Commenting on blogs can be a delight and a pain.

Feminists have all sorts of ways of shutting down conversation they choose not to engage in. There is “Mansplaining”- a man explaining condescendingly what a woman already knows, or considers silly. I have seen reference to Whitesplaining, so why not Cisplaining? You saw it here first! (Though it has been found elsewhere.) Central to this idea is that men do not treat women with respect, but expect to be treated with respect themselves; because that is the patriarchal way. Feminism seeks to level out that hierarchy of respect, though black women observe a similar inability to listen to black women in whites, even those of us who think of ourselves as allies: Read this for the anger.

Then there is “derailing”. We are talking about a particular thing, and not anything else. Do not derail.

Or “What about teh Menz”. This is a particular kind of derailing, alluding to the problems men face.

That choice not to engage is valid. My time is my own. If I want to firm up my ideas I do not necessarily want to defend them, especially not to a person appointing themself judge over me. How to deal with splaining? The splainer will rarely admit that is what they do. So it is valid to block, delete or ignore splaining, as explaining to the splainer will not achieve anything. If the splainer really wants to learn, Google is their friend. I have not set myself up as a freely available educator on trans issues.

Yet some commenters are friends. Here’s Barry’s recent comment. On this matter, we have a large area of agreement. Our slightly different perspectives may help both of us to gain understanding. The agreement pleases me, any differing perspective challenges, I enjoy the encounter. My account of Aspergers was not intended as splaining: I think I just escape that, as I was giving my own subjective responses, not claiming any objective knowledge.

Some are not. ColorStorm takes the position that the Bible is literally true and internally consistent. He mocks contrary views as ridiculous, and asserts his view, using the Bible text itself as evidence. Anyone not sharing his view will not be persuaded, yet he has a constant air of triumph: I imagine he enjoys commenting, and never sees his ridiculousness: only the emperor does not see he has no clothes. A flyting between him and some atheist describing the archaeological evidence may produce amusing insults but no other useful result.

I am unsure what Higharka attempts here. It is a long, laboured pastiche of a comment about abortion but substituting smothering a baby for aborting a foetus. I get that he finds aborting a foetus the moral equivalent of murder. I do not. If he has any idea about how to reduce the number of terminations, or even an inkling that there might be better ways of preventing terminations than making them unlawful, it might be worth listening to him. As it is, he has shown no evidence that it is worth engaging with him. He can sing his song as long as he likes.

I write about being trans, here. This is my life. I write about my feelings and experiences. I have a right not to debate trans as a concept. Sometimes I do; but writing of feelings is of itself. It might be a useful comment to share yours, but not to criticise mine. Trudy, linked above, writes far more eloquently about that than I do.

Degas, The Tub


The garden is very beautiful. I am able at will to enter that state of meditative presence, but here it is demanded of me: I took a few steps from the door, and paused, to look from above at the grounds; then a few steps further, looking over to the walled garden; then further, finally to the Magnolia. I am with the magnolia, seeing heaven in its soft, furry buds, my attention shifting to the whole. I touch the buds. I am in my senses. This is where I prepare myself.

A live-in job is intense, but I would have loved it. I barely noticed two candidates; two did not bother me, and then there was Rachel. I wish Rachel had not been there. I gave a good interview. Of course there are bits I regret- missing that out can’t have looked good- but I showed who I am. The final question was, “If we did not employ you, what would we be missing?” I expatiated on my wonderfulness: intelligence, stubbornness, emotional intelligence…

The first group exercise was, the six of you are on a boat with an irreparable hole and insufficient pump. The life-raft only takes two. Who goes? They started maundering about using bits of the boat as a raft. I said I wanted on the life-raft.

-What can you do for us, said one I barely noticed.
-Honour your memory.

The interview was Saturday. On Monday evening, I phoned my referee, who had not yet been contacted, and knew I had not got it. H texted wondering if I had heard but was too upset to let her know. No, I would let you know; later that day, I had the email, and did. She phoned to console me. Perhaps a little nest-building might do me good? She is not merely projecting her current concerns.

