Wisdom at Greenbelt

An author, Linda Hurcombe, said to me in the volunteers’ tent,

Abigail you are an incredible person.

I breathed the words in. I am learning the depth of my gifts, and my difficulties. I kind of know that, but I asked her to write it down so I could absorb the affirmation, and she added,

I love you.

In that tent there were urns for tea, biscuits, phone charging and good conversation. Outside, loos and water taps, the shade of trees and a slight breeze.

Ilia Delio contrasted Transhumanism, a rationalist attempt to control the world, with Posthumanism, a way of seeking wholeness in an age of fragments. Matter and consciousness are two aspects of the same stuff. Love is the core energy of the Universe, which is undivided wholeness. We hope for the end of the liberal concept of the autonomous subject for a new subjectivity, integrated into the World and embedded in technology which extends us.

And then I went to sleep, because it was all too much for me.

The Revd. Rachel Mann transitioned aged 22, passed, and came out in her forties. Daringly she hinted Christ was like a trans woman: when Mary kisses the baby Jesus they “share this moment of their strangeness together”, their outsider status.

As usual I joined a group for the Communion, and after they invited me to share their picnic lunch. It was fun and moving. We sang,

Reality is sharp
It cuts at us like a knife
Everyone we know
Is in the fight of their life
We believe in a better way

Leunig said drawing intuitively was not ascending into cleverness but descending into something primal. Celebrate the elusive, fleeting and intangible. He does not like being slandered. He was called wrong like an antivaxxer or something. I think, I am in my own self-slander and criticism so that others’ seems unremarkable, but keeps mine topped up and simmering.

The need to possess objects and have experiences is crazy. Leunig has a poem, The Joy of Missing Out. He used to draw political cartoons, and one day included a duck. Why? Because it needed a duck. They have a rounded beak for dabbling. They seem friendly. Later he was told it was a psychoanalytic symbol of transcendence.

He seeks mature innocence, not naivete but wisdom. He can be the voice of voiceless people, and unexpressed grief. To end a world of Them and Us we need cooperation and forgiveness.

Nadia Bolz-Weber asked why does the church reach chastity when Love is so good for us? The Church preaches Purity culture, that sex is dangerous, you must suppress all sexual thoughts, as if God wants you disconnected. Sex is an energy infusing life, and the Church stops us finding our power. There is a hostile obsession with the sex of others.

Like swords into ploughshares, she melted down purity rings women gave her into a sculpture of a vagina. Hearing her, I feel rage and hope.

She wanted the first words her daughter heard from her about sex not to be fear of STDs or pregnancy but positivity. Learn how your body reacts, and what delights you.

She was freed from anger when she stopped thinking dualistically. With a Fundamentalist upbringing she still judged women preachers, even though she was one. A voice inside would say how dare you do that. So she made friends with the voice. Grace creates acceptance.

I find myself gasping with the strength of my feeling, my resistance to it. I need to accept the feeling and enter my power.

She wants church rules of Do rather than Do Not. She includes trans people automatically: she says to “brothers sisters and siblings, queer straight cis trans, bodies are holy.”

We move in the Church not from vice to virtue but from imagined virtue to Christ. I would say, from the virtues I craved to the virtues God created in me.

Later, she talked of the Song of Songs, of magnificent bodies, not of vanity but aplomb.

A man who spent time with “extremists” said how hard it is to be Tommy Robinson, with all the hate targeted at him, and how hard he works, making placards until 3am. We won’t convert his followers by shouting at them.

In the URC tent I took a card, hand-made with lace, reading True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.

Encounters at Greenbelt

I hugged a bishop. He agreed to wear a pronouns badge, when I explained what it meant. It is a declaration not so much that he is binary male, as an ally to trans and non-binary.

He understood about privilege, as a white man in leadership. He had a tour of the Supreme Court and took tea with the Lord Chief Justice, and it may even be a good thing for such different pillars of the Establishment to be in dialogue- yet revealed why he understood privilege when he said he was a “Grammar school boy made good”: seeing class privilege is his way into seeing white and male privilege. Yes. We English place every one on a precise pecking order, as he says.

