Talking to a lesbian

-I’ve never talked to a lesbian before.
-Yes you have, there are a lot of us about. Just not known about it.

My sink was blocked, and the pipes were leaking, so I called the letting agent who called the plumber who interrogated me about my sex life. So it goes. He started by asking if he could ask me a question. Yes, but I may not answer. He took an age, not seeming to find the words- I wanted to say, “spit it out, man” but left him to it. Then he told me he had seen my wigs- did I have cancer?

Odd, that, second time in five days. No, I explained, I was bald before I was thirty. It was something genetic, but not life-threatening. Doctors could not do anything about it.

-Have you ever been married?
-No.
-Why not?

He is a nosey bugger, complaining about the tea I made for him- worst tea ever, he takes two sugars and having thrown out the last sugar I possessed, as its sell-by date was ten years past, I have none. So I said, because it’s only been legal two years. He understood eventually.

-Why are you not attracted to men?
-Well, why are you not?

Honestly, this basic failure of empathy irritates me, even as I am considering my voice and wondering if he has really not read me as trans. I just- never have been. You can’t control your dreams, can you? When you were a teenager, you dreamed of women-

he looks embarrassed

-and so did I.

He started asking me about sex. What do you do? He kept badgering me. How do you do it? Do you wear a strap-on thing? No, I said. Yuck. So I told him about scissoring, and mimed with my fingers. He’s slow on the uptake: he did not realise my fingers were supposed to reference legs. Then I mentioned 69. I will not let you embarrass me.

He has been married since 1984, when he was 26. They have had their ups and downs- nearly split last year- but have stayed together. He also wanted to know what work I did and why I was renting. He bought his house for £90,000, but now his son and daughter need a deposit they cannot afford: £34,000 is the average deposit. He has a flagpole in his garden: the council did not like it, and told him he could not advertise, so he put a Tottenham flag on it. “When you see Spurs play, think of me.”

He has seven wigs.
-What are they like?
-Rod Stewart, Tina Turner.
-Oh, quite extrovert, then?

A Tina Turner wig. He is a cross-dresser. I don’t want to quiz him about that, and while he may have read me as trans I won’t refer to it if he won’t. Also, he has never read a book. He likes watching TV documentaries. His wife reads books. He wants to see me without my wig, and I refuse. Really, yuck. He’ll leave me alone if I put on my blonde wig for him, which he says really suits me- then he goes.

Caravaggio, Judith beheading Holofernes

The Switch House

To the new part of Tate Modern.

Switch house members room 2

The members’ room is spacious and high-ceilinged, yet it feels claustrophobic. It is strange. Perhaps it is how small the windows are, or the thick concrete beams, but I feel enclosed.

Switch house members room

It is built onto the back of the Turbine Hall, whose wall is of course vertical- yet looking up at it, because of the angle of the new building, looks as if it is leaning over me.

There is now a bridge across the top of the Turbine Hall.

turbine hall ai wei wei

There is a viewing platform on the tenth floor. Please respect the privacy of our neighbours, say the signs. Perhaps those are exhibited for sale: they don’t look lived in.

The Two Towers

I love having this public space for art, and the large new works use it- there is one of Louise Bourgeois’ Maman spiders.

Georgia O’Keefe

It’s a vagina.
-Of course it’s a vagina!

The exhibition is packed, and I go to the pictures which catch my eye and are less crowded. Those could be the heels of two hands, but are more likely arses, cheek to cheek, with a sort of epic sunrise thing going on above them. In other paintings in this room, the lines are more abstract. I love the way the colour washes and merges.

Afterwards, I read, the artist was irritated that critics saw sexual images in her flower paintings- but so do I. Having seen the bodies in Grey Lines, I see bottoms in the petals of Jimson Weed. H says, reasonably, that flowers are genitalia, but this is a painting of a flower. Now, I am hopeless: that building in a desert makes me think of vaginas! The doors and windows are dark holes; and it has wee sticky-up knobby things!

