accidental good

I’ve been listening to some Ariana Grande.

A little less conversation and a little more touch my body

It is not aimed at me, but I see good in it. In the videos, the singer dances around in her underwear, but is clearly singing for female fans. “Dangerous woman” might even have a slight lesbian vibe. She sings that her boyfriend better shape up his ideas and consider her wants and needs. I am all for Millennial empowerment. This seemed a proper response to the Manchester bombing, to hear what the dead had gathered to hear, to spend time with what they loved.

Ministry this morning had a perfect shape. One spoke of Manchester coming together. I spoke of racial tensions: the picture is more complex than the stories we tell. Thesis- Antithesis: the synthesis was beautiful.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where will my help come?

He says the hills were the dangerous places, where there were bandits and lions. You might die. I had not thought of the psalm, whose words I know well, that way before. Ah. Complexity, darkness, comfort- in the Meeting.

I can’t remember what she said because I was interested in how, rather than what, she communicated. “It’s —— 4 ——-, written —– 4 ——” and she gestures in the air, writing the first word, the 4, then the second word. She repeats the gesture. “Oh, —– 4 ——” says the other, gesturing. They emphasise the 4 in their gestures. But both write from left to right as they would see it, in the air- so from the other’s point of view it is less comprehensible, seen right to left. I watch, intrigued. I would always, gesturing like that, use mirror-writing to be more comprehensible, and expect to get my meaning over immediately. You could say “The 4’s a digit”. We ended up absolutely clear, except that I do not remember what it was 4 what.

It’s worth listening to Ariana to understand how Millennials think. After all, when I am eighty they will be running the country, and I would like to not be completely confused. And, try to find something good in it. That is like in education, she says: however poor the student’s attempt, you should start with praise. No, actually, a teacher should encourage students, but this is different: you should find good in it because that is a better way to understanding it. If you are simply dismissive you don’t see it.

I share my joke. I am disappointed with it, because it works beautifully from a linguistic standpoint- the last word changes the idea round completely- but the concept is too horrible. So it does not work as a joke. Here it is:

I scatter lots of bird seed on my lawn. I do love to feed the cats.

One laughs, one does not. I hurry to explain that I don’t think it works, and that is the first time I have shared it.

The “Gifts reserved for age” in Little Gidding have haunted me since I first read them. In Meeting, a pastiche came to me, which I wrote down after to ensure I could remember it:

Things done right, and accidental Good
to show your “thoughtless bumblings” are virtue

Sometimes you can go into things in too much depth. We tell ourselves stories about reality, we have words and concepts, because understanding everything is impossible. Trying to understand too well may paralyse action. Know just enough to make the next step good enough. I am a good person really. Totally failed at life? From an absolute standpoint, possibly I have- no family, no job, no savings etc- but from a relative standpoint perhaps I have done alright- I am still alive!

Know yourself

Would you ever hit someone?

No, you say, with complete certainty of your rectitude. Never. Or, at least not unless hitting someone was the only thing to do, the righteous, even heroic- defence of another when no other defence was possible. It does not matter that you don’t really know yourself, and you have no basis for the statement other than it is how people in a civilised country ought to be. You believe in yourself. You have faith, and your faith is reckoned to you as righteousness.

I don’t. Did I lock the door behind me? Of course I did, it is the thing I always do, but I have no specific conscious memory of it so I have to go back to check. What if I forgot? It does not help that I left my electric blanket on while in Portugal. I thought I had, and wondered if the flat would be burned out when I got back. It was not. I have self-doubt. I do not claim any good qualities. I only know I would not hit someone because I have been in these situations and not hit someone, not out of strength or self-restraint but out of confusion: the rules aren’t working, and I don’t know what to do. Or so I would tell you. I have no trust in myself, or of others’ good will towards me.

So I feel threatened and paralysed.

I want time to create self-respect and understanding. “I would not hit someone,” I say, with sufficient certainty of not committing a criminal act, because I have worked it out.

I have stubbornness and stickability. I got that doctor sacked. But this is a finite resource, perhaps- I tried with the other one, then gave up.

Could I really just go out and trust? I am a good person. Right now I want my quiet life because I cannot imagine a better, and I have a great deal of understanding and creativity.

As I have exercised that understanding and creativity, imagining a better involves stepping outside of me.

Twenty years ago I had a client who could not spell “bags”. He wrote “bages”. With a soft g, I think of him as the bages man. He could not do something so would not try, and I despised him. He frustrated me. And now I think,

It will not work⇒I will not try.

