“Not all men” is misogynist. “Not all trans women” isn’t.

Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by men: in every place of work, on the streets, in shops, in pubs and in places of entertainment, a drink in their hand, their inhibitions loosening and their boisterousness getting louder. Out in the countryside you have to be somewhere remote before you are unlikely to see a man, and particularly remote before you have no chance. So, “Not all men” is derailing. It is irrelevant, and a way of picking away at a woman’s complaint, a false way of painting her as unreasonable or shrill. There may be a man, somewhere, who has never pushed a woman’s boundaries after a clear no, never used power wrongfully against a woman at work, never dehumanised or objectified a woman, but men do, it is women’s universal experience, and any man may be that boorish or worse.

“What about the men” is a similarly misogynist derailing tactic. Yes, men suffer from patriarchy, and from the hierarchies neoliberal capitalism creates; but women’s suffering needs to be acknowledged. There is time for discussing men’s problems, and women’s problems deserve time too.

These slogans, “Not all men” and “What about the men?” are useful to name and identify these derailing tactics. We will not let people move us on to other topics, the sufferings of men or even the (un)acceptability of derailing.

Trans women are not like men. We are less expansive, generally, because we try not to be noticed; we are not as loud; and particularly we are not ubiquitous. You may go for weeks without seeing one, and months without talking to one. So the problems cis women have with trans women are different. You may be reading trans stuff on the internet, and disagree with some of it. You may even overhear a trans woman saying something you don’t like. But you and your IRL friends will not have a great deal of direct, personal, unpleasant experience of trans people.

Patriarchy gives men privilege, but not trans women. We go from approximating to the default acceptable person to being visibly weird. So we are laughed at, attacked, and discriminated against. We don’t have the power at work.

So if someone complains about a trans woman who has directly affected them in a bad way, that should not be derailed. That is, to an extent, my problem- knowing nothing about trans women, some people might generalise from their first experience of one of us, so I have an interest in that experience being good. I want that complainant to process the experience and get a good experience from the next trans person. But if someone complains about a trans woman behaving in a way she objects to, but has only read about, that is entirely different. Not all trans women are like that, and what is the problem with it anyway? Many people behave badly, but that does not mean you should choose some characteristic of that person and hate everyone with that characteristic, for ever after.

The seeds of conflict

Bring into God’s light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowledging your need for forgiveness and grace. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?

-Advices and Queries 32

The elder reads this, and I am thinking of various conflicts. Trans v TERF is one. I am so pleased by the Labour Party conference yesterday. Is a reconciliation possible? Always at the back of my mind is the possibility of standing to speak. Of course I cannot, on this: speaking in worship should be ministry, and not making an argument where ones antagonist may be inhibited from replying.

And there is that. Oh, I am sorry; and yet I do not think the situation is simply good people trying to cope with Bad Abigail and her troublesomeness.

Still thinking of the possibility of speaking, I pick up the New Testament under my neighbour’s chair and turn to 1 John 4. It is beautiful, talking of Love- but it thoughtlessly refers to “Father”, “brother”, “man”, “he” when it means God, Christian, person. I am unsure what inclusive language to translate it into, and I could say that conflict inhibits me even from this. I love the way Phillips expands the verse- fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. The NRSV has perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

But there is a struggle even in myself. Have I an inner light? Is it as corrupted as Licia Kuenning’s was? I am divided, two parts of my brain at war with one another. How can I be at peace with others when there is no peace in me?

At that moment a black woman, (I am no longer “colourblind”, POCs are rare among Quakers) who has been thumbing through a song book stands and sings.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me…
break me, melt me, mould me, fill me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me

Break me, words sometimes bowdlerised out. But, I need the Spirit. This was what I needed to hear. I start to pray the Jesus prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
lamb of God
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Repeatedly. That is what I need. Richard Rohr recommended it, and explained it is non-dual in a way I read too quickly to understand or recall. I have just gone back to it: say the words repeatedly until the prayer moves from your head into your heart and you connect with the Presence already praying ceaselessly within. I am praying it out of need. I repeat it a few times out loud, cycling home. I misremembered it.

