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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triton-submarine

Humiliation

Humiliation can be joyous. It is the moment when my understanding of the world and myself meets reality, and reality wins. With new understanding of the world, I function better, and with new understanding of myself cognitive dissonance and all-pervading dissatisfaction are resolved.

Of course it can break a spirit. The humiliation of torture is designed to break spirits. Punishment including imprisonment was designed to break spirits and prevent resistance or non-compliance. Some authorities attempt to mitigate punishment with rehabilitation, as it is better to persuade a person to comply, or heal their hurt and anger so that they are motivated to comply, but spirits are still broken in the prison system. Or torture can fail, and invigorate resistance with a sense of burning injustice. Seeing others tortured, some are frightened and some are empowered.

The good humiliation frees you from oppressive lies. The lie is that a human being should be a particular way, enforced by false pride in being that way, and terrible fear in case my pretense to being that way is found out. I invest all my sense of self, self-respect and belief in my safety in protecting the lie, so am oppressed and distorted, miserable and ineffectual. In humiliation, the lie explodes. It stands revealed- not a framework and firm footing, but a cage. Then comes freedom. I can see myself and other people. I can see what needs to be done, what is good and beautiful and to be desired, and my own reality and worthiness.

I flee in terror from what would liberate me.

Pride is necessary for human functioning. Self-respect motivates us to take care of our appearance, to appreciate the good we deserve and to seek it. Without pride existence becomes mere struggle for survival. Yet it has to be pride in matters worthy of pride: in real things, not illusions, in beauty and community and togetherness not isolation.

I transitioned because I wanted to fit in. My sexual desires humiliated me, so I acted to cut them off. I lacked the courage and faith to face the humiliation, and pass through it into joy.

It is not too late. I want things which are meaningless and worthless, to hide away, to not stand out or be noticed, to find a set of rules for living and fit them and know I am a good person because I fit them; and I want one good thing, which is my own survival. If I stopped fighting for these illusions which I can never gain, and which would never satisfy, what might I want instead? I self-punish, harshly judging myself: could I turn that aptitude to cleansing myself of the ties that bind me?

gwen-john-nude-girl

Post-materialist

I have been a post-materialist since about 2000, but learned I was one yesterday. Before, I had understood it as a matter of spiritual maturity: people move from a position of condemning non-conformists and out-groups to seeing that every human being is doing their best, under difficult circumstances, to agreeing with Blake’s line, “Everything that is, is holy”.

I welcome diversity, which is part of the flourishing of each person, for the good of humanity. This is part of my identity, how I see myself as a good person.

Then the NYT explains me, quoting Ronald Inglehart: when people grow up taking survival for granted it makes them more open to new ideas and more tolerant of outgroups…bringing greater emphasis on freedom of expression, environmental protection, gender equality, and tolerance of gays, handicapped people and foreigners. It is no merit in me, but an accident of birth. This was shocking, even if in retrospect obvious.

As a post-materialist, it means I should seek understanding of my out-group, which previously I thought of as less mature: if you feel under threat, you circle the wagons. Less mature in me does not mean less mature in others. What is possible, for a person?

It might be that if you can make people feel safer, they will be less angry with the outsider, foreigner or non-conformist. Mr Trump and Mrs May go the other way, encouraging the anger. If you feel looked down on by “liberal elites” who tell you not to feel that anger, you may be tempted by moneyed elites who tell you the anger is right. Trump, never worried about survival, bends others’ anger for his own ends. Encouraging the anger, making people feel OK in themselves and rejecting liberal scorn, pleases them so that he does not need to give them anything worthwhile. How do you benefit, really, from excluding refugees? What gain is there, from making Muslims feel as excluded, powerless and angry as you feel?

Are Trump’s patsies capable of empathy, or of recognising their own feelings? Unable to admit how angry and frightened he feels, a man clings more tightly to his world-view, we are right and everyone else is wrong, and those people over there are a threat. This is simply the truth for him, separate from any anxiety he feels about being able to pay his rent.

Is Trump going to permit discrimination against LGBT on “religious grounds”? The NYT said a draft executive order has circulated, but administration officials denied it would be adopted. They take the pulse of the nation. Will this energise their support, or the resistance? What are people saying about the proposed order? The order would increase hatred, and disempower non-conformity.