I walked from the Shelter, and gatecrashed a conversation on the Second Amendment. The US Supreme Court decided the right to bear arms was as unlimited as the right to free speech- only about ten years ago. Yet we cannot say “That man is wrong. Kill him!” A woman joined the conversation and said but we say that all the time- and my understanding changed. Yes, but only a few people can choose the victim. She is a nun. She leads clowning workshops. I hugged her, too. I hugged lots of people, after meaningful conversations: at Queer Spirit I went up to strangers, asked for hugs, and usually got them.

I went to the Inclusive Church stall for more pronoun badges. I got my first at the Out stall. I wore three, one He, one She and one They, to stir things up. Had there been an It badge I would have worn that too. The woman there was a Quaker, and she said she had got them to change their Inclusion statement from “Our Statement of Belief”, which is Evangelical sounding,  to “Our Vision”. They don’t just let churches sign up, they go to work with churches to ensure the congregation is behind it, that the church has undergone metanoia, a Christ-inspired change in their way of being. No out-groups. The discussion can be a powerful moment for growth.

They pledge to challenge discrimination in the Church on grounds including gender and gender identity.

On to the United Reformed Church. I asked, and they said individual churches can decide to solemnise gay marriages. It’s a matter of church government- but the discussion leading to such decisions can be a powerful engine of growth and maturity.

In the Grove there was a Play for Adults workshop. We were told to visualise a tiny self, an inch tall, and imagine their adventures in the undergrowth. Some used this as a way into fantasy. I used it to enter mindful awareness of the growth and decay. Then she offered us choices. A friend said at his two year old’s birthday party the children were all playing separately, having not got the idea of playing together, and here we were, as adults, mostly playing separately.

I joined a person drumming with twigs on a log, and two others joined us. After the person said their name, and I am now unsure of their gender and assigned gender. I mention that. It’s unusual. It feels a little weird, and good.

My other time with a microphone was at the LGBT social, when I spoke to the group about becoming Quaker, and how proud Quakers are of the welcome they gave me.

Greenbelt affirmations

Taking the microphone and looking out over the thousand-member audience, I said, “I am wise. Listen to me.”

I am feeling powerfully affirmed right now. I have spoken before in conversation from my integrity, all of me united in a belief or intention. I check it is right and true then say it. As I do this more I become clearer.

Then there was the Queer Spirit festival, 16-18 August. At the Authentic Communicating workshop I talked of this, of the way of speaking from my whole self, and the facilitator addressed me, “Tell us the truth, O wise one”. It is hard to imagine such words without sarcasm, but he said them with utter sincerity. There I saw beautiful playfulness, and a profound shift in a man, shedding his introjects. I asked to be lifted and supported on nine pairs of hands, and was borne aloft. I could trust. Then we group hugged.

That night I left the big top at eleven, and dozily left my handbag in a toilet. I went to that workshop with no money, no house keys, no way of getting home, wondering if I could ask anyone to drive me there. We decided I could ask the festival to loan me enough for a taxi and the buses. At eight, no one had handed in my handbag but after the workshop someone had contacted the organiser, and I went to pick it up from the Faerie area. If there was anyone who would steal it at the festival, they were unlikely to be the one to find it.

I knew no one at Queer Spirit but started conversation easily, asking and receiving hugs. I noticed how forebearing we were with each other, anxious to please as if used to hurt and slights- as you might expect in an LGBT festival. I see it in myself and in queer friends.

Leaving Queer Spirit I resented the cost of the taxi to Nupton, the buses having been cut, but a man joined me and talked of Faerie, halving my fare. It is an alternative gay culture for men tired of shallowly pumping iron and using the right grooming products. He is spiritual but not religious, having had a harmful religious upbringing, and liked my line “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”.

