The Word of the Lord

Is a Minute of a Quaker meeting the Word of the Lord, like the Bible? If we say the Spirit moves us to speak in Ministry, then arguably it is. But the Bible is self-contradictory, including different perspectives, and a growth in spiritual understanding. It is filtered through the minds of humans (there are arguments that some passages are by women) who confess to see “through a glass, darkly”.

I think Christine AM Davies in her Swarthmore Lecture coined the term “God’s loving purposes”. God’s Will sounds Eternal and unchanging, but we seek God’s will for us, now. Our understanding grows, as we continually return to matters: London Yearly Meeting in 1727 censured the importing of Black slaves; in 1758 warned Friends against profiting from the slave trade; in 1761 recommended that any who persist in the slave trade be disowned, and in 1772 approved work to stop others trading slaves. In 1793 LYM minuted, “we desire that Friends may never suffer the cause [of anti-slavery] to cool on their minds”. At last, Friends were campaigning enthusiastically as a Society, but it had taken decades, during which some Quakers had been slave traders. I found these minutes quoted in the Book of Discipline of 1861, the year the American Civil War started.

Meeting for Sufferings in 1987 moved towards supporting a “celebration of commitment” of gay couples in Meetings. The minute records the difficulties: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”. Not personal displays of affection during Meeting for Worship, not even gay relationships, but homosexuality itself. The distress may linger: 16.07 explicitly requires registering officers to officiate at gay marriages. I am sad that such a rule may be necessary, even though I have heard it has been used about a straight marriage: responsibility for discerning that a marriage should take place is the AM’s and not the registering officer’s.

The Minute from YM 2009 has the line “marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses,” taken from Ministry from a Friend previously Biblical in his opinion on equal marriage. It also says “we have been reminded of the need for tenderness to those who are not with us who will find this change difficult.” What difficulty would they suffer? They would have felt that their particular understanding of God and the Bible was shared among Friends. For whatever reason, acceptance of gay people’s relationships has acquired enormous symbolic power in many Churches as well as among Friends, to divide some Friends who feel they respect God’s Will from those of us who accept God may match gay couples. Could God’s Will be different for different Yearly Meetings? Yes. Community and tradition have value, we all have our blind spots. We know only in part, and we prophesy only in part.

As clerk, there is one minute I drafted which I regret in particular, when I brought the matter to a close prematurely and picked one side in a dispute. The hurt of the dispute continued. I also recorded a minute where it seemed to me there was no particular opposition to spending money in a particular way, but no Pentecostal sense of the Will of God either. Months later a Friend spoke against the decision at an AM. A new clerk wrote a minute showing agreement, and the Friend did not challenge the minute; I am grateful for my Friend’s forebearance, and feel we might have reached consensus rather than Unity. A Friend may oppose a Minute, yet once it is recorded support it as the Leading of the meeting; and there was enough for those dealing with the project to go ahead.

I drafted just one minute recording different views- some say this, but some say that; I was careful to record the reasons, positively, as well as I could in the words used in ministry, and I was helped by Friends suggesting amendments to my draft. We resolved the issue at the next AM.

I am aware of a Friend resigning membership because of the way a decision was made, seen to be forced through based on what he thought was another’s misapprehension. We are fragile, sometimes, and we can be stiff-necked.

Not every Friend is a left-liberal social justice warrior (mostly clicktivist, in my case) like me. At Friends House I saw a man reading the Telegraph! I even know a Friend who voted to Leave! It is comforting to imagine ones Friends think the same way, and we don’t always. We adopted in 1793 “the cause of our fellow-men, the oppressed black people,” and now some of us are waking up to the lingering oppression. Hence the term “woke”.

Considering minute 33 of Yearly Meeting in London 2019, I don’t think we are all “seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us”, and particularly not through the lens of the concept of privilege. I love the idea that We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. I think we sensed our weakness and division. I hope we can carry along any who do not recognise this concept of privilege, and particularly those who feel their disprivilege is minimised compared to that of others. White privilege exists [download pdf from 1989, then consider a reassessment from 2018]. Possibly starting with class privilege would be good: our privilege can change over time, we will be privileged and disprivileged in different ways, we can share experiences, get to know each other, and learn; though even then we will hear challenging things. Should women talk about male privilege amongst themselves, before doing it in a mixed sex group?

