Joy in a gallery

What should be the mood of a museum visit? Is it like going on a picnic, to school, on a shopping trip, or to church? –Cynthia Freeland.

There’s a difference between English and US English here- she’s asking about what we would call an “art gallery”, a special space for looking at Art. My first thought was, it should be like a garden, where I move, relaxed, with beautiful and sometimes unexpected things catching my attention. And it should have good cake. What do you think?

An art gallery should enrich and expand our understanding of what it means to be human, the glory, jest and riddle of the world. It should have something to delight, intrigue, confound, provoke, enlighten anyone wandering in- any child, any person who has never seen art before, any connoisseur.

So it should be welcoming, to everyone. No-one should feel excluded. Any faint lingering traces of the idea that this is for educated people, for people with good taste, rather than for everyone should be expunged. It should be enticing. There should be eye-catching things round every corner, to draw you through. It should be mindblowing. We might have our understanding of the world completely changed.

I hope it could overcome resistance. There is resistance- “That’s not Art!” imagines that Art means technical skill in painting and sculpture, the ability to make a face look like a face in a photograph, rather than the ability to make a face that a person can read and feel with. There is fear, that these connoisseurs are looking at things I will not understand. Well, possibly- an understanding of the meaning of the colours in certain icons, or the symbols used to indicate saints- Peter carries keys, for example- can enrich viewing such paintings. Arguably, truly great painters have produced something new, and lesser artists copied their betters, and so some sense of the development of Art has value, but progress is not linear. Instead it is an expansion, in many dimensions, with people finding new possibilities and their idiosyncratic way, or revisiting the old and finding something new in it.

It should be a place we escape words. Words mediate our experience of the world, and come between us and the thing in front of us. You do not see what is around you because you are thinking. Words move through your mind, and you pay attention to them instead, even if they are the same words as flowed through you yesterday and last month. I love to escape words. It is an experience I know and value. There must be a wordless experience before there can be new words or new understanding. So I enter an art gallery with the intention of relating to some art object- probably many- and allowing it to communicate to me, without judging, or at least permit my mind to see possibilities in it without seeking to define them.

The child or adult entering a gallery for the first time needs a certain level of trust in the guide taking them there, or the society which values the gallery, to be open to such experience. So the gallery should do all it can to win such trust. Not understanding is OK- but the viewer must perceive the possibility of understanding, and a route to understanding, without too strict an idea of what understanding might look like.

I have strong memories of art in my teens grabbing my attention and engaging me. Then I saw that there was something that would repay my attention. Now delight is quotidian for me, enraptured by the flowers in a Burne-Jones forest, but also perception, being brought face to face with a man standing over his wife, just killed in war.

Go to a gallery! They are wonderful places!

The asset-strippers

I love the Duveen galleries at the moment. Mike Nelson’s The Asset-strippers fills it. Wooden walls and doors from factories make corridors through it. The machines are beautiful, and forlorn, not needed in our modern, services finance and consumerism economy. Knowing the prevalence of industrial deafness I would not want to work on such machines.

I see how important sharpness in the photograph is.

I also feel photographing inside the item, so that it stretches beyond the picture, makes my picture more intriguing.

I am happy to go along with the institutional definition of Art- art is anything shown in an art gallery, or even called so by an Artist. It may be good or bad art, morally or in terms of expressiveness, but it is still art. Richard Anderson says Art is culturally significant meaning, skilfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium. The skill, here, is finding and arranging things to be affecting.

Then to the Don McCullin. He photographed new corpses, with their relatives staring at them. He says he tried to catch the eye of the relative, to gain implicit consent for his work of documenting the atrocities. Just, no- I would not be consenting, I would be too shocked to take it in, leave alone to object. Possibly some others might relieve anger and despair on the photographer. He photographed people in Berlin, looking at the other zone, and homeless people in London. A man sleeps, standing up. He photographed a battle in Vietnam. I have seen half of it: I hope to go back to see the remainder. I decided to walk round the outer wall of the exhibition space, pay at least a few seconds’ attention to each picture, and more time sitting before some of them.

