An open mind

How could you know if you had an open mind? If something disproves what you believe you know, could you change your opinion, or would you just ignore it?

I still debate with young-earth Creationists, mainly on Violet’s blog. I listened to this fascinating programme on the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum. About 56m years ago, over a period of about 1,000 to 20,000 years, vast amounts of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere, by volcanoes and burning coal deposits, and the temperature of the planet increased. There were forests at the poles. Global temperatures increased by 5-8°C. Different assertions will have different levels of dispute or certainty, and for the educated layperson a scientist might elide certain details for ease of explication, but the broad outline is clear. I find it wonderful how the evidence is recovered and interpreted, the care and precision of the investigators, the wealth of evidence. So I recommended the programme to two YECs, hoping that they would be as inspired by it as I was.

Sadly, Tiribulus wasn’t. He did not intend “sneering derisive dismissal”, he said, but accused the scientists of “spectacular intellectual dishonesty”. He claimed to understand their “claims”, but also their “method bias and out of hand pre-conclusions”. All unbelievers have similar bias, he says.

His response makes me miserable. The language of “bias”, formulated to enable us to see how we misinterpret evidence and help us perceive more clearly, he uses to write off something which challenges his view. Unbelievers cannot think properly, he says, as Jesus quoting Isaiah predicted- He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.

He is defended against challenge to his falsehoods, because he has a great need to believe them- so that he can remain part of his community, so that he is not distressed by the falsehoods the community spouts, perhaps so that he can feel superior to outsiders, or ignore them, and possibly because he experienced his life before conversion as chaotic and “sinful”, and feels any backsliding from his current position means falling into similar sin.

He has threatened to recommend something to me, claiming “fairness” would oblige me to listen or read it. I might not spend fifty minutes on it.

How would I know if I were open minded? I am open minded on Creationism. I am aware of theories of the origin and development of the Bible, and how the story of the Flood was adapted from a Sumerian legend, part of the epic of Gilgamesh. As I pick up more about the detail and complexity of understanding of the geologic column, I am inspired by the beauty of it. But then my community does not require me to believe idiocies.

Why does he comment there? Because he sees unrepentant sinners, and wants God to “save us from our sin and give us a new heart”- Because you are fellow bearers of the image and likeness of our God and I care about you. 

Tiribulus believes he understands about the Bible and the errors of unbelievers, and that prevents him coming to the truth. I will not be open minded where I particularly need to believe something, or imagine I understand but do not. When I am not open minded I may imagine I am- for I could not know. I have sought out hints and subtle indications, and sometimes been rewarded.

Perhaps it is all a waste of energy. I grope for greater understanding, but perhaps those who are satisfied with their understanding are better off, devoting their attention to more important, worthwhile things. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. They might be more effectual.

Explaining ourselves

We got to the villa, large and well-appointed, which we got cheaply because of being slightly before the season. The owner welcomed us, and showed us round. He introduced us to the three big dogs- as we walked through the town later to the café, there was a dogs’ chorus. Be friends with your burglar alarm: he wanted them to get to know our smell. “If you have any questions, please do ask,” he says, but we have no questions for him. Really, we want him to leave.  His parents in law are the next house, overlooking the garden. His English seems excellent, with little foreign accent.

We are shy. We do not want to explain ourselves. “They are shy of you, because they have Asperger’s Syndrome,” I could have said. I am shy, because I am Trans. We can pass as normal if we interact as little as possible. Why on Earth would we want to pass? Because explaining does not necessarily make others friendly- they might be put off by our odd manner, but might be mocking or hostile if they knew what we really are. Or even exploit us! And- I am worthwhile to know, but not trusting. I want you to spot that, imagine I might have good reason for it, and work to gain my trust!

Self-hatred is very useful for being able to pass. I have no right to be as I am, and the hostility of others is only to be expected. Or, you despise them, you put on an act for others. The main cause is fear. We pass because we fear you.

One of us ate something which disagreed with him, and as soon as we got home he was copiously sick in the gutter. There is a hose in the car port, and I hosed it down the drain. Later, the father in law came over. “We wondered if you are all alright? We saw he was sick in the gutter.” This could be friendly concern, and I experienced it as checking up on us. What are they doing wrong? Make them stop. Even, punish us in some way. We just want him to go away. No, no, we’re absolutely fine, there is no problem at all, and we say this not meeting his eyes, looking shifty. I fear, loathing the thought, that I come over as submissive.

