Nick Cohen

How does your own oppression affect how you see the oppression of others? Nick Cohen spoke pungently against the antisemitism in the Labour party; why does he hate on any expression of disapproval of transphobia? Why can he not see that transphobia is as vile?

Antisemitism is the stain on Christianity- from Matthew’s Gospel, “His blood be on us and on our children”, through the German Crusade in 1096, when French and German peasants destroyed Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz, through the Blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitism besmirches European civilisation. It survives in QAnon, where the Moneyed elites allegedly ruining the world are said to be Jewish, rather than owners and senior executives of fossil fuel companies.

Antisemitism exists in obsessive form, where all an individual’s anger and resentment is channelled at Jews, and in a widespread, mild form, involving distaste. So does transphobia.

There is antisemitism in the Labour party, chiefly in the milder form, but by the time Chris Williamson MP was accused, his wrongdoing was to say that the response to antisemitism was overblown, and he was tainted by guilt by association with antisemites. That was enough for him to be suspended as an MP and silenced. His talk at Brighton Friends Meeting House was cancelled, according to Jane Dawson, head of BYM external communications, because of threats of violence. Nick Cohen tweeted, “You can be an anti-racist or you can be a supporter of the Labour party. But you can’t be both.”

I respect Cohen’s opposition to Labour, even if his work against them helped get the most appalling government of my lifetime elected, so why does he not notice transphobia? Instead, he amplifies it. He wrote for The Spectator, the British Breitbart (the two share writers) to claim JK Rowling was not transphobic. He wrote of the transphobic novel Troubled Blood “nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat as a disguise when approaching one of his victims”. This is a “tiny detail”. Well, why put in the detail? Could it possibly be linked to Rowling’s transphobia? One victim? The Guardian’s direct quote referred to victims. Cohen made no mention of Rowling’s transphobic screed, as if his memory does not stretch back to June. Rowling can’t make a serial killer real enough to be repulsive in himself, so she is forced to put in details, and one of them is that Creed dresses female when seeking victims.

It’s a common tactic. Minimise and deny the transphobia, find something unpleasant in the reaction and inveigh against that. Cohen then quotes at great length the more angry and unpleasant tweets against Rowling. Every British national newspaper is a willing platform for transphobia. Trans people objecting to it are outside, shouting, and some have to shout loudly for attention, and some people shouting may be trolls attempting to amplify discord. Though he admits “What the hell are they screaming about now?” is a recurrent thought when he turns on Twitter, and though we know how abusive the transphobes can be, he incites hatred against all trans people objecting to Rowling by quoting the worst of us.

I was going to write about the person in an oppressed group who only sees his own oppression, and can therefore oppress others. We should object to the oppression, not to the action against oppressors. In Cohen’s case it is not so simple. He recognises that “The novel’s descriptions of how men condescend to Robin Ellacott, how they send her lewd pictures, grab her, talk over her, and refuse to accept her opinions because they are from a woman” relate to real life. The problem is that he sets feminism against trans women, where in the real world feminists support trans women.

Cohen directly states a transphobic myth, “the safeguards or lack of them governing the clinics that offer hormone suppressing drugs or surgery”- as if NHS doctors give dangerous treatment without due cause.

Experience of oppression is no guarantee that you will recognise it in other circumstances. Cohen’s self-righteousness, and use of a platform like The Spectator to punch down at his innocent victims- me- don’t make me object to his work against antisemitism, but they do make me hate him.

Troubled Blood

In “Troubled Blood” by JK Rowling, the serial killer Dennis Creed tricks his female victims into his van by wearing a woman’s coat and wig to appear unthreatening. He “camouflaged himself behind an apparently fey and gentle facade”. He was abused as a child, then aged 12 began covertly watching women undress and stealing their underwear, which he wore while masturbating. He is a “genius of misdirection in his neat little white van, dressed in the pink coat he’d stolen from Vi Cooper, and sometimes wearing a wig that, from a distance, to a drunk victim, gave his hazy form a feminine appearance just long enough for his large hands to close over a gasping mouth.” He keeps his victims’ jewellery as trophies.

Is this transphobic? The Guardian books blog said not, saying he is “not portrayed as trans or even called a transvestite”. They say, don’t rise to the Telegraph’s criticism, a week ago (I found the article on Tumblr)

the disappearance of GP Margot Bamborough in 1974, thought to have been a victim of Dennis Creed, a transvestite serial killer. One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress.

