The “Cotton Ceiling”

Of a thousand people, only a very few might want to have sex with me. For many of them, they would feel an obligation to be faithful to a partner. For many more, I would be the wrong age. Even if they would not want sex with a trans woman, or not with a post-operative trans woman, that might not be the main reason. People have varying strengths of sexual response, but I can imagine that most would not be that into me. You need to feel it to want it.

Because most people in any group would not want sex with me, I tend to feel that need not be said. I can accept it that people simply like my company without wanting more; I do not find it an insult that they do not want Heughmagandie. I don’t want sex with them, either.

This is why lesbians saying they would never have sex with a trans woman, or a pre-operative trans woman, is transphobic. It need not be said. When I meet someone I expect they will not want sex with me. If they feel the need to say so, it feels vaguely insulting, either assuming that I do not accept their non-interest, or implying I am uniquely repulsive: it’s not just that they don’t want sex, but sex with me would be impossible or unimaginable. “I would never have sex with a transwoman because I am a lesbian” is saying I am a man, or at least not a woman, and I find the statement that I am in no way a woman insulting. I am culturally a woman. That I am generally treated as a woman makes my life bearable. There is no need to say it. It is transphobic.

Possibly, a trans woman has come on to that lesbian, and not taken no for an answer. That is an unpleasant experience. I sympathise with the lesbian in those circumstances. The trans woman has no right to behave like that. But imagining that other trans women will behave in the same way because one has is transphobic. We are not all the same.

Many lesbians have had relationships with trans women. That does not make them not lesbian.

Transphobia can also make someone imagine that she will never fancy a trans woman. Generalised trans phobia might mean others never check us out, or try to get to know us.

The origin of the term was the cotton of women’s underwear, that we would never get inside. I find it an unpleasant term; I am demisexual gynaeromantic (ie not that interested physically but wanting heart-connection with a female partner) so the term seems a bit coarse to me. But it was one seminar by Planned Parenthood, with seven attendees. Here is a history of the term, and the transphobic overreaction. If you google “cotton ceiling” you find lots of TERF stuff, a lot of which is quoted on that link. It’s pretty horrible. We never meant any harm. We never did any harm.

A joyful, playful child

The compliment I treasure as much as any other is, “You can seem serious, but underneath you are just a joyful, playful child”.

On the bus, my attention is wholly on my phone, narrowed to the glowing rectangle. I am safe, scrolling down through facebook or site stats- Ooh, another page view!

A couple in their sixties get on. He walks quickly down the aisle then stands waiting for her. She progresses in a stately manner. “Will you move over please thank you very much” she says to a young man in an aisle seat. He does. “Sit there,” she commands her companion, waving at the seat. He complies. She sits across the aisle from him.

Watching is better. Later, I walk along Nupton Road, beside a park. There are mature trees growing through the pavement. There is so much beauty in this town, but from the bus I was beguiled by buildings- ordinary buildings, you might say, and I enjoyed their colours and sudden shapes as we moved past.

I sit erect, trusting, sufficient. I have dignity. I am safe in my society, even the malicious cannot easily hurt me, and I am rarely even mildly discomposed. What crush and constrain me are fearful fantasies.

At the bus stop a woman glanced over. Her “celebrity” magazine article is about Piers Morgan, and she wears bright Azalea-red lipstick. Did she show surprise at my voice? Who cares, really. Well, I do. As Lucy said and I repeat to my Aspie friend, those of us who are different should not have all the work of keeping the more normal ones comfortable. Or, we need greatly to expand “normal”, to include everyone. It could have been interest. I imagine disapproval. It may just be in my head.

Two policemen in Kevlar with sub-machineguns patrol the shopping mall. I am glad I had heard of Mr Corbyn’s rally, they would have freaked me a bit otherwise.

I reach out to caress the rough bark of the tree.

On the bus, a man in a wheelchair and his partner get on. Both are very tired. He can hardly speak, only make very quiet noises. They miss their stop, because she did not see it and he could not get her attention. The bus driver says he will drive to the end of the line then take them back, and I am surprised at how good his hearing is.

