A chaotic individual

My head is a safe space for my insanity.

I do not know that woman. I catch glimpses of her. I have heard the evidence of her formidable intellect. I have seen no sign of her hurt, though I have heard of difficult experiences she has had. I see a self-contained individual with a face on which I have not read emotion, though I would not aver that it does not show feeling.

I am being careful. I must not insult her. Not knowing her, I can create a myth from the inklings I have about her, for my own use, about human possibility- about what is possible for me; or understanding myself by contrast. The construct I create in my own mind for this purpose is that self-contained, not impassive but calm in appearance, controlled person. The real person is no more an archetype than I am, but I use thoughts of her to get in touch with an archetype, one who does not show emotion immoderately.

I greatly value conventionality. It is important to me to appear normal, and when I do not manage that I am distressed. The impassive, non-reacting individual, making the right response to any stimulus- garbage in, the appropriate thing out- is who I must be, for my own survival. I have achieved that by suppressing all feeling that does not produce my correct response. That is, I was middle-aged at five and have been growing younger since. I have locked parts of myself away, and the guardian dragons have been my fear resulting from horrible childhood experiences which I could not resist or process at the time. I had been incapable as a child, and felt I would always be incapable. But I am an adult now.

There is so much in me that does not fit that conventional stereotype, and I called it on Sunday morning “insanity” and now I call it “chaos”. It is not integrated. I am semi-conscious of parts which I find rebarbative, and so it bursts out of me, demanding to be heard. If I can accept all of my humanity, then it will emerge for the community as my love and creativity direct, for Good.

I spoke twice in the meetings for worship at the Quaker Life Representative Council. The weekend was about children’s meetings, and I spoke on Saturday morning about being a deep, rich soil for children to grow in. People appreciated the metaphor, I know because they told me. One or two told me they appreciated my speech on Sunday morning. Possibly it was ministry. That is, it was where I was, and it powerfully articulated that for me, drawing on what others had said; and possibly it had value for others. I said, my head is a safe space for my insanity, spoke a little about that which I can’t remember, then said I had a choice of words:





my full humanity.

I can’t yet. My fear and distrust of myself inhibits my consciousness of myself. Then aspects of myself are distorted, and express in rebarbative ways. I am a chaotic individual. The way to sanity and integrity is to pass through that chaos. My love and creativity will protect me, and reduce the harm I do others. As I love and accept the chaos, it becomes less threatening or dangerous.

In “Gifts and Discoveries”, a Quaker course from 1988 which I did in the early Noughties, we meditated on the story of the Gadarene swine. When we were told to imagine ourselves as the madman called “Legion” looking into the eyes of Jesus, I ran to another room and curled in a ball on the floor. My friend Beck, a children’s social worker, came after me and gently laid her hand on my shoulder.

I am now the human curled in a ball in terror, and the human laying a gentle hand- making contact in Love. In meditation on Friday that terrified human was pain and sadness, but being in touch with it was sweet. This morning, it was playing: I want the rules and regs of Quakers, which we are about to rewrite, to be so beautiful we give them to new enquirers to inspire them to join us.

Yesterday I saw Lucie from Shaw Trust, paid by the DWP to get me back to work. I told her something of my mindfulness experiences. Don’t teach me to suck eggs.

George Fox’s Teapot

It’s as if we are venerating people, particularly George Fox, Margaret Fell, and William Penn, and holding holy relics in the Friends House Library. Like what, I asked. “George Fox’s teapot? Fragments of the tree under which William Penn made his treaty with the native Americans? That’s like fragments of the True Cross.”

Well, should we keep such things? The collection is in part a record of the Society, including what we have valued in the past. It does not all have the documents archivists would now like, to show the provenance, though Quakers are truthful, understanding the temptation to exaggerate a story, so I believe Fox owned the teapot and the Friend who donated it had good reason for believing that, or s/he would not have said it was his. We have limited room, and there are interesting archives which might be more worth our attention.

