone to wind me up. While I know much of what to expect, something might surprise me, and I might get riled. I can relax in the dentist’s chair, letting the discomfort wash over me, but might try to suppress anger and just blow up.

The whole will be good. I can’t decide what to do with that part beforehand. I must be open to my feelings then. And the stress of anticipating it, and that other thing, is making it more difficult for me to face anything else.

I thought of how I mould reality with words, and how that might be good for me, changing the world for the better, and how it might not. The worst example is Rumination, where the same obsessive thoughts go through a mind, unchanging. I know I was right. I know I was bullied for it. Years later I have stopped running through that story. I might convince someone else with it, I might not. It does not do anything for me, now. It might reassure me about my good qualities, but really, it is escaping the present for the past. It is a self-soothing mechanism, perhaps. I am a Good person! That would be escaping reality for a reassuring fantasy, where being a Good person kept me safe.

Or I mould reality by persuading others. I come up with argument, or a different way of seeing the world, which achieves good ends.

And words help me understand, if my words can get as close as possible to my perception. A good parent (or counsellor) can help a child (adult) understand their emotion, by mirroring it. Similarly an internal state, a feeling, or an external reality, might be more meaningful for the word-using part of me if I have words for it. (There is a part which is not word-using, but- it is not conscious; I need a bridge to the word-using part; not sure. Something.)

Living in past and future does a lot for me. I reassure myself. I gird myself for possibilities. And it takes me away from the present; and not all my thoughts do me good.

Here’s a columnist saying what she most hated in 2019: we endured the increasingly shrill demands of Greta Thunberg, the Duchess of Sussex putting ‘changemakers’ on the cover of Vogue, Jo ‘identify as whatever you want’ Swinson, Extinction Rebellion, the Marks & Spencer LGBT sandwich… These are things I like, and my objections to Jo Swinson are that she is too right wing. That her most objectionable aspect should be her trans-acceptance twists the knife for me. Or, possibly, it doesn’t. That columnist hates all goodness in the world and all that I stand for. Still I exist.

Ha! There it is!

Still I exist!

I will not be crushed into nothingness by Sarah Vine, or indeed by a talk on the evils of “transgender ideology”.

Being beautiful

You should not let your makeup routine get into a rut. I have been doing the same thing for years. My mascara brush was coming apart. My lipstick was down to the metal. And I have had a lovely time chatting about shades with Sienna. The shop was nearly empty and she gave me the time I needed, about twenty minutes.

There was a rich deep pink lipstick which made me feel absolutely beautiful. I used it until it broke, then I carefully brushed it on until it nearly ran out, and now I wanted to replace it with exactly the same shade. I had the idea the shop assistants would be able to do this. I had gone to darn a thin patch in the elbow of my favourite silk/cashmere jumper, and the shop assistant had found the thread of exactly the right shade, far closer than I could have seen myself. Sienna did not seem particularly good at this, smearing all sorts of colours onto a tissue, but we found a rather gorgeous shade called Deep Rose, which fits my skin tone perfectly. I also got one which is almost my natural lip colour, but adds the slightest sparkly sheen.


I want to be smoking. I want a particular woman to fall into my arms whispering “How could I have been so wrong about you?” (It isn’t going to happen, but a girl can dream.) I want to project confidence and presence.

Sienna had very heavy foundation. I have not used foundation since the time I was getting a lot of electrolysis: it can cover beard shadow if you have dark hair under pale skin, but not actual stubble which just pokes through and looks much worse, and shaving closely every day while having four hours of electrolysis a week is impossible. We talked of eye shadow. I said I wanted the kind of mascara that I could wear to the office and into the evening, but went for a Maximum Volume one which would triple my lashes. Not for the office, I suppose, but well.

I talked of no-makeup makeup. Round about the nineties, I pontificated, it was a thing, the no-makeup makeover that took an hour. No man would see that you had makeup on, and women might be unsure, but they would see your face slightly more defined. Sienna appeared interested.

When I was transitioning, a rumour went round that Boots shop assistants were taught specifically to deal with nervous incipient trans women, to put us at our ease and make us feel comfortable. The one I spoke to denied this, but was completely professional with a touch of the kindness I was starving for, giving me three samples of foundation to take away and experiment with in private.

