British Museum

I phoned A. because I wanted to make sure he would come. Possibly, someone else could do that by manipulation, but I do not have the skills, so I said so straight out. “That’s so sweet!” he said, sincerely. One other had been going to come, but by mistake came yesterday. Two others might have come but did not.

We met in the Great Court of the British Museum. I had remembered it as mindblowing, and am slightly disappointed: the Reading room at the centre is larger than I recall, it feels less spacious, and of course it is crowded. East Asian tourists blocked the main entrance, taking photographs. He buys me a cup of tea, and I sit glancing off to see if anyone else is coming. He resists the phone-addict in him wanting to check the football results: Watford has been playing badly, on its fifth manager of the season.

That is the way into sharing. He explains why Watford have had so many managers, then shows this amazing video. He can get it out for delight at any time. Not being a fan, I am still amazed by it.

He has been a fan since childhood, when there was a lot of hooliganism, and Watford was one of the first teams to have a family enclosure. He has seen some unpleasantness, such as when a man in front of him was wildly abusing the team and the ref, and ill-advisedly he suggested to him, “Why don’t you just enjoy the game?” He leaves the rest to my imagination.

We wander into the galleries, and find Buddhist and Hindu statues from around 500-1000 CE. Buddhism is supposed to be peaceful, but one figure has two tiny Hindu gods, supine, one covered by each foot. I begin to pick up some of the iconography: many have tiny worshippers kneeling at their feet. We wonder at them being mixed, Buddhist and Hindu together in one row. They interest me but do not move me until this one.

Bodhisattva

“The [missing] crown, jewellery and dress suggest it is a Bodhisattva.” Either the academic opinion is more important, or there was no-one local to ask. It is a poor photograph, with the reflections on the glass, and the lights, but I love her assertive pose. It is my thing. I grow less ashamed of that, but cannot answer when he asks what grabs me about her.

We walk to Euston station where we have coffee and share more deeply. I tell him a little of my feelings around transition. “I am confused, I thought you said you wanted a relationship with a woman”. There is a simple explanation: at the time, I had bought into the lie that only androphile trans women are really TS, and the script that one must pretend to be one: but I do not give it.

Train home. The taxi goes fast, but the driver corners so skilfully that it is comfortable. I tell him so.

Partying

We were cuddled up on comfy chairs under duvets and blankets, while Nelson played his guitar and people sang. I sang my own song, and Nelson improvised chords for it. I had not wanted to come. I felt so miserable last Monday after a pleasant Sunday that I would almost have rather stayed in my flat, rather stay miserable than have pleasure then go back to it. I am glad I went. I feel more centred and confident than last week. I also feel the misery last Monday led to useful change. Nelson also helped me with my song: I wondered what chord to use before the final tonic, but he proposed two. I sang baritone, as it means I can hold a note:

Nick has done Essence two and a half times, walking out half way through once. He said something about me being unable to come, and I can’t think why.
-Nick, I have a prostate.
-I know what you have.
At this, his friend Julie got irritated and frustrated with him. I felt her tension. “What?” said Nick, and then started protesting, it is just his way, just his sense of humour, it is the way he talks. Neither of us could explain to him, so I asked him about his painting. He is ashamed of it. He should not be, it gives him an income, but lets him stay at home rather than going out to work. He said it looks like nothing as he works on the background of the whole, and only comes together when he adds the details at the end. Earlier, he had compared my bonny velvet dress, borrowed from Helen, to curtain material. I must ask Julie if he is like that with everyone, or just me. I liked the dress, but it was a little tight around the bust, which was uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how men cope with breast-binding before top surgery.

On the train down, I met Lilian, who is from Hong Kong, here studying Geography at university. She was reading Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan, which says that happiness is not about how we think, but how we act. She highlighted certain passages. One tends to think happiness is about attitudes such as gratitude and acceptance. He says it is about finding what we want, and doing it, and I can agree. Lilian disapproves of the democracy protests. She does not feel one person one vote should be a priority in China: it is more important to improve communications with the west of the country, so that people may find work without travelling so far to the factories in the East. Not reducing soot particles in the air, either. She has made it a point to study recent Chinese history since the war, and the sufferings of her people. I do not want to challenge her- she says people often get worked up- but do say that our particular way of encouraging different points of view lends itself to voting, here.