I suggested selling it, and she said that would be unethical. There would be an assumption, perhaps an agreement, when it was given to preserve it and value it. Also, museums and local councils have a vast treasury of objects and documents, which might be sold to pay off temporary deficits where central government should take action and halt austerity. Public goods should not be privatised. However, we might see if another museum or public collection was willing to take it.

I will not undertake a pilgrimage to see George Fox’s teapot, or pieces of wood, or even locks of Margaret Fell’s hair. I would feel a passing interest if I were in Friends House and it were in a display case somewhere, or someone got it out to show it to Friends. I don’t know why anyone might. The head of library and archives is not a Quaker, and that is fine by me as she has particular expertise as an historian and archivist. She was travelling to see an archive of letters from a first world war conscientious objector to his parents, from prison. For all I know the letters might be a new Dietrich Bonhoffer awaiting discovery, or saying nothing which is not well known and documented elsewhere, but if we take them on we have obligations to preserve them and catalogue them, which takes space and staff time. I am happy that a non-Quaker sympathetic to Quaker values make this decision. I would even trust her discretion in disposing of some of the venerated relics, but some Quakers might object. It might be worth opening a discussion among Quakers, of what the Library’s best uses are.

Talking of tea pots: I had not heard of Benjamin Lay, a Quaker anti-slavery pioneer born in 1682. He influenced John Woolman. He could be offensive, on one occasion taking his wife’s tea set to a public place to smash it, piece by piece. He refused to sell any of it. Tea and china was expensive, and could show off wealth or status. It offended his principles of Equality. A Friend and Friends House employee was making a podcast about him. It had to be signed off by senior staff, and I question that: I would trust him to inform and entertain, and accept what he said even if it were not precisely what I might have said. There is, for me, a wide range of reasonable work which I would accept on the Quaker website, to avoid too many people labouring over it and second-guessing, just as we trust the clerk, rather than a committee, to set meeting agendas.

Reading, writing, understanding

“It was Heidegger who rendered phenomenology hermeneutical.” Are you still here, Jim? Jim wrote here, once, “I adore Heidegger”. I just about understand that sentence, have some understanding of what phenomenology is, or hermeneutics, though I am unclear about how one could be the other. And then a shaft of light: Heidegger describes understanding as the human’s fundamental way of being-in-the-world… the basis of human knowing in general.

Afraid to go out, afraid to go in- I have not been meditating, because I fear it, and then yesterday felt moved to, so did. And this morning I felt moved to so did and found my pain and sadness, at the heart of me, it just hurts. Being with it, being conscious of it, was what I had feared and why I had avoided meditation, and why I may avoid meditation in the future. And yet just sitting with this pain the emotional accretions to it cease to matter. There is the pain and sadness, and there is the terror and sense of incomprehension and powerlessness which they evoke in me, but if I sit with the pain the terror disappears. Perhaps I am still powerless, I don’t know. Perhaps, I am not. Perhaps, I will meditate.

Become blind during contemplative prayer and cut yourself off from needing to know things. Knowledge hinders, not helps you in contemplation. Be content feeling moved in a delightful, loving way by something mysterious and unknown, leaving you focused entirely on God, with no other thought than of [God] alone. Let your naked desire rest there. . . .

I have been reading. I love the idea of the Oxford “Very Short Introductions”, books about 120 pages long on all sorts of topics. The one on Existentialism has required my concentration, reading slowly, re-reading paragraphs and chapters, and that concentration seems a worthwhile practice to me as I sit at home. Maybe I should take notes. It seems a less frittery way of spending time than others open to me. I wish they were slightly easier, but there are concepts new to me which may be as lucid as possible. It fits this section, on how an inkling may grow to an understanding, how it might be aided by others, shaped by words. I have experienced such learning before.

