Ubuntu

I am because you are. I am still in your presence, and we see and are seen. This is our common consciousness. We meet each other’s full humanity.

I walked from spiritual drought and a busy, hurried and harried life into a sea of silence and stillness. The Light shone through the door on those gathered people and silence was like a balm to my ruffled nerves and soul. The warm embrace of acceptance, just as I was, was moving and magnetic. I made a decision to stay and search deeper. Who were these people? They shared their space, their tea, their lives and their God – that calls us to be one in the same body. They broke bread with me as never before. I stayed! I was accepted, affirmed, and that enabled me to accept that there was that of God in me, despite what I had been led to believe. ‘Umuntu ugumuntu ngabantu’ – a person is human through the humanity of others. I found my humanity and humanness through those Friends who saw that of God in me and affi rmed that.

Duduzile Mtshazo.

Being accepted by others, I can be my full self, and then accept others and enable them to be themselves. Difference is not threat, but richness and joy.

The human being is powerful. They perceive instantaneously. The free human, knowing and respecting themself, is able to see and respect others. Then we are connected, in humanity, love, creative and spiritual power.

The Zulu greeting Sawubona means “I see you” and also communicates “I value you”. The response “Shiboka” means “I exist for you”. Seeing the person, I give them my full attention. I listen without prejudice.

I see you as a person. I recognise you as a person, not as some agglomeration of roles and characteristics, a white or black person, a plumber or a doctor, but a whole human being, alive and self-aware.

What if the other person is destructive and damaging? No person is born evil. Some are doing what they feel they need to, to survive. Some are loyal to a subset of humanity rather than to the whole human race, or the biosphere, and so are acting in what they see as the interests of that subset, and harming others. Or am I reacting badly to them, because of something I reject in myself?

I affirm the person and not every one of their actions. Or I have to accept some unknowing, some discomfort with what I see until I can come to acceptance.

Mostly from Living Adventurously, the Faith and Practice of Central and Southern Africa Yearly Meeting.

Barack Obama summarised it, we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can only grow through the growth of others. Nelson Mandela acted not in vengeance or retaliation, but in peace. What you do well affects the whole world.

Reading this made me think of Martin Buber, I-thou relationship. We relate with our whole beings to the whole being of the other. I respect the reality of the other. Alan Watts said “Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others”. Buber wrote, “Every it is bounded by others; it exists only through being bounded by others. But when Thou is spoken, there is no thing. Thou has no bounds.” There is only the relationship.

Ursula Le Guin says, “In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.”

Let there be no barrier between us!
As your words move in my mind
We become one flesh, like lovers
Though we only pass in the street.

All these ways of relating would recognise our transness, our gender, our unique way of being, not forcing us into a gendered box but allowing us to be ourselves.

Joy in sadness

Outside my window there is a single strand of spider silk, discarded, perhaps used for flight. The light reflected on it is beautiful.

When I first became conscious of my feelings, they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have also been aware of pain. Tina spoke of seeing sadness in me, and I was aware of my anger at myself, holding the sadness down, asking it “What on Earth have you got to be sad about?” in contempt and derision.

And there is disappointment in how my life is turning out and what I have been able to do about that.

Jamie spoke of sadness too, when I sang to him. “D Minor is the saddest key,” he said. Now I am ready to face my sadness. What about? My nephew and nieces, crying out delightedly “It’s Uncle Stephen!” comes to mind.

I don’t need to cry. I just need to acknowledge the sadness. I don’t need to resist it: resisting is outdated.

George Fox wrote “Then you will walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one,” but the paragraph began “The spirit that is transgressed and in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one” and I can imagine if it had been cast slightly differently, and the phrase we would all know would be “liberating that of God in every one,” including ourselves. “People must be led out of captivity up to God,” Fox writes. It’s the Journal, Nickalls’ edition, p263.

The bars of the cage are melting and becoming pliable.

What have you got to be sad about? I am not sure. All of life, perhaps. Specific things. H, and H, and Covid, and Edinburgh. If I am mourning what I could not mourn before I am not conscious of all I am mourning.

There is sadness. Hello.

In the Meeting for Worship, held on video-conference, we have our microphones muted, so I can mutter to myself the message which is only for me, to help it to stick in my own mind. And, today, I can get a pen and paper to write this down. I have the lattitude to do my work here, talking, writing, and sighing, and am aware of the others.

