Character, aptitude, value

I am not worthless, useless and hopeless, however much it seems that way to me. Embrace the evidence to the contrary!

Awesome,” she said, and I explained laboriously how only the bridge was my contribution. “Awesome bridge,” she said. People build me up, and I see how much I need it. That woman denied she was creative, and I sought to persuade her otherwise. I might say, you have had problems in your life: have you ever found solutions? Does that emerge as an insight which amazes and delights you, or leaves you quietly satisfied?

With a range of people from, say, Ranjana Srivastava, seeking to improve life and alleviate suffering, and Jeffrey Epstein happy to destroy people for his momentary gratification or to increase his power, I am at the right end of that range.

I am creative. I can be persuasive. I speak well. I write well. I make up stories of possibility. If I were to go back to the Turbine Hall I might take down the top of one of those towers for a source of bricks and either build a series of wee houses two bricks high or a wall across the table. Or I might be inspired by other work to do something else.

I am caring and supportive. I can be a good listener and find ways to build others’ confidence.

When I devote myself to a task I devote myself entirely. I spend myself- we spend ourselves, accepting damage or deterioration in the service of what we most want, as a woman may be incontinent of urine after pregnancy.

These manifestations of who I am delight me. I am most myself, being myself, acting as befits me. It is fitting and right. It is affirming and powerful.

I can be anxious, making mistakes in a hurry, or I can be composed and thoughtful, taking steps in order, making connections and understanding, inhabiting my power.

I am damaged. I do not know what I feel, often. That mantra helps:

I am here. This is. I am.

I take time to appreciate my surroundings, their beauty, solidity, value, fittingness which is bringing me into an appreciation of my own. If I notice I am behaving as if I am confused or anxious, that may indicate that I am confused or anxious. How have I been behaving? The feeling, brought into consciousness, may help me reassess my desires and actions. The feeling suppressed below consciousness makes me make mistakes, judge myself harshly, and be more stressed and inclined to withdraw, or be obnoxious.

My tactic of suppressing feeling helped me survive but in my adult self is weakness. The practice of mindfulness may bring me into my strength. It is liberating.

The self-concept, the imagined figure of who I imagine I ought to be, and the judgment, the idea that I am merely inadequate for not fitting it, are stripped away as I see who I really am now, respending in the moment to the actual situation.

This is particularly hard for a trans woman. We are fed an ideal of masculinity we cannot yet must fit, and seeing and valuing who we really are is a difficult task.

I am

PROUD

of this. How can you recognise your blind spots, what you cannot see, behind your illusions, what is not real? The illusion touches my perception as reality would. It is hard work, climbing out of Plato’s cave.

This sentence could only be in a Russian novel (in this case, Life and Fate) Her soul filled with the sense of life that is humanity’s only joy and most terrible pain. Or possibly Intensity- reality feels intense, far more so than illusion.

That image again, of coming out of a dark, cramped corridor, steadily getting darker and smaller, into overwhelming light and colour which I could not bear. I thought of it as coming out of my withdrawing from the world, or out of my shrinking into expressing my charisma, and just now of turning from illusion to reality and sensing my feelings. It is all of these. I have always known I must learn to bear the brightness or die.

The Cubic Structural Evolution Project

To get to the Quaker meeting I left the house before eight, and cycled up steep hills and into stiff winds. Then at the station the replacement bus was full, and a man had suggestions of what the incompetents managing the service should have done. Do we get compensation? Yes, but only £6.75.

A woman offered me a lift in her car. She’s off to see Romeo and Juliet, at Sadlers Wells, choreographed by Matthew Bourne. He always manages to surprise her with new ways of expressing story in dance.

“You’re obviously very creative,” she said.

Yes, that’s why I wanted to tell you of her.

“I’m not creative myself,” she said. I protested. You talk to your grandchild, don’t you? You’re interacting, sparking off each other. She agreed and enthused.

“The 9.42 will get me to my meeting on time,” I announced.

“No pressure, then,” she said. She got her silent husband to let us out at the drop off point before parking. If they rowed about her generosity they did it after I left.

On the train the big shaven-headed bloke in jeans and white t-shirt talked of going to Mass and his grandmother’s power of attorney. At Meeting I looked at the food bank box and thought of connection- mine with these people, through them with my fellow benefit claimants.

