Andy lacked one quality essential in a pastor: discretion. Wrongfully, he told me that one woman, prominent in the community and whose transition memoir I had read, had told him “I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body”.

When Henrietta left Edinburgh for Manchester, the Edinburgh MCC sent our church a “good luck” card. Henrietta self-identified as transsexual. She had had a job earning about £10,000, and fraudulently applied for multiple credit cards, then gone on a spree: travelling across the country, staying in hotels, she had maxed out her cards, gone bankrupt, and told me that all she had to show for it was one bottle of perfume. She thought she had Prader-Willi syndrome, an inability to sense that ones stomach is full: she could eat a tin of golden syrup as a light snack. She did not have a positive diagnosis of this. James told me that she might ignore cooking instructions, putting a chicken into an oven at 200°, say, for the requisite time, but not giving the oven time to heat up first. “Don’t eat with her”, he said. The sausages she cooked for me were unappetising. I watched her put on her tights, just stick her foot in and pull; predictably make a hole in them; and then pull down a loose handful to cover the hole. Andy told me he had been down Canal St with her when a drag queen had pulled her wig off her head, put it back on the right way round, and started back-combing it.

Another masculine apparition who wanted us to address her as “Mother”, from Glasgow, had stuck a perspex vase to the wall with bluetack, and put a lighted candle in it, then gone to sleep. She woke to find the candle, still alight, had fallen onto the television. So she poured a bucket of water on it to put it out, and set the television alight. She then panicked and ran out, leaving all the doors open. This was the second council flat she had burned out.

James’ hobby was rescuing such folk. He said one had phoned him at four am talking of suicide, so he had driven over to console him. The fourth time he phoned like that, James had replied, “Well, do it then” and left the phone off the hook. James, a sensible man who had had a good job with the council, and divorced when he could no longer deny he was gay, was lonely.

Morag, 5′ 16″ with a deep baritone, talked of staying with various friends leading me to draw the conclusion that they were rescuing her in a similar way. When I told her of the supportive community of MCC Manchester, she evinced interest. I later found that Andy had managed to persuade her not to move there. James told me that MCC Manchester was more of a first aid station than a church community: people would join, get patched up, reconcile their faith with their homosexuality, and move on. Andy had to stop the extempore prayer segment of worship, because of the people who used it to moan about what an awful week they had had.

Sandra had transitioned and worked as a nurse, but when she had to move back with her parents they insisted that she present male. She had taken her credit card, in her female name, to Next, and when she could not use it there had made such a scene that she was sectioned. She got a commission-only job selling £1000 vacuum cleaners- wonderful things, but not appropriate for Oldham’s terraced houses- and her enthusiasm increased until she was sectioned again. She introduced me to the electrologist who dealt with my facial hair problem.

I only went in the old, 19th century “Bottom Block” once, its long corridor with a 6″ wide floral border pasted to the wall would have made me desperate had I not known when I could get out. But Sandra preferred it to the all new Parklands House- individual rooms for the patients, they could even lock their doors- because Parklands had no exercise equipment, so being locked in for weeks drove you up the wall. Not even table-tennis.

We do what we can.


That was then, this is now. At karate this morning, I take a moment before we start to become Present, in the moment. The fire door is open, as it is sunny, and I am with the fence outside. It is sharp, hard, cold, straight, erect, unyielding, unbending, pointed, effective,  fitting. I find that part of me which is in the Fence. I relate to it. Here, and elsewhere, I need to be these things: it is good to access these things in me. I dance with the spirit of the fence.

In karate, we practise combinations: make it flow, not one move after another but one moving naturally into the next. Not, block, then think, what next- blockstrike, blockstrike.

Then there is that wonderful leaping kick. From short fighting stance, jump forward, lifting the back leg up into a half-kick which is a feint, landing on that foot and kicking forward with the other. With practice, one could be a yard forward, forcing a block which goes the wrong way, and kicking through the person.

More practice kicking, then hold the foot in the air for a moment after, then place it down. The body is always under control.

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