Sadness at not being all-knowing: all that Confusion!

I am joyfully sad, because I am no longer sad or angry at being sad. The bars dissolve.

That silk catches the light. It is resilient. I think of the idea that I cannot see any quality outside myself that is not within me, and the word-play “resile” comes to mind. That is painful. I have an inner voice which denies all possible good qualities in me. That voice hurts me. The silk is beautiful.

I will resist that voice! I am crying helplessly.

Ministry on grief- a woman quotes. Something like, having a body is about feeling the exact feelings of this body, of being present in this body not just having a body to carry around. I am present in the mass and the matter of it. She sees the grief we are carrying. What would I say if someone asked why I was crying? “I can’t tell you, but it is good,” perhaps. I am

Opening, Flowering, Accepting, Loving, Receiving.

It is

Peace.

You cannot recognise something without you that is not within you, or acknowledge something outside that you cannot acknowledge within. If you resist yourself, you resist the world. If you reject yourself, you reject the world. If you accept yourself, you accept the world.

After meeting, I have the feeling that I have had a deep massage, removing long buried knots in muscles, or even a heart-bypass, removing blockages. Or it is suddenly being able to face what I could not face before.

Getting up and being productive

What would laying down the burden look like? Possibilities. Authentic forgiveness, authentic detachment, authentic separation, just accepting what is and cannot be changed.

I noticed that I did not want to get up, and I did not admit it to myself. So I would think, I need to get up and go to the supermarket, and then I would stay lying where I was, possibly clicking through different articles on the Guardian. Sometimes, by midday, I would think, oh, it seems I am not getting up today. I was not just reading, I was avoiding getting up. So I noticed what was happening, and noticed when it was happening, and might proclaim, joyfully- “I don’t want to get up!” And then get up, because I needed to. Realising I did not want to get up, I saw the blockage, so could surmount it.

-Would you allow yourself not to get up?

Well, no. That’s why my broken motivation has to hide and fool my conscious mind to get what it wants. I could forgive myself for not wanting to get up if I got up. And it’s balancing wants, the immediate discomfort against the need. The beauty of the weather made getting up easier, but it was still difficult. And lying in bed, the day has not started, the responsibilities can be put off.

I was pleased, after, and then I wrote a blog post I like. It said what I wanted it to say, clearly, as lightly as it could, and the argument held water.

-So a productive day.

I could not accept that word “productive”. Nothing I do is productive. I am hard on myself. “I do things which I want to do,” I said. I think people are so self-effacing, so quiet, so careful of the rules outside because we are all angry and fear blowups are possible.

At least I know what I want. I want to not go out, I want to just not face the day. I want to blog, and read. And, as well, I want to get groceries, and when I am out I can notice the beauty of the day, and of the valley, and the trees, and the vegetation. I watched all of The Nest on TV, and the mother, played by Shirley Henderson, particularly grabbed my attention. Spoilers whited out. She is a monster who does not realise it, who thinks she is a victim, so she ruins others’ lives. Seeing herself as hard done by frees her to do monstrous things which to her are just reasonable. She is not evil, just unperceptive and self-righteous.

There is another character who only trusts one man, and when he is arrested her world implodes.

I hesitate to compare my mother to this woman. I assess it intellectually, there are these similarities, these differences. I feel nervous. I feel I should not. I feel the need to state all my mother’s good qualities, in preparation. Then I change the subject: I glance up, and there is a red kite. It is beautiful! Then I compare them. The similarity is both do damage they do not see. However having made the comparison out loud, I now feel able to make it more easily.

If I cannot always get up even though I need to buy food, I don’t see how I could do a job which was just working to survive. It feels impossible.

These followers of Bosch- they are not doing anything he did not do, and from Wikimedia I see they spent a lot of time on the Hell bits. Well, the wars in Europe were hellish at that time. Here is another, but it will be my last:

An open letter to my MP, about the British Government’s threat to trans rights

I write to you because I am extremely concerned about recent ministerial statements about gender recognition. The ministers show a lack of understanding of the law and of medical understanding of gender dysphoria. In particular, gender recognition on the basis of the trans person’s self-declaration will pose no threat to women’s single-sex services, as English law already recognises trans people in our chosen gender for most purposes. I am concerned that the ministers’ misunderstanding threatens a restriction of my rights in law as a trans woman. The ministers propose to restrict medical treatment for trans children, and so do not show proper respect for medical expertise or children’s needs.