I had not known what was in the Turbine Hall, and went over to look. I had not intended to join in but got chatting to a mother and daughter who explained it to me.

“I want to go back to the bar,” said the mother.

“How old are you?”

“Eleven,” said the child, who looked younger.

Oh, she’ll be alright! No one will mind!

“You have to take towers down or there will be no bricks to build with,” says the mother. I joke about playing Godzilla and the daughter is horrified.

The future city is very beautiful now. Those are huge towers, wonderfully varied, from only a few different brick types. I have not really noticed adult Lego hobbying before. I was aware of its existence but only seeing what is possible in real life makes me alive to it. Children make structures at ground level, but I want to contribute and be Noticed. When the towers have taken so long to build, and such inspiration to imagine, how can I compete? I will build a bridge.

That’s difficult with the short bricks available. The round towers can only sit on the table, not build on bricks. I am Creating: constrained by my materials, inspired by other work. My bridge has a hinge in it, making it considerably weaker but more able to place between towers. It is irregular, Brutalist among these neo-classical forms. Inadvertently I knock the top off a tower as I try to affix it, and am abashed; but I do not have time to rebuild it even if I knew how.

It is ungainly, detracting from the Beauty! No, it is a piquant or picaresque contrast, adding to the whole work. I hadn’t seen a bridge there before, but noticed someone creating one later. Future cities need bridges! Writing next day I don’t know if my bridge still exists, but my posts are web archived, and perhaps archeologists will find silicon with this photograph, just before the Sun as a red giant engulfs the Earth.

Then I go to gaze into the eyes of the Goncharova Christ, which is why I came to London. I can’t find it in a postcard or online- possibly like an icon it is holy, so restricted. The grapes on His vine are rich and strong.

I want to take a tower apart and put a slab of blue bricks in! It would not need to be large, and it would stand out like the Sun in Impressions- Sunrise!

With biscuits and cheese, and two cups of tea at Meeting, I don’t need to buy food in the gallery. I am with Christ and the Queen of Heaven when I am chucked out.

Howard Thurman

If I never feel confused, is confusion that terrifying emotion which I must always suppress below conscious awareness? If the distance between how things are and how they ought to be is so great that I cannot see how things are, being just confused, how can I do what I need to do? If my anger is always directed at myself- do better, try harder, keep going- how can I survive a world unless it is designed to fit me and support me? When do I realise that it isn’t?

I am wary of using Black experience as a way into my own as their oppression is greater than mine, except that mine matters too. I am a trans woman, conveniently available for anyone to punch down at, relieve their feelings on, use as a scapegoat or ridicule. We get screamed at, assaulted, killed by casual acquaintances or strangers, and painted as perverts or predators when any need is felt to justify that though often it isn’t.

So I read extracts from Howard Thurman, Black mystic and spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King.

“The stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free… is God.”

God speaks through my survival instinct and the occasional, fleeting desire I have to be equal, not to be that whipping-girl. I will not wrong others, and I will survive.

God lives in each person, we are each the outworking of God’s love, power, creativity and beauty, each hair on our head is numbered and God wills our flourishing- yes, even trans women.

The Black man, used by whites for the most menial work, lynched- murdered- by whites to keep all Blacks in a state of terror and subjection and satisfy those whites of their own righteous superiority, finds that in religious experience “I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.”

God is a real me, more real than I can conceive. This is not a matter of dogma but immediate experience, to be captured in feeling not prose or theory, perhaps to be glimpsed in poetry. Then I am my full glory as my part in God’s outworking of creation.

Thurman’s God and mine is transcendent, eternal, all-encompassing, and personal and intimate, caring for me like God’s child in self-sacrificing, motherly love. So, I will show myself the love God shows I am worthy of.

Christianity is an ideology of empire, for security and respectability for the strong and powerful, giving grudging “charity”, sometimes, to deserving outsiders but teaching us our obligations to our betters. This makes those betters feel good about themselves. No, God requires that we are brothers and sisters, equals. I claim my equal worth. God in me seeks not to serve or dominate but to hear and communicate.

Why do I call myself Christian when Christianity oppressed me? To create it anew!

I am a human being among human beings, not for anyone to categorise or judge as “a trans woman”, for no-one’s stereotypes classifications or perceived understanding- even my own. That is love of self in my incomprehensible beauty, a love worthy of loving others with. I am my part of Life, as you are. Each Christian encountering another Christian as an equal, a beloved fellow child of the loving Mother would be an example to all other people. “See how they love each other!” We would win souls for Christ.