Pink News did, though it did not report the details. Much of the abuse seems based on the Telegraph review, and the books blog points out the Telegraph likes enraging social justice advocates. Vanity Fair’s headline was “JK Rowling proves her commitment to transphobia in her new novel”, apparently without reading the book. The Independent only read the review, not the book, and recounted Rowling’s other reported transphobia in a worthless article saying nothing anyone interested in the issue didn’t know already.

Vicious transphobe Catherine Bennett repeated Rowling’s transphobic ploy of portraying the dispute as between decent and reasonable women with “concerns” against a baying transactivist mob. Bennett also again obscures the difference between hate crime, which is actual crime, and hate speech, which isn’t. Making misogyny a hate crime would not criminalise any tweet which is not criminal already, as incitement to violence or terrorist threat.

There is a real trans woman serial killer: Beate Schmidt, who murdered five women and a baby. However, fiction multiplies that- “The Silence of the Lambs” came before Rowling’s 900 page doorstop.

Should we care? Well, Rowling clearly hates trans people, demonising us repeatedly. Defences include the argument that Creed is not a trans woman. Well, who is to say? Many people would transition if there was not the storm of hatred, but do not. I know trans women diagnosed by psychiatrists who put off transition. Creed is a figment in a transphobe’s imagination, but some trans women masturbate when dressed female, and may even steal underwear if they cannot get it any other way, especially as children.

Why did Rowling make Creed a cross-dresser? Well, he is a serial killer. Without the writerly skill to make Creed horrific, terrifying or repellent, she resorts to clichés. She finds cross-dressers repulsive, so she imagines her readers will too. She also says he was abused as a child. We cannot assess whether Creed is really trans, because he is a mere grab-bag of characteristics, rather than a character.

That defence of Rowling is transphobic. Creed is not a trans woman, it says: Look, he murders people! Well, trans women can be criminals, just as gay people or left handed people can be. One “bad apple” does not taint all of us, and it is transphobic to judge us all by one criminal trans woman.

Creed wears a woman’s wig and coat. Rowling is associating trans behaviour with murderousness. That is enough to be transphobic. Yes, trans women may be criminals; but there are so few of us, we are a tiny proportion of criminals. For a demonstrated transphobe to give a criminal trans behaviour is transphobic.

Should there be an outcry? There is an outcry because trans people have no power. Ideally, people would see how immoral Rowling’s transphobia is, and stop buying her books. In the real world, some people may buy the book because of Rowling’s transphobia. I imagine Bennett avidly reading a book she would otherwise have sneered at. People tweet because we can’t do anything else. Transphobes at the Telegraph and Times are loudly delighted.

Talking to an anti-trans campaigner

We zoomed for an hour. She ranted for the first twenty minutes.

I saw how paltry were her Gotchas. The absolute facts, which show she and her like are in the right, are victims, include Tara Wolf’s assault. She named Tara’s victim. Then there was a point of their Badness, or their Goodness, which I don’t care about but somehow we both had at our fingertips. So called “Gender-critical” demonstrators were racist at Black Lives Matter demonstrators! BLM has repudiated that, she claims. I really don’t care, but it shows our level of detail and the lengths we go to.

She has a logical basis to her arguments which misses out a great deal of reality but appeals to such people. What is a woman is based on genes, gonads and genitals. Even intersex women are women because of primary or secondary sexual characteristics at birth. Trans women are men, so should no more be in women’s spaces than a seahorse in a stable (my analogy: I cannot resist these plays with words).

She knows that vulnerable women need a space where they will be completely certain that no trans woman could ever come. I questioned her on that. She admitted there are so few trans women, but still asserted the possibility a trans woman might enter would take away the safety.

Then she claims a right to organise as a protected characteristic- to meet and campaign- which I cannot find in the Equality Act. Her protected characteristic is sex, so women with these views should be able to meet and campaign together without objection. She also seems to misunderstand the provisions about excluding trans women from women’s spaces, which assume that trans women are women.

She is wrong about all this, but her certainty is undentable. That we are a tiny, vulnerable minority, and that we can evade transition only by continuing suffering, does not matter to her at all. She is the victim. Lesbians are victims. I say, what about Diva, the lesbian magazine, and Stonewall, whose chief executive was Ruth Hunt, a lesbian, from 2014, now succeeded by Nancy Kelley, also a lesbian. They don’t speak for her, and she resents this.