I am post-materialist because I am in one of the first hate-groups to be victimised. Thank God for the Windrush, I say, bringing Afro-Caribbean workers to Britain, beginning our long march to tolerance from which I benefit.

marie-bracquemond-three-women

Guilt and shame

Guilt is “I am bad because of what I did”; shame is “I am bad because of who I am”. It seemed my shame was like an overexposed photograph. All white without distinction, I could not distinguish the truly shameful from the everyday things which set off my jumpy, hair-trigger shame reaction. This could prevent a developed sense of guilt. At times, I felt guilty for things I could not control, such as the tribunals I lost, though not all were winnable or deserving. At others, I could excuse myself, I did the best I could. It seems to me these thoughts did not accurately reflect reality, were not a rational response to external factors but an emotional whirlwind.

I try absolutely as hard as I can. All the time.

English bitch Olivia says, You’re frightened that you’ll have [bariatric surgery] and your life won’t change. It’ll stay as it’s always been because this really is who you are. Or words to that effect. I love that character, and hope she will have some character development, not just be the English Villain. She says and does some brilliant things and, because she is English, the outsider, I have just looked up in Wikipedia that she only appears once again. UK broadcast is about three months behind.

This is the usual digression.

Here’s Ten Metre Tower, in which people climb up a tower to look down on a swimming pool, and decide whether to jump. I have done this. There was a crowd up there, and eventually I jumped, not being able to climb down. Watch them. More than one walks to the edge, then walks back, and fear of falling wars in them with fear of climbing down. As they turn away from the edge, fear of the course chosen grows and fear of the course rejected recedes, so several pace back and forth. I remember the exhilaration as I decided to climb up, then apprehension at the top. I am glad I jumped.

I am a human being. I do my best, and make mistakes occasionally. That experience of pacing back and forth between the edge and the stairs down from the tower is a common one, and I have been climbing down. Do I want to jump? (Metaphorically, I mean, I have never been up such a tower again.) Today it was around going cycling, which would be effort but get me out in the sunshine. I took my bike outside and found the chain badly needed cleaning and lubricating after a lot of riding on wet road. So I cleaned and oiled it, and did a bit of housework.

I have been climbing back down the tower stairs. Or not climbing the tower in the first place. It is where I am, I am unsure how to move on from here, and I will not feel guilt about getting here. I know I do my best. I feel guilt and shame would merely enervate me not spur me on, but climbing down means I climb down more easily. Aspiration or hope would be good.

And it is my judgment, not that of others. I know me better than they do.

That group judge me, and I wondered, if I went to the other group how will I feel about them knowing about the first group’s judgment? Am I ashamed of having this happen to me?

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-miss-pearson

Strength

Softness goes with strength, at least in toilet paper adverts…

Where is the strength in trans femininity, strength I can feel and exert rather than observe from the sidelines, ruefully thinking that’s just not me, I could not possibly be like that? The manly strength I aspired to when I sought to Be a Man, that idea of strength gets in the way of finding strength now. Strength in endurance does not feel enough.

In Walter Scott, there is a wife who makes all the important decisions, managing her husband so he imagines they are his. On less important decisions she will give way to him, to preserve the illusion. Manly directness fails before feminine wiles. Being clever, I like the idea of cleverness, persuasiveness, winning, but am infected with cultural attitudes ascribing virtue to qualities ascribed to men. Is “virtue” linked to the Latin for “man”? Latin “virtu” translates to “power”.

There is passive strength, strength to endure. When women stand up for themselves, this is called “sassy”- disrespectful- “Feisty”, which derives from the German for fart, meaning unpleasantly intrusive on attention, or “nasty”, a word which women are claiming. They are called “viragos”, aping men. There is huge cultural pressure against women behaving in that way.

Alexis and Barry debated women’s strength here. I don’t know whether Barry’s experience of women’s equality is specifically a Kiwi perspective. She defined strength as self-discipline, ambition, and emotional stability. These are certainly virtues, but unshowy. They will make confrontation easier, but don’t define how one acts in a confrontation. And, convinced of my wrongness, trying to see how I ought to be, has corroded my emotional stability. Because I fear my emotions, they overwhelm me.