Gender is as oppressive as race and we who do not fit gender stereotypes or are not served by them must come together. So I take Richard Rohr’s questions and apply them to gender:

Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?

What gender identities or stereotypes have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a person?

What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about gender? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?

This is what to do with my anger, whether directed inward or outward- transmute it into a sense of self-worth: which becomes understanding, then love.

Finding happiness

If I were not inadequate, I would be happy. I don’t believe that, not really, but the thought is tempting.

I am an outsider. Regretting my surgery, and advising against it, I don’t know of any possible better way- not transitioning? Transitioning without bodily alteration? None is acceptable. I am an outsider, and no choice will make me fit in. Trying to is death. So living with the discomfort of being myself is the best way. And, oh God, it is uncomfortable.

None will make me fit.
-Fit what? For who?
Well. Exactly.

Audre Lorde: Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human difference between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.

“He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is half way there. He who blames no one has arrived.” Yeah. It’s facebook wisdom. There is something in it. Yet my self blame is reflexive, for everything, for being no use at all, so my self-blame does me no good.

So it felt like progress when I felt shame at having no money and wearing horrible old clothes. I want to present myself better. I got a Monsoon dress in a charity shop, so I will wear that- except it seems too dressy for the office. That’s lack of self-confidence, I can carry it off. I can do something about that shame, it’s not just wanting to be someone else.

Cathy, years ago. The birth mark on her cheek kept getting darker. She wore her hair long over her face but did not succeed in concealing it. Removal was possible, and she wanted it done, but never got round to it. It seemed to me that her birthmark was the symbol for her of her mediocrity and all the unsatisfactoriness of her life, and if she had it treated she would have to admit her life was still unsatisfying.

I wake at eight and reach for my phone. The Guardian opinion articles are on Brexit and white nationalist mass-shootings. People worked up about the thought that Muslims, Jews, Latinx, were replacing white people seem to be punching down, channelling their anger in a safe direction both for the oligarchs and for themselves. It is not a real threat. They face no risk for getting angry about it. They will not achieve beneficial change. They don’t fit their society either.

So I read what depresses and enervates me, and feel numb. “Numb” means there’s a feeling underneath which I cannot admit or recognise. I think it’s confusion. I should be able to sort all my problems myself. That I can’t is confusing. Unknowing is painful.

I go to meditate and feel delight in the moment, in the strength of that bush. Like it, I am alive! I am a living creature. I love the butterflies on the blossom. Meditating I am happy in the moment in the beauty where I am. I am not sorting my life out, instantly, certainly and painlessly but perhaps I am sorting it as best I can.

For whom would I want to fit in, to cease being an outsider? For me. If I want to fit in it is in order to feel safe. Then, what is the threat I fear? My mother? Her fears of the world? Mine? If I articulate the fears they seem silly but that does not take away their power, not am I certain I can articulate them. I am afraid of not understanding immediately what is going on. I am afraid of ridicule and contempt, and some are contemptuous of trans folk.

Someone calls me “he” but seems reasonably friendly, and I like her. And often in the past things have gone catastrophically wrong, in childhood and after.

Life is unbearable! I have no idea!

If I embrace how hard it is to bear, stop wishing it otherwise, might I learn to bear it?

Is Quaker dialogue on trans rights necessary?

We are not a political party, and do not need policies on the issues of the day. We are a religious society whose principles work themselves out through our lives, and we have four words expressing the heart of those principles: we say we have testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity and truth.

Our testimony to Equality should result in our positive work for women’s rights and trans rights. Our work on privilege and inclusion shows that our society is a profoundly unequal one, and we cannot simply imagine that belief in equality is sufficient. We need to expose how we unconsciously entrench privilege, and root it out. Part of this is exposing and opposing gender stereotyping, particularly around children.

However we should not necessarily get involved in perceived conflicts between trans rights and women’s rights.

We should refuse room bookings to groups claiming that they seek a debate on trans rights, from a feminist perspective, unless they can demonstrate that they will be truthful. This is because such groups have been untruthful in Quaker premises in the past.

