Masculine ideal, feminine reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confidence II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody has difficulties. Stop putting yourself down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confidence

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

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

-You were smiling as you told that story.

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

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

(Helen passes me a tissue).

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

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

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

I am still doing some worthwhile things.

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

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

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

Feeling good II

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceasing to pretend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-What parts of you are there, meeting her?

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

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

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

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

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

-Have you ever been loved?

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

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

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

So we arrange to skype again.

Against confidence

I do not want to be confident. When I feel confident, I make mistakes.

Russell Crowe, every time he came on set, required a round of applause. He can produce wonderful performances out of a place of deep insecurity. The applause might be an affirmation of his power rather than of others’ respect for him; but remembering it is not enough, he needed the symbol of it each time.

I am doing an “Improving confidence” course, and seeing how I interact with people new to me. I am unlikely to meet any of these people again, and in one case at least I am glad of that. I am also hearing useful stuff. You need to be confident approaching a horse: they can read you, and take advantage of a nervous person.

I feel they, and I, are dancing around a central truth which is hard to put in words, and their words are very different from mine. I faced difficult challenges until I could not any more. Helen, the tutor, says Mindfulness practice, or “chill-out time”, is good for health. Yes, when I could not come down from the last stressor before being stressed anew it became too much. I am completely turned off when she quotes from “Feel the fear and do it anyway”:

Squash that doubt. Squash it down!

Well, no. It is me, and I will not be cruel to myself. Perhaps I should coax myself reassuringly- yes, this is important to me, I will give my all to it– and possibly I should listen to the doubt, and get myself away from the situation. I forced myself, and then I gave up, and while neither forcing or giving up has made me happy they may be the best I can do. I am not sure what middle way is available. I can think of words for it- reasonable, ordinary courage; know your limits- but don’t know what that would look like in practice. It is a judgment in each case, and I can make mistakes both ways.

Helen tells us Richard Branson is afraid of public speaking, Whoopi Goldberg of flying, Oprah Winfrey of people chewing gum (after continual bad experiences of her grandmother sticking it to her own furniture) and Jodie Foster of other people’s opinions. As she is the youngest of the four, aged 55, and our age range is from sixties down to twenties, including people who do not recognise her, I feel they should get different examples to show respect to us. What is Taylor Swift frightened of?

It was all too much for me, and I don’t feel this course is going to help me at all with that. “Once more into the Breach!” they shout encouragingly, and I just get more worried.

What words describe confident people, class? Self-assured? Yes, possibly. Or, merely acting it. Georgia O’Keefe was absolutely terrified all the time: effectiveness is the goal, not confidence per se. Smug, suggests C. Her former boss in sales had loadsamoney. Knowing what you want and going for it. I feel telling me being goal-oriented is good is no use to me, if I cannot find goals within myself. Or I can, such as keeping my benefits and keeping out of others’ attention, and they are not the goals I am supposed to follow.

Rather than being “Confident”, I want to be open to possibilities. I imagine the meekness which would inherit the Earth- no sense of entitlement, observant and aware, no assumptions, open to possibilities and pursuing them when seen. I feel confidence is a product of success, which in part is luck, in part is social and community support, so cannot be given by a course. But I am here, and trying to get all I can from it. T performs a drag act, and shows his photographs. I show some of mine, too. We are capable people, and we are in the jobcentre.

unable to speak

Would you rather be right, or happy? Oh, Right, every time, vindicated in my own mind. Actually, only both will do.

I don’t want to look her in the eye. I don’t want to say anything: I don’t see the point. What I think, and how I see things, does not matter, and even I can’t believe it. Is any common understanding necessary, or possible? What is talking for?

-What were you writing, just then?
-I watch the emotions run across her face, in silence.

Dr Graeme McGrath wrote to my GP that ironic detachment is a powerful defence mechanism for me. I pull myself together. My feelings are below the surface, and I can talk. There is bitterness in what I say.

It seems my pain is a weapon to be held against me. It felt to me that the rules around our meeting, rather than building trust, were a game to make me safe for them, to keep me controlled. The offer was a listening game, where one person would talk for five minutes, one would listen, and one would observe, then we would discuss the experience. I wanted to get straight down to the problems. So I did. I started by saying “I don’t trust you”.

They admitted some difficulties. We do not really know each other. There are tensions in the group. It seemed to me they see me as a threat. They are doing all they can to restore relationships, and therefore any difficulty with that is my fault.

I need to approach them in a state of perfect ego-less Love, and perhaps that would be misconstrued. The most important thing in my life is how I relate to these people. Possibly the relationship will break down completely, and I will be excluded. That might be the fabled “Rock bottom” where I finally begin acting in my own interests without illusion, or a further slide into withdrawal and isolation.

What do I want?

To be myself. Not to be suppressing myself, being careful, pretending, acting, holding myself back in order to fit in. I do this out of fear. It has become unbearable.

And to fit in. To build relationships, take a constructive part, serve so that I do some good and have my service appreciated.