Self-discipline, ambition and emotional stability could be stronger in a confrontation, where physical violence is not permitted- like most confrontations in civilised society. Then the attempt to intimidate is as much a sign of weakness as wheedling is, and calm insistence is strength.

Does being “compassionate, tolerant and fair” make one less likely to stand up for onesself? Possibly, but not necessarily less likely to achieve goals. For the most tolerant and fair person there is the moment you dig your heels in. Then emotion comes to the fore, visibly expressed. That is the moment of weakness. “You’re getting emotional” is a trump card- therefore you must be irrational, and wrong. The compassionate person sees the blind spots of the other, and sees how far the other might be led; and so leads consensus. Together, we are stronger.

Of these virtues, I feel emotional stability is the thing I need to work on, by emotional understanding and self-acceptance.

2 Corinthians comes to mind- Power is made perfect in weakness…When I am weak, then I am strong. I went to look it up; and I still don’t get what it means.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-a-woman-in-a-white-dress

I-Thou

Of course transphobia exists. There are people I revolt, simply by existing. So if you doubt it-

What did you do to provoke him?

I came within his line of vision. That was it.

I want to be believed. That I might not be is difficult for me. I spoke to him. That was enough. He went off on one. Further questions perplex me. There is nothing more I can say. I can give examples of transphobia, from my own experience; I can make analogies to racism, homophobia or other prejudice; but either you believe someone you do not know might be revolted by my Clareness, my refusal to pretend to be a Real Man™, or you don’t.

You understand revulsion, right? A pile of vomit on a pavement outside a pub? A paedophile? (Yes, yes, I know, Quakers try to see the humanity of everyone, but that should be a sign of exceptional empathy and imagination, not their absence.) Some people appear perfectly normal until one day there’s a spider in the room and you see how they react. And you sympathise, because you understand arachnophobia, and they are ashamed, and you are delighted to dispose of the spider for them, and reassure them. The difference here is I am not a spider but a human being, and he is not ashamed but self-righteous about it. He does not accept there is anything wrong with him- it’s not him, it’s me.

Might I not be afraid of you?

If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. You will simply be aware that honest people carrying out honest procedures will produce the right result. If you are afraid, that is evidence of guilt, for the only possible fear is fear of discovery.

I could front it out. Nothing to see here- well, what do you think happened? Surely you cannot believe that I did anything remotely objectionable? But you continue, just sitting there, looking at me, and I start to sweat, and I can’t meet your gaze, and I break down sobbing All right I admit it! I transitioned! Of course I provoked him, I revolt him, I don’t deserve to be in the same room as him because I transitioned! I tried so hard not to! Please! You will see I bear guilt, for that is the guilt I bear.

This self-loathing is so hard, and has driven me into failed attempts to avoid it. If I can be a Real Man I will be alright. That does not work. Then, if I transition I will be alright- except that made me hunt Womanliness, and I am not “a woman”, I am Clare. Eventually, when there was nowhere I could hide from myself, I sought to find myself so I could come to accept myself.

Acceptance by others was a powerful way towards this. I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends in February 2002, and their acceptance and my sense of it gave me the courage to transition two months later. And more recently, perhaps in the past year, I have thought that this gives me an unhealthy attitude to my Quaker meeting. On the plus side, it gave me a serious commitment and desire to serve; and it gave me unrealistic expectations, demands that could not be met. It left me in a state of dependence. The Society was my source of acceptance, and I have to accept myself without that external source.

I get closer and closer to that. And now I recognise that if rejected I won’t die. It is such an odd saying- you see someone, distraught, and say “It’s not the end of the world”- well, it never is, the world goes on, and losses can feel that bad. “It’s not the end of the world” but we don’t always see that and we need it pointed out to us.

In meeting this morning I was thinking of Martin Buber, his “I-thou” or “I-it” relationships, his crying out against treating another person as an object to be used, an it, and requiring “I-thou”, the relationship of human beings. That requires an “I”, a being with a sense of self, because otherwise I cannot have a proper sense of the selfhood of others. I can have an “I-thou” relationship if I can say “I”. I am I. There was ministry about being damaged human beings and accepting others are damaged too. I can accept you are damaged only if I can accept I am damaged; if I am in terrified denial of that, I cannot accept that anyone else might be less than ideal.

