In Tuscany

I had moments of complete delight on holiday. Some was with art, with Botticelli’s Primavera or the doors of Pisa’s cathedral. Some was with the countryside: in the Boboli gardens, looking over the town to the surrounding hills, I was enraptured by the beauty.

The colours of the town, even in winter sun! There was the porcelain exhibition, beautiful things I was not inclined to study but enjoyed glancing at.

Getting to places was a bit of a pain. We were a long time getting going in the morning, and at Pisa station wanting to go to Florence we went the wrong way, taking an extra hour: I did not recognise the name of the place, but was sure the time indicated the correct train. The lift at the station was undergoing repairs, so we struggled down the stairs together. I was always concerned about my pennilessness, and while there were plenty of places for tourists to sit, inside and out, they all involved buying at least a coffee. I saw one public bench, sat on the steps of a statue, and considered sitting on the concrete anti-terrorist blocks, painted white and red to be clearly visible and make the townscape ugly.

Alright, two public benches, one not even close to anywhere I wanted to sit.

Getting to places: we walked slowly because of disabilities, and ended up walking separately: I heard the tap, tap of his walking stick behind me. The joy of his company was overwhelmed by the stress of getting around, seeing what we wanted to see. And once we were sitting in the cathedral in Florence, having been queueing in the cold outside, only to be corralled in the nave, bored, waiting for the others. I was not finding it hugely inspiring. The cordon was west of the picture of Dante, so I could recognise him but not consider him. It would be better to go in the other door, reserved for prayers. The ideal tourist state is linked to a spiritual state, open and receptive. Not being able to photograph things would release me from the compulsion merely to imagine things as images within a frame. I could just glimpse the dome, where someone was captured in his endless fall into Hell.

People of colour, I presume African migrants, perhaps illegal, sold selfie sticks and Philip bought one. How are you going to use that, asked Richard, when your phone has no jack-plug for it? Philip had intended to use the timer, not realising they had a button on the handle to take the picture. I told the man he should give Philip his money back. He gave back a €20 note, and waited for Philip to return the change he had been given, then he and another spent some time plugging various sticks into the phone to see if they could work, but none could. I told them I would not have confronted in that way, when I was younger. I was keen not to show up Richard for not confronting.

I was glad to meet H. I liked her a lot. I would not have read her as Aspie, perhaps because I am less used to the indications in a woman, but it is not a compliment to say that she “passes”. Her gift is a disability because of the way society is organised, and she shared her shame and resentment around that. I noticed how the near sides of her shoes were broken down, how she walked off the sole, and how otherwise she presented and carried herself proudly. It is frustrating not to have opportunities to fulfil our capacity.

There were wonderful moments linked to a particular place: an art work, some cacti, the quality of sunlight which led people to block it out of their homes, rather than seek it: I type now staring hungrily at my picture-window, thinking of that sun on my skin.

The social contract

For as long as clothes have existed, men have dressed as women. Whether it means removal of penis and testicles by a single blow of a sword or a seven hour operation, being feted as a two-spirited shaman or the death penalty, people have expressed our gender and our true selves. Deuteronomy forbade it and Heliogabalus was murdered for it. God’s commands and the self-righteousness of violent hordes could not stop it. We did it in Molly clubs and in basements, in tights pinched from washing baskets when we were sure our parents were out and would not come back. We did it in shame and self-loathing, in resentment and fear, in proud defiance, and in blissed-out delight when we found acceptance.

And- not entirely an afterthought- AFAB people have presented as men, and been soldiers or academics or otherwise made their way in the world. But it seems to be trans women who bother the straights most.

There are straight people, more or less happy with gendered roles, and other groups: trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming. We can differentiate these people by behaviour, but not by their nature or characteristics of their true selves: whether a person manifests as trans or GNC may be an accident of their history. I find gender does not fit me, and proclaim I am a woman. An AFAB person finds gender oppresses her but asserts I Am a woman.

Straight people react differently. Those who are violent read us as victims, treat our difference as an excuse to hurt us, and attack. Those who value order and predictability in society condemn us as misfits, not differentiating between being a productive contributor to society and fitting restrictive norms. That becomes self-fulfilling: as expressing my gender is more important to me than anything else in the world, I am less productive if I cannot express it. And liberal folks who don’t really get why we care so much see that it is harmless, and find a way of accommodating it.