“You had a button,” she says, and he lifts his arm to show there is no button on that handrail. I see one on the other handrail, but perhaps he cannot push it with that left arm. I am a bit sorry, as I am facing him. I thought of moving so she could face him, but did not do so before she sat on the other seat.

I have just had a vile, humiliating experience. I have abased myself, and may not have done enough to avoid being wronged.

Here’s Jamie Catto. I think my dignified child needs looking after. She is not wise to the ways of the world. She will show herself off to be Not Normal, and get squished. She does not anticipate what will happen but is just enjoying the rough bark of the tree and the sudden shapes of quite ordinary buildings, on a slovenly street. Or seeking refuge in her phone. He says the thing I trust to look after her is insane and also fails to anticipate the future, simply believing wild guesses and fantasies.

The child knows what is going on and what she must do, and she is afraid and angry. Or something is afraid and angry, these feelings are inside me. Part of my brain may assert control and I am not sure which bit is best, even if the child is the bit I love, and love being.

Richard Rohr says all breathing is sacred breathing, and our true life is love without ego, which I identify with Jamie’s sane part. Wake up. Rohr, a Franciscan, is as happy with religious and spiritual language as I am.

I touch the rough bark of the tree. I am cracked open. At Yearly Meeting Gathering I walked to the Friday session in delight, loving the profusion of seeds, so many in one bundle, so many bundles in the sycamore. There are also conkers. Approaching the Arts Centre, I started to skip, because I anticipated beauty in the Quaker business meeting, and someone told me after how she had been- not sure what, now, moved pleased delighted happy- to see me skip. Others like the child.

When I became a man I put away childish things. But then, I am not a man.

Rohr gave the exercise, Sitting at a table with a pencil and a piece of blank, unlined paper, look at a nearby object (for example, a vase of flowers, a chair, a tree outside). Turn your attention to the empty or “negative” space surrounding the object. Rather than focus on the object’s contours, look at the lines and curves of the space butting up against the object, the places in between and around the thing itself. Breathe deeply and begin to draw these nooks and crannies of air and emptiness. Keep your focus on the “negative” space as you draw. And I thought, something impossible the Teacher demands and the students attempt with diligence, because they want Enlightenment. Cycling to Meeting yesterday I was a soldier, thinking of my thighs- I saw the moon and trees, some of the time, but much of the time my attention narrowed to the road, and other road users. Only one car passed terrifyingly close, most were far enough away. And I thought, there is no gap. There is always thing, even the light refracted through the atmosphere or that light marbling of almost-not-cloud in the blue. Aha! A Spiritual Lesson!

Anger rage frustration and fear, and an inability to care for herself due to being very very young indeed, and I am almost resigned to the fact that the Child really might be my best option: best for seeing reality, best for seeing people, best for deciding, best for acting.

Abraham Maslow wrote, The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. Yes. A ripe peach! The bark of a tree!

Dignity

I have no sense of dignity. Possibly it would be an advantage, but if it just cuts me off from stuff I like, why bother with it? I draw myself to my full height, say “How dare you?” and stalk off. But then, me going was what they wanted, and they humiliated me with that purpose in mind. (No-one reading this should imagine I mean a particular incident- I am playing with ideas, and they may have a glancing reference to something which has happened, or not. It’s a way you might consider an incident, without being the whole truth of it.)

It might be nice to say “How dare you?” and watch the other back down, but that is not a trick I have mastered. The ability to do that might be part of Privilege.

I have always seen myself as ridiculous. That might be Privilege too: the ability to Be Yourself, without apologising for it, or surprising people and seeing that as your own fault. “And what relationship are you to the account holder?” asked the woman on the helpline. I explained that I am trans, and my voice can sound masculine on the phone. “Oh, that’s alright,” she said, without apologising, as if I were apologising to her.

They might humiliate me again in order to force me out. Or they might enjoy a punch-bag to humiliate repeatedly. (Again, this is not paranoid speculation about particular people, but imagining how unknown people might just be.)