I did think, later, of going over and asking for help, taking both at their word, getting to know them a bit, letting down my guard, approaching directly not circumspectly. Are there any tourist attractions for our friend, who has huge difficulty with stairs? I am a human being. Every human being has idiosyncrasies. I should not be judged for mine.

There is a large pile of wood, and a fireplace between the living room and my bedroom, with glass doors to each. I get a fire going easily- just call me the Pyromage! It has a strong draw, but we have more difficulty getting heat out of it rather than going up the chimney.

The kitchen is lovely. Twice we had sausage and mash, and twice we had pizzas. The trouble with passing, of living in fear of and at war with the world, is that you have less energy to explore how the world’s beauties and gifts may delight you, or to make it delight you, for you do not realise you deserve that.

Integrating the self

I have not spoken to my counsellor for over a month, so have a lot of material to work with. I tell her of my dispute with Quakers, lunch with my friend, my holiday.

-I did a little light bullying.
-I don’t think anyone has ever said something like that to me. “How was your holiday?” “Oh, I did a little light bullying.”

I worked quite hard to make sure my friend had as good a holiday as possible, and when I could not find a way threw my weight around to make sure I got what I wanted from it. In particular I was not going to do boring things because conventionally they are supposed to be fun, especially as my companions had such limited ideas of what those were. And because he values my company so much, my friend has to take a certain amount of shit from me.

-You are very hard on yourself.

Yes. “Bullying” and “giving shit” are harsh words for me. I was kind. I was reasonably self-assertive. I was as creative as I could be. My judgment of myself is harsh, and I am allowing the judgment and trying to stop it preventing me doing what I want. Bullying is wrong. My inner critic calls my action bullying, yet I do it anyway. In unsatisfactory circumstances I am happy enough with my conduct.

At one point we reach a stop, and she says she has a question. Fire away.

-You said your internal policeman tasered you for not being sufficiently manly. Did he not get the memo?

We laugh. Apparently not. It is good to be conscious of him, though, rather than just being paralysed. I love the way I make her laugh. I am telling my stories as elegantly and quickly as I can, wanting to get the meaning over, but enjoying how I word them well.

Before lunch, H told me a coat would look good on me. I am playing control games. I like them. If that is her controlling me- what does that do for me? It is what I want. It gives me a sense of connection.

-Would you have bought the coat yourself?
-No. Never. But I love it.
-So she is appreciating a part of you which is usually silent, and giving it a voice.

I am addicted to attention. Or at least that is approaching the truth, one facet of it.
-You are being attractive, and valuing that.
-Crying in public could be that addiction. Yet it seems to me that when I cry my unconscious communicates to my conscious how strong my feeling is, and if I can fully accept my depth of feeling I need not show external symptoms. That can be useful.

She does not demur to that.

I have known I am screwed up and at war with myself all my adult life. I am closer to finding the cause of that than I have ever been, and to finding ways round it. My father was feminine, my mother liked that, they both knew it was utterly shameful and no-one must ever find out. I had one honest conversation with my father about it, three months before he died.

This is my work. It is intensely valuable, because I am valuable.

Being controlled, and passive. My best experience of sex so far was with a man who let me lie back, doing nothing, and with gentleness, empathy and generosity opened me up. I was curled up and self-protective, and he got me to open myself to him. He licked me out. “You taste Goood,” he said. I want to do none of the work, and be accepted.

Bullying. It is a harsh judgment. I am crying.

She says it is difficult to integrate the self when it is so repressed. At her request, I show her my yellow coat. It is very yellow.

We arrange another appointment, and then I watch Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I like it. It is decades-old SF entertainment for teenagers, and I still like it. It is beautifully done. I pause it to think.

