Trust, safety, clarity, kindness

Here are today’s thoughts, not at all random, which I am trying to fit together in order to understand the world, my place in it, and myself.

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master- that’s all.”

I was struggling to understand the difference between interest-relative invariantism and contextualism, both concepts in epistemology. IRI is a theory about how knowledge works, contextualism is etymological, about how we use words like “know”. Both say how important something is to me affects what evidence I might need to “know” it. Possibly I know nothing, I merely have reasonable beliefs. It is important that I can change my belief on becoming aware of contradictory evidence, rather than doubling down, but that uncertainty about things which I could reasonably believe should not prevent me from acting. This had me weeping repeatedly and copiously.

I was cycling up a hill, where cars park down one side of the road and there is not room for vehicles to pass each other beside the cars- so they must wait in gaps in the parked cars to let others pass. A lorry was waiting for me. As I struggled past, the driver shouted, “Go on, love, give it some!”

I am told that my greatest strengths are Forgiveness, Bravery, Fairness, Kindness and Creativity. I do not bear grudges, such that I find it hard to imagine that others do: it takes a leap of empathy to see that another might hold a grudge in a particular situation.

A benefits client was walking in a railway station when a man he did not know jumped up on his back and slashed him across the forehead with a knife. His self-confidence entirely evaporated, and he did not want to go out. He got disability benefits, but when they were reconsidered three years later they were withdrawn: arguably he should have got over it. I can’t remember what was the result of our appeal, but think we won. Similarly, a man who lost his forearm in an accident got a high level of disability benefits, but after three years they were cut- probably the decision maker thought he should have got used to doing things one-handed by then. I doubt we won but can’t remember.

Caroline asked, how did you feel about that lorry driver? I think his shout is probably not simple encouragement, but misogynistic. Perhaps he thought I was younger than I am. Certainly he thought I was female, and if he realised I am a trans woman he might have been abusive in a different way.

Why might it be a good thing that there are tensions between people in a Quaker meeting? I feel often we deny them as too frightening. One said, if we can hold the tension it can keep us listening to the Spirit and each other. If we can bear Unknowing, we can learn and grow. It brings us to useful change- which I find painful, hence the crying. Or I am crying at the pain of not being aware of myself.

Possibly it would be best if I were effectively lobotomised by strong antidepressants, and worked shelf-stacking in a local shop, say thirty hours a week, walking home afterwards to watch television. I might then be useful.

When my Friend ministered in Meeting that she felt abandoned by Britain Yearly Meeting because Truth is intensely important to her and BYM was denying the truth, I felt intense sympathy even though I understand the Truth she thinks BYM is denying is that trans women like me are men who should be excluded from women’s spaces. I don’t think that’s true. Possibly it would be in my interest for her to simply lose interest in worshipping with us, feeling betrayed, because then she would leave and the tension I feel worshipping with her would reduce. I see that. And it would not please me: and I see that as a strength in me, a virtue or good thing, rather than weakness or worthlessness. I want her to feel able to remain, and I do not want to abnegate myself to achieve that. I want a result which honours me as well as her. That’s new, that self-respect. It pleases me.

Possibly my former sense of safety, which enabled me to take action in the world, arose from male privilege. I believe I should be capable of effective action because that is the state of white educated males. Women have to be more circumspect, including trans women: something can go wrong at any time, like being slashed across the face with a knife by a random stranger. So epistemological scepticism, claiming we can’t know we are people in a Real World, rather than a brain in a vat, a character in a computer simulation, a spirit tortured by a malevolent sprite, whatever- has the value of showing the world is unpredictable, sometimes we do not know what will happen, and it can be really as bad as a stroke or heart attack or random attack. It can keep philosophers on their toes, and also me, in my Real Life, like a parable forcing awareness of possibilities and uncertainty. But I feel such scepticism is too strong, making too much possible information simply incredible: it washes out degrees of incredibility, which are useful to see.

Things can really be that bad.

I must do what I can.