Dignity is an expression of power, and I do not experience myself as powerful. I could go all spiritual, and say Power and Dignity are ego-manifestations; the Spiritual person does not bother about such things. However, that is not why I do not bother about such things. I think of the dignity of Christ on the cross- after all that repeated pain and humiliation, designed to break him, he speaks in Love to the man beside him; the inability to be humiliated is a spiritual gift-

perhaps I have dignity, but the problem with that kind of dignity is that the ego could not perceive it. And I would like ego-dignity.  I can imagine it being advantageous.

I have started reading Richard Rohr’s meditations, available here. There is the true self and the false self, and the false self appears rational and sensible and the true self below it all understands, except she cannot always put it into words. The false self is programmed by society to know what society wants, the true self is the soul or the organismic self. I wondered if it were actually an evolutionary backwards-step: humans live in words, but these true-selves are the vestiges of the brain before language. Or language is bolted on, and because of language we can live more complex lives, but sometimes it is good to return to simplicity. If I die to self, I might find natural dignity, but the ego would not recognise it; or the ego could see it by painstaking analysis later. (My ego is learning to value that unconscious process.)

I only know my own value when I reject the ways society values me.

Or, I could lack dignity, but that would simply be part of this ongoing relationship developing. Or I could observe it as a skill, and practise it.

Coventry Cathedral II

Coventry Cathedral is the most humane building I know. We enter through the shell of the bombed, burned out building, yet even here there are signs of restoration: that king to the left of the window, and the angel face

are too sharp for centuries of wear. There is the shell, showing the work of the Bombs and the fire, and also faces, people amid the devastation.

These people

have such wonderful erect necks, unbowed though their bodies are mangled.

These people kneel to each other. There is no sex in this embrace, but surrender-

They bury their eyes in each other’s shoulders, in trust and togetherness.

Ah- an Epstein. Nothing but the best here! He seems too proud to me. I have wondered what we read into that face.

This cathedral is filled with Words!

Hallowed be thy name in THE ARTS. God be in my senses and in my creating
Hallowed be thy name in SUFFERING. God be in my pain and in my enduring

It is worthy of that prayer. Here people have suffered, and have vowed that no other human should suffer. In the East end of the church, where the altar used to be, lies a bishop, who died in 1922, who rebuilt the church, and holds it, whole and strong, in his hands. Note the swastika on his mitre, at the time an unobjectionable, even Spiritual, symbol.

It is the way the land was, but we descend stairs going from the old to the new building. You ascend stairs to the older chapel at Fatima, physical labour to reach God, but descending is both going down into the dark and an easy motion, for God accepts us as we are. We enter on the South, and move towards the North, where the Sun never rises: we see God in the darkness, in all that suffering, God always with us, even in the worst we may bear. So keen had we been to photograph the old church and its new inhabitants that we entered a minute before last entry.

The South Wall. I love these engravings on the glass. They look thoroughly Mediaeval, and modern. As engravings, they can be livelier than the statues on the entrance-wall of cathedrals usually are. I love those exuberant musical instruments.

On entry, there is that glorious huge stained glass window on the East wall at the South end, letting the light in as to any church, but here above the Font, a bare rock with the shape of a shell carved into it. How wonderful to be admitted to Christ’s flock in all that Light!

But as we journey towards God in this church, we go North, into the dark. We pass more words:

A new commandment I give unto you + that ye love one another as I have loved you

Christ in majesty. He is seated, but that is not how knees would look in a chair. A friend thought it looked like the abdomen of a beetle, but to me he has wide, child-bearing hips: this is the closest the artist, in the 1950s, could get to the Christa, the female Christ. Beneath, from the back of the church, we see him hanging dead. Here it is from closer up, visible through bars from behind the High Altar:

The nails from the burned out cathedral are at the base of the Cross.

There is more lovely stained glass on the West wall:

This chapel is East of the high altar. Through the Crown of Thorns, we see the Angel Gabriel ministering to Jesus in Gethsemane, while to our right the disciples sleep.

