Masculine ideal, feminine reality

I lay on the floor weeping “I am not a man”, and I knew I had to transition. But what is this “Man” I was rejecting? It was the idea of masculinity I had taken in from my family, the wider culture and individual interactions with people. Underneath it was a Real Me, rebelling and subverting it, so that I was at war with myself.

I imagined myself manly, and took action to develop that. I joined the territorial army. Why did they not send me to the District Assessment Board? Because I was “insufficiently military”. This does not mean that women could not be army officers. I told a female officer I would be attending, and then later that I would not, holding back tears. Tears would certainly not have been military, and she acknowledged that effort while distancing herself- I had been a possible friend, and was now a private.

What else? The army is the myth I picked on. Walking the Lairig Ghru, perhaps, and back by the Lairig an-Laoigh. I was at risk, and should not have done it alone: at the end, I was exhausted. I had to ford a stream where the plank bridge had been washed away, wading thigh deep in fast flowing, cold water; I did not know what the Ordnance Survey map symbol for “cliffs” meant, so clambered down rocks, twisting the frame of Trefor’s rucksack. I was OK, I managed. I feel that self-reliance is a good thing which need not be gendered, and I coped with the challenges I had not anticipated. I don’t know where I am with that: proud of doing it; not sure about the instinct which drove me to it, which could be an idea of manhood and my own failure to live up to it, bullying myself or developing myself.

Developing myself was good. I wanted to keep fit, and settled for swimming about a mile three times a week. I could enjoy the effort. Everyone should exercise.

Interactions with others- it is so instinctive. How could I know, now, or read from memory what was going on? What I thought at the time and what I would think now support my ideas and desires. When I started in Perthshire, I wrote in my diary: “I cannot endure this job. I must enjoy it.” I did not understand the world, any more than anyone else in his early twenties. I know more three decades on.

It seems that the “manhood” was one part of my being, who I thought I had to be to fit in with society, and my femininity was unconscious, manifesting itself in my behaviour despite attempts to control it but not acknowledged or valued, seen as weakness and failure. I have two models to understand this. Picking on two parts of the self oversimplifies, but the models do and I feel they map on to each other fairly well, and to my Masculine Ideal v Feminine Reality.

Richard Rohr, mystic contemplative, favours the unconscious self which comes into consciousness as we age, the Reality which I had to transition to unearth. Life and God ask us to let go of our false self—the passing, egoic identity we’ve manufactured in order to cope and survive. To be freed from self-preoccupation, we must be centered in the Real, our inherent and unbreakable identity as God’s beloved. Once we’re connected to our Source, we know that our isolated, seemingly inferior or superior individual self is not that big a deal. The more we cling to self-importance and ego, the more we are undoubtedly living outside of union.

Steve Peters favours the ideal self which you consciously imagine yourself to be. Unusually, he gives his academic title on his book cover- “Prof”- to give himself credibility. Do you sabotage your own happiness and success? Are you struggling to make sense of yourself? Do your emotions sometimes dictate your life? Yes, yes and yes; but I had to let them, as trying to impose that ideal which I came to consciously was torturing me. He wants to give the ideal the power to control the emotional, unconscious part underneath, which he calls the “Inner Chimp”.

The book cover quotes “Sir” Chris Hoy: The mind programme that helped me win my Olympic Golds. The Inner Chimp, laziness and the inability to defer gratification, gives way to an ideal of devotion to training and mastery.

Possibly making a crude identification- Feminine Reality equals God’s Beloved equals Inner Chimp- gets in the way. Rohr has seen the beauty and wonder of the Human part, which he finds underlying, and Peters the beauty and wonder of the conscious understanding, which he wants to develop. Peters wants the Chimp on board, and the person finding goals which the whole person supports.

Certainly some people find the negotiation between the two easier than others. I find it particularly difficult. I feel seeing the wonder, good and beauty in both parts would help. I need to understand, value and reconcile both.