This is not the only area of work where particular Friends have a particular calling, and other Friends are uninvolved. But we have a Minute recording our calling. One of our rules is that we need good reason to reopen a decision once minuted, and in 2017 we decided,

We have heard the call to examine our own diversity, particularly in our committee and organisational structure, locally and nationally. Diversity has several key dimensions and more may emerge in the future. We ask Meeting for Sufferings to look at how we can remove barriers and actively seek wider participation in the full life of our meetings, paying particular attention to race and age diversity. Then in our epistle we wrote, We need to recognize our own selfishness and privilege: to be changed ourselves, to live as if the Kingdom of God were already fulfilled. Our YM minutes have always exhorted us.

My right to my feelings and perceptions

He told me that “Look mate, I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman” is not clearly objectionable. He explained that I have quite a deep voice. I am glad Tina reacted to this with incredulity: it helps me value my own view. If I go up to a man and say something unrelated to my trans status, and he responds with that, he is saying that I am a weirdo (his tone of voice emphasised that, but the phrase shows it). That is only relevant if he thinks it means I do not deserve his respect.

I tend to hope that line is generally seen as abusive. However, the bland denial has a purpose: to show that my response was objectionable. I am reduced to the plight of William Brown, saying “I was just statin’ a fact”- often, William is. If I proceed, I will face more denial of facts seeming self-evident to me. It is destabilising for me when someone asserts 2+2=5, but fortunately we do not have to agree on all facts, and no-one has a cage with a rat in it to hand.

In mindfulness practice, I develop self-respect. I am clearer about my judgment and my feelings. I have a right to both. This does not mean that I will not take another’s perspective into account, but that I will not merely submit to it. I will exercise my own judgment.

Whose feelings and perceptions matter? When we want a common understanding (which is often reassuring) how do we reach it?

She said, Is this going to have a unilateral application across all diversities? Should it be essential for everybody to have a self-respect which is impervious in order to be part of these meetings?

No, I said. I meant that I desire the equality of others. Now, I think it helps to know different perceptions may coexist. Those things I resent about H- I was thinking of saying, possibly she couldn’t have done anything better- I actually said, anything else. I don’t want to enforce my idea of “better”. Better for whom?

This is humility! Why does it appear arrogant to others?

-I have great strength as well as terrifying weakness.
-Of course: and also great weakness and terrifying strength.
-Terrifying for whom?
-Other people, who don’t expect you to have it? Human beings are a marvellous mess of paradoxes and dichotomies and conundrums and everything else-

The mercurial organismic self responds unpredictably because it responds to the actual situation it perceives. Its perceptions may be incomplete or inaccurate, but it continually reevaluates them. Unfortunately part of the situation is the self-concept’s need to believe certain things about itself. The self-concept is a great burden to the organismic self.

How can you be a square peg in a round hole? It’s difficult. It may be sustainable for a time but not permanently, eventually you revolt. Or you might manage it if you know what you’re doing, or perhaps if you appreciate the needs of the hole. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

-At the moment you are strong. YM did you good. I am curious about what your isolation means for you?
-I refuse to surrender belief in possibilities.
-There are eejits in every gathering of human beings. I wish they were more clearly marked.
-Well, we just have to open our mouths, you know.

I get knocked down. But I get up again…

In the actual situation, I wrote:

I feel anxious about being late. The way I respond is self-soothing behaviour which actually makes me more late. When I start getting ready I will feel my anxiety and hurry. Or despondency (which I feel now) around not measuring up. This lessens my energy and motivation.

I want to meditate on feelings, but I have to go. I am putting down the burden of my feelings, and picking it up in a different way. How do I know what was going on in that situation? Well, it seems reasonable. I can’t know that the people making the decision knew what I knew. I thought they did, and it made them do what they did. But possibly no-one reported to them, and they didn’t ask.

I was stressed, then, and again arriving late, so that I even thought of giving a long elaborate explanation of my feelings and how they affect me, but decided that’s a big excuse to be saved for another time. My lateness, less than five minutes, is noticed and possibly hinted at but not commented on directly, and I don’t apologise for it.

Human relationships are difficult!

Hubert van Eyck

This painting from around 1410 shows what people are thinking. It may have been begun by Hubert van Eyck, and completed by his more famous brother Jan. Consider first the Three Marys, at the empty tomb:

The first is sad, simply mourning. The second is trusting, being told something and having faith. But the third is thinking, assessing, coming to her own conclusion.

Here is the Angel, holding forth the glad tidings:

The face is closer to the not quite human expressionlessness of earlier art, though the gesture of the arms is persuasive. The soldiers are cast into sleep.

I publish paintings because I wanted free pictures for my posts, and don’t devote enough time or energy to my own photography, but also because I love them, and want you to see at least all the beauty I see in them.

Trans and me

Transcending difficulties…

Trans is rarely the issue in any of my problems, but it adds difficulty to almost all of them.