I was very upset on Tuesday, but realised that these are short-lived emotions, not enough to stop me trying again.

Sunday (today) I was at Meeting, at my exercise. I am cold, bored, and see little I can do for pleasure or to improve my situation. Godric bickered with his wife, complaining about her. She had got him up early, because I had emailed the meeting to say I needed a lift. Yes, I could have emailed to say I had one. “AACH! I am sorry you did not get that job,” he says. “It’s my distress, and not yours,” I shouted, turned my back and walked out. Then went back and hugged him to show no ill-will.

I do what I see I can do to improve my situation. I wish I saw more, or felt able to do more, but I do what I see I can do.

Degas, The Tub

Ethnographic research

Have you participated in a research project on trans issues?How might it convey our humanity, or even our experience, to the reader?

I get requests occasionally, publicised through facebook, from undergrads and researchers, and even senior lecturers show an interest. Quantitative research, looking at objective figures, can be useful- how many of us commit suicide? But it cannot say why. Qualitative researchers interview us. How can they make sense of the mass of data? When I participated, the researcher asked each subject the same questions, and transcribed the answers, including ers and ums. This allowed answers to be grouped by question. The more you generalise about the group, the less you know about the person.

My friend did her PhD interviewing trans folk, and has just published a follow-up article- in a journal, behind a pay-wall, but she emailed me a copy. This was my introduction to Grounded Theory. The article, still less this blog post, is no substitute for a general description of Grounded Theory, but may give some inkling.

None of us can give a coherent account of ourselves. I am aware of conflicting motives in me- all those books I never get round to reading, how I wish to appear against how I am really, how I subconsciously consider decisions and debate within myself. This blog contradicts itself. Even if I attempt to tell the truth, the interviewer will distort what I say by their own biases.

In grounded theory, the researcher collects data before attempting to theorise, deriving insights from the data. Barney Glazer, who originated it with Anselm Strauss, specified a series of steps which must be carried out in order for this to work. The finished research represents what the subjects say, whether that is objectively true or not. It depends on the researcher’s openness, and willingness to tolerate ambiguity, and be shaped by the data rather than previous theories.

Knowledge of the previous research literature can allow a researcher to understand the data better- why does the subject feel the need to say X- but can reduce creativity. Jennie values the “Aha!” moment.

The interviewer affects the data. To gain the subject’s agreement, she has to describe the project. One might use Quaker listening: active attention without particular prompts, as the choice of prompts affects the narrative. Knowing that someone valued what I say, I would be enabled to speak: I learned the lawyer’s tactic of just saying nothing, so that the hapless victim will attempt to justify what he has said, and stutter to a halt. The interviewer holds the power: a conversation between equals may not be possible. bel hooks asserts that white women do not listen to black women with attentive respect: trans folk, so universally despised, may be unconsciously disrespected. Our own habitual experience and response may reduce our power. Stating why I had the operation even to a sympathetic listener, I feel the need to justify my decision. If I detected doubt, my attempt to justify myself might become more desperate.

Yet starting from knowing nothing, paying attention to the narrator with no need to contribute to the conversation can be a powerful sign of regard and caring.

The empowered narrator can at least tell the truth as she sees it, without fighting off all the attacks she has ever suffered on that perception. The sympathetic researcher can convey some understanding of that to the sympathetic listener.

My radical feminist friend is preparing an application for funding for ethnographic research on trans folk. Her view that I am not a woman, that mine is an invalid choice constrained by patriarchy, will affect all the work of her research team. Acceptance of transition as a valid choice would affect it the other way. She believes no “objective” view is possible. I feel openness to our position is the only valid way to research us in this way.