Trans women are no threat

Self-declaration is the way to make gender recognition fair. I do not need a psychiatrist to tell me who I am. No-one who is AMAB will declare herself to be a woman lightly, and a few safeguards will make that risk minimal: requiring a change of name, requiring an oath or affirmation, making it slightly more difficult to change back, will prevent people doing it for laughs.

When cis women say self-declaration is a threat, or that women should be consulted, it is hard to find what they feel the threat comes from. From all trans women? We generally transition because we are soft and gentle and not conventionally masculine. Whether or not you think that is “feminine” or womanly or women would be like that but for Patriarchy, it means we are not likely to hurt other women. We don’t like to be noticed, because when we are we may suffer violence from others. If you call us a threat that is threatening to us: others may feel justified in attacking us to “defend” themselves or others.

Or is it from a small minority of trans women? Some of us are violent; but then so are some cis women. There is a greater risk in a changing room from cis women, because there are more of them. Most people are peaceable.

Or from men pretending to be trans women, to get access to women’s space? There should be no minimum standards of visible femininity to be an acceptable trans woman, because a lot of us don’t pass, and “women’s clothes” is a problematic category. But people can see where something is off, and generally a trans woman will want to appear to be making an effort. We don’t want to be noticed, because that is a threat to us. Men are a threat to women, but do not need to dress as women to attack women.

Possibly particular groups could be treated differently. Perhaps self-declaration should not be enough to transfer a prisoner from a men’s to a women’s prison. But there could be easy safeguards in such cases, requiring psychiatric assessment and a period of adjustment before transfer. Having to express themselves as women in a male prison, or go into segregation, would deter all but the most determined prisoners, and the trans women are the most determined.

Where a woman has been attacked or violated recently, she may feel particularly vulnerable. She may feel a woman’s changing room should be a safe space, and be disturbed to see someone she reads as a man there. I sympathise with that. I try to be sensitive. I am not demonstrative in women’s space, but make myself small so as not to be noticed. That seems to be the source of the objection, though: the problem is all trans women, and cis women may be offended or disturbed to see us in women’s space. That is, it is a phobic reaction, a disproportionate sense of threat, or attaching the sense of threat to something unthreatening, as a spider is unthreatening, really, to an arachnophobe.

They do not see themselves as phobic, but as reasonable. There is the cause of the anger. It is extreme anger, especially when they congregate together, exemplified by Linda Bellos on a platform saying “If anyone of those bastards [transwomen] comes near me, I will take my glasses off and thump them. [crowd laugh] Yes I will take my glasses off… But I do, I am quite prepared to threaten violence, because it seems to me that what they are seeking to do is piss on all women.” For her, I am part of an undifferentiated “Them”, a threat to her wanting to damage all [cis] women.

Fortunately, women who are not transphobic do see that we are unthreatening, and support us.

Coming Out

We went to the “Coming Out” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Here we find a picture book about a child called “Tiny”, whose name and clothes do not indicate what sex they are. A boy thinks that silly and wrong, but the teacher stands up for them. I think, how wonderful not to have your gender expression policed based on your sex, but that would not prevent bullying and hostility. All children should be treated that way, and very young children know women should not wear ties: we would observe adults even if we did not know gender.

There are two Hockney paintings, “We two boys together,” from before 1967, and one of a man getting out of a Californian pool. There are six photographs by a lesbian of herself in mannish poses which I find beautiful. I love her strong face, her level gaze, the naturalness of her spread legs and arms, making herself bigger, the way the camera looks up at her. I notice the background has been cut away from one, and a clear blue sky replaces it, with a hand-drawn line between. L would not have noticed. So, spending time with art works increases my appreciation. I saw the butterfly in my first time considering Uli’s painting; she noticed it after owning the thing for months.