Trans is simply who I am. To resent it is to wish I did not exist, and that someone entirely different was in my place. Trans is how some people are, so if it is despised and rejected that is a fault within society, and the resentment should be against the social norms producing that rejection, as with the social model of disability. I could just accept it rather than deconstructing it. I am writing this in part because the last time I tried it I wrote a lot about my sexuality.

Or, trans is an interaction of who I am with society. To state what I think now about being trans, and of trans as a thing, I have to consider all of society and all of myself, and in particular my sexuality, my desires and how they change over time, our gendered society from a feminist perspective of patriarchy and sexism and also what it means to be a man, my other character and circumstances. Trans is the most important thing in my life, still. I have to distinguish being trans from transitioning, or I might imagine that transition has caused all my problems. Given that I am trans, transition may be the best thing I could have done.

There is no trans community, I said, and she agreed. She was at a conference of mostly trans people, who were suddenly plunged into a “more woke than thou, more oppressed than thou” fight. The speaker talked of “transgenders” meaning “trans women” and someone said, we don’t use that language, it is considered offensive. Then others piled on her in righteous indignation: in different cultures language is different, you should accept her language, this is post-colonial oppression. The lecture hall is an example of patriarchal pedagogy. I am more oppressed than you because I am autistic and bipolar as well as trans. There were calls to ignore the programme of papers and panel discussion and thrash this debate out there and then (which would be impossible). People were talking while others were giving papers. Leave the Hall! It’s totally disrespectful!

I like to think I can see when someone means to be offensive. When they just don’t understand, seeing whether they are trying hard enough to is more difficult: that depends on how patient I am feeling at the time. And today I cycled past a group of teenagers and one of them said, in a tone to project to the Gods, “Is that a man or a woman?” How?

We must try to avoid playing the white saviour, I said. I note I find it hard to see my good qualities. Am I taking an interest in white privilege as an analogue to my own issues, which I don’t name directly? Of course that’s part of it. Yet there is good, in what I say about white privilege and in standing up against my own oppression. I would have sought, at that conference, to find calm and a common way forward. Or shut up because I couldn’t make it better. I hope, I think-

You said something about trans women being like teenage girls. And, that’s just one thread in a whole tapestry of challenges and struggles. It’s not wholly accurate but it is a convenient way of seeing it, for ordinary people but for trans people too. It’s humanity under a microscope. We are scrutinised and analysed and described. It’s like that for all human diversity, our differences pored over, judged. But is not everyone like a teenage girl? We all have emotions. It’s just people don’t tolerate some people’s expression of them.

I got very emotional, years ago. For example someone said to me, how’s the jobsearch going? And I burst into tears. I don’t deflect the question, turn it into small talk, mutter things to make my position look better than it is, or take it as an opportunity to explain my woes, I just burst into tears.

I was on the phone, and I wanted to say, “I am completely isolated”. I wanted to explain. And this distresses me, and I could feel the distress rising. Saying it apparently almost calmly, rather than bursting out with it, involved

thinking the words that I wanted to say
Feeling what that felt like.
Savouring it, digesting it
and then saying the words.

This is ongoing practice. It was something I knew, rather than an idea new to me, so being present, mindfulness as a means of regulating emotion, worked. I am making progress. Suppressing the feeling does not work, it just bursts out.

What are the background emotions? Perplexity and resentment are two of my ground bass. Letting them show isn’t a good thing, so I was taught not to admit them to myself. I wonder how many people feel that way. It’s not- a trans woman thing- it’s how I am, and how perhaps many people are. It is a lot to digest, particularly under the microscope. This is who I am, so that has to be acceptable, at least to me. I am getting there.

Notes from Yearly Meeting Ministry

You are loved, now. I have such a feeling of Love, which is a fraction of God’s Love.

Should we feel guilty, asks a white man. Guilt is unhelpful, how should I act? Can we empathise across divides?

Can I be my whole self here? Will my hurt be met by compassion? Is this a community we can trust? Can we disagree well, with our power imbalances?

Stories of individual experience are the foundations of spiritual transformation. We become aware of unseen chains.

It is not about feeling guilty but learning to love who we are and act out that love.

Shame and guilt can lead to further violence- instead, we need Grief.

I am laying myself bare before you.

I am not interested in men’s shame or whites’ shame. I am unashamed. We need accountability and responsibility.

So much of privilege is about other people’s stuff.

Did class privilege, appearing educated, help me get ESA?

We are still responsible, even if exclusion is unconscious.

I freed myself from one set of chains and put on others.

A child said, “I don’t want to be a woman when I grow up. I want to be a person.”

We are not called to be good, but to be faithful.