The first perfume I bought was Amarige by Givenchy. I have a bottle of it now. I wore it to the trans club, then next day even after showering, when I went to work I could smell the faintest remainder of it on my wrist. Throughout the day, I took surreptitious sniffs at my wrist, which reassured and calmed me.

I will wear that, too.

Quaker unity

The idea of Unity is at the heart of Quakerism, yet we rarely try to define it. Instead we use the word as if we all know what it means. There are about seventy uses of the word in Quaker Faith and Practice, and from the context of each we might gain an idea of it.

In the Bible, NRSV, it appears seven times:

Psalm 133
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.

Here unity is in our common life, and it makes that life bright and beautiful. It is God’s anointing, and life-giving water.

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Ephesians 4.11-13 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

I read this as having maturity, the same faith and knowledge that Christ had, which will bind us together in unity. If we are in touch with what Quakers call the Inner Light, as Jesus was, we will live in unity together.

It was a Quaker word from the beginning. Edward Burrough wrote in 1662 of making decisions in love, coolness, gentleness and dear unity. All these words are aspects of one way of relating. Isaac Penington might find unity with anyone he meets, when he found the spirit and life in them. Francis Howgill repeatedly echoed the new testament in his description of worship, including 1 Peter: We met together in the unity of the Spirit, and of the bond of peace, treading down under our feet all reasoning about religion. George Fox wrote of our “unity in the Spirit” and Margaret Fell of “peace, love and unity,” both to people outside the new movement: it is a common English word, and Christians would understand it just as they understood Christian love. For William Penn, when someone ministered in meeting the rest, recognising the leadings of Christ, would adhere with a firm unity. Elizabeth Fry feared the snare of spiritual pride in the sense of religious unity.

Unity is a state of our being in eternity: Job Scott wrote of everlasting unity shortly before his death; we are in unity with the living and the dead. And unity is a process. We continually achieve it, in our meetings for worship as they gather, (when two or three gather together I am with them) and our meetings for worship for business. It is not in words and doctrines: We have sought unity through agreement in doctrines and institutions; and the track of church history, like some new road through the desert, is strewn with the parched skeletons of our failures. For John Punshon, we might find it with Methodists in communion- I am like you, and we share one faith in God- though Friends might disapprove, or counsel against. It is from God, and it is part of our wordless human, primate, mammalian way of being with each other when our words and our conflict fall away. Our differences are always present. How we deal with those differences is our continuing work, with God’s help. Iain Law feared breaking unity and his friendships if he ministered of his experiences in his meeting.

In business meeting we sometimes all join together in a certainty of immediate rightness and sometimes one will acquiesce in the discernment of their Friends, after they have been heard. As a worshipping community, particularly in our local and area meetings, we have a continuing responsibility to nurture the soil in which unity may be found. John Woolman found Quaker work best done with the discerned assent of the Meeting.  The Yearly Meeting struggled to find unity on sexuality in 1994, and found it sixteen years later. There is unity in the search and the struggle together.

In the struggle to find unity, in finding the beauty of what one other has found and valued, we may grow. One Friend’s boldness leads us on. We might seek a feeling of safety from uniformity of outward practices and observations, or from creeds, but that is not true unity, which we find in Jesus.

Our differences persist, though mostly unexpressed, so in considering membership we need trust and a sense we are safe enough, for the moment. Rufus Jones wrote of the “hidden seed of God”, and for me our current exploration of privilege becomes relevant: we have differences of culture and of personality, and worldly ways of enforcing hierarchy come naturally and mostly unconsciously to us. We recognise we are at different stages along the way. We don’t require great achievement but sincerity of purpose. Boundaries are sketchy, because they cannot be defined beforehand in words but must be known in relationship in the moment: there are broad principles of belief and conduct on which unity is essential… even though precise agreement on every point is not required. Thomas Story wrote, The unity of Christians never did nor ever will or can stand in uniformity of thought and opinion, but in Christian love only.

Unity, and the sense of the presence of God, is our experience outside meeting: Anne Hosking found it kissing her children, and from the earliest days of Christianity we might find it in coitus. It is in our shared humanity- with everyone- so might be found in our most painful experiences such as bereavement.