Why is it in an art gallery? Excellent question. A curator paid to judge such things considers that it says something worthwhile, or is beautiful or striking. Why am I drawn to it is more difficult. I find the woman beautiful, and love her challenge to femininity- or, perhaps, her otherness from femininity, inhabiting her self as if “femininity” did not exist. I can’t imagine wearing Grayson Perry’s cream coming out dress, with flat chest and sash like a little girl’s party frock, with colourful motifs which are disembodied cock-and-balls, arranged in circles like flowers or tied with a bow like a flying creature. It’s not normal, and I find that empowering, because neither am I.

Some paintings here are by gay artists, and not on diversity of gender or sexuality at all. Does the artist’s sexuality imbue any painting? This minimalist landscape, with a green background. The green is slightly mottled by the moments of application. I notice that, when I study it. That tiny pool grabs my attention. The lines which could be the edge of sky, and the straight line grid with only one line diagonal, as if creating a third dimension.

We went off round the German Christmas market, where people drink warmed wine as the snow falls. It’s a party atmosphere before the city hall. The tat is overpriced. I like the dragon which breathes out smoke from a joss stick, but only as an idea. I would not want it in my house. There’s a huge plastic Santa on a roof, cheeks blotchy red from cold or from drink. Recorded music blasts out and drunken men sing along. We talk of our conflicts. L’s are principled. How do we oppose oppression? Is “Fit at any size” better than an attempt to get to a “healthy” BMI ignoring all other factors in a person’s life, or is it just another thing which misses the point? A PhD lets her be heard, but is the kind of way of evaluating who and what is worth hearing that she opposes. I find a principled struggle for freedom for all.

The Edwardian Teashop in the museum. I would not mind using these people as an audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen”
-Would you stop there?
-Ladies, Gentlemen and others?
She gives a long list which I will not approximate: I found it. Butches, Radfems and Kingsters, Nancyboys, Nellies, Dandies and Drakes, Bears, soft butches, chubsters, chicks with dicks, ponces and goddesses, two-spirited folk, pansexuals, asexuals, lesbians gay men and bisexuals…

On the train the woman talked enthusiastically of working for Network Rail, and the ideas of the engineers. She does not follow all of it, but notices a smoother or rockier ride. That group of young posh people mentioned a man so keen on appearing hipster that he wore glasses he did not need.

Birmingham

I got chatting to a woman on the train. When I found she lived in Swanston I cadged a lift there from Nupton, saving about forty minutes waiting in the cold or clanking along in the bus. I almost warned her not to trust strangers, but am delighted with this stranger’s kindness.

I must get a notebook. The train recording voice kept repeating something like If you have a pushchair, please step onto the platform first then remove the pushchair backwards. I love “Please do not behave like an idiot” notices and announcements. Presumably they had a pushchair accident recently, perhaps with shopping (please God not a toddler) falling onto the line. We could condense announcements: Please remember to take all personal belongings, including pushchairs, if you are leaving the train. “I knew there was something I had forgotten” is not an excuse.

I can more or less remember the words of the recorded voice, repeated at each station, but not of the plummy young accents in the train to Birmingham. They were gossiping of a girl who, desired by a young man, made out with another woman to mess with his head. I could have noted the details, and the words they used- something like “psycho bitch” in tones of approval, but if I try to remember now I would write the kind of thing I myself would say enthusing about her. The character would flatten out. Or the man who sat beside me. He wanted to tell me how he did not understand the ticket machines. He had not used them before. He had left his travel pass at home, so had to pay £12 for a ticket. He has family in “Cov”, but he likes his flat in Birmingham, where he has lived for twelve years. He smelt a little, but not the worst I have smelled. I wondered if people from there generally called it “Cov”.

A woman on the bus got the Metro free paper. The front page story was of a rapist aged 17 who had attempted to murder his victim to cover up his crime. “That’s somebody’s son,” she said. “Seventeen, and his life is blighted for ever”. I hope that is a commendable ability to see the suffering of all involved, rather than a patriarchal valuing of the boy even when he does something so vile. She did not comment on the woman involved.