She may be there this weekend. I hope so, hope not. I have spoken at her twice, both times imbecilically. (If you’re reading this, I don’t mean you.) She is utterly alien to me, beyond my comprehension, of fabulous intellect which I intuit may create loneliness in crowds like there will be. If she is there it will be her gift to us. If I dare approach her, not for absolution for my past idiocies but to say


as a gift not a request or a pawing attempt at robbery- an attempt at I-thou-

could it possibly result in communication I could bear? Though my communications so far, impertinent though they were, have elicited reactions so that I have seen her slightly better. What is the best that I want?

That intellect should win respect from all, but merely being female exposed her to insult and contempt, over and over again, probably still does.

Another person will be there, also alien to me but with whom I have communed, in Tate Modern, making the art we contemplated together dance and sing and give up mysteries. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are.) I so desperately want to commune.

Faced with the possibilities of Bad Faith or Authenticity, explained by Sartre as mediated by Thomas R. Flynn, I will occasionally make progress, slower than I would like, wanting instant communication and finding attempts failing over and over again. But then in meditation this morning, fleetingly, I managed to communicate with myself.

The wisdom to know the difference

You know the serenity prayer. It encapsulates the human condition so elegantly.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I might imagine that “know” to be instantaneous. How often I carry on banging my head against a wall, though there is no crack in it, no way I will break through in that way. I should “know” it is fruitless, I should perceive immediately that it will do no good, but often I have to learn that. I carry on banging my head against the wall because I have not accumulated enough evidence to convince myself that it will do no good.

Or, I sit amongst wonderful opportunities, taking none of them, because I do not see them. I should know they are there, and choose one, and pursue it. I should know, now, not have to work at learning of their existence.

So, perhaps we should change the word “know” to “learn”. I did not know, I say. I thought the wall would crack eventually. I had not seen the possibilities.

But I am insane, not seeing because I do not want to see. I want to believe that what I am doing has value. I want to believe my choices and decisions so far have been good enough, and my perception clear. Admitting I am wrong is painful. And so I carry on beating my head against the wall, because it is better than admitting I have been wrong.

So another word for “know”, there, is “accept” or even “admit”. There is blood streaming down my face, sweat stinging my eyes, and my trembling fingers find no cracks in that wall. There is a moment when I must admit all my virtue- courage, tenacity, intelligence, strength of will- has been insufficient to break it down.

But I know, really. I can carry on

banging my head against the wall

or stop. I can carry on

ignoring the possibilities

or consider them.

That wisdom entails admitting all the pain I carry into my immediate awareness. All the choices I have made that have not gone well. All the false hope and illusion. All the times I claim to desire something but take no steps to bring it to fruition. It involves choosing what I actually am over what I wish myself to be, and choosing reality over fantasy. It involves staring unblinkingly, and acting. This is who I am, here, now, with these characteristics, with this fixed past, with these possible futures. Wisdom is terrifying, the face of God.

I am going to die. My chance of life after death is in the memories of people who know me, and the lives of people I influence. My life will be finished: before then, it is for me to complete it, to make it a whole.

I have not actually been reading existentialist philosophy, just an introduction to some of its concepts. Some of them chime with me, though. Even when I do not admit, I still know.

Buying women’s clothes, as a man

Behind me in the winding queue, an old man started singing. “We three kings of Orien Tar, one in a taxi, one in a car…” I turned round, and completed it. “One on a scooter, blowing his hooter” and he pointed to the button on his electric mobility vehicle. He was thinking of Christmas, he said, because his wife was buying presents.

-Those look nice. Are they for you?
-Yes. I was looking for a pair of warm Granny slippers, and was pleasantly surprised by these, I said. They are fluffy inside and out, ankle-boots, black with lots of tiny gold-coloured metal bits like stars in the night. I also got socks.

