Encountering others

How could we stop depersoning each other?

-Why did you edit yourself?
-Because she wanted affirmation, and I didn’t, actually. I didn’t need anything from that conversation and I don’t think she could have given it to me.

I hate to claim wisdom. I feel if I am claiming wisdom I am missing something. Surely I could not be in such a mature place. But. With respect to the local meeting I think, well that was that. There were bits which were really wonderful. There were bits which were painful. I think it’s their loss, but I really don’t think I could convince them of that. I told people what had happened without self-justification, and that felt liberating.

Oh God it hurts, and I have to live with it. There will be other delights.

We say we want the I-thou encounter, and just like other human beings we note the class and status indicators and see people by stereotype. These are shortcuts, which get in the way of knowing. As apes, part of our initial impression is of the other’s hair, as an indicator of health.

I feel I made a step forward and as always it’s hard to know what the step forward is because in some sense I have been like this forever, and in some sense this is entirely new. I feel my undressing, my exposure of myself, has value, increasing understanding for myself and others. I have not particularly felt it has a cost, either because I don’t understand how people see me, or can’t see that it might make them see me less positively. Tout comprendre est tout pardonner.

And before I was not concerned with reality, but how I could manage its appearance to a part of me that judged me. I may be considering reality more. My aim is to respond to reality rather than manage my own fantasies about reality. I would do something to manage the fantasy rather than achieve something in the real world. But my situation is such that I don’t know what I want to achieve in the real world, or how I might go about starting.

There’s the deep hurt, fear, perplexity. I don’t think there’s a great deal of resentment, this is just where I am. I have achieved a great deal, and it may help me to earn a living in the long run.

TERFs are often people I would really like, and might relate to well, were it not for this dispute. I like them, yet I know my loyalty is to me in 2001 desperate to transition and completely terrified of it, and to people in exactly that position now.

There is one thing I could do to get more human contact and the experience of a working routine, and do something worthwhile, and I just don’t want to. I found it too unpleasant. Why did people vote for Brexit? Because it was couched emotionally rather than rationally, in terms of taking back control, not being bothered by immigrants seeing things differently and getting things we don’t get, and a cheery wave from the milkman in the morning. A simpler world, where everyone was comprehensible.

Everyone and no-one is like me. We meet wearing masks, and the masks prevent us from meeting, but shared experience may let us share real parts of ourselves. I self-disclose here, endlessly, because I want to take off my mask.

We voted for Brexit because we are thirsty, and someone showed us a mirage. Big Ben won’t bong on Friday, as there was no plan to ring it until it was too late. However Mark Francois blames the deep state, writing on his Gofundme page that it was much cheaper than £500,000 to ring it before: £14,200 on Remembrance Day.

So, Leavers get to feel a bit of resentment at being thwarted, even on their day of greatest triumph as they fondle their commemorative 50p’s and anticipate their blue passports. That bongs could have been as cheap on Brexit day had Francois and Johnson planned to bong is brushed aside.

The propaganda value of this is enormous. Leavers never get their triumph, they are always tantalised that great things are around the corner and can be gained but for the Bad People. So their anger and fear and resentment are kept stoked, for political purposes.

Speaking my mind

I was so ready for this an hour ago. I am not sure I can recapture the mood- I’ve cooled off a bit. I was high, and ready to tell you what I really think, and not care if it was not understood. I want to say I understand and you don’t and so shut up, listen, and get your head round this because it matters.

But they’re not going to listen. And my friend warned me on no account to say that. She thinks I should enjoy the loveliness and on no account say anything that will irk anyone at all. Remember, you no longer have male privilege! I would just be proving my maleness, but my femininity would mean I was ignored. I could have been a Pentecostalist minister. Hear the Word of the Lord!

I took control then, and eventually got what I wanted. I have some wonderful gifts.

I want to mess things up. And my friend wants to lance the boil, have the vileness heard so it may be answered. Then the blindness (Oh me! Oh how masculine I am being! Listen to the voice!) the blindnesses would be kicked away, and if that’s painful for someone they should deal with it. I have to deal with it.

