Omniphobia

Why should good news make me miserable?

It’s excellent news. It means I am safe, for now; but not that I am safe permanently, which is an impossibility. If I want to be safe forever, I will be forever disappointed, and that is why I am miserable. So I step outside that, see it is not rational, ask what I can do about it.

Cognitive behavioural ideas would have me tell myself, rationally, that I am safe for two months, and even can be comfortable. It’s a rolling two months, as far as I can see: something bad might happen, but I would be more or less ok for a bit after that. I am still not cheered up. I noted in the nineties that I did not care much beyond two months, so the question “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time” bamboozled me, but it does not make me happy now.

Then I delve into desire and possibility. The idea of permanent safety might have come from childhood. Or, it is my need for complete control. That, my perfectionism, and the fear, are the unholy trinity which has made me retreat into my flat. It really is Omniphobia, fear of everything. CBT would answer the perfectionism too, it’s black and white thinking, finding things black, dreadful, because they are not Good, and impossibly good. Nothing bad can happen to me when I am dead, I think, grimly, and before then there are continual surprises.

The good news really made me miserable. It plunged me into sorrow and pain. The emotional burden is very deep, and does not simply disappear when I consider the concept of black and white thinking.

Staying in my house and not going out because of fear is a sign of sickness. I deal with it in two ways, both sick. One is to castigate myself for being so weak and useless, which worked at one time and not now. Now, it just makes me feel even less motivation to go out. It is as if I am in a sulk, but one usually sulks to have an effect on someone else, and I sulk to disempower my own inner nag, or gaslighter.

The other is to suppress my feeling below consciousness. It is normally a weight, making action difficult, rather than a hideous sensation making me want to curl up in a ball. So, bringing it into consciousness might help me process it.

One thing I do, is analyse like this. I have Omniphobia. It paralyses me. I have a huge burden of sadness. I have a trauma response, where I cannot attain the control I would need to feel safe enough, because I crave complete control. So the good news making me miserable, which is counterintuitive, is a good thing, because it helps me analyse, brings the sadness to consciousness where I might process it, and may move me along.

The Quaker concept of the inner light and my idea of the Real Me- and my understanding of psychological research is that there is no unchanging core to any human being, and our statements of that core change with time. That is, I am confused about this. But my sense is that it is my inner light, or Real Me, that sulks, that is traumatised, that says No because the gaslighter is whipping it too hard, and that if “I”- the organism, of which consciousness is only a part, which somehow contains an Inner Light, the Gaslighter, and also something that can untwist and liberate or assess and mediate-

no, too confused entirely-

I believe health is possible. Consider this evergreen, which was nearly strangled by creepers, and which is deformed, with bare arms where further branches and needles should be; yet now I pull away the creepers regularly, it is growing back.

I am deformed. I grew round the restrictions, in order to survive, and they twisted me. Revirescabo.

Pushing tomboys to change their gender?

The Department for Education has issued guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, and the Daily Mail started a culture war. “Teachers are told to stop pushing tomboys to change their gender”, it said. “Tomboys must not be encouraged to think they should change sex just because of the way they like to dress or play, schools have been told.”

I agree. I don’t like the word “tomboy”- girls ask, “Why call me a ‘boy’?” Just because they don’t like pink, or skirts, or even worse because they climb trees as well as liking ballet, does not make them any sort of “boy”. I disagree with all gender stereotypes, and find the adjective “harmful” tautologous. Oddly enough, neither the Statutory Guidance, nor the separate Guidance, uses the word. Where schools depart from statutory guidance, they “need to have good reasons”. Guidance is less binding. The Mail is wrong to call it “instructions”.

The Mail quotes out of context, from the Guidance.

You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.

I don’t know whether that was written out of ignorance, or with the intention of permitting Mermaids to continue to provide resources. Mermaids never suggested that non-conformity was synonymous with having a different gender identity, only that some children really do have a different gender identity and they will flourish if allowed to transition. Trans people exist. We should be worried, if the guidance echoed transphobe organisations, suggesting that gender identity is a falsehood, the product of gender stereotypes, but it does not.