After meeting, a white man who turns out to be the black woman’s partner is reading the Friend, and I go over to see if he would like to chat. He tells me about Shungite, pronounced Shungai, which is Russian, coming from a meteorite three billion years ago. It is almost pure carbon. It purifies water, and a Friend who keeps bees says a small amount of it in the hive protects the swarm from the poisons which are killing off the bees. When he says Nobel prizewinners have tested it and found its amazing properties I am trying to get away.

Strange, disturbing and yet I feel it has been worthwhile. I cycle home. I say it now:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

The Labour Party

Personal remarks in the loos: “Your thighs are so slim! I wish I could wear boots like that!” She put forward a slightly chubby leg, and said she had to wear extra-wide boots to get round her calves. Mmm. I thought, too late, of ripostes: “I love your bewbies! Mine took ages to grow this big. Do you think I should have implants?” Or, more self-deprecatingly, “Well, I have a man’s skeleton. It does not please me, particularly.” Then again, she might simply have been complimenting me. She did not actually say “I love your tranny legs”.

I was a little nervous at the start of the Labour Party regional women’s conference. I am entitled to be there as my GRC says I am legally a woman, and some cis women object to me in women’s space. Just before getting up, I had read on facebook of anti-trans activists, campaigning to have trans women excluded from all women shortlists with a crowdfunder raising £20,000, being suspended from the Labour Party.

I drove there with D, whom I am getting to know reasonably well, and like, and M, who recently joined having left the Tory Party and was eager to tell of the work she had done for Marsby as a district councillor. She wanted to do good for the town, and the Labour party were far more in tune with that, but she might be nervous having been Tory until last year. D and I were friendly and accepting.

Then Beth, the recently appointed candidate, told me that she had heard from someone “on the other side of your issue”. She did not want to name it. We had been corresponding through facebook, with most of the words from me, explaining trans to her, and mostly positive comments from her, embarrassed about asking basic questions like what does the C in GRC stand for. I am in this hall filled with activist women, worried that some might be TERF.

Then I sat near a woman who had a shirt saying “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons“. I felt more nervous. It is a common phrase, and need not be related to the “A Woman’s Place” campaign against gender recognition, but that is what I thought of.

Yet the place we are in is a good place. The conference rooms are at the back of a building owned by a church, with a coffee shop and food bank. On the wall, there is this:

I love it, and others comment on it. I can’t find an exact source, but it is close to Isaiah 58.

At the back of the stage there is a beautiful quilt.

I go to have a closer look, then see what it is and recoil in shock: it has 598 panels, one for each woman murdered by a partner or former partner in the UK between 2009 and 2015. Oh! It is still very beautiful; and it brings to mind a horror. Later, the woman who conceived it, a Labour councillor, speaks of it. It is the Women’s Quilt. A man taught himself to sew so he could make panels for it, and called it “the most beautiful project that should not exist”. A woman said she had never felt sisterhood until she got involved. We need a memorial for these women. I am glad to see it.

I am happier speaking to Neelam from Unite the Union’s LGBT section. This is more than small talk. I remain nervous; however when the actual talks start I am reassured. Karen Lee, MP, a former nurse, talks of women’s representation. She is proud that she is building on the work done by Harriet Harman to make the House of Commons a more woman-friendly place. A bar has been converted into a crèche. She is proud that 46 target seats have all-women shortlists, and that includes trans women. Neelam, in the hustings for women’s representatives on the regional committee, one of whom must be from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, talked of women “including trans women who are facing an incredibly difficult time”. So I voted for her, obvs.

Lilian Greenwood MP gave the closing remarks. She was delighted by “Cheryl, Nadia and Heather”, three wonderful women for a local all-women shortlist. That is Dr Heather Peto, a trans woman. Lilian says “Trans women are women” and she is delighted that the NEC has just affirmed that is Labour policy. “Abuse does not belong in our party.” That brought forth cheers and applause, and I felt accepted in that moment; and also felt the weight of my nervousness and experiences of rejection. When I realise I am not only rejected I become aware how painful the rejection, and the fear of it, is.

Women need promoted within the Labour Party. There is still rampant sexism. Someone quotes “What you said is inappropriate and I will not tolerate it” because women are socialised to not make a fuss and take care of others’ feelings and you might need a set phrase prepared in order to mount a challenge. A black woman spoke of the abuse she had suffered when canvassing for support as a local council candidate: “Get that filthy N——- off my doorstep”. That is my problem. As a white person I must stand with those suffering pervasive racism. 86% of welfare cuts have fallen on women, and the charity Refuge has suffered 80% cuts. 155 women a day are turned away from refuges.