There was a tour, and I dodged into the chapel. I wanted to take photographs, but just then I wanted to kneel. Then the tour guide pointed out the sleeping disciples, and I was so moved I had to go to see them.

After, the guide and separately one of the tourists, or pilgrims, came up to me to apologise. They had not meant to disturb me. I wanted to reassure them, I did not want them to regret, so careful, here, we are of each others’ feelings. The guide told me that when someone in the cathedral needs to speak to a clergyperson, they bring them here, and the weight on their hearts always lessens.

This stained glass is in the Chapel of Unity in the South end:

I love the light and dark, the long passage through solid concrete to the window, whose light suffuses the space between. It is the opposite effect to the North-East chapel, which is all glass, all light. But both are round, a symbol of the equality of Christ’s children.

Out. I find myself sympathising with Lucifer, under Michael’s feet. His feet are chained but his arms are free, but behind his back in surrender; and that face!

I don’t understand this figure, high above the cathedral. Perhaps I should not expect to understand everything at first glance.

The wisdom to know the difference

I have the bloody-mindedness to keep fighting the things I cannot change
The weakness to run from the things I just might change
And the blindness not to see the nature of either.

When to fight, or work, and when to back off. That is important, difficult wisdom. Now, I begin to think that the difficulty is not being able to back off, rather than not being able to stick at it: I stick at things really hard, because I am passionate, but do not value or protect myself, so that when I am forced to stop I have been hurt, so find it difficult to force myself back, or wheedle myself back, or trust to go back freely. I can never trust myself not to hurt myself. I am not safe, because of myself.

In counselling I find it hard to speak, but I can type a note for myself, then read out the note.

I am seeking to escape the restrictions transition places on me. Then I rethought this:
I place on me.

No, restrictions I sort of accept, not challenging, but might challenge.
Might find out how to challenge
Am challenging as best I know
Self-expression as best I know, now, may improve. Transition, the “feminine role”, does restrict me; that I have not overcome all the restrictions yet does not mean I am not trying my best to, and getting better at it.

I think of Her. She is worth my time, my attention and my work. I am not going to stop yet. I would like everything stated clearly between us, but then I might play games with it, or use it in bargaining;

I feel I am guessing what you want and if I guess right and give it I will have it too.
Except it must feel right for you or you will withdraw.
Or if any pathway goes wrong you will not go there again- we tried that and it didn’t work.
Treat you as a puzzle- well, I am thinking, now, after. At the time I respond, and so often apparently wrongly.

That led to the insight. As well as retreating from the world, just staying in my living room, watching telly

I do difficult things.
Difficulty is not a deterrent.
If I see a way forward I take it.

And yet in so many cases

I don’t do things I have found not profitable. “We tried that once and it didn’t work.”

In some of my battles I have been badly hurt and not gone back. Yet in others I have kept fighting despite being hurt.
Have been frustrated and seen no way forward and not gone back, the effort of understanding and seeing becomes too painful.
Some problems I just run from.
WHAT do I run from, but should not? Or stick with, for no useful purpose?
Go back? Others do not find hard and I still find it hard to admit that looking for those jobs is too much for me, it ought not to be, well maybe it would not be if I could take care of myself better
Give up, find something else to do-

So I came to

The bloody-mindedness to keep fighting the things I cannot change
The weakness to run from the things I just might change
And the blindness not to see the nature of either.

That got seven likes on facebook, more for the elegance of expression than the thought perhaps.

-I see you celebrate your passion in lots of ways, says Tina. That reassured me. I do. I had a wonderful time at Yearly Meeting Gathering, and I bestowed my Light on many people.

And- I feel I do not know which problems to stick at, which to accept, because I am using my rational, ought-mind, the common cultural judgment. I know what I need to work on, and if I trust myself I might even know that consciously.

Passion. Charisma. Ardour.

I asked, she answered. I paused, stiffened, closed my eyes. I felt intense sadness and frustration. Yes, she said, I felt that very strongly from you. She is a sensitive, empathetic person. I paused to analyse how we might have communicated that- through body language, facial expression and mirror neurons, or through a spiritual link.

