Joy and the inner light

How might I move on?

I am more isolated now than I was eleven years ago. Am I merely ruminating about the past? I wrote in my diary, “It is time to rebel against my parents”. I was over thirty at the time. I may have had an enmeshed relationship with my mother. But, why should I be dwelling on that now?

How do I feel about my situation now? “Miserable” is not a feeling, it is an accumulation of feelings, all mixed together, hard to identify and differentiate. There is anger, frustration, resentment, fear (the feelings I identified in 1999) and perhaps others. There is great sadness.

And, still, I am unconscious of feeling. Objectively, my lifestyle, rarely going out, is a product of overwhelming anxiety, and I am rarely conscious of anxiety. It manifests as just doing nothing when I know I should take a particular action. Hours pass. I am burned out.

I was acting in anger towards another and not conscious of it. Now the anger has done its job: not by changing her, but by changing me. I cease to care about her. I see her actions as hurting me, wronging me, and let go my former illusion of her. I let in these additional perceptions, see her more clearly, and let go.

I am between the Id and the Inner Light. The Id, a roiling, terrifying storm of feeling, which makes us lash out, comes from feeling being suppressed. The Inner Light may be the human in touch with feeling and therefore empathetic. David Brooks, in The Second Mountain- the quest for a moral life, writes,

Every once in a while, I meet a person who radiates joy. These are people who seem to glow with an inner light. They are kind, tranquil, delighted by small pleasures, and grateful for the large ones. These people are not perfect. They get exhausted and stressed. They make errors in judgment. But they live for others, and not for themselves. They’ve made unshakable commitments to family, a cause, a community, or a faith. They know why they were put on this earth and derive a deep satisfaction from doing what they have been called to do. Life isn’t easy for these people. They’ve taken on the burdens of others. But they have a serenity about them, a settled resolve. They are interested in you, make you feel cherished and known, and take delight in your good.

I too have met people like that. Brooks does not claim to be there yet. My route involves bringing the unconscious to consciousness.

The “Heart” I seek to speak from is more complex than I can know. It is like the Id in some ways, because of the powerful forces still repressing my feelings. I bring myself to consciousness but am not there yet. My desire to be good comes from a desire to be safe. I want to follow the rules so no-one will be nasty to me, even though that does not work. Or, I want to be good so I might deserve not to suffer. I want to avoid pain. I need to feel the pain, uncertainty, sadness.

Possibly, behind that heart there is something that might be called an “inner light”- aware of the community, seeking its good, wanting connection. Possibly that is how the heart matures as the Id, accepted, lashes out less. I fear being a doormat.

I was irritated with Brooks claiming “Self-created identities are also fragile. We need to have our identities constantly affirmed by others if we are to feel secure.” His cis male conservative successful writer identity is always going to be affirmed. I know of trans people who view other trans people’s different journeys as not the right way to be trans, and therefore a challenge to their own trans identity. But if people feel sufficiently affirmed in our diversity we can accept each other’s difference.

Brooks is too dismissive of others’ travails. No-one leaves a marriage “based on some momentary vision of their own needs”. It is so difficult to divide a shared life that a conviction that it is necessary may grow over months before it crystallises.

I don’t know what that permanent joy would be like, but I felt delight today being affirmed: someone I respect said my published pieces were well-written and to the point. It is a gift.

Brooks and I both see that an “inner light” and living from joy is possible. He names the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Paul Farmer, but also believes ordinary people can become like that, like Dorothea Ladislaw: “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

If I were ever to get there, it would be through loving my Id into consciousness. Brooks writes that “Some shrivel in the face of suffering. They seem to get more afraid and more resentful. They shrink away from their inner depths in fear. Their lives become smaller and lonelier.” Well, some wounds are too great to heal. I hope I don’t end up like that.

In worship someone quoted Living our beliefs, the introduction to Quakers by and for adolescents: “feel your whole self, celebrate it, be happy and proud”. I bought the book immediately, but could not find the quote. The working theory is that the Id will only get in the way of the Light if it is unconscious. I move on by bringing it to light.