In a session on Increasing Women’s Representation a speaker, with The Times placed on the table in front of her, says that she had campaigned in the 1970s not for equality but women’s liberation, from patriarchy and capitalism. Rich white men made the world to suit themselves. A feminised politics would have a wider perspective and be more inclusive. She asked contributions from the floor on why increasing women’s representation is a good thing- mine was that there is talent not being used, but an older woman said we must be careful not to discriminate against the men, as if that was even close to becoming a problem. The chair of a local branch had resigned from the party, and joined the Tories, because they were required to nominate a man and a woman, rather than two men, for a shortlist for Parliamentary candidate selection. There is a working class narrative about men, with women as an afterthought.

Here are feminists, conscious of the oppression of women, and angry about it. In the heat of the battle they face, I am justified being nervous about what they may think of trans women. The fight can get nasty. And, I am accepted. At the end, I am part of a photo of smiling happy activists in front of that quilt. (Someone texted it to me, and I can’t download it from my phone.)

That crowdfunder, seeking to challenge trans women on Labour women only shortlists: they shot themselves in the foot. They are suspended from the party, and what did they expect? Their transphobia was tolerated, but not their action against the party. Perhaps as a result, there was this interview of the leader:

Andrew Marr: Is a trans woman a woman?
Jeremy Corbyn: Yes
Marr: So she can self-identify?
Corbyn: Yes.

Women might complain in private, but not in my hearing. I am welcome in Labour.

Trans-misogyny

Dislike of trans women; discomfort around trans women, believed to be a problem with the trans woman rather than something the misogynist should just deal with. On a facebook Quaker group, someone posted how shocking it was that a Quaker meeting house hosted a talk by “A Woman’s Place”, which campaigns against gender recognition. Other people said the opinions of AWP were perfectly reasonable.

Someone objects to me in the women’s loos, not because of anything objectionable I have done, just because of what I am. Why is that my problem? It is far worse when they object to the mere idea of me. They have never actually seen a trans woman in a woman’s loo, but fear they might, or even it’s that if one is there it’s horrible. If a trans woman uses a loo in an otherwise empty building, are all trans-excluders still outraged?

Most of what she shares is private, but I could not see any evidence that one was a Quaker. She complained that “refusing to accept questionable definitions” does not mean she harbours fear or hate. She knows what the truth is, I am a man, and claims I am forcing everyone to agree with my falsehood, that I am a woman. I don’t care what she thinks about my womanhood. Life is too short. I care if she is rude to me, or attempts to get me excluded from where I want to go. It is as if she thinks there has to be a nationally agreed understanding of what a trans woman is, even though the whole nation agrees on nothing else. Some may think I am a man, some may think I should not be there, and that is fine.

That is why we should not debate with trans-misogynists. We are doing what they most fear and abominate, telling them that their beliefs are wrong. If a trans woman, trying to pluck up courage to transition, needs to believe she is really a woman, I want her to be able to hold to that belief so that she can.

Another woman, who does appear to be Quaker, expressed disquiet about how women might need to get away from men, at times, even certain “men who identify as female”. What can we say? If a loo in a theatre has a queue of, say, thirty women, it is unlikely any of them is trans. I don’t know how many of them will be out with a group of women and able to tolerate the proximity of men in the other seats, but not in the loos; or just have been sexually assaulted, and in need of escape. I hope the trans woman and the man-fearing woman will not come into contact. I don’t know how likely it is.

There they are on social media, expressing their disquiet. The issue of trans comes up, and like a Pavlovian response the disquiet comes out, expressed as concern for Truth or for the Vulnerable. How should we react to this?

Fight or flight

Of course, fight or flight are not the only responses people have to immediate threat. I find myself freezing. Yet the common phrase for primitive responses to physical danger is “fight or flight”, and this moulds our understanding of those responses. If that is the phrase I know, my different way of responding merely confuses me. I don’t have the words to describe it, so I don’t understand it.

Fight or flight might seem more useful responses. What possible good could come of freezing? Possibly a predator would not notice you; possibly fleeing you would be caught, fighting you would inspire retaliation, so freezing is least bad; yet the others still seem more active to me, and therefore more admirable.