She dismisses my Gotchas. Right wing? WoLF took a strategic decision, as they could not get funding anywhere else, that one time. Then she mentions a self-hating trans, as if she does not remember that trans writes repetitive, derivative rubbish for The Spectator. I talk of the Times, and she says it is less anti-trans after the editor changed.

On the Labour Party, she does not think she damages it by launching her “Declaration” at the start of the election campaign. Rather, she thinks she is saving it. She tries to persuade socialist campaigners to remain in the party. Three hundred left in one day! On that, I was the dismissive one- three hundred out of half a million.

Then she views her tiny, hating minority as brave lone campaigners. She was at the LGB All Liars launch! There were [self-hating] trans women there! There are lots of lesbian organisations! They are tiny, and it’s always the same dreary obsessives, but she does not see that.

I sat in silence unable to think of anything useful to say. She thinks her lot are the oppressed ones, unable to see how the hard Right are using them. For example, when I wrote to my MP the minister wrote back using the term “single-sex services”, trans excluder jargon claiming there is a rigid distinction between gender and sex and that it matters, rather than “women’s services”. Can there be a meeting of minds? Almost certainly not. That hour on zoom from 8.30, followed by my messing about until midnight, probably contributed to my misery the following day.

I am reading “Always Coming Home” by Ursula LeGuin, in which a woman from an egalitarian society, where wealth is counted in what they give away, goes to a militaristic, theocratic, hierarchical society where wealth is what they take from others and retain. Women are not allowed outside, and are veiled in the presence of men. She writes of the “general of the women”,

If we could have worked and talked together and come to know each other I think it would have been better, for she was not a spiteful person. But that was prevented by our misunderstanding, fixed and made incurable by her jealousy of her power, and my shame.

The least privileged cling to their few privileges, against each other. So much of that book is relevant:

But since the Dayao did not talk decisions over in public council, as people usually do, there was no way for disagreements to come together into agreement. So ideas became opinions, and these made factions, which diverged and became fixed opponents.

I don’t know that talking is possible. I know that our marginalisation is the same. I know that she cannot gain rights by taking away mine. My concept of how we might come together, fighting for the rights of both, involves her welcoming trans women in. Hers involves me campaigning behind that self-hater. I am trapped in the zero-sum game. Could we work for the good of the Labour party?

Triggers and avoidance

The triggers can be anywhere.

Self-discovery is impossible without knowing where you came from. “Understanding your past and the family you grew up in helps you to understand who you are now and what you value.”

Well, yes, you might say. The best I can say of this is that it reminds us of something we know, before connecting it to something I had not previously connected it to. Perhaps I am just reading this magazine article for the comfort of being reminded of stuff I know, plus the odd wee nugget of new information. It scores low on the enragement index, as the most enraging sentence I have found is this: “We did not know if the existing scientific literature on predicting successful marriages would apply to poor families, because it was mostly conducted on middle-class families,” but they went on and spent on “marriage education” for poor families anyway. Or, A young wife became convinced- after a “Marriage clinic”!- “that her husband’s straying was a result of her failing to do her duty by taking care of her looks and keeping a proper home.”

These are not enraging by comparison with, say, this on Brexit. The marriage article names continuing injustices, but the particular applications are far away and in the past, and don’t directly affect me. The Brexit article introduced me to a new arcanum, the “Consent mechanism”, whereby the Northern Ireland Assembly can reject the agreed border regime. Theresa May agreed Britain would follow EU rules, to avoid a border in the Irish Sea. Johnson put the responsibility onto the Unionists in the NIA. They can either break the Good Friday Agreement and make the border with the Republic an international trade and customs border, or they can effectively end their union with Great Britain. Johnson’s betrayal of the rule of law, in his quest to destroy the British government’s power to influence regulations on corporations in order to protect consumers, employees or the environment…

you can tell I am nearly frothing at the mouth on that one. I typed that sentence completely without thought, linking the new “betrayal of the rule of law” to the central Brexit vandalism which enrages me, and will affect me, almost certainly impoverish me further. I enjoyed videos of Ed Miliband explaining Johnson’s multiple betrayals in the House of Commons (here’s the full thing) but the Internal Market Bill still got its second reading.

And still it did not affect me like “Understanding your past and the family you grew up in helps you to understand who you are now and what you value.” I instantly wanted to avoid. I could check that facebook post.

“Mars is in retrograde,” said someone, and I thought, yeah yeah, astrology blah. But Mars is in retrograde- apparently going backwards, from a Ptolemaic perspective- because it is in Opposition, the other side of the Earth from the Sun, almost the closest it gets to Earth even though this is not a particularly close opposition. I took the bin out and looked up, and it was amazing. So I posted about this on facebook, and got seven likes and one comment, though none since I checked an hour ago.