I have this wonderfully precise and sensitive emotional instrument I am only just learning to use and value. I feel deeply, and that is beautiful.

At the discussion group on death, a man said how much he loved Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard. I leaned over and quoted,

I THAT in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Looking directly into his eyes, speaking strongly with controlled passion. After, he said he would love to hear me recite poetry.

I met Lucy Aphramor, a poet. She is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at the Quaker Meeting House with her show for two weeks. She quoted some of it, powerfully affirming, to me, and I wondered if it were Mary Oliver. Later in the bar she recited some of her lesbian erotica, and I felt her words and her voice caress my nerve endings, bringing them to life, tingling my spine. I loved our communication. I love her assonance rhyme and alliteration, binding the words together, making them rich. In verse, I might take more care of the sounds of words.

Wonderful woman- when she is in a group, I sometimes notice it is not a circle of people talking, but her, shining, and an audience. She has charisma, and I have charisma, I thought. Or, I like to show off. I can hold an audience too. Then I thought, not charisma, but ardour: I feel strongly, and can communicate that, because my strong feeling is beautiful. We are drawn together in depth of feeling. When I speak from the heart I speak directly to people’s hearts.

I have passion, charisma, ardour, and a great desire to express them and have them valued, and a lack of experience expressing them. I hide away to hide these characteristics. I have been hurt when I have been too passionate, when it has been “inappropriate” or against some rules I don’t understand so just suppress them all the time. It’s not English.

I have these qualities. They are gift, and not curse. Recognising that is a great step forward- I could not always see them as merely part of my wrongness and oddness, I naturally heal from such wounds. Now I need to practise their use. So my hiding away blesses me, reducing the amount of challenge I face.

Whoever you are
However much you wish your body different
I count you in
when I ask which of us has value
Through all the stages of the self you would create your worth holds fast
Your worth is
stable
unchanging
innate

Mental Health in our Meetings

When I told a friend of that road-rage incident, she commented that I had done well to hold myself together through the Meeting for worship I went to immediately afterwards. After a strongly emotional experience, I find a measure of calm, then find the feeling welling up in me again, as with my fantasy of that man attacking me, and me thumping him. I anticipated that so was not shocked by it. The fact that he was actually unable to harm me makes me feel safe, and that feeling came to me in Meeting too. It felt like the Ministry which was for me alone. In Meeting I had sat mostly still, though not unmoving, and almost entirely quiet.

I may lose my income on Monday, and if so I am not sure what I will do. I imagined myself standing in Meeting and saying “They want to take away my fucking money. I need my fucking money.” The fantasised meeting is not the real meeting, but I wondered if that would be seen as disruptive, assuming I did not resist an impulse to share my terror. Abigail has to be managed. The meeting must not be disrupted.

I am aware that it behoves us to be silent in Meeting, and test the spirit of a prompting to speak- be accepting of other’s ministry, and questioning our own. But it seems to me that I can endanger the Meeting- I would go into my head, into that small child who knows the rules and seeks safety in obeying them, and I would merely be silent for an hour, as in a waiting room. That could enervate a Meeting. Instead, I seek to be my whole self. Rather than suppressing feeling, I seek to permit it, to allow it to flow through me. This carries the risk that it may overwhelm me. My goal is to trust it completely, so that I do not block it, because I feel the blocks cause the problems; I learn to let go of the blocks, but a block might make me- quake, is the best word I can think of for it. I would show a physical sign of the emotion within. If Friends are distracted, I may distract them further.

I don’t want the Meeting to become the Abigail Maxwell Support Group, a sort of Circle of Support and more support, rather than accountability. I would be the cuckoo in the nest, diverting the energies of the Meeting from its service to God in the world. Most of the responsibility of managing my distress is my own. And I want to take the risk of being overcome, even of appearing disruptive, because otherwise I cannot take the risk of meeting God. If we need the meeting to be comfortable, then it cannot be alive.