Then there was the Quaker meeting. It was a Leading to hold it at Greenbelt, but my leading was not affirmed by my Meeting, who had told the Festival there was no one to organise the worship. It felt haphazard, and I felt unprepared. Yet after we had 110 in worship and I introduced it, emphasising the welcome enquirers should expect, I felt vindicated. My leading had been recognised by events.

Nadia Bolz-Weber talked of bodies, how people are ashamed of bodies and how we are fed false ideals which we cannot match. She told us to turn to a neighbour and say something we liked about our bodies. My neighbour had beautiful eyes, and said so. We were in a place, after three days of Festival, where we could say such things.

If women did not spend the energy fruitlessly chasing the beauty myth we could solve global heating.

I spoke into the microphone. I said how after transition I finally loved my body, its beauty and effectiveness, and of how people are also shamed about Gender, and how humanity needs to affirm soft men and powerful women, strong and gentle humans. I asked the speakers to affirm our gender in all its variety and contradictoriness. I got applauded. I am affirmed again.

Another woman said whenever she had an unpleasant experience her mother would ask, “What did you do to cause that?” Such shaming could make a child hide away completely, like a rabbit fearing all attention was predatory. She is in middle age recovering.

Another said as a trans man he wanted chest surgery, yet he also wanted to bear a child and breast feed- but not yet, maybe in six years’ time. How could he live with his body as it is, and all it means to others, in that tension?

I am feeling powerful. My working out my need heals others. Having valued my softness as strength when I saw it as weakness for so long, I can help others free themselves.

This pillar was marked “The wisest thing I ever heard was-”

Outrage, pain and anger- the answer?

How can we bear the injustice in the World, without being overwhelmed? How can we oppose injustice effectively?

Nadia Bolz-Weber at Greenbelt said she did not pick the low-hanging moral outrage fruit. She did an interview about pornography, and a Conservative commentator used one line from it to publish an article with a clickbait title, Feminist “Pastor” says porn can be ethical. He did this to get ad revenue. Then his readers all click, and get riled, and have a pleasant feeling of righteous anger. Then The Federalist picked up the story. People are angry, because sites want clicks. The anger produces no good at all, no worthwhile change, just greater self-righteousness and division. So what to do?

She also says her husband was a wonderful human being but with her lover now she is truly loved and it has released her softness. She can still do acerbic stand-up Nadia but does not want to.

Michael Leunig drew cartoons on a wipeable sheet with a camera. He showed his little man and how simply he could show different emotions with a slightly different shape of mouth or eye. He says he draws intuitively. When he has a conscious idea of what his picture might be it often turns out badly. So he starts to play on paper and something emerges. He wanted his time in the Playhouse to be a conversation, and microphones got passed round, but he was not understanding the questions. Several times he would look puzzled and say, “what?” And we did not repeat ourselves.

I wondered if it was our accent- he grew up in Melbourne- and our politics, so I used an Australian example, Andrew Bolt mocking Greta Thunberg as autistic, but his face still showed incomprehension. I talked about anger and how there were people seeking to channel our anger for nefarious ends; so I was grateful for him making us happy. He wasn’t sure about happy. Be kind. Be like children. I got applause for my question. We need activist energy not sucked into the anger outrage machine.

After I got chatting and a woman suggested Leunig’s incomprehension had been about the miserable stuff. Many questions made a narrative: goodgoodgood positive possibility; but- angstangstangst; so- what? Or, Help! Except for the man who asked Leunig to draw a teapot, which he drew on the character’s head.

Mmm. Just tune the angst out- at least when it’s clear it is old anger, recycled, not doing any good. That could be a plan.

Thinking about this, I tried it. I walked past the Action for Children stall (she needed to explain it was formerly National Children’s Home) slowly enough for the woman there to call me over. She told me how AfC had their 150th anniversary, and marked it with a report on how childhood had changed over that time and the difficulties of childhood now. As she listed them, I allowed myself to feel the sadness and puzzlement and hurt they evoked in me, and as she went on I showed misery in my face. When I closed my eyes and bowed my head she asked if I was alright and whether the festival was too much for me, and directed me to the Haven where there was emotional support available. Then I explained what I was trying: allowing the feeling and emotion to flow in the moment without filter. It needs work. I am alright, just not filtering.