I am exploring my own blindnesses, and speaking from different aspects of myself, for each of these is a different aspect. What’s the worst that can happen? I collapse in a puddle on the floor. Not just one bodily fluid. Or,  I will express my love and creativity and however poor the clay I have to work with I shall mould it into the best way for them to be. I shall be circumspect, recognising I no longer have male privilege, and lead people into truth.

I want the most difficult person included: both me, and the person I most disagree with. I have value no matter how many people tell me they need me to go away. I am a human being, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world. Sometimes I can speak winsomely, and persuade people. Sometimes not being rational, saying things I am not sure of because they might be true, or might provoke useful thought, can be useful. I can’t be worse hurt than I have been.

“Part of me is concerned that you will hurt yourself even more,” she said.

I don’t think so. I hope not. Mostly I get away with it- see my highwire act without a safety net. I’ve only fallen the once! Isn’t the word triggered a wonderful word? It is my hurt that is speaking and therefore I have a right to say anything I like. Isn’t being triggered the most awful thing in the world, you are completely without control and you can make a complete and utter fool of yourself.

I feel as well as the risk of making a fool of myself and making my problems worse there is the possibility of learning and growth for everyone involved, human beings coming together in love and understanding, and I will exercise my strength, of persuasion. I want to be seen in my full glory, all parts of me acting together as one. I want agreement and new understanding for everyone, or incremental movement of a few.

-What do you want for you?

I want to learn, to be challenged, to reach new insights, I want to laugh, I want to connect. The risks make it worthwhile.

Needing hugs

As our cheeks touched, my oxytocin receptors went DING!! So I had to go asking for other hugs so that I would not fixate.

I had two hugs during the election campaign. Labour is political, and though women address other women as “Sisters” rather than “comrades” we do not generally hug. However I knew these particular women would be glad to have a hug.

There are lots of hugs at the personal growth weekends. Quakers are half way between. It is safer and more respectful to ask, rather than to blunder in. One gets to read who will like a hug and who probably won’t. At the recent Quaker weekend I had some wonderful hugs, and twice I was offered one, and declined.

I am not good at emotional regulation. I might not have put it that way before my last Samaritans conversation. In childhood my feelings, desires and choices were devalued and ignored, and I grew up not knowing my feelings. Aged about 32, at the Sibyls “Spirituality for the Transgendered” weekend I found them, and they were anger frustration resentment and fear, later simplified to rage and terror. In the Quaker meeting over the last ten years I have learned to be in touch with my feelings. I realised how afraid I was of feeling fear or anger, and so I suppressed them. But suppressing ceased to work. So I was paralysed, my fear and my need to suppress it so I would not show signs of it pushing against each other like an isometric exercise. That state was indeed horrible, and it invigorated my fear of feeling. And in Autumn 2018 I found I could feel the feeling and just permit it, without trying to fight it back.

I may still get carried away or paralysed by feeling, but this is less likely. And thinking of a horrible experience before may help me approach it with something like equanimity: shocks produce far more powerful, unruly feeling in me. And I still suppress feeling, but might be less likely to do so until it is harmful.

Twice, I was offered a hug, and declined. My feelings were deep and intense, of rage, frustration, hurt, and in one case the provocation was ended for the moment, in the other I had removed myself from it. I felt a hug would be consoling, and that was not what I wanted. I could process my feelings by myself. And at another time, I asked to be hugged, rocked and held. I was going into a situation where I knew I would feel strongly, and in fact felt joy and pain at times both at once.

These are a toddler’s lessons. A hug can be fortifying. I was better able to contain my own feeling after it. And it can be valuing- it communicates to me that people value me, so that I have value. It makes me feel better, so it makes me stronger. I have often thought that since my thirties I have been doing a delayed teenage, and a Friend said trans women are like teenage girls- we are relating to people in new ways, exploring, and our feelings can be intense on the hormones- but here I was fortified by a toddler experience, which I wish I had had more as a toddler. “Big boys don’t cry” would have gone down better if said with a fortifying hug.