I met H on Friday evening. We ate in a Greek restaurant and went to Deborah Tannen at Tate Modern. I may get her poems. I cycled to the station, and was pleased to see my bike still there on Sunday evening.

The joy of demonstrating

At one point, I was not marching so much as shuffling, the crowd was so densely packed.

At another, I could enjoy the dancing and the costumes.

I marched with an Irishman, and there were Irish tricolours about. One good thing to come from a hard Brexit might be the reunification of Ireland.

I took this, a statue called “Flight”, as a deliberately arty shot. I had to sit on the ground, and the woman with the placard good-naturedly held it up, but I did not quite get the placard to appear in the sculpture’s hand.

I was uncomfortable, marching from about 12 at Oxford Circus tube until about 5 at Waterloo. I coughed till my back muscles ached. Domi brought along lots of sandwiches. She has also had to get six months’ supply of insulin, as she does not want to die of Brexit. She has dual nationality so will be able to remain in the UK, and retain freedom of movement.

On Sunday morning I felt low, as did H, who had put me up Friday and Saturday nights and gone ahead on the march. But, there were a million of us, and the videos from the helicopter are inspiring- they cannot just ignore us. Those of us who wish to Remain in the EU will be encouraged, and that includes MPs. I feel my morale improving. We have done something worthwhile.


Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over him- a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful anger. The energy of anger, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing fully to distinguish the sinner from the sin, rose into his arms and legs till he felt that they were pillars of burning blood… This filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what anger was made for… He rejoiced in the perfect congruity between his emotion and its object.

-CS Lewis, Perelandra. When I looked it up, I found he had said “hatred” rather than anger, but I feel it still works.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Ephesians 4:26-27,31.

I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22

Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Mark 3:22

In that context, Lewis’s interpretation of if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also works: “In so far as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back- [but] in so far as you are a magistrate struck by a private person, a parent struck by a child, a teacher by a scholar, a sane man by a lunatic, or a soldier by the public enemy, your duties may be very different, different because they may be then other motives than egoistic retaliation for hitting back.”

Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. James 1:19-20

Those who worship the beast and its image… will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger. Revelation 14:9-10.

I bear a great burden of anger. It seemed I was taken back to my cot under a tree before I could walk, and I felt the child’s anger. I was not conscious of my feelings, then I became aware of them and they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear; then it seemed they were rage and terror. Sometimes now I cannot admit my own anger to consciousness.

I controlled it by suppression. I held it down. I was not conscious of it. I was an obedient child, following my mother’s desires. Then I was an adult, in the world of adults, not really feeling adult, nor understanding other apparent adults. I decided my suppression was the problem, that the tension in me comes from “nursing unacted desires”, and that I would be better to be conscious of the anger and sublimate it.

Yesterday, the woman in the supermarket queue had three problems, each of which caused delay. One such problem is rare. I treated it as an exercise of patience. Sensing my anger, I could acknowledge it, accept it, see there was nothing I could do to hurry her, and let it go. Suppressing it would make it a hurt for the rest of the day.

I am in pain, and I want to reduce it. I am in tension, and it is too much effort for me. I have an idea that single-minded integrity with all my emotions, drives and desires working together is possible (though long-term and short-term goals may need reconciliation) and that my need to manage feelings out of consciousness prevents that. An immediate feeling of threat may need managed, and the threat faced, but if I cannot admit to myself the sense of threat, and my inner parent screams at me “Get on with it! What are you fussing about!” then I just give up. As I have done.

The suppressed feeling has ways of coming into consciousness. I can think of a time when I felt that way in the past, and it is as if I am still dealing with that past event- then I rebuke myself, because I should have got over it by now. But no- it is a way of showing that I feel like that now, from something happening now. Or I tense up, or shake, as if in pain, and I rebuke myself, because I should not show signs of my feeling (it would upset my mother, who is dead, whose house I left 35 years ago).