People started arriving about six. Best line- “I’ve done a bedroom scene with Cate Blanchett”- but he was playing a German soldier in Charlotte Gray, coming to arrest her. I feel my photographs compliment people and show a little of their character, and someone came up with this. Possibly Nick.

In demand

Self-care III

What would self-care look like, with self-respect?

Essence Advance gave me self-respect. I am soft, gentle, peaceful and for the first time I see that as good. I have always sought out what I thought would benefit me, and guarded myself from harm as best I could, and now I know myself better, and so can care for myself better.

This morning I was moved to tears by Octavia Butler, Seed to Harvest, the story of Thomas. She crushes him, then despite his insults another feels empathy for him, and he responds, and acts nobly. From this example of empathy I learn empathy. After, I feel exhausted, turning it in my mind. Seeing that and loving it is all the work I want to do today.

So, goals. I hated work because I got in fights. I am now challenged to write my financial/ career goals for 2015, and am tempted to have none. Too difficult. I look back at work, and see almost all pain. Moulding that with Positive Thinking is just too difficult right now.

I am happy to carry on without work at the moment. Nothing George Osborne could say about this is worse than the words my inner critic has for me- coward, parasite, etc; and I know those words are not true, and they need not hurt me. And, perhaps I am unfit for employment: Butler writes of people sensitive to others’ thoughts, whose gifts plunge them into Hell, and I am sensitive to feeling. I imagine work with dread.

The goal with work is to respect and cherish my hurt self,
and to be open to possibility- anything that might come along that might fit.

Goals of having a job by the end of the year would miss the point, be not what I want, and be ignored, or be a weight to carry and another sense of failure.

Being open to possibility-
I have a way of blocking out my surroundings, and not noticing the people around me. Of course it is not only me, I see others hurrying by oblivious. This is another trait of self-protection, which possibly has become too strong a habit. So opening myself-
being

open

to possibility

is the goal. It is huge.

“Why don’t you look into publishing your poetry?”
Out came my no, immediately, before thought. Well, because I don’t think it is good enough, and because if I put it out for judgment it will be found wanting and I will be hurt. And it is too much work anyway.

Alternatively,
What would be a first step?
That.
OK.

Margaret Macdonald, Summer

Dr Richard Milne on climate change

In this video, Dr Richard Milne explains the clear evidence for human-created climate change, the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, and the nature and actions of the true sceptic. The lecture is an hour long, followed by twenty minutes of questions. Or, read my summary.

It is socially acceptable to put all that CO2 into the atmosphere because of ignorance and disinformation. Deniers blur vital distinctions between the basic science, which is proven, and advanced science, which is still under debate, and between true sceptics who advance science and deniers, who retard it; and between politics- What should we do?- and science- What are the facts? Though some scientists are also environmentalists, urging political action, these two roles can be distinguished.

The suggestion that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was wrong, but was a minor point about the timing of future effects- the most advanced and controversial scientific question. It does not discredit the assertion that the Earth is actually warming. The true sceptic prunes away that false assertion, but the denier seeks to destroy public trust in climate science as a whole. The sceptic produces evidence to convince the scientific community, the denier ignores or attacks the scientific community and uses whatever arguments s/he can to convince the public, with books and articles rather than peer-reviewed papers. Good science follows the evidence, bad science is too much attached to one desired outcome and cherry-picks the evidence.

There are four clear facts, and two causal relationships:

1. CO2 absorbs more heat from reradiated light than air does.
2. Humans have emitted over one trillion tonnes of CO2.
3. There has been an increase in atmospheric CO2 of more than half a trillion tonnes since 1850
4. Global temperatures have increased over the past century.