Well. With his head at the level of my waist, he would notice my narrow hips first, and my white shirt and skinny jeans would not indicate I was female. Even my breasts- I was wearing breast forms, then chicken fillets, then padded bras, and sixteen years after starting hormones I finally started wearing an unpadded bra- would not indicate otherwise, when I turned round. So he started a conversation. I don’t mind speaking to people in the street, and he wasn’t actively unpleasant, just a bit mocking.

No real problem. He wasn’t loud, or violent, or scornful, and had he been I would not have been cowed; but he saw me buying slippers, and thought to remark on it. So, it’s almost all right, not quite normal, still remarkable but not entirely unpleasant: as an androgynous or effeminate man, I could buy styles I like, not have to alter my body, and suffer no more than a few impertinent remarks.

There had been a man over by the sale rail, looking through women’s garments. Final reductions were up to 75%, and I saw a pretty t-shirt for a fiver. I queued for the fitting rooms. All were occupied, and I thought of saying to the woman that I could try it on in the corridor. After all, there are no men here. She said someone would be out in a minute. Then I looked at the shirt again. I had thought it looked a bit small for the size 16 marked on the coathanger, and the label inside says it is 8. I did not try it on.

It is a lovely day. I cycled back by the stony track, saying good morning to the occasional walker or cyclist. There’s a Primark there, I could get a coat quite cheaply, and even Marks has cheap lines, jeggings for £15. A. was complaining that Marks had closed in Nupton, and it’s also closed in Kettledrum. You could get a bus to the out of town shopping centre, but it takes an hour. I would rather the shops were in towns, and as for online shopping, how can you get clothes to fit?

In the pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist if she could recommend a doctor from the local practice. She could not, she was not allowed to, she said. She thought I objected to one because he had dismissed my being trans. I knew that from her sympathetic tone and words she used which I cannot precisely remember. In that case, it was not specifically about being trans, possibly about being seen as unimportant, but that was her assumption.

The Clock

The Clock, by Christian Marclay, is a unique work of art, twelve thousand clips spliced together in twenty four hours of film from silent movies to 21st century blockbusters, from crowd-pleasers to art house and cult films, with stars and jobbing actors. In each clip, the time is shown, either because there is a clock somewhere on the set, or someone says what the time is, or looks at their watch. Write-ups say that it is accurate to the second, though when the hour is struck it strikes several times- wonderfully dramatically at midnight.

Would you want to watch a clock? asked someone dismissively. If it were nothing but clocks it would be beautiful- art-deco clocks and basic digital alarm clocks, elaborate silver watches with pictures inside, held with love or admiration, and grandfather clocks used as hiding places. But often the clock is merely part of the set, and spotting the clock in some clips becomes one of the many games you can play, on a comfortable couch, before a large screen at Tate Modern. It has three public showings of the whole thing this year, open overnight on Saturday 6 October, Saturday 3 November and Saturday 1 December. I went on 6 October at 8pm, and stayed until ten the following day when I wandered out for breakfast in the members’ room, looking out over the Thames.

Between six and eight there are lots of shots of alarm clocks going off and people getting up, showering, breakfasting, going to the factory or the office, or to rob a bank. It is so normal, or a cinematic view of that normal which drama or story twists or breaks. As with real life, people are still rising from sleep after nine, kindly allowed to lie in. In the evening there are far more people at home, even in bed before nine for sleep rather than sex, than in night clubs and places of entertainment, but dance halls rarely have prominent clocks.

Thousands of clips average seven seconds each, but they are much longer or shorter. A man hits Tom Cruise, ineffectually, twice before the Cruise character keeps cool- he gives his wine-glass for someone to hold- and deals out the old right hook. That was the first clip I saw, wandering in with no idea of what the exhibit was, thinking it might even be a huge digital clock resembling its advertising. I needed to read more before warming to it, as I do not much like films where a smooth hero is unstoppable, entering the guarded citadel killing dozens of useless guards whose machineguns never strike home- but the Clock has all kinds of films. I decided that such a huge, amazing art work deserved my sustained attention, possibly to watch the whole thing before it ends on 20 January. That would mean doing another all-nighter, as I put my head down for half an hour at one point and probably dropped off quite a bit; but the film energised me, and I was often grinning or open-mouthed at its beauty and creativity.

