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.

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