Nakedness

I cannot help comparing myself to the group. After seventeen years on hormones, I have beautifully shaped small breasts, but I notice on my age group the breast sags enough to hold a pencil underneath. Mine look improbably youthful, though small breasts sag less. My aureoles are small, and the nipples quite flat, flatter even than the men’s. Even if someone only looked at my breasts, they would see I am a trans woman. But then one notices the whole person, and I don’t feel that is some excluding mark here: we are a diverse group, and I am accepted.

These lady-gardens may be better pruned and groomed than mine. I could at least epilate around my navel, there are a lot less hairs there than there used to be, but there are still a few, and I am self-conscious. I go without my wig. One is not supposed to stare, but sadly I do.

We are an educated and mostly spiritually aware lot. I sit in the sun discussing morality and The Trolley Problem. Having compared my body to others’, mostly I lose my self-consciousness and enjoy the company. One has an all-over tan, he does this a lot, but most of us have white bits.

There is a ten yard long, oval swimming pool, slightly more than waist-deep. In the heat, we bob around in it, chatting. I kneel up on the bottom, swaying as the water moves. We can make it into a whirl-pool by all walking round clockwise, pushing the water ahead of us. Once the water is in motion, we float in it, swirling round, fast enough to bang my head on the steps and bumping into each other like soft dodgem cars.

The other exercise is to be held as we float. The water does most of the work, but two to five people stand around us, supporting us behind the head, back, and legs. If only one person supports, we can use a float under the ankles. I feel my trust in the people and the water, open one eye slightly and see the roof-beams move slowly past. It is delicious. I notice a slight tension in my abdominal muscles and want to relax completely.

I think of Carol, who did shoulder massage years ago, and observed I was not relaxed. Rather, I was co-operating, moving my shoulder or arm along with her but simulating surrender rather than making it. She put her arms around my neck as though to break it, and I was not unduly bothered, trusting her- but I could not relax. Now, I am mostly relaxed but for that abdominal muscle.

In this exercise, which is loving and delightful, I am working: I notice my sensations and thoughts and analyse them. I am analysing all the time. Always I am in the words, in my head. I ask to be supported in the small of my back, and relax more. Deliberately I turn my attention to the feeling of the water moving around me, splashing over my legs as I am held higher or lower, wanting to feel it directly rather than analysed and mediated through words. That is, I am working all the time. How should I be, in the world? How may I be like that?

Then I enjoy supporting. I want to give the person the most delightful experience. I feel five supporters on one person floating are too many: six people are probably enough to have two enjoying floating. We feel no need to discuss what we are doing. Next day D supports me, with a float under my ankles: I feel she does it beautifully, varying my sensations.

We have group sharing sessions, lolling in the pool. Things are coming up for me. It is not just a pleasant weekend under canvas, I am noticing how I am with other people. Other people are so strange! As I get to know myself better, getting beyond conventional understandings I picked up of how a person should be to see how I really am, I see them better. The person next to me shared, and I wanted the group share to go the other way round the circle, so I would not be next. I was silent for some time, wanting to honour and voice my negativity, balancing it but not denying it. I said, “I am Abigail. I could run away cursing and screaming. Instead I choose to throw myself into the Love”- and fell forward under the water. We were open and relaxed; and possibly this helped others be even more open as they shared. People said things I will remember, increasing my wish for their good.

We had to get dressed to walk up to the ridge, looking out to sea and on the other side over the valley inland. Walking through mature woodland was lovely, looking downhill from the path through the luminous dark. I talked of that suicide, and one said, “From another point of view it is the greatest gift anyone can give themselves, to stop their suffering. And, if you were my client I would tell you to think what you strive towards rather than flee- you say ‘I will not do that'”. I want to survive. Is there more from life than that?

We were camping inland, but I wanted to see the sea since I was so close to it. Picked up from the station, I asked to go to the beach first before the site. We paddled, and watched people swim in the sea.