I get closer to seeing myself, to self-acceptance. I might be able to see other human beings as other human beings, and that would be a good thing. “I-thou”, a relationship, with people, not quite so alone in the cold unfriendly darkness. Those training to be US Marines are not allowed the word “I”. Instead they say “This recruit” when they refer to themselves. They lose their identity and get it deliberately replaced with an identity as part of the Marine Corps, so that they can risk death, and kill others, because they are told to. “I” is precious. If I am I, I am human, and you can be human too.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-panna-dygat

Narratives

Truth [is] what we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.

And yet, the totality of facts and events is unascertainable. Who says what is always tells a story, and in this story the particular facts lose their contingency and acquire some humanly comprehensible meaningSorrow, joy and bliss become bearable and meaningful for men only when they can talk about them and tell them as a story.

I tell stories about my life. So do you. Possibly, with Krishnamurti I should just forget them. Why am I happy now? Because of X. Ah. That gives me an understanding, I can file it away. I know what is going on. I can remember that happiness later: it was caused by X. And if X also caused that misery, possibly the learning was worthwhile, possibly it is time to cease pursuing X.

Decisions are emotional not rational. It is like jars filling up with cumulative water droplets, and eventually one overflows and I must do X. Then I can tell a story about it. X was obviously the only thing I could ever have done, for these reasons. The story helps me accept what I have chosen, pacifies and calms my remaining resistance.

It is an end to thinking of the matter. I have thought enough. Or it is an attempt to end thinking; unconsciously, my resentment grows.

What we cannot change- so, what ought to be is meaningless and impossible and worthless. Ought is a damaging fantasy, because though you cannot make is from ought, it can make you disbelieve or resent what is. But what is includes what might be, what is possible, all the changes I can make.

I have read Truth and Politics by Hannah Arendt, and consider her thought that feelings become bearable when part of a narrative relates only to the conscious mind, thinking in language. The feeling of terror feels overwhelming until I accept and welcome it. What is overwhelming is its demand to be recognised, not the feeling itself. It fits Now. And then, it does not fit Now, so it goes away, unless I cling on to it, perhaps by questioning it or saying I ought not to have been terrified. Or I tell stories about it.

I can gain an understanding of feelings, at the price of them always being with me. Telling stories about my past might pacify my feelings- it’s alright, my honey, love, it’s alright, my poppet- but distances me from them; and they lurk, underneath, always liable to burst out, which is the constant failure. No game is enough to control my feelings.

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

And- X may happen again! I will be terrified, again!

Words are so useful. Speech impels us… to urge the mind to aftersight and foresight. I think of what might be though probably won’t, because it will never be that bad again. I imagine the fear I would feel. Then I am afraid of fear, afraid of feeling fear and being powerless.

Yet normally I am not powerless; and powerlessness has to be bearable.

olga-boznanska-self-portrait

Desire and action

Why does anyone do anything? They think it will advance their goals. It relieves an immediate discomfort- I feel a headache, so take a painkiller. I believe it will relieve discomfort in the future- in case I get other headaches, I buy painkillers. Or, they think it will give them pleasure. Positive feelings arise from experience, all slightly different- satisfaction, contentment, happiness, excitement.

Often, a person’s problems seem too great for them. This may be because they do not trust or know themselves sufficiently, and have too great fear of things which might not happen. So they seek an escape. A video game takes you into the now, in a way which is the Opposite of meditation: walled off from the world, concentrating on something brightly coloured in constant motion but unreal, with an endless stream of false feelings of achievement. I became addicted to Tetris, and weaned myself, then became addicted to Candy Crush, clockwatching until I could get more “lives” without paying for them. I don’t go near the things. I do like a glass of wine, though, and hang around my blog stats more than just to see what is being read.

Some level of escape is OK, some gets in the way of actually facing problems. In a vicious spiral, problems appear greater so you spend less time facing them. It is not always clear where the boundaries lie.

We are taught what will advance goals. I associate taking a pill with relief of an ache because someone told me it would work, I tried it, it worked. I clean my teeth because I learn to associate discomfort with not doing so, relief from discomfort with doing so.