Extinction Rebellion did a talk, and as I walked past I heard of affinity groups. I believe I will not take personal action against DSEI, and am sad about that. I don’t know if it really is my leading and I am bottling it because I don’t believe I am strong enough, or I would like it to be my leading because that would make me feel good about myself but realise it isn’t. Or I am conflicted, part of me wants to participate and part does not.

I don’t have an answer. Knowing and accepting my feelings as I increasingly do is good. Being aware of the ways the internet can channel them harmfully and seeking not to be so caught up is a possibility. I might notice when I am caught up. Or realise that the wash of emotion happens, and sometimes I am feeling in the moment, knowing my feeling, and empowered by that.

Preaching joy may not work, though. I saw Vickie Cooper signing her book “The Violence of Austerity”. I went over to say that I can’t afford my rent and my savings are draining but- here we are in the beauty of the Field and the people! And she talked of how bad austerity is. She gave me her book without charge, signing it “Keep fighting the Struggle and don’t let them get you down”. So now I have to read it.

I get better with feelings. Practice helps. This analysis helps. What do you think, Friends?

Character, aptitude, value

I am not worthless, useless and hopeless, however much it seems that way to me. Embrace the evidence to the contrary!

Awesome,” she said, and I explained laboriously how only the bridge was my contribution. “Awesome bridge,” she said. People build me up, and I see how much I need it. That woman denied she was creative, and I sought to persuade her otherwise. I might say, you have had problems in your life: have you ever found solutions? Does that emerge as an insight which amazes and delights you, or leaves you quietly satisfied?

With a range of people from, say, Ranjana Srivastava, seeking to improve life and alleviate suffering, and Jeffrey Epstein happy to destroy people for his momentary gratification or to increase his power, I am at the right end of that range.

I am creative. I can be persuasive. I speak well. I write well. I make up stories of possibility. If I were to go back to the Turbine Hall I might take down the top of one of those towers for a source of bricks and either build a series of wee houses two bricks high or a wall across the table. Or I might be inspired by other work to do something else.

I am caring and supportive. I can be a good listener and find ways to build others’ confidence.

When I devote myself to a task I devote myself entirely. I spend myself- we spend ourselves, accepting damage or deterioration in the service of what we most want, as a woman may be incontinent of urine after pregnancy.

These manifestations of who I am delight me. I am most myself, being myself, acting as befits me. It is fitting and right. It is affirming and powerful.

I can be anxious, making mistakes in a hurry, or I can be composed and thoughtful, taking steps in order, making connections and understanding, inhabiting my power.

I am damaged. I do not know what I feel, often. That mantra helps:

I am here. This is. I am.

I take time to appreciate my surroundings, their beauty, solidity, value, fittingness which is bringing me into an appreciation of my own. If I notice I am behaving as if I am confused or anxious, that may indicate that I am confused or anxious. How have I been behaving? The feeling, brought into consciousness, may help me reassess my desires and actions. The feeling suppressed below consciousness makes me make mistakes, judge myself harshly, and be more stressed and inclined to withdraw, or be obnoxious.

My tactic of suppressing feeling helped me survive but in my adult self is weakness. The practice of mindfulness may bring me into my strength. It is liberating.

The self-concept, the imagined figure of who I imagine I ought to be, and the judgment, the idea that I am merely inadequate for not fitting it, are stripped away as I see who I really am now, respending in the moment to the actual situation.

This is particularly hard for a trans woman. We are fed an ideal of masculinity we cannot yet must fit, and seeing and valuing who we really are is a difficult task.

I am

PROUD

of this. How can you recognise your blind spots, what you cannot see, behind your illusions, what is not real? The illusion touches my perception as reality would. It is hard work, climbing out of Plato’s cave.

This sentence could only be in a Russian novel (in this case, Life and Fate) Her soul filled with the sense of life that is humanity’s only joy and most terrible pain. Or possibly Intensity- reality feels intense, far more so than illusion.