Janet Scott wrote, This is the truth which we know and try to live … that every person is capable of response to the divine Spirit; that this Spirit, or Light, or God reaches out to each one directly and freely; that if we follow the leadings of this Spirit faithfully we are led out of sin into unity with the divine will; that this unity leads us into love of and care for all humankind, who are our kin; that what the Spirit shows us is living truth which cannot be fettered by words.

Two chapter headings include the word. Chapter 25 is Unity of Creation, arguing that All species and the Earth itself have interdependent roles within Creation. Humankind is not the species, to whom all others are subservient, but one among many. And, This is a marvellous world, full of beauty and splendour; it is also an unrelenting and savage world, and we are not the only living things prone to dominate if given the chance. In our fumbling, chaotic way, we do also make gardens, irrigate the desert, fly to the moon and compose symphonies. There is a unity of the human species, and of the biosphere.

Chapter 27 is Unity and Diversity. God’s truth is too wide for one person, or even perhaps one religion. John Woolman found it among the “Indians”, and Robert Barclay in the Turks. Henry Hodgkin, a Quaker missionary, wrote in 1933 I believe that God’s best for another may be so different from my experience and way of living as to be actually impossible to me. I recognise [a change] to have taken place in myself, from a certain assumption that mine was really the better way, to a very complete recognition that there is no one better way, and that God needs all kinds of people and ways of living through which to manifest himself in the world. We might also find truth among other Christians, for example in Thomas Merton’s contemplative prayer, but these things may be too close to us, and QFP does not say this. We value the Bible, and the Spirit which is above it. We have our reasons for rejecting specific consecrated sacraments, and ordained ministry.

Seven Samaritans

I am scared of phoning the Samaritans. I have an idea of what I want to do with the conversation, which terrifies me. My judgment that I am worthless, without the most basic resilience or intelligence, is mine, and I feel that it comes from my childhood. However from the same place comes my judgment that I had an unexceptionable childhood, and that no-one would be affected negatively by it except someone who was worthless, stupid and disgustingly fragile.

“You were tortured,” Liz said, referring to how hurt I appeared in 2011.

I had the thought that I would talk about my childhood with the Samaritans. I would project my judgment on them that there was nothing wrong with my childhood, so saying it would take my courage. Then, in speaking it out loud I would advance towards believing my childhood really was difficult. I was not in this position because I was worthless. Unfortunately, I could not have the conversation I desired.

I explained to the first what I wanted, and he took control, asking questions. When in answer to a question I said I noticed I felt worthless when I was twenty, he asked “Did something happen when you were twenty?” Yes; but something to make me notice the feeling, not something to cause it for the first time. I was fed up with his questions. I was afraid of addressing the question: I would talk about my childhood, and believed he would find nothing wrong with it. As I was psyching myself up to start, he filled the silence with distracting questions. So I rang off.

The second wanted to explain his role to me in great detail. He listens because he makes mistakes himself, he said, though he should not have told me that, he said. Everyone suffers with depression and anxiety, he said. If you’ve locked your door then gone back to check it’s locked that’s obsessive-compulsive, he said. There’s no stigma here.

The third wanted to explore the fact that I might get help anywhere else? Have you had counselling? he demanded. Yes. “Has it helped with strategies?” Oh, you mean like cognitive behavioural therapy. No, I am trying to get to the root of the problem, why I feel the feeling so I can lay it to rest, not how I can tell it it’s stupid and drag it around with me. “Are you on any meds?” No. “Have you spoken with your doctor?” Erm. “How are you feeling today?” “Is it an especially bad day?”

-You’ve just asked two questions, I said. Which do you think is the most important?
-Is it an especially bad day today, he said. No.
-How do you think we can help?
-I am frightened of you, and I want to face my fear.
-Because I am projecting judgment on to you. Does that make sense to you?
-No. We don’t judge.

I rang off again. I find women Samaritans more useful, so when the fourth to answer was the fourth man in a row, I rang off immediately. (Hello! Any Samaritans reading this?)

The fifth was a woman, called Samantha, who thought we had spoken before. I felt mild embarrassment at that, but when you phone them as often as I do it’s possible, I suppose. She said they try not to remember calls. In a brief moment, facing my fear, I thought, I want to convince them it was unbearable, but not by showing pain or distress in my voice. I want to talk rationally, as if communicating my feeling by tone of voice would not be an acceptable way of convincing them. That is, I devalue my emotions, at least for this purpose. I want to persuade by rational argument, and as I am projecting judgment it is that I need to persuade myself. As I faced my fear, she interrupted to tell me to get on with it. They have lots of callers to speak to. Have you had help?