I went to Birmingham to meet Lucy. She was delayed by snow, and I hung around a bookshop. I hated “The Chimp Paradox” so much I almost bought it to challenge my preconceptions. A psychiatrist, Steve Peters, simplifies brain physiology to argue your frontal lobe is your human part, rational, compassionate and humane, and the limbic system is your “inner chimp,” the emotional part which thinks and acts without our permission. You have to tame your inner chimp. I am with Mary Oliver, You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and Walt Whitman, I know I am solid and sound. Like all people. It behoves us to know ourselves, and have all parts in concert, but there is no “rationality”, not even any analytical thought, without emotion. Reason is the slave of the passions, and if I subdued my “inner chimp”, or “soft animal”, I would merely become the slave of someone else’s.

Safe space, free speech and hate speech

No trans woman should have to hear that trans women are a threat to cis women, without robust rebuttal, ideally by allies rather than ourselves. In particular in universities, where trans women are in their late teens and early twenties, where they live on or near campus and spend much of their time on campus, they should be protected from the idea that we are a threat, either ourselves or that violent men will pretend to be women in order to assault women, if we get recognition. If people say we are a threat, they feel entitled to use violence against us to protect themselves or others.

That might be the most protection we can get.

Safe spaces in Britain have been created by students, usually allies protecting fellow students. This started with far right speakers attacking students of south Asian heritage. The leaders of Britain First, recently retweeted by Trump, or the English Defence League have nothing of use or interest to say, cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and are grossly offensive to most students, not just Muslims. If you do not have the basic empathy to feel with those minority students, you have something wrong with you. Some students are prejudiced, and BAME students will receive microagressions, but generally the most overt racism is taboo.

Now, the National Union of Students policy is that attacks on students cannot be tolerated, and it was a cis woman NUS women’s officer who opposed Germaine Greer speaking in Cardiff. Their video here explains that as charities they have to be careful external speakers do not incite hate crimes, and consider health and safety. That is separate from their no-platform policy, which bans the EDL and Al-Muhajiroun. Freedom of speech should be balanced with the right to be safe from harm, such as Linda Bellos saying she would take off her glasses and punch one of those bastards- trans women. That is incitement to violence, but as they put it it might have a “possible impact on campus cohesion”, emboldening TERFs to mock or threaten trans women. If “risks or tension arose at a similar event before” that might be a reason to refuse a speaker a platform within the Student Union. The Union might consider “robust regulatory steps” to allow a higher risk event to go ahead. Steps to mitigate risk could include having Union officials observe, stewards provide security, or the speech submitted to the Union in advance.

Germaine Greer could simply have been told not to mention trans people. At another speech she made in Norwich she refused to answer a question about trans women, saying “What do I know?”

The risk to cis women of trans women in women’s loos is less than the risk from other cis women. Self-certification when one pledges to live in the acquired gender life-long by oath is sufficient protection against people faking.

Before researching this I did not know the difference between the No Platform policy, applied to particular extremist groups, and the External Speakers policies, applied to all speakers. This is arcane. When everyone knows about the difference, it is a useful distinction to allow people to distinguish different issues. When listeners might not know, there can be a bait and switch, making someone answer about extremist groups and then ridiculing the answer as if it applied to any speaker.

Confidence II

Confidence is knowing how to get what you want, says Helen. No; confidence is thinking of things going right, with reasonable belief, rather than of things going wrong, and the things that you fear happening are never the things going wrong that actually happen. Confidence is imagining What people will think as approving admiring accepting rather than criticising or opposing. Confidence and motivation intertwine: when I cannot see any point, or chance of success, I cannot bring myself to start. At a worse stage, I don’t know what I want because it seems so impossible that I can’t admit to myself I want it. I suppress it.

Each of us here is reeling or prostrate from some blow or other.

What do you do when you feel fear? Take alcohol, says a man. Touch my face or hair, bow my head, says a woman. I may withdraw, or go into anger and confrontation. Ideally I can be conscious of the fear, feel it and allow it, not make an outward sign of it because I can admit and accept it, perhaps imagine a homunculus within, pacing and freaking while I stay still.

