If I should die

The church is completely beautiful. The central section of the nave has rounded arches, conceivably Norman, with those thick pillars. The west and east ends of the nave have Gothic arches. Unusually, the window above the altar is of clear glass; the whole is whitewashed; so it combines light and solidity. It feels strong and supportive, a womb of protection against the World, filled with Light to lift the heart.

I was there for a concert, the City of London Chamber Orchestra playing the Britten Sinfonietta, the Lark Ascending, the Siegfried Idyll and Mozart’s twentieth symphony. I could imagine myself there each Sunday morning, part of the church community, singing the Creed and the Gloria, kneeling for the consecration, my spirit lifted and grounded at the same time. My spiritual practice now is to open myself to life and experience, so I chose an open posture and paid full attention to the Wagner, and was rewarded by being moved to tears.

“They’re all hypocrites. No-one believes that” say more than one friend. Well. Certainly not the virgin birth, and possibly not the divinity of Christ, though God spoke in Him. My Christianity is stories and images which encourage me or help me make sense of the world; a link to a spiritual reality beyond the reality I can comprehend with my conscious, occasionally rational mind, or express in words. God is. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, living in my heart.

Not all Christians feel this way. Evangelicals have a series of verbal formulations, which fit to the words of the King James Bible, to which they consciously assent, formulations like Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins provided by God yet the Sacrifice needed against God’s Wrath, which you must Accept, in order to be Saved from Hell- conceived by some as a state of perpetual conscious torment after earthly death. Well, not all people are as sensitive as I am, or have my emotional intelligence.

The Isaiah 53:5 project seems to know the weakness of the Evangelicals. He imagines women craving appreciation: “Do you see me? Do you delight in me?” He says “most husbands” do not even hear: perhaps because of the vilely narrow concept some Evangelicals have of what is a “real man”. I don’t like the idea that “all women” feel exactly the same- my femininity, the Evangelical ideal, is certainly not the experience of all women. With his heart in the right place, I53 demands that men show their appreciation. Some men and women are naturally like this.

Violet and her atheist chums had a good laugh at this. It seemed to me a wasted opportunity: deriding the others’ view, rather than using it as a chance for understanding.

My loveliest religious experience to date was on Monday 4 May. I had a heartfelt conviction of God’s love for me and my beauty as a created animal. And I still want to be appreciated, for someone to acknowledge that I can light up a room, that my drama and dance is Beautiful- by her words or her appreciative look.

Rossetti, Joan of Arc

Obergefell v Hodges: dissenting judgment

The compelling personal accounts of petitioners and others like them are likely a primary reason why many Americans have changed their minds about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Chief Justice Roberts, while opposing the court’s judgment that laws preventing equal marriage are unconstitutional, indicates that they are undesirable. So why does he not strike them down?

Because of conservatism: it has always been this way. Opposite sex only marriage is an unvarying social institution enduring over all of recorded history. Whereas there have been many changes in it, such as the right to divorce, married women’s property reforms- married women are now permitted to own and manage property- and going back to the Bible, the end of polygamy and concubinage.

Oh, and homophobia. The marriage laws at issue here do not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples is rationally related to the States’ “legitimate state interest” in “preserving the traditional institution of marriage.” Some arguments are plainly silly: he says marriage is for procreation, as if the marriages of the infertile or old were worth less. For the good of children and society, sexual relations that can lead to procreation should occur only between a man and a woman committed to a lasting bond. Society has recognized that bond as marriage. Perhaps he would make extra-marital fornication illegal. Perhaps he has not heard of assisted fertility.

He is not afraid of tired old slippery slope arguments: One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people.

He states that the constitution protects the exercise of religion, and worries about homophobes who imagine that homophobia is part of their religion. He and they should read the Bible.

His strongest argument is that the Court should be reluctant to strike down laws created through the democratic process. He argues that the due process clause- nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws– does not apply.

This is disingenuous. James Obergefell and Ijpe deKoe were married. Then they crossed state lines and by homophobic law were not married- with no due process. The case is not just about the right to marry, but about the right to have a marriage recognised.

Roberts is right to argue against judicial activism. Wittily, he cites discredited cases of judicial activism, such as Dred Scott v Sandford, where the court struck down a law restricting slavery, on the grounds that it violated the rights of slave-holders. Few would stand up for that case now. He did not mention the Citizens United case, where he said “there is a difference between judicial restraint and judicial abdication”.

It is good to see that the arguments against equal marriage are so poor.

Robert Macqueen, Lord Justice-Clerk

Canons Ashby

The man pressed us to ride in his golf buggy, complete with perspex walls against the rain, though it was only two hundred yards from the car park. He was very friendly and chatty. I guessed South African for his accent, a softer version of the Afrikaans accent, but actually it is from “Rhodesia, a country which no longer exists”. He pressed us to ask the receptionist to call for him to come up, but we walked. Having volunteered for this task, he wants to be used.

In the entrance hall, there are  swords displayed- nothing like Blair Castle, home of the Dukes of Atholl, a lineage which predates the union of Scotland around 900, but a large display for England. There is also a strange looking flintlock, its barrel encased in wood, with a long iron spike below it which I took for a trigger. What is that? It’s a poachers gun. It was set up with a trip wire to frighten the poachers. It dates from the mid 19th century. Given that man-traps from that period could crush a leg and cripple a man- possibly kill him, if he was far from help and could not get to shelter- it may have done more than frighten.

The house was a farm house in 1500, built up shortly after. The study, now a bedroom, was panelled, but when the panelling came down line drawings on the walls were revealed. I am fascinated. There is a donkey prominent in one. It is the story of Jeroboam, says the room-guide. Because they pick it up as they go along, and do some research, I am unsure of this, but don’t know enough about the first king of Israel divided from Judah to say.

Here is a bedroom with dark hanging tapestries round the bed. They cover over the mullioned windows. So soon after the new rooms were built, mullioned windows were out of fashion, and sash windows with wooden frames were in. Some of the stone framed mullioned windows were replaced with sashes, even though the wood was unable to support the roof: so that when the National Trust took over the property in 1980, the front wall was leaning 13° from vertical, and might have fallen down.

What would it be like to sleep in such a place, the dark hangings, the dark curtains hanging from the four poster bed- did people draw those curtains? The large room, an 18th century settee and two chairs with so little wear to the covering- did people use those chairs? Stories, half-remembered, passed on…

I liked the drawing room, though I would paint the whole crenellated ceiling in different colours rather than white. I don’t know if that large family portrait, the children are girls, or boys not yet breached. Strange that the man is in the background, in shadow, off to one side, the woman surrounded by her children. Perhaps the guide has a story, it is less reliable still for me to use my own knowledge.

Canons Ashby


Feeling tired and a little teary, I took the train, and a trans woman joined me. I had heard the voice, grating and nasal but pleasantly variable in pitch. It seemed to be explaining stuff unnecessarily.

-Can I sit here?
-It’s unoccupied.
-The seat is free.

At this point, I only clocked that the person was a bit weird. She started to explain that she had been at a festival, that her phone battery had run out, and that she needed to charge it up all while leaning down round my legs to the electric socket. Hurriedly I suggested that we swap seats.

However that meant standing up and entering the aisle. At this, a ribald shout went up from three seats behind. “Oho! You’ve got a right one there, love. Good luck!” I mentioned this to her.

She plugged in her phone, and moved in a load of shopping bags, round my legs as well as hers. “You’re trans, right? So am I.” Yes. “Have you had the operation?” I said I thought that even with a trans woman this was too personal a question for such a short acquaintance. She told me that she had not had the operation, but that her name was Denise- she hates Dennis. She showed me her black denim jacket with “Denise” embroidered on the right breast, then her driving licence. “The driver number is what declares your sex,” I said. “Yeah I know.” She held it with her fingers obscuring all but the name and photo. I was uninterested in the name: I tried to see the driver number, but she put it away.

She identifies as gender-queer. She is really a tom-boy, she explains: a butch woman. She has had her facial hair removed with laser and electrolysis: have you had electrolysis? I confirmed I had. She felt the need to expatiate more on being a tom-boy, but did not add anything.

It is only ten minutes to my stop, but I know quite a lot about her. She knows I am trans, and my name. “You said people on the train were nasty to you, earlier?” she asks, just as I am getting off. I think of trying to correct the misunderstanding, but decide against. The misunderstanding intrigues me. I told her that they were rude about her, and she has converted this to rude about me. “Everyone is very accepting”, she declared, definitely. I have rarely seen so clear an instance of someone not hearing what they do not want to hear, though I have one possible example of me filtering out unpleasant information and working it out later.

And this need to explain, to a total stranger. She is not interested in me, particularly; she wants to tell me about herself. Perhaps she needs to reassure herself, or work it out for herself, and each such conversation helps her understand or accept herself better. After all, such explanation is what I am doing, here.

Oh! We suffer, so much!

VR Women reading a letter on a couch

Obergefell v Hodges

If you read nothing else of Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled unconstitutional State law refusing to marry same sex couples, or refusing to recognise same sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, you should read these words:

Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Recounting the circumstances of three of these cases illustrates the urgency of the petitioners’ cause from their perspective. Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, however, Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.This debilitating disease is progressive, with no known cure. Two years ago, Obergefell and Arthur decided to commit to one another, resolving to marry before Arthur died. To fulfill their mutual promise, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. It was difficult for Arthur to move, and so the couple were wed inside a medical transport plane as it remained on the tarmac in Baltimore. Three months later, Arthur died. Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a state-imposed separation Obergefell deems “hurtful for the rest of time.” App. in No. 14–556 etc., p. 38. He brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in thecase from Michigan. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007. They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In 2009, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Later that same year,they welcomed another son into their family. The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care. The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family. Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent. If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent. And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt. This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives.

Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura, co-plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, fell in love. In 2011, DeKoe received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Before leaving, he and Kostura married in New York. A week later, DeKoe began his deployment, which lasted for almost a year. When he returned, the two settled in Tennessee, where DeKoe works full-time for the Army Reserve. Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines. DeKoe, who served this Nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden.

The cases now before the Court involve other petitioners as well, each with their own experiences. Their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.

-From the opinion of the court, delivered by Justice Kennedy. Thanks to zgreport for the link to the judgment.



Madness and serfdom

Render unto Caesar-

Jeremy Bentham proposed The Panopticon, a prison of open cells around a central watch-tower. The prisoners could not see each other, but the guards in the tower might be looking in on them at any time. So they always had to conform, or they might be caught and punished further.

In the hospital, someone on suicide watch was followed all the time. The follower did not speak, or restrain the patient except by the locks on the outside door; but she could not escape watching, in case she could create something to self-harm from the things about her.

Now, the British state wants to read all our emails, subjecting them to increasingly sophisticated analysis software to spot anyone non-conforming, and my demonstrating against Trident- ÂŁ100,000,000,000 to threaten the whole world with death, while children starve, and die of preventable disease, and are uneducated. My opposition to it is clearly insane, when the British Public want it, and it would be irresponsible and a vote loser for the Opposition actually to oppose it.

Caesar thinks everything is Caesar’s, yet some people can escape, a little. If you can make money, and support yourself, or better still if you can inherit it and your portfolio grows without your effort, then you can be allowed eccentricities.

Increasingly, not the rest of us. The welfare state must be whittled away to nothing. No-one is so sick or disabled that they should get benefits as unfit for work. We are forced into conformity, and watched in case we step out of line.

I am insane, for nothing I want makes sense, nothing is rational, I can make sensible arguments for none of it except I want it. “The heart has reasons which Reason cannot know.”

And to Goddess-

we are created in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, unique- none of us conforms, not really, none of us is sane, no-one fits the boxes and the square holes and Procrustes’ bed. All of us have that of God, which stubbornly refuses to fit. No-one has the full picture. Some want a nice, controllable God in a few mostly horrible verses of the Bible- “Slaves obey your masters”, that kind of thing, a God who is a greater bully than they are, a God for Caesar. I cannot give Caesar anything. I tried, I really did, and then I could not any longer, because God called me and being God’s was all I could bear

so I must rely on Goddess

VR The Coquette 2

Madness and liberation

We live in a balance between desire and perceived possibility, conventionality and authenticity, “consumed by either fire or fire”. Trans folk, further from “Normal” than most, live this most intensely: for “Normal” means death for everyone, but most quickly for us.

I have been reading A Very Short Introduction to Michel Foucault by Gary Gutting. Because the ideas in it intersect so closely with my own concerns, I bring my own understanding of issues to it. It talks of Samuel Tuke, Quaker founder of The Retreat in York and pioneer of the treatment of mental illness. Where before, the mad were consigned to Bedlam where gawkers paid to laugh at them, or allowed to exist in their home villages, objects of charity, Tuke (according to that book quoting Foucault) made the madman (sic) feel morally responsible for everything in him that may disturb morality and society, and must hold no-one but himself responsible. When the madman attends a tea-party and pretends to be normal, Tuke sees this as humanitarian, and Foucault (through the prisms of Gutting then of me) sees it as imprison[ment] in a moral world.

Being mad myself-

well of course! Wanting gonads, uteruses, breasts, facial hair, bits of the skull, etc removed is ridiculous! Seeing myself as female, while the only evidence that I am female is my own conviction makes no sense! It is clearly, objectively, damaging, and it is only because British society has collectively said “Oh, OK, then, if that’s what you want go ahead” that four thousand of us have been given Gender Recognition Certificates and more are living “in role”. Possibly, the Emperor has no clothes…

Being mad, myself, I could not bear imprisonment in a moral world which rejected my madness. I am Abigail. Having had those bits removed, I am freed to be my beautiful, wonderful self, loving, empathising, entertaining, living. It makes no sense. It is mad. But somehow it goes together. I cannot be this person, presenting male. Why Not? asks the sane, rational person, and I have no sane, rational answer.

Having no knowledge of it at all, obsessive-compulsive disorder seems to me to be a necessary escape from reality. I start counting the bricks in that wall with the need to make the total a multiple of six, or twelve, or twenty-four, and get absorbed, and forget all the shit. I get my pleasure- It Works!- or desired pain- no, that’s an odd number, a prime number, count again-

an assertion of my right to work no more than I can bear, in the only way I could (if I presented with OCD).

Hearing voices- well, what do they say? How do I respond? Possibly, the solution might not be only, take them away.

Because when it is obvious that the sun goes round the Earth, the assertion otherwise is mad. The new paradigm which will be obvious, tomorrow, today is mad.

Because groping towards the beauty and wonder that is me, free, started with the decision that the most important thing in my life was transition. VR Anticipation

Why I am a Quaker

I am a Quaker for the people. I am a Quaker for the person who can relate to anyone, of any age, and share enthusiasm- with that empathy, she is my role model; for the shining intellects; for those whose beautiful love inspires me, for those who support me in my misery, share my joy and make me laugh, because of sharing coffee, and lunches, and evenings; for being able so easily to cadge lifts; for the delight of a particular friend’s voice at YM, and the amazement of seeing his wife who had been so ill.

I am a Quaker for Minute 36, for our struggles to find new ways of living our faith beyond giving more money, for us, building the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, for an alternative way of Valuing people and things beyond the value oligarchical capitalism assigns.

I am a Quaker because I worshipped almost weekly, and when I felt uncomfortable worshipping God pretending to be a man and uncomfortable expressing myself female with the Anglicans, I was welcome in the Quaker meeting. My girlfriend had introduced me to her meeting a year before. I was a stranger and you took me in. Ten months later when I became a member that acceptance gave me the courage to express myself female at work. At YM, I had a heart-felt sense of my beauty as God’s creation, and of the love of God for me- for the first time!

I am a Quaker because of my first experience of the meeting room at W-, where stepping through the door felt Holy, stepping into a hallowed space, and for the loving welcome I received there. I am a Quaker for the profound sense of worship at Yearly Meeting, and because people I had never met before gave me bed and breakfast for the long weekend. I love the challenge of clerking and the search for Unity. I love the encounter with silence, when it is gathered and when I am angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold.

There are people I respect, or delight in- or both!- all over my AM. I am a Quaker for my community.

Quinten Massys, Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel

Kissing beauty

I danced and mimed my way around the circle, showing my interactions and appreciation for the people. Four years later, Denny (whom I did not remember) said that this was his main memory of me at that camp. I had not remembered the moment, but his mentioning it brought it to mind and I think of it with delight; and his memory and desire to share it with me delights me too. We looked at Susie’s bronze head together. Perhaps drawing the hair back into a bun makes it technically easier, but the face is absorbing: it could have so many different emotions in it, and I love the steady level gaze. The house is beautiful, and has so much beautiful stuff.

Some people reading this may recognise the persons involved. Please remember that I write about myself: what I choose to say is a judgment on me, and “he is a useless tit” means I am the kind of person who could only see X as a useless tit. And the story is well-kent in our circles.

My impression of K was very different. Four years ago, the only other time we met, I was kneeling over my tent and he came up behind me and offered to assist. I turned and said that would be lovely of him, and he suddenly remembered he had something else to do elsewhere. I thought it is because I am trans- seeing me from behind in that silk top and crinkly skirt, briefly, is a different experience from seeing my face and hearing my voice.

Then on the last night F chose me as her confidante, and I sat in her caravan in the rain at midnight hearing how K had kissed her, and she had fallen for him, and she wanted to travel two hundred miles to see him. I heard after that they had been in a pub with others, he had said he was not interested, and she had poured his pint over his head.

“Good for her” say the women I tell this story to (apart from the ones who say, smiling, “Oh, I heard about that.”)

A year later, F again chose me as her confidante. I wish she hadn’t, as what she told me inspired dislike and pity. I still wish her well but would not want to spend time with her. But when I met K on Friday, that kiss was all I knew of him, from which I had extrapolated a fantasised person with a particular character.

He is very beautiful. His eyes, mussed hair, biceps and lithe physicality are all beautiful. He spoke of how he is failing to dump his former girlfriend, who is negative and clingy. This did not endear him to me. So I told him of the kiss with F, and how that was my impression of him; and he told me that she had kissed him, not the other way around.

Possibilities: she moves on him, he moves on her, the moment- by the campfire at midnight, singing- overcomes both. Recollection is unreliable. He knows he is beautiful, and finds this a burden: it is a burden if he has sympathy for the women he unintentionally ensnares. I am glad I told him of my impressions. I have a great deal more sympathy for him now, and am willing 60% to believe him-

perhaps because he is so beautiful

Frank Dicksee, Romeo and Juliet

Internally focused

I said I was internally focused, and explained that. “How wonderful!” said Bella, which surprised me, as I had seen it as a handicap. Yet-

My attention is focused on my internal experience rather than external experience. I read of phenomenology, the idea that my experience is not of that chair in my kitchen, itself, but of my own perceptions mixed with my understanding of chairs and that chair, but this is one stage further: I am always more concerned with my own feelings and internal responses than with what I perceive to be external to me. So seeing an argument, I would be more concerned with my own fear, and how I was expressing it, than with what the participants were saying.

I experienced this as oppression, as self-slavery. I would notice my fear, and fear it. I would endeavour not to let it show, but really deny to myself that it was showing rather than successfully prevent it showing. My desire was about preserving a comfortable emotional state rather than creating external reality. This makes me timid and retiring even though my feelings would make me extrovert, boisterous and assertive. Yes, really!

Yet what could it mean to see this positively? Part of my awareness is on my internal reactions. As I come to accept my own feelings, and fight them less, being aware of them is a benefit. I practised this in the supermarket yesterday. What am I feeling, now? The ground note is happiness: that was a really good weekend. Feelings do not stop me noticing what is external to me, unless I desire to manage them rather than accept them.

(Line from Humans on Channel 4- “What is it like to be a teenage girl?” –Frightening, confusing- like my emotions are too big. Well, yeah. We learn better ways of being.)

By the trolleys, a woman asked if I had two pound coins, so she could release one. I had, and gave her two pound coins for one ÂŁ2 coin. She was delighted: “Thank you so much! That is your good deed for the day.” Whereas, I thought it a small thing to do, and was pleased to help, and pleased to have the friendly contact with a stranger. You do too, don’t you? Doesn’t everyone get pleasure from such things?

Outside the tube station, on the tube, at St Pancras, the mood is relaxed in the sun on Sunday. Others wear dresses besides me. D says, it is strange to come back into London after that weekend. I think of returning from retreat before, like lowering myself into a bath of cold sewage, moving from that relaxed and authentic space back to the stress and tension of “the Real World” which is actually greater illusion. I did not feel like that. I felt, this is my world, where I can be who I am- just like on retreat. Though when I explained that, I worried that I had shut him down.

Berthe Morisot, Paule Gobillard en robe de bal