Carl Shubs, PhD, wrote in June 2014 that Popular culture has long recognized three typical patterns of response to experienced or perceived threat: fight, flight, and freeze. Whatever the stories in popular entertainment, the basic phrase was “fight or flight”, as far as I was aware. I had to work out that I was freezing for myself, though I had heard phrases like a rabbit caught in headlights. I knew “fight or flight” are the primitive responses; I came out with a wrong response, and get more confused and ashamed.

If you google “Fight or flight”, you find articles like this pdf from the University of Nottingham. It is aimed at students using the university counselling service, and explains in simple language why you might feel sick in such a situation, and what long term anxiety can do; but it is titled “What is the fight or flight response?” That is, even though psychologists knew people froze, they still wrote about fight or flight, and if you knew no better and searched for that phrase you would not necessarily learn better. That article says The Fight or Flight response evolved to enable us to react with appropriate actions: to run away, to fight, or sometimes freeze to be a less visible target, but otherwise does not mention freezing. Autocompletes in my search box suggest hormone, stress, freeze, hormone, gland, definition.

If you search “fight, flight, freeze” the next suggestion is “fawn”. I posted in facebook, “Fight or flight” is a false understanding. Many people do neither. Instead, we freeze, imagining I was telling people something they didn’t know, or at least putting into words something people had an inkling of but could not express, Luke wrote, Fight, flight, freeze and fawn are the four characteristic responses we recognise in psychosexual somatics therapy. “Fawn”. I had not thought of that at all, but seeing it makes complete sense. Sometimes people use “appease”, going for rhyme rather than alliteration. Most of the threats that frighten us come from other people, though I might try to calm an angry dog.

This post, also from 2014, reassured me. Most of us are already familiar with the concept of the ‘fight or flight’ response to perceived danger… However, there are two other responses to threat which are less well known – the ‘freeze’ response and the ‘fawn’ response. I was behind the curve, but not quite so bad. Some traumatised people have these responses on a hair trigger, and go into them in inappropriate situations.

The fawn type will often go out of their way to help others, perhaps by performing some kind of community service, but without building up emotionally close, or intimate, relationships, due to a fear… of making him/herself vulnerable to painful rejection which would reawaken intense feelings of distress experienced as a result of the original, highly traumatic childhood rejection.

What I see as my good, innate, qualities might be a response to trauma. But- someone’s got to be like that, or society would fall apart.

On popular culture, TV Tropes told me “Fight or Flight” was an episode title in Star Trek: Enterprise, Supergirl, and Burn Notice, and a chapter title in It lives in the woods. Searching for “freeze” was inconclusive, but I learned “damsels”, that is, girlies who exist mainly to be tortured by baddies and rescued by heroes, are particularly bad at fight or flight. Wikipedia has an article “Fight or flight response” which mentions freezing, but only under the heading “Other animals”. Its article on “Freezing behavior” refers to prey animals and animal studies, rather than human responses. “Fight, flight, freeze or fawn” redirects to “Fight or flight”, with no further mention of “fawn”.

Someone else on facebook gave a fifth alternative, “flop”: Freeze is more of an adrenalinised response – the body is tense and ready for action, whereas in flop the whole body is floppy – literally like playing dead and the brain is also shut down. The more words we have to understand threat responses, the more choice we have.

(c) Larne Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Being trans, in society

Trans folk share something, but we don’t know what that is, because it is distorted by the demands of wider society. How we imagine ourselves is shaped by the stories we tell and that society tells, about what is normal, masculine, feminine, acceptable, shameful. We can’t know how we would be without those ideas, and that shame. In trying to understand, I asked, is it like something else? Is it like an addiction, where if you indulge you become less able to resist? I see others’ paths, and wonder, is that path right for me?

Curtailed by the anger of others, the abuse in the street, the rejection by friends and family, or our own shame inhibiting us out of fear of those things, we don’t know how we would be if merely accepted for whatever harmless thing we did. What we do is harmless, but people feel threatened by what it symbolises.

The abuse is far more significant for me than the acceptance. Abuse re-traumatises me quickly, it takes a great deal of acceptance to heal.

I don’t know what we share, precisely, because there are differences too. Some of us are AFAB, some AMAB, and that means entirely different pressures and entirely different desires, despite the similarity of changing gender. I begin to see the attractions of masculinity when I see people who actively choose it, but it is a difficult exercise in empathy.