The value of sadness

Anger and fear give energy to fight or flee. Sadness softens you. That softening felt like a threat to me, and my inner scourge berated me in fear and anger. I suppressed my sadness below consciousness.

On Monday 16th, I eldered the Woodbrooke zoom worship. It involves holding space, which is a particular kind of loving attention and care: you don’t need to speak to show it. I could see someone’s microphone icon was off, and her lips were moving, but I could not hear her, so I messaged her. She wanted to find “The poem by Rumi”.

I was worried that I was spending too much time facilitating rather than holding, but guessed she meant The Guest House, and copied it to her. She asked me to read it to the meeting. It enjoins us to value every awareness, even sorrow.

I broke down crying at “Welcome and entertain them all,” for my inner scourge rejects my sadness and so rejects myself. I had to start crying to realise how much this means to me. Consciously softening let me finish reading.

My resistance to my own feeling is a major source of the inner conflicts which bind me and drain me of energy. I could suppress feeling out of consciousness, but the effort to do so increased until I came to my current inactivity. I cannot be harder than I am, however desperately I wish, so I look for the value of sadness, so I might accept it.

Sadness is information. Something hurts. Grief at loss expresses the human need for love and connection. We are made to live in couples and communities.

If sadness softens us, it can bring people together. We are vulnerable, feeling beings. We see our need to support each other, and reach out for help.

Softening also helps us see each other more clearly. Once I am past the overwhelm of my own sadness, I can see it in others too, and feel with them. Feeling the feels, we come together authentically.

There are times when you have to keep working, and softening inhibits you. Trying to ignore or suppress any feeling does not work. Better to bracket it: acknowledge it, but pay it no attention for now. If you bracket feeling, you have to deal with it later.

Softening from sadness can feel like a threat to the community, which needs each individual to pull their weight. So we mock children- “Big boys don’t cry”. “Put on your big girl pants”. When adults console each other, “Don’t cry” can be a wheedling demand to stop raising things which the other cannot cope with. It can mean, “Pull yourself together,” but unless we soften we break our community apart.

I found I could make people feel better simply by listening to them without judgment. I did not take their sorrows upon myself, I earthed them. I let them pass through me and drain away. This gave me joy, because I am soft.

I tried to harden, to make a man of myself, and it almost killed me. Transition, becoming the woman I am, is the way to save my life, and I am still working on it.

The inner child, terrified

I want to be safe. I am hurting, and I want that to stop. The ways I have tried- rationality, finding out the rules and following them, always being perfect- have not worked, and still there is the terrified child.

Will speaking from the heart achieve what I want? I don’t know, but the child’s judgment is quick and angry, especially when I am feeling hurt. I should not take it too seriously. It latches onto any idea it can use to beat me up. So, “I am addicted to drama”. No, I am not. I want quiet, though I also want people’s attention. If I do not seek it in the way best calculated to give me lasting happiness, I seek it as best I may.

So, as I cannot now write my own clear psychophysiology of ego, heart, soul, inner child and the rest and their precise relationships, here are some quotes.

Carl Jung: “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” I got that from facebook, and have not found the context. I created a deeply unhealthy ego and was repressed behind a shell. Then it cracked, and I stopped functioning. I am going inward, but a healthy ego would be nice.

For Freud, under the ego is the Id, a monster of emotions which needs to be firmly held down. For Jung, and Richard Rohr commenting on him, under the ego is your real purpose, identity, true self or soul. It is the Quakers’ “that of God”. James Baldwin has quotes to join with Freud: “We cannot ask, What do we really feel? Such a question merely opens the gates on chaos”.

And, “The man does not remember the hand that struck him, the darkness that frightened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and the darkness remain with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him wherever he thinks to take flight.” Baldwin was a young man, writing about the anger and fear leading white America to oppress Black people. We are always our conditioning, always old feelings about situations that ended long ago constraining our choices, little more than the sum of our triggers.

That shows the problem of taking quotes. This is the same man who wrote of the existentialist challenge to create onesself. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these extremes.