I want trans people to feel as welcome in Quaker premises as anyone else, and because of our hurt and vulnerability that cannot just be assumed. I don’t trust social groups new to me. I came to Quakers in 2001, on the cusp of transition, as I did not feel welcome in the church which had baptised me, and I felt I would be welcomed by Quakers. In a similar position today I might stay with the Anglicans.

Many meeting houses will not need to consider the issue. If their loos are not labeled with gender indicators they may have no gendered spaces. If they have women’s groups or gendered spaces, generally the law is a good guide: the Equality Act 2010 admits trans women to women’s space unless there is good reason to exclude one, on a case by case basis.

So we may have to discern such issues ad hoc. An anti-trans campaigner explained to me that a woman who has been raped may feel scared seeing me in a woman’s loo, perceiving me as male, especially as loos only have one entrance. If such distress were actually felt by a regular attender of my meeting, I would consider what love requires of me.

A problem is that a vulnerable woman might not feel able to express such distress. Distress is often not heard. The consoling hug can be disrespectful: it can mean that we want your feelings to go away and stop bothering us. Again, belief that we are supportive is not sufficient. We need positively to communicate that to a possibly distrustful, vulnerable individual.

And it is what love requires of us: that’s not necessarily my self-sacrifice. I sometimes don’t even feel barely tolerated. I need evidence that I am accepted.

It would be easier to hold such discernment if the debate were less polarised. And we can’t produce one rule for all meetings: each meeting should consider the situation if it arises.

Some types of rhetoric should be off limits. The press reports endlessly on trans women who can be portrayed as unpleasant. The case of a trans rapist does not indicate how I should be treated. She is an individual and the characteristic we share does not mean we share any other characteristics. If I go to prison for peace campaigning I hope Friends would want me in a women’s prison not a vulnerable prisoner unit in a men’s prison. So Friends should not pay undue attention to particular difficult cases.

Anti-trans campaigners might have other arguable requirements.

I call them anti-trans campaigners because that is what they do. They speak out against my existing legal rights, making my life more difficult. I don’t consider them women’s rights campaigners because excluding 0.1% of the population, or even 1%, will not improve women’s position, or make women safer, and the “debate” contributes to making hate against trans people more prevalent. The “debate” takes energy which could otherwise be devoted to women’s rights causes.

This is not a free speech issue. Positions expressed regularly in The Times are not subject to censorship; but people cannot complain if their expressed views revolt others, who no longer wish to associate with them.

No one speaks for trans people. We do not have a Board of Deputies. So Quakers cannot perform reconciliation work, because there are no groups to reconcile.

Should we bring together trans people and anti-trans campaigners who are Quaker? Not necessarily. I find the debate wearing and depressing. I should not have to face a threat to my way of life. It may be too personal for me to discern. And yet I don’t want non-trans Quakers to discern without me.

So I would limit Quaker involvement in the debate. We could uphold the process in wider society. We could trust professionals in trans treatment. We could uphold children to make their own decisions about who they are, with the available professional help. Trans people exist, and have done for thousands of years.

Dog women

I am still wrestling with what it means to be a man, a woman, a person, free… My week’s life experiences are grist to my mill.

I went back to the Paula Rego exhibition, and approached one of the women working there, sitting guarding the art. Dame Paula wrote, “Women learn from those they are with; they are trained to do certain things, but they are also part animal.” I don’t think that’s quite it; we act the part others write for us, but sometimes can be ourselves.

The worker, a young black woman, said “I turn my anger in on myself”. We shared what pictures we liked. I had gone in to absorb Rego’s anger as energy, but in that conversation saw so much more in her work. My desire was to reflect then reify in myself the attitudes of the women she portrays, their clarity and determination.

Then I told Phil of the exhibition. He had not heard of Rego. I joked that if he saw the exhibition he would be able to pose about it, and he took me seriously, saying he never sought to pretend to others. What, never? No. Seriously, never.

And I thought all I care about is how I appear.

Had my phone given the route when I wanted, I would have got the 4pm bus, but instead it stuck at “calculating route” for an age and I had to wait until 5.17. Then the bus stop the phone indicated did not have the number of the bus I wanted, and I thought I had the wrong stop. Then it was a few minutes late, and I was upset, thinking I might have to wait another hour. And my being irritated, sad, hurt, frightened, having an emotional reaction, surprised me. I tell you the circumstances to bolster the idea that my feelings were proportionate. It is not that I could not cope, or threw a wobbly, but that it made me feel something. And I resented my feeling. I should not feel irritated, whatever, because of that problem.

