Equanimity

I suppose in October I could have arranged to spend Christmas day with a friend; and even in December with a bit of cadging I could have managed it; but I decided to spend Christmas day alone, like last year. Last year the friend whom I would have visited cried off two days before, as she was unwell. So I would take the Eucharist in the morning, then go home and read or watch TV. I am reading War and Peace; I recorded the Jason Bourne films from the telly. They are basic thrillers, beautifully done: here are the serious people who want to kill him, staring at computer screens; this is the car chase, this the fight; but the music, especially in the first, sometimes surprised and pleased me.

I did not go to the Eucharist at 9.30, because I was afraid I would make a scene. In the supermarket on Thursday the automatic checkout said, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” and a worker asked, “Does that not drive you potty?” I hate it only hearing it the once, I said. The checkout-worker said she had switched off to it. The other worker asked something about Bailey’s, and I was tempted, but decided against; and my resentment and anger surfaced, such that I almost expressed them. That frightened me.

I had not had a conversation since the concert on Monday. The concert was surprisingly good: “Christmas music”, I read, so far so dull, but their Vivaldi Winter was lovely, the founder-violinist was a beautifully arrogant show-off, and the company was good. She sparkles, without making an effort. We paid her our full attention.

I want to be touched! I want my skin touching skin, lips touching lips! It’s not just loneliness, it’s a deep deep sadness, a state of unfulfilledness. So I was perplexed. I phoned the Samaritans, and was lucky enough to get Olivia, from Edinburgh: she has a lovely, rich voice and perceptive empathy; I opened up. What does she want? “Perhaps she wants someone completely unthreatening,” said Olivia. Well, yes, perhaps.

It is how it is.

Resentment, resistance, perplexity: weeping several times a day. Acceptance: weary equanimity. One goes through these patterns. Equanimity is preferable.

This morning, Sunday, I cycled in the rain to K– meeting for the Meeting for Healing. Usually it is programmed, and today it was not, but the centre of it is prayer for the sick; and I hear of dreadful situations, permanent situations; and of tensions in the local meeting, not easily resolved. “How is he taking it?” was a question I wanted to ask- but it would not be respectful to ask her that. 45 minutes in the Meeting for Healing, then an hour in the Meeting for Worship, and it is as it is. Not comforting exactly, but bearable. Unknowing without control.

I was glad to see M, who is withdrawing. How are you? We discussed the meanings of the words: happy is emotional, evanescent, easily broken; “content” is more solid, we feel. It is good to be content, but it is not more solid; not really.

Jean Fouquet, Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII of France, as the Virgin

“Sex Change Regret”

Walt Heyer makes money from telling his story as a transitioner who reverted. Who is this fool?

Contrary to what you may think, male-to-female sex change surgery is a sex change in name (documentation) only. Sex change regret may come years later when you understand the surgery did not make you a female or change your DNA gender/sex. Is there anyone contemplating GRS who does not know this? You will not get pregnant! Not yet, anyway: womb transplants are in an early, experimental stage. It will not grow back!

Heyer claims our suicide rate is 31%; but this is not because people are not trans, and living in the true gender is not better for them, but at least in part because we still suffer discrimination and hatred. Consider two reverters he quotes: Chelsea says, It is exhausting putting on make-up and wearing heels all the time. Even then I don’t feel I look like a proper woman. I suffered from depression and anxiety as a result of the hormones too. I have realised it would be easier to stop fighting the way I look naturally and accept that I was born a man physically.

Well, I don’t wear heels every day, or make-up. Do you? I have enough acceptance to like the way I look and express myself. If I constantly felt the disapproval of others, it would be different. Like the unnamed teenager: my decision has alienated my family and how I will have to become a boy again to resolve it. My family were more distant too, though not completely alienated. I talked to my nephew last week, for the first time in two years. I am so glad! Again, this regret is not because transition is wrong, but because other people can be bullies.