Privilege is not an absolute. If it were, the epitome of white, male, straight cis privilege would be Donald J Trump, and he would not be the tiny, blustering man that he is without having been repeatedly traumatised. Yet it has some meaning. My friend showed courage in admitting one of his favourite psalms is 137, Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! I love it because when I became conscious of my feelings, in my thirties, I found they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have never wanted to take a baby by the ankle and smash its head open, but I am glad of that level of anger being in the Bible, because it has helped me realise I might be acceptable to God. Then again I understand that most women and the vast majority of men, like me, have fantasised about murder at some time in their lives. He and I may both like it because we are both LGBT. Not everyone understands our love for it. My lack of privilege includes an intimate acquaintance with impotent anger, and a default fear of people, even of Quakers.

I am glad that Wanstead Quakers want it to be known that our Local Meeting is a place where all are welcomed and nurtured, including people who are transgender and non-binary. It will not be true unless my high level of anger and emotional lability, arising from my trans nature and past circumstances, is welcomed. I bear most of the responsibility of looking after myself, but if I get no help from my meeting there is no point in going. Jesus take me as I am- I can come no other way. I give help, too, when I can. I dare to hope that the value of what I give exceeds that of what I take.

On the first full day of Yearly Meeting Gathering George Lakey spoke at length of his experience of the death of his son- hearing of it, travelling home, meeting family, the wake, the funeral, his feelings (though very little of his son, and only one positive fact about him). I am glad he did, as it cracked me open, but a friend commented that anywhere else there would be trigger warnings, and organised support offered “If you have been affected by the issues raised”. I blundered off, and proceeded to disrupt a discussion group by suppressed but still audible sarcastic laughter when the man leading the group shared deep, spiritual things. A woman left the group with me and spent two hours hearing my anguish.

“I am here to take,” I told her. “Sometimes I need to take.” And then when she fell on the stairs I stood and looked at her rather than going to help her up. I am not proud of this, but it is where I was at the time. I saw her later and expressed gratitude for her support and regret that I had disrupted the group. She could pass that on to the group leader, who was from her Meeting. I also feel her listening, when she held me while I plunged into my own darkness, freed to take a full, positive part in the Yearly Meeting. Many people thanked me for my ministry to the main session, which seemed to move them, from which I judge that it was worthwhile.

In fifteen years as a Quaker, I have found many shoulders offered to me to cry on, and have often taken full advantage. In a discussion group on Listening, a woman shared that sometimes she does this, and takes on pain from the other, but the other’s distress seems accentuated rather than relieved by the process. (I have also listened to others and sensed this in them, a bottomless pit of hurt which can never be dredged.) She compared such people to vampires, sucking her energy. I like to think I am not merely a vampire. Yet, from my side of the exchange, it can seem that people are very keen to provide shoulders to cry on. It makes them feel valued and valuable. It is an exchange, not a gift- we both know we will enjoy it, and sometimes we go at it for the good feeling rather than for any lasting good it will do. Don’t offer support in order to feel valued, because the outcome may make you feel insulted and wronged.

I put that too strongly when I first published this post. Being heard is unburdening for me, a huge relief. My inner critic bullies me as I unburden- I am being self-indulgent, this is not real, I should be tougher. The next day from publishing, I am not sure. Sometimes it can go wrong. I have listened, and felt I am earthing pain, like an electric charge passing through and out of me, but I have to let it go. I could do this, consciously, and move on. Once, after hearing a schizophrenic woman, the process of letting go took me two hours and involved seeking the help of a friend: that woman’s distress had evoked my own.

As this angry, labile, vulnerable, benefit-claiming, moderately depressed Quaker I want to be welcome all the time, not just when I pass as a quirky, middle-class, spiritual, highly educated and intelligent Normal-person. Please do not be self-sacrificial. Maintain your boundaries, and care for yourselves. So, tell me when you think I am pushing it, taking more support than I really need or that the meeting can offer, before Something Bad happens, and you exclude me in anger and blame me. People so often leave things unspoken, or assumed, but it might help to discuss the boundaries, to bring them into the open.

I have so much to offer you!