Being broken, I learn my weaknesses. I cry at the anger in my meeting and elsewhere. Could we live with each other in our power and powerlessness? Our privilege makes people leave.

I am proud of being Quaker in our diversity.

I took these notes, frustrated and delighted, at Yearly Meeting in London, 24-27 May this year. I am at one extreme, resenting having to explain what “woke” means. I am quite clear we exemplify White privilege. At one point I thought that no white straight man has said anything useful. It is not a “privilege” to have a good brain, it is a gift, and privilege interacts with that: whatever level of intelligence you have, being white, male and/or straight will make life easier. I felt as frustrated with some of what was said as I do with the line in QF&P 22.45, The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends. That minute was ahead of its time, and now that line shows the opposition. What can I do with the distress of the privileged?

This is our Minute 33, on privilege:

We have embarked on an exploration of privilege, seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us, and affect our ability to act on our urgent concerns of sustainability and climate justice, and diversity and inclusion.

Through hearing personal stories and reflecting on our own lived experience, we have confronted our own privilege and lack of privilege. We have learned that we may be seen as privileged in some contexts and as disprivileged in others. Where we have privilege we can choose how to use it: we must choose carefully. We must each learn to love who we are, be authentic, and act out that love in the world, working in partnership to dismantle the institutions and transform the systems that marginalise people.

[A Friend objected to the word “disprivileged”, saying it was not a real word. The clerks confirmed it is in the dictionary.]

Exploring privilege can be challenging and it can be uncomfortable. We need to show each other compassion and trust. Quakers are all sorts of people with the capacity for both good and bad actions, and we find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves. As a religious society we face the obstacle of pride. Real power will come if we cease to be merely “good respectable people” and be a community that knows weakness and frailty. We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. Through our tears we can find power.

We have started our journey in different places and with different experiences. As we have laboured together on understanding privilege, we are journeying from guilt, shame and grief, to speaking of accountability and responsibility, and then to the desire for action. We are impatient: we identified both sustainability, and diversity and inclusion as urgent concerns two years ago, and we want to see change and growth.

[I am not clear we were at Unity on this. We “hoped” it was a good enough Minute. It included beautiful parts from much of the Ministry, and some of us did not seem to understand what privilege is, or see that it is an obligation to subvert it (to me, from my extreme position). “We find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves”- that was clear to me from some of the Ministry, and I don’t think those giving that ministry saw Privilege as it affects others. I don’t think all of us were committed to “learning our weaknesses”.]

We are fearful of the monsters of war and climate breakdown that are hurting our fragile Earth. We know there is pain around inclusion in our meetings. Fear is holding us back. We fear being misjudged or being seen as preaching, and so we fail to challenge the norm. We fear losing our status. We need to address our fear to begin to do something positive. We have seen signs of hope, but we have work to do, to transform ourselves, our communities and our world.

Our exploration and our journey are not complete. We have examined the privileges we have; the next steps are to see the effects they have on us, and how they make us behave.

We can take passion back to our meetings: our passionate connection to the Earth. We can take a desire to listen to those who do not share our own privileges, and to walk alongside people who are fearful of what we hope for. We can share the emotions from the inspiration and challenge we have felt as we have journeyed together.

[To me, the obligation on me as a white person is to recognise white privilege, and work to correct it- not just to challenge overt racism but to help remove barriers to full inclusion, recognise and welcome BAME leadership. I feel the “Where are you really from?” question others and excludes people, and Quakers ask it. One should not have to explain ones heritage to people on demand, even if sharing about our heritage can deepen our knowledge of each other.]

We call on Friends throughout our Yearly Meeting to continue this work in our meeting communities, to deepen and extend the work we have done, so that we can be the community we need to be to face the future. We encourage local and area meetings to share their insights.

[I stood to propose an alteration to the Minute, and was not called. I don’t know whether making our division more explicit, as I wanted, would have improved matters. I feel that combating privilege is our Leading, yet not everyone is united with it, any more than initially all Quakers wanted to divest from the profits of slavery.]

We ask Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee to discern further how we can take the next steps to meaningful action, to be put before our Yearly Meeting Gathering next year.

Trans men and male privilege

Trans men gain male privilege. I heard of one last weekend, amazed that they were treated with so much more respect, just because of the change of presentation. People see “Man”, and behave differently. It is not entirely gain, of course.

What gains are there? His ideas are taken more seriously, and he is interrupted less. His achievements may be publicly recognised. I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. This was a foreign concept to me. As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that. But after seeing it happen all around me I decided that if I felt I deserved something I was going to ask for it too. By doing that, I took control of my career. It was very empowering.