“Homunculus. I like that word,” says Helen. I repeat it. Next day she says it again.
-You learned that word quickly.
-I am a languages teacher.

“The only time I am confident is with a horse,” says a woman. She is in a situation she knows well, knows what to do and what might happen. You need to show confidence with horses or they may take advantage. And with people.

Helen is frightened of motorbikes. Twice on the pillion with different riders she did not lean the correct way, and got shouted at.

Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with a feeling of helplessness, she quotes. However this does not tell us how.

Communication. You need to say what you want. I am elliptical, then peeved when I am misunderstood.

We are at the jobcentre, and getting us into work is the thing. Have you ever said to yourself it would be nice to swim with dolphins, but not done anything about that. I have another rare word for this, “velleity”. Mine is hang-gliding. Dev has done several parachute jumps. But then, getting a job is important and you have to do that, whether or not you take the steps to swim with dolphins. Goals must be SMART, Specific, Memorable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. At all this sensible stuff, I am switched off. Write your goals down, she says. Stick to your plan. My priority is my own mental health, not quite the same as equanimity.

How would I feel if I had achieved all my goals? She has pictures showing delight and satisfaction. I imagine feeling relief, disbelief, and misery as I contemplate the next thing I have to do. I would feel no better. I realise mine is a depressive reaction, minimising the good, accentuating the bad.

Find your happy. I find her suggestions, of countryside beauty, unimaginative, as if only rest can make me happy. Fifteen things to give up- no, to replace. I cannot give something up until I realise what it does for me, and what else might do that better.

I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it, said Maya Angelou. I have been reduced by what happened to me, whether the most resilient person in the world would have been ground down by it or the least resilient would have brushed it off. Can I bounce back?

Everybody has difficulties. Stop putting yourself down.

Unfortunately my propensity to put myself down is one of the things I criticise myself about. It does not make me feel better. How can I imagine what I may realistically achieve?

I have not been put down as drastically as one woman, whose partner said she was fat and ugly and no-one else would look at her. “Prostitutes wear knee-high boots,” he said. I like boots too. I have heard of men choosing a woman because they don’t think she would ever leave them. I felt anger at that moment. How dare he.

Harlan, who went to school after physical punishment was banned, said “I would have taken the cane off him and shoved it up his arse”. An older person said There’s no discipline nowadays.

“Nobody is thick or stupid, it’s about the opportunities you were given.”

Just coping can leach your confidence. You are always stressed, and the stress gets too much. Helen says we should give ourselves a pat on the back for coping- ie, look on the positive. We are here. We are survivors. Mark said he wants not to cope, but own the situation. He had to leave home and move to a new town aged 18, and feels he has never grown up. He is completely irresponsible.

“I did everything on my own but then something happened which knocked my confidence.”

At the end of all this, we have not been told how, just that we should get back up and keep going, somehow. However. It has been quite fun, meeting people, talking.

Confidence

By the end of the week, he had a tin on the table in front of him, openly: it had a picture of a cannabis leaf, and the words “EnviroMENTALLY FRIENDLY”. That’s confidence, I suppose, happy to be who he is, without hiding, though the law still disapproves. I wonder if there was anything in that tin. Even as a symbol of his rule-breaking, it made me nervous.

Helen asked us to remember a moment when we had felt confident. I told of one- I don’t know why I felt that way, I just did. I walked to the queue of Promenaders at the Royal Albert Hall, passing a technician’s van and cracking a joke at the technician, who grinned. Possibly I skipped the queue a bit, my memory is hazy on that one. The queue advanced into the hall, and when I got to the front of it the door was closed as fire regulations would permit no more people. So I suggested to the woman next to me that we go for a drink, and we went out together for two months. And another evening we went over the railings into Hyde Park, and held hands.

-You were smiling as you told that story.