The public trans woman

I stood and spoke to a thousand people. I had seen you, entering late and walking deliberately round the back of the opposite balcony: you always catch my eye. I shared the ardour of my heart, for my ardour is strong and beautiful, and (wonderful as these people are) my words could add to their life and health. I am here. I have things to say. Listen to me. I delight in what I said, and how I said it, and at the same time I want the good of the whole group. I want to serve. Perhaps I cannot judge: I can only be myself, show myself, and that will have the effect it will. What I said was loving and generous, for I am loving and generous.

I am very pleased by this paragraph, too. There is the tincture of self-doubt and criticism in it, but I feel it is appreciative and truthful not a self-aggrandising over-reaction.

I sat, and was strongly moved by the experience. The woman next to me offered her hand, which I held as I recovered, then returned to her with thanks.

In the afternoon, I was sitting outside the Arts Centre with new friends when a woman came up to me. A relative of hers had transitioned, and she wanted to know how to treat her, and how to think about her. She asked if I was willing to talk, and I was, because I want to help her and her relative. And there are problems with this. I am not at all the representative trans woman who will tell you how all trans women think: the understanding of trans you get from me will get in the way unless you are willing to discard immediately any part of it which conflicts with how her unique individuality interacts with her unique experience of transgender. Possibly it is better to hear from a stranger than your relative the basics of pronoun use and dead-naming, it is wearing to have to keep explaining that, but even there her relative and I may disagree.

Even here, in the blessed space of Yearly Meeting Gathering, among Friends, where deep connection is possible in a moment’s meeting, there is something slightly off in her approaching me like this. She asked. I consented. I want to help. But it is my Life, burden, perplexity, truth, not a public property for others to learn of a social phenomenon, even though I chose to stand and talk about it in front of a thousand people.

In the evening was the Ceilidh, and I sat near a doctor. She told me how she had gone with a trans man to educate a group of doctors about transition, how ignorant they had been, and how amazed: they thought the man was a male actor, they had not known a trans man could pass so well. It is a way of starting a conversation. I had sat at her table. It is her interest, she is an ally, she had something valuable to share; and it is my life. I told her I do not think transition is the final answer, and certainly not the operations which sometimes go with it- they are part of the doctors’ desire to create a Solution, clear definite and apparently Scientific, and laypeople’s demand of that from doctors. That ended our conversation. Because it is her professional interest, and my life, and it does not respect me for you to bring up my most sensitive part, even when I have talked about it publicly, however strong your goodwill towards me. She may not have noticed her presumption, only my curtness.

This is the North-East chapel of Coventry Cathedral. The inscription on the plinth says, “I am among you as one that serves”. I love the light in here, the crown of thorns which could tear flesh, and the way the congregation is a circle round the altar, one body of equals.

Not Cis; not a TERF

My friend loathes the word “cis”. She told me of going to University, where the young ladies had a curfew of 11pm imposed on them, and had to wear a dress for the evening meal on Sundays. Male guests were not permitted after 7pm. She rebelled.

She was amazed and repelled by how compliant the others were. This was in the ‘Seventies, not the ‘Forties. I love her strength and determination. She managed to get round some of the rules, and was part of the pressure for their relaxation. There was no curfew when I went to Uni in the ‘Eighties, though one lad asked when “Lights Out” was, and we got the impression he would have liked one.

Back in the Eighties, feminists talked of “Consciousness raising”. If you could explain to women how oppressed they were by patriarchy, they would become feminists, fighting it. No-one talks of that now. No amount of consciousness raising will drive the soft pink floral sweater from the nation’s wardrobes. Some women see the oppression and fight it, some women love femininity and work with it. I don’t know whether James Damore, formerly of Google, is right that women are generally more co-operative, interested in people rather than things, or whether that is from socialisation or predisposition, but some women are.

Why should she be called “cis”? She rejects the feminine gender stereotype, because she does not fit it. She is a radical feminist: women share reproductive organs, and femininity is merely cultural, merely oppressive. She is a woman, but that does not make her a particular gender, and her gendered expression sometimes fits and sometimes fights the gender stereotype.