It can be worth effort and concentration in pursuit of pleasure. Listening to Bach partitas at first I was bored and perplexed. I just wanted them to end. Now I find them beautiful. I have had epiphanies with art works, suddenly seeing them in a new way, appreciating after a long time looking, even years of familiarity.

I have false beliefs in what I might enjoy. This is what we as a family do for pleasure. So I go along with it. Later I still do it, expecting enjoyment where there is none. Seeing the false beliefs, seeing how empty some of my actions are, I lose trust in what I have learned and seek to learn what actually motivates me. I thought when starting my first job after University, I cannot endure this job. I must enjoy it. Yet I found myself enduring, then not enduring it.

Black and white thinking gets in my way. Cycling is effort with moments of delight. I want to notice and savour each delight without denying the effort. In work there was tedium and triumph: the achievement needs to motivate me, so I must see and prize it all, to its full value. Overwhelmed by everything, yet wanting more so much- acceptance of what is is the thing. Seeing what is possible. An endless puzzle, never worked out, the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings…

I lose motivation. I could do that if I wanted. I just don’t want to at the moment, I think- then tell myself that as fear and disbelief grow. And, I grow to like and value myself. I am worth looking after.

alice-pike-barney-firelight

Alternative facts

Does President Trump gaslight everyone? Alone with Ivanka, does he say, “My crowds on the mall were bigger than Obama’s”? As Melania sleeps does he lie awake, thinking “I won the popular vote, but for the fraudulent ones”?

I have known fantasists. You have, too. No, that pool attendant was never in the SAS. After dropping out of her law degree, F did not start an Open University degree- and if she did, she was not expected to get a First. And S, a trans woman, did not have XX chromosomes but an “SRY inclusion factor” which made her develop apparently male.

I have known other fantasists, I am sure, who were less extreme, less noticeable. People get away with it if they are careful. We preferred to call ourselves “Lifeguards” rather than “pool attendants”, because it seemed more important, effectual, worthwhile.

When Trump says the goodwill attached to his brand is worth billions, does he believe it?

Does anyone challenge him? Would Ivanka say to him, well, there are these photographs, but people seem to be accepting what we say? Does Mr Spicer believe his alternative facts? Do the Trump voters who assert there were millions of fraudulent votes believe it, or simply know that is what they have to say? Jesus was born of a virgin, the world was created six thousand-odd years ago, and Trump won the popular vote?

Some fantasists alter reality for others. Anna controlled her world in part by believing that her neighbours were snooping on her and that she could hear their dismissive comments through her wall. She turned her loudspeakers towards the party wall so that they could not hear her, but still said they managed. She insisted on this so unrelentingly that we stopped challenging her, even suggesting to her that she might be mistaken. “You hear that?” she would say. No, I didn’t. Even when she wasn’t there, I said how dreadful her neighbours were, and then met another’s disbelieving gaze, shamefaced. Yet he would not have challenged her to her face.

There are no common facts, known to both sides of the aisle, but alternative facts which justify Republican gerrymandering. Some facts are plausible. I believed Gerry Mander was the man who ensured there were no Catholic members of the Stormont parliament. Then I read the word comes from somewhere else.

Trump does not get it right, but escapes unscathed. His casinos went bankrupt and he transferred the losses onto others.

I like to believe in an enveloping Truth, consistent and coherent, but it is not possible. It is disputed whether you can prove 2+2=4. Theories of gravity do not fit the standard model: the equations divide by zero and produce infinity. It is unnecessary to know that James III died at the battle of Sauchieburn, or how my phone’s map finds directions- it just does. Possibly Trump knows all he needs to know, so need never read a book- his entitlement is limitless, all who oppose him are losers, there will always be a way out. Or his supporters have their enveloping Truth- abortion is murder, global warming is refuted by winter, Trump never lies to them- which gives them strength to get through the day. Very little truth actually matters in the moment. Imagination might be worth more: these things are possible.

Hannah Arendt wrote, the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed… The experience of a trembling wobbling motion of everything we rely on for our sense of direction and reality is among the most common and most vivid experiences of men under totalitarian rule.

I want a US president to believe certain things. Climate change matters, and may be mitigated. Some things are best done by the whole society, working together, such as health care. Supporting the poor benefits everyone. All these assertions are disputed.

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