Notes from Yearly Meeting Ministry

You are loved, now. I have such a feeling of Love, which is a fraction of God’s Love.

Should we feel guilty, asks a white man. Guilt is unhelpful, how should I act? Can we empathise across divides?

Can I be my whole self here? Will my hurt be met by compassion? Is this a community we can trust? Can we disagree well, with our power imbalances?

Stories of individual experience are the foundations of spiritual transformation. We become aware of unseen chains.

It is not about feeling guilty but learning to love who we are and act out that love.

Shame and guilt can lead to further violence- instead, we need Grief.

I am laying myself bare before you.

I am not interested in men’s shame or whites’ shame. I am unashamed. We need accountability and responsibility.

So much of privilege is about other people’s stuff.

Did class privilege, appearing educated, help me get ESA?

We are still responsible, even if exclusion is unconscious.

I freed myself from one set of chains and put on others.

A child said, “I don’t want to be a woman when I grow up. I want to be a person.”

We are not called to be good, but to be faithful.

Being broken, I learn my weaknesses. I cry at the anger in my meeting and elsewhere. Could we live with each other in our power and powerlessness? Our privilege makes people leave.

I am proud of being Quaker in our diversity.

I took these notes, frustrated and delighted, at Yearly Meeting in London, 24-27 May this year. I am at one extreme, resenting having to explain what “woke” means. I am quite clear we exemplify White privilege. At one point I thought that no white straight man has said anything useful. It is not a “privilege” to have a good brain, it is a gift, and privilege interacts with that: whatever level of intelligence you have, being white, male and/or straight will make life easier. I felt as frustrated with some of what was said as I do with the line in QF&P 22.45, The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends. That minute was ahead of its time, and now that line shows the opposition. What can I do with the distress of the privileged?

This is our Minute 33, on privilege:

We have embarked on an exploration of privilege, seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us, and affect our ability to act on our urgent concerns of sustainability and climate justice, and diversity and inclusion.

Through hearing personal stories and reflecting on our own lived experience, we have confronted our own privilege and lack of privilege. We have learned that we may be seen as privileged in some contexts and as disprivileged in others. Where we have privilege we can choose how to use it: we must choose carefully. We must each learn to love who we are, be authentic, and act out that love in the world, working in partnership to dismantle the institutions and transform the systems that marginalise people.

[A Friend objected to the word “disprivileged”, saying it was not a real word. The clerks confirmed it is in the dictionary.]

Exploring privilege can be challenging and it can be uncomfortable. We need to show each other compassion and trust. Quakers are all sorts of people with the capacity for both good and bad actions, and we find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves. As a religious society we face the obstacle of pride. Real power will come if we cease to be merely “good respectable people” and be a community that knows weakness and frailty. We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. Through our tears we can find power.

We have started our journey in different places and with different experiences. As we have laboured together on understanding privilege, we are journeying from guilt, shame and grief, to speaking of accountability and responsibility, and then to the desire for action. We are impatient: we identified both sustainability, and diversity and inclusion as urgent concerns two years ago, and we want to see change and growth.

[I am not clear we were at Unity on this. We “hoped” it was a good enough Minute. It included beautiful parts from much of the Ministry, and some of us did not seem to understand what privilege is, or see that it is an obligation to subvert it (to me, from my extreme position). “We find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves”- that was clear to me from some of the Ministry, and I don’t think those giving that ministry saw Privilege as it affects others. I don’t think all of us were committed to “learning our weaknesses”.]

We are fearful of the monsters of war and climate breakdown that are hurting our fragile Earth. We know there is pain around inclusion in our meetings. Fear is holding us back. We fear being misjudged or being seen as preaching, and so we fail to challenge the norm. We fear losing our status. We need to address our fear to begin to do something positive. We have seen signs of hope, but we have work to do, to transform ourselves, our communities and our world.

Our exploration and our journey are not complete. We have examined the privileges we have; the next steps are to see the effects they have on us, and how they make us behave.

We can take passion back to our meetings: our passionate connection to the Earth. We can take a desire to listen to those who do not share our own privileges, and to walk alongside people who are fearful of what we hope for. We can share the emotions from the inspiration and challenge we have felt as we have journeyed together.

[To me, the obligation on me as a white person is to recognise white privilege, and work to correct it- not just to challenge overt racism but to help remove barriers to full inclusion, recognise and welcome BAME leadership. I feel the “Where are you really from?” question others and excludes people, and Quakers ask it. One should not have to explain ones heritage to people on demand, even if sharing about our heritage can deepen our knowledge of each other.]

We call on Friends throughout our Yearly Meeting to continue this work in our meeting communities, to deepen and extend the work we have done, so that we can be the community we need to be to face the future. We encourage local and area meetings to share their insights.

[I stood to propose an alteration to the Minute, and was not called. I don’t know whether making our division more explicit, as I wanted, would have improved matters. I feel that combating privilege is our Leading, yet not everyone is united with it, any more than initially all Quakers wanted to divest from the profits of slavery.]

We ask Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee to discern further how we can take the next steps to meaningful action, to be put before our Yearly Meeting Gathering next year.

Trans men and male privilege

Trans men gain male privilege. I heard of one last weekend, amazed that they were treated with so much more respect, just because of the change of presentation. People see “Man”, and behave differently. It is not entirely gain, of course.

What gains are there? His ideas are taken more seriously, and he is interrupted less. His achievements may be publicly recognised. I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. This was a foreign concept to me. As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that. But after seeing it happen all around me I decided that if I felt I deserved something I was going to ask for it too. By doing that, I took control of my career. It was very empowering.