I wish she would meet me half way. I would love co-operation between her gender non-conformity and my own, because the gender stereotype, the Patriarchy, oppresses both equally and because I am more interested in people than things, and in co-operation. She called Trans a conservative movement. Tell that to the conservatives, who hate us! I suppose her argument is that we go along with the idea that my co-operativeness, etc, makes me feminine so I should express myself as female. Feminine = Female is a conservative idea. However, I have sought out the way society permits me to be my extremely feminine self- it is transition, which allows me to escape the masculine expectations forced on me. I love floral blouses and dresses, so want women to wear men’s shirts, jackets and ties if they wish; and if they wear dresses I do not imagine that says anything about their levels of co-operativeness or interest in people.

So, she is not Cis, because she does not conform to gender. Not only trans people reject the gender enforced on them. I could argue that it makes a useful shorthand to distinguish those who call ourselves trans or non-binary from everyone else, but she is not having that. She even rejects the idea that we might be particularly distant from the stereotypes, thinking gender oppresses everyone, apart from a few “alpha” males.

I would not presume to state her argument against the word TERF, but she is not hostile she says to trans women, only supportive of the rights of- she would say “biological women”. Calling us “women” sticks in her craw, but it is our way in to freedom.

The lesson I draw from this is that it is a disaster for both trans folk and her kind of feminist that we should be ranged against each other; that the oppression we suffer from Patriarchy, or whatever, is very similar, as is our interest in attacking that oppression. I feel in some cases her side’s objection to us is rooted in revulsion from femininity, falsely enforced on them. Femininity freely chosen is beautiful.

Life as it is

I am going to Yearly Meeting, and rather than delight I anticipate feeling bored, lonely and out of sorts, getting cold and wet, my phone discharging and not recharging. My default state is fear- of what??? Increasingly I am tongue-tied, as when I think of something to say I immediately think of qualifications, even think the opposite is true, and to free that log-jam I type rapidly, without judging. Fear of-

bad things happen-
disapproval-
OK for this month, not sure after
losing benefits
death- not quite welcome it, would solve some problems- would not be worried any more, not sure what to do with life
-fear of process?
-dying alone?
non-specific anxiety

Thinking about Yearly Meeting Gathering, trying to set aside the fear, I anticipate joy- connection- understanding- laughter
anticipate-

We share the idea of Hell as ideas of heaven you don’t understand enjoy or fit in: others sit on the clouds, but I keep falling through; others play their harps but I get wrong notes- a martyr might find his seventy virgins unattractive…

-What stops me from doing things? The feeling that there would be no point. It is better to be bored than frustrated. It seems I am merely and always ineffective. If I play the piano, errors creep in, so that it is not worth all the necessary practice, and eventually I don’t play at all.

fear of failing, not matching my judgment.
I can’t achieve what I want and don’t even know what I want. Everything is a waste of time.

To put that into a coherent paragraph- my life as I have created it is all that I fear. I consider it- sitting at home watching telly, scrolling facebook, not reading, not spending much time with friends, and find it ghastly yet desirable. It could be my way of rebelling against other people’s ideas of what is desirable. I have picked up ideas of what I ought to desire, but do not. I am like a teenager in a strop/ funk/ sulk, for I have no idea of what I might actually desire, that has been driven out by the need to conform to other’s ideas, and then simply to hide away and not be noticeable. I sit in my living room watching telly. That is not enough for me, not nearly enough, a complete waste, but I don’t know what else I might do, or want to do.

I fear that I will make an effort and not achieve what I want, or not be able to construct a coherent plan that I might reasonably hope would achieve what I want. From this base of dissatisfaction I have to find new ideas of what to want, or how to get it, and forming the ideas seems just too hard.

I do not anticipate finding joy.

She asks, there is so much judgment in this- whose judgment is it? Yours?
-Well, I am not facing anyone else’s judgment at the moment, though I have taken it into myself from others.
-self can be hardest taskmaster of all.
-Oh yes.

My life now is bearable and unbearable, horrible and desired. I feel dreadful frustration.

I trust the Yearly Meeting Gathering enough to go.