This is what I said:
My name is Abigail, and I am ridiculous.
I have always been ridiculous. I grew up thinking that was a bad thing, and I should be sensible instead. I want to be sensible. I want to be normal. I want to fit in- and I can’t. And now at the age of fifty I am coming to accept that. I want the law changed so I can get “ridiculous” written on my birth certificate!
Everyone is in a constant struggle between Being themself and fitting in, and words can trap and constrain us, and words can liberate us. My friend says that full skirts like this are Out of Fashion this year, and I don’t care. I love this dress. It’s bright, and extrovert, and joyous. Words can liberate us.
The word “trans” liberated me. I am feminine, and I grew up knowing that was a very bad thing indeed: weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous, illusory. I got told “big boys don’t cry” by the age of four, perhaps younger. I knew I had to Be a Man, and so I fought very hard to make a man of myself. Many trans women do. We take manly jobs like the armed forces. I knew one who was in the police firearms unit. She had never shot anyone, but she had pointed her gun at people, ready to shoot if necessary.
We are not alone in this. Too many people are still told “Big boys don’t cry”, and grow up unable to trust or express their emotions. Lots of people who are not trans, who are very happy being men or women are shoved into a constraining man box or woman box, with a particular set of expectations which do not fit them. Gender norms are- ridiculous. In a bad way. Everyone has gender norms which they fit, others which they more or less go along with, and some which they resist, which are inimical to them. Gender norms are constraining. My free gendered way of being is a gift. It is a beautiful thing. This human diversity enriches society, and enriches every one of us, if we can let it flourish. It can enrich the church.
The law at the moment accepts a particular kind of trans person. If you, being of one sex, decide to transition to present exclusively as a member of the other sex, you will be protected by the Equality Act. If you are gender-queer or have some other gender you are not. I want to speak up for wider acceptance.
I am a Quaker. I am a refugee from the Anglican Church, where I was baptised and where I attended almost every week until 2001. That was the time I decided I could no longer worship God disguised as a man. So I told the vicar, who said, “You mean you want to look like that, all the time?”
I did not look particularly female. I had shaving rash and a bit of stubble under thick makeup, and a cast-off wig. I dressed unfashionably, with an underdeveloped sense of style. That meant I got spotted, and insulted in the street. “It’s a fucking bloke!” shouts someone. There was a child in a shop, pulling excitedly at Mummy’s hand and shouting, “Mummy! Mummy! Look at the strange man!” And there was a man who, as he passed me, whispered, “Fucking nonce”. I still can’t get that. He calls me a nonce, a sex offender- what makes a man so hate someone he has never met?
The other thing the vicar said was that he would try to ensure I was not driven out of the church. As if I had this ridiculous whim, but he had to bear with me so that I could see for myself that it was wrong, though the rest of the congregation would object. So I went to the Quakers. Two Friends had taken me to their meeting occasionally, and I thought I might fit.
A couple of years later, after going full time, I went back to that Anglican church to a wedding, and the welcome was warm and loving- but some of the congregation would not speak to me.
Being accepted and valued among Quakers, I can serve my meeting. I am Area Meeting Clerk for Northamptonshire- it is sort of like being chair and secretary in business meetings. I want to contribute. I get to contribute. It pleases me, and it does good for the worshipping community. The Friends Homosexual Fellowship, now named QLGF, is the oldest gay Christian group in Britain. We have trans folk on our national committees. Everyone wins.
I want to speak up for other sexualities. The polyamorous people I know are Quakers. One is in an open marriage. She has had brief affairs, with the consent of her husband, but is now beginning what she feels will be a long term relationship with another woman. She is an elder, which means she takes part in pastoral care. I am not sure I could manage my own jealousy in such a situation, but I trust her judgment and her husband’s, to behave ethically.
I need to speak up for Queer Hetero sexuality. We all know about this, but it is so rarely open. All the words for it are condemning. Queer Hetero sexuality is mocked. The woman “wears the trousers” in a relationship, the man is “pussy whipped”, and this is seen as a bad thing, because Men should be Men. The woman is a harridan, termagant, virago, angry and bossy and unnatural and unfeminine. The man is effeminate, a pansy. I don’t know any positive words for this. “Beta male”, possibly. On the web, in the manosphere, you will hear that men should be dominant Alphas, and betas are second rate.
My parents were like this. My mother was extremely controlling. My father was soft, and acknowledged this, calling my mother “The Boss”, loving it when she drove off in her district nurses uniform to sort people out. We could never admit it. I grew up knowing I had to Be a Man, which was nothing like that. I grew up having no clue what my feelings were- “I am perfectly calm”.
I am not aware of web communities like this. On the internet there are dominant women, in leather and pvc, whipping men, tying them up or putting them in cages, or “sissifying” them, putting them in pink sateen mini-skirted maid’s outfits. It all revolves around the man paying a woman to enact a fantasy humiliating him.
Soft men are beautiful. Strong women are beautiful, and we fit together. Yet we are ashamed, and we try to conform. A friend of mine has a soft boyfriend and wants him to make a move, make it a relationship; and I think, but he wants you to make the move! He wants you to take control, really. One friend is a radical feminist, and she says most radfems are lesbian- there is some mistrust of her, being hetero.
My friend’s current girlfriend wanted him to be “more manly”. He had decided to try: he would put on an act, rather than behave spontaneously and freely. Another man I met had quite a passive girlfriend and a hard manner, and when I met him the second time he had dumped her, and seemed far gentler, as well as more relaxed and humorous.
I am not sure how common it is. I grew up denying my softness, knowing it was weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and illusory, and now I accept I am soft, gentle, peaceful and that is beautiful.
And after we had all spoken there was time for questions.