On 3 March 2020, in response to a written question, Elizabeth Berridge said in the House of Lords,

Those seeking to rely on the protections and exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2020 [sic] must be able to do so with confidence and clarity. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory codes of practice on the Equality Act 2010 explain the provisions of the Act and the EHRC is responsible for updating these codes as necessary.

This Government has been clear that we must take the right steps to protect safe single-sex spaces for women and girls; their access should not be jeopardised. Some women’s organisations have expressed concern that predatory men may abuse the gender recognition system, intended to support transgender adults. We have heard these concerns and are considering carefully our next steps.

On 22 April, in a speech to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Liz Truss said,

The final point I’d like to make, Madam Chairman, in this initial part, is on the issue of the Gender Recognition Act. We’ve been doing a lot of work internally, making sure we’re in a position to respond to that consultation and launch what we propose to do on the future of the Gender Recognition Act. We will be in a position to do that by the summer, and there are three very important principles that I will be putting place.

First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important.

Secondly making sure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, whilst maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system.

Finally, which is not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but is relevant, making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions. Of course some of these policies have been delayed, Chair, by the specific issues around Covid but I can assure you that alongside the Covid work, our officials continue to do those things to make them happen.

Both ministers refer to the protection of single-sex spaces, and Elizabeth Berridge specifically states “concern that predatory men may abuse the gender recognition system”. This misunderstands the way the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 work, and how psychiatrists understand gender dysphoria. For almost all purposes, we have self-declaration of trans people already.

The International Classification of Diseases provides a definition of gender identity disorders including transsexualism, which is defined as,

A desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one’s anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one’s body as congruent as possible with one’s preferred sex.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as follows:

A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months duration, as manifested by at least two of the following:

1. a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics (or, in young adolescents, the anticipated secondary sex characteristics).

2. a strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics because of a marked incongruence with one’s experienced/expressed gender (or, in young adolescents, a desire to prevent the development of the anticipated secondary sex characteristics).

3. a strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender.

4. a strong desire to be of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender).

5. a strong desire to be treated as the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender).

6. a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender).

In both definitions, the patient’s desire or belief is paramount. I am a trans woman because I believe I am. There is no other way of diagnosing: only what the person says and does. We transition, because we cannot avoid it, because we want it more than anything else in the world.

In terms of using single sex spaces, the presence of trans women was tolerated long before either Act. When I saw my psychiatrist in 2001, he gave me a card stating that I was undergoing treatment for transsexualism and it was part of the treatment to dress female and use women’s spaces. I never had to show it to someone. Before I saw the psychiatrist I spent a long time preparing to transition, because I was scared, and felt the need to check out whether I could bear the hostility and discrimination. So I expressed myself female and went out- to the supermarket as well as the gay pub, including women’s loos. People tolerated me. I only wanted to pee. I am not sure what law applied, then.

The law now protects people as soon as we decide to transition. It is in the Equality Act 2010 s 7:

A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

So as soon as a person decides to transition they are protected, and for purposes of changing rooms and toilets we go to those of the gender we are expressing. We self-declare: I am a trans woman, because I say that I am. I should not be discriminated against as a trans woman, whether or not I have a gender recognition certificate. I express myself as a woman, and so should be treated as a woman.

But we can still be excluded from women’s spaces, under the Equality Act 2010 schedule 3 paragraphs 28-30. We can be excluded if it “is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Elizabeth Berridge echoed concerns about predatory men, but Layla Moran MP answered those concerns comprehensively, in 2018. In a debate she said,

Let us assume that someone wants to go into a women-only space for nefarious purposes. That [gender recognition] would be quite a stupid thing to do because, apart from anything else, if an offence was committed it would show evidence of premeditation, which would increase the person’s sentence. Also, had the certificate been gained for the sole purpose of entering such a space to commit a crime, that would be a separate crime under ​the Fraud Act 2006. If someone was intent on harming women, that would be one of the stupider ways of doing it.

Gender recognition does not affect any of these matters. Section 9 of the Gender Recognition Act states the person’s gender becomes the acquired gender, as does the sex, but this is “subject to provision made by this Act or any other enactment or any subordinate legislation”. That includes the Equality Act.