People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around and trying to be delicate like I used to do. In meetings, I was more outspoken. I stopped posing my thoughts as questions. I’d say what I meant and what I wanted to happen instead of dropping hints and hoping people would read between the lines and pick up on what I really wanted. I was no longer shy about stating my opinions or defending my work. When I gave presentations I was brighter, funnier, more engaging. Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Men are more outspoken. You drop hints and state thoughts as questions because you fear they will not be accepted. I tend to think it’s a question of power- of privilege. Women can be confident, and still get interrupted.

People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer, even when I don’t. Well, sometimes we just need an answer, so we can move on. There are a multitude of good enough answers. People also engage with his questions, rather than brushing him off.

Men in that article also talk about a loss of sisterly solidarity. So, women would look at each other sympathetically when a man said something rude about one of them, but now he has to suck it up. Men and women held doors open for him presenting female, but stopped. One found he listened less, and put that down to T. The Black man had had reasonable interactions with the police presenting female, but now was routinely pulled over and humiliated- “Do you have a weapon? Are you on probation?”

Another trans man challenges male sexism, and tells men he mentors, right now, you’re comfortable — but you have no insight into anyone because you’ve never had to be uncomfortable. Several say they feel more empathy, seeing things from both sexes’ point of view.

Here’s a brilliant loss and gain quote: They gained professional respect, but lost intimacy. They exuded authority, but caused fear. The female author continues to summarise: Many trans men I spoke with said they had no idea how rough women at work had it until they transitioned. As soon as they came out as men, they found their missteps minimized and their successes amplified. Often, they say, their words carried more weight: They seemed to gain authority and professional respect overnight. They also saw confirmation of the sexist attitudes they had long suspected: They recalled hearing female colleagues belittled by male bosses, or female job applicants called names… walking home after dark felt easier, casually talking to babies, strangers and friends felt harder. The Black trans man also finds the police far more scary.

Trans men notice psychological changes on T. They feel more sure of themselves, Time says. That could just be fitting their own skin better, as transitioned trans people. It could be the T. Things are more black and white, says one. Another feels freed from the expectations placed on women: he no longer feels he has to smile all the time, and be pleasant.

I need to burrow down into this. Two of the three articles I looked at are on WaPo and Time, large professional sites with professional female journalists creating a story- allowing the trans men to speak for themselves up to a point. To really understand I would have to look through blogs, some of which might state different experiences when presenting male without explaining them with the concept of “male privilege”. I would be grateful to receive any comments, or suggestions of further reading.

“Cis privilege” and safe spaces

Do we regard women’s need for safe spaces as privilege?

Well, I don’t. Yet “cis privilege” exists. I try to create understanding and see from more than one perspective. I want to get beyond trump cards, the killer argument which makes one side win, or Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show our suffering is greater. I would welcome a response which might find some grain of value in this, and build on it.

I do not believe in “female privilege”, as Patriarchy favours men. The need for women’s safe spaces comes from Patriarchy. But Kyriarchy- rule by lords, or the privileged, over others, is a useful word: people of colour, queers and others are also oppressed. There are intersections.

Trans people are in all sorts of cultures around the world, over millennia. Trans people are those who think they are, want to be, or want to be seen as, the other sex. The word transsexual was coined to fit that, but it does not quite fit. Some thought that the word increases pressure on us to have surgery which some of us may not want, and some say that we fit a cultural perception of the other sex so “transgender” fits better. Then some object to being seen as culturally a woman: if by genes, gonads and genitals you are a woman, you are a woman no matter what the culture thinks.

Part of privilege is not having to explain yourself. We’re everywhere, and we always have been throughout recorded history. Still we have to explain ourselves. We have to explain ourselves to ourselves, to pluck up the courage to transition, and we have to explain ourselves to others, to justify doing what we want to do.

Being a Quaker, I value experience above belief. I observe that dressing in clothes deemed fit for women by my culture and a feminine name were what I wanted more than anything else in the world. This came after a period when I tried to make a man of myself, going for long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks, or joining the territorial army. Lots of trans women do. I now think of that as suffering social pressure to conform as a “normal” male.

Part of privilege is having spaces where you fit. At Yearly Meeting I noticed a queue outside the “All-gender” toilet, and wondered if I were female enough to use the women’s. I decided I was. I have only noticed all-gender toilets in the past year or so, and might be delaying a wheelchair-user’s use.

The need for safe spaces is the opposite of privilege. The common space is made for men- so when there is a sex murderer on the loose, the police tell women not to go out alone, rather than impose a curfew on men. And, the common space is not made for trans folk either. We don’t have our discrete spaces, we are lumped in together.

So we scrap amongst ourselves. I experience a great deal of sympathy from women. Some are proud to be allies, speaking up for trans people. Many say “trans women are women” which as a factual statement might be disputed, and its implications taken to the extreme are absurd. Non-trans women are women too. But it’s a statement of intent about practical arrangements, about how we treat people.

Some women are upset and angry to see a trans woman in women’s space. Some women are creeped out by it, and some collect stories of actual trans woman sex offenders, as if to tar us all with the same brush, but not all women are.

I tend to feel that temporary solidarity from women who are repulsed by a trans woman in a woman’s loo would advance feminist concerns and subvert conservative gender roles (conservatives hate trans women because we subvert gender roles by transitioning, even if we reinforce gender roles in our presentation after transition). So I feel recognising some trans disprivilege has value, even if you don’t feel privileged over us yourself.

If “trans” refers to one who crosses over, “cis” means one on the same side. I want a word which means “non-trans” without clearly excluding trans women from the class of “women”. Now, we have two sets of terms, one prioritising genes gonads and genitals as a way of moulding how people should react, and the other emphasising universal (though rare) human actions. Could we have one language?