So I wonder. What do I tell myself? I am Charismatic, enthusiastic, passionate. I am forceful and strong-willed. These are all beautiful things, and when my passion or ardour comes out when I speak, people feel overwhelmed, and feel resentful. Or they see my passion directed at another, and they rush in to defend the other against me.

I am Good. I am seen as Bad. So what I tell myself is not improving relationships. It is simply a narrative. I struggle for a better understanding. I am uncomfortable with myself, sometimes self-suppressing, sometimes with passion bursting out, and so others are uncomfortable with me. I do not see others properly, their concerns or fragility.

I hear that other people are uncomfortable with me, and whether or not I hear about particular instances I do not understand how. So it seems all I could do is suppress myself.

Then there is the siren song of the non-dual mystic God-In-Us brigade. They say you must be present in the moment. Sometimes it seems I am that, but when I feel that way I can still create even greater distance from others. Possibly it is just that I have expectations and demands for them, which they will not meet. Can I shed all my expectations?

So I am forced back into stories. I must respond in a state of perfect ego-less Love. I have no idea how that would be. See “Present in the moment” above.

Being completely powerless, I might respond as someone completely powerless. I would be watchful. Who is this person, what do they want, and how can I avoid antagonising them?

By the end of the session, I am able to look her in the eye, and say what it seems I want to say. I am calmer. This may just be because I am ceasing to address the concern. I was caught up in my inner turmoil, conflict and incomprehension, and now I just stop.

The listening ear

“People tell me things,” he said. He has a sympathetic manner, and simply by not interrupting or gentle prompting at the right moment might get me to tell all my woes, but I got the feeling telling him was not entirely safe. Might he use what you told him? Why would you tell people these things anyway? Because it is a relief. You get it off your chest. You feel better.

Samaritans can talk to a supervisor after a difficult call about what they have heard. While listening, I needed to empathise, to feel with the other. After hearing, I always found I needed to shed their pain. Sometimes I was like a dog shaking myself on coming out of water, and sometimes it took much longer. Once I needed to talk to a friend for two hours. And sometimes it was as if they had a bottomless pit of pain. I would listen, and it would be as difficult as the most painful story could be, and I gave no relief.

Why would you do that? I liked it. It made me feel useful. It was a thing I felt I did quite well. It made me feel good. I would always rather say I do a thing because of what I gained from it- it made me feel good- rather than claim a good quality. Perhaps I am a loving soul, perhaps it is a sign of lovingness to want to do this for people, but that seems to me a story I tell about myself rather than a perception. “I am a good listener” is an idea to alter my conduct, or make me feel guilty when I do not live up to it. There is no life in it. In a particular moment, I want to listen and earth distress. It seems to me to be good right at that time. There is the life.

It also seems possible to me that someone might want to listen, because that feeling of being useful might make them feel better. Three of us at the trans club- the Baptist minister, the trainee Unitarian minister, and me- heard a trans man begin to tell his difficulties, and we all leant forward in unison, with our concerned listening faces on.

People offer to listen. There’s a way of saying “How are you?” to which the only acceptable response is “Well, thank you” unless you are really distressed, in which case you still need their consent to be a shoulder to cry on. Lots of people use “How are you” as a conventional greeting and are not interested in any answer. And there’s a way of saying “How are you?”, dripping with sympathy, begging to hear your most intimate thoughts.

And it is good to phone a friend. I share what is on my mind at the moment. She listens, asks some questions, does not sort my problem out but may say something useful. It is reciprocal. I do that with H occasionally. She has just moved house and is settling in. The couple she is staying with are really nice, welcoming and friendly. I am glad to hear it.

If you offer to listen to me, you take the risk that my hurt is too much for you to bear. If you are in a fragile state, perhaps it is better not to search me out and offer to listen. It is not my fault if you are perturbed by what you hear. But remember that I do not need you to make me feel better. My response is my own.

I wanted to communicate the depth of my distress, and I did so by curling on the floor in a foetal position. That was where I was at the time. I am not feeling that bad all the time. So it was a clusterfuck, two fragile people colliding, and if either had been less fragile at the time there would have been no problem. Not my fault, though, and unfair to blame me.

Do you like to listen, or find unburdening to someone does you good?

Why do people transition?

Why do people transition? Because we are human. No more precise answer is possible- because we are complex organisms in complex social structures. But transition continues to shock and distress trans folk and others. Because I wanted to is not a good enough answer for me, because I feel I have suffered because of transition and life might have been easier without that desire; and not for other people, because they want to debate what rights I get as a transitioned woman.

The answer “Autogynephilia” is given by people who want to treat trans women as men, limit transition, and exclude us. So it matters whether that is scientific or not. It isn’t. Haters insist on it, though.

The answer “because I have a woman’s brain/spirit, because I am really a woman” would give us full rights, but I don’t believe it myself. Women’s brains are not particularly different from men’s, trans women’s brains are not clearly closer to cis women’s than cis men’s, it is not clear what differences would be relevant to transition, and brains are plastic, changing throughout life. “Gender essentialism”, the idea that women are in some way innately feminine, is offensive to women who reject femininity but are clear they are women. I observe gender non-conforming people who do not transition, and conclude the idea that people with ovaries are fundamentally different from people with testicles, with the exception of trans people who are really in the other group, is ridiculous.