That way is transition. I see a psychiatrist, sign an affidavit saying I will live as a woman life long, and get a gender recognition certificate. I am a woman. This is the social contract. The normal people put up with me, as I am relatively harmless. I express myself as I wish, and become a productive member of society. It is not perfect, as there are still violent people and conservatives, but it sort of works. Rape Crisis Scotland says there is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and works with us.

The conflict is with gender non-conforming people who want to express their gender without transition, mostly AFAB, or as they would say biological women. Cis is a slur, they say. There is the tragedy: people who do not fit normality in very similar ways at war about how we should be accommodated. Straight people are beginning to take sides. “Trans women are women” proclaims Rhea Wolfson, who is on Labour’s National Executive Committee. A woman on a facebook group expresses disquiet that the concerns of women are not being treated with respect.

It is expressed as a zero-sum game by A Woman’s Place. Either trans women are in women’s loos, changing rooms, hospital wards, prisons, refuges and crisis centres or we are not. Sometimes they proclaim earnest support for us and a wish that we are not victimised, sometimes loathing, mockery and threats of violence, but they are clear that we should be excluded, claiming threats to AFAB women which I feel are at best exaggerated, and egged on by extreme conservatives. Women’s Aid can work with us, so there are more constructive possibilities, but we have to find them and negotiate them.

Sensitive souls

He might not be good company, he warned me, as he hardly slept at all last night. His mind was racing. He had bought The Guardian, and was enraged about Carillion- the payouts to the fat cats, successful only at filling their pockets; and the fact that “George Gideon Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury” had been connected to hedge funds which had started short-selling the company before its profit warning in the Summer. Possibly George had passed on information; he has little value otherwise. He explained short-selling to me: I knew it was betting that a company’s share price would decline, but he told me that the hedge fund borrows shares for a set fee and a set period, sells them, buys them and hands them back before the end of the period, and if the share price declines it makes money.

I tell him that even asleep his company would be pleasant to me, I like him so much. I would drink my tea and play on my phone. And that his choler could hardly be more bad for his health if you added an “a” on the end. And that I go to sleep with In Our Time on the I-player, four restful voices saying interesting but not too interesting things about Xenophon, gravitational waves, or the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum.

My other way of going to sleep when awake in the night was to stop thinking of worries, and rehearse summaries of Doctor Who plots.

I feel that I am able to listen and sympathise, and possibly mock a little. He waves his hands about, and I mirror him. He asks me not to, then says “I’m stimming”. At which I apologise and stop. I wish his choler was less, though, at things he cannot affect. Choler with an “a” will come in ten years, if the Tories win the next election and Brexit happens. He is so gentle, withal. I have rarely seen him angry at another person (it was me). He was reading about Dolores O’Reordan, and it mentioned the Warrington bombing. And his photographic memory brought up the face of a boy who was killed then, and he started crying.

Are you still here? My Moral is for you: such sensitivity is a gift, though also a burden; and when two sensitive souls come together usually it is a great joy, though sometimes it is terribly painful.

Or, See me! I am like you! Please let me know, if it is you.

I don’t want to take cash out, and I notice I have not enough for a bus fare. Then I pay with my credit card, and notice after I have been overcharged by £5.70- so she repays me in cash. Pleased by this synchronicity, I walk in the supermarket, and hear Petula Clark. Forget all your worries, forget all your cares- Oh! Do not play something which will move me!

All women shortlists

Political parties can decide to attempt to increase the number of women in Parliament, by only selecting women candidates for particular seats. This is the All Women Shortlist (AWS). A bunch of TERFs is trying to get the Labour Party to exclude trans women from all-women shortlists. We believe that the election of self-identifying transwomen as women’s officers and their inclusion on all-women shortlists is reducing and undermining female representation in the Labour party.

We are absolutely committed to trans people, as a marginalised group, living free from discrimination and violence: we need trans representatives, trans councillors and trans MPs in our party. We are socialists and we are egalitarians. However, trans representation must not happen at the expense of female candidates and we are furious that we are having to fight another battle for women’s representation, just 100 years after the suffragette victories.