The Mail quotes the “Safe Schools Alliance”, so I looked them up. They are a transphobe organisation, currently taking legal action to get the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, and against Oxfordshire County Council because they believed the council’s guidance was too accepting of trans people. The first thing they say about themselves is that they are against gender identity policies they find too pro-trans. They do not disclose their funding. They are happy to damage Britain’s leading LGBT charity because of their loathing of trans. They object to “trans lobby groups push[ing] policies which allow males into female spaces”. Well, they call trans girls “males”. They want to prevent transition.

Enough of the propaganda. What do the Guidance and Statutory Guidance actually say? Continue reading

The Anti-maskers

I wear a face mask, because mask-wearing protects people from covid. I could not evaluate it for myself, I have to take that on trust, and here are two articles which persuade me to wear one. Cloth masks are imperfect but make a difference, I say, even if I could not explain perfectly what that difference was. It’s also the law, and public expectation, to wear a mask. I see a few face shields, and I imagine they are useless, as aerosol droplets small enough to float in air will go past them. I am aware of reasons not to wear a mask including lip reading, or the fear some will have with something covering their face. Masks are not perfect protection, but I think it’s on balance better to wear one.

It would help if we had a decent government. In the US, Trump is more concerned to stir division and win on 3 November than to save lives. In Britain, the government seems too concerned with image, its testing never matching its boasting, its rules seeming careless and arbitrary, also too concerned with appearance, not concerned enough to keep people’s livelihoods, sometimes too concerned with preserving capital values, intent on a damaging Brexit and turning Kent into a lorry park.

Ach, I am concerned with appearances too. I think we have an unpatriotic government, not concerned with the good of the British people, wanting to tear down regulation protecting us, damaging the bonds that bring society together, and I want to persuade others of that.

I need to trust, and the hard Right works against that. The febrile atmosphere they and social media create makes trust hard. And mask wearing is nuanced, as not seeing faces is sadness, even if you smile with your eyes, and they are not perfect protection.

In my spiritual, wisdom seeking, milieu, anti-vaxxers predate, and opponents of “Big Pharma”. I have given reiki myself, and it does people good. It’s OK to take a bit of reiki along with your chemotherapy, not OK to take reiki instead, and though again there is nuance- chemo may merely slow the growth of a cancer rather than shrinking it- I would prefer an oncologist’s advice to an aromatherapist’s.

So there we were, sharing feelings and wisdom, sharing ourselves, and in comes an anti-masker. She says she has a relevant degree, and resents being told she does not know what she’s talking about by people who have just read a few magazine articles (like me). Zoom chat lets her spread her arguments. She said mask wearing is a “Pantomime”, and that’s a wonderful word to dismiss it. Five say they agree. Two make comments which could be read either way. Three of us strongly challenge her.

for those who have been silenced or had anything held over their mouth then masks are about death

anyone who has ever been assaulted will know what it feels like to have masked strangers all around them and be unable to see their intent in the facial expressions

Er, um. I have been silenced, and assaulted. I get by, walking in the street, by not noticing others much. This makes sense, but she puts it too strongly. I would rather accept that some people are mask exempt. I don’t know if that person without one is exempt or an anti-masker- or has just forgotten to bring one.

one of the best things we can do for ourself and each other and the whole population is to support our own immune system.  Masks do not do that, mainly because they block our ability to expel infective agents.  All of us have Staph aureus in our systems – if that gets over grown, then it will make us very ill.  Many of us carry Streptococcus and if anyone has ever experienced what folks call ‘Strep throat’ you will know that it’s no fun.  If we interrupt these balances then we have problems – these are naturally occurring bacteria that will cause problems if we push them out of balance

I don’t believe, on balance, that bacteria I would usually expel will multiply on my mask and then be much stronger in my airways. If anyone can refer me to something authoritative on this, please do. I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand-

Even the woman who writes “We can’t let misinformation undermine science” takes herbal tea and ginger root for her immune system.