Do I need it to be in some way objectively good, before I am allowed- can allow myself- to like it? Now I am weeping hard. NO! I like it! Yet this is an exceptionally good episode, ep 3/7, “Civil Defense”. I love the clever ways they come up with to reduce the threat, always making it worse until the end. I love the way the characters respond in ways like themselves: Quark and Odo flirt together beautifully, subtly showing their regard and care for each other as they bicker. It is funny. At the end, there is surely the tiredest cliché- the computer counts down the seconds to Self Destruct- and the tension of it grips me. I love their heroism: continually knocked back, everyone keeps buggering on. I loved the sense of the characters, and see it is the only DS9 writing credit of Mike Krohn- his only other credit is one TV movie, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning. I may watch that episode again, however ridiculous the whole world might find such a complete waste of time.

Being controlled

As we wander through the town centre to the café-pub, she notices a bright-yellow, “Spring-like” coat in a charity-shop window. She says it would look good on me. I go to investigate, and take it from the window display, undoing all its buttons, unwrapping the very long belt. A worker dashes over and pulls the mannequin from the display, then feels the need to explain and apologise- “We’re not allowed to have them in the window without something on them”. I apologise in turn- I am sorry for dismantling the display. “I like it, but it is up to you,” she says. Are the arms a little short- I was descended from gorillas- maybe a little, she thinks. She will not exert herself to persuade me at all.

I buy the coat, and wear it to the pub. I enjoy lunch with her, then cycle home, still wearing the coat.

I am not certain she would think of this, but I analyse obsessively, and decided- she told me what to wear, and I wore it. She took control, and I assented. I really really like that. I could give pathological explanations. My mother was extremely controlling, and it is because of that. I am not behaving like a fully mature adult. I don’t know if any cis woman would feel this way about a man.

I really really like that. And it is shaming, humiliating, NOT HOW A MAN SHOULD BE!!!! RIDICULOUS DISGUSTING SHAMEFUL VILE

The inner critic does not like it. I have such strong internal barriers against this, it is more an internal policeman, with a taser to paralyse me if I stray from the Right Path. It comes from my controlling mother and soft father, who were terrified of anyone finding out.

I called the Samaritans. “I want to talk about sex”, I said. “This is not the phone line for that,” she said, and rang off. With the second, I was more circumspect. I do not want to perv on her, but to sort out my feelings. I have been frightened of my feelings and suppressed them, and want to accept them and feel them fully, for then I feel I pass through them. I need her presence as I do this. Shame, humiliation, resentment, complex unnamed feelings well up within me and I can bear them if I sit in silence, eyes closed, and allow their conflagration, their cacophony. Then such regret!

I told her of leaving the office to kill myself. It was the only thing I could do. I could not bear it, and had to get out immediately without thought for the consequences. The internal policeman does not accept such an excuse, for any human being with the slightest resource or resilience would have had no problem at all. I feel the pain of being in that situation, and then the pain at lost opportunities from never being able to accept that pain, so wanting to hide away, and wonder if some sort of forward movement is possible.

My lunch companion is a friend, not a potential partner. However, after years of trying to make a man of myself and so being unable to let a potential partner in, and loathing my attempts at sex because I did what I thought I should do rather than what I might like, these experiences might help me seek out something which could satisfy me at last. An oddity- as I spoke to the Samaritan woman I was using my female voice. Often, I speak below the break, but not then.

-What will you do next? she asks.

I will watch Call the Midwife on tv. Apart from one token character the men are all stupid, sometimes bumblingly well-intentioned but usually selfish, even violent. And the women take control and sort things out. Just my sort of programme!

berthe-morisot-in-the-dining-room

Suicide

The Samaritan woman wondered if I had thought of killing myself. I have taught myself not to, and this is how.

I wanted to die, and looked longingly at buses- could I fall under one? I started thinking more seriously of it. I decided I must not hurt anyone else. It would hurt my father to know I had killed myself, so it must appear like an accident. But crashing head on, on a fast road, might kill the other driver and their passengers.

-It would be murder, she assented.

And it must be relatively quick. I could not think of a way which satisfied these three requirements, so I did not.

People regret, sometimes immediately. A procurator fiscal told me of a man who had hanged himself with sisal, then tried to loosen the knot, scratching desperately at his neck, but could not. A coroner’s assistant told me of people throwing themselves off the cliffs at the South coast, and landing on a ledge a short way down. Perhaps they broke an ankle, could not climb back up, and died of exposure. Those who survive jumping from bridges- their first thought is often to the effect What have I done!

