Being a Princess

Everyone needs a princess dress.

Feminists are picking on Elsa. No, children should not do Hallowe’en as Elsa. In her “moment of self-actualisation”, sniffed Emma Brockes in The Guardian, she busts out of her dowdy village clothes and into … an evening gown, with a slit up the side all the way to her thigh and a bridal-like train dragging behind her. In the New York Times, Annie Pfeifer, who teaches fairy tales in a department of international literary and cultural studies objects to the same moment, a sexy makeover — complete with a slinky ball gown and silver high heels.

Her clothes change in a different way. Before she had a long cloak trailing behind her, now something diaphanous floats. She throws away her thick gauntlet, designed to prevent her from expressing her powers. The thick dress up to the neck had some sort of embroidery on the front, feminine but in keeping with the restrictive style. She fights the tight braids to let her hair down. She is angry and determined, but exultant. The stultifying rules- “Conceal, don’t feel”- that the “perfect girl” had to obey no longer apply.

Annie Pfeifer complains the Grimms rewrote fairy tales to reinforce patriarchy, but as folk tales the stories were told by women, funny and bawdy with a feminist spark. Cinderella won the Prince with her cunning and skill, not her beauty. Gerda rescues her best friend from The Snow Queen, who has frozen her heart. But Frozen has the heart-freezing an accident, by a well-meaning character. The conflict arises from decent people suffering fear and unknowing, not inexplicable wickedness. I find that a wonderful lesson for small people, that good people do bad things because we do not understand, or by accident, and we can work together to be better.

Pfeifer’s ideal fairy tale empowered children to think for themselves and overcome obstacles on their own. Ah. Active characters overcome difficulties to achieve greatness. That lays children open to the disillusionment Larkin wrote of:

the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar.

Children are on the treadmill far too young. LĂ©ne works with children excluded from school, some as young as seven, for not obeying rules they don’t understand and perhaps can’t obey anyway. If you can’t sit still you should not have to immediately, some way should be found of letting you learn how. Oppositional Defiant Disorder may be a sane reaction to an insane situation. The grown ups are doing bad things because they do not understand, and they fear or resent the child.

So everyone needs a princess dress, boys as well as girls, men as well as women. You are valuable for who you are, not just for what you achieve. You are beautiful. Yes, play actively, and delight in what you, your mind, your body can do, but also take time to delight in your beauty, simply for being human.

Safety II

The vast and horrible thing which we try hard to forget: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love. –Teilhard de Chardin.

The heart of privilege is a sense of safety. All is right with the world, which was made with me in mind. My interests and desires are appropriate, and catered for. One would not imagine the worst coming to the worst, but even then family, or contacts, would make sure you were alright.

I feel that human society has reached a level of wealth and luxury such that there should be a safety net for everyone. Unfortunately the government disagrees, putting in place the minimal “Nightwatchman state” envisaged by Robert Nosick: In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick sets out his ideal notion of governance, involving only the most minimal levels of state involvement, protection of citizens’ most basic rights. However, in practice, such minimalist government poses serious problems. The state has retreated. If you fall, you must get yourself up. And if you can’t, tough.

Nosick perhaps had an eye to more extreme views of anarcho-capitalism. He does not want the life of humanity solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. He has some idea of a just return for talent properly used, but no idea of how to nourish talent in difficult circumstances. That requires civil society. We live in an abundant world, where there is enough for everyone’s need, though it might be better if the wealth of billionaires, which increased by $1tn in 2016, were distributed equally. The painter Lucien Freud used to gamble prodigiously, tens of thousands of pounds in a night, knowing that with his art he could make more money, feeling able to start painting again, unblocked, when he was cleaned out. If billionaires were really talented, they could start again. No-one need accumulate more than $1bn.