Marty McFly goes back to the future, and Terry Malloy goes back to work on the waterfront, with Johnny Friendly defeated and Leonard Bernstein swelling. There are clips from The Time Machine and Clockwise, but most of the films I don’t recognise, with shots of someone crossing a room or walking down a street. Then I see thousands of rooms, so many details of ornament, furnishing or decoration, clothes and hairstyles and faces. There are lots of phone calls, sometimes from different films spliced together, and someone from the thirties will look down at their watch then immediately after we see a Casio digital.

In the queue we met Grace, smiling, clearly keen to chat. She had flown over from the US to see her daughter, who was one of the research assistant watching thousands of films to catalogue possible clips. She told us individual frames could be dropped to keep the seconds quite accurate. At two am the queue wound down the stairs. At nine, before the main gallery opened, most of the couches had one or two people, some exhausted but others sat upright, engrossed.

There is little wildlife, though there is a scurrying rat and a few birds. Most is in English, though there is a little in French or German. I was there overnight, so saw lots of rumpled sheets as people could not sleep, and the nightmare as someone’s life broke down. What next? Was he crushed, or did he overcome? I don’t know, for life is not a drama.

The Real Self and the Inner Light

Quakers have the concept of the Inner Light which comes from God and which shows us the Way, which we then follow. For example early Quakers had a thrawn determination not to admit anyone as their superiors, just because the authorities called them such: removing their hats in court would have been showing respect to the judge, and Quakers were imprisoned for refusing to do so. Most people then would have removed their hats before a judge without thinking about it. It was just what everyone did, the societal expectation unconsciously obeyed. The Quaker refusal could be called monstrous egotism, asserting onesself over society. Alternatively, it is selfless, because it involves considerable personal risk and suffering in prison, and righteous, a stand against false authority coming from power rather than consent.

I can create a selfish and a selfless explanation of it. And the selfish explanation does not necessarily make it bad- though here I am analysing a corporately discerned campaign of many Quakers, so biased to see it as worthwhile rather than as, say, subversive of social cohesion and threatening a new civil war.

The analysing gets in the way: words make judging the rightness of the action more difficult. From a Quaker perspective, “hat honour” is clearly from our inner Light, the Spirit, God, because it was discerned by so many and carried out for so long. Most people do not wear hats now, and we have different ways of showing respect or a sense of equality.

Identity is a series of constructs dependent on specific circumstances. My friend said that is a quote from Patrick Marber- perhaps he paraphased it. After I committed to transition, the things I would have said about my identity changed. If I say I am “Scots”, what I mean by that depends on circumstances.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, may help explain. The role of the analyst is to hear the voice of the unconscious, which makes itself audible through the censorship of consciousness in riddles, allusions, elisions and omissions, explains Caroline Belsey in Poststructuralism aVSI. In the same way, Quakers sit in silence listening to the inner light. I write poetry, sometimes: writing prose I seek to make sense, which involves using the meanings my society has adopted for words having their common use. That common use guides my thought, making some ideas unthinkable, like George Orwell’s Newspeak: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. That works with English, too. Audre Lorde:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

So we create new words, to name new concepts. “Slut-shaming”, for example: it is no longer just the way of the world that single men and women who have sex are treated differently. We can point it out, argue and protest, assert different values.

Speaking in order to make sense to others within my community, I am trapped by my community’s unspoken assumptions. It is a continual struggle to escape those assumptions. I do not even see them, for they appear to be mere reality, the way things are/should be. In the same way my self-concept is bound up in words, ideas of how I should be or am, which get in the way of seeing my true nature.

Winston Smith escaped stultifying convention in sex with Julia, where the brain escapes its linguistic analysis in the moment of release.