People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around and trying to be delicate like I used to do. In meetings, I was more outspoken. I stopped posing my thoughts as questions. I’d say what I meant and what I wanted to happen instead of dropping hints and hoping people would read between the lines and pick up on what I really wanted. I was no longer shy about stating my opinions or defending my work. When I gave presentations I was brighter, funnier, more engaging. Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Men are more outspoken. You drop hints and state thoughts as questions because you fear they will not be accepted. I tend to think it’s a question of power- of privilege. Women can be confident, and still get interrupted.

People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer, even when I don’t. Well, sometimes we just need an answer, so we can move on. There are a multitude of good enough answers. People also engage with his questions, rather than brushing him off.

Men in that article also talk about a loss of sisterly solidarity. So, women would look at each other sympathetically when a man said something rude about one of them, but now he has to suck it up. Men and women held doors open for him presenting female, but stopped. One found he listened less, and put that down to T. The Black man had had reasonable interactions with the police presenting female, but now was routinely pulled over and humiliated- “Do you have a weapon? Are you on probation?”

Another trans man challenges male sexism, and tells men he mentors, right now, you’re comfortable — but you have no insight into anyone because you’ve never had to be uncomfortable. Several say they feel more empathy, seeing things from both sexes’ point of view.

Here’s a brilliant loss and gain quote: They gained professional respect, but lost intimacy. They exuded authority, but caused fear. The female author continues to summarise: Many trans men I spoke with said they had no idea how rough women at work had it until they transitioned. As soon as they came out as men, they found their missteps minimized and their successes amplified. Often, they say, their words carried more weight: They seemed to gain authority and professional respect overnight. They also saw confirmation of the sexist attitudes they had long suspected: They recalled hearing female colleagues belittled by male bosses, or female job applicants called names… walking home after dark felt easier, casually talking to babies, strangers and friends felt harder. The Black trans man also finds the police far more scary.

Trans men notice psychological changes on T. They feel more sure of themselves, Time says. That could just be fitting their own skin better, as transitioned trans people. It could be the T. Things are more black and white, says one. Another feels freed from the expectations placed on women: he no longer feels he has to smile all the time, and be pleasant.

I need to burrow down into this. Two of the three articles I looked at are on WaPo and Time, large professional sites with professional female journalists creating a story- allowing the trans men to speak for themselves up to a point. To really understand I would have to look through blogs, some of which might state different experiences when presenting male without explaining them with the concept of “male privilege”. I would be grateful to receive any comments, or suggestions of further reading.

“Cis privilege” and safe spaces

Do we regard women’s need for safe spaces as privilege?

Well, I don’t. Yet “cis privilege” exists. I try to create understanding and see from more than one perspective. I want to get beyond trump cards, the killer argument which makes one side win, or Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show our suffering is greater. I would welcome a response which might find some grain of value in this, and build on it.

I do not believe in “female privilege”, as Patriarchy favours men. The need for women’s safe spaces comes from Patriarchy. But Kyriarchy- rule by lords, or the privileged, over others, is a useful word: people of colour, queers and others are also oppressed. There are intersections.

Trans people are in all sorts of cultures around the world, over millennia. Trans people are those who think they are, want to be, or want to be seen as, the other sex. The word transsexual was coined to fit that, but it does not quite fit. Some thought that the word increases pressure on us to have surgery which some of us may not want, and some say that we fit a cultural perception of the other sex so “transgender” fits better. Then some object to being seen as culturally a woman: if by genes, gonads and genitals you are a woman, you are a woman no matter what the culture thinks.

Part of privilege is not having to explain yourself. We’re everywhere, and we always have been throughout recorded history. Still we have to explain ourselves. We have to explain ourselves to ourselves, to pluck up the courage to transition, and we have to explain ourselves to others, to justify doing what we want to do.

Being a Quaker, I value experience above belief. I observe that dressing in clothes deemed fit for women by my culture and a feminine name were what I wanted more than anything else in the world. This came after a period when I tried to make a man of myself, going for long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks, or joining the territorial army. Lots of trans women do. I now think of that as suffering social pressure to conform as a “normal” male.

Part of privilege is having spaces where you fit. At Yearly Meeting I noticed a queue outside the “All-gender” toilet, and wondered if I were female enough to use the women’s. I decided I was. I have only noticed all-gender toilets in the past year or so, and might be delaying a wheelchair-user’s use.

The need for safe spaces is the opposite of privilege. The common space is made for men- so when there is a sex murderer on the loose, the police tell women not to go out alone, rather than impose a curfew on men. And, the common space is not made for trans folk either. We don’t have our discrete spaces, we are lumped in together.