Yes. Counselling over decades. Sorry to trouble you.

I ring off again.

With the sixth I realised I did not just fear judgment, which I was quite clear I was projecting, but also incomprehension, which was only partially projected. I needed to convince myself of the difficulties of my childhood leading to my ongoing feeling of worthlessness.

I am not just calling to confuse Samaritan volunteers. I am in need, and have nowhere else to go. My seventh call was to another Liz. I said I needed to make a declaration to another human being. I started by saying good things people have said of me, and that I believe them: in fact when someone pays me a compliment I write it down in order to squeeze every last drop of affirmation from it. Friends have called me “bold and brave and honest and open”, and see kindness, gentleness, tenderness and tenacity, courage, authenticity, insight, integrity, and concern for others in me. I do too. And I felt worthless, because of the difficulties of my childhood.

We discussed my childhood for a bit.
-Your feelings were not appreciated, she said.
-That must have been tough.

The relief I feel hearing that is great. I am understood. She sympathises. Perhaps in her eyes I am not worthless.

-How do you get on with your parents now?
-They are both dead.
-How did you feel about that?
-Relief. (That’s not the whole of it, but a large part of it. I can love them now they can’t hurt me any more.)

-Are there people now who make you feel worthless?
Enough to keep my old conviction simmering.

We also establish that my desires were not appreciated, such that I did not know what I wanted. I had no particular friends, and was not given choices. We ate meals together, and talked of current affairs: there was one right way to see current affairs, that Thatcher was Britain’s saviour, which is not an opinion I cleave to now. I say how devoted my father was to self-improvement, reading and treating high culture as work, which he must concentrate on to gain appreciation. I say my mother wore the trousers, and this was something we could not discuss.

Liz wants me to look in the mirror and affirm myself. She keeps mentioning this. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘I am not worthless’.” I want to say it to her, and I want to say it with my whole being, with all of me accepting and believing it. I am not there yet. However, in continuing conversation I say with a part of me, in a soft voice, “I am not worthless”. Then with a rational, conversational part of me I say “I am not worthless”.

I have faced a lot of challenges. I tell her of Dr Patel. I did not just want to be invisible, not to be noticed because it was a threat. Nor did my father. I wanted what I saw to be right. This comes from integrity.

I called the Samaritans this afternoon, and eventually had the healing conversation I had wanted. And this evening, I am not saying “I am not worthless” but, sometimes calmly and confidently, sometimes repeatedly,

I have value.

Smiling, and even believing it!

I had a dreadful childhood. I was kept warm and well-fed, and pushed to academic success, and my feelings, desires and even my very nature were so systematically devalued by my parents especially my mother that I could not value, or even perceive them. I was taught to hide my nature in terror and pretend to be normal, and not even to realise that was what I was doing. I could not have typed this paragraph yesterday, and even now it starts with the positives, reducing the weight of that word “dreadful”. The positives are there and they do not begin to mitigate the depth of the trauma. Acknowledging it is a step to healing it.

Uppity trans

I don’t want to ask for permission any more. I don’t want to tell my hurt in a desperate quest for sympathy, because if they sympathise with my hurt they might not be so horrible to me. Rather, if I tell my hurt I am written off as hysterical, emotional, not worth listening to.

I ask you to tell your hurt so you will cease to be the expert social scientist and become the hysterical woman, and people will laugh at you.

I ask you to tell your hurt so that people might genuinely be sympathetic, and be motivated to take action against the wrongs you have suffered.

I am ambivalent about this.

The Jews who called for a vote to defeat Labour at the last election appalled me. They would pick on some evidence that Mr Corbyn is anti-semitic, rather than pacifist and supporting oppressed groups, and so boycott Labour giving a boost to the racist, homophobic and probably anti-semitic Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a psychopathic liar. This article offends me in so many ways, particularly this bit: [Jonathan] Sacks wrote his book as an eloquent critique of multiculturalism, and a plea for Britons to find a way to build a common culture predicated on respect for difference. What Sacks does not describe is the one form of unity that arose from multiculturalism: intersectionality, where diverse groups have come together in a shared culture of victimhood and a shared hatred of Jews. As Sohrab Ahmari wrote in these pages: “Precisely because it is a theory of generalized victimhood, intersectionality targets the Jews–the 20th century’s ultimate victims.” No, intersectionality is about seeing people’s disadvantages, so that we may work together against them. You are not the only group suffering victimisation, and your insistence that you are repels me.