I tried to persuade a radical feminist of my harmlessness by stating some of my distress; this had no effect, because perhaps of her own and that of people she cared about. I explain it in this way because human stories, individual experiences, have a particular effect on me, and so of course everyone must be at least a little like that, really. She would make a class analysis: the class of women, all women, the Queen and Theresa May, are oppressed by the class of men, even the homeless or sick. The least successful man benefits from being a man. Her sympathy has more worthy targets than mere anomalous individuals. As has Nosick’s, when he theorises about the best and most just society for all humanity, which he thinks would be best for the most individuals if not for all.

How to live with the realisation that there is no safety, that the vast and horrible thing may sweep everything away? With braggadocio, perhaps, or denial, or quiet determination; or radical acceptance, seeing God in it. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

I am alright for the moment. I am just safe enough.

I went to Johnny’s Happy Place today, named after a suicide, a community organisation with some local authority funding with a pay-as-you-feel cafe and youth groups. I read a handout from some group- everyone has the right to be safe from violence. Imagine a place where you feel safe. If you do not have such a place, imagine what such a place would be like. So many people’s safety is less than mine. There I found two huge home-made soft toys with large cloth eyes and the words HUG ME stitched to each chest. So, before we left, I did.

Ach, it is unbearable. Appreciation is the answer, appreciating the beauty of the World even as it kills you. If you have the strength to do that in a clear-eyed, loving way, do please let me know.

Beauty of the shopping centre

The shopping centre is open. There is not enough parking mid week, and long delays getting out of the car parks. And it is by the Lake, where you can walk. Two rows of shops face each other, and I could not find a shot with any attractiveness at all, but where you walk to the Lake, by the coffee shop, under the House of Fraser restaurant, it pleases my eye. There is an effort made.

I like these curves. It’s not just a shelter from the rain. More appears as you walk round, moving towards the lake. I like the lines.

The board walk, benches and shelter- as if it rained a lot round here, the water company increase prices and say we are in drought- move us from joyless spending and acquisition to the beauty of the lake. There are paths, and some wildlife might not yet have been scared off.

The curves together are lovely. The colours are autumnal. I like this view, and worry that I have damaged my camera sensor. I must have had the sun or a very bright light in shot.

Trying to find a shot of the front of the shops, which are just standard dull shopping centre, I hovered behind someone emptying a bin. I explained what I was doing, and she enthused about the goose, the way its head is carved, its feet folded up beneath it. It is beautiful, and it is a pleasure in her job: she sees it daily, and has got to know it. “Come and find me, and show me what you took,” she said. But I only took the sculptures.

We are on the board walk. The wild ground is rigorously fenced off, behind fences and bars.

Trans community

There is no trans community, and I feel that is a shame. We could benefit from supporting each other, in person not just on line. Trans readers, I need your help: how to create trans groups in real life?

LĂ©ne wants to start supportive groups, and also work with local services to ensure they meet trans folk’s needs. She used to be a social worker, now works in a school, and has contacts with the local council, which pays at least lip service to equality, diversity and the special needs of particular communities. She is holding a launch for the service next month. She also wants to open support groups for trans folk. Her interest is that her daughter transitioned recently.

LĂ©ne was in a pub recently with a cis friend and a trans friend, having a drink and a chat, when a man came over to ask if the trans woman was a man or a woman. They told him to go away, but he insisted, and grasped the trans woman’s upper arm. She went last night to report this to the police as a hate crime. The woman who interviewed her did not seem sympathetic, asking her why she thought the incident was motivated by transphobia. Well, taking someone by the arm is asserting power over them, the right to challenge their presentation, and saying they are not welcome. LĂ©ne’s parents were “Cape Coloured” from South Africa, and she says “Trans is the new Black”- no-one in a pub would say something like that to her, though they might have, in the 1980s. She is fifty. The racist would be challenged by someone else in the bar, and in the end the bar staff ejected the transphobe, who said he was only asking a question, and would not let it go.