Of those who are AMAB, some of us are gynephile, some are androphile. The suggestion that the androphiles are true trans and the gynephiles are autogynephiliac perverts is merely silly, because that is a mere play on words: it is a claim about what “trans” means  not an observation about people; it is an attempt to achieve acceptance from wider society by distancing a particular group from some characteristic they would call unacceptable, which can never work. No straight person divided trans people into the disgusting and the normal.

Yet the law decides who will be protected, and the community decides who is acceptable. Someone who intends to change from masculine gender presentation to feminine or vice versa, life long, is protected. Someone who expresses gender differently is not. Now I hear voices saying trans folk should not need to be sterilised to achieve recognition, but when I transitioned trans folk distrusted those who did not want an operation and doubted they were “true trans”, and now I still read of people’s delight at getting an operation or frustration at delays.

There is a strong idea in law and society that there are two genders, masculine and feminine, closely mapped onto men and women. If a man does not fit “masculine” ideals that is shameful. Belief in transition, the concept of the trans woman, closely fits that. Not male is inferior, but being really female is a partial solution. I don’t believe that. There is no gendered behaviour in either sex which the other does not exhibit. Ideas of gender oppress both men and women. Transition is a partial solution for trans people in the world as it is now. Self-conceptualising as non-binary, so permitting onesself to exhibit all gender behaviours, is a better solution.

How would I be without society? I don’t know. Possibly, I can have an idea about how I would be without society’s understanding of a trans person is, from how I was before I read anything much about transvestites and transsexuals. I fantasised about being changed into a woman, physically, in my teens. But I knew then it was OK for women, not OK for men, to show particular gendered traits. If I were a woman, then it would be OK to be me.

Trans would not exist without that falsehood, that there are two genders. There are as many genders as there are human beings; or there is only one.

Given society as it is, with transition recognised in law and having a measure of acceptance, and fitting with the general understanding of what a trans person is, I would like increasing acceptance of alternative ways- we continue to assert trans women are women, and recognise various ways of being non-binary. Law would prohibit employers or service providers from treating people differently on the grounds of gender presentation or behaviour.

Fear and dependence

To the jobcentre.

-How are you?
-Sort of alright, more or less, I say. This is not good enough. Sally is so clucking motherly.
-Better than last time?
Well. I can’t pay my gas bill, I have this that and the other problem, so I say no. Though all must be on an improving trajectory, I shall be fit and well and working soon, and so she cannot really accept that answer, I am not budging from it.

-Do you know why you’re here today?
Because I am to be referred to a welfare-to-work programme. I say I am in the Work Related Activity Group and the person I saw last time referred me to another scheme for more intensive help to get work. So I am here for that.

“I referred you-”

I hated being there anyway. I had no pleasant anticipation of the “help” I might receive: unpaid work experience in a supermarket, perhaps, with sanctions if I refused. And I thought this interview was the start of it, so much so that I did not recognise Sally when I saw her. I was mortified. Not because she reacts badly, but because I am kicking myself. Not because I want to be polite to this person but because I fear not to. My inner policeman is out, cudgelling me for making such a mistake which could hurt me so badly even if Sally does not show that.

It is an imbalance of power between us; yet it is all in me, my worry, fear, embarrassment, judgment of self that is cudgelling me. Could I just not care? My own reaction is the only thing I might control, but having made the mistake I make myself less able to respond to what comes next, because I am dwelling on it.

I thought this was the start of the HELP programme, but it is not. Actually, I have to turn up for the referral to be completed, Sally does not know why. I suggest it is to avoid people being referred and not turning up after being on the programme, after their appointments being paid for, because this is contracted out. Had I not attended today, I would have been sanctioned. If I do not attend when summoned again, I will be sanctioned. That is a cut in benefit, perhaps 40%. She phones up the service provider, because she likes to speak to someone, but they tell her just to complete the referral screen on her computer, so she does that.

At the supermarket, a woman commiserates with me, having to cycle home four miles. It’s not that far, I say- “But so much time when you have so much to do!” she says. Well, it is a way of getting slightly breathless. Better to cycle home than to have to drive to a gym later.