Or, things are percolating inside me, and great things will come. Or, my stubbornness motivation and drive are draining away. How could I know, without evidence from what I actually do?

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear.

I would like to be admired.

“Where is the failure?” she asks. That flummoxes me. It throws me back to the centre of the problem, the equation with two many variables. There is none. Or, it is mine, from birth, society’s, from the creation of the World.

If the failure is mine, I do not know it.
I do my best…

Trans, or non-binary?

Why would you say you were non-binary, rather than trans?

I do not have “a woman’s” spirit, or soul, or mind, or brain, but my own. When I say I am a woman, it is an approximation, and refers to a cultural concept of what a woman is rather than a concept independent of culture, if such a concept is possible. I do not believe I am really a woman, though some trans women believe it of themselves- some call themselves women with a trans history. That could be a way of shutting down argument, rather than explaining: they do not want to explain my behaviour to anyone. If you have to justify yourself you are already less than the Normals, who need not explain themselves. I might do that by saying, “I am Clare”- I am who I am, which is even more difficult to attack.

It seems to me that the names we call ourselves can be used to explain ourselves to ourselves or to others, or to give ourselves permission to behave in a certain way, or to argue to another that I should be able to behave in a certain way. When I first saw a gender psychiatrist he gave me a card saying that I was undergoing treatment for transsexualism and it was appropriate for me to use a woman’s loo. I never had to bring that card out, but I carried it in my handbag until I went full time.

-Why are you dressed as a woman?
-Because I am trans.

Omygod I have this compulsion to dress as a woman.
I am trans
Therefore dressing as a woman is alright.

Do as thou wilt so long ye harm none. However I dress does not harm anyone.

Today, it was really hot, so when I got to the town centre and chained up my bicycle I could not bear to put my wig on. Anyway, under the helmet I was sweaty, and did not want all that sweat in my wig. I put on my skirt over my shorts and walked through the town. “I am embracing my inner non-binary,” I thought. I can have a skirt, breasts made of flesh rather than padding, and male pattern baldness not completely obscured by having just shorn my head with clippers. I am, just for today, non-binary. I went into a charity shop, then thought I cannot try that on because I am so sweaty: so I am concerned for others still. I noticed my awareness narrowing, a self-defence mechanism: rather than thinking “Everyone is staring at me” I only notice other people to avoid bumping into them, deliberately not noticing how they look or if they are looking at me. So, possibly several people were staring at the odd man in a skirt. After going round with my wig off I could just decide I am entitled to do that, and not need a name for myself to justify it; but in the meantime I can take different names which seem contradictory.

So you might call yourself non-binary if you wanted to do things you felt were restricted to one sex or the other. That seems fine if you want to present male three days a week and female the rest of the time. It is more of a problem if you think women should not shout, or men should not cry. That is a radical feminist objection: a woman can behave as she wishes, according to her own nature, and should not be restricted by patriarchal concepts of what is “feminine”. Harridans and pansies unite! But I do not use these names to restrict anyone, but to liberate myself.

However, there is no clear line between “trans” and “non-binary”, so that you could clearly identify a person as one or the other apart from their own identification. And lots of people behave as they wish without the need for these labels. Some are more normal, and some have more self-confidence.

Narratives II

Overheard in the cafĂ©-bar: “Twenty percent of them never return their assessment forms.” She is talking of ESA, the benefit paid to some people who are completely incapable of work. Why would that be? I thought, because they have no trust in the system, and they don’t think they will get the benefit, so they don’t want the humiliation.

But someone less bleeding-heart liberal than I might say, because they were chancing it, and knew they would be found out. Jenny said, because they are incapable of completing the form.

I feel my explanation is more plausible. If you were a chancer, you would fill in the form, knowing that you could get the benefit until you got a decision refusing it. However, some might get the form, still need to send in sicknotes from their doctor, and the doctor refuses the sicknote.

Some say they did not receive it, though this is rarely accepted as the post is thought to be reliable. You need some explanation- “My toddler stole mail and hid it behind the settee” might work. They might be trying to delay the refusal by delaying the medical examination, but that has not worked at least since 1992, when failure to return the form was legislated to be grounds for refusing or withdrawing the benefit. So they are not the most offensive chancers, who “work the system”.

Of course different people will fail to return the form for different reasons. They find no motivation to return it, or they are too chaotic to see it as an obligation. But the explanation that they don’t trust the system leapt to my mind. I don’t know, but the narrative fits the vandalising, authoritarian Tories destroying all safety nets and all social services for the vulnerable. Then later I thought of the other explanations, which would fit a Right-wing narrative of a culture of dependency and people falsely pretending to be disabled.

