I was privileged to join a Young Friends’ special interest gathering on affirming trans people. I saw these people being themselves, being real with each other, and feel hope for the Society: this is what Quakerism can do for people.
It is striking to spend time with a group of people a generation younger than I am. Of course there is the energy and brilliant intellect I find everywhere among Quakers: the PhD student, the person doing important work; and a wide range of different life-experiences, different from mine. “I have honestly never seen someone do that before,” said one, and I am delighted to have increased his options or perhaps moved him to investigate further. I am so glad that he said it. And I was self-conscious; I know that cultural references I would expect everyone of my generation to get are a bit nerdy twenty years later, and the Hufflepuff slippers show people deeply affected by something I found entertaining but no more. With another I shared my way into appreciating art, and found it was his way into appreciating music.
I saw one particular expression of beautiful masculinity, unselfconsciously expressed. He was serving us, and the leadership he gave was also service. It has led me to think anew of “toxic masculinity”: it is “toxic” when it is forced on people, or demanded of people whose gifts are different; or if someone thinks he must be dominant or a sissy, and lashes out. It is toxic to the man as well as his victims. Yet masculinity can be fitting. We just need to enlarge our concepts of what a “man” is, or can be: and the generation after me are doing just that.
They supported each other, and they supported me. I talked with each person, at least glimpsed them, shared something with them. In Meeting for Worship on Sunday, at Chester meeting where we had been sleeping on the floor without showering, I was thinking of the Kingdom, of the beauty of each person in their place, their gifts and strengths valued and used, their vulnerabilities protected.
We wrote a draft values statement about trans issues, which we hope will be adopted (perhaps with modifications) by Young Friends’ General Meeting. We spoke deeply of trans issues, and I am inhibited: even to say whether there were trans or non-binary people there might reveal specific things about specific people. I feel valued and affirmed by the draft. I spoke of my experience, it was why I was there, and one asked if I had internalised transphobia. Oh, yes, I am filled with it, it has constricted my life and scarred me deeply. I second-guess and judge myself, and people pick up on my own discomfort and reflect it back to me, so that I feel more uneasy in my skin. So seeing people who do not suffer in that way is liberating. I feel that I understand better, and that the disputes of my generation are finding creative new solutions in theirs. The law needs to get beyond its rigid insistance that everyone must be one sex or the other, as being non-binary is real, and liberates people from stultifying boxes.
Would that we older friends were more blessed with the presence of young friends. We need their leadership and their understanding. The George Gorman lecture is a good start, and Chris Alton’s Swarthmore lecture showed off a beautiful Quaker man.