Yeats, again. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Anti-maskers can rile each other up in their web enclaves, and try to persuade others.

Also in that group an Indian woman talked of the poetry of Mirza Ghalib, “To Urdu what Shakespeare is to English”. I was sad that she felt the need to ask our permission, white people don’t. I found some, translated or interpreted by Michael R. Burch. He is really good:

On the subject of mystic philosophy, Ghalib,
your words might have struck us as deeply profound
and we might have pronounced you a saint …
Yes, if only we hadn’t found
you drunk
as a skunk!

Not the blossomings of songs nor the adornments of music:
I am the voice of my own heart breaking.

You toy with your long, dark curls
while I remain captive to my dark, pensive thoughts.

We congratulate ourselves that we two are different:
that this weakness has not burdened us both with inchoate grief.

Now you are here, and I find myself bowing—
as if sadness is a blessing, and longing a sacrament.

I am a fragment of sound rebounding;
you are the walls impounding my echoes.

All your life, O Ghalib,
You kept repeating the same mistake:
Your face was dirty
But you were obsessed with cleaning the mirror!

I want a nice, safe consensus on mask wearing, and that appears not to be available, though I heard of people shouting angrily at maskless strangers when I last went to the Swanston supermarket. Some of the propaganda sheets in the UK seem to be pro-mask for now. In Meeting, I had my wayward and disturbing thoughts, and they merged and mingled with my Awareness, stretching it, because it is not “My God”, but ours. Strange and disturbing things are part of how the world is.

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Parliament supports trans rights

Liz Truss spoke to Parliament about her refusal, three years after the announcement, to reform gender recognition after all. MPs eviscerated her, though two other Tories spouted “feminist” anti-trans claptrap, using the same words as any other anti-trans campaigner. Here is the transcript: or view the debate.

Truss claimed there are “proper checks and balances”- the humiliations the consultation overwhelmingly opposed- and that it is “important that we protect single-sex spaces”. Note she does not use the term “women’s space”, having learned to avoid it from the haters. When she says “It is also important that under-18s are properly supported in line with their age and decision-making capabilities” she means she wants to restrict treatment for trans children. Even after three years she could give no date when her paltry improvements will come into force. The Tory transphobe MPs echoed her language: Felicity Buchan said retaining “single-sex spaces” in women’s refuges would “protect vulnerable women”, though many women’s refuges welcome trans women, and Jackie Doyle-Price asked her to “reconfirm her support for single-sex spaces”. Previously, Doyle-Price has voted against gay rights, against equal marriage, against retaining EU human rights, for repealing the Human Rights Act, and to repeal the EHRC’s duty to work for a society without unjust discrimination. Felicity Buchan normally tamely follows her whip, but has spoken out in hate of trans women. They are just the kind of allies trans-excluders would have.

Even other Tories supported trans rights. Crispin Blunt said the trade minister should not have the Equalities brief as well. He asked if Truss understood the “crushing disappointment” trans people felt at her announcement, made without good reason. He talks of trans-excluders’ fears, “void of evidence”. “Younger people in particular are more starkly intolerant of the cruelty of wider society’s inhumanity towards trans people. The vast, vast majority of lesbian, gay and bisexual people will stand in solidarity with trans people.” Shaun Bailey spoke of how trans people feel “locked out” of health care by waiting lists. Sara Britcliffe wanted “to find a way to make the path to self-determination not only cheaper but easier”. Nicola Richards spoke of trans people’s frustration with the “lack of substance” in Truss’s response. Elliot Colburn, who is gay, said “I stand by the trans community”, and asked “that we will make those changes that cost so little but mean so much to trans people”. David Mundell wondered if the new clinics were sufficient. Peter Gibson said the business community supported trans people- 200 company leaders wrote in support of trans rights. Christian Wakeford wanted more than the government promised.

Opposition MPs revealed the full hypocrisy and nastiness of the Tory government. Marsha de Cordova, shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, said the delay was unacceptable, the debate was toxic, and the Government have let trans people down. She spoke of “the rise in transphobia and misogyny”- the two are linked. Labour will continue to support self-declaration.

Anne McLaughlin of the SNP said there was need for education to show trans rights do not encroach on others’ rights: “The Minister has failed on that front”. She pointed to the Scottish government’s better record on reform. She asked, does Truss “recognise the need to comply with international human rights law?” Truss said she did, just after making a statement indicating she doesn’t. Stuart McDonald for the SNP said Truss’s position was “a breach of human rights”.

James Murray, Labour, spoke of the consultation’s overwhelming support for trans rights, and asked, “Why have the Government taken so long to respond, only to ignore the wishes and destroy the hopes of so many in the trans community?” Truss said she was against self-ID. Lloyd Russell-Moyle said the World Health Organisation obliged us to remove trans as a medical classification, but Truss still wants doctors involved, claiming “the specific diagnosis is a matter for clinicians.” Would those clinicians be able to diagnose someone as gay, too?

Stephen Doughty, Labour, asked, “Does she understand the hurt to our fellow human beings, who are feeling deep distress and are deeply let down and deeply concerned about the direction in which this Government are going? And will she stop the off-the-record briefings to newspapers, whipping up hatred against the trans and non-binary community?” Truss denied personal responsibility for such briefings, and ignored the point about our distress.

Wera Hobhouse, LD, asked if Truss had met trans organisations, and Truss did not say she had. Cat Smith, Labour, said trans people were among her most vulnerable constituents, and Truss had let us down. Andrew Gwynne, Labour, said anti-trans hate crime had nearly trebled in five years.

Even Truss, while using policy to foment culture war and increase hate, spoke of making the gender recognition process “kinder”. The British people are mostly tolerant, and in favour of trans rights. Our hard-Right government is fomenting hate, with its allies in the trans-excluder movement and the press, but it has a hard job at the moment. Theresa May wanted self-declaration for trans people. It would have been the decent thing to do, and even Truss sees that at some level.

In the House of Lords, Ray Collins said other jurisdictions demedicalised trans recognition- what evidence is there from them that medicalising it is necessary? Transphobe Elizabeth Berridge could not answer. Elizabeth Barker called the government position “callous and cynical”. Michael Cashman called the government position “woefully inadequate…at a time when gross defamation and misrepresentation of trans people, particularly trans women, has been whipped up by the media and some Members of your Lordships’ House.” Again he asked for evidence of any abuse of gender recognition. Berridge had none.

Britain supports trans rights

Two years ago, the government consulted on trans rights, and the people supported us. 102,818 people responded, everyone who cared enough to respond, and an overwhelming majority spoke up for us, even though the haters campaigned hard to get haters to respond. LGB folk spoke up for us- 40,500 responses came through Stonewall. Feminists spoke up for us- 6810 responses came through Level Up, a feminist campaign group against domestic violence. 650 organisations responded, mostly for trans people and trans rights. The survey analysis says that as respondents were self-selecting, it cannot be said to be representative of public opinion, but I say it can: it is those who cared enough to respond, who have a strong opinion on the matter, and they can influence the others. And now, 26 September, 128,000 people have signed a petition for self-declaration. Continue reading

Fear, shame, curiosity, determination

What would it be like to meet yourself at 16?

Dan’s new song idea moves between an augmented chord and an inverted chord, and we were talking of chord progressions- the diminished chord in the Maple Leaf Rag, and then “Song without words”, Fauré op.17 no.3. When I was sixteen, I was told to learn this, and the first time I looked at it, playing sections hands separately to get a sense of its shape, the chords at the end made me cry. It is a beautifully delicate piece. There I am, trying to make a man of myself, and loving the Pathetique sonata, which is thunderous, around the same time: and crying at music. I could never become completely distanced from myself, no matter how hard I tried.

Now conscious of my inner gaslighter’s nastiest stories, that all my feelings are feigned, all my motivations cowardly, and self-centred in the most stupid short-termist way- being comfortable for five minutes because comfort for half an hour is impossible- I know they are not true. Then, trying to make a man of myself I was enmeshed in Don’ts, and the music touched me, and the memory touches me now.

“What would be your reaction if you could meet your sixteen year old self?”

I don’t answer that question. I did not properly hear it, I was thinking of how he would react to me. I don’t think he could bear to be in the same room with me, and I could not bear his rejection. I don’t like the “he” pronoun, and it fits, he would insist on it. He would be shocked and horrified. Seeing me expressing female would be too much for him. Possibly if we had two adjacent rooms, with pianos, and a way of communicating by text. (Though he couldn’t type, then.)

He did not know himself, because he thought he knew himself. He was denying his qualities. There was so much in me that I could not value. He thought he knew about how the world should be. I would feel complete compassion, devoting myself entirely to his feelings, but I would fear his reaction. He could not tolerate who I am today.

I do not tolerate who I am today. My inner gaslighter surfaces, and that is a sign it breaks down, it is failing, but still it governs me unconsciously much of the time. On Sunday I cycled that 13 miles, and I was concentrating furiously all the time. I knew I could be too harsh to myself, demanding too high a gear, which wastes effort, and I avoided that by telling myself not to- harshly. Or, determinedly. Seeing possibilities, seeing that the extra effort in too high a gear cost too much, did not give a sufficient return in greater speed. I took off a minute from my previous time, and was pleased.

I fear my softness. With antidepressants I might take away my depth of feeling and support myself with warehouse work. I anticipate attack. I have the gazelle’s alertness.

A word I can’t say. I am in such conflict. I fear my- the word authenticity goes through my mind and the gaslighter stops me saying it. I move through strong feeling into a state of authenticity, ceasing to fight my feelings for a time. Authenticity is risky. Then I go back to scrolling facebook or reading columnists, shutting myself down with the prescribed emotions for my tribe for the prescribed stimuli. Trump/Johnson Bad, etc.

Or another zoom call, and was I angry? I find what I want when I see what I do. “I suppose we all do that,” she says. I want to know. If I don’t know what I am feeling at the time, how can I know I am safe?

Daenerys Targaryen at her wedding. Perhaps for the first time, she forgot to be afraid. She did what she had to do, wanted to do.

Anger is risky. It puts people’s backs up.

Oh, what’s going on here? “I wanted to give you space to feel,” she said. She sees me put my head back and breathe very deeply, and imagines that I am feeling a rush of emotion, I control it and it dissipates, but she wonders if I am in my thinking and not aware of any feeling at all, what you think happens to you in those moments.

I am aware of putting my head back. It felt I was analysing. “You work very hard to understand.” I do. “Can you just be and not think?”

“What is it like for you when you can’t analyse and find an answer?”

Oh, horrible. I am just hurt. I shut down again. It is the curse of intelligence, though: I think, while others act.

Fear and shame dominate my life. Shame at my lack of worldly status and achievement, fear of the world- the world is a scary dangerous place, but my fear of it is so extreme I don’t distinguish what I ought to fear and what is probably OK. Fear of my own reactions, as I can’t live with ever making a mistake. The worst is my fear of my own feelings, which completely disables me and shuts me off from my perceptions.

And now I am conscious of other feelings: during the session I named one “interest”, curiosity is a better word. And determination. I like these feelings. Conscious of them, I might feel proud of them. I am climbing out of the pit.

A law to vilify trans people

The British government has decided not to take away the humiliating and bureaucratic hurdles to gender recognition for trans people in England and Wales. Instead it has clung to a system which will be obsolete in two years. On 22 September, Liz Truss, the minister “for” women and equalities, made a formal written statement confirming this.

To get gender recognition, a person will still need: Continue reading

Nick Cohen

How does your own oppression affect how you see the oppression of others? Nick Cohen spoke pungently against the antisemitism in the Labour party; why does he hate on any expression of disapproval of transphobia? Why can he not see that transphobia is as vile?

Antisemitism is the stain on Christianity- from Matthew’s Gospel, “His blood be on us and on our children”, through the German Crusade in 1096, when French and German peasants destroyed Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz, through the Blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitism besmirches European civilisation. It survives in QAnon, where the Moneyed elites allegedly ruining the world are said to be Jewish, rather than owners and senior executives of fossil fuel companies.

Antisemitism exists in obsessive form, where all an individual’s anger and resentment is channelled at Jews, and in a widespread, mild form, involving distaste. So does transphobia.

There is antisemitism in the Labour party, chiefly in the milder form, but by the time Chris Williamson MP was accused, his wrongdoing was to say that the response to antisemitism was overblown, and he was tainted by guilt by association with antisemites. That was enough for him to be suspended as an MP and silenced. His talk at Brighton Friends Meeting House was cancelled, according to Jane Dawson, head of BYM external communications, because of threats of violence. Nick Cohen tweeted, “You can be an anti-racist or you can be a supporter of the Labour party. But you can’t be both.”

I respect Cohen’s opposition to Labour, even if his work against them helped get the most appalling government of my lifetime elected, so why does he not notice transphobia? Instead, he amplifies it. He wrote for The Spectator, the British Breitbart (the two share writers) to claim JK Rowling was not transphobic. He wrote of the transphobic novel Troubled Blood “nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat as a disguise when approaching one of his victims”. This is a “tiny detail”. Well, why put in the detail? Could it possibly be linked to Rowling’s transphobia? One victim? The Guardian’s direct quote referred to victims. Cohen made no mention of Rowling’s transphobic screed, as if his memory does not stretch back to June. Rowling can’t make a serial killer real enough to be repulsive in himself, so she is forced to put in details, and one of them is that Creed dresses female when seeking victims.

It’s a common tactic. Minimise and deny the transphobia, find something unpleasant in the reaction and inveigh against that. Cohen then quotes at great length the more angry and unpleasant tweets against Rowling. Every British national newspaper is a willing platform for transphobia. Trans people objecting to it are outside, shouting, and some have to shout loudly for attention, and some people shouting may be trolls attempting to amplify discord. Though he admits “What the hell are they screaming about now?” is a recurrent thought when he turns on Twitter, and though we know how abusive the transphobes can be, he incites hatred against all trans people objecting to Rowling by quoting the worst of us.

On abuse, Judith Butler puts it perfectly:

if we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it.

I was going to write about the person in an oppressed group who only sees his own oppression, and can therefore oppress others. We should object to the oppression, not to the action against oppressors. In Cohen’s case it is not so simple. He recognises that “The novel’s descriptions of how men condescend to Robin Ellacott, how they send her lewd pictures, grab her, talk over her, and refuse to accept her opinions because they are from a woman” relate to real life. The problem is that he sets feminism against trans women, where in the real world feminists support trans women.

Cohen directly states a transphobic myth, “the safeguards or lack of them governing the clinics that offer hormone suppressing drugs or surgery”- as if NHS doctors give dangerous treatment without due cause.

Experience of oppression is no guarantee that you will recognise it in other circumstances. Cohen’s self-righteousness, and use of a platform like The Spectator to punch down at his innocent victims- me- don’t make me object to his work against antisemitism, but they do make me hate him.

2 Oct 2021: Cohen claims that accepting that trans women are women means “anti-Darwinian obscurantism”. I don’t deny biological sex, it’s the cause of my birth. But, trans women exist. The people opposed to material reality are the ones who say we don’t, that it’s a feeling, that (particularly in children) it’s a passing phase, that we’re not serious, that our feelings don’t matter.