I hugged where words were impossible, and I also hugged for fun. I hugged for the joy of touch, sometimes of skin, more often of feeling warmth through clothes, softness under my finger tips, human communication without words.

Worship at the Diversity and Inclusion Gathering

Not everyone attended the final worship. I saw people coming in at the back, at the end, for the notices. I had my phone out and was typing on it- not normally acceptable in worship, but it felt right to me- to retain some of the ministry, from hearts and minds opened by a weekend of encounter.

A Young Friend quoted Greta Thunberg: “It’s time to panic”. Do we understand the urgency, of increasing racism and nationalism, of disability benefit cuts, of the need to do something bold and radical?

A Friend grew up in colonial Kenya, and shared their phrase: We the people shall govern. Those with power are the people. We Quakers should be at the forefront of inclusion work. He will make one act tomorrow that he may be a change maker.

“The Stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” This is not some bland and affirming insight that people may be thoughtfully included, but the cornerstone is the crucial link. We need not a condescending welcome, but to seek out the rejected for their energy and life force.

A woman said she was afraid in a quiet railway carriage when a large group of noisy young men came in with cases of beer. But when she started getting to know them, they were friendly, helpful, they had rubbish bags for their cans. She was scared because drinking is threatening, but these guys weren’t. (I would have been scared too, wanting to shrink away and not be noticed.)

A Friend sang,
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground
Let the beauty you love be the thing that you do,
Let the beauty you love shine through

(I had thought I could google the lyrics, or even find a video. I found the first line is from Rumi, but could not find the whole as a chorus. The ministry in worship touches me, and then the touch fades, despite the ways I try to cling to it.)

One said, we are where we are, with possibly irreconcilable positions. She will be clear about her feelings, listen to her friends, and fall on the grace of God.

That trust exercise, of falling back to be caught by another, which I learned as a child- one said, can I fall back into God’s arms, and do so again and again?

This was the Ministry that most spoke to me: Last year I came thinking of inclusion as a to do list, but it is a way of being, being open to meet others and see all that they are. First we must see and accept ourselves, which is hard work. Then we may transform one another with love and acceptance. Our actions will grow intuitively from that.

I expand on that idea: I need to see Testimony as a challenge from which I fall short, a challenge inspiring me to grow. I fear that some Quakers think that because we have a testimony to equality, the welcome we give to diverse people is always good enough.

As I grow with God my testimony grows. Through the weekend we talked of the stereotypes we think we know about groups, the shorthands we have to judge each other, which come from power structures, enforce hierarchies and create distance. Being within society we apply them unconsciously. Quakers seeing ourselves as wise and mature may make this worse. Even, we fear those whom we have been taught to fear. So we need to be conscious of the encounter, and see each person anew.

Worship sharing at the Diversity and Inclusion Gathering

Shamelessly ripped off from other people’s wisdom: Some- surely Mark Russ– will develop their ideas and express them more fully for themselves, but I wanted to get them out into the Quaker community now, just after the gathering. I took copious notes but may have missed or misinterpreted, and I add my own thoughts occasionally.

An opening question: What makes you a Quaker? We are all equal ministers. We welcome everyone, we say, but we are all individuals. We have love for our meetings and communities, but many more people could benefit and contribute in our Quaker way. (Are we more homogenous than we should be?)

A woman talked of truth, and pain. In her self growth, she grows to understand how others see me. She is feeling now, in her heart. We are Vulnerable. A woman came to Quakers after equal marriage. She was celebrated and included and not a source of pain and division. She wants that for her trans Friends.

On trans, someone said the internal truths of being trans, and the external truth of sex and science are both true. I would add, the societal truth of the way people cope with gender variance: not all gender nonconforming people do, but people have transitioned for millennia.

Quakerism is around being kind. This does not make us weak.