More Jung, then, from the CG Jung Foundation’s twitter:

“The difference between the ‘natural’ individuation process, which runs its course unconsciously, and the one that is consciously realized is tremendous. In the first case, consciousness nowhere intervenes… the end remains as dark as the beginning. In the second case, so much darkness comes to light that the personality is permeated with light and consciousness necessarily gains in scope and insight.”

The inner critic/terrified child always finds the worst possible interpretation. It thinks me weak, useless, and deluded. It suggests I never individuated. The shell was made for me by my mother from her own expectations. Finding the inner light is a project for after teenage: first I need to find my own ego. However I have more life experience than most teenagers. I am analysing though rationality is insufficient for this task, but I am also feeling it, and trying to put it into words.

In ministry, someone paraphrased Isaac Penington: Adam and Eve made a mistake: they chose knowledge of Good and Evil over direct communion with God. They saw that they were naked, and we know it is good to be clothed. Well, I do not want my inner light to tell me I should be naked. Old people sometimes become disinhibited: I read behaviour sheets when I should merely have scanned them. Aged resident says to long-suffering careworker, “I am so hard for you right now”. Then the notes record laboriously what the consequences were.

I am a sexual being, having felt asexual most of this century.

What do I feel, now? I am “upset”- this is not a feeling, but a state where various feelings produce discomfort. I am sad and frustrated. There was a chance to connect, and then there wasn’t. I oscillate between “It’s all my fault” and “It’s all their fault,” avoiding the pain of unknowing. Long past hurt mingles with recent hurt until I cannot differentiate them. As I always do when hurt, I get angry with myself.

Sadness was an inadmissible emotion. Don’t cry. Don’t be sad. I feel angry with myself, because I am sad. I suppress my sadness and it curdles into unconscious misery. My anger at myself because of that sadness hurts. I want the sadness to stop. I want the anger to stop. Anger outwards and angry behaviour is less noticeable to me, because I am more concerned with the sadness and inwardly directed anger. The anger is a blockage, suppressing the underlying sadness from consciousness, preventing it being processed. I will feel my sadness.

The heart’s desire

I want to know The Truth of myself. Will I find it in James Baldwin? In Notes of a Native Son, he fights to realise himself, recognising that there is a choice: dive into the void that is the unknown self, or accept what society makes of you. He was a friend of existentialists. A human being is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves- we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves.”

Aged 60, he wrote that society limits him, but “my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever”. Wow. Everything that is possible for a human being is possible for me. To believe that would be a great responsibility.

Or would I find it among Quakers? There is an inner light, which is so strange and wonderful we call it that of God. But it might just be a seed thrown among weeds which choke it. I thought I had found it. I was speaking from the Heart, and the proof was my voice being a higher pitch. Well, it made sense at the time.

Then that part of me said, “Do to me as you wish”. That is a brave prayer to make to God, but utterly foolhardy to a human being. I imagined myself saying it to someone, then thought, how can that be speaking from the inner light, if it is so slutty? It could be the heart’s desire. It is hard to piece together what I want, but I want that. Then I said, also from the “heart”, “I need to protect myself”.

Then I started judging the “heart” because of that particular desire. Sometimes something seems to work in a person like the Inner Light, but it deludes them. Like her. And him. Is there an “inner light” below this heart? I need a sane ego, which will protect me, rather than the ego I produced, which was the shell, imprisoning me because I was so hurt and afraid. I would need it to be my counsellor, not my prison guard; a male self to protect my feminine self. All my gifts are in both selves.

Or, perhaps, if I speak from the Inner Light, it is a lot more playful, creative and joyful, not sensible as the world sees it. I said to another my Light is more playful than I had thought, and she loved that idea. I could get authority for it from St Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Or, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong”. I have a vague idea that Paul said “In my weakness is my strength”, and so did Katharine Oliver and others, but I cannot find it in any particular translation.

Why should I seek authority? Make it my own. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man,” and live by that.

Someone quoted Rumi, The Guest House. Yes, it is a metaphor, but I cannot differentiate the house, the feelings- joy or momentary awareness, depression, meanness, a violent crowd of sorrows, a dark thought, shame or malice- and the “me” that invites them in. I am one human being, the feeling and the I which would resist it. Do not resist pain or confusion. Welcome them, says the poet, and it is my experience at least that resistance does no good.