Then I read his story. Before he was nine, when he went to his grandmother’s house she dressed him in a purple chiffon dress. She had wanted a granddaughter, he says. My grandmother withheld affirmations of me as a boy, but she lavished delighted praise upon me when I was dressed as a girl. Feelings of euphoria swept over me with her praise, followed later by depression and insecurity about being a boy. Her actions planted the idea in me that I was born in the wrong body. She nourished and encouraged the idea, and over time it took on a life of its own. Then his parents found out. My father was terrified his boy was not developing into a man, so he ramped up his discipline. His uncle Fred abused him. One day Uncle Fred took me in his car on a dirt road up the hill from my house and tried to take off all my clothes. His mum did not believe him. He developed a dissociative disorder, which was not diagnosed when he sought transition. His wife divorced him.

Clearly, transition was not right for him. Yet his experience is no basis for preventing the transition of trans women who have received proper care, and not been abused, such as the vast majority of us. The abuse comes from ignorant people who cannot accept the rightness of transition. He continues to write ignorant articles like this one: The setting for the first transgender surgeries (mostly male-to-female) was in university-based clinics, starting in the 1950s. Stupid man! Has he never heard of Lili Elbe? He quotes David Reimer as a case against transition, when Reimer is proof of the existence of gender identity!

He cites studies showing people still suffer depression after transition, but fails to show any better treatment. If we really could be therapised into being happy in the birth assigned sex, all the transphobes and trans-erasers would be trumpeting the research. But there is none.

I thought when I transitioned that in five years’ time I might be reverted, trying to live as a man. I realised that transition was what I had to do then. The only way I could get to any equanimity trying to live as a man was by trying transition first. Though for us, both roles are difficult: the assigned sex because of dysphoria, and the true sex because of transphobia. Society is the problem, not the trans woman.

Raffaelo Santi, Madonna della Rosa

“Stop Trans Chauvinism”

TERF warning. Stop Trans Chauvinism is a site reblogging Trans-Erasing rants. What is the pick of the TERFs over the last few days? They claim “misogyny, homophobia and racism in trans activism” and publicise a vast number of reblogs from TERFs- six on 22 December alone.

Normally they publish just the start of a post, but publish the whole of a study of outcomes of transition from 2011. “Genderwipesthefingerprints” gives a very short introduction saying, sex reassignment is positively correlated with a far higher risk of death and a greater number of suicide attempts. Tragic stuff. Correlated in part because of the hate spread by her site; and the study cannot say how we would fare without GRS.

The study found 804 diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, of whom 380 had GRS and changed the gender indicator on their National Registration Number (NRN), between 1973 and 2003. Death and morbidity were not significantly greater in the first ten years, but were, after. As the “Discussion” in the study notes, the overall mortality rate was only significantly increased for the group operated before 1989. However, the latter might also be explained by improved health care for transsexual persons during 1990s, along with altered societal attitudes towards persons with different gender expressions. Bad news for the TERFs, then: there is less hate; and for us: hate kills. After 2004, the NRN ceased to record gender.

So, a bit of gloating and a misleading introduction from Stop Trans Chauvinism. The study also indicates the tiny number with gender dysphoria: why are the TERFs so obsessed with us? A better introduction to the study is here.

Headline: Do trans activists realise they enable this kind of misogyny and self hatred? The “self-hatred” consists of referring to breasts as “gross chest tumors” and to the vagina as the “rape gash”. But 4thwavenow is quoting a comment by a trans man. That’s not misogyny and self-hatred, but gender dysphoria. We hate our physical sex characteristics. That’s what the diagnosis means. The person quoted is forty, well able to make up his own mind. 4thwavenow is the mother of a teenager who formerly identified as FtM, but has decided against transition. She asks, Why wouldn’t someone who actually cares about “trans” people celebrate a teenager who won’t have to endure years of injections and surgeries? It would be like a cancer patient becoming enraged when another patient goes into remission. No, it would be like a cancer patient enraged when another patient refuses treatment. I can’t know whether 4thwavenow’s child will transition later in life- whether the gender dysphoria was a passing teenage phase, or a matter of identity which the mother has rejected, to the child’s lasting harm. But neither can she, “Stop Trans Chauvinism”, or the laughing TERFs reading that bullshit.