I imagine a state of calm aware acceptance, of all the feelings, of all the surroundings; of anger at actual injustices and wrongs, rather than the mere inconvenience of the supermarket queue where no-one wronged me, and instead find a sensory overwhelm, painful and terrifying, so I flee it to the place where my emotions can be managed, either by minimising my interactions with the outside world or by scrolling social media for a brain-fog of vicarious momentary emotions, dulling my sense of what is real. I avoid kneeling in meditation because it will be painful, even though it will get me in touch with my inner guide.

Of course I want to deny reality! Reality’s horrible!

Yet it will get even more horrible as I turn my face from it.

Of course I am not dangerous. I am gentle and caring- I know this from my experience of how I act and respond. Suppressing my anger inhibits me, yet I do not want to bring it to consciousness so that I lash out, but so that I can respond better.

Three Quaker trans women

For a moment, I was a true transsexual, quite clear transition had been right for me. Of course it did not last.

Rarely, with other trans women I feel completely comfortable. I am with people like me, and it is reassuring, empowering, clarifying. More often I notice presentation issues, and judge the other and myself, and am uncomfortable. When I imagine a group of trans women, we’re all staring at our shoes and periodically one will hiss,

“Stop it, you’re embarrassing us!”

And it was lovely to see my friend F, to walk round the park to see its beauties of landscaping and artistry, and the wildlife, to wander and chat, to sit eating looking at beautiful things. I told her that story: on 14 February 1999 I felt a tremendously painful and revivifying change in how I viewed the world- I was “born again”. I gained hope, became conscious that I am on a spiritual journey, and became conscious of something I called first the “Vulnerable bit” being released from deep suppression in my unconscious, and then the “Real Me”. I wrote this poem identifying that Real Me as female. I felt reassured.

And when she left, I was frightened and confused. Possibly, it is unnecessary and even harmful to have the goal of knowing yourself. The human being can be flexible, responding to circumstances, and an idea of who you are can inhibit that. Better to have stories of who you are, that reassure you, help you fit with other people, and are malleable to fit your situation. Yet I still want to know that at the kernel of my being I am Trans and therefore Transition was right and remains right for me; and so I fight for that particular story. It is the thing I have done because I wanted to, despite all the prejudice from others.

I want transition to be my rock, my reality, and felt washed around by the currents and tides. Bluntly, Margaret says, “It’s as if you’re acting when you’re Stephen and just you when you’re Clare” and I am encouraged to transition because it is right for me; Heather says “You have this lovely male energy” and I see myself as a man, and am filled with doubt; and now F reminds me of that experience, and I am reassured. Transition was Right for me. Except that I’m not, because what I believe depends on the strong personalities around me. Am I so moulded by others that there is no self at all?

Actually I had seen myself as male before meeting Heather, as a way of understanding who I am, without prejudice to the sufficient rightness of transition. Perhaps I contain so many truths that I might be moulded, but never so that I am not at least a real part of whole me. Then the moulding becomes a way to find all those parts and realise them.

When I got to meeting on Sunday I had a lovely hug from C, who said she had seen I was in London and hoped I would come. In the Quaker meeting, another trans woman who had been scrolling her phone stood and expressed anger, which I found troubling. Is this right for worship? She had been reading the constitution of some particular Quaker body, which used the term “Friend” to refer to members, and “Attender” to refer to regular attenders. She called this “Bigotry”. I was intensely uncomfortable, thinking, “Stop it! You’re embarrassing us!” Then one stood, and talked of being appointed an overseer but with the letters n.i.m. after her name- whisper it, not in membership, then another talked of becoming a member after more than ten years. The meeting is capable of absorbing anger, if you trust the process.

