Following a concern from Southern Marches AM, Meeting for Sufferings has invited area meetings to send relevant minutes for further discernment on “The post-truth world and Quaker response”. Finding the term “post-truth” meaningless, my AM clerk felt unable to bring the matter to AM, and asked the Deputy Recording Clerk what it meant. Perhaps the headings of minutes should be as carefully discerned and phrased as the minutes themselves.
Whether or not Juliet Prager would agree, to me “Post-truth” indicates a worry that there is less respect for truth in public life, and echoes “post-modern”. There has always been falsehood in public life. Worshipful discernment whether Quakers are called to specific action, individually or corporately, in the service of Truth- or alternatively Quakers expressing our distress that truth is disrespected- may have value. Falsehood may be emotionally satisfying.
In the garden, I found a cardboard tyrannosaur and a pretty pink sparkly thing from the nursery that provides much of our meeting house income. I hoped both were the playthings of boys and girls equally. My Friend, from a position of academic and professional training, said the first human priority is to belong, and children will echo the sayings of the group, and perhaps find another group if the first is uncomfortable. The truth about nature and nurture is so complex as perhaps to be ungraspable, and for me, a trans woman, it is intensely important that little boys (or even I myself) should not be shamed for playing with pretty pink sparkly things.
I have felt shame at being trans, and wished not to be even though I realised this meant wishing another was in my place- someone the ignorant might call “normal”, who might be happy. My courageous Friend Lucy Aphramor, currently acknowledging her self-harming on stage and Virgil to my Dante, illustrates the liberation for ourselves and others in speaking our secret hurt. Post-modernism concerns power: what stories may be heard?
It is like my experience of God: experience comes before words. I find theoretical understandings unconvincing, but note that I wanted more than anything else in the world to express myself as a woman, appear to be a woman and use cultural forms assigned to women.
My local meeting has a Friend who has spoken at public events organised by Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) and a member of Quaker Life Central Committee tasked with considering issues around trans people. He might express that differently; I checked the correctness of my language with the Sufferings minute but have nothing in writing from Quaker Life. Even if I had, I may convey a misleading impression by what I choose to emphasise or leave out.
Is WPUK transphobic? Speaking from my partisan position on one side, I could point to a video on their youtube channel in which a woman claims it is brave and right to challenge people like me in a public toilet, because of the risk that trans women are violent or sexual offenders. I consider she exaggerates that risk.
A letter in The Friend pointed out that a WPUK meeting had had a trans keynote speaker, omitting that that trans woman is widely despised by trans people for speaking against us. From any collection of details about this issue, Friends might gain a misleading impression. Is it possible to say anything without trying to persuade?
I regret having surgery. Many people who regret begin to campaign against it, feeling cheated, wanting to rescue others from the damage they feel they have suffered. I note that a recent study showed regret levels for surgery below 1%. I remember the delight I felt as the psychiatrist recommended it. Now, I could blame myself for being a fool, for not realising I might regret it later; but I made the best decision I could at the time. I expand my own view to see the competing desires and interests of other people involved.
I wonder if respectful discussion on gender recognition is possible in Britain after I received a bomb threat- “now we have your address”. I hope it is for Friends. Those of us who care have to worship together and hear each other, for Truth includes all our perspectives. The others will hold us in worship. Then I might find what is Right for other interests beyond mine. I expand my love and truth to include all. Threshing might be worthwhile, but people feel unheard and our views of what it is to be human in society may be incompatible: even if we use the same words we may mean different things by them.
Friends with a particular interest in this argument have strong convictions which tempt us to make unfair or untrue statements. We need disinterested Friends to hear us and hold us, to speak as moved in love. Perhaps we share words, but do not mean the same by them, so we are condemned to talk past each other. It is too complex for me to understand, but I will understand as best I can. My interests get in the way, and I strive to put them aside.
Can our meeting house be a “safe space”? Wrestling in Meeting with my own shame and self-loathing, remembering that I thought myself a ridiculous, perverted fantasist, I think of the terror of the man called Legion meeting Christ’s eyes, and do not feel safe. When “transwoman” and “trans woman” mean different things, Friends might despair of understanding the complexity, but I know this to be true: I am Abigail.