I was. Perhaps it is good to remember such things. Good things happen.

Icebreaker, say something no-one would guess of you. I was on Channel 4 news. I tell the story: I got a doctor sacked for lying, and for a level of arrogance remarkable even in a doctor. And we got one of my clients on the news. That was back in the day when the “story” journalists told was sometimes doctors wrongly finding disabled people not entitled, rather than shirkers working the system

(Helen passes me a tissue).

I wanted to be the expert talking head, but as a consolation prize I performed as a doctor, coming up to a door in a terrace and knocking on it. My back in my black coat and my briefcase were visible for a few seconds as the journalist described the doctors over doomy synth music.

I got him sacked. As the word of a benefit claimant would never be believed over a professional man’s, I got seventeen of them, all saying the same thing. I have done these things. I have striven and achieved. And now I can’t see the point and would rather hide away.

-You can confront others.
-It does not do any good.
-How do you feel?
-Rueful, ridiculous, despairing, empty.

I am still doing some worthwhile things.

At another time I recited my affirmation! How could I, with these people? I closed my eyes as I did, not wanting to be aware of their responses. I forgot the words “truth and courage”. I did not like the all-purpose affirmation offered, it was not authentic for me. Remind yourself daily that you are amazing. That you can do anything. That you are unstoppable. That you are a great person. That you are of value to the world. That you have the power to do anything you want to do and you can be anyone you want to be. Do this every day to tap into your true potential and live an amazing life. I don’t know what I want to do. I find what I want when I see what I do. I imagine I want something and do nothing towards achieving it. I would say that and think of times it was proved wrong. Looking at it again I see it is not all bad. I am of value to the world. Charlotte who was in sales likes all of it.

Someone says you don’t have the power to do anything, or the time. You could be at a professional level trailbiking, says the man with the tin, but still need sponsors and money.

Helen encourages us in self-talk: not “I am weak”, but “I am strong”. I don’t even like that. I am enough may be true and affirming.

Non-gendered

The toilets had signs on them saying “all gender toilets- urinals and stalls” and “all gender toilets- stalls”. Still there was a long queue in the stalls only loos, and none in the one with urinals, where I saw one brave AFAB person as I walked in. The smell there is far worse. I could use the “urinals and stalls” loos if that was normal or conventional. We sought “stealth”, where no-one would notice us, for if we were noticed we would suffer, and now we might be “visibly trans”, taking the risk, hoping we won’t come across the violent bigot; and yet I just want to be normal, going about my normal business, which includes using loos. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder, and I don’t think I should have to.

It is rare to bump into an acquaintance in London, but Nell saw me in the Tate and said Hello. She had been there drawing from the pictures, as part of her art class, and showed me a picture on her phone. An artist had painted her husband wearing a wedding dress. Of course it is the kind of thing that interests me, and it still perturbs me, still knocks me off balance. It is a reminder of my vulnerable sexuality, the sensuality which has always seemed merely weak to me, which has never given me pleasure. I am that vulnerable self which even I despise. I feel I should not be tortured by my own sexuality.

Some might call that male privilege and a sense of entitlement that I might feel I could evade comments on my looks or sexuality. I read about “non-dual consciousness”, that state of presence in the moment when we are aware of surroundings, and I know that it can be exhilarating. It makes me feel real. So avoiding self-consciousness by being absorbed in my thoughts, not noticing the people around me, so that if anyone has remarked that I am trans I would not see it, is a loss, a price I pay. People tend to look at the most attractive of us, and the weirdest. For stealth I might aspire to the invisible middle. I am as uncomfortable as anyone, walking down the street, I just deal with that discomfort in my own way. Or, I am wrapped in razor wire, so any movement is painful.

