Toughening up

When he was a child, his father used to drive out from Denver into the Arapaho National Forest, to camp and hike with him. He was ten when he first walked 25 miles in one day. I could not match that, growing up in Argyll. I walked up to the trig point now and then, I cycled to Tarbert by Kilberry and back by Loch Fyne, but nothing like this. Once, they were out camping in snow, and afterwards a park ranger told them other hikers had said they feared for him.

The sympathetic response would be to ask what he thought. Instead I rolled my eyes, and said, “What would they know?”

He’s told me about these outdoor exploits before, and I realise I have no idea how he felt about them. In comes the self-criticism: you don’t see other people at all! You don’t care about their feelings! That isn’t true, though. Hmm. Well, how do you get from Denver, Colorado, US, to being a CPN in Swanston? Was he running away from his family? He has told me about going back to see them. Some of the conversations can be a bit difficult. They were so delighted when he got together with a woman, but now he’s with a man again, no longer that Bi passing as Straight thing.

This sweet, gentle man…

It is not just me not seeing others, or imagining they think exactly as I do. I pause to think about this. My own family placed a high value on self-improvement and on practical outdoors pursuits. Dad and I walked together over the hills. We fantasised rather than planned going up Suilven as he had done when at University, but we went through Glen Affric. I so wanted to make a man of myself.

Even though I know my concept of manliness did not fit me, and harmed me a lot; even though I have read others’ experiences, of fathers trying to stop their sons being “sissies”, though I know self-acceptance is essential for health, and others’ goals can cripple people; it still feels so utterly natural to me. What would they know, I wondered. Had he been Scots, I might have suggested that these carpers, or decent people seeking to protect him, were English.

Toughening the child up is just so normal, even for me, even now. So is family loyalty: I might criticise mine, but would defend them against anyone. Thinking about that is my answer to my self-criticism. Why don’t you see other people? Without thought, that question just leads to misery. Because I am thoughtless, stupid, only concerned with my own worries, obviously. It crushes me. With thought, I can forgive myself; and, considering what might be behind my unthinking response, I may be able to achieve change which the harsh self-criticism blocks.

Why am I so unfeeling to others? Because I am like that to myself. In my own mind I sometimes reach 49%, when the pass mark is fifty. I rolled my eyes, and have no recollection of his response to that. I did not get the impression that this had bothered him, but perhaps he was hiding that. Never cry! He might have opened up if I had sympathised, or he might have brushed it off (as I brushed off his consolations) but the topic of conversation changed.

Human beings are complex. A single word like “soft” cannot encapsulate us, but often is used to define us. With the Euro election and the Faragist hate campaign, I am depressed and I am talking depressingly. I want to encourage people and don’t.

-Why do you think you might not see people?
I demand too much of myself, so therefore I demand too much of others.
-It surprises me you are analysing this, intellectually, so much. Why is it all in your head?
Well, the heart is a muscle. The limbic system is in the head. And, my own emotional judgment of myself is so much on one note.

Oh my god
I just blanked him!
I was so unsympathetic
How shit is that?

I recognise I have mirror neurons, and I mirror people, for example picking up my glass at the same time as my companion does.

-You value your intellect so much, but your emotional intelligence does not always fire off so well. You have mastered, harnessed your intellect, you’ve played with it, you can ride it, you can get lost in it, you can dive into it.

-Your emotional self sometimes storms through thunderously. It is magnificent, quite spectacular and evidently as deep and prolific as your intellect. But you don’t harness it. It separates you from people, you know it does.

It is like the sea. If I try to stand erect on it, I will flounder dreadfully
but if I try to swim
that might work-

Opposites

I have two desires: to hide away and not be noticed, and to let my Effulgence shine forth that I may be admired. My former friend noticed this years ago, remarking that I wanted to blend into the background in the most eye-catching way possible, and his remarking on it helped me see it. The contradictoriness of it befuddled me, and both desires seemed ridiculous or reprehensible, as there is nothing I need hide from (I lectured myself sternly) and I have nothing particular worth showing off. George- Don’t do that.

If I dislike these desires, I am uncomfortable whether I achieve both or neither. I have been so uncomfortable in my own skin, second-guessing every desire and every act. I am wasting my life, hiding like this; showing off when I have so little to show off appears foolish. And yet both are necessary, to protect myself as I see fit, and to take risks and give service. I could hardly believe it: I value being inconsistent, but how could I be so contradictory? So I half-understood what I wanted, condemned it, and was paralysed.

It felt, with my friend on Saturday, saying it so bluntly, admitting both desires coexist, that this was new. I have both desires, and that they were opposite ceased to be a barrier to seeing them. Either might be fitting, in different circumstances. The self-concept is a particular steady, reasonable human being with particular admirable, consistent qualities- obviously a myth. The organismic self is mercurial, ad hoc, inconsistent, unpredictable.

How on Earth did we evolve the capacity to be conflicted?