In the discussion group after we worship-shared on short texts, and I got, When you speak in a group, are you listened to? Do you create space to listen to others? How does the text comfort or discomfort you? I said, yes. I have energy, charisma, and a persuasive command of language, and can make myself heard. I have used my voice to amplify that of those who would not be heard, and am practising listening. A man, not obeying the rules of “worship sharing”, interrogated me and I took this back to the Latin, com fortis. After, a woman said she liked how I had stated my good acts positively, not accentuating the negative as we often do in sort-of humility. I wondered if she was stating what she liked, rather than giving her whole internal response, which is another Quaker technique I have noticed.

Love and Hope in London

The march was an outpouring of love and hope. We showed our love for our country and its people, and our hope, that institutions might allow people to work together democratically, rather than through the unlimited power of corporations. We showed our trust in individuals, and will for their freedom, moving across the continent. We showed our belief that diversity is a strength, and that hearing other voices and different perspectives blesses and teaches us.

A million people must have an effect, to strengthen and encourage those working for a good outcome from this torturous process, and dismay those working for a bad. As citizens with votes, we have a voice, we matter, and we showed where we stand. Others will make the decisions, mainly in Parliament, but they cannot simply ignore us, or the 5.7m who have signed the Revoke Article 50 petition.

Lucy asked me about the moral basis for the march. Why should you get what you want? I could not articulate it, and it has led me to think through my rights as an individual in the polity and what I think elected politicians should or should not do. This is a rough stab at a political philosophy:

The Referendum, in which 17.4m voted to Leave and 16.1m voted to Remain, is not binding. Certain people will play up its moral force, but there are many attacks to be made on it, including that the Leave campaigns breached electoral law, and made false promises, and that many Leave-voters voted for a closer, more supportive society in the UK which Brexit could only make less likely. It does not relieve Parliament of its responsibility to act in the interests of the country.

I have a voice, and this platform where I can say what I want to a tiny audience, and other platforms where more will see what I say: 470 upvotes for a comment on the Guardian website shows a considerably larger audience. All these different voices influence voters and politicians. Of course money will have an effect, but law should limit that, in preventing the monopoly of the Murdoch empire over British and other news media, in making the sources of the money transparent, and possibly preventing foreigners from influencing the political process.

Politicians seek votes and gain influence. The two party British system where one party has a majority and can command the assent of Parliament limits our democracy. In 2015 the Green Party had a million votes, spread across the country, and only elected one MP.

Emotion and stories make a larger part of the foundation of political power than rational predictions of likely arguments. “What do you want?” is a question answered emotionally. I want that closer, more supportive society- greater equality, more money for the NHS, more control for people over their own lives. The poison of the far right, now in the Tory party, is to channel that emotion into unreality. We wave the flag and feel good about ourselves while public services crumble and publicly owned assets are stripped away. The 4chan troll still living with his parents wants to “Own the Libs”, to feel powerful, even though the policies he supports make it even less likely that he will have a productive life. Our hope and solidarity should be used for the good of all.

There are legitimate differences in politics. There is tension between the freedom of the few and that of the many, of the few like James Dyson to build great corporations on the strength of their creativity and of the many to have enough to live a good life. I have a vague idea Nietzsche would not like my opposition to oppression of the many for the good of the few, and beliefs may vary about the percentage of GDP which should go to public spending, what we want as a society, and how that is raised.

There are tactics and strategies in politics which I condemn. It is wrong to lie. It is wrong to pretend to seek a Good- eg, “take back control”- when that means something else, control for the corporations rather than the elected government. Politicians should engage the hope and love of people, our wish for a better life and a better world and our belief that these things are possible, rather than our fear or resentment.

I marched because I believe the EU is a force for good in the world, and that Britain can have a voice in it. I marched for diversity, for my friends from other countries who have made Britain their home, for regulations in the interests of consumers, workers and the environment, for common action to mitigate the coming mass extinction. I marched for solidarity. The EU is not perfect and we can make it better from within.

This is a blog. It is a sketch. I have not thought this through and expressed it all in coherent words, I have put down my initial thoughts. Please comment. Let us make our ideas better, together.