We have known CO2 is a greenhouse gas since the 19th century. For climate change to be caused by humans, fact 2 must cause 3, and and 1 and 3 together must cause fact 4. Deniers say volcanoes cause the increase in CO2, but humans emitted thirty billion tonnes in 2008, and volcanoes emitted about 100m. Animals breathe out CO2, but plants absorb it. There is no explanation of what has happened to CO2 emitted by humans, other than that much of it remains in the atmosphere.

We know the CO2 absorbs energy, because satellites measure the light energy leaving our planet, and the reduction matches the absorption wavelengths of CO2 and CH4. Does the Sun also contribute? The Sun’s emission of heat grew in the first half of the 20th century, but not since- so it could contribute to temperatures rising then, but not after then.

Deniers also dig up discredited evidence and produce false experts. They call climate change a scare story, implying it is not true. The scary hole in the ozone layer reduced, because people reduced CFC emissions. Many natural factors affect the climate, but over different timescales than the 150 years of increased CO2.

Denialists use logical fallacies such as correlation implying causation. There has been climate change before- it can be natural- but that does not mean that it is natural now, or that it is nothing to worry about- it caused the Permian/Triassic mass extinction. Greenland was warmer in the Mediaeval Warm Period, but Siberia was colder.

He explains the Climategate scandal, of leaked emails. There was no conspiracy. The most incriminating email said, I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last twenty years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.  The denier points to the words “trick” and “hide the decline”, and spins this as deceit by a scientist. The sceptic finds out that the email concerned tree ring data tracking temperature- trees grow better in warm years- until about 1980, but thereafter does not. This is called the divergence problem. Since 1980, something else is limiting tree growth- but if there were a conspiracy, scientists would cover up that divergence.

Why do people deny climate change? Because it is too scary; because some profit from emitting CO2 now; and because right wing politicians oppose communal action generally, and communal action is the way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Milne recommends this site. Painting from here.

Crab Nebula 1, by Berta Rosenbaum Golahny

Motivation

Perhaps I would do exactly the same things, and they would change from a cage to a springboard. I am growing and changing, and it is wonderful. Eliot:

The highest treason

to do the right thing for the wrong reason

Monday, I felt low. Sunday was so good. Monday was just back to the living room. I did not affirm myself, much, on Monday: I could not say it. In the evening, I knelt in my ritual space and affirmed, and my tears flowed. I thought,

When I affirm myself
I am in a space where I am real
If my emotions are too scary
I cannot go to that real space.

I have spent 11 Christmases in a row in Cardiff, and this year neither of us wanted that. I arranged somewhere else with someone else, and on Tuesday we decided to cancel as she was ill. It was not a potential date, just a friend, and we never discussed it, only emailed and messaged, to arrange and then to cancel.

What do I want? is on my mind. Interesting job? Greater income? Not particularly, actually. I do not discern any particular such desire in me.

I want heart-connection, 
real deep human connection.

In the evening I told H Christmas had fallen through, and she said immediately come to Cardiff, and I said No.

On Wednesday, I awoke in a strange place. It is a beautiful day. I could get the bus in to Swanston to get food, or just have what I have in the house. Perhaps if I tidied and cleaned a bit the house would be pleasanter: I have not tidied or cleaned my living room this month. And yet, I don’t actually need to get out of bed today, I don’t need to clean my teeth, I don’t even need to eat.

I have been doing things because they are sensible, or because they are conventionally accounted worthwhile, fun, whatever. It is just a slog. It is misery. If I tidy my room because I am ashamed that others might see it as it is, that is horrible. If I tidy it because I want to-

I decide to do what I want. I will not do anything without a desire for that thing itself, divorced from shame, or what would people think, or anything like that.

In the shower, I consider what to wear- warm old clothes to slob about the house in? Though I am not going out, I decide to wear a dress and put on make up, because I want to.

These are small things, instantly achievable, carrying no risk expense or difficulty. It feels revolutionary. It also feels all or nothing: do I want this? I will not do it unless I want to. I wrote in my diary a new line of affirmation:

I am Abigail.
I am worthy of life.
I know what I want, and I take steps to achieve it.

I WILL NOT DO ANYTHING because

it is sensible
I rationally assent to it
it is conventional, or what people do
it is what my wise loving friend advises

UNLESS I WANT TO.