I contemplated how I loathed killing spiders. I would if I had to, because of my arachnophobe friend, but find them fascinating and beautiful. How much more beautiful is my hand! I might hate myself and want to escape, but how could I kill something as beautiful as this organism?

In 2003, I had had enough. I decided to take painkillers, and thought they would kill me more easily, and I would become unconscious more quickly, if I washed them down with whisky. I went into the living room to get the whisky and found my bathwater dripping through the ceiling. I could not bear that. I called the landlord, who called a plumber to fix it, and when he had gone the feelings had gone away. That was my proof of the existence of God for years after. I told a friend who said, “Your guardian angel knows how you tick”.

-Yes, she said, guardian angels, God looking after us
-sometimes the synchronicities work really well.

In 2009, I was sitting in the office and decided I would kill myself. I had got sleeping pills from my GP, but they were too strong, making me feel tired all the time by day. I kept them in case I decided on suicide. I left the office at 1pm, and went home. I would lie in the bath with a mug of hot chocolate and take my pills. I got home, sat in my living room, and realised I did not want to kill myself, I just had to leave that situation there and then, immediately, without any plan of what to do next.

Since then I have realised how fiercely I want to survive. I could not kill myself. It colours my view of assisted dying. Suicide is stupid. A friend said every time the subject came up, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Perhaps he too had had to talk himself out of it.

berthe-morisot-girl-with-greyhound

Holiday portraits

I like photos of me. So there. On holiday I find wonderful backdrops to set off my beauty, and am relaxed so photograph well, mostly.

This is the backdrop I liked best, in the grounds of the Pena palace, Sintra.

sintra-portrait-3

sintra-portrait-4

The flowers set off my delicate feminine beauty. My face relaxes. The lens was set too wide for the next one, but I look slightly impish, which pleases me.

sintra-portrait-6

Battlements, even fake ones, make a good backdrop. Sintra fake, Obidos real.

sintra-portrait-1

obidos-portrait-1

obidos-portrait

The lens was set too narrow. I wanted more building. Oh well. He questioned it, I said it was how I wanted it, the communication or dynamic was wrong. I am acting here, and not well.

sintra-portrait-2

Ability and disability

He can feel overwhelmed in large crowds, and even with four people he is uncomfortable, preferring no more than two others. I was wrong to say that is “almost an advantage” of a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, but I think I was on to something: the diagnosis can help him recognise the difficulty, and accept it, where without a diagnosis a sense of inadequacy and self-hatred might make him deny it and try to fight it, and only get more flummoxed by it. And the diagnosis can help others accept it too. I would rather someone simply accepted it, realising that it is within ordinary patterns of human diversity, noticed it and allowed for it, but if he explains it to someone and that permits them to accept it, that is something I suppose. Not everyone will say, “Oh, go on! Don’t be silly! You’ll love it when you’re there!”

Introverts unite! We’re here, we’re uncomfortable and we want to go home…

This is part of a healthy teenage, to recognise such limitations and enforce boundaries to self-protect around them. If your boundaries are accepted they need not be overly rigid or protected with anger, and you can push them a bit, try things out, and be helped if you find it too much. If you recognise your gifts, and they are accepted, you can use them to help you flourish as a gift to the community. I have not quite finished my teenage yet.

Then again, we wanted to go to the cathedral. Initially we just parked any old place, and found a caff, and planned what to do next. “You’re going home tomorrow,” I said, “so I think you should get to decide what you want most to do”. I am not sure he had thought of it. He suggested the cathedral. The guide book had said this was dull, but we assented. Getting there was difficult.

Because of physical difficulties he could not use the Metro. He could not descend stairs, and anxiety stopped him using escalators. We might have difficulty with buses. I noticed there was car parking about half a mile from the cathedral, and suggested we park up and walk there. They had lunch in a restaurant, I sat outside with an apple, biscuits and Nutella, in the square by the Military Museum because I had spent too much on lunch previously. There was a busker, some trees and statues, lovely architecture, and a bus station.