That image again, of coming out of a dark, cramped corridor, steadily getting darker and smaller, into overwhelming light and colour which I could not bear. I thought of it as coming out of my withdrawing from the world, or out of my shrinking into expressing my charisma, and just now of turning from illusion to reality and sensing my feelings. It is all of these. I have always known I must learn to bear the brightness or die.

The Cubic Structural Evolution Project

To get to the Quaker meeting I left the house before eight, and cycled up steep hills and into stiff winds. Then at the station the replacement bus was full, and a man had suggestions of what the incompetents managing the service should have done. Do we get compensation? Yes, but only £6.75.

A woman offered me a lift in her car. She’s off to see Romeo and Juliet, at Sadlers Wells, choreographed by Matthew Bourne. He always manages to surprise her with new ways of expressing story in dance.

“You’re obviously very creative,” she said.

Yes, that’s why I wanted to tell you of her.

“I’m not creative myself,” she said. I protested. You talk to your grandchild, don’t you? You’re interacting, sparking off each other. She agreed and enthused.

“The 9.42 will get me to my meeting on time,” I announced.

“No pressure, then,” she said. She got her silent husband to let us out at the drop off point before parking. If they rowed about her generosity they did it after I left.

On the train the big shaven-headed bloke in jeans and white t-shirt talked of going to Mass and his grandmother’s power of attorney. At Meeting I looked at the food bank box and thought of connection- mine with these people, through them with my fellow benefit claimants.

I had not known what was in the Turbine Hall, and went over to look. I had not intended to join in but got chatting to a mother and daughter who explained it to me.

“I want to go back to the bar,” said the mother.

“How old are you?”

“Eleven,” said the child, who looked younger.

Oh, she’ll be alright! No one will mind!

“You have to take towers down or there will be no bricks to build with,” says the mother. I joke about playing Godzilla and the daughter is horrified.

The future city is very beautiful now. Those are huge towers, wonderfully varied, from only a few different brick types. I have not really noticed adult Lego hobbying before. I was aware of its existence but only seeing what is possible in real life makes me alive to it. Children make structures at ground level, but I want to contribute and be Noticed. When the towers have taken so long to build, and such inspiration to imagine, how can I compete? I will build a bridge.

That’s difficult with the short bricks available. The round towers can only sit on the table, not build on bricks. I am Creating: constrained by my materials, inspired by other work. My bridge has a hinge in it, making it considerably weaker but more able to place between towers. It is irregular, Brutalist among these neo-classical forms. Inadvertently I knock the top off a tower as I try to affix it, and am abashed; but I do not have time to rebuild it even if I knew how.

It is ungainly, detracting from the Beauty! No, it is a piquant or picaresque contrast, adding to the whole work. I hadn’t seen a bridge there before, but noticed someone creating one later. Future cities need bridges! Writing next day I don’t know if my bridge still exists, but my posts are web archived, and perhaps archeologists will find silicon with this photograph, just before the Sun as a red giant engulfs the Earth.

Then I go to gaze into the eyes of the Goncharova Christ, which is why I came to London. I can’t find it in a postcard or online- possibly like an icon it is holy, so restricted. The grapes on His vine are rich and strong.

I want to take a tower apart and put a slab of blue bricks in! It would not need to be large, and it would stand out like the Sun in Impressions- Sunrise!

With biscuits and cheese, and two cups of tea at Meeting, I don’t need to buy food in the gallery. I am with Christ and the Queen of Heaven when I am chucked out.

Howard Thurman

If I never feel confused, is confusion that terrifying emotion which I must always suppress below conscious awareness? If the distance between how things are and how they ought to be is so great that I cannot see how things are, being just confused, how can I do what I need to do? If my anger is always directed at myself- do better, try harder, keep going- how can I survive a world unless it is designed to fit me and support me? When do I realise that it isn’t?