I want to try things, to see if I like them.
I want Human connection
I value my want.

I was in a state of high excitement writing these things, like a fire with flames leaping up the chimney; now it is quieter, the coals glow, warming me.

This changes the way I see having withdrawn to my living room: part of it has always been shame at giving up and retreating. Now it is pride and quiet satisfaction, as it was the way I saw to look after myself. It was what I wanted. I move on from last week: from the biggest things in my life, I move on to all things.

Veronese, The Wedding at Cana

St Albans

Lovely day on Sunday. Peter drove me to the Quaker meeting, where I stated my affirmation to Kingsley, who loved it. I left early, walked to the station, and took the train for St Albans. I asked the ticket collector where the Thameslink train went from, and the man beside me answered. So I commented on the blurb on his book, and we were away. Sometimes people want to talk as much as I do.

He told me how much he liked books from the 1930s- this one is a reprint from the British Library- because of their innocence, and recommended one to me. Then he told me how he had grown up in Nottingham, gone to Brighton to University and stayed there ever since. However Nottingham was his roots, and Brighton could be a bit up itself. Nottingham is a vibrant city. He wanted to move back. That is so personal! People cry out for connection!

Suzy invited me a week ago, but I missed it somehow. I heard on Saturday evening. She picked me up at the station, and five of us ate together. It was relaxed and loving, and we might have known each other for years rather than met less than four weeks ago.

One of us (note the delicacy and inspecificity here) told us he would confront a demon the next day. In me, it would be my “What would people think?” demon, but in him I think it is one of shame. “Others will judge you” says the demon, “and they’re right!” “Rubbish!” says the man, and all other people with any empathy say, “Well done. Yes, I see your hurt. It is nothing to be ashamed about.” Not hiding, he will have been far more comfortable. He confronted it successfully. Triumphantly, even. I can see this with his demon, so much more clearly than with my own!

Ed- now I am specific and indelicate- continues to fight pointless battles he cannot win. He irked me on the first day of Essence by telling me that criminal defence lawyers “had to have flexible morals” in order to get criminals off- and on Saturday he had “got himself up to look like a penguin” for a singles night, and irritated a solicitor with the same argument. He put it to us on Sunday. He also told a property developer that she was profiteering off the suffering of rent-payers. They have not given him their phone numbers. “But how can I see a lawyer, and not say that?” he asked, bewilderedly. “Any working class person would admit it, but middle class people always weasel round it.”

Something he said on the Essence course- here there is clear confidentiality- made me think he might be ready for useful change. I discussed him on Saturday night with someone who thought he was just too comfortable as he is. Perhaps we should have a bet.

We sang Christmas carols before the Quaker meeting, and I decided: my baritone is my singing voice. My counter-tenor is just too reedy, quiet and wavering between sharp and flat. And nothing about me is more obviously trans. Suzy had two tickets for the Cathedral carol service, could not go, and I did not want to go alone because of this. In the candlelight, the cathedral is beautiful, transcending its gauche, asymmetrical mixture of Romanesque and Gothic. We had to sit there for an hour before the service started, it fills up so quickly.

Tapestry of the Cathedral's history

Romanesque tower

St Albans Cathedral pillar

That picture, I said to the man beside me: is it pre-Reformation, rescued from under whitewash, or modern? He thought pre-Reformation, but did not want to engage further. I loved the service. Oh! That bit’s Stainer!

Ed hated it, he told me after. He had been gritting his teeth, wanting to set light to my service leaflet with his candle. Ooh look, a Bishop! He’s got a funny hat and everything, I said- do you want to shake his hand? Ed did not, I did, perfunctorily. So I saw Ed’s sweet generosity and good humour, which if that lawyer or property developer had seen they would have been falling over themselves. He drove me to the station, and I got a late train home.

Christmas stories

In 2002, I transitioned male to female, and on 24 December 2002 I drove north to be with my father. He had remarried, and his wife would spend Christmas with her sister and their children in another city.