In The Good Ally, I read of people taking action to manage their own feelings or how they appear to others, rather than to achieve a result in the world. At a Quaker peace zoom, we discuss people taking action to feel better about themselves rather than as led. It is so good to know it is not just me.

Michael Leunig imagined people with their opinions, concerns, memories, anxieties, secrets, ambitions, causes, grievances, regrets, theories, reputation, style, lies, pains, charms, tricks, vendettas, powers and obsessions, and a man who lets go of all that. “He’s had enough and just wants to connect.”

A child of dysfunctional parents on a twelve step programme for such people talked of “emotional sobriety”. It means being comfortable with the full panoply of feelings, but not hijacked by them; having healthy boundaries for self and others; not being subsumed in others, or engulfed. One might get joy from another person because there is no dependency. Just appreciate them. One ceases to be addicted to drama.

Worth a try, perhaps.

Women born women?

Does your definition of women exclude some women? It is hard to define “woman” to include women with variations of sex characteristics, but not trans women. If you produce such a definition, it is hard to justify it morally.

It is tempting for the anti-trans campaigner to say, “Women are adult human females. No Y chromosome! No testicles!” However, that excludes women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), who have XY chromosomes but whose bodies do not respond to testosterone as foetuses, so who develop female characteristics. Some people have partial androgen insensitivity (PAIS) and differing levels of development of male genitalia, but women with CAIS have a vulva like a woman’s, a vagina which may be shortened, and small internal testicles.

One person I knew with PAIS was brought up male, transitioned to female, and spent some time expressing themselves as nonbinary, that is, something other than, not less than, male or female. But anti-trans campaigners often mock the idea of nonbinary. You can’t have it both ways. If everyone is either a man or a woman, you have to find a way of classifying CAIS people, who are assigned female at birth because that is usually the way they will be most comfortable living their lives.

The testicles of CAIS women produce hormones during puberty which actually help the body achieve a feminine shape, with wider hips and breasts. After puberty, they are usually removed, as they may become cancerous. They are inside the woman’s body. She has no scrotum.

The term DSD is objectionable, as it stands for disorders of sex development. Some do not like to be thought of as disordered, merely different. D could stand for differences, but V can only stand for variations. All other things being equal, it is better to be fertile than not, but every human is entitled to say I am who I am. I am a whole package. Do not call a part of me “disordered”, because it is something without which I would not be me.

Between 2 and 5 in 100,000 women have CAIS. That is much smaller than the proportion of trans women, which may be as high as 840 in 100,000. But, would 1340 women in Britain just not matter?

The beauty and terror of the female reproductive system matters. It is the cause of much male harassment of women. It makes women vulnerable. It is still, often, shamed, with women objecting to comments about them menstruating. Trans women do not menstruate, and Germaine Greer put this pungently: “If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know.”

Many women with VSC do not menstruate, CAIS women included. Women with Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser syndrome (MRKH) have a shortened vagina, no cervix and no uterus. Google’s “people also ask” had, “Do people with MRKH pee?” This demonstrates the prurience and ignorance of, among others, Adult Human Females. Who could imagine that any animal did not pee? They have ovaries, which produce hormones causing a puberty normal but for the lack of periods. Their eggs can be removed, fertilised by a partner, and placed in another woman’s uterus, which makes anti-trans campaigners’ objections to surrogacy questionable. MRKH affects 20 in 100,000 women.

A leaflet from Imperial College NHS Trust says it is normal for women with MRKH to feel angry and depressed. Many parents feel guilty. This shows how damaging our culture can be, with ideas of “normal” and “disordered” people, who are less. All privilege damages society.

Women with Turner Syndrome, only one X chromosome, have a uterus but underdeveloped ovaries, so they do not have periods and are infertile. Turner Syndrome affects 50 in 100,000 girls, and Turner Syndrome foetuses often miscarry.

About 42 in 100,000 people in Britain have a hysterectomy. They don’t have periods, either. They remain female, but not everyone agrees: “I’ve even had my sex taken away,” said a friend. This is internalised self-phobia caused by poisonous attitudes in society. In the US, it is 143 hysterectomies per 100,000 population, which may indicate that hysterectomy is a matter of medical fashion, and should be checked with studies of outcomes.