Tate had “Flux”, an evening of talks and films on gender and its subversion, aimed at ages 18-25 and with a few older trans women. Few people seemed to present as “the other” gender, but played with gendered expression. Some were particularly eye-catching- as attractive, rather than weird. “Introduce the person next to you”, we were told. I had just met Ashton, and said, “I don’t know Ashton’s pronouns, but love Ashton’s style”. Mmm. I can either assume female pronouns or imply there is a doubt. “They or she” she/they said. She wears a pinstripe suit with narrow trousers and trainers. Her hair is shaved to ear level, then frizzes out above, died blue. She plays nervously with the leather thong on a journal, and later performs for us, reading her poetry.

We did word association games in small groups, which made others but not me self-conscious- no, she/he/they does not want to say the word which came first into their head- then constructed poems from prompts. One prompt was microaggressions, and two women (?) looked at a page saying

Where are you from?
No, where are you really from?

which I find more than micro. The best line from our poem was “Gender is like a Summer hat in Winter”, but that sees it as merely oppressive or ridiculous. I feel it could be a joyous source of self-expression, if only one was expressing one’s own gender rather than someone else’s. I read the poem, and enjoyed performing it.

After, the editors of Beyond the Binary had a panel discussion, and lots of us sat on the floor to hear them, reclining on scattered cushions. Does anyone know how hard it is to get a GRC? Very few of us did. They expressed anger at the difficulty, which I could say more succinctly- I don’t need a psychiatrist to state who I am– yet with less anger. So, it’s bureaucratic- just like getting a passport is.

What were non-binary people, before the word “non-binary” was popularised?

After, I went to a fish and chip restaurant with H, got the train home, cycled from the station.

Feeling good II

I moved her to tears. Happy tears, or those tears you cry when you had a burden, and it is lifted, and you are enabled to see the full pain of it.

That confidence building course built my confidence. But I have had to think about it, helped by this logic puzzle by Alex Bellos in the Guardian. I am fairly sure I have got the puzzle right, by squeezing every bit of information I can infer from the information given. As I write, the answer had not been published.

I made her cry by sharing my understanding of the inner critic, which I got from others, and my response to it, which is my own. The inner critic is a frightened child part of me, and of you, and I will not bully it because I will show love to all of me. That means listening, but not accepting its view, which is unduly pessimistic. So I imagined it as a little girl, and dressed her in a white velvet dress. Her options are to sit on the naughty step, or to dance and sing. Or, perhaps, to accept my reassurance. I am safe enough, good enough, capable enough. There is worry, and it need not overwhelm me.

Zoe wrote it down, as she wanted to remember it. This is always a lovely experience. At a community building event I recited a poem I had written, and someone asked me to write it out for her. The next day she recited it to me from memory. I feel warmed and valued. She treats me with respect, but she truly respects what I say.

Charlotte cried a little. No, she is not laughing, and concealing it by pretending. She values what I say. Another exercise Helen gave was to say three words about another person here. We have opened up a little, though at the jobcentre we don’t trust. I have opened up a fair bit as I will, even when I do not trust. Charlotte was given me, and called me “calm, inspiring, thoughtful, kind, unique”. Five words rather than three.

Inspiring.

That’s a good word. That’s not just picking a word for the sake of it. She has been bitterly attacked by her inner critic, and my words hold the prospect of relief. Those were tears of relief.

I felt a little low on Saturday. No, I felt low- do not minimise my feelings. I felt low. I thought, yesterday I did something worthwhile, I touched those women deeply, they valued it, they valued me. I did not find it difficult, saying a piece of wisdom I read and elaborated years ago, but not everyone could. That made me feel valuable. I have so few such experiences, so little opportunity for that! And now, squeezing every bit of joy from Charlotte’s tears, I decide that it need not be a transitory moment- Oh! I did something worthwhile!- but can be a memory to create joy. I was reminded of that NLP technique, at another time in the course: think of a joyous memory, associate a gesture with it, then use the gesture to evoke that joy and confidence. Years ago I picked on my nieces and nephew crying excitedly “It’s Uncle John!” as I went up their path, which was less joyous after I transitioned, and Susan stopped me seeing them.