LĂ©ne, short for MarlĂ©ne, has been badgering the council for two years to consider trans people, and eventually wrote to my MP. He put her in touch with the appropriate council person, who said it was on the council’s website- so well buried that LĂ©ne could not find it. She has talked to the police, social services and housing, but had less success with trans people. She wanted to have three meetings in different towns this week, half-term, and had to cancel two for lack of interest. Two people had said they were interested but then messaged her to say they could not come. At another meeting, only I turned up. I looked at her draft website. It started, “statistics show”. That would appeal to a government worker, interested in measurable outcomes, but not necessarily to trans folk. Human stories interest me. I thought I could help bridge the gap: LĂ©ne could talk to service providers, I could approach service users. We have common goals, the desire for things to go smoothly with satisfaction on all sides.

So we had a lovely chat. We really hit it off. I feel I have made a friend. And there is no “trans community”. Some people get together for political activism. We don’t have the motive of the gay and lesbian communities, and several things to put us off: when two or more trans folk are gathered together, we are more likely to be clocked by cis people. Other trans folk remind us of the difficulties of transition, which we want to put behind us. And we don’t always like each other: we have this important thing in common, but otherwise are diverse as any other human group. The bits we cannot accept in ourselves we despise in each other.

When I transitioned I decided I would make my community in normal society. I left the Northern Concord and the Sibyls behind, but more recently when I have spent time with trans folk I have relaxed. I am with my kind. It’s a good feeling. Sharing experiences might strengthen us and give us tips.

Trans people- where have you found trans community? And would you like to spend time with other trans folk?

Integrity

“Why would you be invited to the Queen’s funeral?”

Given that the Treason Act 1351 as currently in force makes “compassing the death of the Sovereign” and that the Late Middle English meaning of “compass” was to consider or ponder, I see a legal argument that we committed treason; but we were talking about events after the death not the death itself, and anyway a prosecution would not be in the public interest. I regret the question, because I wronged her and incurred a disadvantage to myself: it implies a doubt of her estimation that she would be, and a demand to assess her reasons, which is discourteous; and it thereby made me appear boorish, and created a distance between us which was not necessary. But the real reason I am beating myself up is that I see it is a silly thing to say, and that frightens me.

I make mistakes.
I cannot trust myself.
So I am not safe.

How could I say such a thing? Saying it does not really matter, I do not suffer particularly by it, I may never see her again, she will have forgotten it does not reduce my inwardly directed anger or my fear. Of course I must reduce that anger and fear as they are unreasonable. So I find myself again at war in myself, the feeling and the fear of the feeling.

Better to reassure myself. I am safe enough. It was a mistake, but usually I get things sufficiently right. And all sorts of things will frighten me, or anger me, and the fear and anger are tolerable if I permit them and do not fight or repress them. Even if I were perfect I might not be perfectly safe.

This is how I am. Meeting someone else:

-How are you?
-A bit anxious at meeting a person new to me.

And she was lovely, and we hit it off. I had been anxious, not just “A bit”- don’t minimise the feeling, it is real and it matters.

And the day before, I felt integrated. I am myself. I am here. I had coffee with S who confirmed that was her impression of me too, which reassured and comforted me. It’s not just a reaction to that loss, going into denial. I am not in conflict with myself.

If I desire perfection I will always be disappointed. It could make me always strive for greater achievement, but instead it has made me give up as nothing is good enough. To motivate myself I need to know there are possibilities, and that I can make things better by my own actions.

S told me of factory work. She got it because she speaks Polish. You need no references, the agency send you, you turn up. You sell your physical strength. The place is horrible, and the health and safety appalling. You could work on the end of the line, making up boxes, putting things into the boxes, putting the boxes on pallets, or on the middle of the line doing something to the passing objects. She could not do the precise thing with her thumb to affix stickers which some women did, and did not have the strength for particular operations. You learn what you are best at and tend to get put on that. The Polish workers did not know she spoke Polish and understood what they were saying about her. You’re just anyone, they don’t know you, but you could have a bit of a laugh, learn who has a car and could give you a lift there for say ÂŁ1 a time, and at the end of the week you have ÂŁ300. She did it for extra money for a few weeks. I don’t fancy it for seventeen years.