So, a definition of “woman” as “adult human female” excludes many people the anti-trans campaigner might think of as women. Then the definition begins to get messy: adult human females, plus some people with variations of sex characteristics who are culturally treated as women rather than third-sex or nonbinary. But, if CAIS women should be treated as women because of a social convention, why not trans women? We can tolerate shadowy existence presenting male, but we need to transition to live fulfilled lives. If CAIS women should not be treated as women, why not?

This paper argues that women with heightened natural testosterone levels should be restricted in women’s sport. However, any conception of “fairness” is a choice. All athletes have congenital advantages.

Around 1.7% of the population has some intersex traits, says Amnesty. That is a lot of people to be crammed into a definition of “woman” from which trans women could be excluded. You would end up with a list. But every biological category has fuzzy edges. No human characteristic can be perfectly defined with people definitely either in or out.

In claiming a right to include some people and exclude others as “women”, anti-trans campaigners are asserting privilege. They want to judge someone’s clothes, looks, and perhaps skull and hip to shoulder-width ratio to decide whether someone is “woman enough”. This results in misgendering lesbians. People who do this can hardly call themselves “feminists” or “radical feminists”. The best definition of “woman” is anyone who says she is one.

I am sharing pictures from Hooke’s Micrographia, because I find them beautiful.

Moving from love to hate?

You gave me attention and approval. It was intoxicating. I had that experience with H, too- approval like sunshine, which made me desperate for it to continue when it abruptly turned to disdain. You showed the signs of arousal, arousing me. You reinforced that by sending pictures, of you in underwear, and I spent hours, aroused, thinking of you. All this is extremely powerful. Continue reading

Sitting with the mystery

Human beings are unknowable, even to ourselves.

In Meeting, I sit with my hurt, fear and lack of control as in a twelve-step programme. Some say that being present in the Now creates a feeling of joy, and sometimes it does for me. At other times, the pain is as much as I can bear, but shutting it out I blind myself. Suddenly perceiving the depth and complexity of feeling is like a symphony with too many instruments. I might surf it, if only I resist the temptation to understand it. But understanding has been the way I have sought safety for so long.

I take refuge in writing. Almost until I would have been too late for meeting, I was playing on the Guardian comment threads. I put a brilliant argument that people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and the external genitalia of women, are called “women” by a social convention. There is no simple definition of “woman” that includes CAIS women but not trans women, and no moral reason to define the word that way. That comment disappeared when a comment up-thread, “Keir Starmer should dial back the woke nonsense”, was removed by a moderator. I wrote another comment and got a “Guardian Pick” which got hundreds of up-votes. I care about this stuff, so I give you the details.

Last week, I learned Richard Dawkins will be speaking at Greenbelt, and I started thinking about what I would say if I got the microphone from the floor during his session. A paragraph has repeated in my mind as I test variations. I judge myself: I should not be thinking about this so much.

Living in the present moment, or sitting in Meeting, should I not be thinking? Well, if I were jamming a twelve bar blues, I might be better to count the bars until I felt them. Thinking has its place. I do not want to shut down any part of myself.

I started this blog post a week ago, and it was all about her. We exchanged several texts a day for months and had hours of video calls, and she was going to come to my house- and then at the end of March she withdrew, and I was wondering, why? I thought she ceased contact because she had coldly and calculatingly sought to subjugate me, and when I baulked, she withdrew. So I shamed her publicly. Afterwards, I wondered if she had been scared of me. From an earlier draft:

So many people have feared violence from me. There’s the normalised phobia of “biological men”, and there have been claims I might personally be violent. I have so much anger in me, all directed inwards. I let it go, slowly. My violent acts have been self-destructive rather than aimed at others, and I have several times been the victim of violence I could not resist. That others might fear me is a threat to my safety, and it distances me from other people.

You told me of a time you might reasonably have feared that man, and you have to be cautious in your line of work. You were under great pressure at the time.