I am wary of using Black experience as a way into my own as their oppression is greater than mine, except that mine matters too. I am a trans woman, conveniently available for anyone to punch down at, relieve their feelings on, use as a scapegoat or ridicule. We get screamed at, assaulted, killed by casual acquaintances or strangers, and painted as perverts or predators when any need is felt to justify that though often it isn’t.

So I read extracts from Howard Thurman, Black mystic and spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King.

“The stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free… is God.”

God speaks through my survival instinct and the occasional, fleeting desire I have to be equal, not to be that whipping-girl. I will not wrong others, and I will survive.

God lives in each person, we are each the outworking of God’s love, power, creativity and beauty, each hair on our head is numbered and God wills our flourishing- yes, even trans women.

The Black man, used by whites for the most menial work, lynched- murdered- by whites to keep all Blacks in a state of terror and subjection and satisfy those whites of their own righteous superiority, finds that in religious experience “I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.”

God is a real me, more real than I can conceive. This is not a matter of dogma but immediate experience, to be captured in feeling not prose or theory, perhaps to be glimpsed in poetry. Then I am my full glory as my part in God’s outworking of creation.

Thurman’s God and mine is transcendent, eternal, all-encompassing, and personal and intimate, caring for me like God’s child in self-sacrificing, motherly love. So, I will show myself the love God shows I am worthy of.

Christianity is an ideology of empire, for security and respectability for the strong and powerful, giving grudging “charity”, sometimes, to deserving outsiders but teaching us our obligations to our betters. This makes those betters feel good about themselves. No, God requires that we are brothers and sisters, equals. I claim my equal worth. God in me seeks not to serve or dominate but to hear and communicate.

Why do I call myself Christian when Christianity oppressed me? To create it anew!

I am a human being among human beings, not for anyone to categorise or judge as “a trans woman”, for no-one’s stereotypes classifications or perceived understanding- even my own. That is love of self in my incomprehensible beauty, a love worthy of loving others with. I am my part of Life, as you are. Each Christian encountering another Christian as an equal, a beloved fellow child of the loving Mother would be an example to all other people. “See how they love each other!” We would win souls for Christ.

Gender is as oppressive as race and we who do not fit gender stereotypes or are not served by them must come together. So I take Richard Rohr’s questions and apply them to gender:

Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?

What gender identities or stereotypes have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a person?

What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about gender? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?

This is what to do with my anger, whether directed inward or outward- transmute it into a sense of self-worth: which becomes understanding, then love.

Finding happiness

If I were not inadequate, I would be happy. I don’t believe that, not really, but the thought is tempting.

I am an outsider. Regretting my surgery, and advising against it, I don’t know of any possible better way- not transitioning? Transitioning without bodily alteration? None is acceptable. I am an outsider, and no choice will make me fit in. Trying to is death. So living with the discomfort of being myself is the best way. And, oh God, it is uncomfortable.

None will make me fit.
-Fit what? For who?
Well. Exactly.

Audre Lorde: Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human difference between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.

“He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is half way there. He who blames no one has arrived.” Yeah. It’s facebook wisdom. There is something in it. Yet my self blame is reflexive, for everything, for being no use at all, so my self-blame does me no good.

So it felt like progress when I felt shame at having no money and wearing horrible old clothes. I want to present myself better. I got a Monsoon dress in a charity shop, so I will wear that- except it seems too dressy for the office. That’s lack of self-confidence, I can carry it off. I can do something about that shame, it’s not just wanting to be someone else.

Cathy, years ago. The birth mark on her cheek kept getting darker. She wore her hair long over her face but did not succeed in concealing it. Removal was possible, and she wanted it done, but never got round to it. It seemed to me that her birthmark was the symbol for her of her mediocrity and all the unsatisfactoriness of her life, and if she had it treated she would have to admit her life was still unsatisfying.

I wake at eight and reach for my phone. The Guardian opinion articles are on Brexit and white nationalist mass-shootings. People worked up about the thought that Muslims, Jews, Latinx, were replacing white people seem to be punching down, channelling their anger in a safe direction both for the oligarchs and for themselves. It is not a real threat. They face no risk for getting angry about it. They will not achieve beneficial change. They don’t fit their society either.