Before the Gender Recognition Act, I got a passport saying that my sex was “F”, and a driving licence indicating in the driver number that I am female. The guidance now on passports is here, and on driving licences here. A transgender person only needs a letter from their doctor to change their passport, and a statutory declaration or deed poll changing their name to change their driving licence. We do not need a GRC.

So, why do people get gender recognition certificates? In 2004, a friend got one because it entitled her to claim her state retirement pension early, and at the time it affected whether people would enter a civil partnership or a marriage, but after the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 that no longer applies. I got my gender recognition certificate because it was there. The law could officially declare that I was a woman, so I wanted that. However the current procedure is generally recognised as intrusive and expensive.

Because the junior minister is echoing groundless fears about “predatory men” and the Secretary of State refers to “checks and balances” I fear that my rights to be treated as a woman may be reduced. The law helps mold society’s response to trans people. Discrimination law protects me, and creates a moral injunction to treat me decently. Talk of how my rights may endanger women reduces that. Because of the campaigns against trans women I have suffered personal abuse and threats on line.

I want you to express these matters to the ministers, explaining that their fears are groundless, and ask them to assure me the rights of trans people will not be curtailed. I would like you to express your personal views to me, and answer these questions: would you oppose any diminution of trans rights under law? Would you support reform of gender recognition, to dispense with the requirement of evidence beyond the trans person’s word, formally sworn or affirmed, as Theresa May promised in 2017?

I am particularly concerned about the Secretary of State’s remarks about the treatment of children. She says that she wants to protect under 18s from irreversible decisions. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of treatment for trans children and young people.

It should not be for the law or the government to interfere in medical decisions for children. These decisions should be made by doctors, parents and the children themselves according to Gillick competence in the best interests of the children. Irreversible decisions are not made by children. The NHS can treat under 18s with puberty blocking hormones, which are reversible. For evidence of this, for example consider the Australian standards of care and treatment guidelines.

Social transition of transgender children, not necessarily involving any hormone treatment, improves their mental health.

Please may I see you about this. During the lockdown, are you holding surgeries by video conference?

Liz Truss and Anna Akhmatova

The world is changed utterly, since December, but one thing that continues is conservatives seeking out vulnerable minorities to hate, so as to spread division. Trans people, especially trans women and children, have been targeted by Liz Truss, “Minister for” (actually against) “Women and Equalities”. I will write to my MP.

Truss says she wants “Protection of single sex spaces”. She is lying. Gender Recognition has no effect on single sex spaces, which are governed by the Equality Act.

She wants us “Free to live our lives as we wish”- as long as we behave in increasingly constrained acceptable ways, restricted for the good of others. “Checks and balances,” she says. Oh, totally reasonable rules for the good of everyone. Ha.

And she says she wants to “protect” children and young people. Truss claims she is better qualified than specialist gender psychiatrists and endocrinologists to determine what is good for under 18s, and that is to make sure none of them have treatment to aid transition. She produces the Tory bugbear, the ordinary child hoodwinked by trans ideology rushing heedless into “irreversible decisions” to prevent trans children getting the care they need.

Meanwhile I went out for my daily exercise, and also wanted to take some photos of the eerie silent world we are now in. This out of town shopping centre would have been hoaching, but for covid 19.



And it was odd to see a Police Community Support Officer walking along this unmetalled road. We are allowed to be there for exercise, and I want to be there for time in nature, too, time with the birds and the lakes, to preserve my mental health. It is a lone young woman, I don’t think she’ll be arresting anyone, but she might be seeing if there were breaches of rules for a more heavy handed presence later. I saw her twice, both times studying a phone.

I am frightened, by a conservative government which handles the crisis badly, with more people dying of slow suffocation here than elsewhere in Europe, and with the deaths not accurately counted, but which still finds time to promote hate- quietly, subtly at first, with this new target. I am fearful for my vulnerable friends. And the world is beautiful. Never has the contrast been so sharp for me: it is always there, but it is so much stronger now.

Fear and loss.
Wonder and beauty.
Death and God.