Possibly research could not find out the real reasons. If asked why s/he did not return the form, people might say a reason which appeared to them to be rationalisable, rather than the real reason. They might not admit the real reason to themselves. You could find out what sort of conditions these people had, and ask them their general opinions of the benefits system.

The narrative does not relate to reality, but provides a comforting understanding of benefit claimants. Believing one of those narratives, you would be reassured that your understanding of the world is the correct one. The fact does not confirm your prejudices, really, but you use it for that purpose nonetheless.

It was a shock, though, to hear them talk of ESA like decision makers might, especially after I had discussed my own claim in such detail with Jenny. I am feeling paranoid now.

Be yourself

I know what I must do. Why do I not do it?

  • Because I do not imagine it will work.
  • Because I do not imagine I deserve it.
  • Because I am frightened of what will go wrong.
  • Because before I do it I can imagine doing it brilliantly, and after doing it judge it wanting.

I know what I must do. Why do I still think about and analyse it?

  • Because that is my defence against my fears.
  • Because it puts off starting.
  • Because analysing is the gift I love.

So strong for such a vague memory! How was it? Mum, Dad and me, I think my sister too, feeling content and at peace. Or something. Happy, possibly. Companionable. We weren’t failing to enjoy something we knew we ought to enjoy, and not understanding our feelings at that, but uncomfortable; we were definitely together rather than separate: we all knew we felt the same way, though I don’t think we articulated that. Possibly we could not be verbal about it, only pre-verbal. Dad suggested we all go to the pub in the village. Mum demurred, knowing (how all-knowing I am in my memory!) that this would not prolong the feeling as Dad hoped. I don’t know if we went or not.

So I know at least we always wished each other well, however we were together.

Three months before my father died, I went to Edinburgh to visit him in hospital. He said to me “I awoke in a world of women!” Hospital is not like that, really, but close enough for him to believe and be delighted by his fantasy of being under several female thumbs, all at once. Fxxk yeah. I get that completely. I am in utter sympathy with him.

Dad came close to admitting it before. Mum was a district nurse, and he would remark how delighted he was to see “Totty” in her nurse’s uniform, in her car, driving off to sort some patient out. A firm, decisive woman- but a nurse, which is “Women’s work” so in some way reconcilable with conservative views of men’s and women’s roles, even as it would subvert them. At the time-

yes, I know, I reconstruct memory, I don’t really know-

at the time I was embarrassed by these outbursts. I did not say anything, or I said, “Oh, Dad,” deprecatingly or something- no idea how I behaved, but I felt embarrassed. I still do. We are up a country road, between the garage and the bungalow, no-one to see us but cows and not always them and I am embarrassed and do not want him expressing this.

Oh I resent being crushed like this! I have no-one to blame, or “the sins of the fathers”, or parental weakness and failure rather than deliberate wrong, always doing the best they could, or “Society” (I read Warlord and Commando comics, tales in cartoons of wartime derring do in world war II and I, sometimes other wars, nothing newer. Different world.) So most of my energy was devoted to finding how my mother expected me to be, and being that, though I went to school and was with children my age so some of my time was devoted to finding what they expected one to be or admired and trying to be that.

Should I like pop music? (That encompasses Rock, punk, ska, jazz even…) No, it is merely screaming. It is of negligible quality. There is no tune to it. Classical music is real music. People at the school like pop, though, so I remember in the PE changing room someone naming David Bowie songs and claiming to know them, then he asked “Do you have an album?” No- then denying knowing others. Perhaps he named some twice and I claimed then denied knowing them. Just confusion.

It was much later I realised how some songs spoke to me on a visceral level, expressing just the feeling I had in the moment, realising, justifying and intensifying my feeling, helping me recognise it. I will survive…

I felt similar confusion meeting a solicitor in B—, someone in another firm whom I would need to trust, who might be on the other side of transactions- How should I be with him?

Be yourself!

Oh, don’t be silly, I could never be that.

And feeling after I had been gauche. Of course these are the normal experiences of callow youths, not knowing how society works or how people are together, and I feel I had a handicap in learning.

F, kicked out by her parents aged 17, made her way in the world, and I wonder why she tells me stories of Glasgow in the 60s. To encourage me, show possibilities? I feel it as judgment, what, surely everyone can do that? Or most likely because it is what she is thinking of now, to help her do what she must do now, which she tells me too.

