Could you know any other person? Yes, but perhaps not deeply. We are social creatures, in social situations, and we respond habitually and with learned behaviour; we fit roles, from “class clown” or “nerd” onwards. We might understand ourselves under those roles, like the trans woman who tries to be manly. Every time you conform, you imagine that is the real you, and are pleased, like a poor tennis player having a good day and imagining that is their usual form. The true self, the woman, is a nagging doubt at the back of your mind that you cannot quite put into words. For we are a people of words, and we understand things by words, and do not understand what we cannot put in words. Already, much thoughtcrime is impossible because we have not the words for it.
You can know another only as deeply as you know yourself. If you gain words for feelings, and are taught to accept your feelings, you can find how you feel. Otherwise your feelings rage under consciousness, not breaking through. So I raged, and feared and suppressed my rage.
And now I wonder if I understand others. Proust delves deeply into his narrator’s feelings, responses, ridiculous miscalculations, fears, desires, and other characters are mostly façades. We hear what they say, he observes how they look, and that is it. If I too much value the conventional, how one is supposed to behave in particular situations, how one is supposed to find pleasure, then I might judge another on how conventional they are. This is a good person. He behaves as I have been taught to expect people to behave.
And then I grow to know myself. I am still often amazed that other people have similar experiences, or feel entirely differently, but grow to accept the possibility.
It has always been a delight to spend a weekend with people like me, and I first noticed this with Mensa, the club for those who score in the top 2% on an IQ test. (I’m in the top 1%). We used our intelligence like a Birmingham screwdriver. I have not been to a Mensa weekend for twenty years, and might not feel that now. My sense is that Quakers are different sorts, though mostly very intelligent, and I warmly anticipate Yearly Meeting in August. A Quaker writes, Authentic connection involves sharing self-knowledge and recognising, not only what we have in common, but what is genuinely different. I am unsure of that. I might be more comfortable resting in what the group values and does together.
Do I as a Queer person seek to pass as “normal” or find liberal, tolerant circles where I can find others doing the work of accepting me? Do we keep to the things we can agree on? I feel it is a blessing, being so uncomfortable presenting male that I was forced to find the real me, the woman, underneath, but if she makes others too uncomfortable I might pretend to me more like them, so they would not cast me out.
And the similarities are real. I value what I share with Quakers when we are most conformist to our own group. It is closer to “Real me” than other groups might be. How delightful, to let out a part of me with this group, or the trans women’s support group, which I cannot let out with those who would not recognise it. Do not cast your pearls before swine.
So, can I know another? Only so far as they show themselves in the situations where we meet. H said I knew her better than anyone apart from close family. We can know ourselves best when we can open up to another.