In small groups we discussed the long minute of YM 2019. One liked my clever phrasemaking- “there was more unity in the minute than in the meeting-room”. I had thought the minute had been more virtuous- more moving in the direction of God’s purposes- than the ministry warranted, but we thought the clerks had found our potential, where we might be ready to go. I think there’s something in QFP to that effect, on what a good clerk can do, but could not find it in a short search.

After a long hard (and often delightful) weekend we were frazzled. We should not disrespect Friends’ strength of feeling. We keep practising. We are more resilient, better at listening, and we move forward so slowly. Another said she would like an increase of pace.

Words from the Movement for the Ordination of Women in the 1990s come to my mind-

Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God
Sisters we are standing where we’ve always stood

We have to stop using the word “Quakerly” to mean “good”. We can become deceived by our positive self-image. Our gains in understanding are not a natural development but a struggle. Quakers profited from slavery. Quakers disagree. (Edwina told last year of a Quaker arms dealer). Where we have irreconcilable differences, how may we be in community together?

(I find there are moves towards unity after a decades long dispute, Christocentric v Universalist, Theist v non-theist. The book “God words and us” showed positive movement. There is respect. I don’t believe in irreconcilable differences- just ingrained, painful, perplexing ones.)

A trans child transitioned from anxiety and despair to life and freedom, and this is what Quakerism is about- the “new life” of A&Q 1. We all have different needs and gifts. We channel the holy spirit.

We are grateful for everyone’s presence and sharing. We are willing to engage with difficult conversations. One liked the image of music: you can hear ten notes at once, in a chord. Vision can distance us but sound resonates through our bodies. Our focus on listening is useful, as sound is immersive. There was an image of binoculars, with each eyepiece focused on a different distance. In relationship we can support each other, step outside of our identities and try something else. Those focused on unity, and those focused on diversity, should talk together.

(I love my phrase “Who is like me?” Everyone, all of humanity; no-one, we are all unique.)

We should move from conversation to action.

Someone said her biggest moves forward had occurred through challenge at Woodbrooke.

A Friend is not as liberal as he thought he was.

An attender feels led by God here.

A woman will have conversations in meeting about the tensions.

We have talked of bodies, but our worship ignores them. Our silent worship privileges people who can sit still and talk articulately. (We call ourselves “Quakers” but quake rarely.) She valued the meeting for worship in dance and movement at YM. Some people can’t cope with silence, or have flashbacks.

A woman said she came in fear, but we have heard each other. We are all broken, and our jagged parts rub against each other. We need community together even when that is the case. She holds everyone here in the light, and will lift everyone up even if we disagree.

Communities can be painful, people can be cruel. Our only way forward is together.

There is intellectual understanding of gender (performed expressed or experienced, as restriction and freedom) and there is kindness and empathy finding another’s way of being.

Friends may have to reseach a meeting, to find if they will be welcome there. (Around 2006 it seemed to me that of two particular nearby meetings, Christocentric Friends tended to go to one, Non-theist Friends to the other. Possibly two “sides” need the intensity of welcome that a meeting’s acceptance of that “side” will bring, until we may hesitantly find unity. With trans, I had hoped that would not be necessary. It seemed to me that the strongest anti-trans campaigners were the most oppressed by female gender stereotypes, that we had that in common, not fitting the stereotypes, and could find more in common from that base. However they insist that all women are equally oppressed by the stereotypes.)

Then we held the silence, and moved into worship.

Disability and inclusion

No-one will escape disability, except some of those who die instantly in accidents, which is not necessarily preferable. We will be unsteady on our feet, or unable to stand, having difficulty remembering. We will stretch out our hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around us and take us where we do not wish to go. Those who are disabled now frighten those of us who are fit and well. We see our future, and turn away.