I need to spend more time in this exhibition. I went round quickly, wanting to taste it after spending more time on Mona Hatoum. Don’t characterise her by other things- she painted an animal skull floating above a mountain, but did not want compared to Surrealists, even though before I knew of her I might have guessed Dalí painted that. She is herself.

I made you take time to look…and you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower- and I don’t.

I do, actually. I make associations with her Jimson weed, which is a few cm across, which indeed I might not really really look at, but for her-

Jimson Weed

and it is something of me that I see. And as well, there is- a distinctively female response? Possibly. I could just be saying that- female artist, picture made me think of a vagina, that’s one they’re selling postcard reproductions of- and I like to think I am groping towards understanding, though perhaps I should not use words.

It’s really crowded. People like this. I do. I find it heady- smell of flowers association, perhaps- or thoughts of sex. I will let her be alien, aloof; I will not imagine I have pinned her down or classified her. This attitude permits me to find more in the paintings, which I may be finding in myself.

Making stuff up

“My fellow citizens,

The rise of this blusterous man bewilders the educated among us, conjoins opposing politicians, agonizes our international allies, threatens minorities, spits on the disabled, and touches the hearts of those who just don’t know any better.

Let us stop propounding how mad this all is, but instead, do something.”

Liselotte Hübner

Germany, 1929

Well, indeed. Trump bears some resemblance to Hitler. The meme with the quote on a photo of Trump has gone round facebook, and eventually reached me. I googled Liselotte, and the first hit was Snopes. Another was a wordpress blog with the quote itself, and pictures of Hitler, and Trump with a Hitler moustache and uniform.

This has been a Republican game, too, comparing President Obama to Hitler, showing him with his arm in a position somewhat like a Nazi salute, and now Democrats are playing it. Possibly Liselotte Hubner existed, possibly she said something like that, though she would have been prescient, as the NSDAP had only twelve Reichstag members at the time. Sebastian Mueller-Soppart’s post on facebook has had 97,595 shares. “Minorities and the disabled” sounded a bit modern for 1929, but “minorities” was used in that sense in the early twentieth century, says the Oxford English Dictionary, and “disabled” may have particular connotations but is a modern translation. Sebastian says Liselotte, my grandmother, spent two years in a concentration camp after voicing her opinion. Dachau was founded in March 1933, just after the Nazi coalition came to power, so he may be right; though it only had two hundred prisoners, then.

But- what good does it do us? On the Left, it gives us a small hit of self-righteousness- at best, solidarity in sharing it- but tells us nothing. More use is Mark Salter, former top adviser to John McCain: Whatever Hillary Clinton’s faults, she’s not ignorant or hateful or a nut. She acts like an adult and understands the responsibilities of an American president. That might not be a ringing endorsement. But in 2016, the year of Trump’s s campaign, it’s more than enough. Hitler is uniquely evil, invading France, Belgium, Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and others, murdering six million Jews and as many gay men as he could manage. Trump can cause a great deal of damage, in the White House, but I hope not quite that much death.

It produces an emotional response. I don’t feel the “Hubner” quote motivates me, particularly: it just makes me horrified and miserable. It gives Trump supporters something to resent, and when we descend to their level we cannot ask them to show a better side of themselves. It lowers the tone of political debate. Trump foments and feeds on resentment and frustration. We need to be rational, and to lead his supporters to rationality.

Don’t make stuff up. There is plenty of reasoned argument: here’s Mark Salter again. [Trump is] unhinged by criticism from women, most particularly female journalists. Who knows what that’s about, but whatever the cause of his misogyny, minor exchanges provoke it. It needn’t take an insult or criticism; sometimes just a lack of fawning deference will have him spewing abuse at the offending woman. That is a fact. We can back it up, with examples. Comparing Trump to Hitler just plays into his hands.

Goya, La Leocardia

Coming out, as a father

He started talking almost before he got to the bus stop. He loves the heat. He works on a removal van, he’s got one job today then he’ll enjoy the sun. He hates the way people complain about the heat when they’ve been complaining about cold and rain the rest of the year. I agree. I like the heat, and this variation is fashionable among the English this year, who like to agree as well as talk about the weather. He is a sweet enthusiastic man, who says how lovely it is to go up through the Rec then the woods and down to S- Lakes. You don’t need to go away! I enthuse. Yes. The sun on the water, not a beach exactly but-

He goes there with his son. His son’s a really lovely boy. He’s not boasting, it’s not that he’s saying he is a brilliant parent or anything, but his son has a lovely personality. The bus comes and he starts the same spiel with another woman. He loves heat. He hates people complaining. He has a lovely son.

He’s got this bouffant thing going. That’s the fashion nowadays I suppose, says the father whose hair is short. She says she hasn’t seen him for years, would not recognise him now probably.

He’s-

I didn’t catch the next bit, but the boy is gay or bi. The father whispered, and if he did not want me to hear I am pleased that he did not read me but bothered that he would be ashamed. The boy said he looked at boys, and felt- The woman says you’re learning who you are, finding what you like, at that age.

“I tell him, ‘I’ve got your back’,” says the father, definitely. He repeats it.

I talk to learn what I think about things, to see how it feels to articulate particular opinions, and to find what others feel. He could be testing the waters, finding out whether others are homophobic, talking himself in to acceptance of a thing which disappoints or frightens him. “I’ve got your back” is how I would hope a father would be, and it should not need said unless the son is in trouble. There is such progress! And we still have a way to go.

Langrenee, Echo and Narcissus

Coming out, again

H stretched, luxuriously, so I leant against her side and she put her arm round my shoulder. It was a little ungainly as I am so much taller than she, but I liked it. The busker was particularly good, a saxophonist with a smooth tone, and a quiet backing recording which supported him without ever being the main attraction. She had put me up in London and we were wandering along the South Bank. Then a woman looked down at me with disgust on her face. Two women, like that. Surprise, perhaps, H thought, and indeed I stare at women holding hands, in surprised delight.

The day before, there was a relaxed social gathering near Barnet, and I was in the garden of a woman I had not met before with about twenty people, three I’m meeting for the first time. It’s far too hot, and I take my wig off. I am chatting to F, who asks me if I have had chemotherapy. Her friend’s chemotherapy makes her very sick, and only gets rid of the cancer temporarily- three months, the last time, before she needed more- so chemotherapy is on her mind. I was surprised, but then, not everyone is switched on to the possibility of a trans woman, so some don’t read you however obvious you are. I told her I had gone bald before I was thirty. She tells me how good my lace-fronted wig is.

Circle time. Are there any priority shares? There are, and looking at F I say, oh, I am not having chemotherapy, I share that just because it came up. But then in circle time I wanted to share about that man, and how I felt, and how when cis women learn to deal with offensively pressing men in their teens, this was a new experience for me. Which means coming out as trans, to F. Back in the garden, she thanks me for my “honesty”. But honesty does not require me to make sure everyone I meet knows I am trans. If you can’t work that out, which always surprises me- though people working it out quickly disappoint me- I don’t have to tell you.

F is bi, and her mother was disappointed, disgusted even. Mum’s new partner is terribly homophobic. And when F had a long term male partner, Mum was relieved. Now F has a female partner again, and will have to come out to Mum again with all the same resistance as before.

Every day you may have to come out for the first time.

bright lily

Consequentialism

I assert my morality is mainly consequentialist, with a tincture of rules-based and virtue-ethics. Perhaps I should read up on what that means. So I turned to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Moral philosophy consists of people putting up theories, and people picking holes in them. When the theorists try to defend, that can be like a Ptolemaic astronomer finding ever more tiny epicycles to fit the data.

Stanford is better than “allaboutphilosophy.com”. There I read of Situational ethics: the idea that a moral response depends on all the circumstances of a situation, and not on any fixed law. I agree: but the site’s killer argument is that Situational ethics “contradicts the Bible”. Yet still Stanford felt like a series of straw men.

Most people could live on less, and give more to charity. That charity might save lives. Consequentialism might seem to put an obligation on us to save lives, and socialise at home rather than in the pub. However much you do for others, most people could find ways to make more sacrifices, and do more. I could see the greater sacrifice as morally preferable, but not obligatory. Or I could attempt to use Aristotle’s golden mean, a virtue ethics argument, to say that too great sacrifice is a fault. Or a Quaker line: “A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.” JS Mill would argue that an act is only morally wrong if liable to punishment: it does not maximise utility to punish people for not being absolutely as moral as they might.

Philosophers refer to agent-neutral and agent-relative views. The theorist of agent-neutrality says that an act which is right for anyone is equally right for everyone. The agent-relative theorist might say here that a parent has a particular obligation to their family. This starts to look like argument after the fact: one can rationalise any decision. How to balance competing claims?

The article expresses it differently, but considers the Trolley problem. Imagine a train is coming down the tracks towards five workers. Points could divert it to another line where there is only one worker. Do you pull the lever, to save five lives at the cost of one?

Such problems have to be unreal. No, you cannot warn the driver or slow the trolley. No, you cannot warn the workers, and they cannot jump out of the way. Perhaps they are tied there- one damsel in distress on one line, five on the other. The argument for not pulling the lever is that my action will have directly caused the death of the One, even though saving the five, so I will not. What if the death would be my fault, asks Stanford: the workers were in danger because I had told them to work there, and had not known the trolley was coming because I had not bothered to check. In that case, I might collapse into a fugue of terror and do nothing.

I come away from the article with more questions than answers, and perhaps better able only to rationalise after a decision, rather than decide morally before.

Article on Consequentialism.

woman tied to railroad tracks

Allies II

Sometimes Allies- straight people who support LGBT rights- irritate me.

Journalist Tristan Cork covered a vigil for the Pulse nightclub shooting, and stuck a rainbow pin to his backpack, in solidarity. He didn’t bother to remove it, and a few days later was on the bus in the evening, when someone started shouting at him: I won’t repeat what he said, but it was basically a series of statements of abuse each containing a combination of the f-word, the c-word, the b-word, the word ‘gay’, ‘queer’ and ‘homo’. I am not sure what the “b” word is- bugger, possibly, a term I find quaintly old-fashioned, like “bloody”. He had forgotten the rainbow pin, so didn’t realise why the other was shouting at him. Then it clicked.

He’s a big bloke, and the abuser was weedy, but he still felt frightened of the situation escalating. He got off the bus as the other shouted “get off the bus you fxxking queer”.

He is completely right about checking his privilege. I realised then that every single moment of the day and night as I walk around Bristol or travel on its buses, I subconsciously feel I am the one who is supposed to be there – a white English, straight, able-bodied man. Indeed. I have been noticing mine. He makes a fair attempt at explaining that to other white, English, straight, able-bodied men. But then he says,

Whenever anyone mentions privilege there’s a collective groan.

You’re groaning now, I bet.

No. I wasn’t. I was cheering him on. Then I get to this paragraph of only five words which erases me. He assumes all his audience is straight. It’s a slap in the face.

I know he’s trying to explain to straight people who haven’t really thought about it before. I know he is using his journalistic skills to get through to them. I am grateful. And I don’t want to be grateful, because I don’t want to have anything to be grateful for. He’s an ally, and it rubs my nose in the fact that I need allies, because some people are like the abusive man. I knew that already. I have come across them.

There’s also his line about being jokingly called Asberger’s. Asberger’s is a gift: my friend has high intelligence and a retentive memory, sensitive empathy and an inability to work because people have thoughtlessly, cruelly found him not “normal” and therefore less than normal. It is a sickening waste.

When you say you’re an ally, you point up that I need allies, so you may receive my anger. It’s nothing personal. That thing about wearing safety pins to say you would step in if there was a racial attack. Ooh, look, I have a safety pin just in case you can’t see the brightness of my halo. Well, I don’t wear a safety pin, because I am worried about diverting abuse onto me. I have not seen such abuse, but am not sure I would intervene.

Tristan’s article.

Aubrey Beardsley, the dancers reward

Donald Trump

Dominic Durden, a 911 dispatcher, was struck and killed by an illegal immigrant as he rode his motorbike. His mother, Sabine Durden, spoke at the Republican convention. She is angry about illegal immigration, and only Donald J Trump will listen to her.

It is tragic that the man died, but it says nothing about illegal immigration generally. Not all illegal immigrants drive badly. The charge was “vehicular manslaughter without negligence”. The sentence was nine months in jail and six months thereafter in a work release programme, indicating a low level of culpability for the death.

Donald Trump said: Where was the sanctuary for all the other Americans who have been so brutally murdered, and who have suffered so horribly? These wounded American families have been alone. But they are alone no longer. Tonight, this candidate and the whole nation stand in their corner to support them, to send them our love, and to pledge in their honor that we will save countless more families from suffering the same awful fate.

How? Only by deporting all illegal immigrants- overstayers, workers, family members- the Out group, the bad people. They are not responsible, but will be scapegoated. “Our city on a hill is now a city under siege”.

On Jan. 20 of 2017, the day I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone. But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens.

What forces will be available for this crackdown? What information?

I watched as they shouted USA! USA! USA! He nodded, smiling, sometimes joining in.

The estimate is 11.4m illegal immigrants in the US. They are not responsible. They are being scapegoated. This is obvious- but not to those Republicans, or to other Trump voters across the country. I am terrified. People are listening: he drips poison in their ears. We on the Left are Cassandra- we point out obvious truths and are not heard. Fox News reported a calculation that 7,500 citizens are killed each year by unlicenced drivers, half of them by illegal immigrants- who could not get a licence. There were 32,674 deaths on US roads in 2014; 1775 in Britain, with a fifth of the population: we might propose better ways of reducing the figure than deporting every illegal immigrant.

On LGBT, he said the Pulse nightclub shooter was a “radical Islamic terrorist” rather than a homophobic fantasist, then I will do everything in my power to protect our L.G.B.T.Q. citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Going off script, he told them he was glad to hear them applaud that- surprised that they did not want queers killed by ISIS. Hateful homegrown ideologies, though, are completely OK for him.

I watched the Governor of Wisconsin’s speech, with after every couple of sentences “America Deserves Better”. He encouraged the audience to join in, and once I found myself saying it too. “America Deserves Better”. With enough anger and fear, you can drown out all rational thought.

Trump speech transcript.

Trump convention speech

Going out

It is hot. It is beautiful.

Into the park. I have not walked here for some time, and take my camera.

at the top of the tree

This is how procrastination works. I can live with myself because I say “I will do this tomorrow”. I am not the kind of person who runs from this; I face things, and see possibilities, and take opportunities. And when it comes, I don’t, because I really really don’t want to but I don’t articulate that to myself. I find what I want when I see what I do.

The blossom is so beautiful.

wild flower

wild flowers

wild blossom

If I were to do psychotherapy, I would like more motivation. I hide away because I want safety now. I can understand that safety in the long term is a worthwhile goal, but now is more pressing. It is the way I know to find safety. It is terribly boring but it is, after all, what I want.

I would like to despise myself less.

I have not seen this path before. Maybe it has just been opened. It goes to the river, upstream of a weir, as a portage point for kayaks. I retrace my steps, and take another path. Perhaps I will have to go back, yet now I am walking beside a branch of the river, which spreads in the broad valley, where I have never been before. It is beautiful, an entirely unexpected new experience. I come out at the assault course.

climbing frame

ropes

assault course

It has been rebuilt, and looking at the scale I guess for about ten year olds. What a beautiful thing, to test yourself against! You can mature and grow, and still play on climbing frames!

It is hot, and I have taken an interest, and explored. Seeing something beautiful, I have recorded it, seeking to make my pictures beautiful. I remain perplexed, but slightly less distressed.