So we scrap amongst ourselves. I experience a great deal of sympathy from women. Some are proud to be allies, speaking up for trans people. Many say “trans women are women” which as a factual statement might be disputed, and its implications taken to the extreme are absurd. Non-trans women are women too. But it’s a statement of intent about practical arrangements, about how we treat people.

Some women are upset and angry to see a trans woman in women’s space. Some women are creeped out by it, and some collect stories of actual trans woman sex offenders, as if to tar us all with the same brush, but not all women are.

I tend to feel that temporary solidarity from women who are repulsed by a trans woman in a woman’s loo would advance feminist concerns and subvert conservative gender roles (conservatives hate trans women because we subvert gender roles by transitioning, even if we reinforce gender roles in our presentation after transition). So I feel recognising some trans disprivilege has value, even if you don’t feel privileged over us yourself.

If “trans” refers to one who crosses over, “cis” means one on the same side. I want a word which means “non-trans” without clearly excluding trans women from the class of “women”. Now, we have two sets of terms, one prioritising genes gonads and genitals as a way of moulding how people should react, and the other emphasising universal (though rare) human actions. Could we have one language?

How we perceive Quakers

The Religious Society of Friends is not how Friends perceive it. How we perceive the Society changes as we mature. Failing or refusing to apply for membership, some say they do not feel good enough to be Quakers; if we persuade them that they are, that they are a valued part of our community, and they join, it means surrendering an idealised view of us, and seeing us warts and all. We are people with spiritual experiences, often with particular gifts, and we still suffer from tensions between members.

I had the feeling in 2016 that I was expecting too much from my Quaker meeting. Starting to attend in 2001, I felt extremely vulnerable newly expressing myself as female, and the Friends I met seemed wonders of wisdom and integrity. I applied for membership quickly, wanting somewhere I belonged. I saw Friends as having particular concerns or witness and decided my own witness was self-knowledge and self-acceptance, something I still work on. In 2016, I was more and more aware of tensions. I had given a great deal to my community, and taken freely perhaps too much of its support; I was more and more aware of the costs of that support.

We see the swan’s feet as well as its feathers. We are seeing Friends more clearly. There is still the beauty and strength of each Friend’s ministry in their life and action, but also the difficulty, false starts and unknowing. Everyone finds unknowing difficult, especially the educated and intelligent who are used to knowing so don’t have the practice.

Or we can retain the idea of the Religious Society of Friends as a beautiful, Godly structure by not noticing the bad stuff, or forgetting it. That is tempting and reassuring. Jesus says, they who have ears to hear, let them hear! A person who is merely strong and loving is not a whole person.

I doubt my good motives. I have airy thoughts of responding In Love, or even in Presence. If I fully value my fear and anger as legitimate reactions, I may avoid acting them out. In worship on Monday morning, I felt fear and alienation. Sitting with it, accepting it, not knowing the end to it, frightens me. At one time the pain of that was too great for me to admit it to consciousness. It remains difficult.

I apply Scott Peck’s analysis of group work to Quakers. Ideally we cycle between Emptiness, where we let go of our demands for the world to be other than it is, and Community, where we experience Unity, or the Presence of God. In reality we may retreat to Pseudo-community, where we are superficially nice to each other. On Monday morning I felt we were in Chaos, making those demands on the world, stating how others should be Fixed. One sign of Chaos is that someone may make a highly emotive share stating their pain, distress or alienation, and it may then be ignored. A Friend stated her distress and left the meeting. Later, another Friend pointed out that we had not responded to that distress. Though another said, Quaker rules had dealt with the matter so there was no need: an Overseer had followed the woman out, to do Overseer stuff.

I was quite clear it was Chaos in Peck’s sense. We were divided. Some of us knew that White Privilege was a thing, and we were complicit. Some of us denied it. Some statements of the complexity of Equality and Privilege help us work towards equality, and some obscure and minimise the effects of privilege. I felt distanced and atomised.

The Clerks’ intervention after the shuffle-break was to read the Epistle of the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns at FGC in July 2018. After the break I did not feel as alienated. I attempt to listen in a state of openness. I stood, wanting to explain Peck’s concept of chaos, but after the first ministry from the floor no longer felt the need. The time for that had passed.

Here’s Mark Russ on us seeing ourselves as better than we are, and the problems that causes. He prays that the Spirit can break our chains of Quaker pride.

I wanted the Minute to express our division on Privilege more clearly. Some say this, but some say this. Reading it, [download word document] I see it implies a better understanding of privilege and equality, and shows how far we have got towards that goal. It too talks of us as “a community that knows weakness and frailty” rather than seeing ourselves as “good respectable people”.