Fiona MacMillan, a trustee of Inclusive Church, at 20 was non-disabled, getting everywhere by bicycle. Ten years later she was in a wheelchair with Tourette’s. She explained this to us: she might tic during her speech; and having explained it, it became alright. As she was speaking, she made a number of high-pitched squeals in mid-sentence. She carried on speaking, and eventually her squeals ceased. At another point she was waving her right forearm, her elbow on the arm of her chair. I suppose the Inclusiveness advance we could make would be for tics to be alright, and for her not to have to explain them. My first understanding of Tourette’s came from LA Law in the 1980s. And if she had had to attempt to appear normal in order not to be judged, her tics would be unbearable and she would have been unable to speak to us.

She told us to do whatever made us feel comfortable, and suggested pacing the floor at the back if necessary. At one point later in the Diversity and Inclusion Gathering, I wanted to, but forebore. I am no longer a member of my AM, and in part that is because I could not sit still in Meeting. However when she got someone to hand round envelopes to the audience, and continued speaking, she would not ignore that we were talking amongst ourselves rather than listening. First she repeated the first line of her next segment several times, then upbraided us for being unable to do a simple thing like pass round envelopes without chatting like silly children.

A new example of “Quakerly behaviour”, which as Mark Russ says must stop being used as a synonym for “good”. I took notes on her talk (which here is filtered through my understanding and emphases).

Disabled people have a lot to teach other communities. Disability is not a matter primarily of biological difference but power. Our stories help us make sense of our lives. Identity comes from experience and insight. The stories we tell define who we are, but who tells them affects them.

Nothing about us without us.

She is not comfortable being defined by one word “Disability”. We did an exercise stating different parts of our identities: many identities makes a minority of one (I am aphantasic Scottish trans Mensa-qualified Christian, and that may be enough). Lots of things make up our identities.

Her illness is not tidy. Its effects on her physical and ccognitive capacity change all the time. Medical science about it is guesswork. To call her a person with a disability is a lazy, simplistic shorthand. She is neurodiverse, and a wheelchair-user. The labels are useful if adopted for ourselves. Society does not know how to be inclusive. She has to deal with the reactions of others, embarrassment, fear, etc, and their effect on her. (My bereaved friend found herself reassuring or even counselling people who came to condole with her.) When she gets a new personal assistant, she has the person go around in her chair to find what it feels like. She is living on the edge, and it is difficult. She reflects and remembers others’ experience and viewpoint, but is more comfortable with broken, vulnerable people. Her attention slides off the surfaces of complete people (like Jesus, come not for the healthy but the sick). She learns to be amazed. She has to remind people that her illness is not a moral fault or in her control. Accepting and knowing herself, she can accept and know others, and share what she knows of human difference.

How hard it is to be vulnerable! Austerity has cut benefits, and the aggressive measures to cut benefit fraud which is less than 1% of benefit payments hurts people, as well as demonises us as scroungers.

She struggles with loss, rejection and blame. We should be honoured as guests or members of the community. We are not all the same, and our stories are worth hearing. Painful things happen to her hourly, but they are less painful in a community trying to know better so it can do better.

The church cared for people on the edge, which was counter-cultural, but this can be mere charity, looking after needy rather than valuing their gifts. Disabled people want greater autonomy, to be agents of change. 11m disabled people were born healthy, and are adjusting. 43% of adults over pension age are disabled.

There are different models of disability. The medical model analyses the function of a body, and the body is fixed to fit norms. Disability is an individual problem. The social model says people’s difficulties are caused by the way society is organised. Now, public buildings should be designed so that the experience of everyone entering and moving through the building is the same, whether they walk or go on wheels, an architect tells me. There are also Christian models of disabled people as passive recipients of charity or even being punished for sin.

The church can marginalise and isolate people, and focuses on adaptations not people- getting in, but not joining in. So we should ask how disabled people can be part of the prophetic message of the church, becoming witnesses not as “bravely” or “cheerfully” coping with difficulties.

We are all a combination of needs and gifts. When our needs are met our gifts can flourish. The inclusive church must anticipate the needs of the people who are not here yet.

We bring our experience of darkness, weakness and restoration, of our bodies, the source of wonder, pleasure and pain, of waiting, anger and forsakenness. We come not as victims but as liberators.