This is my spiritual journey- finding who I am, and coming to accept it. I am finding it hard work. It takes my intellect, love and good will. I am reading Etty Hillesum’s diary, and have just read the fabulous entry from 3 July 1942.

I must admit a new insight into my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation, we can have no more illusions about that. They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there. She writes of the Nuremberg laws, of the blisters on her feet because she cannot use trams and must walk, how she cannot go out of the city, use any patch of grass which are all labelled as parks; go to non-Jews’ houses, though she broke that law; go to greengrocers, so that she would queue for permitted shops and get nothing. It is ghastly. The long entry ends with a German soldier. I shall have to pray for this German soldier. Out of all those uniforms one has been given a face now. There will be other faces too, in which we shall be able to read something we understand: that German soldiers suffer as well. There are no frontiers between suffering people, and we must pray for them all. Goodnight.

I find life difficult, and have particular sorrows. I do not envy hers. We looked at a couple having coffee together, two men. I wondered if it was a first or second date. He thought it might be a pre-date, the two of them “meeting as friends” but there is so much going on under the surface, now clearly surfacing. Mmm. Gay male couples can be so direct and immediate. Two women can dance around each other, getting no closer, for ages. He wondered if a straight man would notice. Some would, some wouldn’t, I suppose. There are some allies. Around lunchtime, one went to get another coffee, and the other wondered if he might have wine. I restrained the impulse to encourage him.

Etty accepts the fact of her own death, and is enabled to Live: I accept it all as one mighty whole.

Yes, we carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply so many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good, which does not mean we cannot devote our life to curing the bad. But we must know what motives inspire our struggle, and we must begin with ourselves, every day anew.

Wow. It is stunning stuff. I am embracing my own contradictoriness. Both desires are acceptable. I might pursue either and delight in it, escaping being conflicted. Brains are plastic after all. How can I cease to resist myself? I have this spiritual path, and I must follow it.

Transitioning as a child

When child H, then aged three, was brought to school dressed as a girl, the school referred the family to social services, alleging that the foster carers may be fabricating and inducing mental illness in the children. Eighteen months later in June 2017, when H began attending, the school requested that she wear a boy’s uniform, but H and the foster parents did not comply. In July 2018, social services started care proceedings, and the social worker Lisa North alleged the foster carers had a “preoccupation with an encouragement of gender dysphoria”. On 9 May 2019 the judge completely exonerated the foster carers, praising them as child-focused.

Social Services, seeking evidence for care proceedings, commissioned a consultant paediatrician, Dr Gupta, to consider the account of events they had prepared and assess whether there was “factitious or induced illness”. That is a defined category, with a developed theory of what it is and how it may be established. The theory gives twelve factors establishing FII, all of which Dr Gupta said applied in this case, even though she did not see the children. Social Services then issued care proceedings, alleging that the foster parents have manipulated children’s gender and diagnosis of additional needs, which is considered the highest division of emotional abuse. The children remained at home while the courts obtained expert evidence.

The foster parents had three of their own children, and were caring for five more. Though not related by birth or adoption, the children saw themselves as brothers and sisters. One of them, R, aged 12, had been referred to the Tavistock gender identity clinic and was living transitioned to female. R had ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder. H and C, H’s six year old brother, had both suffered abuse and neglect from their birth parents. C had had several injuries in falls while in foster care.

A psychiatrist, Dr Hellin, assessed the foster parents and found the mother had no sign of personality disorder or mental illness, but that her identity and sense of self and of competence is very much based on her role as a mother carer and the proceedings have attacked this making her feel very insecure vulnerable, self-doubting and frightened. The father was psychologically resilient, and involved with the family, and there was no sign of FII. Both were “reflective” about the issue of gender dysphoria.

Another consultant paediatrician, Dr Ward, considered the children’s medical records though did not see the children herself. She concluded that R, the elder trans girl, and another child had no inappropriate referrals or medical treatment but that H’s brother C had had accidents because of inadequate supervision.

Of H, she used male pronouns, saying H required consistent, positive and nurturing care because of trauma and physical abuse by the birth parents. The foster-carers were over-anxious about H’s health and development, and sought second opinions. With hindsight, the investigations were not clinically indicated, and there is evidence that the foster-carers had given misleading information when they suspected cerebral palsy: if the court agreed, that would be fabrication, not merely the behaviour of an anxious parent.

H had not yet been referred about gender dysphoria. Dr Ward wrote, a significant proportion of pre-pubertal children who display differences in gender identity revert to their biological gender in adolescence. Failure to seek medical support and opinion leaves H at significant risk of emotional harm as a result of being presented in school as a girl. Failure to seek medical attention in relation to this problem represents neglect of H’s emotional and physical well-being. However the gender specialist who reported on H disagreed.