Anna Akhmatova puts it beautifully:

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death’s great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses
something not known to any one at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

I am afraid. I read a piece in the New York Times about how covid suffocates people so they don’t realise it, and immediately ordered an oxymeter. It is predicted to arrive in June. There is a small risk of my dying in the most hideous way, and a much greater risk for all the people I know who are over 70 or with certain conditions. Liz Truss chooses this moment to announce her campaign against trans people. Trans children must not be treated, as a political decision. Single sex spaces- No Transwomen!- must be maintained or extended. This is couched in terms of “protection”- protecting vulnerable women and children from the Trans Threat. I am more afraid than ever, and today the sunshine is beautiful.

---

I wrote that, and then thought, possibly I should give the minister the benefit of the doubt, until I hear more. In Scotland, the government offers a good reform, but still talks about single sex spaces. It is reassurance for the phobes rather than a serious threat to our rights. I am fearful and unknowing at the moment and it reduces my ability to trust. Then I remember she wants to stop treatment for children, and that is unequivocal. She trusts Daily Mail editorials over doctors. She trusts herself over specialist psychiatrists.

Hilary Mantel

Wonderful phrasemaking from The Mirror and the Light, of politics under a tyrant:

Chapuys says cheerfully, ‘Certainly you are a sectary of some sort. Perhaps one of those who oppose the baptism of infants?’ He chews a little, his eyes on Chapuys. This is the rumour young Surrey has spread, and other ill-wishers; it is the way to ruin him with Henry, and the ambassador knows it. ‘Christophe,’ he calls, Continue reading

Trans pride and self-respect

I maintain self-respect as a trans woman, despite the hatred and mockery of the transphobes, despite the prejudice of society. How? Through self-knowledge and acceptance.

I am coming round to the phrase “I am a woman with a trans history”. You put your transition in the past, and move on to other concerns. You have done the emotional, intellectual and physical work of transition. It need not mean you abandon trans people or deny being trans. We can be proud of accepting this daunting and difficult path, and of the progress we have made on it, wherever on the path we are.

We can’t reach self-respect through creating a hierarchy of trans, this trans is better than that trans because they are further through transition, or transsexual as opposed to cross-dresser, or through attempts to create a war between androphile and gynephile trans. Every way of being human, including those “social conservatives” pick on to hate such as different skin colour or eye shape or sexuality as well as gender, is of value. The conservatives create slurs to denigrate those they hate, and get others to join in. Like in this post– content warning transphobia, obviously.

Self-respect is not “even though I am trans” or “I am trans but”. Being trans is a characteristic like being left-handed or aphantasic. It is something society enthusiastically tries to make me ashamed of, with the phobes making various spurious arguments why we are all dangerous or to be feared, and moralists calling us disgusting. If we are to be feared or admired it is for what we do rather than what we are. They want us ashamed, they want us hiding away, and therefore we need gay pride, trans pride as an antidote to that- I am happy to be trans, because if I were not trans I would vanish in a series of weird space-time paradoces, and cease to exist. The person in my space would not be me. This pride is not the opposite of humility, but of shame.

Like with aphantasia, the well-meaning often can’t quite believe how shit it is to be us. Look at this blurb on an aphantasia programme. What if you could not… it seems inconceivable, but that is the reality for some. It’s not concern-trolling, but the effect is to make people pity others as abnormal and lacking rather than value them (us) as diverse and gifted. It’s all-pervasive. My imagination is just fine, thanks.

Against this pressure it is necessary to say, I am Trans (aphantasic… Scots… ) and that is OK. That is the heart of Pride marches. This is who we are and you will not bully us into hiding it.

In the past I surrendered to that bullying. I conceived of dressing female as a temptation, as a bad, unmanly thing which I wanted because of Sin or something, and gained false self-respect by denying it. I am not really like that. I compartmentalised, imagining a good me shorn of all these bad impulses, and with righteous desires. Or, I hoped I could resist the desire to cross-dress, and make a man of myself. I felt self-respect insofar as I could make a man of myself, and when I could not that false self-respect was torn from me, which was extremely painful.

And in the past I gained self-respect by what I could achieve, which in the end was the most monstrous perfectionism: any achievement was only what was to be expected, any failure even if it was entirely because of circumstances beyond my control was a disaster. I could not cope with the pressure, and that self-respect vanished too.

I was left with myself, the trans woman, whom I despised. Feminine, emotional, every characteristic wrong. Taught to loathe and despise my true self I fled from it, but could not get away, and it makes me think of Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

I am myself. Myself I’ll know.