The organismic self, spontaneously relating to its surroundings, responding to stimuli, is restrained by convention. Thinking differently is a huge struggle. Quaker practice can break those bonds. We sit in silence, attentive to the inner light. We speak from that light. Together, we can decide to go against the culture, led by something so powerful we call it God.

The language-animal, classifying and conceptualising with words learned from others, will fear that light. The light is unbearable to it.

Partial inclusion

When I am not accepted, often I am tolerated. When I am not wholly valued or cherished, I may be partially included: I pretend to be a normal person, and am allowed to be that normal person in the group. So naming the way in which my difference is rejected may be a threat to me: it draws attention to my difference, so maybe my pretence at normality has been seen through, and I will be rejected. No, no, it’s no trouble, I say. Please don’t worry about it.

Though I am depressive, and need a lot of acceptance before it gets through to me; and I am hypervigilant for any sign of rejection. And, that could be seen more positively: particular aspects of me are appropriate for this group accomplishing this task, and others can come out at another time.

Our liberation is bound up together. If I can take off my masks, I can accept others without theirs, and even help them to remove them. We shall stand together naked and unashamed, but conscious and aware. Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.

This is a spiritual process, among Quakers. My Friend asked, What would it take to enable us to live in consciousness of peace, love and joy so that such issues as these and many others are resolved spontaneously? I think we need practice. I don’t know we will ever manage it spontaneously. I replied, For me, that is a continual process of emptying myself of my requirements of others and my false perceptions, and appreciating what is around me and within me. It is not instantaneous- noticing something and welcoming or emptying it, as it also involves things I desire or need to explore. There is love in me. I have blind spots where I do not notice- logs as well as specks in my eye- and it is a matter of seeing. I am pleased that I said there is love in me. I can acknowledge my goodness. Not everyone can.

Trans people are bound up in the concept of a real self, a kernel which is unchanging, which is the sex not assigned at birth. That might be a chimera. I can imagine a person’s self-concept being exhaustively defined, all the things they think they are and ought to be, but not the organismic self because it is an organism. I am an organism that reacts to circumstances, taking in ideas, responding to stimuli, so I cannot know how I will react until I am provoked. As the world I am in changes, I change.

How comfortable are you? There is a Quaker booklet, Owning power and privilege, which considers how some of us are advantaged, and the first voice in the text is a “white, middle class, educated, affluent” person who calls himself a “typical Quaker”. My voice comes later: For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides- how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures. I am white, middle class by origin at least, educated, and I have refused policemen peremptorily demanding to come in to my house, unlike that typical Quaker who acknowledges “police attention bypasses me”. I know he is a man, from the pronouns he uses of himself. I think he’s straight. He does not mention being a straight man in that list of privileges. Fair enough, it’s a toolkit for recognising privilege in onesself, but the most privileged person is heard first.

Though the toolkit’s epigraph is by an “Aboriginal” activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. She could be educated, too.

How comfortable are you? Bud Tillinghast has started a blog on the Roman Empire as a way of understanding the Bible. He quotes an English publication: August is named after Augustus Caesar…[who] brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire… The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity. He points out that “peace” was in the interests of the Roman elite, at the expense of the rest, and that those roads helped soldiers march easily to places the Pax Romana was threatened. Tacitus said, They make a desolation and call it peace. If we think of that “peace” as a good thing, it is because we think of our own imperial adventures as beneficent, spreading order, rather than rapacious.

The way to equality is owning our power and privilege. It might help us get people of colour in if we recognised our privilege, as part of the emotions, attitudes and prejudices in [ourselves] which lie at the root of destructive conflict, the things we can’t see because they are so normal and expected. This is just how things are. This is not how things should be.

I am seeking my own liberation here, not just as a trans woman oppressed by the Patriarchy but as an educated white person oppressed by my education, which blinds me to other perspectives. When the least of us is free we are all entirely free.