Instead I analysed my impulse to check facebook. I want to go into something even more undemanding than reading articles saying mostly stuff I know, and potentially get a dopamine hit from another Like. I want to go into comfort blanket mode, because of that sentence. My upbringing actively prevented me from understanding who I am, destroying? Badly damaging at any rate, my relations with my relatives now, impoverishing me, and ruining my life.

Yes, it is that bad. Ruining my life.

So, rather than checking facebook, total avoidance activity, I sat with the pain for a few moments, then came here to analyse the impulse. I feel I should finish that marriage article. I should not be deflected by triggers. But then, I know “You can’t avoid marital conflict, but you can learn to handle it better,” and I am not married, because of that upbringing.

I should not give in to my trigger. I should complete what I started.

Mmm. Rules like that kept me going, and now I feel it is a failure not to finish the article. And yet, reading the article was not much better than avoidance activity in the first place. I think the liberating thing is not to finish the article, but I am feeling conflicted about that.

I will sit with my hurt for a bit.

More analysis first, though. The upbringing and the introjects were to enable me to follow a safe adulthood. They were so far from “who I am and what I value” that they broke down, and now there is the shattered wreckage of the introjects and the hurt.

I will sit with my hurt for a bit.

Hit “publish”.

Check stats.

The inner gaslighter

I have an inner gaslighter, rather than an inner critic. It refuses to accept my feelings, saying they are a pretence or an act, or to admit that my motives are ever worthwhile, saying they are cowardice and the most ridiculous short-term self-serving.

Quakers asked me how well I conform to the testimonies, and I could not say. I made a joke of it. I said when I did not. This morning I asserted to an audience of fifty wise souls, and now to you, my utter commitment to peace, equality, simplicity and truth and the absolute authenticity of my feelings. Before that, I suffered a painful- transition, I will call it: a stage when my inner gaslighter berated me, and I asserted my truth against it, feeling all the pain of its denial and my own lack of belief. There I am, talking aloud to my empty room, inarticulately- “I- I- I- I Am Truthful, I Am Truthful, I am Truthful…” both with a need to convince myself and terror and also delight in asserting it.

I said it to those wise souls and they affirmed me. Hurrah for chat:

your words resonate with me.  Thanks for being so open and honest
Missed you so so much xxx much love xxx
I think  you have most beautiful kind generous wise energy

Separately, someone wrote,

More and more I realize that being free from that instance/ need of pleasing everyone and being validated by others is the real deal…the freedom…the liberation…we think that “enlightenment” is exclusive, something that is far away and available only to few …while instead is much closer than we think…if only…we could embrace totally ourselves and look at reality from those healthy lens…..

Then there was the Pendle Hill worship, where I sat, feeling I was in my holiness, my inner light fully conscious and in control, and Friends ministered on giving gifts freely, and paying them forward. In my Friend’s time of greatest vulnerability and need he was supported.

Perhaps the inner critic or gaslighter will return. Those paths through the dendrites are too well-trodden to disappear in a day; and every time I assert my truth, it gets easier. I feel I broke through the barrier that held me back earlier this month.

I need to be affirmed- I am in great vulnerability- and I am affirmed. When I did not see myself my Friend saw me, writing of me, “she is absolutely committed to Truth and spoke … with honesty and courage”. In another meeting this week I moved a Friend to tears, and he wrote, “I think this writing is absolutely beautiful”. I write this here because these are the things I need to take into my heart, these are the things I have locked out for too long, I need to know that they are true. I feel affirmed.

I am Abigail, and I am Love, radiantly open to myself, my world and to all people, giving and receiving Life.

Looking forward

It is risky speculating on what personal growth will look like. What I anticipate gets in the way of what will actually happen, because my conception of good does not fit what is really good, and can get in the way of perception. But there are things I know, now, and ideas I have- a bit like the Drake equation, all the variables we would need to know.

There is the defended self, the undefended self, the path or gateway between, the barrier, the defences. I have various names for the undefended self, each of which makes me see it differently: Real me, Organismic self, Inner light. There are other names: what about “Inner child”?

Or “The muse”. My Two souls poem pictured something I still have not realised. Lemn Sissay writes of composing as a teenager, “I had written poetry in earlier childhood but this was me and me alone, channelling something bigger than me that proved I wasn’t alone. The proof was there on the paper. The evidence. I was alive.”