One million for a People’s Vote

A million of us were marching, for hope, cooperation and solidarity.

The platform at Finsbury Park station was packed. In the train we were like sardines, but with banners.

We walked out at Oxford Circus in a great stream.

A friendly crowd.

I have just had fish and chips, quintessential English street food, brought here by Jewish immigrants.

The importance of disagreement

Trans rights are held back by trans women working against them. I’ve just seen that one of them has written of me, Clare and I disagree on some issues but I suspect we agree on many others. Yes; but right now our disagreement matters more.

The most important issue in the struggle around trans rights now is the involvement of the hard-Right and far-Right. The Heritage Foundation works incessantly against women’s rights, even when it funds feminists. Its desire is a world run in the interests of the rich, where only the rich are free. I have changed my mind about my advice to Julie Bindel– she should shout this from the rooftops. The aim is to set left-wing trans women, and left-wing feminists, against each other so that we consume our energies and do not resist the hard-right.

“Gender-critical” campaigning against trans rights had been a mainly British phenomenon. The persecution in the US was from the hard-Right. Trump pleased his base with a ban on transgender troops. But now there is a “Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights” which entirely bizarrely suggests that the threats to women’s rights are surrogacy and transition.

On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.

What are the most important feminist issues? Worldwide, literacy and education must come pretty high; in developed countries, the gender pay gap affects most women; FGM; bodily autonomy, and access to family planning matters everywhere; I would argue even the number of women on the boards of the biggest multinational companies is more important to average American women than a few trans women.

The declaration argues, the concept of ‘gender identity’ makes socially constructed stereotypes, which organize and maintain women’s inequality, into essential and innate conditions, thereby undermining women’s sex-based rights. Rubbish. Transition only affects trans folk, not anyone else. I have no interest in other women behaving in a “feminine” way if they do not want to.

There was a launch in New York last Friday. Jean Hatchet may have revealed the funding for that.

I can see that if “femininity” does not fit you, you would feel irked, angry or hurt for someone to doubt you were a proper woman. For centuries women have been attacked as unfeminine, as bluestockings, for being too clever. Yet the heart of “transgender ideology” is the idea of gender identity, the knowledge at the heart of me, before any justification, that I am a woman. Therefore any woman can define her own womanhood. We are not the ones doubting or circumscribing your womanliness. All we do is assert our own. It would not affect women’s rights if even 5% of women were AMAB, but 0.1%?

I agree with them. They are women. Any time they want to talk, or find how we are natural allies, I am open to that. And I disagree. They are being set against their allies by their enemies, and the ridiculous self-justification they use for imagining attacking trans people is left-wing, principled, or against stereotyping of gender is utterly wrong.

And, what do I agree about, with that trans woman? I would like some accommodation with gender-critical feminists. What do I disagree? I condemn her utterly for writing for the Spectator. It is a right-wing rag. Yes, it’s nice to get your name on a well-read website, but not worth. betraying all you should hold dear. They want to criticise the prosecution by the prosecuting authorities of someone for doxxing a trans child, or pretend there is some “free-speech” issue around putting forward a view trumpeted in The Times four times a week, or even argue that trans women are not women. They are your enemy, and the enemies of all feminists. Yet you publish there, undermining everything you might want to achieve as a union activist, or even as a teacher. And these “feminists” undermine feminism by diverting feminist energy against trans women. I am with John Major on this- it’s time to “condemn a little more, and understand a little less”. Debbie Hayton: stop self-harming, and stop betraying feminism.

Sympathy for the anti-trans campaigners

A thread on a site where anti-trans campaigners go asks them how they started with that campaign. It has over six hundred responses, and the personal stories are fascinating. Why would people invest so much time and energy in trying to evict 0.1% of women from women’s spaces? Why do they spend so much time on line, radicalising each other, nursing their wrath to keep it warm? There is qualitative evidence there, and I hope serious research is done to draw some conclusions from this archive. Meanwhile, here are some quotes and stories. Continue reading