So there is my feeling, overwritten by the need to feel in control, or be uncomplaining in the face of confusing service. At best I treat my feeling as a problem, to be cajoled into sensible behaviour, at worst as an enemy to be suppressed.

To be, or to seem? I doubt I convince others anyway, I only pose in my own imagination.

Gina Miller wants to appear cool, calm and graceful even as she paddles like fury under the surface. Mmm. Never let anyone know you are discomposed, it would be a weapon to use against you. But, hiding again. Pretending. This is someone who has stuck her head above the parapet, and is doing her own thing. I am scarcely at the stage of knowing what I might want separately from the group, or accepting my feelings as a guide. Hide. Conceal- don’t feel.

I was angry when I read Richard Rohr:

“Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us…. ” I thought, there is the privileged white man speaking. My fuel is anger. But my anger does not manifest as cruelty. I show tenderness.

Except when I don’t. There was the Polish woman, and I took over the conversation then dismissed her. I would not have dared be so high handed had I thought about it. I realised what I had done after. Privilege, again?

I realise that I make mistakes because I do not realise how anxious I am to get a task done quickly and be over with. I think about it after.

I need to spend more time in silence with myself, perceiving realising and absorbing all this. With screens I am just involved in a tangle of feeling and desire, curating my appearance, getting confused. In the silence I loved this view of a snail:

Trans women in women’s spaces: the evidence

Trans women are not generally either a threat or a problem in women’s space. Individuals may be, but not trans women as a group. The evidence is clear. Unfortunately so is the vehemence of those who oppose trans rights.

Before a Parliamentary committee, Diana James of the Cornwall Refuge Trust said,

“We have had trans women through the women’s refuge and we have had transmen through the men’s refuge, and lesbian, gay and bisexual people through our refuge all the time.”

There you are. A charity willing to include trans folk does so easily. But not all are. Karen Ingala Smith of “Nia” takes a doctrinaire position that trans women are men, and because of this excludes us:

“We decided to do that because we decided as an organisation we wanted to protect single-sex women-only services as much as possible.”

Nia excludes us out of belief, rather than evidence. The committee commented,

“It was clear from her evidence that she believed that excluding people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment was the only way in which Nia’s service could be considered women-only.”

A lawyer will tell you that this bald public statement will discredit any case she makes that she has excluded a trans woman justifiably under the Equality Act. She is so filled with contempt for us that she does not care.

Janet McDermott of Women’s Aid represents a number of separate charities, which have different policies. There are power dynamics in a refuge:

“Domestic abuse is about an abuse of power and control, so all our practice has to be about challenging any hint of perpetuating coercive behaviours in residents in refuge and in our services. The services can be unsafe places for all sorts of reasons [ … ] because of racism, because of homophobia, because of different levels of access to privilege, status, power and so on. We have to manage those power dynamics all the time within our service-user population and in relation to looking at a new referral and how safe our service is going to be with its current service users for this new potential referral.”

Women’s charities have the skills to manage those power dynamics, and can exclude women, including trans women, if they need to. But there is no need for a blanket ban.

Women’s Aid are working to produce guidance for their members at the moment. Trans women who have used their services or have experience of domestic violence should approach them to tell of their needs. Any guidance should be based on evidence, rather than the prejudice shown against trans women by some groups.

The terfs have played a blinder with the report, though. One “voluntary organisation,” basically three terfs and a typewriter, were quoted claiming:

that women’s organisations were worried that “invoking the single sex exemptions of the [Equality Act] will leave them vulnerable to costly and difficult legal proceedings, or cost them their funding.”

They did not even know that trans women, even with a gender recognition certificate, could be excluded. I could have told them that. The committee paid a barrister to do the same.

So what will happen? The Committee said,

“We recommend that, in the absence of case law the EHRC develop, and the Secretary of State lay before Parliament, a dedicated Code of Practice, with case studies drawn from organisations providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. This Code must set out clearly, with worked examples and guidance, (a) how the Act allows separate services for men and women, or provision of services to only men or only women in certain circumstances, and (b) how and under what circumstances it allows those providing such services to choose how and if to provide them to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.”