I always seek common ground with the most extreme haters, and here I find a link to Anti-porn feminists. I too am opposed to pornography, because of the risk of STD and physical damage to women whose penetration is depicted, as well as the objectification of women; but the post linked is a quote, a slab of text from The Colour of Pomegranates, a “radical feminism/ marxism” blog. In post-modernity, pornography is just another “text” representing another narrative that no competing narrative can claim superiority over …If reality, truth and meaning are socially constructed (van Zon, 2013) then it makes sense that the reality that pornography is detrimental can be obscured. So- what? Post-modernity and Post-modernism are therefore a bad thing? Opposition to pornography cannot continue? I use post-modern thought-processes. I oppose pornography. I am inconsistent- again, so what?

And: feminine and masculine expression are socially constructed too. Post-modernism is an essential feminist tool.

On anti-porn feminists, I found this comment: the automatic response from most people is to dismiss you as an anti-sex prude. Is it? I hear the feeling of being a beleaguered minority: is that how it really is, and does that contribute to the TERFs’ vehemence and hatred against us? Most people accept me as an honorary woman.

Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities committee inquiry into trans people, said: “What has been most shocking is to hear the personal experiences of trans people who have had almost had to accept the unacceptable: which is day-to-day abuse on the street by members of the public shouting at them, and almost having to accept that is part of their life,” she says. “That is not acceptable.” Take heart. Powerful voices support us.

Changing, today, from El Greco to Raphael.

Raffaelo Santi, The Holy Family

Feminist Care Ethics

Do women and men think differently? Do they make moral decisions differently? If so, does this arise from women’s experience, or from femininity?

Alison Jaggar says, traditional ethics overrates culturally masculine traits like “independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war, and death,” while it underrates culturally feminine traits like “interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace, and life… It favours “male” ways of moral reasoning that emphasize rules, rights, universality, and impartiality over “female” ways of moral reasoning that emphasize relationships, responsibilities, particularity, and partiality. These do not apply to all women, or all men, but I know which I prefer.

JS Mill saw that in Victorian times women were seen as more moral than men. He considered this arose from social conditioning: women were moulded into self-abnegation. Mary Wollstonecraft saw this abnegation arising from women’s dependent position. Her answer was proper education, so that women would become rational, responsible, independent adults. Rational thought, rather than feeling, gave moral answers.

Charlotte Perkins Gillman wrote that so long as women are dependent on men for economic support, women will be known for their servility and men for their arrogance.

If men are more independent, and women more connected to others, the moral responses these positions produce are different, but not necessarily better or worse. Male ethicists have emphasised universal, abstract, impartial, and rational knowledge; women’s particular, concrete, partial and emotional knowledge may reflect better how people act in the world. I would take the categorical imperative, act such that you could will a universal law, and approach it from the concrete: I want for others what I want for myself. People do not act on their former expressed abstract beliefs, when they are personally concerned; and the problem with universal ethics is that every situation is particular; there are so many relevant circumstances that none will be repeated.

Women’s language of care emphasises relationships and responsibilities. The traditional language of ethics, overwhelmingly from males, is a male language of justice, rights and rules. In the feminine way, the highest moral response weaves my interests together with those of others. Women need to be men’s economic equals before they can develop truly human moral virtue, a perfect blend of pride and humility: namely, self-respect.

For me, Competitive and Co-operative are personality styles, both necessary for a functioning society, and not entirely aligned with men and women respectively. I asked H what she thought of care ethics, and she said she was not interested: that was the debate in the 1990s, and things have moved on. How fascinating, to be aware of the historic movement, and be at the forefront, of these debates. Men and women, cis and trans, are within our society and moulded by it. From a third wave feminism perspective, women are unique individuals, each with individual experiences and strengths. To become themselves, women must embrace conflict, even self-contradiction.