Trans with the Quakers

Someone trans was near to tears, and I wondered, have they started on oestrogen?

Trans people are accepted by Quakers except when we’re not. We are not always understood. Waiting for the morning session, a woman asked me about her friend. “She- I can call her ‘she’ because she has gone back- was going to have surgery but found a partner, and decided not to,” she told me. She wanted to ask me, as a Friend, rather than ask the woman herself. She asked, “How does that work?”

Um. If we say “Trans men are men”, and I am glad people say that, what happens if they detransition? I said, I have heard of several people doing that. It’s because there are two questions: “Am I trans?” “Will I be happier if I transition?” The answers can be Yes; No. I did not say that when someone says I wanted it so much that I could do nothing else until I did it that they are not telling the truth. Someone told me that last night, and it’s how I felt.

I don’t really mind her asking, but some would. It should not be our job to explain, over and over, simple things about trans with all these books and websites published. I told her that everyone has fairly superficial relations with a lot of people, who might see them or might neither see nor accept them, and everyone needs a few close relationships with people who accept them unconditionally. If others accept me as I am, and I can be myself without masks, what does it matter what I am wearing?

She also told me her friend had been amazed at male privilege. When she started being seen as male, she was just treated with more respect, and as a teenager she could not understand it. Why boys but not girls?

I was delighted to meet Ruth. I loved her “Be more Becky” badge. I don’t think I have talked to her since I was raging at her nine years ago. “Will you be worried about it in ten years’ time?” is always a good question: after I heard she was supporting H, I had hoped to see her. “H wants a win,” she said, which some people might object to; but well, after all this time why begrudge H a win? It would be a win for everyone. H was so clever, she told me, she would see where we should be immediately (she mimes cogwheels spinning inside her head). Other people would get there very slowly (mimes cogs creaking round) and Ruth would want H to realise: give them time to get it. She was too impatient.

We have hugged. We have expressed our sorrow for the falling out, and our forgiveness for each other, and Ruth asks me if, on the hormones, it might be right to say that- trans women are like teenage girls?

Oh fuckyeah.

It can be awful. Women learn to live with their feelings, if unlucky suppress them but if lucky just feel them and not give an outward sign, because outward signs of emotionality in women are a weapon to be used against them. And I never have. It’s like being a teenage girl.

Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community had a meeting, and the gender-critical feminists turned up mob-handed. One read out an Area Meeting Minute pledging support for “single sex services as permitted by legislation”, and I saw that as unfriendly to trans people. They wanted to challenge our speaker from Stonewall. And yet still they came out with the trope about being frightened to speak, about how women and one or two men said how brave they were to speak out. It’s as if their allies on the hard Right don’t count. They know Lefties will mostly disagree with them. Most there support trans rights.

To me, the Left opposition to trans rights is a crying shame, because they give aid to the Patriarchy wanting to suppress trans, and prevent trans people moving on. I am sure surgery, and probably taking hormones, is bad for us. Without all this hostility, trans people could find new ways of being.

What about Quakers? Quakers are supportive, up to a point. We invited a non-binary person to speak, and we value trans women as a concept. And yet I know four of us who have got into trouble with our Meetings, or been tolerated, not for long periods been asked to do any of the work of the meeting, or walked away in dudgeon. The concept of a trans woman is perfectly acceptable. No-one is going to try to dead-name us, and they talk of how brave we are to transition. But when we behave like trans women- or like teenage girls- we get into trouble. Junior Yearly Meeting minuted, “Are we presenting ourselves openly?” It’s not good to lose my temper, but being emotional is being myself.

I feel that is a shame. My depth of feeling, whether it is induced by artificial hormones or not, is a gift, and my ongoing struggle to come to terms with it is a valuable spiritual journey. I am mortified and abashed that I lost my temper that time. Given the volcanic pressures inside, I feel I do quite well to express them as little as I do. If I could be accepted as me, rather than only if I appear as a cardboard Quaker, softly and evenly spoken, never rocking the boat, Quakers would be enriched. The fear-filled reaction of “Oh my God what is she doing now?” does no-one any good.

Yearly Meeting 2019

What is privilege? In the context of inclusion and diversity, privilege is the cultural bias towards white, male and straight people over black, female or queer people; towards particular abilities over other abilities, and towards fitting in to an unjust system. My Friend pointed out that my initial definition, above, missed out intersectionality, where one may have more than one disadvantage: change that to the unprivilege of black, female and/or queer people. And/or other things, too, of course, socio-economic origin has an increasingly chilling effect on some people- but we have difficulty adding other disadvantaged groups when some Friends do not seem to accept this definition of privilege at all.