In conversation, I was horrible about various people, observed this, and wondered. Would I be better to rein that in, in order to be charming? If ones self control ceased to be terror-driven and automatic, one might make it more conscious and intentional. I feel I am learning lessons I should have learned in teenage.

That question on the funeral. It was a microaggression, the kind of thing one would say to shave someone down a bit, knock the tall poppy. Don’t get above yourself, it says. Something in me wanted to say that to her, who I hope is secure in her achievements by now. Odd. It’s not what I would say I would want. I want to make connections with people, I would say, to encourage each other. I am also irritated with myself because I blocked that connection.

overcome

What did Jesus mean, “I have overcome the World”? As a postmodernist, I would say whatever the reader needed the phrase to mean, in that moment- and if you had a blinding flash of Insight into it, perhaps he meant that. Certainly he means we can overcome: there is little point in the God-man, once, overcoming if his followers do not overcome too. He does not mean that he has what outsiders imagine is the Zen-like calm, as Jesus wept and became angry. I started my spiritual journey wanting not to experience difficult emotions, but they are unavoidable.

And for me, it means this. I had the sense of being lovable and acceptable, loved and accepted by God and by myself, and that is enough. I do not need the acceptance of others, which they can withhold to manipulate me, or to avoid their condemnation as it will not hurt me. If I accept myself, that is all the acceptance I need. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ- for the Spirit of Life in Christ has set us free.

The whole verse is this: I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! Just before he was crucified. It is not conquering in a worldly sense, but leaving worldly sense behind.

I seek integration. There are all these voices in me, or feelings, or even characters, different ideals of being and understandings, and I want them all to work for the same goal, to pull in the same direction. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. I say,

I am here

and I am, one being, present and aware. It feels like it is what I called the inner child. Then there are my counsellors: the rational self, knowing the sensible thing to do. Even the inner critic. “You will embarrass yourself”- embarrassment is extremely painful. There has to be one making the decisions, and it has to be the one with the power to decide.

 

Quaker Life

On the train, I sat down as usual without particularly considering the other people in the nearby seats. It was crowded. Then I noticed the woman opposite me is trans. She has her own hair, but the makeup, nail varnish, clothes and way of being is instantly recognisable, to me, as trans. Hair on the backs of her hands is the final confirmation. I wish we could acknowledge each other, as you might seeing an English person in Kentucky, say- but the Rules say no.

Deborah joined me, and asked how H was. I have no idea. I have not spoken to her for years. Our friendship was broken, really. I heard from Helen that she was unwell, and even more isolated. It’s an overused word, but that is tragic. I sat near someone famous, and asked an impertinent question: “Why would you be invited to the Queen’s funeral?” She had been discussing buying a hat for it, just in case; she would not get much notice. She answered stating her position rather than her achievements, and I realised my question had been impertinent. In the week since, I have thought of how I might have smoothed over my faux pas, just as more normally one thinks of witty ripostes. A few days later I saw a meme of her face on Facebook.

I had seen another name on the attendance list, and wanted to meet her. No, it’s not the famous one, she spells her surname differently. I am disappointed, but we chatted away like normal people. Another woman met me in Loughborough in 2003, when I was again making myself noticeable: that week I saw the second opinion psychiatrist about the operation. She remembered me, I did not remember her. It is a pain not remembering faces or names.

I was thinking, I must justify my presence here. I must make a sufficient contribution, though my own learning and recreation is a worthwhile benefit of my attendance too. I think I have, enough. I said that to Alan and he recognised the feeling, either having it himself or having heard others state it, or even being empathetic enough to understand immediately. I was discomposed and feeling dislocated, uncomfortable, at war inside myself, inauthentic, something. We gathered in a small group, and I thought I need to be here.

I am here.