I don’t like members of disadvantaged groups pretending that theirs is the only disadvantaged, or the most disadvantaged, group. It just sets groups against each other. I don’t want merely to dismiss arguments for such a position- some speak to me, for example this one“The older generation in the African American community, they kind of bristle at the fact that same-sex marriage is being compared to the civil rights movement,” says Maryland Delegate Keiffer J. Mitchell, who represents part of Baltimore and voted for gay marriage. “People would throw bottles, cuss at us, say all sorts of names, just because of the color of our skin,” Derek McCoy [a pastor and campaigner against equal marriage] recalls about his childhood in the South. “So I can’t imagine that we can equate the redefinition of marriage to the civil rights struggle.” I hear your pain. I do. And gay people have also suffered violence, even murder, and daily abuse.

When I use the word “uppity” in my title, I am alluding to Black people’s struggle, as it was a word used to condemn them. I am nervous about claiming the word. Yet I am claiming it.

I abhor the selfishness of that Jew. How dare he pretend his victimhood is greater than others’? It’s not just the Holocaust, of course, it’s the exile from England, amongst other things- the oppression of English Jews was shocking, and the persecution and murder runs throughout the ages- yet that does not entitle him to dismiss the suffering of gay people Black people Muslims or others any more than an Eton-educated white straight non-Jewish man should.

Yet I love this bit.

This electoral result is truly a source of jubilation and celebration; but what occurred in Anglo Jewry before the election is worth celebrating as well. The stand taken by Rabbis Sacks and Mirvis, and others in England, should inspire Jewish pride everywhere. After centuries as guests in an English “country home,” and decades as targets of the multicultural left, British Jews spoke as equals in their country.

Of course he is delighted. They stood up and said loud and proud,


I would like to speak in that way too. Anyone may be broken by prejudice. That’s why we don’t play oppression olympics: however little it seems to other people, you may be crushed by it. I need the hate to bounce off my shield of righteousness. “Fucking poof!” that man screams at me, and I laugh at him, because he is laughable, a dimwit consumed by his hate.

There is a time for apology and circumspection, and “if the rest of you don’t mind”, and a time for assertion. This is who I am. If the assertion is honest, confident and unforced, we might even be accepted on our own estimation!

Are women the victims of prejudice amongst Quakers? Just because there are 66% more female members and attenders than male, does not make this impossible.

Language, truth and reality

Winston Smith wrote in his diary, Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. That means there is a shared reality, where we all know that 2+2=4, and each person has the freedom to state it. Someone riposted no, freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=5. Powerful people state what reality is, for example We have always been at war with Eastasia, and the rest of us have to go along with that.

People on the moderate left tend to believe in reality humans can investigate, where, say, climate catastrophe is being caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and Mr Trump is wilfully denying that, but who knows what Trump believes? He really might believe something because it is in his interests to do so.

When I was a child there were nine planets, and there are now, as far as I know: but Pluto has been redefined as a dwarf planet and Konstantin Batygin’s planet nine has been hypothesised but not observed. I could not assess the weight of Batygin’s evidence, and I could not say whether there is some agreed need to observe it before declaring it exists though there appears to be. When I was a child, a kilobyte was 1024 bytes, and now it is 1000. 1024 bytes is now a kibibyte.

A sacked writer about taxation issues, echoing Winston, wants the freedom to say “Sex is real”. Of course it is, but not all the implications she wants to make from that follow. I don’t name her because her power comes from her notoriety and I call it notoriety rather than fame because I disapprove of her. Here I am, trying to mould reality with the words I use. I say “Trans women are women” and you agree with me, and freedom and human diversity and flourishing are enhanced, and she and her ilk say “transwomen are men” and they are not disagreeing with us, they are using language differently. It is a power struggle not a search for truth.

Michel Foucault said, We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.