On class, a Friend pointed out that the Attlee Government’s reforms, allowing so many people to get a good education and be the first in their families to go to University had permitted her (as well as my father) to get a degree and join the middle classes. The Tory government is tearing these opportunities away. Another was distressed by one question about privilege. “Did you have more than fifty books in your home when you grew up?” She had, because her working class parents were leading lights in the Workers’ Educational Association.

This view of privilege is closer to the 1993 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition, a right, advantage or immunity granted to or enjoyed by a person or class of people, than to a looser use which seems closer to “something good which I enjoy”. The right, advantage or immunity is granted by the culture, rather than by law, and it may be invisible to many people, giving Queer studies, Women’s studies and Critical Whiteness or Black studies academics the impetus to bring it out into the open so it may be problematised and deconstructed. Men having more senior positions in scientific and technical careers is a result of our sexist culture rather than differences between men and women. Everyone is the poorer because of this: society loses the benefit of individual women’s gifts.

I feel the Yearly Meeting of Britain Yearly Meeting was a missed opportunity, this year, because of an inability to be clear about what “privilege” is. The Epistle made it completely unclear: The word privilege has been used in two ways this weekend: as a blessing we experience and as the unearned advantages a person can inherit from birth and/or accumulate over time. One Friend referred to having a good brain as a “privilege”, but that is not a right, advantage or immunity: kings, barons and villeins, white and black, will have easier lives if they are highly intelligent, but the kings and the whites will still have an easier life because of privilege however stupid they are.

In documents in advance, the YM programme used the word “privilege” without defining it. The document “preparing for yearly meeting” referred to the toolkit for action, Owning Power and Privilege, which gave a clear introduction.

I am grateful for the first ministry from the floor. My Friend said how she felt great love for the Friends present, and how this was a fraction of the Love of God. I thought of my Friend’s love, and was strengthened by it, sometimes when I saw her in the room. Strengthened and corrected: sometimes I was harsh as the impatience I felt manifested in my words or actions.

When I spoke in the business session, I divided people. A Friend had shared something deeply personal, showing vulnerability. Asked to share something about her privilege, she had said joining a Quaker meeting at the particular time she did was a “privilege”. No, it was a blessing. Joining a Black pentecostalist church might have affirmed and strengthened someone else in a similar way. I stood and stated my understanding of privilege as the source of oppression of BAME people and women. I stated my own privilege. I named class privilege, the ability to appear like an educated, middle-class person; and residual male privilege, having the confidence to speak, and being called. As a trans woman I do not suffer from sexism in exactly the same way, I said, though I also said I do not speak for other trans women.

This split the meeting. A Black man thanked me effusively. My Queer friend said he had heard a lot of positive reactions to what I said. And I was eldered, as I had spoken harshly after a Friend had exposed her vulnerability. She had; but she had set back our work towards Inclusion and Diversity, which requires all of us to be aware of privilege and to subvert it.

On the Sunday, there was an Event on “Ten years of Quaker marriage equality”, when Michael Booth explained the work done in the Society towards lesbian and gay equality from the 1960s, leading to Yearly Meeting in 2009 in York when we agreed marriage was God’s work, and if God made a marriage between two men or two women who were we to gainsay God? So much work had to be done to prepare the way for that Minute. I was not there, but I have been often told how the Spirit brought us together, and our Unity was palpable.

The work has to be done. We have not come to a common understanding of privilege, leave alone a common purpose to subvert it and work for BAME people to have true equality, which might bring as many BAME people into membership as we have LGBT people. Yet, seeing how much work has been done, with a full time Inclusion worker at Friends House for the past year, conferences on Diversity, and that Toolkit, I see the YM as a missed opportunity. Did we not notice the work? Do we still not see our privilege?

Of course working against privilege means a change in our relations with everyone, which is far greater than the change needed to accept gay marriage. Gay marriage is a matter of belief, and only of identity in the sense that someone might have a sense of being a bible-respecting Christian meaning “being uncomfortable with homosexuality”. You can still be a bible-respecting Christian and accept equal marriage. Working against privilege involves seeing the advantages you have from being white, educated, apparently higher on the class hierarchy, and/or male etc, and working to reduce the disadvantages of others. How may everyone be heard and included, and treated as equal?

The Minute we produced on Inclusion was beautiful, but I have an acid phrase for it: there was more Unity in the minute than in the Ministry. Not all of us understood our privilege. Some spoke about gifts rather than privilege, and confused the issue. I stood to offer an alteration, and was not called. Had my suggestion been accepted, the minute would have to be redrafted, to say that some say privilege is oppression, but others say other things.