There is nothing which is a virtue in one sex which is not a virtue in the other; no characteristic which one has but the other has not, apart from those reproductive differences.

“Should a trans woman be allowed in women’s space?” should be addressed without a definitive answer to whether we are women or not. Socially and legally we are women. At worst, we should be pitied and tolerated, for we are mostly harmless. Some say we are men, so should not be there; but society is too complex for such a simple answer. Most people answer the question by imagined consequences: male abusers pretending to be trans to enter women’s space, or cis women seeing trans women, thinking they are men, and being retraumatised over past male violence; but most people either don’t care, or see that the gain in allowing us to lead productive lives as members of society outweighs such imagined problems.

A trans person just transitioning might need to justify that to themselves. I wanted to believe I was really a woman. I feared transitioning if I were simply an autogynephiliac pervert, consumed by my sexual fantasies. You doubt yourself, so other people’s opinion that you are a man hurts- it was as if I wanted the whole world to say I was a woman because I could not trust my own judgment and any doubt of it confused depressed and terrified me. But you doubt yourself, then you transition, or you don’t. It is hard to be a campaigner when you need affirmation, because you will meet the opposite.

Now my answer is It was the best I could do at the time. I look back on the difficulties, but with effort I also see blessings, and I may have been worse off if I had not transitioned. It is part of forgiving and acceptance.

A friend said Those who look for a cause are looking for a cure. That was in the nineties, when gay people questioned their own orientation. This is who I am, they should say. Gay Pride. I still looked for a cause. Transition is such an odd thing to do.

#Stand with Heather!

I stand with Heather.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans is a public intellectual, an incisive and persuasive speaker, an energetic campaigner, and a passionate feminist. I have heard her speak, and also met her more informally, where I found her warm and funny. She campaigns on porn culture, and I entirely agree. She supports the Nordic model of sex work law (which has inspired the law in France and increasing numbers of jurisdictions). On that I am unsure, but clear she has important things to say and is worth hearing, as she has researched the arguments. And she does not like being called a TERF- perhaps a gender-critical feminist, radical feminist or just feminist.

She appeared on The Moral Maze on Radio 4, where she expressed concern about teenage girls transitioning to trans men. She is the spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party policy on sexual violence against women and girls. A complaint has been made that she contradicts the party’s position on trans women, which accepts our self-determination as women.

The party has 65,000 members, as of July 2016, and while it has no elected councillors has won thousands of votes in various elections. It stands for equal pay, equal treatment in the media, and an end to violence against women. It will have difficulty while the UK parliament and local councils operate first past the post electoral system but it has value as a campaigning organisation; and it cannot be expected to enforce cabinet responsibility, with no spokesperson ever contradicting party policy, at such an early date in its existence.

That is, I want WE to flourish, and have the passion, skills and experience of Dr Brunskell-Evans, and I want her to be able to speak her understanding and campaign as she wishes- even though I do not agree with her. She does not like the word TERF, but when she says we should not be in women’s space it feels exclusionary to me. It is a bodge, I suppose. There are many people I will never persuade that I am really a woman, but I hope to persuade them that I am mostly harmless. Rape Crisis Scotland, which works against violence against women and girls, says We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. I can bear Dr Brunskell-Evans’s disagreement.

Twitter is not the place for nuanced argument. There, there is a campaign with the hashtag #standwithheather. “You are being anti-feminist and cowardly”, one tweets at WE. No, they are not, they are being practical and reasonable, allowing her to say things which other members contradict. Their own twitter stream is tweeting about toilets- not trans women in women’s toilets, but the impact of a lack of toilets on women’s health and dignity globally. They mark International Men’s Day by showing the men who have joined- for women’s equality benefits everyone. “They should be ashamed of themselves and their pitiful attempt at male pandering feminism”, thunders Quelizinha. Transgender Trend suggests WE is giving into bullies. “RemakingAdam” is obsessively tweeting again and again, claiming hundreds of women are leaving the party.

The Women’s Equality Party, like most feminists, supports trans women. That is the progressive cause. We subvert gender. We are an oppressed minority, and we need the support of society: we transition because we must, and we do so in far more dangerous conditions than in Britain. They could take a “gender critical” line, and escape censure from the likes of @Janice5E, who gloats that “@WEP_UK have had a lot of practice at losing women. Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) made a complete arse of the party on Mumsnet…” Such people, though, tend to be only interested in one feminist cause, devoting a great deal of energy to excluding trans women. I wish they would take that energy somewhere else.

Because all we know about the WEP position is that complaints have been made, and they are investigating. Here are their statements. The paranoid response on Twitter only damages the tweeters’ own cause. No-one has threatened Heather’s expulsion from the party. The tweetstorm damages the cause of feminism.