I was 27, volunteering in the CAB, on the Constituency Association committee of the Conservative Party, fairly traditional Christian with strong anti-abortion views. A woman came in to the CAB because she needed an abortion. I knew it was my role to answer her question without moral judgment; but my heart went out to her, I wanted for her what she saw as her good. Much later, when I saw on the TV an old male GP saying how he would not oppose abortion directly to his patient’s face, but delay because he disapproved, he repelled me. Or the paedophile. He said, “I want you to make it so I don’t have to fear any more” and my feeling for him changed from disgust and loathing to compassion. These experiences are a great part of my self-image, or self-knowledge- this is how I respond at my Best

in Love for the person in front of me. I don’t care if it is masculine or feminine. It is beautiful.

Taken from Feminism Ethics by Rosemarie Tong and Nancy Williams.

El Greco, The Holy Family

Busking

The piper in the town centre produced a much sweeter sound than the Highland bagpipe does, so I asked him where his pipes came from, and he stopped to chat. The pipes are Galician- Northern Spain, he explained. I think the last Spanish pipes I saw were Catalonian. He had two drones, and a mouthpiece rather than a bellows.

I wondered if Highland bagpipes were so strident because they were used by the military. Possibly. The reeds in his drones are tight, very close to the barrel. Highland pipers push them apart, and that makes the sound much louder and harsher. It’s not music, it’s lung exercise- or a competitive sport, he says. The reed in the Highland chanter is softer too. Pipers soak it in whisky to soften it, and harden the sound. The softer sound is better for playing with other musicians besides pipers.

Whisky was also used to kill bacteria multiplying in the warm spit in the bag. His has a beautiful bag, of russet velvety stuff. But the whisky would wash out the oils used to make it airtight. The valve in the mouthpiece was not always stiff enough, and if the piper did not cleanse the culture in the bag s/he could get Farmer’s lung, a viral infection, from air blowing back through the mouthpiece.

I like pibrochs, I said. He did not know the word ornament, or crunluath, but volunteered “grace notes”. Though I could not judge the crunluaths, I find them meditative. He did not learn anything like that. He is Gert. I enjoyed the conversation.

Walking in the town I have noticed that if I use a more erect yet relaxed and confident walk, people give me more space. S agrees that others treat you with the respect in which you hold yourself. One problem is that I am in conscious incompetence in this- if I forget, I get less space than I imagine I deserve.

There’s a stone path between lawns by the Tithe barn. I was pushing my bicycle, and was not going to leave the path for a man and his wife. He gave space at the last moment, saying “Christ”. “Fuck you,” I responded- possibly my pacifism needs some practice. “Do you want a smack?” he asked. I turned my back on him and walked on, but heard other people defending me: I had caught his eye, and he had read me as male, but the others had read me as female.

El Greco, Annunciation

Merry Christmas III

With Domenikos the Greek, exiled to Spain.

El Greco, The Nativity

The centre of the Nativity is the Mother and Child. He glows, and she is overcome with Love. There is the darkness of the stable, but always the beauty and the Love. No angels are needed here.

El Greco, The Holy Family

Here Jesus is slightly older, on solids. I love his hair! Her face- she is overwhelmed by Events, but also courageous, able to face all that comes.

El Greco, The Holy Family

And just as there is the darkness of the stable, there is also always the Glory of Heaven.

The angry monologue

I was working in Oldham, which rather than improving the technology of its cotton mills had continued with 19th century machinery and recruited cheap workers from Sylhet and poorer parts of Pakistan. I worked with a lot of clients of Asian heritage, and did a lot of good for them. Well, increasing income is good for most people, and I increased the weekly income of many people by ÂŁ20 or ÂŁ50-odd, sometimes much more. Yes, benefit claimants might be better off in the dignity, independence and responsibility of Work, but that was not my job.

I was walking home and I saw two BME children, playing in the street, and the thought went through my mind, “Fucking parasites”.

I was abashed at this. I was ashamed. It was a shame I could not name. I went to a counsellor, and spent forty minutes silent, psyching myself up to tell of my shame; in the end I did, and she refused to see me again. This made me feel even more unforgivable, and I imagine people now, refusing to read me again.