I felt a bit sick on Christmas Eve, and waking on Christmas day could hardly get up. My glands were swollen, and I spent the day in bed. I was still sick on the 27th, and Dad’s wife Margaret was due home on the 28th. Seeing that I was unfit to drive, Dad drove me the two hundred miles home in my car, and left me at home, still feeling unwell. He phoned his wife to explain, using my former male name. Margaret had refused to have me in the house when she was there. I felt betrayed by my father, and badly treated by his wife, who should have given way for one night given how ill I was. At the time, however much love, respect and acceptance my friends gave me, I still felt the casual insult in the street- “It’s a Tranny!”- penetrate far more deeply.

This is unforgettable, but I treasured it in my heart. I would tell people, bitterly, to show how I was rejected. I realised much later how I would collect such stories, about how cruel the world could be to me, as reasons to hide away from it. And, separately, I let it devalue myself. I was unworthy of love, and only had value insofar as I could do something useful. So the story reinforced habits and beliefs from childhood, entangling me further.

What to do with it now? Krishnamurti’s answer is to forget it. I find it less poisonous now I have self-respect: it no longer proves I am worthless. Beyond any doubt I am valuable and beautiful in myself. So what of the world? It is a cruel, dangerous world out there, as the politicians’ mouthings and the news of death reinforce, as well as my stories.

I could balance it. In the late 90s, I drove north to share Christmas with my father, just the two of us. We started the wine-box, and the eating, at three pm and finished at three am, having talked deeply and joyously, sorted the problems of the world, laughed together. I need to know what is true, and also I need a sufficiently rosy view of the world that I might go into it again.

Am I safe? Safe enough; safer out than in.

The odd thing is that when I started typing this at 11pm on Sunday it seemed that I had a new answer, and now, typing at 2pm on Monday, it feels I have not. And- Sunday was wonderful, more on this tomorrow, and today I have just felt tired.

I will treasure all the joy in my heart, rather than brooding on past pain. It can’t do any harm- and possibly Krishnamurti is right.

Tintoretto Paradise

Quakers and Christians

Should British Quakers engage with the World Council of Churches?

The Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations is to consult Meeting for Sufferings about whether we should engage with the WCC document “The Church: towards a common vision“. It asks, do we still regard ourselves as a church, and have we anything to learn from the wider church? A better question would be, is this where our energies could fruitfully be employed?

Some Christianity is a curse. If someone backs up his homophobia with bible verses, and accounts it virtue- “I’m Biblical, and you’re not”- he has nothing to teach me. The long slow struggle of the Church of England to have women bishops– well, I am glad they have, now, but we had women leaders in the seventeenth century. The CofE still persecutes its gay clergy.

I have heard of parents disowning and refusing contact with their children, because the children left their faith group. This, going against the parent’s deepest instinct, denying the child’s path or judgment any value, repels me.

Karen Armstrong writes that a personal God can validate our prejudices and make us judgmental of others, as we create “him” in our self-satisfied image. This is not a Quaker view of God: can we reach maturity without rejecting this conclusively, following the leadings of the Spirit and leaving behind silly human-made dogma such as the Virgin Birth?

Then she writes, The World religions all seem to have recognised this danger and have sought to transcend the personal conception of supreme reality.

We could unite with those in other churches transcending simplistic views of God. We could find value in their struggle, and perhaps even in the personal God which they still value.

A lot of the WCC document concerns matters of order. Could one church recognise another’s ordination? Can we share the Eucharist together? I wonder if we could accept the pastoral care of an ordained minister, even her/his pastoral guidance, or authority. We do have authority in our equal society: my experience of weighty Quakers speaking wisdom gives them that authority.

What if the other churches could seek us out with open hearts, find what we value and what sustains us? In blessing them, we could find how they bless us.

The end of the Quaker response is beautiful. We are willing to recognise and form closer relationships with other churches, not so much because they acknowledge any particular account of the Church, but because they represent a visible sign of God at work in the world. We hope other churches could go forward in mutual recognition on this basis. That is, we believe God is in relationship with others beside ourselves. The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, said William Penn.

If you are reading this on email, do come and see it on the website. For some reason you don’t get the beautiful featured images on the email.