Then we set off towards the Cathedral. It was not easy. The tiny cobbles on roads and pavements are uneven to walk on, pavements are narrow and roads are steep. Then again much of Portugal has steep hills, and many cathedrals are surrounded by narrow streets on mediaeval street plans. I find it picturesque. Half way, he needed to go to the toilet and spent ages in a caff.

I sympathise with the graffiti artist, and my photographing it like a pleased tourist is a similar gesture back.

lisbon-near-the-cathedralAnd one of us pointed out the orange trees. I am glad to be somewhere so foreign: the architecture, the way of covering facades with ceramic tiles, and the oranges:

lisbon-cathedral-orange-treesAfter, we waited by the cathedral while one of us went for the car. We could not all have walked back.

“They do not consider disabled people”, he said self-righteously. I wanted to say, no, you’re not thinking of others, of “disabled people”, you’re thinking of yourself. I was irritated by his inability, and by the restrictions it placed on us, irrationally feeling he could try harder. I wanted us to do things he could enjoy, and felt with these difficulties he should not have come to such a hilly place and spent some time planning what he could actually do when he got away. My acceptance is limited by how much I am inconvenienced.

He made a loud, wordless noise. “Just processing emotion,” he said, and I thought, how wonderful, to be able to do that and recognise it. I need to process emotion: I said several times how horrible I found Fatima, not because I thought he did not understand but in order to process my emotion. It is not just Aspergers.

He ate something that disagreed with him, and was sick in the car. At one point we were stationary in the fast lane of the motorway, fortunately in a traffic jam, as he was sick on the central reservation. And I noticed how he caught it in his lap, rather than the well of the seat, thinking this very considerate of him. Self-sacrificing, even. Generous. I can forgive a lot of non-standard behaviour for that.

I write of different people on different days.

Truth and narrative

“True story” is an oxymoron.

I phoned the Tax Credits helpline for advisers, and got nowhere. “You’re being very condensating,” said the man I was referred to, and after half an hour my brain was so cabbaged that I knew he meant something else, but did not know the word for it. Thank you, you don’t need to say it now, I worked it out for myself later.

In the nineties I knew a man, still the most boring man I have ever met. I can’t remember his name, but it ended in an í sound, a contemptuous diminutive, Nicky or Ricky or Donny or something- anyway, he got very drunk on whisky, and ever thereafter could not drink it. He found a sip nauseating. Dismissively contemptuous, Neil said he probably had had no head for it anyway, he got drunk on a couple of glasses.

I associated those stories. “Condensating” was the moment I got nowhere with the benefits authorities, that I could not take any more. I cannot bear it. I could not bear another such conversation, it nauseates me.

Another myth. Margaret saw me as Clare for the first time, and said, “It’s as if you are acting when you’re Stephen, just you when you’re Clare”. Aha, I am a woman really, I am right to transition. The story becomes my conclusive evidence that I am right, the judgment of another person which I cling to, and take out for reassurance from time to time. It is my self-image: I know who I am, and “you’re just you when you’re Clare” is part of it.

Then about a year ago, I took off my wig and put on my cycle helmet, appearing androgynous, but continued talking, and H said “You have this lovely male energy”. Her beliefs, her politics, or her individual judgment of me need have no bearing on me, but have had. I could if I wanted call that comment on Wednesday 2 March 2016 the decisive moment

where my lies came apart
where my truth was undermined

Several times I have picked on particular dates where all changed, changed utterly for me. H has changed my view of the world. I am not sure if I have ever been entirely sure that I am a woman- I joked “I don’t know, and neither does my psychiatrist”, and said “I’m both and neither and in between”. Her word “lovely” just makes the blade sharper.

Either it is liberating- yes, I am a man, I need no longer assert a falsehood that I am a woman- or terrifying and destructuring, and I try to piece together the shards of my framework, world map, understanding which lets me navigate the world. “I am a man, but transition was the best I could do,” I say. “Bad things happen to good people.”

Or I create a new narrative. “I am a trans woman”. I have the right to be this way.

Brexit and Trump, and possibly this year Fillon and AfD, change my comforting narrative, one which is probably yours too. It is a debased Whig version of history: just as the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was a decisive moment of progress, which changed the way of doing politics in England from battles to individual murders, a clear improvement, so Obergefell v Hodges was a step into the light, which could not be reversed. A Tory version of history, that there are random events with no broader significance, is reasserted, so that Trump’s Muslim ban is not a pathetic attempt by the failing forces of reaction, but a random event of quite as much significance as Obergefell.