I would not write off that “absolute commitment” to trans people, they want a place for us and I want to challenge them to state what it should be; I put a message on Jennifer James’ facebook page, and will see if she replies or just deletes it. Now, it is by being accepted in society as women.

The next bit is legal stuff. An all woman shortlist which includes trans women without a gender recognition certificate is open to legal challenge, and I state why.

The Equality Act applies. Normally an AWS would be discrimination against men on the grounds of sex, so s104 gives specific permission while women are underrepresented. If any protected characteristic, such as disabled people, is underrepresented the party can make efforts to encourage potential candidates, but only for sex can the party make a shortlist only of those candidates.

After a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) I am a woman, and if I claim sex discrimination I need to show a man is treated better. I can still claim discrimination on the grounds of “gender reassignment” (not gender identity). A man can claim discrimination because women are favoured, unless an exception applies, but a cis person cannot claim discrimination because trans people are favoured.

All AWS must be open to trans women who have gained a GRC. However, a man could argue that an AWS which included a trans woman without a GRC was not entitled to the exception in s104, and so discriminated against him. A woman could argue that an AWS including a trans woman breached Labour Party rules, as the rules should be presumed to comply with discrimination law.

And we’re back. It could mean a legal debate about what “sex” or “woman” means. Emotionally, I like the idea that I have always been a woman. My most important transition moments are, first, changing my name and going to work expressing myself female; then deciding to transition, and having my operation. Gaining my GRC is a long way behind, less significant than getting my bank account, passport and driving licence in my female name. It was done by then.

I think both allies and opponents would agree. Those enthusiastically declaring “Trans women are women” and those who think we are perverts don’t think the moment of acquiring the GRC is particularly important. And yet in law it is.

That is why the consultation is important. We need to be able to get a GRC without a psychiatrist’s say-so. That I have changed my name and intend to live life long as a woman is enough. Now, getting a GRC is expensive and humiliating, but there is different treatment once you get one.

There can be disabled-only shortlists, because it is not unlawful to discriminate in favour of disabled people; but even though we are in the ICD and DSM, few of us would claim disability. A debate on whether trans women without a GRC are women would go back to Corbett v Corbett, orse Ashley. The psychiatrists would not speak for us: why do they call an androphile trans woman a “homosexual transsexual”? The law is confused- the Equality Act refers to “gender reassignment” of “transsexual persons”- but I doubt it would say my sex is female before a GRC, and it may not say so after.

Pictures from Pisa

I love this; but not all shots along the river from the bridge are the same. I love the balance of light and shade, and the reflections in the water, but a boat or a bird would improve it; and not all my shots from the bridge were as good.

How do you show the angle of the tower? It is so familiar, and so deeply weird:

I loved the fallen angel, a recent sculpture, with its broken head and arm, which I took from up the tower:

I did not at first notice the screaming face in its wing:

Pigeons feasted on a display of bread at a street cafe. The man who chased them off was peeved.

A flower, from the tropical hothouse:

Pisa pictures

Men with sub-machineguns prowled around the cathedral and tower, and ordinary city police had holstered pistols. I am perturbed, but the other tourists do not seem bothered. How to photograph them? I took these from behind, as when Philip pictured them he got into a contretemps. Then, emerging from the tower, I thought to take that carabinieri from a distance:

but did not think it through, just snapped and walked on, so did not even notice that my lens was at too wide an angle or that a man had just walked in front of him anyway. Police here do not like being photographed, though they are happy to intimidate ordinary people demonstrating, by taking detailed video. The policeman on the left was paying attention, and thereby showed his face for the picture beautifully, so my terrorist cell- if I had one- could identify him.

On the West of the South transept I spent some time admiring the door. Such craftsmanship:

It’s yet another Annunciation. It looks childlike, compared to the West door, where some people just dashed by, instead of admiring:

That chap has no wings. Is it Christ, giving Lucifer a push? Some of the figures on the door stood out from it, away from the plane. Wonderful technique.

The fresco of the last judgment in the walled burial ground was cruel. Half was Hell; but Christ is a quarter of the way along the picture, and there are people in the half I first thought was Heaven who are on his Left. That is not a good place to be.