Dr Ward thought K, a girl aged 4, who had also been abused by her birth parents, was normal and healthy, but that the foster-carers interpreted her response to the abuse as mental health problems, and there was “concern” that they overinterpreted, exaggerated or misreported behaviour, which led to referrals. The foster-carers seemed focussed on potential diagnoses, which might lead to K falsely perceiving herself as disabled.

I will quote the judge’s summary of Dr Pasterski’s introduction in full.

“Dr Pasterski is a chartered psychologist and gender specialist with 23 years of experience in conducting gender identity assessments in children and adolescents. In her report she identifies that there have been recent changes to the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria and that research on mental health and transgender children have shed light onto critical historical misunderstandings related to clinical presentation in gender dysphoria. Firstly, that children who present with gender dysphoria are likely to desist in their cross-gender identification and secondly that gender dysphoria is inherently associated with high rates of comorbid psychopathology. She notes both have been shown to be false. She identifies that these misunderstandings arise from two particular factors. Firstly earlier studies which showed that up to 80% of children desist in gender dysphoria included children who presented with gender incongruent behaviour but did not necessarily state the wish to be or that they were the other gender. Thus children displaying gender variance may have been wrongly diagnosed with gender dysphoria. As a result of this treatment protocols previously incorporated a watch and wait approach which had prevented truly dysphoric children from transitioning which had likely resulted in increased rates of depression and anxiety. As Dr Pasterski puts it ‘Put simply, many who have shown to desist were likely not dysphoric and psychopathology in those who persisted was likely due to forbidden expression of their true gender identity.’ Current guidance suggests that supporting a child who clearly and consistently states that they wish to be the other gender in their preferred gender role is associated with improved mental health and well-being.”

Dr Pasterski thought gender dysphoria could not be fabricated or induced. R was content to present as a girl, consistent with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It was appropriate to support her in her authentic, preferred presentation.

H appeared to be a content, alert and socially engaged little girl. She identified herself as a girl. It was right to allow her to present as she wished, even though she had not seen the GIC: there is a risk of harm from unnecessary gender related investigations (para 59 iii). The children were free to be themselves, and removing them from their loving, settled and engaging home would harm them.

The independent social worker reported that the children were well-cared for, that the foster parents worked well with social services and health professionals, following professional advice. The children were fully integrated as a family. She thought the foster-mother was closed to the possibility of H or R reverting to male, and that early transition made it more difficult to explore gender identity- that is, she disagreed with the gender specialist.

The local authority requested permission to withdraw the court proceedings. The foster-carers objected that simply withdrawing proceedings, without the court finding the facts of the case, might lead to an unjustified cloud of suspicion over them.

The law says that where it is clear that there is no basis for care proceedings the court should allow social services to withdraw their application, but where it is arguable that there should be an order about care the court should find the facts. Court proceedings create a cloud of uncertainty, intrusion and stress, bad for the welfare of the children.

The judge concluded that it was so obvious that care orders were inappropriate that no further factual findings were necessary, and in the interests of the children the court proceedings should end. This is a complete exoneration of the foster parents. To the extent that there may be individual examples which either do amount to, or could be construed as, examples of inaccurate reporting, or over medicalisation or lack of supervision they are isolated outliers in comparison to an otherwise overwhelming evidential panorama of appropriate parenting. The children are prospering, and the foster carers are good, child-focused parents.

He decides, at para 75 iii, that concerns about the early social transition of the two trans girls were “compellingly rebutted” by Dr Pasterski. Dr Ward only gave isolated examples of over-medicalisation, but the “overwhelming weight” of evidence shows the foster carers are good parents.

So this is an example of trans girls properly cared for by loving foster carers, having to undergo court proceedings because of social workers and school staff taking concerns about the trans girls’ transitions too far, though at para 81 the judge could not condemn them: they were merely less well informed than Dr Pasterski. The judge says “The concerns were comprehensively dispelled”.

The Daily Mail’s headline about this is grudging, giving undue prominence to the social workers’ concerns: Judge backs parents who allowed their four-year-old son to live as a girl and sent him to school in a girl’s uniform – despite social workers accusing them of ‘actively encouraging’ their child’s transgender identity. Note the misgendering.

The judgment is available here.

Consciousness and awareness

Consciousness is overrated. Not because it’s no better than stupor, but because most of my decisions and perceptions are unconscious: not just controlling breathing, digestion and heart rate, but much of how I relate to other people. I wandered round the lakes in November, wondering if there was still any ripe blackberry, but all were shrivelled. A mile or two further on, suddenly my conscious attention zoomed in on a single ripe blackberry, as if I had programmed myself to notice it. Had I consciously inspected all the bushes, I would have taken far longer to find it. I have no idea if it was the only ripe blackberry within my field of vision that morning. Food is a priority for any living creature- but I saw it unconsciously, in a way I cannot imagine doing consciously.