So I read what depresses and enervates me, and feel numb. “Numb” means there’s a feeling underneath which I cannot admit or recognise. I think it’s confusion. I should be able to sort all my problems myself. That I can’t is confusing. Unknowing is painful.

I go to meditate and feel delight in the moment, in the strength of that bush. Like it, I am alive! I am a living creature. I love the butterflies on the blossom. Meditating I am happy in the moment in the beauty where I am. I am not sorting my life out, instantly, certainly and painlessly but perhaps I am sorting it as best I can.

For whom would I want to fit in, to cease being an outsider? For me. If I want to fit in it is in order to feel safe. Then, what is the threat I fear? My mother? Her fears of the world? Mine? If I articulate the fears they seem silly but that does not take away their power, not am I certain I can articulate them. I am afraid of not understanding immediately what is going on. I am afraid of ridicule and contempt, and some are contemptuous of trans folk.

Someone calls me “he” but seems reasonably friendly, and I like her. And often in the past things have gone catastrophically wrong, in childhood and after.

Life is unbearable! I have no idea!

If I embrace how hard it is to bear, stop wishing it otherwise, might I learn to bear it?

Is Quaker dialogue on trans rights necessary?

We are not a political party, and do not need policies on the issues of the day. We are a religious society whose principles work themselves out through our lives, and we have four words expressing the heart of those principles: we say we have testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity and truth.

Our testimony to Equality should result in our positive work for women’s rights and trans rights. Our work on privilege and inclusion shows that our society is a profoundly unequal one, and we cannot simply imagine that belief in equality is sufficient. We need to expose how we unconsciously entrench privilege, and root it out. Part of this is exposing and opposing gender stereotyping, particularly around children.

However we should not necessarily get involved in perceived conflicts between trans rights and women’s rights.

We should refuse room bookings to groups claiming that they seek a debate on trans rights, from a feminist perspective, unless they can demonstrate that they will be truthful. This is because such groups have been untruthful in Quaker premises in the past.

I want trans people to feel as welcome in Quaker premises as anyone else, and because of our hurt and vulnerability that cannot just be assumed. I don’t trust social groups new to me. I came to Quakers in 2001, on the cusp of transition, as I did not feel welcome in the church which had baptised me, and I felt I would be welcomed by Quakers. In a similar position today I might stay with the Anglicans.

Many meeting houses will not need to consider the issue. If their loos are not labeled with gender indicators they may have no gendered spaces. If they have women’s groups or gendered spaces, generally the law is a good guide: the Equality Act 2010 admits trans women to women’s space unless there is good reason to exclude one, on a case by case basis.

So we may have to discern such issues ad hoc. An anti-trans campaigner explained to me that a woman who has been raped may feel scared seeing me in a woman’s loo, perceiving me as male, especially as loos only have one entrance. If such distress were actually felt by a regular attender of my meeting, I would consider what love requires of me.

A problem is that a vulnerable woman might not feel able to express such distress. Distress is often not heard. The consoling hug can be disrespectful: it can mean that we want your feelings to go away and stop bothering us. Again, belief that we are supportive is not sufficient. We need positively to communicate that to a possibly distrustful, vulnerable individual.

And it is what love requires of us: that’s not necessarily my self-sacrifice. I sometimes don’t even feel barely tolerated. I need evidence that I am accepted.

It would be easier to hold such discernment if the debate were less polarised. And we can’t produce one rule for all meetings: each meeting should consider the situation if it arises.

Some types of rhetoric should be off limits. The press reports endlessly on trans women who can be portrayed as unpleasant. The case of a trans rapist does not indicate how I should be treated. She is an individual and the characteristic we share does not mean we share any other characteristics. If I go to prison for peace campaigning I hope Friends would want me in a women’s prison not a vulnerable prisoner unit in a men’s prison. So Friends should not pay undue attention to particular difficult cases.