A song

Birds gotta swim, and fish gotta fly
I’ve gotta be the same girl till I die
Can’t stop bein’ that gal o’ mine

Tho’ I weep, and storm, and rage, and cry
Try to deny- Oh how I try I
Can’t stop being that girl of mine

It cannot be true, it must be a lie
Awake all night, I ask myself why I
Can’t stop being that girl of mine

Then become calm, give up with a sigh
Under the fake, it is the real I
that can’t help bein that gal o mine

Written while considering transition

Looking to the future

Why think about the past? It won’t change. Think about the future! Memories of the past are only of use to help predict the future. In the New York Times, psychologists advance the theory of “Prospective psychology”- the brain is focussed on predicting the future, and thinks about it three times more than the past. Memory is a tool for predicting: three different parts of the brain recall, when, where and what happened, and are rewritten- even altered- each time you remember them. A memory might be made happier if you have more trust in the future, or harsher otherwise. It is amended to make it more relevant to now.

They describe a problem- should you accept an invitation from a colleague? You could think it through methodically, but instead you intuitively empathise with him and your future self if you accept or reject it, and decide quickly. This is fast and slow thinking.

They say depression does not come from past trauma and present stress, but from skewed visions of what lies ahead. You overestimate risk, predict failure and rejection, and fail to imagine positive outcomes. “Depressed people”- I- withdraw socially and become paralyzed by exaggerated self-doubt. It is always eerie to read about yourself.

We consider the information which will be useful to us. Animals were more interested in unfamiliar experiences than familiar ones, because they want to understand future options and possibilities. Considering the future is the brain’s “default” mode, and in breaks in current tasks, we shift to working on that. We will all die, but few spend time thinking about that because we can’t do anything about it.

I learned very young that I am worthless, and that all my instincts are wrong. I then had years of ghastly experiences at work, where I was under threat I could not combat, and in fights I could not win. I was bullied, made to doubt myself even more, and then trashed, repeatedly.

So what I have been doing here is a patient re-evaluation of myself. I am a good person. I like myself. I mean well. My desires are good, and their fulfilment worthwhile. My desires and characteristics are not what I have been taught they ought to be. I am loveable. This patient reimagining- This, not That, will make me happy, This is who I am, This is how people see me- is necessary as a foundation for going out into the World, imagining a worthwhile goal and a route to its achievement, and taking that route. And my fast thinking often leads to wrong, over-pessimistic conclusions, because it is based on false understandings- they hate and despise me therefore I had better not go there.

Unfortunately bad experiences in the present reinforce my pessimism. Getting kicked out of Wellingborough Quaker meeting makes me think everyone hates me and I will never work out how to be winsome. And the news is dreadful: the Tories are likely to win the next election, and continue attacking out-groups- immigrants, benefit claimants, queers may be next- as a way of consolidating their power. They are enthusiastically working to damage the economy and the 99% with Brexit and job prospects get poorer.

The future has never seemed real to me. If I can survive the next couple of months, I am happy as I can be. “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” has always been meaningless. I remember looking at a welfare rights worker, older than me, with the council, and thinking, it will be like now, but slightly worse. I can accept intellectually that a pension is a good thing to have, say, or imagine myself as an old person- seeing them walking unsteadily, seeming so weak, creeps me out- but it does not seem real to me. I don’t know how this is for others. For me it is all about surviving now.

And still, there are possibilities, and trust and respect for myself might help me see them.

New York Times, We aren’t built to live in the moment.

Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.

Toilets in Texas

The Texas House of Representatives, which had previously blocked Texas Senate attempts at a Bathroom Bill, has now passed one. Schools must provide single-occupancy toilets, changing rooms and locker rooms. Schools which now allow trans children to use the locker room for their gender would have to revert. Separate does not mean equal.

The Bill goes to the Texas Senate, which will likely pass it, as the Senate had a much wider Bill requiring all people in Texas government buildings, including schools, to use toilets matching their “biological sex”. The wider Bill was blocked by the House Speaker, who refused to refer it to a committee.

The Texas Governor endorsed the legislation as a priority, and the lieutenant-Governor threatened to block periodic legislation which re-authorises some State agencies, unless it was passed. Without that legislation, those agencies would be shut down.

SB 2078 regulates school districts’ “Multihazard Emergency Operations plans”, considering things like school shooters, natural disasters, and now trans children. The right of each student to access restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities with privacy, dignity and safety [shall be accommodated by] requiring the provision of single-occupancy facilities for use by a student who does not wish to use the facilities used by persons of the student’s biological sex.