That guidance can be based on the evidence that individual trans women are safe in services, and need them, or prejudice and hatred. Trans women should approach the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make the guidance include us. The terfs will be spinning their tales.

It’s tragic because the report details actual difficulties refuges have, beyond complaining about a tiny number of harmless trans women. Some authorities are paying for gender neutral services, even though women’s need is much greater than men’s. These “women-led voluntary groups” could work on that issue: but then the hard right organisations would not fund them.

Ach. It’s a pain. I cycle to work between lakes I can hardly see, because of the trees lining them. It makes the wildfowl feel safer, and makes each glimpse all the lovelier:

Without the mask

If I were to appear without my mask, I would appear almost exactly as I do now: serious except when humorous, caring, determined, sometimes deeply moved. Heaven and Hell are so close I almost cannot tell the difference, except for the pain of it.

I was unable to speak again, and as always it surprised me. After we discussed his wedding at the weekend, he asked why I volunteer here.

I have emotional problems, I thought. I am (or part of me is) happy to be open about that. And I could not say it. I closed my eyes trying to gain control, feeling tears rise. It is not that I consciously feel overcome. And then suddenly I was over it, as if there was a barrier to speaking and then there wasn’t. And later when D asked the same thing I had no problem saying it, in that higher voice which feels the more authentic me.

I do not know what I am feeling, much of the time, but today I realised how anxious I am. I wish I were not, but the need to be perfect is hard.

And I do not realise what I want, often. I wrote, “I want”,  then put the paper down for some time. Then I picked it up and wrote,

“to take a full part in my AM. I want my service valued there as it is elsewhere.”

When I got home, I called the Samaritans to talk of that paralysis or barrier. I don’t climb over the barrier, I let it go.

I want to be high-functioning, I said, and saying it I know it to be true, and so learn the fact and realise how much I want it.

I want to appear competent, so there is a barrier to saying things like “I have emotional problems”, because a competent person should not; yet achieving competence requires that I am able to admit it is it is true. Competence does not mean pretence.

She asked, why do you wear a mask? Because I am frightened of showing what is underneath. What would happen if I did? Utter humiliation equivalent to death. And yet I showed myself this morning and was met with sympathy and understanding.

I don’t climb over the barrier.
I let it go.

I may learn this fully, then the barrier (fear, need to keep up appearances, whatever) will have no more power.

Then it is a paradox: the need to appear competent in my own mind prevents me from being competent. My fear of being unable is the only thing preventing me.

Then we talked of suicide. I have been suicidal, and am not now though I feel incapable of looking after myself, and my income is inadequate and precarious. I tell the safety harness story. Jess said, “The thing I learned about you is you are a really hard worker,” and that is how I learned it myself. I had not known it before. And now I realise how much I am hurt by that.

I am seeing how hard I am working now and what I have had to overcome. I would have said ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ Perhaps I would still: me without the mask looks very like me with it. Yet I would no longer believe that.

Jessica Yaniv

Does any trans woman support Jessica Yaniv? She is suing several Canadian beauticians for refusing to wax her scrotum. She demands several thousand dollars each from them in compensation, and some have gone out of business.

She pretended to be someone else when approaching them,  using the profile of a pregnant woman.

Wedding cakes are symbolic of equality. If a baker can refuse a wedding cake, a landlord can refuse an apartment. The same might apply to waxing, except that it is an intimate service. Some traders are happy to wax a penis and scrotum for payment, some are not. Also, it is different from waxing a vulva. The hair lies differently and the surfaces to be waxed are more complex. Jessica may have a woman’s genitals, but she does not have a vulva. Arguably, a “Brazilian” is a vulva wax.

For me it is not the appropriate cause for activist litigation. Punch up, not down.

I heard about it days ago in strident Facebook comments from anti-trans campaigners. “What would be a good enough reason to force someone to handle someone’s genitals against their will?” They put the case as shockingly as they can, of course, but it is an open goal.

Then it got into The Guardian, in a popular piece which was about as little transphobic as possible, I suppose. “It’s not a hate crime for women to feel uncomfortable waxing male genitalia” said Arwa Mahdawi. I agree, though I don’t think the case tells us anything interesting about trans rights, or equality legislation, except that some trans women are unpleasant people. I don’t want to be so vulnerable that I am unsafe to be unpleasant, and I also don’t like the press drawing attention to people whose only newsworthy characteristic is that they are an unpleasant trans woman. It increases transphobia.