And I was, just like that, until we left.

The way into presence in Woodbrooke is to go into the garden. I went outside, and stood with a tree, watching its leaves shiver in a light breeze. I was I, and it was it. There is so much beauty there. I turn a few degrees, and then look at what is in front of me. And Iain wound me up talking of trans issues. I may have worked that out. Anyway, I went to stand under the copper beech- the trunk is a yard in diameter with a notice saying “Copper beech”, I would not have recognised it- isolated from the rest of the garden by hanging branches and watching the leaves fall, a few every minute. So I regained my equanimity just before the sessions started again. I consulted within myself to see if I should walk out or even request help calming down, and found I could manage. He came over after to ask if he had been right to let me go or should have followed, and I was wound up again. I am still quite labile. Yes, I said, he chose correctly.

I spoke to a gay man who does ballroom dancing, and has high heels so he can see what it feels like to be led. Then he went to a workshop on women leading, and spoke to an apparent woman, no sign of transition, in sweater and jeans. He asked if she would experience leading and she/they said “I don’t identify as a woman”. That is the way ahead. We are all human.

Joy and terror

If you are insane, you might as well roll with it. There is beauty in my insanity. I will love it, not fear it.

Something good happened to me on Wednesday. I have been thinking of my friends- if I become homeless, which of them might let me use a spare room? It would be unsatisfactory, and possibly only one might, possibly not him; no, I could not ask her, and certainly not her…

if I become homeless-

and there has been a reprieve. I am less likely to be made homeless, at least for the moment, I will continue to be able to pay rent, I may even find a job I could do and support myself. The benefits system is not uniformly hostile, sticks not carrots, withdraw money on a whim, but might be a little, inefficiently, more concerned with appearance than reality but a little- supportive. And the support might be enough to get me supporting myself again.

I sobbed without weeping. I read that this is contemptible and hypocritical, they pretend to cry, these horrible people, but really, they produce no tears so they are OBVIOUSLY TRYING IT ON. Well, that was a politician who had been caught out, clearly a bad person who the journalist reasonably despised, but still. Sobbing without weeping is Bad. Except I was doing it when alone, so no-one to fool but myself. The pressure and terror had been too ghastly to face head on, and now it was slightly less, a reprieve but not a release.

It is not quite as bad as I had thought.

I feel depressed, and I feel I lack energy. After doing a washing in the morning, often I want to do no more than just watch TV in the afternoon. Might the GP help? Well, having let me down badly twice from a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and in one exhibiting a lack of care which I felt indicated dislike, and possible contempt for me as a trans woman (nothing could ever be proved), my GP practice is the last place I would like to discuss depression and lack of energy. I feel all they could do is prescribe an antidepressant. I feel my depression arises from my difficult circumstances, and when I have been depressed before because of circumstances antidepressants have done no good. I feel my GP would be at best useless.

I sat in the Quaker meeting and felt my yielding softness. How hard it is to see it as a blessing, where Manliness and strength and decisiveness and leadership are praised, especially in men. It has felt that there is no room for my softness. I will give it space. This is what I need. I will give it to myself.

Three people ministered, well, I think, and at the end I had a sense of complete Joy and complete Terror, both at the same time. I have a strong will, high intelligence, and a heart full of Love, and the World I face is not as unremittingly hostile as it sometimes seems- it is beautiful, as well as implacable. Such strong, different emotions were hard to hold in, and I shook and gasped. And I had a strong sense of my loveableness and acceptableness- by God, by me- even possibly by the world. If I can accept myself, I can accept others.

I applied for a job, as usual screwing myself up to the sticking place to do it just before the closing date, and after feeling so het up I could not go to bed. It would be difficult. It might be possible, it might be the most wonderful thing in the World.

There is only one gender: Human

We are imprisoned by gender. Its expectations restrict us, trans folk more than most. We are people. There is no feeling only women, or only men, feel; no virtue for one which is not a virtue for the other; no gift which fits one more than the other. So there is only one gender, naturally: Human.