Was it because you feared that you sought to impose complete control? I must serve you, my will subsumed in yours. I was obsessed with you, thinking of you all the time. Then I said I would not do those things, and you dropped me. I did not imagine that you feared me. I thought you had consciously, calculatingly, made me obsessed with you in order to control and negate me. That seems cruel. I would rather imagine you frightened or cautious than cruel.

This omits that after she withdrew I lashed out, attempting to shame her before fifty people. I could say, well, that was exceptional. It is not who I am really. But it was who I was in the moment that matters. I cannot say “I lost control”- there was no part of me that stopped me acting, at the time. I am one human being. If “being pushed beyond endurance” is an excuse for me, it is for others too.

I thought of asking her, but it would be ridiculous. “Were you cold and calculating, or fearful, or cautious? Was there something else?” I could not answer a question like that. What narrative has she in her mind, or would she want in mine? There is a time to create a narrative, and sometimes I just have to let the mystery be.

There is something chilling about her. She is not a nice bourgeois woman who would do nothing objectionable. Neither am I. I miss the contact, but you can’t separate bits out of a human being, missing one part but not another. Each of us is one. I see her enthusiasm, energy and intelligence- these are perceptions, not narrative- and for her I may be just another sub. I thought I would rather think of her as frightened rather than cruel, but, why? I will do her the honour of believing she can be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

The thought crosses my mind- “I love ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’.” And I am back writing. I decide to spend the last ten minutes of Meeting with  these people, here. How are they? How is the worship? In meeting, it behoves me to foster order, reverence, harmony, and Love.

I shall spend some time this month ruminating about her- her and that man, her and her subs, her and me. Eventually I will stop, though for now I remain open to contact from her, however unlikely. The narrative I need is that I sought as best I could publicly to shame her.

I write blog posts and comments, rather than the more sustained work of publishable articles or even a book. Writing is my skill, which gives me pleasure. Confusion and desperation recede from consciousness as I do what I am good at. Then I obsessively check for views and upvotes, as a substitute for human contact.

Value and desire

Every word of my affirmation is fought for.

I am Abigail, a gentle, vibrant light.
I am a human being, a feminine woman.
I have value, desire, agency, determination, dignity.

I am Abigail, the name I chose. Someone else said, “gentle, vibrant light” and I thought that is too beautiful to leave out. You might think it obvious that I am a human being, but I am asserting my uniqueness, beauty and wonder as a human being, and also that I am one in 7.9 billion. I am a woman, despite denials, and feminine. I denied it too. I said on facebook it made no sense to say I was not “biologically” a woman, unless you believe in a soul separate from the body, and was roundly mocked for this. Yet I am a woman.

I thought I was worthless for so long, but I have value. I have desires, chiefly about safety, social contact and the regard of others. Activity is a means to those ends. I have agency: I can take action, and I do. I have willpower, or determination, when I decide to do something. Dignity, I read, means being worthy of honour or respect, and that is a leap of faith I will make.

I cycled 36 miles, which is as much as I want to do in a day, and don’t want to do two days running. So, while I like the idea of cycle touring, I don’t really see myself doing it. I thought of cycling daily, and just did not. It’s the difference between liking an idea of myself, and wanting the reality. Or, it’s wanting the reality and not having an idea how to get there. Or just not doing the work.

I want sexual surrender, and a friend suggested I needed more long term planning- not just the immediate delight, but the possibility of partnership. Are they a catch?

Taking my bike on the train, I went to visit the artist, who showed me their studio. Their Greek characters are sculptures and prints. I love the Helen of Troy, oozing sex and death. The Heracles is a killer. I was introduced to the stories as a child, and these are an adult reappraisal.

Coming back on the train, I started a conversation with a woman from the headline on her Guardian. She is a Quaker, who is just writing pastoral guidance for her meeting on trans people, whose meeting has been called transphobic. I told her of my experiences. I hope she would not see me as a threat.

A writer on dementia wrote of the need for a sense of self. A woman in a nursing home was disrupting the nursing station, until they found she was a former nurse. So they let her sit there, even write fake notes, and she became happier. I don’t take pride in having been a lawyer, and my sense of self comes from what I have found out about myself. My vulnerable, inconsistent pride comes from being this particular human.