Unity and Diversity

Christianity is filled with dialectic, truths held in tension. So we worship the transcendent God in the immanent Christ, one God in three Persons, Jesus is human and divine, faith is personal and lived out corporately, the Church is a gift of grace and a human institution, the Church transcends culture yet comes alive within culture.

And humanity is all the same, created in the image of God, yet there are differences of culture, faith, tradition, gifts, personality and character. Acts, and Paul’s letters, wrestle with how to live with our differences. At best, we enjoy belonging and rootedness, at worst Balkanisation. Debating whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity should be circumcised or obey the Jewish Law, the apostles and elders commanded only to abstain from meat offered to idols, which later Paul said was forbidden out of practicality not principle. At Pentecost people from all the diaspora came together and heard the Word, each in their own language. Christ speaks to me in my individuality, and binds us into unity. Here there is no Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, Quaker Anglican Methodist or Catholic, but Christ is all and in all.

The concept of race remains as it is a power performance. Power colonises human spaces, and dictates who belongs and who is marginalised. Why is the Church, the body of Christ in which all of us are one, racialised? If Quakers are so strong for Equality, a central part of our testimony and action, why are we so white? This post is part an account and part my response to Prof. Anthony Reddie‘s talk to the Quaker Diversity and Inclusion Gathering. It is filtered through me, a white aspiring ally.

Prof. Reddie has written the book Theologising Brexit: a liberationist and postcolonial critique. Brexit is about what it means to be British. Everyone is tribal, yet the social justice tradition refutes English nationalism. Half of Methodists were Leave voters, Quakers overwhelmingly remain, and the tradition of our denominations inscribes whiteness as normality. When Reddie was ten, he was made to do the Bible reading on Pentecost, and despite intensive coaching finding himself the sole representative of Black people stumbled over the names: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia… I did that reading too, as a child, but I was only standing up for myself, a white amongst whites.

At the time of Pentecost, skin colour was not important, though cultural differences were: the construct of “Race” is modern, part of a biological hierarchy, the product of Empire where Britons nobly took up the White Man’s Burden, and took away South African diamonds.

We are the same, and we are different, and Christians can emphasise one or the other. Who is like me? Everyone and no-one. We are all human, and all have different gifts and experiences. Reddie asked us to position ourselves on a spectrum from emphasising unity to emphasising diversity, and said no-one could be in the middle as reconciling the two was hard for humans. We came out more for diversity.

Reddie said Patriarchy positions women’s bodies. When women watch male strippers, they giggle. Men watching women strip do not laugh. Their male gaze is about power and penetration, constructing women’s bodies. In the same way white is power, normality, not needing to be think about, and Black is Other. The Black person makes a decision about how it is to be enfleshed as black. But the Church was meant to be different. Paul reframed belonging as a relationship, where faith in Christ, rather than blood or kinship, meant we belong. We should embrace our differences and celebrate them, but we use them for power.

In school, a white boy bit him to see if his blood was a different colour, yet the Black people were seen as the savages.

He himself belongs to groups that affirm him. I take this as a confession: he is not immune. His suburb is superior. And at worst, we fight based on these things.

Quakers, he says, are tolerant, kind and affirming. We know that there is power and some are marginalised, yet we talk of our Quaker tradition, opposing slavery, testifying to Equality in our lives and witness, so that it is hard to talk of Quaker racism yet we are the whitest tradition in Britain. We are just as exclusive, but in ways that are more difficult to challenge- for white Quakers, more difficult to see.

So conversation is a good thing, where we speak from experience. White patriarchy gives us crumbs, and we fight over them. We must rise above the zero-sum game. We need to be allies. There is systemic and structural oppression of almost all. We worship a generous God, a God of Abundance, and people of faith should be generous with each other.

It seems to me that the Friend who later shared the Jo Cox quote- the one everyone knows, “We have more in common than that which divides us”- was whistling in the wind, attempting to escape the tension by leaping to one side of it. We should not be fighting, certainly not oppressing, but when we seek to meet each other, to encounter and really see each other, the differences are as obvious as the similarities.