We can pick from a palette of gender expressions, those with which we feel most comfortable, hence name-gender: my gender is Clare. Yet that is restrictive. It means I have an idea that some gender expression is naturally me, some is not, or at least some is less fitting or comfortable. My gender is human. There is no gendered expression which does not fit me.

Women cry so we will not swear, men swear so they will not cry. Yet women swear, and men cry. These are a matter of expectations, fashions, taboos. The taboos restrict some people more than others, and we transition, or campaign against those expectations, or just find spaces where other non-conformists can make us more comfortable. Everyone will learn gender in their family and with their age group, and have some gendered expression which feels more comfortable.

Or perhaps if we cannot explore a particular gender expression we yearn for it, like a painter who does not know all the properties of a colour so wants to use it again and again to master it, to learn it from the inside, before moving on from it. Being refused a gender expression makes you need it more.

There is sexuality, as well, and all sexualities are possible for all people. Mostly we follow fashion, and don’t know any better. With a compatible person you will work something out.

All virtue is virtue for me. I am capable of all feelings, and all reactions. I am human. I contain multitudes. I accept no restriction on my gender expression. It is the only way I may be free; and the only things which restrict me are in my own mind.

Oh, I said the opposite yesterday. I am trans, I said, it is a way of being, more than simply an identity. I do not know enough to be consistent. Self-contradiction is my way of groping towards truth.

Being trans

I will speak to an audience next month, primarily of gender and sexuality diverse people, and thought of saying, “If you’re considering transition, don’t”. But- if I could say that to myself in 2001, when I had decided to transition, could I persuade myself? Perhaps not even if I could convince my earlier self who my current self was.

It is insulting to say “Think twice”. We think not seven times, but seventy times seven. We analyse every contra-indication. Autogynephilia terrified me, I thought if I were being sucked in to a perverted fantasy I would be terribly damaged before I was spat out. I needed my trans nature to be more soundly based. 2017 could not attempt to fool 2001 about that, and integrity might compel me to reassure myself. No, it is not merely a perversion. We note all the hostility, and I am still more interested in TERFs than their numbers and importance justify.

In the mood I am in now, I might just reassure myself. Transition is a way to live more comfortably and authentically in the World. It is not easy, and I lost some friends when I transitioned, yet I knew it was what I had to do, and it has been my path to self-acceptance.

I would warn myself about two things. Taking synthetic hormones, and doctors altering my hormone doses, has made my emotional lability a severe problem for me. Yet I have kind of known I was sensitive, and my emotional control was doing me no good. And, I regret the loss of my genitals. Yet that might not weigh much with 2001: I was so intensely ashamed of what aroused me that it might seem impossible that I could ever work out how to make arousal remotely pleasureable. It was compulsion and agony.

I don’t know if I could have transitioned without hormones and surgery.

If I decided to force myself down a different path with this imaginary time machine, I might be better to approach myself in 1996. I had had aversion therapy. I had got a pretty bridesmaid’s dress in a charity shop, worn it a few times, then let it hang in my spare room for months. I noticed it when I went into my spare room. I was quite pleased with myself for not wearing it, and after a few months I threw it away, just before I first bought a wig and visited the Northern Concord transvestite club.

I would have to take care with 1996. I could try to avoid transition by reinforcing that icy self-hatred and control, which broke me in the end- I might break myself sooner. It is the therapist’s curse, she knows the obvious truth, but if the client can’t say it himself he won’t be able to hear it either. I would have to offer something better, some self-acceptance, and 1996 might not understand. I am a different person now. He has to make his own mistakes. My guidance might take him down worse paths.

I am this person, myself and no other, and this person is beautiful. And it is difficult to be my whole self in my culture, which homogenises people, praises different gifts than mine, and in which I have failed to thrive. Recognising my beauty and fittingness is a step forward for me, and I am so badly hurt!