I might say, I am one of unclean words and of a people of unclean words, and how can I find Reality with words? Well, give the words to Reality. But that Two Souls poem frightened me. I would have to transition, and I did not think I could. Twenty years later I am still catching up.

An answer to words is wei wu wei, do without doing, effortless action, moving naturally without conscious judgment and doing what needs to be done, in the moment and not in past and future. Then the blockage is my judgment and lack of trust, my need to second-guess myself. Mary Lutyens wrote of Krishnamurti, “K lost his memory of the past almost entirely. This was consistent with his teaching that memory, except for practical purposes, is a weight that should not be carried over from one day to the next.”

What blocks me from it? Fear of The Monster, of death, but that only says how great the fear is rather than what I feel might actually happen. There are also little fears, of not understanding, or being left out, humiliation, getting things wrong, anything I fear. There is the harsh inner critic, which claims my feelings are not genuine, and my motives are cowardly and self-serving in the most ridiculous, self-defeating way.

Asking “What do I feel, now?” may help me through. Part of the problem is denying or suppressing feelings, or my loss of understanding of what the feeling is. Until last autumn I would never have thought myself anxious. Recognising the effects of my anxiety may be liberating in the long run. That suppression, called “defences”, may be better seen as introjects. They defend me from no real threat. Lemn Sissay again:

A foster child will expose the cracks in the familial veneer. Insomuch as the foster child is a cipher to the dysfunction of a family and also a seer. But the responsibility is too great for a child and so he finds himself manipulated and blamed for what he exposes by the simple virtue of innocence. The wrath this innocence incurs is deep and dark.

That “simple virtue of innocence”. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I judge the Real Me as bad, foolish, unsophisticated though when it manifests, as when I know that I am telling the truth with my whole being, like giving ministry. Then I experience the undefended self, but it seems I might- go deeper.

There is how I feel about my experience: I have the feeling it might be digested, processed, accepted. I have told of past events and felt the same thing I felt at the time, and seen others like that, and it is being trapped in the past by unprocessed experience. The Dalai Lama talks of “emotional disarmament” to heal conflict.

When I realised I was on a spiritual journey, I wanted to stop feeling anger and fear, and when I realised that it seemed impractical: and now I stop resisting anger and fear. Jamie Catto said, “If I could answer the question ‘what’s wrong with me?’ I would not have to feel this feeling any more.” Then I read, and he said “So gifted”, and I note it down because it pleases me and I want to imbibe all the sweetness from the comment.

In minstry, someone spoke of “The unbearable beauty of the holy Source”. And later in the week in worship I felt horror and wonder, as my joys and sorrows are too great for me to bear. “It is so much!” I thought, and felt my body relaxing, then getting tense again.

There is the Deathless land, where we let go of these things. I may not dwell there yet, but the glimpses nourish, and I hunger for it.

Reality-based caring

My friend, after research on the internet, concluded that the coronavirus could not have evolved naturally in bats or some link species, but had to have been genetically engineered. The thought made her miserable. Its release had to have been an accident, she thought, she could not see any reason why anyone would do that.

I don’t believe SARS-CoV 2 was genetically engineered. I believe it would be generally known if it were. I believe academia would ferret such things out, and publications I trust, such as the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Atlantic or New Statesman would have publicised it. I have a high school education in physics and chemistry, and a lay interest in such writers and broadcasters as Jim Al-Khalili or Marnie Chesterton, so I have to take it on trust. I believe academia would debate that, and if it were true it could not be suppressed. I have read that the genome sequence shows that it was clearly not engineered, and can’t remember where.

And, the way human culture has evolved has caused the pandemic. It arose because of human encroachment into wild habitat, and exploitation of bush meat. It got a toe-hold because of the corrupt, terrified lower-ranking Chinese officials who threatened prosecution of Li Wenliang, the doctor who raised the alarm. I have no more reason to trust the Chinese investigators who, after Li’s death, recommended punishment for the officials who made Li withdraw his comments. The rule there seems to be “Don’t make us look bad- even in retrospect”. It rampaged through the US because their corrupt President knew it spread pre-symptomatically through exhaled aerosol droplets, and did not care. However there is not one person to blame, like a careless technician in a virology lab- we are all guilty, as Heinz Kiosk said.