We need to change our stories. Since 2016, our stories have not been the Truth, but a comforting lie to help us get through the day without collapsing on the floor, screaming. The words “male energy” are a stake through their heart, as is the Muslim ban. “Do your duty, Republicans,” says the New York Times. “Prosecute him!” Trump meanwhile promises a new Muslim ban which will be less vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.

I have been reading of stories. Here’s Rachel Cusk in the NYT:

In psychoanalysis, events are reconstructed in the knowledge of their outcome: The therapeutic properties of narrative lie in its capacity to ascribe meaning to sufferings that at the time seemed to have no purpose. The liberal elite are in shock; they fall upon the notion of the victors’ regret as a palliative for their mental distress, but because the referendum result is irreversible, this narrative must adopt the form of tragedy.

And, writing of her mother

She didn’t care what she said, or rather, she exacted from words the licentious pleasures of misuse; in so doing, she took my weapon and broke it before my eyes. She made fun of me for the words I used, and I couldn’t respond by threatening her with death. I couldn’t say “I could kill you” because it wasn’t true, and in language I had staked everything on telling the truth. I have had that experience debating Creationists: I try to persuade, using truth, they simply assert their Beliefs. “It cannot be so, because of Genesis.” It was bad enough debating a blogger on the other side of the world- how much more terrifying, to face your own mother’s assertions?

Thus saith the LORD.

There is no answer to that. Tim built an impenetrable wall of language to shield him from- the truth? Or just, my understanding of the World? The defeated liberal is abashed, so less confidently assertive.

Anna Blundy, in a completely different essay- a short column not a hefty work like Rachel Cusk’s- also addressed making sense of truth with words. Language distances us from our real thoughts and feelings in an almost defensive way (the fact that it makes us feel better to have named something, perhaps is even indicative of that)… we’re trying to repackage something into a digestible form that will make the symptom of the sufferer more bearable.

Surely it is better to face the unvarnished truth? This essay says that news broadcasts and advertising alike end up telling stories… the mastery of danger, the satisfaction of desires and the ultimate restoration of morality. But here, an effort is made to lead people to believe that the story accurately depicts people and events. As a result, all end up profoundly falsifying what they portray, once again mixing faithful and manipulated images, and fact and fiction in seamless ways so that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The attack is mitigated by the fact that the essay itself has a similarly comforting structure, where the restoration of morality is us all becoming more sceptical about the media.

It is not at all reassuring to say that I can’t bear another phone conversation with the benefits authorities. I could say, well I had hundreds before, many of them successful, or simply that I should eschew predictions of the future, which may just be paranoia, and concentrate on the actual task. I know what the task involves. Fear of what bad things will happen and how I will respond when I fail just get in the way.

This is my two thousandth post, on a blog about me, truth, trans, the world, and everything that interests me. I do it to be read, and achieve less of that than I would like. Joanna wrote a short post recommending one of mine, and I am grateful for the recommendation, because my post got more than three times the views from it, than 75% of my posts get from all sources. This is my least worthwhile goal, to see that I have had more views. Writing of Donald Trump stretches my writing, but gets fewer views, as most of my readers come from a Trans site, so I restrict my choice of subjects to get more views. Posting daily gets more views. I get a tiny dopamine hit when I see my page-view numbers have increased- nearly 198,000 views in five and a half years.

I might be better to write longer essays. I could develop an ability to analyse an idea in greater depth. This is not that: I have quoted undigested screeds from three essays and some of my own thoughts on truth, rather than explained the essays, created a satisfying narrative argument in my own words, and polished it. Writing around 500 words a day is good practice, but I want to edit and structure something more satisfying than these short pieces. I have published just one 2000 word article. I love Rachel Cusk’s essay- how I would love to write something like that!

I blog to tease out my understanding, as well. It is psychoanalysis for me, repackaging reality into that digestible form. So I have written how transition or surgery was the best thing I could have done, and the worst, in separate pieces, and wonder how to unite them.

St Clare

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