Anti-trans campaigners might have other arguable requirements.

I call them anti-trans campaigners because that is what they do. They speak out against my existing legal rights, making my life more difficult. I don’t consider them women’s rights campaigners because excluding 0.1% of the population, or even 1%, will not improve women’s position, or make women safer, and the “debate” contributes to making hate against trans people more prevalent. The “debate” takes energy which could otherwise be devoted to women’s rights causes.

This is not a free speech issue. Positions expressed regularly in The Times are not subject to censorship; but people cannot complain if their expressed views revolt others, who no longer wish to associate with them.

No one speaks for trans people. We do not have a Board of Deputies. So Quakers cannot perform reconciliation work, because there are no groups to reconcile.

Should we bring together trans people and anti-trans campaigners who are Quaker? Not necessarily. I find the debate wearing and depressing. I should not have to face a threat to my way of life. It may be too personal for me to discern. And yet I don’t want non-trans Quakers to discern without me.

So I would limit Quaker involvement in the debate. We could uphold the process in wider society. We could trust professionals in trans treatment. We could uphold children to make their own decisions about who they are, with the available professional help. Trans people exist, and have done for thousands of years.

Dog women

I am still wrestling with what it means to be a man, a woman, a person, free… My week’s life experiences are grist to my mill.

I went back to the Paula Rego exhibition, and approached one of the women working there, sitting guarding the art. Dame Paula wrote, “Women learn from those they are with; they are trained to do certain things, but they are also part animal.” I don’t think that’s quite it; we act the part others write for us, but sometimes can be ourselves.

The worker, a young black woman, said “I turn my anger in on myself”. We shared what pictures we liked. I had gone in to absorb Rego’s anger as energy, but in that conversation saw so much more in her work. My desire was to reflect then reify in myself the attitudes of the women she portrays, their clarity and determination.

Then I told Phil of the exhibition. He had not heard of Rego. I joked that if he saw the exhibition he would be able to pose about it, and he took me seriously, saying he never sought to pretend to others. What, never? No. Seriously, never.

And I thought all I care about is how I appear.

Had my phone given the route when I wanted, I would have got the 4pm bus, but instead it stuck at “calculating route” for an age and I had to wait until 5.17. Then the bus stop the phone indicated did not have the number of the bus I wanted, and I thought I had the wrong stop. Then it was a few minutes late, and I was upset, thinking I might have to wait another hour. And my being irritated, sad, hurt, frightened, having an emotional reaction, surprised me. I tell you the circumstances to bolster the idea that my feelings were proportionate. It is not that I could not cope, or threw a wobbly, but that it made me feel something. And I resented my feeling. I should not feel irritated, whatever, because of that problem.

So there is my feeling, overwritten by the need to feel in control, or be uncomplaining in the face of confusing service. At best I treat my feeling as a problem, to be cajoled into sensible behaviour, at worst as an enemy to be suppressed.

To be, or to seem? I doubt I convince others anyway, I only pose in my own imagination.

Gina Miller wants to appear cool, calm and graceful even as she paddles like fury under the surface. Mmm. Never let anyone know you are discomposed, it would be a weapon to use against you. But, hiding again. Pretending. This is someone who has stuck her head above the parapet, and is doing her own thing. I am scarcely at the stage of knowing what I might want separately from the group, or accepting my feelings as a guide. Hide. Conceal- don’t feel.

I was angry when I read Richard Rohr:

“Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us…. ” I thought, there is the privileged white man speaking. My fuel is anger. But my anger does not manifest as cruelty. I show tenderness.

Except when I don’t. There was the Polish woman, and I took over the conversation then dismissed her. I would not have dared be so high handed had I thought about it. I realised what I had done after. Privilege, again?

I realise that I make mistakes because I do not realise how anxious I am to get a task done quickly and be over with. I think about it after.

I need to spend more time in silence with myself, perceiving realising and absorbing all this. With screens I am just involved in a tangle of feeling and desire, curating my appearance, getting confused. In the silence I loved this view of a snail: