Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Shahrar Ali

Shahrar Ali would be a disaster for the Green Party if elected leader, or even if he got a significant vote. His “Elect Shahrar” page says almost nothing about the climate crisis, and a great deal of lightly coded argument against trans rights.

He starts with four bullet points. The first refers to “climate and ecological emergency”. If anyone would not prioritise that, they should not be in the Green Party. The second promises to reach out to “politically homeless women”.

Who are these women? Not all anti-trans campaigners are “politically homeless”. Nobody agrees with everything a party would do in government, as the Greens soon will be in Scotland. Anti-trans campaigners could vote Green despite the party’s trans inclusive policies, if they too would prioritise the climate emergency. They are only “politically homeless” if they make their campaign against trans rights the most important political issue. The other two points refer to his race, and his popularity.

Then there are 224 words on the climate crisis. Why can’t humans co-operate, he asks. “We are the last generation able to save the planet from ourselves”- a stirring call, but with very little on policy. He mentions short-haul flights, but would he ban them? The Greens should be more popular, he says.

Then there are 342 words, all dogwhistles against trans rights.

“We are fractious,” he says. Well, yes. Ali and others turned the Spring conference into a series of demands to fight against trans rights. He lost, but he sought to mandate misgendering. This wastes time and creates the “fractious” atmosphere he claims to oppose.

He wants “Services provided on same sex lines”. This is an anti-trans dogwhistle. Services are provided on same gender lines. Trans women are women. This is how the Equality Act works. “Same sex” is the wording used to make anti-trans campaigners angry and resentful, as if they might lose something. Trans women are in women’s spaces already.

He opposes “bullies”. So do I. Does he mean any bullies in particular? Trans people and our allies. This is clear from the next paragraph- he refers to an author receiving death threats “for publishing a thought piece”. Who could that possibly be but JK Rowling, who has said some pretty nasty things about trans people. It’s the most provocative way of putting it. All women on the internet get death threats. I have had a death threat, though my twitter is moribund. Any anti-trans campaigner, or trans ally, will get the reference immediately.

I would take a stand against abuse of women. Any Green voter would. That does not mean opposing trans rights. Trans women get abuse too.

He will defend all the protected characteristics, he claims. Someone trying to fool a person who was not transphobic, but did not understand the debate, might claim that means he is pro-trans. However, he qualifies it, by saying he will support “sex-based” rights. That is the anti-trans campaigners’ argument that cis women’s sex is female, and while a trans woman’s gender may be feminine her sex is still male. In other words, he would oppose trans people being treated badly as he defines it, but excluding all trans women from women’s spaces is absolutely fine by him. Then he refers to those “politically homeless” women again.

The page is deeply dishonest. If he were honest, he would say straight out that he wants to exclude trans women from all women’s services. Instead he says that in code, wanting to get all the votes of anti-trans campaigners while alienating as few as possible of the members who are vaguely pro-trans but don’t follow his coded references.

The website is almost entirely aimed at getting the votes of anti-trans campaigners. Ali is a front bench speaker for the party already. If he gets a significant vote, either trans people and our allies will leave, or the debate about trans rights will consume the party, crippling its ability to affect local politics or campaign on environmental issues. Shahrar Ali’s election would be a disaster for the climate.

1 September: Siân Berry dared to say Green party members should not vote for him, and this made him produce a ridiculous, long-winded reply. He condemned her for tweeting that, an uppity woman daring to express a political opinion he did not agree with, and then made the scurrilous accusation that because she disagreed with him she would not perform her last duties as acting leader properly. His grievance and sense of entitlement is as great as that of the extremist haters who would drive all trans women out of all women’s spaces.

1 October: the results were as follows.

First round:
Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay: 5062
Amelia Womack and Tamsin Omond: 3465
Transphobe Ali: 2422.
Others: 554.
Reopen nominations: 22
1349 votes were not transferrable- there was no second preference marked. 1627 votes transferred.

Second round: Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay: 5062+1212=6274.
Amelia Womack and Tamsin Omond: 3465+437=3902.

This almost certainly means that some voted for Ali first, Womack and Omond second. Very few people are extreme enough anti-trans campaigners to join the party in order to vote for an anti-trans campaigner. I suppose that’s a mercy. I am glad the nonbinary person thrashed the transphobe. The new leaders say they will oppose the misinformation and false fears which is mobilised against trans people, and support GRA reform and improved trans health care.

5 February 2022: the man has finally been kicked out as a Green Party spokesman, for trampling on Green Party values. He has threatened court action. See how the anti-trans haters lose all reason: he used to support the Green Party because, presumably, of the climate crisis, but he would rather see it burn than allow it to support trans people, and our LGB and women allies.

Sandra and Ezra

“Is your child trans?”

Greenbelt is a good place to camp. I have got chatting with lots of people around the site, as if it were a party, and we can get quite deep quickly. Now I chat to Sandra in the next tent, who is a teacher, and we talk of difficulties pronouncing names from other languages. Conversation meanders, and she reveals her “child” is also here, just camping up there. Use of the nongendered word is a bit odd, so I asked that question.

Getting the new name hurt. Sandra says you have to mourn your child. The name is Ezra, so the child is either nonbinary or binary trans, but Sandra insists on using female pronouns. I asked her, could she refer to her child (I did not use the name Ezra) as “they”? No, she felt the need to use female pronouns. “She’s still exploring! She was wearing a dress the other day!”

Well, it was hot and sunny, perfect weather for a dress. And why ever not? You can be nonbinary and mostly one, but still a little of the other. But Ezra chose his/their name when they were twelve, eight years ago, so you have had time to mourn.

“You’re not in one of those horrible ‘concerned parents’ groups, are you?” No, she’s not. That’s a mercy. However, she is still concerned for her child, a little resistant, and concerned about her own loss. Ezra is going into their second year at Uni, though that’s been a nightmare too, what with Covid.

Ezra comes over and chats for a bit, and I feel unable to say “Hello, Ezra” because they/he will know their mum has been talking about them, and I can’t ask Sandra to introduce him for fear she’ll use the wrong name. It’s embarrassing.

I go off to the loo. Camping, you need much more food. Talking to Sandra, I can be caring- for Sandra as well as Ezra. It is not my place to tell her off, and would probably do little good. Encouraging her, rather than shaming her, to accept her child is more likely to work. And now I feel upset. Sandra talks to the trans person, and feels quite happy to go all Poor Me. I have done a caring thing, for both of them, and now I feel my own needs.

We’re packing up. I go to say goodbye to Ann and John, and break off because I have to say something to Sandra. I go over to her in a rush. “I’m so much happier, now, transitioned,” I say. She does not look reassured. Possibly she sees how old my clothes look. Well, I am camping, there will be sweat and mud, and still.

I explain to Ann and John why I dashed off so suddenly. “She’s not gone to Mermaids or Gendered Intelligence, then,” says John. You know about this! Well, Ann is a teacher too, and has had trans or questioning pupils. We help with each others’ tents, and then go off for a cup of tea before leaving. At the Tiny Tea Tent we meet another couple, and talk of our experiences of churches. Margaret was brought up Catholic, and has a great burden of guilt and shame round that, so has found another church. She likes churches which do not emphasise Hell. John says he always remembers hearing of a boundaried model of church, you’re one of us or you’re not, and a centred model of church: Jesus is the centre, and we are either moving towards or away from that centre. What matters is the direction, not the distance from the centre, which no-one can tell anyway.

I enjoyed the Out at Greenbelt service, worshipping with LGBT folk, only about twenty of us in a tent together.

Two poems

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is strange. It consists of hundreds of sections, stuffed in an envelope, edited by others. We do not know what order they should be in, or whether any particular section should be included. They are beautiful. I summarised twenty sections in 26 lines, and included a reference to the death of Newton. Continue reading

The effect of transphobia

Transphobia is a true phobia, as irrational and pitiable as arachnophobia. Just as an arachnophobe’s attention is consumed by the harmless spider, just as they feel fear and sometimes abject terror, so the transphobe is obsessed by the possibility of seeing a trans woman even if none are there.

My friend was so gentle she did not want the spiders that terrified her hurt. With other phobias, the phobes see the irrationality, as does everyone else, whether they sympathise or despise. Transphobes refuse to recognise their irrationality, so must rationalise their fear. So they have to hate as well as fear: to invent some justification, however bizarre, why their fear is in some way proportionate to the tiny minority of mostly harmless trans people, and also to attempt to persuade others to fear us too.

I was going to write a post demonstrating this. So I went to collect transphobic utterances. The barrister Allison Bailey tweeted, “This is a national & international crisis”. Someone shared the tweet on facebook, apparently believing it. Someone told me on facebook all trans women are racist, because women of colour were more likely to have traditional views and be scared of trans women in women’s services. She stereotypes people based on skin colour, and calls me racist. She also said I oppressed women and girls, who would be unable to go out because of the “urinary leash”. There were no women’s loos they could use, because there might be a trans woman in there.

Another claimed women would speak out against trans inclusion but were afraid of violence or being sacked from their jobs. That could be rationalising, claiming her fear was of something real.

I had the core of a post. People I had met, semi-famous or eminent people, random people in comment sections or facebook, all saying irrational, phobic things, mixed with anger and hatred because they could not admit their fear was irrational. And then I sat without showering all morning, because considering such stuff hurts. It makes me imagine a miasma of hostility everywhere, when most people don’t care that I am trans, and many accept me.

I need to be loved, I said.
You are loved! said my Friend.

We laugh at the phobes, on our private groups. Nicola Sturgeon tweeted about how awful it was now, to be a woman in Afghanistan, and someone tweeted, “Afghan women and children are in a horrendous position, but here women and children are being called terfs”. It is ridiculous. When shared on facebook that drew eight Haha reactions. If it’s just as bad, someone said, “I’m sure there are plenty of Afghan women willing to change places with British TERFs”. I hope some people will look at that tweet and see it is ridiculous.

I’ve seen screenshots, but it appears the tweet has been deleted. The account shown, when I searched on DuckDuckGo, came up as Sugar Kane в Твиттер, but referred to Scottish issues from an anti-SNP perspective and had a lot of transphobia. I am sure you could find screenshots with a bit of searching.

Feel the fear and do it anyway. In this strange world of On-Line, passions are so high, and the most recondite interest can come to seem the most important thing in the world because you can spend hours a day scrolling through ever-new stuff. Any hashtag has mockers and doubters, who only serve to drive engagement. Facebook regularly shows me posts where people are energetically debating trans rights, and I got sucked in. So I got called a “racist”. And now I am still dwelling on that- to try and understand where it comes from, to see how important it is, to entertain and enlighten you, of course. I wish trans friends online would spend less time on transphobes.

Beauty and Cruelty

In the 1550s, Titian painted seven great paintings for Philip II of Spain. Philip, who drove the Netherlands to revolt and succession by imposing the Spanish Inquisition on them, who channelled the wealth of the New World into building the Escorial palace and pointless wars, who burned thirty-one Protestants in the main square of Valladolid in 1559, displayed paintings in which Gods exercised their power without remorse or pity over helpless humans, in pictures where the viewer is invited to take pleasure and amusement in the victims’ pain. The paintings show the skill of one of the greatest artists, and are beautiful.

Jupiter descends to impregnate Danae, in a shower of gold.

Jupiter, in the form of a bull, carries off Europa. A putti mocks her, mimicking her movement.

Actaeon, hunting in the woods, comes upon Diana and sees her nakedness.

Diana hunts him down with his own dogs, which rip him apart. This painting was never delivered and is not always included in the set.

Diana punishes Callisto, for her pregnancy to Jupiter.

Adonis, the hunter, pulls away from Venus, who loves him.

Andromeda, chained to be eaten by a sea monster, sees Perseus coming to her rescue.

All show naked women. In three, the woman exercises power, and in four she is its victim.

My blog is now ten years old.

Rapid onset gender dysphoria

The concept of ROGD is deeply harmful. No professional body takes it seriously: the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science published a statement signed by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, saying ROGD lacks evidence and has a “significant potential for creating harm”. The concept is being “misused” to affect policy and bolster anti-trans campaigners’ sense of self-righteousness. So I decided to go back to the original survey.

Lisa Littman of Brown University published her open access article in PLOS One in 2018. In that article, she does not claim this shows a condition exists, only that the data she gathered allows hypotheses to be crafted, which could be tested by further research. No further research has given any further basis to her hypothesis. Michele Moore, editor of a hateful and discredited book claiming trans is an “invention” gave feedback on the manuscript and helped with data analysis. I am aware of Moore’s revulsion at the thought of a trans boy transitioning.

To claim that the parents were not biased against transition, Littman records the professed belief of 225 of the parents “that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as others”. The thirty who do not profess such a belief are shocking, but were not excluded from the survey. And hate sites encourage the interpretation of this statement that trans women deserve the rights of “other men”. So they oppose our human rights and legal rights, but casuistically deny that.

Littman asked parents the survey questions, rather than the children themselves. She found those parents through hate sites. Her description of one of those sites, called “transgender trend”, quotes its about page, which says it is a group of “concerned” parents, and alleges a “trend” to diagnose gender non-conforming children as transgender. In fact it is a hate site, which facilitated the bullying of trans children by publishing stickers claiming “children confused about their sex usually grow out of it” and published “guidance for schools” stating that children should be told no-one can change sex, and schools should prevent trans girls using girls’ facilities, contrary to law and those trans girls’ human rights. Littman only contacted hate sites, but a facebook group for supportive parents became aware of her questionnaire and publicised it.

One of her suggested hypotheses was that parent-child conflict might explain the data. 6.8% of the “AYAs” (adolescents and young adults) tried to run away, and almost half withdrew from family. As Littman says, parents might be coping maladaptively with their child’s disclosure. Many of the AYAs had been diagnosed with mental health problems before saying they were trans: of the 256 AYAs, only 94 did not have some mental diagnosis before the disclosure. 99 were diagnosed with depression, 117 anxiety, 20 Autistic spectrum disorder. As Littman says, any study of “ROGD” should assess family dynamics and parental coping.

So, the survey shows nothing surprising. Parents recruited through hate sites cope badly with their children’s gender dysphoria. However, Littman suggested another hypothesis which propagandists like Abigail Shrier treat as revealed truth: that children imagine they have gender dysphoria because of trauma and the stress of normal puberty, influenced by friends and the internet, and then demand transition, imagining it is the solution to all their problems. Littman’s third hypothesis was that the desire to transition was a maladaptive coping mechanism. She says seeking weight loss is a similar maladaptive coping mechanism in anorexia nervosa. This is now a core part of the ROGD myth pushed by its adherents.

In order to be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria in Children, you need “a strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that he or she is the other gender” and five out of eight other indicators, which include play and clothing preferences. 205 of the parents reported that their child exhibited none of these before puberty. Only three said their child had shown four of the indicators.

The hate sites seem particularly concerned about trans boys receiving treatment. That might be the reason that 212 of the 256 AYAs were assigned female at birth. In 2018, 2519 children were referred to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service, and 76% were AFAB, rather than 83% in Littman’s survey.

In 2019 161 of the Tavistock patients were referred for puberty blockers, after several appointments. That’s 6% of the 2018 intake. By contrast in Littman’s survey 92 AYAs got to the gender clinic, 17 of whom got a prescription for puberty blockers on their first visit. That’s 18%, three times higher. One possible explanation is that the habitual users of hate sites include fantasists who made up a survey response. At least, it shows the self-selected survey respondents were not a representative sample. It is particularly difficult for children whose parents are unsupportive to get to the gender clinic in the first place.

At the time of the survey, 213 of the AYAs were trans-identified, and 14 had taken no steps towards transition- not even changing name, hairstyle or style of clothing. Perhaps their parent does not know them, or exerts inappropriate control over them; or perhaps their speculation that they were trans was a child’s exploration, rather than a settled conviction. Those 14 make the percentages in the data more unreliable. By coincidence, 14 were said to have “desisted”, but if any of those had taken no steps to transition there is little evidence they were trans. The shortest duration of trans identification was less than a month, and that parent too could provide no useful answers- but was still included.

In 22 cases, the parent did not know if the AYA still identified as trans. That shows a complete breakdown of the parental relationship. The median duration was 11 months, which is normally too short a time to get to the GIDS.

The survey shows that some children identify as trans despite the extreme opposition of their parents, nothing more. No conclusions can be drawn about the proportion of children so identifying who transition, or who receive medical treatment. As Littman admitted, it gives no evidence for a diagnosis of ROGD, which she called a mere hypothesis, needing further research. That does not stop anti-trans campaigners treating ROGD as an article of faith.

It also shows that adolescent exploration, aimed at self-discovery, may harmlessly include cross-gender behaviour. If parents are unduly terrified of such behaviour, they may prevent children maturing in a healthy way. The parent’s terror harms the child.

James Esses

James Esses is no longer studying psychotherapy, and wants to sue his course provider, the Metanoia Institute. He has raised £50,000 in five days.

Esses has been fearmongering about trans children. His basic lie is that children are “transed”, that children who will not benefit from social transition or puberty blockers, or who will suffer long term damage because of such treatment, are being pushed into treatment by the uncritical adherents of what he calls “gender theory”. He claims such people “solely affirm gender dysphoric clients into their identified gender”, and want all therapists to do the same “on pain of criminal punishment”. That is a shocking allegation. Is there any evidence for it?

Compared to the monstrous “gender theory”, his claimed position is entirely reasonable. He says in his crowdfunder that he only wants “to treat clients professionally and according to their needs”. He petitioned the government to “safeguard evidence-based therapy” for gender dysphoric children, as if there were any threat to that. He claims that “Studies show that many dysphoric children will come to identify as their biological sex”. Well, it depends what you mean by dysphoric. Studies claiming high levels of “desistance” do not show that children who identify as trans and want to transition are likely to change their minds.

The government response made some worrying claims: they will “protect under-18s from irreversible decisions”. If they think that includes puberty blockers, we may have government interference in medical treatment doctors, parents and the child all believe is needed. That is the position American legislators have taken.

Turning to the Daily Mail, what did Esses do? He volunteered for Childline, but was sacked because he “use[d] the service to advance [his] personal campaigns” and gave ” the impression that Childline endorses [his] personal campaigns”.

Aged 29 he cannot have practised as a barrister for long before becoming a civil servant and then choosing psychotherapy as his third career, but may still know English law better than I do. He will know his student contract. The Mail claims he was dismissed from his course by email for bringing negative attention to Metanoia by starting the petition. This might breach his entitlement to a fair process.

His crowdfunder claims he was discriminated against because of his gender critical beliefs, but starting the petition was an action rather than a belief. He also founded the “thoughtful therapists” twitter feed, which may give the impression that he would, as a therapist, go beyond exploratory therapy to find the best way forward for a distressed child, and instead pressure them to avoid social transition. That would be conversion therapy: to rigorously refuse to countenance social transition or hormones as an appropriate course for a child, and pressure them into another course.

In the crowdfunder he says “I hold gender critical beliefs: that sex is biological and immutable”. Well, possibly. However, trans people exist and benefit from social transition, hormones and surgery. Nobody wants to “trans” someone whom it would not benefit. What would they possibly gain? Insofar as Esses denies these obvious truths, he is incapable of functioning as a psychotherapist.

The petition was based on a falsehood, that the government might “criminalise essential, explorative therapy”. There is no chance of that. Any therapist seeing a client who presents as trans will keep an open mind. Only a psychiatrist can refer a child to an endocrinologist for hormone treatment.

Consider the Royal College of Psychiatrists position statement on supporting transgender and gender-diverse people. It defines conversion therapy as “treatments for transgender people that aim to suppress or divert their gender identity – i.e. to make them cisgender – that is exclusively identified with the sex assigned to them at birth”. Clearly, exploratory therapy is not forbidden. “The College supports psychiatrists in fully exploring their patient’s gender identity (involving their families where appropriate) in a non-judgemental, supportive and ethical manner.”

Consider the New Zealand government’s draft Bill. It defines conversion practice as “performed with the intention of changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Exploration would not be forbidden. Ideological denial that transition can ever be right for a patient would.

What of the UK Council for Psychotherapy? It says “Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for a therapeutic approach, model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis.” Esses’ statements, on twitter and elsewhere, may be sufficient to show he holds such a viewpoint and therefore would be vulnerable to the discipline tribunal, as the UKCP’s ethics stand now. But there is clearly no threat to exploratory therapy.

Esses has attempted to spread fear that therapists are wrongfully transing children, and that law or ethics on conversion therapy might outlaw exploration of gender identity and dysphoria. This is clearly untrue. Childline says he was campaigning against transition rather than properly counselling callers.

I hope Esses loses his court action. However his raising £50,000 in five days shows the huge amount of money available for court action against trans rights, or institutions or law supporting trans people.

Loving the Bible, as an atheist

I joined a Woodbrooke project, “Finding the Spirit in the Scriptures”. This is what I wanted to say:

First I should say, as an atheist, what is the God I do not believe in: I do not believe in “God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth”. I believe in that of God in everyone, indeed in all of life- apes, fish, bacteria.

I do not believe in panentheism, God in things, but I know that people are taught in my culture to treat things, and even people, instrumentally- pick them up, use them, put them down, forget them. We deal only in surfaces. I know if you look at things through the eyes of Love, you see them more clearly: the thing in itself, its aesthetic and design beauty, its complexity, its value. You see the deep reality of the world below its surfaces, see the world in a grain of sand, and believing in God in things is a way into this experience.

I was baptised Scottish Episcopalian, taken to church throughout my childhood, and continued worshipping all my life. In 2001 I committed to Quakers and continued worshipping regularly. In 2009 I realised I no longer believed in God. It was a struggle. My partner took a robust line against nontheists- “Why should an atheist want to join a religious society?” A Friend answered that beautifully: “The question is not why we join, but why we stay”. But convincing H of that was a different matter.

In February 2010 I admitted to myself I did not believe in God. I did the Hoffman process, a personal growth workshop designed to split someone open and give them access to the inspiration of their subconscious, and, duly broken open, entered a church as a tourist: and was brought to my knees by the holiness of the place.

Mark: How has your relationship to the Bible changed over your life?

When I was 12 I got a Gideon New Testament with a reading scheme, read the New Testament in a year, in the front. So I did, several times. At University, I started reading the Daily Study Bible by William Barclay, and later read the Old Testament DSB. I also read the NT volumes of the Bible Speaks Today. I also read the Bible through, Jewish Bible and NT, in the Good News Bible and New International Version, and much of the New Revised Standard Version.

It was the moral underpinning of my homophobia. In Romans 1 Paul lists various horrible sins, including “men committed shameful acts with other men”, and, hating myself, desperate to “make a man” of myself and wanting to enforce this restrictive morality on the World, I used it to drive a couple from my church. I am ashamed of that. I would not do it now. Now, I would seek to prevent such a violation.

But it gives me some sympathy for others. The Methodist Church in England agreed to celebrate same sex marriages, and a Christian website covered this as if it was a bad thing. It claimed “traditionalists” feared being driven out of their churches- rather than calling them homophobes opposing the Church’s decision. I sympathise. I thought being a Christian made me a good person, because I believed in God and tried to do the right thing, and it was a shock to hear people thought it meant I had ridiculous beliefs and harmful, wrong views about morality.

I started by believing the anti-gay passages, then arguing with them, seeking out alternative interpretations of the Greek arsenokoitai and malakoi, and finally ignoring them. I feel quite entitled to reject bits of the Bible, including Deuteronomy 22:5.

However, even when I hate a verse, I seek out what good I may find in it. I dislike Nehemiah. The Jews have returned from exile in Babylon, and decide to live with their own ideas, without any tincture from foreigners. Nehemiah 13: 30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign. I find this horrible. But- if they had not, the people would have been subsumed in the Persian then the Macedonian empires, and their distinctiveness would have been lost, as the Northern kingdom was subsumed in the Assyrian empire. So we would not be Christian. From that decision both great suffering and great blessing flow.