So consciousness might be of those things which unconscious processes bring to it, for a particular kind of attention. I did not pluck or eat the blackberry without conscious awareness, though I find myself picking up a glass to sip at it as others I am talking to do. We are aligned. I don’t think about the right moment to pick up the glass. Desire and action seem one, to my conscious self: the decision is unconscious, consciousness simply notes it. After an encounter, I have thought “I was flirting” when at the time I thought I was “only being friendly”. That incorrect perception might aid me to lie to another. “I was only being friendly,” I would say, wide-eyed, winningly, consciously believing that.

Much of the ways we relate to each other is unconscious. Someone told me he always thought about what he was going to say. I find myself saying things, believing them, wanting to say them, without being conscious of them beforehand. That would seem cold and calculating. We do not know others’ experience. Or, especially in counselling, I know what I want to say but feel inhibited from saying it. I know it is true, and helps understanding, but I can’t get the words out. Consciously, I am conflicted.

Then there is a reverie, when my attention wanders off into nothing, and consciously I am “ruminating”, thinking thoughts I have often thought before. This goes with depression: it is a normal human thing, but depressed, tired or mourning people may do it more. I think something is going on unconsciously at the time, but not clear what it is. I could be simply resting, unaware of anything worth doing or considering. I could be nursing the unacknowledged feelings which depress me.

“Awareness” feels different. I started entering it as a specific state, in spiritual or religious contexts. The monkey mind quietens. If I start thinking about something, it may be new thought rather than the same old recordings. “The world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wild flower” fits my experience: the shape of individual leaves catches my attention, and everything seems beautiful. I am in a state of delight. At first, I felt mind-blown; then I needed shocked into it; now I can adopt it, though often don’t.

What is that, the choice to be conscious of what is around me, and how does it relate to unconsciousness? It feels close to the idea of “unconscious competence”, as when I drive without thinking about where to put my feet or hands. I just reach down for the gear stick at the right time. I can consider whether my gear is correct, consciously, or allow other brain processes to judge while I hold a conversation.

Yet if I am conscious of a feeling, it is different from suppressing it from consciousness, and sometimes I will be unconscious of an emotion which others can see in me. Mindfulness, directed attention with the intent of finding my own feelings seems worthwhile. If I am not conflicted, then I move in integrity. Or a feeling bursts into consciousness as I burst out crying: it will not be suppressed any more. Or I might be able to acknowledge a feeling, so that it shows no visible sign in my face or body-language.

I feel I am sometimes able to pursue goals unconsciously, without the need for conscious thought. If I act, my neurons and dendrites are working away whether I “think” about it or not. There is just one person within my skin, one animal process.

That psychiatrist said I had a “fragile sense of self”, which may be linked to consciousness or unconsciousness. So I had a desperate need to believe I was “manly” though I did not believe it, and had not seen my dogged persistence, which is a manly characteristic (though one admirable in women too). Fragile, perhaps, because what I wanted to believe of myself did not really fit.

Thinking about Carl Rogers’ ideas of the self-concept and the organismic self, they are entirely different. The self-concept is an idea of self, a coherent set of characteristics one imagines one has. The organismic self, in contrast, is protean, mercurial, able to change and give different responses in different situations; dogged persistence in one, graceful concession in another- if it is not restricted by the need to preserve the self-concept. All this may emerge into consciousness, or not.

The unconscious is my muse. A poem- or Ministry- may come to me almost full formed, though who knows how long it has been forming in parts of the brain I do not perceive working?

It is not a matter of “spiritual states”. I sit in meditation or worship, and pay attention to what I am feeling, or what is around me; and that might not be more “spiritual” than a reverie. I had thought of calling this post “Consciousness v Awareness” but I mature as consciousness, unconsciousness and the attention I “pay” become more in harmony, working together.

Being hormonal

I walk along the long, crowded hospital corridor. I must not cry! My face twists in the tension of wanting to burst into tears, sobbing, and needing to appear calm and normal among these strangers. With an effort I control myself, and then my face twists again.

In case you are worried, my tears were not prompted by a diagnosis, but by being late for a meeting. I will look a fool! I am a fool! I will be rebuffed, and fail again! Wanting to cry makes it worse- what weakling would cry, at that?

I got to the hospital with a bit of time to spare, but there is an issue- I want a building called Elm Holm at the far end, but there is only Elm Leigh. I ask for Elm Leigh- I must have been mistaken- and find it is a cardiac care ward. If I needed cardiac care I could not have cycled here from Marsby. The nurse at the desk tells me to go back to reception. Again I make a mistake: I want O-H-, but only remember the old-fashioned, less accurate name for it, O-T-. I ask for OT, and after my confusion is resolved I am sent to OH. Now I am late, and more upset.

I get to OH, and say I have an appointment with Jill. I don’t know her surname, and they don’t have a staff member called Jill, or a note of such an appointment. In the small office, there is a man who stares at me incomprehendingly and a motherly woman about my age who sympathises and tries to get to the bottom of it. With her kindness I can no longer restrain my tears, but I still can’t explain or say anything sensible because I am trying to hold them back. She sends him off for a glass of water.

I have come to the wrong hospital. There’s another the other side of this small town. Who would have thought it? Actually, I check the note I made of the appointment, and I had been told to go to St Origen’s; but googling this morning I only looked for K- hospital, so found the Infirmary. She phones them, makes sure my appointment is there, and agrees that if I can get there by 12.30, fifty minutes late, they will see me.

I feel the need to explain, and choose my words carefully. I want to appear calm, but cannot because “you have been so kind”. Actually I resent her kindness. Cruelty and disdain might shame me into some semblance of normality. My resentment spills out, and I tell her that I had thought better of saying she had “made a fuss”, and as I anticipated she started to protest. You’re not the first person to confuse the two hospitals, and you won’t be the last. Anyone can make a mistake, she tells me. I express my real gratitude for her help, and curse myself that I had needed it.

I cycle across town, and am calm enough in this meeting to say the right things and not think of crying. What I say is so close to reality! This woman, too, is friendly, and I get the result I want, very glad to appear calm, grateful for her flexibility in seeing me so late. You cycled! You were quick!

Next day, I want to tell this story to my gentle Friend, and find myself tearing up again. I should be able to say this without tears, I admonish myself sternly. The more I try to hold them back, the more I have to gasp out my story between sobs.

Women learn in their teens that appearing “emotional” will decrease further the respect people have for them. Never cry! warns Siri Hustvedt. Men will take advantage. In mixed company you will be derided, perhaps with oleaginous sympathy. (I firmly believe this- it happens, mostly, I was lucky that one time.) I disagree with most things my feminist hero Germaine Greer has to say about trans, but agree that being a woman is “not all cake and jam”. The misery at feeling a fool, and feeling I will fail,

Again!

is too much for me, I cannot just accept it (though I know I must). So it forces me to acknowledge it, by making me cry. I can’t hold back the tears. Learning to accept the depth of feeling and live with it is so hard. I don’t know if I felt this deeply before transition and somehow managed to suppress it, but the change from T to oestradiol can’t have helped. It is something to consider if you are about to transition. Suppressing T and taking Œ involves difficulty as well as blessing.

The Brexit Party

I have just had the Brexit Party leaflet for the EU elections on 23 May. It is Fascist.

What would “honouring the referendum result” mean, exactly? It would mean listening to what campaigners for Leave said in 2016- such as greatly increasing the funding for the NHS, or seeking membership of the EEA (the “Norway Option”) as Nigel Farage does in this video. None were calling for “No Deal”. It would mean recognising the small majority for Leave, and not simply ignoring the desires of 16.1m voters.

Why is it fascist? Because of the Leader-worship. Only Farage gets more than two sentences in it. There is a large photo of the man, looking more like a frog than usual.

It is full of lies. “The Brexit Party will restore trust in politics.” No, the Brexit party has no MPs and is set up to be no more than an angry protest group. The only thing it stands for is leaving the EU, on “WTO rules” which would mean tariffs charged on goods traded between the UK and the EU, and an end to our “Just-in-time” manufacturing. To restore trust in politics, we need politicians who tell the truth and act in the interests of the people, by producing good quality public services. Farage’s mixture of bluster and fantasy can deliver nothing.

Though Farage has no policies beyond that, he has airy promises: “Let’s put the principles of Trust, Honesty and Integrity at the heart of our democracy”. That would involve silencing Farage. He wants the principles of Hate, Anger and Fear at the heart of our politics. What does he say? “Betrayed… humiliated… failing MPs have defied 17.4m of us… Politics is broken. Enough is enough.” What does the rest of the leaflet say? “Betrayed… Taking ‘No Deal’ off the table is bonkers… Failed… Damaged trust in our democracy… our country humiliated…”

The stab in the back myth. Though it is good to see his sister attack Jacob Rees-Mogg: “The Conservative Party has failed… and damaged trust in our democracy”. May’s deal failed generally because of his posturing, and that of his “European Research Group”. These hard right campaigners hate each other almost as much as they hate the people who vote for them.

The UKIP leaflet is quite as evil as Mr Farage’s, but with an added dollop of fuckwittery. Brexit has been betrayed, they scream. Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green & SNP MPs betrayed you. I don’t know if they forgot Plaid, but that is rabble-rousing. Caroline Lucas is one of the most intelligent, principled and energetic MPs we have. Trying to foment resentment in this transparent manner is wicked. It too has a picture of the Leader, but I needed to google him to make sure. Openly and repellently racist, this wotsisname has a poor selfie in front of a sign reading AXE LADY HAW HAW.

I shall vote Labour, even though they are not yet opposing Brexit. At the last election in the East Midlands, UKIP (the far right) got two seats, and the Conservatives (the hard right) got two: 40% of the seats on 26% of the votes. Labour got one. Greens and Lib-Dems had 127,839 votes between them- their votes combined would not have entitled them to a seat, but being in the centre or left, had their votes gone to Labour there would have been two Labour MEPs and only one Tory. Splitting the Left vote only helps the hard-Right.

There are two sites which purport to advise who to vote for, as a tactical vote to Remain. I searched for tactical vote remain and remainvoter.com came up first, with Remain United nowhere. Remainvoter’s recommendation in the East Midlands is highly suspicious. It recommends voting Green, who came fifth last time. They say this will get one LibDem and one Green Remainer MEPs, one Labour and two Brexit. I don’t believe them. Remain United recommends voting LibDem, for one LibDem remainer MP. Your Green vote would be wasted. I am sorry to sound paranoid, but who is behind remainvoter?

The Labour position makes sense. It is possible to honour the referendum with a deal with Europe in the interests of the British people, rather than a few shadowy billionaires. Their headline is Vote Labour to bring our country back together, as an antidote to the hate and fear spewed by Farage and his ilk. Labour would keep a close relationship with the EU that protects workers’ rights and environmental standards. If we can’t get changes to their bad deal or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote. This is because the Hayekist Tories have done a deal to decimate public services, which left-leaning Leave voters would not want. We cannot just ignore that Leave won the referendum. However, we would not vandalise the British economy. I am grateful for Keir Starmer’s insistence on a confirmatory referendum before supporting any Brexit deal, in the talks which are now defunct.

We need international co-operation to end the climate crisis, the death of our oceans, and the current mass extinction. A Tory bonfire of regulations and taxes in the interests of the hyper-rich could just kill the planet. With Tory leadership contenders also talking of “Betrayal” and “Humiliation”, we need trust and hope. Only Labour can provide it.

 

“Debating” abortion

I shall swallow twenty quinine pills today; I feel a bit peculiar down there, south of my midriff… I assault myself with hot water and blood-curdling instruments, I shall fight patiently and relentlessly until you are once again returned to nothingness… it’s only just been a week, and already I am exhausted by the whole performance. But I shall bar your admission to life.

This is Etty Hillesum’s diary, explaining her self-induced abortion. If there were others involved, she does not mention them. As a Jew in Amsterdam in 1941, she could not have a child. As the US supreme court’s “Trump Judges” have decided they can ignore precedent if they disapprove of the original case, the stage is set for the repeal of Roe v Wade. “Heartbeat” laws are misnamed. There is no heart, and no heartbeat. There is no cardiovascular system. There is a group of cells which will divide and form a heart later, and there is electrical activity there.

I am appalled at the thought of Etty Hillesum’s self-induced abortion, and the risks she took. I quoted her in a comments thread, saying women will have abortions whatever the law is, and the response was, But surely you would accept that it would greatly reduce the numbers of abortions?

Well, yes, I would, probably. There will be misery in other ways, unwanted children, less consensual sex. But the risks women will take, the pain they will suffer, the damage they may do to themselves does not move the person. The commenter, after all, sees them as criminals.

He is perfectly logical, in his own eyes. What is odd is those who support abortion but oppose the death penalty. The life of the innocent in the womb is expendable, but the life of the heinous criminal is inviolable. That is easily refutable, but the refutation does not get through to him. The conscious, living, breathing human being, capable of repentance indeed who has possibly repented, and is possibly innocent anyway, may be kept in prison but should not be killed, because that makes the community as bad as he is. The 3mm long embryo has some nervous tissue, but in no sense a brain.

It seemed to me that conservatives opposing abortion do so on purity grounds. The community should not be responsible for abortions, because the community should be kept pure of such sin. So it should not pay foreign NGOs that even mention to women that abortion is possible, and health insurance should not cover terminations because then the companies, and indirectly other policy holders, are paying for terminations. So the argument that better sex education reduces abortion does not matter to them. Safe sex, too, is impure. They do not want to reduce the number of abortions, only to put the doctors and the women beyond the pale of society.

Society is where the Good people are, so the pro-lifers have no understanding or empathy for those on the margins. There are ways and means to control ones fertility, wrote one. Yes, but not in a domestic violence or coercive control situation. Women try to leave such situations, and have difficulty with this.

So there is no abortion debate. There are people righteous in their own minds who oppose it, and can come out with all sorts of phrases to justify their position, but who do not care about the suffering of the adult they can see, just the value of the embryo they cannot. (You’re an embryo until the ninth week after fertilisation.) And there are people who have no hope of politics, such that they vote for the candidate who is toughest against abortion. God knows what doctors will be able to do about ectopic pregnancies.

Like the trans “debate”, there are two emotional positions. My heart goes out to the woman who needs an abortion and who cannot have one- in Northern Ireland, for example. These things are a matter for the woman and her doctors. It is none of my business, and not a proper matter for legal restrictions: women will not be able to get unnecessary abortions. But that is an emotional response, not a purely logical one. And the idea that a fœtus has value, even if it has no brain, so that a woman should take it to term and watch it die after the cord is cut, is also an emotional position. Trans women should be tolerated, or trans women should be expelled, are also emotional positions. We decide based on who we see as our community, and on emotional grounds. Then we rationalise, and the position embeds as our rationalisations multiply.

The murderer is beyond the pale of the conservative’s pure society, so entitled to nothing. To the liberal, Terence still applies: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. I am human. Nothing human can be alien to me. I cannot draw a line around my society. It includes the refugee and the psychopath.

Ego-strength

Much of the spiritual literature I read condemns the ego. It seems close to the “Petty-man” that Confucius condemns. For example, on facebook someone quoted John Butler: self-willed but imaginary ego causes all our trouble, [and] ignoring it deprives it of its power. I am reading Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, who gives the ego a kicking:

Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.

For Jung, wholeness was not to be confused with any kind of supposed moral perfection, because such moralism is too tied up with ego and denial of the inner weakness that all of us must accept.

So Ego, here, is illusion, possibly akin to the Self-concept of Carl Rogers. The self-concept is the illusory belief in who one is. One of my main drives is to preserve my illusion to myself. It matters less what others think as long as I can affirm it, and the cognitive dissonance from everything that contradicts it can be denied.

Yes, I have read the Analects, but at University. Possibly 2,500 year old Chinese wisdom is too far from my own concepts for me to usefully interpret it. The Superior Man is all-embracing and not partial. The inferior man is partial and not all-embracing. I bring together Rohr, Confucius and Rogers in confusion rather than synthesis.

I am interested to see the phrase ego-strength as a good thing: it promotes resilience. The challenge… for individuals in crisis is to figure out which parts of their identities are already functioning well and which parts are no longer working and need changing. The strong, valuable ego is well-attuned to the World, and flexible enough to stay so.

As far as I understand it, the spiritual path for Rohr is to strip away the illusions and be ones natural self. That is part of community and the biosphere. All that is is Christ’s body, and without ego-illusion we can all be our true part of that body. Ego is only illusion, only fraudulent separateness, the falsity which I cannot convince others of, or even myself, so my terror increases. But there may be people with positive beliefs about themselves, which are affirmed by others, where ego helps them navigate their world.

I was going to write “people whose beliefs about themselves are affirmed by others”, but that is the Law of Attraction, that everyone’s beliefs about themselves are read and believed by others, and affirmed. I have negative beliefs.

I read that one purpose of the beliefs was to help us to lie convincingly. “Of course I’ll help you,” I cry, warmly, and you believe me. Then I am surprised to find myself not helping, or that my “help” does not help- or perhaps I don’t notice.

I met a psychiatrist, and chatted socially of meditation. I talked of old people in care homes, sitting in a room, doing nothing. “They don’t seem unhappy,” he said. Possibly they are resigned. They are kept alive. They might have to dress themselves, or only to co-operate while they are dressed by others. I would rather do things, have greater aims than my continued subsistence. Here am I, writing and thinking. (Analects: To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.)

Would that we could know about these things. Wanting to know is part of my self-concept, perhaps; or it could be real self-

I want to bring the truth into consciousness, and observe what gives me pleasure, what repels me, how I cope with difficulty, how I relate to others, are not necessarily what I thought. On Deutschland 86 I have just seen Tina Fischer who left East Germany because she cannot bear the damage done by its illusions broken by arrest, interrogation, humiliation, false hope, and now being separated from her children at which she breaks down. I felt her break, and felt intense pleasure. The darkness is that dark.

That “consultant psychotherapist” said I had a “fragile sense of self” as if that were a bad thing. Perhaps he meant that my self-belief needed a lot of protection, because it was erroneous, perhaps he meant something I still cannot understand.

Ego as strength, and ego as what holds you back from Life in Christ. Beliefs useful, truthful, or even perhaps both! I may eventually understand, or I may eventually find beliefs I can live with. I find a rigid dichotomy between Consciousness and Awareness, which I may write about.

The trans “debate” II

There is no such thing as “gender”. A man cannot become a woman.
But trans women exist, and for thousands of years in all kinds of cultures apparent men have expressed ourselves as women.

Women need women’s space.
Trans women are integrated into women’s space, and should not be excluded.
(This one can become Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show which group is more oppressed.)

I need space in society. I need to go to the loo.
Use men’s spaces.

If women cannot define “woman”, if “woman” includes some men, then there is no basis for women’s rights.
Trans women are an anomaly, 0.1% of women, not worth all this energy.

There is a proposed new law which will end women’s rights.
There has been no movement on gender recognition reform since it was announced two years ago, and diagnosis is based on self-ID anyway.