Then self-respect is a matter of seeing what I have been taught to admire, letting it go, and finding ways of admiring what is actually there. This person, with these gifts. There is no self-respect without self-knowledge and self-acceptance. A lot of this is what I am doing here in this blog: teasing out aspects of self which were not valued so which I denied, which I need to see and value for myself.

And as I strip away the false understanding, in order to accept who I am, I need lots of self-forgiveness. This is who I am, this is what I have done, these are the pressures and difficulties I suffered. I would rather be in a less precarious place than I am, but if I curse myself as useless or stupid for ending up here, that only traps me here.

In the lockdown, here is a verse I wrote:

Eight little peanuts
lying in a palm
wondering what would happen
would they come to harm?

Eight happy peanuts
One gets dragged away
where has it gone to?
None of them can say

Seven salty peanuts
are getting their kicks
another is taken
then there are six

six surprised peanuts
begin to get concerned
another is taken
nothing have they learned

Five roasted peanuts
looking all about
one of them is taken
he didn’t even shout

Four little peanuts
arranged in a square
Now it’s a triangle,
the fourth isn’t there.

Three sanguine peanuts
think it can’t be that bad
one is pinched in fingers
two are going mad

Two little peanuts,
lying side by side
One got eaten
The other tried to hide

One lonely peanut
hadn’t long to wait
Thrown up high, and caught in mouth
and then it was ate.

It is about death and the fear or even dread of death, though that is part hidden by playful fantasy. I thought it was for Covid. Perhaps it is not just for covid. “Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully.”

Being trans, and being a woman, or being a man

I know that I’m trans, said a trans man, and I have been transitioning for a few years, but I really don’t know whether I am a man or not.

As a matter of being, rather than language, what makes a trans man a man and a trans woman a woman?

To me, many of the differences between men and women are socially constructed rather than innate. They have been going for some time: Aristotle thought that reason was in control in men, and while women could be reasonable their emotions rather than their reason was in control, and therefore men should run politics outside the home, and not women, and men should rule within the home even if they listened to their wives and cared for them. In answer to this Walter Scott has a wife who, more intelligent than her husband, persuades him to do what she decides, and always lets him have his way in small things, and backs off if he is stubborn, and never says “I told you so” when he is wrong and she was right- and so manages to make most of the decisions.

And in reality no-one makes decisions by reason alone, motivation and desire arise from emotion, and often from social expectation or convention, rather than from reason. Men are emotional. Women are reasonable. The emotions which are celebrated in one or the other are different. Anger is found repulsive in women where it may be admired in men. Gentleness is seen as more feminine. Yet men can be gentle, and women angry.

There is no characteristic, or virtue, which one sex has but not the other, and each is of equal value in each.

Generally, men have male reproductive systems and women have female reproductive systems, and on average men are bigger than women- but there is a wide overlap. And while people think about sex a lot, that is usually sex to relieve a need or bind a couple together. As Paul said, “The two shall become one flesh”.

For most social purposes, being a man is about fitting masculine stereotypes. People talk about “growing a pair” of testicles, about testosterone and its putative effects, and about swinging dicks or dick energy, but really it is about a role rather than a physical type.

So possibly a trans man is more of a man than a cis man is. The trans man has chosen to be a man, and the cis man just been one by accident.

It’s Lesbian Visibility Week, which has shout-outs to trans women, and I was thinking about identifying as a woman but not as a lesbian, even though I am attracted to women. If I really thought I was a woman, surely I would call myself a lesbian? Many trans women do. So I get the sense of not being real. Possibly it’s that “lesbian” is more physical- there are butch and femme lesbians, supporting or subverting, fitting or being different from feminine stereotypes, so it’s less a matter of social expectation, and more about genitals. I am not sure of that- lesbians form long term supportive relationships which is about human complementarity and compatibility, not simply about sex. There’s that pervasive sense of not being good enough. And possibly I am writing about that trans man and trying to reassure him because thinking of being a woman is a bit iffy for me too.

And socially I am a woman, because I fit feminine stereotypes, in being emotional (though I am glowing at being called “calm and analytical”). The range of women, mentally, physically, anatomically, and in every characteristic, is wide. I am a trans woman, because I have transitioned, and someone else is a trans woman because they want to transition. We want the role, the social expectations, sometimes to approximate the anatomy. That is a huge part of what “being a woman” means. One is not born a woman, one becomes one.