Mark: The Bible is a conversation we can join in. Some say the book of Jonah, where the King and people of Nineveh repent, is a direct answer to Nehemiah and the drive for purity. It says the Assyrians are God’s children.

Yes. Consider: Psalm 37:25: I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread.

Ecclesiastes 7:15: In my vain life I have seen everything: there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.

Both these verses are in three parts, with close parallels, and it seems to me Ecclesiastes is directly answering the Psalm.

The Bible is terribly misogynistic. Mary Magdalene goes to the grave on the first day of the week, and has a great realisation: “He is not here”. Jesus is in our hearts, in our memories, in how he has changed our lives. He will always be with us. But, how could a weak, irrational and emotional woman come to such a realisation? A man told her. Mark 16:5, “a young man, dressed in a white robe,” whom she does not recognise but who knows her and knows all about it. Luke 24:4, “Two men in dazzling clothes”. Matthew 28:2 uses male pronouns of “an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven”.

Or Mary, Jesus’ mother. Luke tells us the archangel Gabriel appeared to her. For me, this woman, barely more than a girl, realises she is pregnant. Not being married, this is terrifying. Her sublime, noble reaction is, “All generations shall call me blessed”. And we do. She got it, all by herself. No angel required.

In the past year I have read John, and loved it. John 17:22: “The glory that you have given me I have given them”, ie to us, and all Christians. We can be in God as Christ is in God. That of God in me is all my power, all my beauty, and I can live from it all the time. I find this tremendously exciting and spiritually convincing, and have shared it excitedly with anyone who will listen. This is the truth of the Bible, speaking to me.

And I have read about half of Isaiah, dutifully reading the Oxford Bible Commentary paragraphs on each short section; and got fed up with it. This perhaps revolted me the most:

Isaiah 3: 16 The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet;
the Lord will afflict with scabs
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

At best, this is the prophet seeing the parlous state of Jerusalem, fearing for its inhabitants, knowing that rape is a weapon of war. But I can’t help seeing it differently, as the old man seeing young women glorying in being young women. He gets turned on but, knowing they are not sexually available to him, curses them, and gets self-righteous about it.

I want the experience of John, the new insight about the spiritual life that makes sense and speaks to me immediately and delights and inspires me and brings me on. I want to avoid the sense of revulsion I feel at that Isaiah passage. I will go back to the Bible. Perhaps Mark next, or Romans, probably without a commentary at least to start with. I don’t know. Perhaps I cannot find the glory without also seeing the darkness. All human life is here.

I am left with my favourite bits. When I was recovering from my self-hatred, Genesis 1:31 meant a lot to me: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” That included me. Similarly psalm 139:12-13:

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

In Psalm 137 the Jews are taken off to Babylon as slaves, and feel the rage of the oppressed. They imagine smashing the heads of their oppressors’ babies. Accepting my true self made me aware of huge anger in me, and this psalm reassured me: if such rage was here, it was acceptable to God, and so might my own anger be. And so might I be.

I love the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail meets David, who is living as a bandit chieftain in the borderlands of the Philistines. “About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal [her husband], and he died.” Abigail then marries David. It makes a mockery of the American Evangelical concept of “Biblical Womanhood”. And I am always reacting with or against thousands of years of reactions and interpretations of these stories.

My favourite Jesus quote is in Revelation 21:5: Behold, I have made all things new.

I love the desperate angry prayer of Job. He knows he is righteous, and demands of God how dare he treat him this way? 31:35-37:

O that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me like a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.

I have prayed in desperation, “Oh God! What are you playing at!?

God states his glory- “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job repents in dust and ashes. But, being a shrewd, active man, he stops contemplating the injustice of the world and the incomprehensibility of God, and gets on with what he does best. That is how he becomes wealthy again, blessed with sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and also sons and daughters.

I have had my life changed, and I feel Jesus’ metaphor of being born again is appropriate: it really seems as painful as passing through a birth canal, and as weird as opening my eyes for the first time.

I want new favourite bits, more bits to love. What verses do you love in the Bible?