Trans excluders at the “Inclusion Gathering” shock

The Quaker “National Gathering on Diversity and Inclusion” weekend started with a talk from Heather Brunskell-Evans, “philosopher and social theorist”, “Gender concerned” Quaker, campaigner who claims the greatest threat to women’s human rights comes from trans inclusion and “trans ideology”. Edwina Peart, organiser, phoned me up beforehand to warn me about it, saying when we carefully and with boundaries open this conversation we begin to see some similarities between what have been seen as diametrically opposed positions- I don’t believe they are. I applauded the bravery, and felt it might be too much for me personally to bear. I frightened my friend, who emailed, Be just another woman, don’t be the ambassador for trans, let others wrestle with the issues.

The programme, sent to participants on Monday 13 January, said something different. Other arranged speakers were introduced as keynote speakers, but not Heather. Edwina Peart wrote, It is one of my goals as diversity and inclusion coordinator that Quakers sit with issues around gender diversity and trans inclusion and ultimately reach a position. I feel that momentum is building through the strands of work that are occurring under this theme. However, this cannot develop into an active standpoint without the inclusion of the Gender Concerned group. This is an opportunity for deep examination of their position and an analysis of its base. It will encourage us to consider how we can be inclusive and welcoming of trans Friends living their gender truthfully. I do not think a position will be achieved without acknowledging, laying bare and ultimately allaying the fears of some cis gendered women and men.

I found that disrespectful. One “allays” fears that are groundless. Meeting with and hearing anti-trans campaigners, I do not hear fears. Yes, they talk of individual trans women who have committed crimes as if we should all be judged by the worst acts of the worst of us, but what I hear is righteous anger. They think it is part of the systematic disrespect the Patriarchy shows women that they should have to share spaces with trans women, and women’s spaces are valueless if trans women might be there. I am aware Heather in particular finds the thought of chest masculinisation surgery, which she would call double mastectomy, revolting.

As far as I understand it, she finds gender stereotypes oppressive, and finds that oppression only gets worse when we are driven to surgery to alter our bodies in order to escape them. Whereas, in the imperfect community we find ourselves in, I find surgery a completely reasonable thing for someone to choose. She thinks we will find freedom from gender norms by rejecting the norms but valuing our beautiful bodies. I think freedom from the norms is harder to achieve than that, and any tool- even surgery- should be permitted. This is different from the usual trans view, that trans people need surgery to cope with gender incongruence.

This is my disagreement with Heather. Continue reading

Moulding reality

Something to look forward to changed to something to dread. “What do you fear?” she asked. That I lose my shit completely, and collapse in a puddle on the floor.

But my worst fear won’t happen.

My friend said it was a good thing F was speaking, and I should on no account answer her. My friend’s hope was that people would get sick of her stridency, and not of mine. I hope for something more: for unity including her, and me.

I said, I am going as a contributor, then, misunderstood, had to qualify that. I am a participant without a particular time for speaking, but intend to contribute, not merely listen. Everyone who shares a meal with me will rise blessed by the experience. Another said, that’s a tall order. Take care. But, the risks are what might make it worthwhile! No progress can come without risk! And the intensity I bring is my contribution.

It might actually be too much to face. I would be sitting quietly in an audience while intolerance was presented as rational argument and concern for vulnerable women and children. I find persuasive falsehoods particularly horrible, particularly prone to wind me up. While I know much of what to expect, something might surprise me, and I might get riled. I can relax in the dentist’s chair, letting the discomfort wash over me, but might try to suppress anger and just blow up.

The whole will be good. I can’t decide what to do with that part beforehand. I must be open to my feelings then. And the stress of anticipating it, and that other thing, is making it more difficult for me to face anything else.