Whether we react with sadness, anger or acceptance, there is huge communal and individual loss from CoViD- uncountable deaths, loss of jobs and businesses, economic depression. Possibly the thought of that terrible mistake lets my friend mourn it. Possibly I have not faced this great Fact of 2020 fully. My social life has improved, as people take to Zoom.

I wondered what Donald Trump meant by “radical left”, but he appears to attach the term to anything I would call “Reality based”. The Atlantic magazine prints conservatives such as David Frum, always introduced as George W. Bush’s speechwriter, and Anne Applebaum, who remains a small-state, low tax, respect for property rights conservative but a truthful one. The concept of “Reality-based” goes back to 2004, though the quote then seems to be about creating facts by concrete achievement- conquest, in that case.

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Now, “creating reality” means pumping up QAnon.

Instagram’s QAnon Moms care deeply about children abused by Democrat paedophiles, and if I believed with them I would care too, enough to work very hard for Q+’s re-election as President. Now, Republicans seem completely mired in fantasy, but it was a long time developing, through their climate change denial, or use of the Laffer Curve to cut taxes on the wealthiest indiscriminately. Perhaps politics is a grim fight for group advantage, and those who pretend to idealism in the interests of the whole community are hypocrites or trapped in cognitive dissonance.

Do people care about their fellows? Most people think caring about others is an admirable trait. However we may see ourselves as caring, on evidence which is too easy. Does tweeting about Black Lives mean you care, or must you do something in real life?

I understand the logic of my radical feminist friend’s position on trans rights, just not its value. Trans women are men, therefore trans women in women’s space is as inappropriate as a forty year old in a children’s centre. She and her fellow campaigners don’t want to reduce the rights of the trans woman any more than the notional forty year old, but they should not be there. I don’t agree. If Sara Ahmed can be a feminist activist supporting trans rights, why can’t she? Could she step back from logic, and consider the advantages of trans inclusion? However she can campaign for the expulsion of trans women from the women’s spaces where we are, and claim not to be uncaring.

I last posted a week ago. I’ve been thinking of writing projects which are too ambitious to actually write, and writing for somewhere else. I can’t draw this post together, but it’s stuff I’ve been thinking about. Does caring do any good? Does it need to be Reality-based to do good? I think so, but not everything here argues for that.

The Afro comb

As any fule kno, different is always less. Me and my lot are simply the best way to be: if there were a better, we would be it! We look at those lesser types with sympathy.

Lemn Sissay was fostered by a white family until he was twelve, when they demanded that he be taken away and he was kept in a series of children’s homes. That white mother each morning would comb his hair, with “a strip of metal with barely visible slits”. “Mum dragged the comb through the roots until my skull felt like it had been dipped in acid and was pouring with blood.”

She just accepted this pain. “You have hair sore,” she would say. I don’t know why she didn’t use the kind of plastic comb I used to use, but possibly the tines broke.

Mum was a midwife, and one day she took Lemn, whom she called “Norman”, to see Errol Brown, the lead singer of Hot Chocolate. He had been visiting the hospital, they got chatting and she told of her Black foster-son, and Errol Brown promised her Lemn’s first Afro comb. “I stared at the strange and elegant genius of design and style: an Afro comb. ‘Your very first Afro comb,’ said Errol Brown.”

A comb that would not hurt him. Who would have thought it? If the comb hurt him, the problem was obviously him- his hair, so unlike that of normal people’s, the best kind of people’s, which would cause no kind of difficulty with a normal people’s comb.

It took a Black man to give Lemn Sissay the comb he, as a Black boy with Ethiopian hair, needed.

Francesca Happé studies autism. She notes that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association would not recognise PTSD, necessarily, in autistic people, because it requires the trauma to be life-threatening. She gives the example of a man who takes the bus to work every day. One day the bus goes on a detour, and he has no idea where he is, and no way of getting to work. After that he has PTSD: he may be triggered if he passes the bus stop he always used, or even by the colour of the bus.

This is a man who goes to work even though being late is a threat to him, and it actually happening traumatises him. I hope if I were in that situation I would tell my boss and they would tolerate it- it is apparently not my fault, don’t let it happen again. I would be irritated but not traumatised. We expect this man to live in a neurotypical society though it stresses him this badly.

One autistic friend suggests that autistic people don’t have jobs, often, because they try working and it does not work out for them, so they won’t do it again. If work can traumatise you, I am not surprised they won’t do it again.

It is hard work to see the value of difference, or the problems of difference. You comb hair with a comb. It is so obvious, no other solution is imaginable. When the child is hurt, the problem is with him.