Dinosaurs II

What could be better to distract us from covid woes- fear of infection, economic uncertainty, the difficulties of being trans- than dinosaurs? Palaeontology is a field of rapid discovery and theorising, with endless fascinating details, completely divorced from the modern world, with lots to ooh and aah at. Our guide is Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, whom you can hear here. I love his enthusiasm, though I bridle a bit at his patronising- you can find dinosaurs everywhere, “Even in Scahtland”. I did not like him referring to “a beautiful island off the West Coast of Scotland called the Isle of Skye”, rather than as I would call it, “Skye” as I expect people to have heard of it. However there he found footprints about the size of a car tyre, several sets of tracks 170m years old, of sauropods fifty feet long weighing several tons.

His description of sauropods is fascinating. How did they grow to be fifty tons like the Argentinosaurus? Well, they would need to eat about 100lbs of vegetation a day, standing still and using their long necks to strip the forest around them from tree tops to ground level, some of it no other animal could reach, using little energy. They grew to the size of an aeroplane in about 30-40 years. They had lungs like birds, with a series of balloonlike air sacs connected to the lung, which store air taken in during exhalation then pass it across the lung in exhalation. The bones of the chest cavity have big openings for these sacs, like in birds, which made the skeleton lighter so more manoeuvrable, and have a large surface area so the animal could dissipate excess heat in its breath.

Weight is estimated from the observation that it is related in living animals to the width of the thigh bone in bipeds, thigh bone and upper arm in quadrupeds.

Brusatte has written a popular science book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, in part based on his own research. He made a classification of carcharodontosaurs (shark-toothed), when he was an undergraduate. He made a spreadsheet of features that varied among species, such as deep sinuses surrounding the brain, or the kinds of teeth: 99 different characteristics. He used a computer program that uses algorithms to search through the data and generate a family tree, from which species share which features and when they were developed. This is a cladistic analysis. From that it clarified where these carnivores came from in the late Jurassic, around 150mya. They began as Pangaea was breaking up, so could spread across the world, and lasted fifty million years. The structure of their family tree reflects the motion of the continents. But they were superseded by the Tyrannosaurs, which were much cleverer.

Did you know T Rex was roughly as smart as a chimp, and cleverer than dogs? This is found from the “Encephalization Quotient”- the ratio between body size and brain size is a good indicator of intelligence. That is smarter than the dinosaurs of stereotype, who were big and stupid and became extinct to be replaced by us clever mammals. This may be colonialist thinking: just as the Imperial invaders mocked and belittled the complex agricultural economy of the Australian indigenous peoples, so the Victorian scholars saw animals less related to themselves as naturally inferior.

But what is a dinosaur? In the 1840s, it was named as all descendants of the common ancestor of the herbivorous Iguanodon and the carnivorous Megalosaurus. Before the dinosaurs, in the early Triassic around 250m years ago, there were “dinosauromorphs”, like dinosaurs but without the small changes of that common ancestor: a long scar on the upper arm that anchored muscles to move the arms sideways, and some flanges on the neck vertebrae that supported stronger muscles and ligaments. The dinosauromorphs were already more active and dynamic than the amphibians and reptiles of their time, with high metabolisms. From fossils it can be hard to tell if a species is a true dinosaur or another dinosauromorph.

Dinosauromorphs continued alongside true dinosaurs for another 20m years, with contemporaneous relatives of modern crocodiles called pseudosuchians. Brusatte studied their “morphological disparity”- how varied they were, how many different variations of each and so how varied were their ecological niches. After a year of work as a young postgraduate, he had a database of 76 Triassic species, each assessed for 470 features of the skeleton, and found that throughout the Triassic pseudosuchians were more diverse than dinosaurs. Yet with climate change at the end of the Triassic, the dinosaurs became more diverse, more abundant, and larger, and pseudosuchians nearly all died out, leaving only a few primitive crocodiles.

Why is a mystery. Dinosaurs and pseudosuchians looked and behaved similarly. Perhaps it was simple luck, perhaps palaeontologists will figure it out.

I have been reading about arcane facts, and large numbers which are not infection rates. It is a relief.

Robin Dembroff and the philosophy of nonbinary

After Robin Dembroff wrote “Macho leaders are a weakness”, I thought- Robin? Sometimes a woman’s name, normally a man’s. It’s a woman. So I went to Google Images to find out, and am abashed. They are nonbinary. Watch them argue that gender is socially constructed.