There is little trans debate. There are opposing views, which complement each other like the ones above. On social media people who agree gather, and hone their arguments on each side, so that someone might speak for an hour on the first point, talking of brain plasticity and citing Cordelia Fine. But another might speak for an hour in refutation, on gender in culture. We talk past each other.

Then there are particular issues.

Even if testosterone levels are now women’s, male puberty and a male skeleton gives advantages in sport.
Skeletons change just as muscle-strength changes, in hormonal transition.

Then there are the appeals to the undecided middle. So “Self-ID” must be presented as a great change, allowing a sudden flood of men in women’s spaces, rather than a change to the births deaths and marriages registration system, having little practical effect even for trans people. Often there is some attempt to affect sympathy with “truly transsexual” people, and distinguish them from “predatory men”. In the private spaces, the definition of truly transsexual gets more and more restricted, as the interested party is drawn in, learns more of the “argument”, shares the anger.

Ah, the anger. Stories are shared. Tara Wolf’s assault on Maria McLachlan has done terrible damage to trans rights, cited again and again as a step on the way to radicalisation. Then there is self-righteousness: they see “women meeting to discuss women’s rights”, I see a crowd whipped up into communal anger, derision, fear, disgust against me.

You’re not one of us. So much of feminism is bringing Patriarchy to the attention of women, how society is organised in the interests of men. It just seems normal, it’s what you’re used to, then you grow to see how oppressive it is. This creation of an out-group is not subject to the usual objection, as it is punching up rather than punching down. I agree, actually. A lot of that makes sense to me. I would just like to be accepted in the group. I am scarred by male gender stereotypes too.

(Do I need to explain “punching up”? Have you read the same shared articles as me? Do you frequent the same social media spaces? The language can increase our intimacy through what we share, or alienate. What about “work wife”?)

Possibly you care so much about this because of your own hurt. Others are less hurt or have other concerns.

Debate, the construction of apparently logical-rational arguments from oft-repeated stock phrases, will not bring us together. Can we come together face to face, to see and hear each other?

What do you want?
What do you feel?
What hurts you, inspires you?
What do we share?

Because we share about this on line, typing onto screens, it becomes an intellectual debate. However it is a conflict. Trans women are in women’s spaces, and some women object. Should the women who object be able to exclude the trans women, or not? Where do your sympathies lie?

Any thoughts on how two sides might be brought together and the heat lessened- please share. How to break through the carapace of intellectual argument and Shield of Righteousness, to the hurt within? Can we find common interests?

how strange these mortals be!

How many of your characteristics do you need to consider before you become unique? I may not be the only left-handed aphantasic Scottish trans woman, but I am probably the only left-handed aphantasic Scottish trans woman entitled to join Mensa. It’s a trick question, of course; we are all unique, if only for our fingerprints.

People’s experience of the world can differ greatly. An effect I have on some people is that they imagine I think I am better than them. They project their insecurity onto me. I don’t, actually. I was deeply ashamed that I, being highly intelligent, empathetic, moderately well-read and interested in everything human should have such a poor CV. I have got over the shame, but I remain humble because of where I am in life (I think- subject to what I may write about consciousness). Why could I not do better?

This surprised even Tina. “It must be hard thinking you could do the job better,” she said. Actually, no. I don’t think that. But I find joy in these characteristics. I value having these gifts. That is how I value myself. It has been hard to value myself.

Being bright is supposed to make life easier, but it hasn’t, for me. Other things affect my life. I am socially awkward. Everything is multifactorial. She said, “We tend to be very reductionist, and think being bright makes things easier, having wealth makes things easier, and therefore that person does not have the difficulties I have.” We’re all doing our best under difficult circumstances.

-You find it hard to communicate without seeming arrogant and presumptuous. It’s not arrogance: you are saying, “This is the bit of life I can do! I’d like to share it, please.” I said I could go to a cocktail party or a dinner party and hold my own, but that is not quite true: I could talk on the intellectual level but not about social or life-issues, and not if it became a conflict, and I would need to borrow appropriate clothes. And I might be nervous.

I got into a conflict, and I had not anticipated it. I think she thought I was trying to put her down, put her in her place. In her situation she may get arrogant people trying to do that. I was just sharing something that had interested me- I have known of aphantasia since my teens, when I found that this phrase “the mind’s eye” was not just a weird metaphor but most people’s actual experience, but I had only just learned the word for it, only just heard others talking of experiences just like mine. I was excited about it. So the conflict came at me, out of the blue. And now I am not sure I could even learn from it. It’s just one of those bad things that happen occasionally, I could not imagine it part of a class and avoid similar problems. I sympathise with her.

I trained as a lawyer, and am Scots, and so write and talk with that flavour, with these twists of lemon in the cocktail.

I wonder how my sincerity comes over. I do not like to see the world as a battle, and some people do. And some people are ignored, brushed off, not seen or heard. It is hard to imagine other people’s experience is different from your own. We try to hide our foibles and vulnerabilities, and in doing so make ourselves more vulnerable.