Note that he is looking to his left. At the moment captured, he is not greeting the Blessed, but condemning the Damned, who are being repelled by sword-wielding angels. I am not familiar enough with Italian Judgment scenes to be sure, but it seems unusual to me to have the Queen of Heaven seated in apparent equality.

I am also unused to sights like the chap among the blessed, who should not be there, being hauled off by an angel. There is arguable Biblical authority for that, but the picture is designed to inspire fear rather than Love. Even the Blessed look pretty scared.

A thin layer of plaster containing the pigment was taken away, preserved, and brought back to be hung on metal supports, away from the brick wall.

Trans feminism

Trans rights are essential to feminism, for they are the way to value all that a woman can be, from ultra-feminine to (almost) trans man. Trans rights are a feminist issue. Trans people advance feminist concerns.

I spent half an hour last night on Youtube watching a feminist attack trans rights on feminist grounds. She told of the opposition to the women’s suffrage movement a century ago, by women as well as men, based on the idea that women were different and would not have the objectivity to judge the interests of the public sphere. She has been held back by this persisting idea of difference, which is the heart of women’s oppression, and which she says “trans ideology” actively enshrines.

That might be true if trans were static, one way of being trans being the only way. But trans people are creative, finding new ways of being ourselves in our own spaces, in performance writing and entertainment, and in ordinary lives in the world. Trans is a force undermining that idea of difference between sexes and promoting the truth of the variation within the sexes which increases the freedom of everyone.

I want to relate to others as myself, with minimal pretence to comply to gender norms. This is easier after transition. I tried to “make a man” of myself, with a restrictive idea of how a man should be. Expressing myself as a woman freed me. If it were indeed seen as leaping a chasm, becoming something utterly different, that would be conservative, enshrining difference. When the doctors got hold of the idea of trans, taking it out of our own subcultures, they produced a medicalised idea of transition, involving hair removal, genital alteration and hormone treatments, to create a person who would look like a man, or look like a woman, undressed as well as clothed.

The idea that I am really a woman, with a woman’s brain, spirit or character, which this feminist finds so oppressive because it means there is a difference between men and women beyond our reproductive function, freed me to transition. Thousands of us, rather than tens of thousands in Scotland where she was speaking and which proposes altering the law, might be freed from a conception of their gender which they find oppressive, yet they cannot change without this drastic step- by allowing transition. Out of 5.3m people, ten thousand would be 0.2%, a large number actually to transition.

The idea of a transsexual person freed me to transition, but even as I did I realised there were two questions.

Am I transsexual?
Will I be happier if I transition?

The second is more important. First the ideology, then the idea frees me to express my gender by teaching me that it is possible. So individuals and society together produce formalised routes for transition and recognition. Trans people become more visible, vocal and encouraged, and empowered to do something about the restrictions of their gender rather than living fearful, stultified lives or ending them.

As we become empowered, we critique the medicalised concept of transition. Do we really need genital surgery? Should someone necessarily be sterilised before their gender is recognised? No, we say. Do we need to live in stealth, where people think we were born (wo)men? No, because that is in fear of transphobic violence- it may be prudent sometimes but it oppresses us with an impossible ideal of beauty.

Gender ceases to be a choice of two, almost entirely aligned with physical sex, and becomes a palette of possibilities. It is happening- here, now, in Scotland and beyond, with people who would never think of themselves as trans but also with trans people, blurring the lines and increasing freedom. Eventually the two groups will meet, a spectrum of gender rather than a division between those self-identified as trans or not-trans. The increasing complexity of ideas such as genderqueer and non-binary accelerate this change.

Femininity is oppressive when people are judged as less because of their natural unfeminineness. Then femininity can seem merely oppressive, a tool to oppress women. Trans shows that femininity freely chosen is a source of strength and self-actualisation, valuable in its own right for AFAB as well as AMAB. I see trans men choosing what I rejected, and so am enabled to see value in it.