They argue gendered pronouns should be abolished. For everyone. We can still gender ourselves, but others should not gender us, so as to avoid misgendering anyone. Misgendering is an insult, but not gendering is not necessarily. Not gendering trans people, but gendering everyone else, is stigmatising. Binary trans women want to be called “she” because cis women are, but if cis women were called “they” trans women would not be stigmatised by being called “they”. It is different treatment that is offensive, not the use of “they”. And evidence suggests that degendering English would reduce gender discrimination and gender essentialism, they say, though any such evidence will be contested.

That led me to their open access paper on the subject, introducing me to the concept of unpronouning someone. You unpronoun a person by referring to them by circumlocution, perhaps by name or title, because you do not want to use their chosen pronouns. This is a microaggression, less objectionable than misgendering but still off. In that paper they define transgender as including genderqueer- “(sometimes) ones gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth”. However if gendered pronouns were abolished no-one could be intentionally misgendered or unpronouned.

Degendering English would not get rid of gendered oppression, essentialist misogyny or the oppression of trans folks, but it would help. It would take away one way of denying someone’s gender identity. Misgendering would be impossible. Referring to me as “they” now may be a way of denying that I am female, calling me indeterminate instead, but if everyone was “they” it would not be a problem.

Misgendering, and refusing to use chosen They pronouns, is disrespectful. It denies our social identity. It denies trans women resources, such as access to women’s space, and threatens criticism or ostracism for dressing as a woman.

Misgendering reinforces the ideologies, concepts and norms disrespecting trans people.

People apply stereotypes to others in an effort to understand them. So individuals might want to have some choice over what stereotypes others apply. Misgendering takes away our choice: I want to be seen as a woman, and I epilated my legs this morning to conform to a feminine stereotype.

People often use they to refer to someone whose gender they don’t wish to divulge or don’t know: because singular “they” does not imply any particular gender. Using they for everyone would mean people could keep their gender identity private- for example, if they intend to transition but have not yet.

Dembroff cites studies showing that there is a correlation between grammatical gender and the prevalence of gender essentialist beliefs. The more gender-loaded a language is, the earlier children give themselves a gender category: this is linked to the development of gender stereotypes in children, and essentialised beliefs about how gender explains stereotypical group traits, or children’s use of gender categories on making inferences about others, or forming preferences based on endorsements by people of their own gender. This reinforces the stereotypes. Language affects how you see the world.

If you use gendered pronouns you imply that gender is relevant to what you are discussing. If you use “they” you imply it isn’t.

Why be nonbinary? Dembroff finds gender stereotypes suffocating, and nonbinary identity liberating. They have never fitted gender stereotypes, and always produced doubt in others of what gender they were- anger at them using women’s loos, doubt in an airport security attendant of the pink or blue button- but they are tired of gender. The boxes are stifling, and enforced with violence. Society imposes them based on perceptions of your sex.

Arguments about whether I am a woman are “metalinguistic negotiation”- arguing about what the word “woman” means, not about what is true in the world. Nonbinary people are not saying they don’t have genitals, but that their genitals should not stereotype them in ways they don’t want: they claim freedom to own or subvert any stereotyped gendered behaviour. Like Tiresias, “Old man with wrinkled dugs”, they can move between worlds which others find rigid. They need not be androgynous.

Nonbinary identity, they say, is political. It helps people understand ourselves shorn of stereotype and expectation. Nonbinary is anti-essentialist, enforced on no-one. “I am a person wearing people clothes.” That is different from choosing an androgynous presentation- you can present how you feel in the moment.

Patriarchy enforces social control over sexed bodies, favouring males who conform to dominant masculine norms. Nonbinary undermines that. Nonbinary questions the politics of patriarchy and the unthinking unquestioning assumption that patriarchy is just the natural way.

Dembroff accepts that some people identify as having a particular gender and want to stretch that gender, to be able to do what they like. Rather than insist that men and women can be and can do anything, I and other nonbinary persons question why we categorise people as women and men at all. There is no need for conflict between these two positions, though often there is.

I thought it would be a woman objecting to the toxic masculinity of such as Bolsonaro, Modi, Trump or Johnson dealing with the virus. I wanted to know. I am rebuked- and I am liberated- they are a person, holding person views. They are trans in the widest sense, like I am.