I want to add good qualities to my affirmation. I have many gifts, and the ones I value are these:

I am loving, creative and decent.

I wish I had more outlet for these qualities. It seems a desire to be not to seem. I am this person, and I have so much doubt and fear. So I go back to the affirmation Menis Yousry crafted with me, and what I did with it. Someone called my words “honest, astute and brave,” and I treasure such affirmation.

Image from Wikimedia. Godward was painting for men. Those young women, probably shallow and dissatisfied, are a caricature beside Evelyn Blacklock’s self portrait. This is a real person, confidently and openly looking out at us.

Protecting my femininity

“I really trust in myself and my own Blackness,” says Quinta Brunson. How liberating! Something condemned, or seen as other and inferior, feared oppressed and resisted, being Claimed. “This is who I am, and it is Good.” Beautiful. I screwed up my courage, and typed: I really trust in myself, and my own


I have wrestled with the concept here for ten years. It feels weak, vulnerable and frightening. It seems an oppressive, Patriarchal concept: women are not always feminine, and should not be expected to be. Sometimes it appears incoherent. And I feel unworthy of it. My internalised transphobia claims I am not really feminine.

I keep coming back to the fact of my femininity. I am still resisting, but it becomes more undeniable. I fear it, and that sets up internal conflicts which paralyse me. I denounced it as weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and illusory. Only as I accept that I am as I am, can I become free.

I desired someone. She was dominant, and I would submit. I wanted to nurture and care for her. The term in a Domination/submission (D/s) dynamic would be “serve”, but I don’t like that word. It is not just false self-image which makes me resist: I have value and agency which the word “serve” does not properly acknowledge.

It appears that some women, like me, want to be “taken”, or “overpowered”, by a sexual partner. Not all women, of course, and sex without consent is a violation. Some would deny it, and some would whisper about it. Some would fear it. Some would see it in themselves, and take precautions: being overpowered could be damaging, unless there is love between a couple.

Most people discover sex in their teens. A lesbian blogger said she was twenty before she found her community, and sexual love. I was so damaged by my culture, society and upbringing, so bound up in the need to make a man of myself, that I could not possibly have recognised my desires then. I want to be overwhelmed, and that would have been too great a threat to my sense of self.

Others saw in me what I denied in myself. At a dance in 1994, I took Jan in a ballroom hold, and she started to lead. I got embarrassed and upset, and she said, “I thought that was what you wanted”. It was, just, not what I could admit to myself. So I was stuck in impossible internal conflicts, denial and suppression, and starved for connection.

I want to be overwhelmed, and wonder if it is pathological: if my mother made me that way. When a trait is disrespected and denied, we search for a cause. The cause is, natural human diversity.

If it is hard for women to accept that desire, how much harder for men! Even when you accept it, the danger of it, the possibility of exploitation, continues. I am not a man, I am more or less clear on that twenty years after transitioning. The desire to make a man of myself recedes, though it was so powerful in me that there are still echoes. And perhaps in others: if men have an inkling that they do not fit the gender stereotypes of Manliness, they might have powerful feelings which they need to deny and suppress out of consciousness just as I did. It would feel humiliating, where if there were Love and acceptance it could be fulfilling.

I have little experience of sex, and almost none satisfactory. Well, we did not evolve to be happy, we evolved to reproduce. Two years ago, I coined this phrase: I want to open up like a flower. I have done, once, with a big, gentle man. My only response to him was to open from a foetal position, curled up protecting my breasts, belly and genitals, to lying on my back with my legs apart. This took more than an hour. And there was no “relationship” beyond friendship. Possibly his care was large enough to fill the word “Love”. Possibly the friendship and trust I felt for him was sufficient.

A scenario: you, the sub, are bound, gagged, helpless, at the Mistress’ feet (apologies to anyone who finds this overly vanilla).

I feel the sub’s attraction. There is the sense of being helpless, overwhelmed, controlled. But the fantasy is humiliating, echoing the humiliation the sub feels at his desires. He realises this is not manly. If he maintains a manly façade elsewhere, it might make him more ashamed and less likely to form a loving sexual bond.