So possibly those other two might value my company. I am not merely interesting as a specimen.

I am sailing close to the wind here, but- you have not hurt me. If you tell me something, and I know it is wrong, it need not hurt me. If we are distant, now, if you let me down then, that is all you were capable of at those times, but you appear capable of more sometimes- I have seen it. I want to be open to you, and show my darkness as well as light, for

the night is as bright as the day
darkness and light to You are both alike

My darkness is beautiful. You will see that in time. I have faith in you, though you have let me down (and I you, though I do my best)

No. I am quite certain I have that puzzle right, though as I write the answer is not yet published.

Ceasing to pretend

Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two banks the river of my life flows.
– Nisargadatta Maharaj

Helen wants me to fix goals, ideally to get a job. My goal is to stay on benefits, because it is a lifestyle I can cope with, I am in control, and there is only just enough money. I tried to make a difference once, and it was too hard.

I tell Tina of Mark, the playwright. Helen’s powerpoint slide said she got divorced, but actually she only split up from someone she was cohabiting with. She changed it to “divorced” in case a religious person judged her. “Hallelujah,” said Mark, bitterly, imagining himself humorous. I challenged it, saying that I am very religious, and do not judge others. Mark says all religions are like a cult, brainwashing people. Harlan tells of his cousin, who was “a bit slow”

-do you mean he had learning difficulties? challenges Helen-

who converted to Islam and ended up in a mental asylum. We do not stick to the subject. Today Harlan, instead of referring coyly to “relaxants”, named his crime as if daring anyone to make something of it. He smokes weed. He used to smoke £100 a week, now since having his kids it’s £30, and as far as he is concerned that’s money in his pocket.

We go off the subject easily. It is diverting enough.

Do you want to change yourself? asks Tina. You said Mark, just like you, is “walled up behind a mask or persona, disappointed and resentful”. That’s heavy shit.

I want to stay on benefits because the uncertain generosity of whoever is filling Ian Duncan-Smith’s tiny shoes- David Gauke, Google tells me- is pleasanter and more reliable than any chance of earning money. Helen challenged us on Monday to think of what we would like to do, at the end of her course, and I wrote to be myself without the mask. And now I think I am lots of different acts, but always acts.

On Sunday, with her, what happened? Possibilities:
-she used me as waste disposal, and I liked it.
-It was nothing under the surface beyond what happened.
-we were playing a game together which both enjoyed. I hope that. It would be intimate. She holds me at arms length.

-What parts of you are there, meeting her?

It might be easier to say what parts are not. My resentment is under the surface, always balanced with fascination. My care, appreciation and playfulness are there. I am articulate, except when she asks why I thought we might be embarrassed to meet, and I could not answer her. Because she could always withhold her acceptance of my answer, and question each answer in recursion.

-What’s that feel like?
-Sad and powerless.

For which part are you sad? The lawyer or the romantic? The older or younger self?
-Possibly all of me.
And at that my inner critic explodes in triumph and derision. But I am just a set of different acts, I said. I am proved inconsistent and incomprehending.

There is sadness in me, and there are other feelings. I am sad about her, wanting union, partnership. Fascinated, resentful, I love to see her. What I get is wonderful, and I am held at arms’ length.

-What do you get? Unrequited love?
-Her presence, charisma, sparkle. I will keep coming back for that.

-Have you ever been loved?

Yes. A woman loves me, and I did not know, and now we cannot be together. My father let me down. My mother was too scared. H called me “Cariad”, and now I think of her with pity, despair, irritation. She always responded the wrong way to everything, I burst out. We betrayed each other repeatedly is an old line I am not sure is true.

-And what about yourself?
I like myself and I wish myself well. I despise myself. I am very beautiful.

Those voices, you despise yourself; you are beautiful. How opposite are they?
-I am opposites.
-We all are. I see them both, but they don’t talk to each other. The different parts of you pull you apart sometimes. We’ve got to get those parts talking to one another.

So we arrange to skype again.