Trans women: symbol and problem

Why do people care so much about trans folk? There are so few of us, we should be an anomaly, barely worthy of mention. We are harmless, so we should not be actively persecuted. People care, because we symbolise for them far more important concerns.

Ideally we symbolise the move towards a progressive, tolerant society. People enthusiastically say “Trans women are women!” because that shows they are liberal, against oppression, in favour of diversity and equality and people being welcomed for our gifts not judged for our idiosyncrasies. That can sometimes start a culture war. Mr Trump does not want trans people in the military, against military advice, because he wants to cast the “Liberal elite” as the enemies of his conservative base. To the just about managing, he says, They do not care about you! They care about those weirdos more than decent people like you! I care about you! The military wastes so much money that a few gender reassignment surgeries would be a drop in the ocean, and the issue should not really matter as a question of social policy, but instead it is a symbol: virtue-signalling of the Right as well as the Left. The Right claim virtue in policing what people do with our genitals. It is also a symbol that winds up liberals.

The A Woman’s Place and We Need to Talk tours use us as a symbol of the Patriarchy and the oppression of women. I have very little power to oppress anyone. I buy my clothes in charity shops so am not even, directly, part of the oppression of sweat-shop workers. Pigs live in appalling conditions because of me; but I do not harm a woman who sees me in a woman’s loo. I am only objectionable there if I am a symbol of sex inequality, of women having to put others’ feelings before their own, of a snub on them imposed by uncaring society.

I would like us to be seen as a symbol of how wide the range of gendered behaviour is, and how ridiculous gender restrictions are. We are then helping to break down gendered expectations. That we symbolise the breaking of taboos is good and bad for us. Things may be spoken about, because we exist. Shame drains away. And, we are the visible symbol of a reservoir of fear in society, and people’s hearts.

A friend said on facebook, women see men as a threat, some men see women as objects to be possessed. That means I may be seen as  threatening even if I am not.

I want us to be a harmless anomaly, too few people to worry about, which would be a rational view. If we are not, what is the problem, exactly? How you express the problem of trans people affects what you do. I think the problem is people paying us too much attention, and the solution is for the press to stop printing stories of a man being invited for a cervical smear test, because he adopted the title “Mx”, or a trans woman being sent to take smears. The NHS does millions of smear tests, and probably makes thousands of mistakes. The problem is trans people being nervous and frightened, or being attacked, and the solution is to protect us.

If you see the problem as “men in women’s toilets” we are in conflict. There is no solution to please all. But if it is, The Patriarchy, most solutions- campaigning for equal pay and equal representation, against sexual harassment- ignore us completely. Go and work on those. If the problem is, how can a wider range of gendered behaviour be made acceptable in both sexes, we can have a dialogue. I feel most people see trans folk as gender outlaws, rather than conformists.

I would phrase it, how can people with such similar problems, gender non-conforming, non-binary and trans, work together for the liberation of all? You are part of the same minority, not competing groups. How can we see below our surface differences to our real shared interests?

In Tuscany

I had moments of complete delight on holiday. Some was with art, with Botticelli’s Primavera or the doors of Pisa’s cathedral. Some was with the countryside: in the Boboli gardens, looking over the town to the surrounding hills, I was enraptured by the beauty.

The colours of the town, even in winter sun! There was the porcelain exhibition, beautiful things I was not inclined to study but enjoyed glancing at.

Getting to places was a bit of a pain. We were a long time getting going in the morning, and at Pisa station wanting to go to Florence we went the wrong way, taking an extra hour: I did not recognise the name of the place, but was sure the time indicated the correct train. The lift at the station was undergoing repairs, so we struggled down the stairs together. I was always concerned about my pennilessness, and while there were plenty of places for tourists to sit, inside and out, they all involved buying at least a coffee. I saw one public bench, sat on the steps of a statue, and considered sitting on the concrete anti-terrorist blocks, painted white and red to be clearly visible and make the townscape ugly.

Alright, two public benches, one not even close to anywhere I wanted to sit.