This section may only be enforced by the state Attorney General, but nutcase objectors will still demonstrate against trans children, to force him to act. It does not require or authorise a school to disclose intimate details about a pupil, but using a separate locker room will be noticed.

The stalled SB6, applying to all government buildings, is longer than the Bill concerning emergencies. The Texas Senate discerned an “utmost moral obligation” “to protect the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children… and all Texas residents”, and found that schools providing access to restrooms, showers, and dressing rooms based on an individual student’s internal sense of gender is alarming and could potentially lead to boys and girls showering together and using the same restroom prejudicing a safe and secure learning environment. It is wearying to read of trans children being seen as so dangerous. Trans boys are called girls. The cubicles which prevent me ever embarrassing others in a bathroom are ignored- I am in the presence of others in a state of undress.

All government buildings should require that each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility located in the building be designated for and used only by persons of the same biological sex.

“Biological sex” means the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate. My birth certificate says I am female, and Texas allows amendment of sex on a birth certificate if ordered by the court.

The Bill which is to be passed makes monsters of children.

Report in Texas Tribune.

Empathy III

I hate common sense. Here we are, pontificating about giving. You have to do it sensibly, or you can do harm, he says. For example, if you give to a beggar, you enable them to continue in that lifestyle. Charity can produce dependency- in Africa, people from the village say “That pump you gave us broke down. Fix it.”

This produces nods and noises of assent round the room. Am I the only one disagreeing? What makes you think those Africans are dependent? They might have any number of ways of dealing with a broken pump, but demanding that the NGO do something is surely something worth trying. And- You are not my tribe, if you want to feel you are Good by doing Good for me, you should at least do me some good rather than giving me a pump that breaks down.

And- giving may enable the beggar, but not giving does not incentivise them to become independent. If they could see a better way open to them, they would take it. Spurning them reinforces their worthlessness. That is why Francis says you should give generously, look them in the eye and smile. Benefits sanctions are not the kick up the arse which someone needs to get on, but the kick in the teeth which will crush them.

I hate common sense because you can make these Rational Arguments, making you feel good about not giving- for, what is the purpose of Rational Argument if not to make you feel good?- and not fit the actual thing happening now. Rules never do. Love does.

Though I have only ever dealt with individual cases. If you deal in policy, you have to consider the bigger picture.

I don’t know why Quakers talk so much. Maybe we should not be talking before going into meeting. It does not aid centring down. Isn’t it lovely to see all these people? That man has the look of a man who is Looked After. His jaunty straw hat is someone’s way of protecting his pate from sunburn, I feel. It’s his way of looking down at the floor, or something about his face- it’s a feeling I get from lots of stuff, some of which might be unconscious, and it may be mistaken. I hope he is comfortable here. If he is embarrassed about being dependent, I hope he is not made to feel that.

One reason for talking is to increase understanding of each other, but this morning we produce more heat than light. It is not true that no Quaker can be a Tory, but there are not that many of them. I have been leafleting for Labour, I say.

“You’re not saying you want Jeremy Corbyn negotiating Brexit?” he asks, as if Jez and Donald Tusk would arm wrestle then Britain would be sunk. Trained negotiators we do not have and cannot afford do the negotiation.

“I want a Brexit for all the people, not a Brexit for Billionaires” I say sententiously. This adds nothing. It is a sound bite. It will not bring us together, it is a way of shutting down communication. Would a Tory Government trample on all rights of workers, consumers and the environment as I suggest? I can articulate arguments. He says if people do not vote for strike action, they should not strike. I say 40% of those eligible voting for strike action is an impossible target. A 50% turnout is unusual. We were unclear about the rules, so I have just looked them up. All we are doing, here, is stating the arguments of our own side, even in words which are other people’s.

I say I need ESA, and F. tells me of being dumped on her own resources in her teens. The iron entered her soul and she realised how capable she is. I hear this as a judgment. I do not trust myself, or the World. Bad things will happen, and I will be incapable. I am delighted that she bounced back, but that is not relevant to me. “Do you have any relatives?” she asks. I say my sister refused to let me see her children after I transitioned in 2002. We are not in contact. She tells me how her brother spurned her generosity, and how she is going to try to see him again. He accused her of rubbing his nose in the fact that she was better off than him when she gave him a gift. “I’m no taking that!”

I can empathise with him. It’s not a constructive position, but I see where he’s coming from. And that does no good at all. Then she tells me how she hates the Nationalism and Catholic/Protestant sectarianism in Glasgow. She wore a green coat and someone spat at her.