Motivation III

It is like living with a sulky teenager. You get up at a reasonable hour and just before leaving for work in the morning you say, “You know you’ve got that to do today? You will do it, won’t you?” And the reply comes back, “Yeah. Don’t you trust me?” Then in the evening you get home and say, “Did you do it?”

Silence.
-Why didn’t you do it?
-Dunno

Irritating. But I really did intend, and I don’t know why I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to, or thought something would go wrong, perhaps. It is like watching someone else doing something incomprehensible and trying to work out why they did it. I don’t consciously understand my motivations.

I have slime in my bicycle tyre, to seal holes less than ¼”. I cycled to Oundle to the charity shops, and found a Laura Ashley dress. Well, Oundle is a smart area, so has good charity shops. The LK Bennett dress was too small alas. It was terribly hot, and slime actually erupted twice from my front tyre, wetting my legs. That might indicate the hole was too big for the slime to cope. I pumped the tyre up a bit, and my foot pump broke.

So I thought, I will cycle into Swanston, go to the fruit stall, the supermarket, buy a pump and call in at the cycle shop. And I didn’t. So I wondered if I had not because of the chance of something going wrong, or possibly having more to do than usual. Or even J’s suicide. It’s a helpless feeling, thinking I ought to do that and not getting the motivation together to do it. Anne used to say “Action” which was enough to get her in gear.

So I thought I would get the bus. That would get rid of one potential problem. Then actually I cycled into Marsby and bought some food though not as much as I would have, finding that my hand pump could get the tyre hard enough and there were no further punctures, that I noticed. I could just get a new tyre, inner tube and slime but money’s too tight to mention. But having that air leak through my tyre, not the wall of the tyre but the tread, means I could trust it less. Of course if I got a new tyre things could still go wrong but might be less likely to.

I am usually safe for the moment if I just stay indoors. Jesus said, face reality. Build your house on the rock. You know how things are and what you must do, so do it; do not deny how things are. However, not wanting to see quite how bad things are, or to deal with the problems, makes sense to me. I know it’s building a house on sand, when troubles come I am unprepared and my house falls down, and still it feels better now but for the nagging doubts where reality can’t be completely suppressed from consciousness.

Or I am psyching myself up to deal with it, like sitting here hoping motivation will simply develop and I will take action. But, thinking, oh I could take the bus, and finding out my hand pump would work sufficiently even though slime blocked the valve, is something like that: by waiting, I become better able to deal with the problem. Just waiting and not doing anything is not always merely silly.

Part of me is the sulky teenager.

I went to Edinburgh, stayed with my nephew, got to know his fiancée a little bit, saw my sister and my other niece’s partner who seems a decent enough bloke, there was no great coming together but it was just nice and I felt auto-schadenfreude: I was glad I was sad when I left, because sadness at leaving shows pleasure in meeting. It is good to see them. Then I saw my neighbour in the back yard, we chatted away pleasantly, I petted her dog, she said “You seem cheerful,” which I heard as a threat. Obviously you are not depressed.

A suicide

“She found a place in the woods, and chose to end her life in a gentle way with an overdose. It was a conscious death.” So, someone found her body, perhaps someone jogging or walking the dog.

I found out she was dead by facebook, which was a shock: various people I knew were paying tribute to her good qualities. I had met J, but did not know her well; I have a vague memory of one conversation in which she seemed to not understand transgender or what it might mean for me. In interlocking social groups, some people I respect and care about were her friends, doing the tributes. Bored on the train, I returned to facebook and learned she had killed herself, and felt such anger at her- how dare she! What a vile thing to do!

I am not currently suicidal, at least not at the planning stage as I was in December, so I decided to use her death to inoculate myself. That anger and disgust- I consciously chose to remember it, so I could recall it when at the planning stage, or even the execution stage, and possibly save my own life.

Angry, I am thinking what a stupid self-indulgent thing to do and self-indulgent is one of my strongest words of condemnation: selfishly putting my own enjoyment before others’ good. Ah. There’s a touch of envy in there. Envy surprises me. Perhaps I am more attracted to death than I would wish.