You wanted to tell me something was going to happen that I would find difficult. You called me up and asked me not to tell anyone, and I said I was minded to promise but would not do so yet. You explained slowly and carefully why, and I agreed that was brave and possibly the right thing to do. I then promised, and started trying to explain something (I hope my allusions here are sufficiently nebulous not to have broken that promise). I was concerned I might be telling you things I had told you before, and I wanted to tell quickly a lot of information, and I became incoherent. A sentence might make sense by itself but not with the one before or after, then the sentences broke down. I don’t know what I said.

Richard Rohr says the myths of heroic sacrifice or redemptive suffering can prevent us from rebounding from rock bottom. I don’t know what keeps me here. Possibly the prejudice of others, possibly some error in me, wrongful desires or misperceptions. Evolution says that if we are more likely to reproduce if we don’t see reality, then we won’t see reality.

I felt that I wanted to play the Chopin A major prelude, and wondered if it would be too much work, my wrist and finger strength, my dexterity having faded, even the brain structures necessary having atrophied with lack of use. (The plastic brain is another truth new since my childhood.) It is beautiful. Those leaps in the left hand when the first melody comes back fortissimo are difficult. Could I learn it again? Could I apply myself, which would mean trusting myself?

I have difficulty knowing what I want, especially when it makes no sense to me.

I wanted to write, just now, thinking this would get me somewhere. I was weeping while hand-washing my towels. I thought, and the thought seemed like a huge revelation, if I can realise when I am incoherent possibly I could realise when I was resisting the world, rather than acting to change it?

And, perhaps, if I stopped trying so hard to mould reality, I could see it?

After, I read in Richard Rohr: Humility is the truth. That is to say, humility is the capacity to accept whatever happens, peacefully. Then you can decide whether God is calling you simply to accept the situation, or to do something to improve or correct it. Humility is a constant and permanent disposition that puts one in tune with the universe and with whatever is happening in the present moment.

Not quite a love letter

Possibly I never see another person at all, just echoes of myself. If someone’s experience is different from my own, understanding it would be hard work. I could break it down into the most archetypal experience- loneliness, desire, desperation, determination- or perhaps run into one of my blocks against seeing some quality I found too threatening.

In one of my many personal growth workshops we were told to observe qualities in each other, then told that we saw it in others because it was in ourselves. Paul saw “grace” in me. I was asked what I wanted to say to you. I suppose it is this:

I know you. I know your brilliance, your bravery, your integrity, and I know some of your hurt. I don’t require you to share your hurt here, in front of a crowd, but I feel that if you did it might help us to move forward on the issue you have been speaking about (I don’t know a name for that issue we could necessarily agree on) and possibly on the matter of women’s rights and women’s oppression as well.

I supported you as long as I did because of those qualities. I don’t ask for your feeling, because that is obvious: revulsion at others’ choices, disbelief rooted in shock. It is quite clear this is personal: if you could say why, we might get somewhere. You try to save others because you could not save yourself.

Here I am talking to myself, perhaps. I am the one who imagines I know the answer, that I can work it out rationally, that I can explain why it is the right answer rationally so that everyone will be persuaded. Or, I am the one who thinks it’s all about feeling, all about me, about people so similar to me that your fear or revulsion of them is indistinguishable from being of me. If you cut her, I will bleed too.

My certainty, and perhaps yours, is the block. Perhaps, perhaps I do not see at all, perhaps I am whistling in the dark. Others have said something similar- “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope” and all that.

Possibly you are just right and I am wrong and I should just give up. Yet, ridiculously, I hope that there might be something we could both agree on. I think you, and I too, give too much weight to real or imagined threat.

I want to say, we are alike! But if you can’t see it, perhaps we are not. Alike in that our weirdness is complementary. Is everyone oppressed by gender, or are some particularly so? Surely, no-one could like the feminine gender stereotypes. You saw I was oppressed by male stereotypes. I don’t know if you make the further leap: if I can like femininity, then cis women might too. But then, the concept of femininity is incoherent.

This is not a love letter because “What I would say to you” relates to the disagreement, to your public position on trans issues. There is nothing else now. Yet that so much relates to who I see you to be that it remains as personal as a love letter would be. You have not betrayed me but I fear you betray yourself.

Wait without hope, because surrendering the clearly set out rational case to get the actual human encounter (Oh! Not you and me! I don’t presume to that!) one cannot know what will come out of it.