Mahdawi points out that right wing media which usually campaigns against women’s rights and immigrants are now hypocritically using women’s rights and immigrant rights to hammer a trans woman. But then she states Yaniv is a “troll, not an activist”. I agree, because I feel there are reasons to sympathise and argue for Yaniv’s victims.

Catriona Stewart in The Herald used the case to campaign against trans rights. “The case encapsulates the concerns of feminists around self-id”, she writes. No, it doesn’t. There is a clear distinction between a vulva wax and a scrotum wax. Possibly it “Disregards women’s boundaries and dignity”, but in a unique way. I don’t expose myself in a loo, I use a cubicle. It is easy enough to make the distinctions and see where trans rights are justified, unless you want to make a transphobic point.

“There is a bitter divide between trans allies and women’s allies,” she writes. That is the hideous lie. It is not all cis women against trans women, many support trans rights. I am glad of the female politicians Stewart quotes taking a stand, though she mocks them.

Stewart writes of another Canadian case in which a cis woman would not share a room in a hostel with a “masc-presenting” trans woman, that is, one with a beard and men’s clothes, and so was evicted. That’s a difficult case. I don’t think UK law would require the trans woman to share with a woman. But then my voice does not pass as female. There is a line to be drawn, and if it is at stealth then I don’t measure up.

So liberal media plays the conservative game, drawing attention to problematic trans women, which has the effect of making us look bad. Yes it’s transphobic to judge all trans women by a few onjectionable trans women, just as it would be antisemitic to judge all Jews. It does not mean people don’t do it.

People often think of issues in terms of individual stories. The relentless focus on unpleasant trans women turns people against us.

To end on a positive, here are those female politicians Stewart quotes. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says “trans women are women”. Mhairi Black, Scottish MP, supports us. And The Herald is on both sides like the Guardian, with an opinion piece saying Scotland must introduce gender reform.

Paula Rego

The woman’s face shows calmness and certainty. She is richly dressed in a full long gold-coloured skirt and black close-fitting jacket. We look up at her, not only at the picture hung on the wall but in the world of the picture, whose perspective suggests a view from her waist height. In her right hand she carries a sword. She is an angel: of vengeance, it seems. That crease at the right of her mouth, turning upwards: she has no malevolence, just one clear task.

In her left hand she carries a sponge, which the caption refers to the sponge held up to dampen Jesus’ lips at the crucifixion, but I more prosaically think of as cleansing. I love to gaze up at this strong woman.

She is part of a series, after a novel. The next picture is of a paedophile priest, face and body twisted on a bed. The caption indicates he is in sexual arousal, I would not have imagined that explanation. Rego is angrier than I, not clinging to comfort, clearer seeing. There is no avenging angel in the novel.

There are women at the backstreet abortionist’s, anticipating the treatment or curled in a ball after it, with faces and postures that could be completely broken or in grim determination.

The exhibition starts with works from the time of the Salazar dictatorship, with an intense anger in “when we had a house in the country we’d throw marvellous parties then we’d go out and shoot negroes”, or “Salazar vomiting the homeland”. A host of solitary figures on the canvas are twisted and distorted, not relating or related.

And then there are the men. Her husband had MS, and ran her father’s business into the ground, and she portays him curled on a bed in a skirt, with women in control. Or two girls dressing a dog. The dog has no fight or resistance left. They control him.

Or, “The Maids,” based on a play. That’s a man’s face, not an “androgynous” one as the caption says. He sits, in women’s clothes, unaware or acquiescent of their knowingness and control.

The exhibition ends with a picture of the artist painting a sleeping man. The caption suggests that this reverses the usual order, but she might be read as femininely attentive, carefully looking up at him. On her face I read professional absorption, calmly executing a task. Her calf is firmly supporting her, and is emphasised in my view. I look at that strong calf in the court shoe with slight heel.

Strong women, without illusion, doing what must be done, and passive or useless men. I find these women intensely beautiful, as role model or imagined partner.

The works, mostly in pastel on paper mounted on aluminium, are wonderfully smooth of surface. I chatted to a worker at the gallery. Normally, she says, hanging an exhibition, you just get on with it, fixing the pictures to the wall like a carpenter on a building site; but here they unwrapped the pictures and were increasingly overwhelmed, delighting in them.