Emotions can roil, changing quickly, and apparently contradict. Sadness, contempt and pity I understand. Desire: I want something positive out of this, and creating something to talk myself out of self-slaughter might be it.

Sadness. She was a year or two older than me. I don’t know if she was still with that man. I see the sadness of her friends.

Anger with the fucking wisdom-bollocks. There she was, “spiritual but not religious,” consciously choosing death. Such “spirituality” can mean believing onesself capable of handling raw painful emotion, or, even worse, beyond it. She just stops existing: she exists in the memory of friends, and has influenced others’ lives, but she stops growing. She finishes.

It’s not something you would want unless you are sick. Or it’s something I might want for rubbish reasons, like to avoid seeing an unpleasant truth about myself: as a friend said, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Life has been going on reasonably comfortably, there’s some change which will take adjustment, and you kill yourself rather than adjusting.

Jesus said build your house on rock not sand, and that came to have new meaning for me this week: I had loved the verse

hard upon the solid rock
suburban semis stand
Come and see my shining palace
built upon the sand

because I had been told the “rock” was some tawdry ridiculous Christian dogma. Believe as we believe, follow our rules, and your house is on the rock. No- Jesus meant face reality, accept and do not deny reality, and then your house is on the rock. Jesus is right, and the dogmatists wrong. This small epiphany delights me.

“Suffering from clinical depression” said her friend. “Clinical” sounds defensive. No, really, she was really ill, not just feeling a bit down! We use “depression” to mean so many things. I can accept she was ill. “Suicide while the balance of her mind was disturbed”- these are old words, once meaning the difference between burial in the churchyard and burial at a crossroads, being acceptable in the community (because ill) and being irredeemably wicked, sent to the seventh circle of Hell. And also sick, where we imagine ourselves to be sane: she is different, across a line, we would not have that problem, surely.

The medical model, people doing things because of illness, is reassuring, both forgiving the suicide and making those who remain feel safe. Jesus said, face reality.

Suicide is not something you can choose without being sick- either depressed, unable to face reality or your own feelings about it, or possibly facing Alzheimer’s or some hideously painful, drawn-out end. I don’t feel paraplegia justifies it, and tend to feel I would clutch at life, wanting to endure my last twitching, rather than end it early for cancer or MS. I want to survive.

And I get suicidal sometimes. Being suicidal is the sign one is incapable of such a judgment- I cannot commit it without the balance of my mind being disturbed. I hope I will tell myself that, next time.

Don’t out anyone

Should it be a criminal offence to out someone? It is, in the UK, subject to an unlimited fine, in certain circumstances.

Certain people who are aware that someone has applied for a gender recognition certificate should not tell anyone. If someone has a GRC, certain people should not disclose information about their previous gender. Note, it is not everyone who has transitioned, just people who have a GRC, which now may be about 12% of all who have transitioned.

Who? Employees of the State or local authorities, or of voluntary organisations; employers and colleagues, or prospective employers and colleagues. Then, anyone who finds out “in the course of or otherwise in connection with the conduct of business or the supply of professional services”. It is OK if the trans person consents.

So anyone involved with the claim can’t disclose it. Quite right too. And we should be able to get a job without anyone saying we are trans.

No-one has been prosecuted for this offence. Possibly, making it an offence contributes to the social understanding that outing people is wrong: though we both know a certain person is trans, a friend was embarrassed to mention her name to me as a trans woman, rather than as a person, woman, Quaker, whatever.

The people I would like prosecuted are journalists who comment on someone’s trans status. Journalists are acting in the course of their employment when they find that someone is trans, so should fit within the Act. They should not out someone unless it is clearly in the public interest. Victims of sexual offences are granted anonymity under the law, and so should trans people be. My gender change is no-one’s business but my own.

However, people may out a trans person maliciously. So, it should be a hate crime to out someone with the intention that the trans person suffers any harm, or recklessly when the revelation results in harm to the trans person.