At best, the humiliation might break him open, so he can admit his desire and be his whole self. Or he can explore it, experiencing what it is like to be this part of himself with another human being. At worst, he has an occasional outlet, walled round with shame and denial. I had an occasional outlet in cross-dressing. I could only integrate a huge part of myself through transition, and am still working on it now.

What I can’t see, in the D/s scenario, is anything valuing the sub. I have value. I am not just a plaything. The conventional ways people are valued- family, job, status- do not apply to me. I was systematically devalued, so I devalued myself. The vulnerable sexual being, overwhelmed, needs to be valued. I love Cranmer’s words: “Love, protect and cherish”. Cherished, I might flourish. Devalued and humiliated, I hide away.

Humans respond to being valued. We bring forth our valued parts. We hide those parts that are devalued. I have this capacity for surrender, which I fear in myself, and have judged and seen as weak. I need to value it.

A sex worker can get people to pay for that humiliation. And if she enjoys it, and he asks for it, why wouldn’t she?

Possibly, it’s just me, and everyone else has come to terms with all this…

I had initially called this “Fearful femininity” in the sense of “fearful symmetry”. I am in the embrace of unyielding reality, holding me as I struggle. If I reject my femininity I cannot protect those vulnerabilities in myself. I must value and protect my femininity.

My sexuality

I do not know my own desires, but I have been finding out some things.

Deeply repressed in my twenties, so ashamed of cross-dressing that I had aversion therapy, not knowing my own feelings, I wanted a girlfriend like a repressed gay man might- to make me normal, to make me appear normal. I believe a woman fell in love with me at University, saw the gentle soul below the layers of terror and arrogance, and took years to recover. I did not see it.

I thought of calling this “Towards a theory of my sexuality,” though I feel, as well as analysing. The working theory until this week was that my sexuality was like my father’s. He liked strong, controlling women, first my mother, then M. We had one honest conversation about this. I get the impression that some people think this is just kink, possibly kink in denial. (People I have talked to recently have referred to “kink” rather than “BDSM”.) I think it is different. My mother never even wore a high heeled boot. I like to be controlled, and being controlled has hurt me. And I want to open up like a flower.

U would have controlled me for her own purposes, just because she could. I did not see it, and F did: she told me of a man who had been gloriously dominant, and she had just accommodated to him. Now she had a man who appreciated her nature and helped her be herself.

I craved seeing D. I asked for a video call, and when I saw her, all my oxytocin went off. In that moment I felt my deep emotional need for connection. I had not realised its strength.

I talked about this with my friend who does twelve-steps. We agreed that humans kid ourselves all the time. The alcoholic will take just one drink, he thinks. She does not want me hurt, and said I should sever all contact. I picked another friend to talk to because they have poly relationships, not knowing they are into kink. I thought poly would teach them to be conscious about feelings, needs and illusions. They said, “You know I’m not going to judge you, right?” Of course, that’s why I picked you. I still could not speak clearly, just sat silent or said disconnected words, until they loved me back to coherence.

I still surprised them. “I think of mine as male sexuality,” I said. “Oh! OK,” they said. Well, like my father’s. I want to understand, so no concept is off limits- imagining that I am a man, a woman, or nonbinary helps me understand different things about myself. Though I don’t like it when others pigeon hole me. More than one has said, “Oh, I don’t think of you as man or woman, I think of you as Clare”. I resist “nonbinary”, because of my starkly binary transition.

I need an emotional connection, I said. “The word for that is ‘demisexual’,” they said, and I felt resistance. I feel it, it is real now, and I will not shut myself off from future experience by classifying My Precise Orientation too early.

Then Michelle Goldberg in the NYT hits me between the eyes. “Women are still embarrassed by their desires, particularly when they are emotional.” Women might put their partner’s needs above their own. One felt embarrassed wanting to stop her partner choking her during sex, even though she did not like it.

This brought me to tears. “I want to be a man,” I wept. It would make life so much easier! But I am not. I am a woman. I want to be hurt! Not in a masochistic sense, but because I want to open up to all experience, and it is only through being open to being hurt that I might find what I desire.