Degas, The Tub

The Geologic Column

The Geologic column demonstrates the age of the Earth is at least hundreds of millions of years old, and by the intricate order of fossils demonstrates evolution. It is the atheist’s friend, refuting fundamentalist evangelicalism. So it is disturbing that six of my first nine Google results for “geologic column” are Creationist. First of those is “Ten Misconceptions about the Geologic Column” by Steven A Austin, PhD.

Creationists drafted the GC, he shouts! Well, before nuclear fusion was understood, Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Sun as only thirty million years. Science can be wrong. He noted the “Denudation of the Weald” had taken 300m years, and wondered at the difference. That denudation remains controversial.

Adam Sedgwick, whom Austin names, was the son of an Anglican vicar, born 1785. He took holy orders. Yet he opened his lectures to women, and campaigned to allow non-Anglicans to enter Cambridge University. This progressive is a strange hero for a creationist. He described and named the Cambrian era based on physical characteristics of rocks unique to Wales, after research involving Charles Darwin as a field assistant. He believed in evolution- “We all admit development as a fact of history”- yet not natural selection, believing that there is a moral and metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. He thought God was involved, but that did not make him deny the age of the Earth, or the progress of fossils over millions of years. He changed his mind about the Biblical Flood when certain deposits were shown to have been made by glaciers, not floods.

I don’t know whether anyone believes Austin’s “misconception No.3”, The strata systems of the geologic column are worldwide in their occurrence. Where would all that rock come from? It is a wonder that 0.4% of the Earth has all ten sedimentary systems. Elsewhere, earthquakes have folded rock from under the surface over later rock, so that the strata may be upside down or vertical; the upper rock may erode, over hundreds of millions of years.

This means there are doubts, as with the Weald. Particular rocks may be dated in different ways: radiometric, or by the position of fossils. Austin calls this “special pleading”- yet while the date of any particular rock formation might be disputed, the general idea that rocks form in strata over millions of years, and may be dated radiometrically or by fossils is clear.

I would have said “indisputable”. Someone with no regard for truth, or for the integrity of the scientific community, clearly may dispute them. Austin has accumulated knowledge: the Cambrian System on an intercontinental scale is typically composed of quartzose sandstone, overlain by glauconitic sandstone with dark-brown shale, overlain by impure, light-brown limestones.

Some of his dissembling is only thinly disguised by the use of specialist words. Some fossils appear to be distinctive of certain systems [but] (most fossil taxa range through a few to several systems), he says. A taxon is a classification: Chordata, having a spinal cord, is a taxon of animals since the Cambrian.

Ken Ham’s picture may give some part of the motive.

l morality based on Bible

Beside the lie that only bad people, who if they were ever worshippers were never true Christians, would be gay, have an abortion or need a divorce, the lie that the geologic column is consistent with literal belief in Genesis 1 is tiny. Jesus warned against such people. The illusion may be comforting until the hapless believer is “bad”, suffers terror of being discovered, then is cast out.

Will Skidelsky

If I were to write for money, I could find a worse role-model than Will Skidelsky. Here he is on cleft palates, treatment in England and India, and his own experience of his son’s cleft palate. The main focus of the article is Mr Skidelsky himself: “I” and “we”, for he and his wife, or he and his family, are common words, and the first paragraph is about his shock at the first diagnosis. He tells us his wife Gudrun feared setting eyes on their son, with this blemish. Feelings are paramount as he investigates the condition: confusion, trust, distress. Fortunately, on seeing their son’s face for the first time, the cleft was part of him, and so something to love.

The photo is of Will looking adoringly down at the baby, while his wife looks with amusement, I think, as well as Love, at him. Then, there is a bit about India.

Gosh, what a gig, eh? Off to India, long feature in the Observer magazine, colour photos of himself? I am so envious.

He discloses early that his wife had to have a late abortion, previously, because her child would not develop internal organs, and could not survive birth. This is a main subject of his book, “Federer and me”. In the Guardian, Julian Barnes eviscerated it. Perhaps most people would think that the partner’s proper position is as a support of the mother. She carries the child, she has to go through the termination. Instead, he runs away. My girlfriend, understandably grief-stricken, wanted closeness, intimacy. But I ran away from my feelings – and, by extension, from her. As ever, I sought refuge in tennis.

Understandably, things with my girlfriend had not been good, and one senses this may be understatement. Finally, he manages to accept his feelings, at Federer’s match with Djokovic.

This is a kind of writing I could emulate. Writers mine our own feelings for subject-matter, and while few have a hare-lip, most parents could relate to seeing the child for the first time, and falling in love- though some could not, and get pain from that. And most could relate to stories of desperate wishing the child would JUST SHUT UP!!!! and feelings of shame, or relief that temptation to hurt the child was resisted. There, you see, I am entering imaginatively into the experience of others which I have not had, but have heard of. Barnes does not think much of Skidelsky’s emotional intelligence: though he is able to identify and refer to emotional states, his ability to evoke them, characterise or colourise them, let alone follow through on their consequences, feels remarkably limited.

Richard observed drily that it can’t hurt that his father is a peer of the realm. Will was privately educated; we noticed at University that the “Yahs”, as we called them, had ineffable self-confidence. Will has had contacts, breaks, I have not had, but also clear talents which he has developed. Richard quotes Philip Pullman saying that most published authors earn less than the median wage- perhaps less than the minimum, we wonder? However, looking up at this vertiginous cliff- Pullman, with most people in Britain knowing his name, then Barnes, a long way above Skidelsky, a vast distance above me (Ooh! 10,000 page views for one blog post!) I wonder if my writing could ever be more than a hobby?

Caravaggio, John the Baptist


We have been discussing horrifying things, and we both have bad news, so why am I so cheerful? Trigger warning of extreme violence and a rape which child abusers might find appalling.

I did not get the job. He notes that this means I will not be leaving Swanston, and is happy about that. That’s OK, you are allowed to be selfish, and counting my blessings I note that I do not have to uproot myself again. I have friends here. We go on to the evisceration of social care. The Severe Disability Premium is abolished in Universal Credit, as “Social Services will address needs”. That is monstrous: they cut £61.85 a week from the income of disabled people on means-tested benefits, the most vulnerable group in society apart from the homeless. And Social Services, facing crippling cuts, cannot meet the needs they were juggling already.

He asks if he had ever said why he could not be a social worker. He has not: I would have remembered this story.

He had seen appalling things at the hospital. He had been able to continue working, and control his own feelings, after the case of a man who had broken into his former partner’s flat, smashed everything there, and broken just about every bone in her body. Then he was involved in a case where a baby a few months old needed reparative vaginal surgery after her own father had raped her. He was physically sick on the way home, and could not be involved in social work any more. So he changed his Master’s degree from social care to social policy.

I always seek empathy. I imagine the man, holding his daughter and not seeing her, holding a baby and not seeing a human being, but a lump of meat on which he relieved sexual urges. Or, perhaps, finding a way to attack the mother, and make her insane. My mind recoils, I cannot imagine it. I can imagine violent acts undertaken in anger- Hume’s example of preferring the end of the world to a cut on my finger comes to mind- but not that. I do not recognise him as a human being. I hope the other men in the segregation unit killed him. I want him crushed like a bug, expunged like a virus. My lovely, gentle friend- too gentle, perhaps, for his own good- had murder fantasies about him. I had heard of the lie that sex with a virgin would cure AIDS, and an epidemic of the rape of babies in South Africa; but even that has a motive, and is less monstrous than this.

Someone has to deal with such people- but not me, or my friend.

Why were we cheerful, after? Because he is still affected by it, decades after. He remains angry. I could hear his anger, and sympathise with my friend; and drain a little of his hurt. So I validate my friend’s feelings, and we feel together. And cheerful, after, perhaps because we could leave the abomination behind.

I will not be affected by it. I was not involved.

Who are the Quakers?

So, who are the Quakers, then?

We are a society of people who seek to live authentic, fulfilled human lives by coming together and building community, using particular spiritual tools. What does “Spiritual” mean to you?

Not much, actually. It seems a lot of woo. I like to keep my feet on the ground.

OK. Well, you must have had things pop into your head. The word’s on the tip of your tongue, and an hour later you remember the word you wanted. Or you “sleep on” something, and in the morning know what you have to do. Or you have a conversation, and you say something you’ve never consciously thought before, and you see things in a new way.

We really value things popping into our head. Some of us say it is the Holy Spirit of God inspiring us. We value it, because it works. We sit in silence and speak when moved. We test the spirits, being moved is very different from sharing a good point, and the things we share can speak deeply to others present at the Meeting. We come together as a group in the Silence, and what we share brings us closer together.

We have a great amount of wisdom, thinking, stories, writing around when these things are most useful, when to share them, when to act upon them. We appoint people to help others share, or restrain inappropriate sharing. We learn these things by practice and experience.

We make decisions based on these shares. In the business meeting we set aside ego and seek the highest Good for those affected by the decision. This is easier said than done. But there can be more than two possible decisions, and people may reasonably disagree. I have seen there be two sides stated in a business meeting, then someone stands and gives a synthesis, stating a way uniting the two views. Then I have experienced the atmosphere of the room changing as we agree. Someone appointed to do so will check that we have agreed, and write a minute expressing that agreement. Then we check that the minute properly expresses our decision. That means that, unlike many business meetings, the minutes express what the group decides.

The “spiritual” practices are valuable in themselves. In silence, I can become clear about where I am, what I think and feel about a particular issue. I can get in touch with feelings which I have suppressed below consciousness. I enjoy being with my Quaker community. But in general, we are Quaker because it works for us.

Degas, Conversation

I’m right, you’re wrong

Those pesky internet interactions…

Here’s ColorStorm. He has long, waffly ways of saying he’s right, and deploys them on this post. ColorStorm is a fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist, and whatever facts you state he will come up with old stories. He has a great deal of energy for interaction- 21 comments out of 123 as I type- and frequents blogs by atheists telling them they’re wrong. It does appear you have no concept of serious study, for if you did, you would find no fault in God or scripture. Unless you agree with him, he denies you are thinking straight.

So many ways of saying “You’re wrong”! He goes on to deny evolution: It is you who calls night, day! It is you who somehow thinks that the dairy or beef cow ‘evolved’ so it could give milk, or be a source of beef, leather, and be a beast of burden to the farmer in his field that ‘evolved’ from goo goo.  From one response I learned that whales have hair: I googled, and find some species have whiskers, and some hair in utero. ColorStorm learned nothing, but may have enjoyed himself.

I don’t go so much on the homophobe blogs. We have our lines, like the childhood

-Little things please little minds
-While bigger fools look on
-In disgust
-At themselves!

Dullard says he will pray for me to come to truth/ open my life to God/ renounce my wickedness, whatever, and I riposte with St Paul: the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. I have used that line twice this week. Sometimes I just want to contradict them: they will have their answers, but I show at least that there is disagreement.

How can they hear my pain, if they believe that the cure for it is to adopt their beliefs? Ruth has a good analogy: my pain at this is like your pain at that- but though feminists feel not listened to in arguments by men, and can cite cases and describe erasing practices, enough men feel not listened to, too- see the “Manosphere”. The Anglophile feels that he listens, and is irked at being told he does not listen enough. He wants to listen. I got the response “You think I just don’t understand, but I don’t believe you” from a feminist.

Here is Tom Quiner, alleging that seeking to protect children from school shootings by restricting assault weapons, but not to protect “children” from abortions, is a double standard. He claims Obama’s compassion is fake. Some bloggers will delve into the detail- does the foetus feel pain, would restrictions on assault weapons reduce school shootings, etc, at tedious length. An hour’s google for articles by professional journalists will yield more information than a hundred comment threads. “If anyone had any compassion at all, they would be against abortion”- not a quote, my bitter summary- no appeal to empathy will get through that, because he has a monopoly on compassion.

“Quine”, incidentally, is Doric for young woman.

I can write and comment to get things clear in my own mind, rather than inform others. I can develop my own empathy- Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand. People find it easier to hear others when they feel heard.

Or I can just troll for lulz.

Apology for offence

My empathy has limits: I found a Nazi wordpress blog, posting portraits of Hitler and screeds of Himmler, with approbation. I won’t give the name. I don’t want you to go there. I mention it because I am revolted, and want your sympathy.

Freedom from common sense

Of course I “think rationally”. “Thinking emotionally” cannot mean not thinking rationally. I love puzzles. I can make legal argument: I analysed two sentences in a benefit regulation, and got my client an extra £20 a week, which is a lot when you are on £50 a week.

I perceive intuitively, rather than thinking, often. I read people. That is what she is thinking, or feeling. This is how we are together. Some of this is subconscious: I note my posture mirroring another’s, my face mirrors her expression, I feel directly what she feels. These tricks can be learned: a friend is a teacher, who had two boys with Asperger’s Syndrome in her class. Those two, with four neurotypical boys, were drafted into the “Social Skills” group, where they consciously and deliberately learned about reading emotions from visual clues such as facial expression or posture. After a year, they had the task of putting up a tent without the instructions. The six co-operated, and the two Aspies read the others as quickly and naturally- unconsciously, even- as other children would.

Thinking emotionally means knowing what I want, and what I don’t. I was brought up with rules, including rules about what was appropriate recreation. Such conventional fun limited me. One ought to enjoy classical music, say, so I decided that popular music was inferior and not for my attention, and missed much which might have spoken to me viscerally. The Emperor Concerto delights, but Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive fits my mood perfectly, at particular times. It echoes, reinforces and validates my own feeling. Though it was released ages ago: I seemed trapped in my false rationality, but it penetrated my consciousness anyway.

Who wants to be common? I want to be counter, original, spare, strange- fey- myself, unlike any other person. There are common sense ways of proceeding, and one might cut through them. Rational thought is necessary to work out what short-cuts might work; intuitive perception might discern others’ opposition; but that Einstein quote, something like, insanity is doing the thing that does not work again and again, is far more likely to apply to conventional, rule-based common sense: you imbibe from the culture that this is the way to achieve that, and when it does not, you feel cheated. It ought to. Whereas if you go your own way, you can find your own way of achieving. There are no rules.

What are the reasons anyone should accept me as a woman? Well, I am beautiful and strange, it is enriching to know me. Artificial barriers between people do no-one any good. These are feeling reasons.

This is my 1600th post.

Magritte The Large Family



This is my favourite space in Wellingborough. Note the mullioned window on the left, from the 17th century. There are mullioned windows behind the photographer. A planning department would rarely consent to a modern extension on a 17th century building like this, but they must have been inspired by the beauty of it. I love the way the room moves between centuries, gradually with no one point where the change happens. I love the harmony of old and new. I even love the lavatory- not something one says often, though there was a pub in Edinburgh where the urinal was mirrored metal covering the whole wall, down which water flowed constantly, and which was such an attraction that women would go in to see it.

I love the lavatory, because it breaks the oblong of the room, and creates that nook where I can sit between the mullioned windows and the new windows to our right through the thick old wall; under that beam, which is in keeping with both the old and new parts of the room, in cosy darkness despite the brilliance of the light through the glass wall on the white interior. There there is a couch beside a table with a grungy, even cyberpunk feel about it, the heavy rough square wood, the large metal brackets and pins. And the further corner is lovely too, glass walls behind and to both sides, glass roof above, which opens to cool the space in Summer, looking down to the 17th century part, or across the grass and through the trees to the old church.

Upstairs, away from the noise of the coffee machines, is restful; or one may sit outside in Summer sunshine.

Outside bewiched