Getting to places: we walked slowly because of disabilities, and ended up walking separately: I heard the tap, tap of his walking stick behind me. The joy of his company was overwhelmed by the stress of getting around, seeing what we wanted to see. And once we were sitting in the cathedral in Florence, having been queueing in the cold outside, only to be corralled in the nave, bored, waiting for the others. I was not finding it hugely inspiring. The cordon was west of the picture of Dante, so I could recognise him but not consider him. It would be better to go in the other door, reserved for prayers. The ideal tourist state is linked to a spiritual state, open and receptive. Not being able to photograph things would release me from the compulsion merely to imagine things as images within a frame. I could just glimpse the dome, where someone was captured in his endless fall into Hell.

People of colour, I presume African migrants, perhaps illegal, sold selfie sticks and Philip bought one. How are you going to use that, asked Richard, when your phone has no jack-plug for it? Philip had intended to use the timer, not realising they had a button on the handle to take the picture. I told the man he should give Philip his money back. He gave back a €20 note, and waited for Philip to return the change he had been given, then he and another spent some time plugging various sticks into the phone to see if they could work, but none could. I told them I would not have confronted in that way, when I was younger. I was keen not to show up Richard for not confronting.

I was glad to meet H. I liked her a lot. I would not have read her as Aspie, perhaps because I am less used to the indications in a woman, but it is not a compliment to say that she “passes”. Her gift is a disability because of the way society is organised, and she shared her shame and resentment around that. I noticed how the near sides of her shoes were broken down, how she walked off the sole, and how otherwise she presented and carried herself proudly. It is frustrating not to have opportunities to fulfil our capacity.

There were wonderful moments linked to a particular place: an art work, some cacti, the quality of sunlight which led people to block it out of their homes, rather than seek it: I type now staring hungrily at my picture-window, thinking of that sun on my skin.

The social contract

For as long as clothes have existed, men have dressed as women. Whether it means removal of penis and testicles by a single blow of a sword or a seven hour operation, being feted as a two-spirited shaman or the death penalty, people have expressed our gender and our true selves. Deuteronomy forbade it and Heliogabalus was murdered for it. God’s commands and the self-righteousness of violent hordes could not stop it. We did it in Molly clubs and in basements, in tights pinched from washing baskets when we were sure our parents were out and would not come back. We did it in shame and self-loathing, in resentment and fear, in proud defiance, and in blissed-out delight when we found acceptance.

And- not entirely an afterthought- AFAB people have presented as men, and been soldiers or academics or otherwise made their way in the world. But it seems to be trans women who bother the straights most.

There are straight people, more or less happy with gendered roles, and other groups: trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming. We can differentiate these people by behaviour, but not by their nature or characteristics of their true selves: whether a person manifests as trans or GNC may be an accident of their history. I find gender does not fit me, and proclaim I am a woman. An AFAB person finds gender oppresses her but asserts I Am a woman.

Straight people react differently. Those who are violent read us as victims, treat our difference as an excuse to hurt us, and attack. Those who value order and predictability in society condemn us as misfits, not differentiating between being a productive contributor to society and fitting restrictive norms. That becomes self-fulfilling: as expressing my gender is more important to me than anything else in the world, I am less productive if I cannot express it. And liberal folks who don’t really get why we care so much see that it is harmless, and find a way of accommodating it.

That way is transition. I see a psychiatrist, sign an affidavit saying I will live as a woman life long, and get a gender recognition certificate. I am a woman. This is the social contract. The normal people put up with me, as I am relatively harmless. I express myself as I wish, and become a productive member of society. It is not perfect, as there are still violent people and conservatives, but it sort of works. Rape Crisis Scotland says there is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and works with us.

The conflict is with gender non-conforming people who want to express their gender without transition, mostly AFAB, or as they would say biological women. Cis is a slur, they say. There is the tragedy: people who do not fit normality in very similar ways at war about how we should be accommodated. Straight people are beginning to take sides. “Trans women are women” proclaims Rhea Wolfson, who is on Labour’s National Executive Committee. A woman on a facebook group expresses disquiet that the concerns of women are not being treated with respect.

It is expressed as a zero-sum game by A Woman’s Place. Either trans women are in women’s loos, changing rooms, hospital wards, prisons, refuges and crisis centres or we are not. Sometimes they proclaim earnest support for us and a wish that we are not victimised, sometimes loathing, mockery and threats of violence, but they are clear that we should be excluded, claiming threats to AFAB women which I feel are at best exaggerated, and egged on by extreme conservatives. Women’s Aid can work with us, so there are more constructive possibilities, but we have to find them and negotiate them.