That feminist on the video, wanting to say “NO” to a trans woman entering a woman’s bathroom, and getting a loud cheer for rejecting the idea that women must always put others’ feelings before their own, paradoxically aids the conservatives by restricting trans people to a narrow, absolute concept of transition. She opposes the law being more liberal, and discerns a loosening of the concept of a “sex change”, though in Scotland the proposals would still require us to swear we would live in the other gender life long. Allowed to grow freely, the trans movement would increase the range of gender expression and freedom.

Trans is a feminist movement, promoting the freedom of all, including cis women who do not conform to the cultural stereotype of femininity, including that woman who rails against it. Many cis women support trans rights. As Margaret Atwood says, A war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well. Women strongly opposed to trans rights should consider whether any of the wrongs they rail against has any realistic chance of happening.

Looking at paintings

In my friend’s secondary modern school, in the corridor by the head teacher’s office, there was a small reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. At a dark time in his life, with little aesthetic pleasure, it was a vision of beauty, and he decided he must see the original. Nearly half a century later, he did last week, and I went with him.

I was unenthusiastic. It is a famous painting, and will be surrounded by crowds, with little chance to appreciate it. Familiarity with the image made me uninterested. I have seen it so many times already, or so I thought. Of course I have not.

There were people having their picture taken with it, and I did so too:

I now see that with your head in front of the shell, at her feet, is a better picture.

I loved it. The real thing is so much more than the arrangement of characters. I was even more enchanted with Primavera, in the next gallery.

This gave me moments of bliss, considering details like the flowers of the forest floor:

or this pattern on the lady’s dress:

Of course I know her face, it is a common selected detail, but I am less familiar with her floral ruff; and was enchanted by the beauty of the creation of her foot, the subtle movements of colour and line showing it on a flat plane without brush strokes I could differentiate.

The moral is that however delightful images on a computer are, they have little of the impact of the work itself. Fortunately you do not have to go to the Uffizi to get a similar experience. It is available in any city art gallery, and possibly the galleries of large towns.

Portraits on holiday

Something prickly: and a cactus.

The cactus was in the Botanical Gardens in Pisa. In that hothouse I was enraptured by the beauty and strangeness of the cacti. Some straight ones looked like dildos, one long enough to murder Edward II. The bamboo was there as well, growing outdoors. We went to a small museum there, with cheap portraits- a black background, as scenery is extra, and one unfortunate man could not afford to have his clothes depicted- but showing personalities beautifully.

The same day we took in the Baptistery, which of course is only of use as background. These pictures are not selfies, as I got others to take them- though according to my precise direction, sometimes after I took a picture of my victim to show them exactly how I wanted it to look.

This is in Florence, in the Boboli gardens, just behind the Pitti Palace, where I had another moment of bliss, enjoying the colours of the city and the mountains in the sunshine, even in January.

I had more than one dress with me, honest, I just wore that one two days.

Up the Leaning Tower. The passer-by said the cathedral dome was washed out, but I like the colour of it. Framed by the stone, read from left to right, there is dome, bell, me.

I took one with the timer. I love the bright blue background.

Up the tower, I asked a Sydney-sider what she thought of it, and she enthused. She has relatives in Somerset and Yorkshire, though has been in Australia for generations. She is an academic, teaching nursing, and finds leading people to critical thinking challenging. She wondered what the mountains were. I thought the Chianti hills- how decadent, to name hills after a wine- she thought Switzerland, and her daughter with Google thought the Apennines.

I looked, speculatively, at that barrier. Properly determined, and jumping from the stone steps, you could get over it, though I hope others seeing your purpose would hold you back. It would be a peculiarly vile way of committing suicide, with all the tourists about to be shocked, even traumatised, by a death. And- it ran in my mind. I would not like a chest high rail as protection up there, it would not be sufficient. People are strange.

One final view of the tower.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

People go to Pisa to create anew the iconic shot of holding up the Leaning Tower. Here at least five people are attempting it: I love the fun they are having.

People embrace it:

fist-bump it:

even push it with their feet.

It is more difficult than it looks. Climb that bollard!

Don’t have the hands too far back:

or have the palms showing.

Pernickety photographers may need to adjust their victim’s subject’s hands:

This is my best attempt:

This is the least blurred of my friend’s. If only he had deigned to crouch, I might have looked less peeved: