I-Thou

Of course transphobia exists. There are people I revolt, simply by existing. So if you doubt it-

What did you do to provoke him?

I came within his line of vision. That was it.

I want to be believed. That I might not be is difficult for me. I spoke to him. That was enough. He went off on one. Further questions perplex me. There is nothing more I can say. I can give examples of transphobia, from my own experience; I can make analogies to racism, homophobia or other prejudice; but either you believe someone you do not know might be revolted by my Clareness, my refusal to pretend to be a Real Man™, or you don’t.

You understand revulsion, right? A pile of vomit on a pavement outside a pub? A paedophile? (Yes, yes, I know, Quakers try to see the humanity of everyone, but that should be a sign of exceptional empathy and imagination, not their absence.) Some people appear perfectly normal until one day there’s a spider in the room and you see how they react. And you sympathise, because you understand arachnophobia, and they are ashamed, and you are delighted to dispose of the spider for them, and reassure them. The difference here is I am not a spider but a human being, and he is not ashamed but self-righteous about it. He does not accept there is anything wrong with him- it’s not him, it’s me.

Might I not be afraid of you?

If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. You will simply be aware that honest people carrying out honest procedures will produce the right result. If you are afraid, that is evidence of guilt, for the only possible fear is fear of discovery.

I could front it out. Nothing to see here- well, what do you think happened? Surely you cannot believe that I did anything remotely objectionable? But you continue, just sitting there, looking at me, and I start to sweat, and I can’t meet your gaze, and I break down sobbing All right I admit it! I transitioned! Of course I provoked him, I revolt him, I don’t deserve to be in the same room as him because I transitioned! I tried so hard not to! Please! You will see I bear guilt, for that is the guilt I bear.

This self-loathing is so hard, and has driven me into failed attempts to avoid it. If I can be a Real Man I will be alright. That does not work. Then, if I transition I will be alright- except that made me hunt Womanliness, and I am not “a woman”, I am Clare. Eventually, when there was nowhere I could hide from myself, I sought to find myself so I could come to accept myself.

Acceptance by others was a powerful way towards this. I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends in February 2002, and their acceptance and my sense of it gave me the courage to transition two months later. And more recently, perhaps in the past year, I have thought that this gives me an unhealthy attitude to my Quaker meeting. On the plus side, it gave me a serious commitment and desire to serve; and it gave me unrealistic expectations, demands that could not be met. It left me in a state of dependence. The Society was my source of acceptance, and I have to accept myself without that external source.

I get closer and closer to that. And now I recognise that if rejected I won’t die. It is such an odd saying- you see someone, distraught, and say “It’s not the end of the world”- well, it never is, the world goes on, and losses can feel that bad. “It’s not the end of the world” but we don’t always see that and we need it pointed out to us.

In meeting this morning I was thinking of Martin Buber, his “I-thou” or “I-it” relationships, his crying out against treating another person as an object to be used, an it, and requiring “I-thou”, the relationship of human beings. That requires an “I”, a being with a sense of self, because otherwise I cannot have a proper sense of the selfhood of others. I can have an “I-thou” relationship if I can say “I”. I am I. There was ministry about being damaged human beings and accepting others are damaged too. I can accept you are damaged only if I can accept I am damaged; if I am in terrified denial of that, I cannot accept that anyone else might be less than ideal.

I get closer to seeing myself, to self-acceptance. I might be able to see other human beings as other human beings, and that would be a good thing. “I-thou”, a relationship, with people, not quite so alone in the cold unfriendly darkness. Those training to be US Marines are not allowed the word “I”. Instead they say “This recruit” when they refer to themselves. They lose their identity and get it deliberately replaced with an identity as part of the Marine Corps, so that they can risk death, and kill others, because they are told to. “I” is precious. If I am I, I am human, and you can be human too.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-panna-dygat

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