I thought of how I mould reality with words, and how that might be good for me, changing the world for the better, and how it might not. The worst example is Rumination, where the same obsessive thoughts go through a mind, unchanging. I know I was right. I know I was bullied for it. Years later I have stopped running through that story. I might convince someone else with it, I might not. It does not do anything for me, now. It might reassure me about my good qualities, but really, it is escaping the present for the past. It is a self-soothing mechanism, perhaps. I am a Good person! That would be escaping reality for a reassuring fantasy, where being a Good person kept me safe.

Or I mould reality by persuading others. I come up with argument, or a different way of seeing the world, which achieves good ends.

And words help me understand, if my words can get as close as possible to my perception. A good parent (or counsellor) can help a child (adult) understand their emotion, by mirroring it. Similarly an internal state, a feeling, or an external reality, might be more meaningful for the word-using part of me if I have words for it. (There is a part which is not word-using, but- it is not conscious; I need a bridge to the word-using part; not sure. Something.)

Living in past and future does a lot for me. I reassure myself. I gird myself for possibilities. And it takes me away from the present; and not all my thoughts do me good.

Here’s a columnist saying what she most hated in 2019: we endured the increasingly shrill demands of Greta Thunberg, the Duchess of Sussex putting ‘changemakers’ on the cover of Vogue, Jo ‘identify as whatever you want’ Swinson, Extinction Rebellion, the Marks & Spencer LGBT sandwich… These are things I like, and my objections to Jo Swinson are that she is too right wing. That her most objectionable aspect should be her trans-acceptance twists the knife for me. Or, possibly, it doesn’t. That columnist hates all goodness in the world and all that I stand for. Still I exist.

Ha! There it is!

Still I exist!

I will not be crushed into nothingness by Sarah Vine, or indeed by a talk on the evils of “transgender ideology”.

Being beautiful

You should not let your makeup routine get into a rut. I have been doing the same thing for years. My mascara brush was coming apart. My lipstick was down to the metal. And I have had a lovely time chatting about shades with Sienna. The shop was nearly empty and she gave me the time I needed, about twenty minutes.

There was a rich deep pink lipstick which made me feel absolutely beautiful. I used it until it broke, then I carefully brushed it on until it nearly ran out, and now I wanted to replace it with exactly the same shade. I had the idea the shop assistants would be able to do this. I had gone to darn a thin patch in the elbow of my favourite silk/cashmere jumper, and the shop assistant had found the thread of exactly the right shade, far closer than I could have seen myself. Sienna did not seem particularly good at this, smearing all sorts of colours onto a tissue, but we found a rather gorgeous shade called Deep Rose, which fits my skin tone perfectly. I also got one which is almost my natural lip colour, but adds the slightest sparkly sheen.

Ooooh!

I want to be smoking. I want a particular woman to fall into my arms whispering “How could I have been so wrong about you?” (It isn’t going to happen, but a girl can dream.) I want to project confidence and presence.

Sienna had very heavy foundation. I have not used foundation since the time I was getting a lot of electrolysis: it can cover beard shadow if you have dark hair under pale skin, but not actual stubble which just pokes through and looks much worse, and shaving closely every day while having four hours of electrolysis a week is impossible. We talked of eye shadow. I said I wanted the kind of mascara that I could wear to the office and into the evening, but went for a Maximum Volume one which would triple my lashes. Not for the office, I suppose, but well.

I talked of no-makeup makeup. Round about the nineties, I pontificated, it was a thing, the no-makeup makeover that took an hour. No man would see that you had makeup on, and women might be unsure, but they would see your face slightly more defined. Sienna appeared interested.

When I was transitioning, a rumour went round that Boots shop assistants were taught specifically to deal with nervous incipient trans women, to put us at our ease and make us feel comfortable. The one I spoke to denied this, but was completely professional with a touch of the kindness I was starving for, giving me three samples of foundation to take away and experiment with in private.

The first perfume I bought was Amarige by Givenchy. I have a bottle of it now. I wore it to the trans club, then next day even after showering, when I went to work I could smell the faintest remainder of it on my wrist. Throughout the day, I took surreptitious sniffs at my wrist, which reassured and calmed me.

I will wear that, too.