I thought I am so Angry! That level of anger- yet I did not, generally, express it. I was gentle with people. I suppressed my anger, and it was like a toddler, who when ignored by Mummy gets louder and louder in order to get Mummy’s attention.

More recently, the thought went across my mind, “That was completely fucking stupid and useless because you are completely fucking stupid and useless”. So I thought, Oh, I am quite upset about that. The feeling is there. The feeling is OK. I am OK too.

A month after seeing Dr Lenihan, this is how I understand it. I was compartmentalising: I suppressed those emotions I saw as negative or uncomfortable, sadness, anger, frustration, resentment and fear, because I feared acting upon them. I feared feeling them so loathed and despised myself in them, and suppressed them. My self respect series shows me grappling with this, and I am better able to permit the feeling and hear it. So the result is that it has far less power. I can choose not to act upon it, but not by suppressing it. I have been learning this for fifteen years, but I understand better. I may not have perfected it quite yet but I do it better now.

My friend imagines herself to be a bad person, because of her angry internal monologue. All the things she thinks about other people! She made us a cake. It was a pleasant sponge, and she was deprecating it as soon as she brought it out. She was sure we would not like it.

I told that story, of thinking “fucking parasites”, and my vision went black. I could not look at the others when I told it, and had no idea how they reacted, though one has told me I was generous. I wanted to help our friend, and she recognised that: I wanted her to recognise that anger, itself, is not wrong, only violent acts- and I know that they are more likely when anger is suppressed than when it is acknowledged. It was stressful and tiring to say it.

So I tell you this story, to confirm to myself that my feelings do not make me bad. What I do may be good or bad, and as a whole I am good enough. Stated like that, it is obvious.

El Greco, Annunciation

Self respect IV

How to defeat a breathalyser.

Some gain self-respect from what they do- I met a man who ran his business into the ground, because it was his identity. I have not been paid to work for over four years. I gain self-respect from who I am. Right now I am feeling really, really good after one pleasant and one delightful encounter, so now is the time to do this.

I could feel bad about where I have got to in life- I have nothing. If this is because of my faults, I could find it crushing- and very few people have entirely easy life circumstances. Other people make something of their lives. I also like to feel I have agency- I am not just rushing down the rapids- because otherwise I could feel powerless. I have made choices, to come where I am.

I may have told this story before. I had three glasses of wine, and set off to drive home. The police officer stopped me on Broadway for bad driving, and breathalysed me. Then he arrested me and I went to the police station in the back of a windowless van. I was searched. I was dressed female, but not yet transitioned. He told me the trick to defeat the breathalyser: at rest, you breathe out only a small part of the air in your lungs, so the air left inside over several breaths gets suffused with alcohol. So, while the other officer set up the machine, I breathed out as fully as I could several times, to get nice clean air in my lungs.

That I could establish a relationship with the man who had arrested me, such that he would tell me this, is a huge gift. I am deeply empathetic.It increased my confidence that I could transition: there I was in thick make-up with beard stubble, and treated decently. I might find enough people to treat me well enough, transitioned.

I was chatting to someone by the bike racks. “Give me a lift, would you?” I explained why I could not- on the back, you would crush the chocolates in my panniers, on the front, I could not see. He used to cycle, but now could not because he might lose his foot- diabetes. “Charcot’s?” Yes. Then you can’t cycle. There are no taxis. He should have worn his cast. He could go and wait for the bus. He wanted to talk, I showed I would let him.

She trusts me, and I am delighted.

I have told that story. A legal argument which in almost all circumstances would fail, such that I thought of not opposing the motion and having the extra time in the office. Yet I found the arguments and evidence and pursued them remorselessly, and won the argument. I can be thrawn in pursuing what I feel is right.

On agency: I wanted to hide from the World. I always have, I have pursued various ways of doing this, and finally come to the one which works: staying in my house most of the time. I have actually achieved what I wanted, which gives me the space and time to heal and find what else I might want.

Good characteristics have bad side-effects. Continental drift produces earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. It happens because the mantle is molten, because the core is hot: which creates the Earth’s magnetic field, without which cosmic rays would make life impossible on Earth. I can be happy with my gifts- not only because of what I have achieved with them, but because this creature, this animal, is complex, beautiful, worthy of respect, good in myself.

Though it helps to know others respect me, and particularly to feel good generally.

So many El Greco Annunciations! I particularly love her halo in this. You might think she would be fazed by the encounter, but apparently not, as she spoke back to him. “But how can this be, since I am a virgin?”

El Greco, Annunciation

British prisons II

The proportion of prisons whose performance is “of concern” or “of serious concern” almost doubled from 13% in 2012–13, to 24% in 2014– 15. Both the Justice Committee and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons have stated that falling staff numbers have been a key factor behind deteriorating standards within prisons in recent years.

One in five prisoners told inspectors that they spent less than two hours a day out of their cells during the week. Only one in seven said they spent 10 hours or more out of their cell each day. Most people are locked up for the night at 6.30pm—often even earlier during weekends. This meant some prisoners (especially those in fulltime employment) were unable to shower every day. Some also struggled to telephone their families and friends.

At the end of September 2015, 70 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded—holding 8,495 people more than they were designed to. In 2014–15 an average of 21,765 prisoners were held in overcrowded accommodation, accounting for more than a quarter of the total prison population. The majority were doubling up in cells designed for one. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) has highlighted the damaging, and potentially tragic, effects of prisoners being transferred on “overcrowding drafts”. People are often moved from prisons that they know and are known in to other busy prisons where they may feel less safe.

There are now fewer staff looking after more prisoners. The number of staff employed in the public prison estate has fallen by 30% in the last five years— 13,730 fewer staff looking after nearly 1,200 more people. In 2000 there was on average one prison officer for every 2.9 prisoners, by the end of March 2014 this had increased to 5.3 prisoners.

The number of people sentenced by the courts has fallen by 19% over the last 10 years. 1.22m people were sentenced in the 12 months to March 2015, a small rise on the year before. 7% of people sentenced by the courts were given a custodial sentence in the 12 months to March 2015. 90,333 people were sentenced to immediate custody in the year to March 2015, a drop of 3% compared to the previous 12 months and the lowest figure in the last 10 years. However, the average prison sentence has been getting longer. It’s now nearly four months longer than twenty years ago at 15.9 months. For more serious, indictable offences, the average is 53.6 months.

Anyone leaving custody who has served two days or more is now required to serve a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community. The government has estimated that around 13,000 people will be recalled or committed to custody as a result of these changes—requiring around 600 additional prison places, at a cost of £16m per year.

Increasing numbers of people in prison don’t know if, or when, they might be released. 12,053 people are in prison serving an indeterminate sentence. This compares with fewer than 4,000 in 1998 and 3,000 in 1992. The proportion of the sentenced prison population serving a life or indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) has almost doubled since 1993 from 9% to 17% in 2014. England and Wales have more than three times as many people serving indeterminate sentences than France, Germany and Italy combined—the highest in Europe by a significant margin.

7,439 people are currently in prison serving a life sentence. Over half (53%) had a tariff of 10–20 years, a quarter had up to 10 years and 19% had 20 years or more. A third of people currently in prison on a life sentence have already served their minimum tariff. People serving mandatory life sentences are spending more of their sentence in prison. On average they spend 17 years in custody, up from 13 years in 2001. Judges are also imposing longer tariff periods. The average minimum term imposed for murder rose from 12.5 years in 2003 to 21 years in 2013.

The Justice Secretary said in July 2015, “Prison is a place where people are sent as a punishment, not for further punishments…Human beings whose lives have been reckoned so far in costs— to society, to the criminal justice system, to victims and to themselves— can become assets— citizens who can contribute and demonstrate the human capacity for redemption.” This is merely a pious hope.

Information from The Prison Reform Trust Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile pdf.