Humility

I had a good working relationship with Ann until my transition, which she found revolting. Before, we would discuss clients we had in common, discuss common problems, and support each other in the stresses of the office. We had a good, friendly working relationship. After, she was revolted by my expressing female. “Eugh”, she said. She was almost apologetic about it, it was just the way she felt, and we kept apart as much as possible. I still liked and respected her, and could even accept her revulsion- it was just one of those things.

What did she think of you, before?

It is strange thinking of my levels of comfort answering that. Er, alright I suppose, he does his best, bit irritating sometimes… claiming “she liked and respected me” felt deeply uncomfortable. Thinking about it, it might be true. I was alright. How would I know? Well, we got on, and she was a good worker without infinite, saintly forebearance. It was a good friendly working relationship, though we would have little in common now.

Someone referred to my “humility”.

I do not want humility as a virtue. That reminds me of Jesus’ line, “They have received their reward in full”. I do not want to show humility which can then be noted by others, chalked up on my credit side, be part of the evidence that I am a good person- because then it would always have a tincture of hypocrisy or self-delusion. I do not want it for itself but for what it might achieve, perhaps making me better able to see reality and make predictions. If Ann regarded me, before transition, better than I did myself that is at best a mixed blessing. Humility has value insofar as it helps me know the truth, and no further. There are advantages in arrogance in some circumstances. Humility made it easier for me to accept Ann’s response and try to achieve a better working relationship, which efforts benefited us both. Humility making it difficult for me to articulate that she found good points in our relationship before my transition has no good effect. It is painful for me, and inhibits my clearly seeing what is. It may inhibit my actions.

What do they think of you?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. Or, a complex web of shifting impressions, one of which may have assumed great importance to another even though I don’t remember it. Or, I have an idea, which must always be open to reevaluation, for the pattern is new in every moment. Some good things. Some not so good, and I might not really understand either.

The “humble” Uriah Heep in David Copperfield is not repulsive because of humility. He knows his station, and he remarks on it, but he resents it, and his resentment is his excuse for whatever dishonourable clandestine manoeuvrings he uses. When he alludes to his humbleness and humble station and need to show proper humbleness and gratitude, he is a hypocrite, not feeling that gratitude. If he could see beauty as well as cruelty in the world he might use better means. He is humble about his station, but arrogant about his desert.

frank-reynolds-uriah-heep

Mr Pence goes to the Theatre

Friends, you need to calm down. You will have the most ignorant president ever- worse than Reagan- and possibly the most dangerous, but your angry shouting will achieve nothing.

I love clips of Megyn Kelly interviewing Trump-apologists. That look of incredulity, with a tincture of contempt! It is intensely sexual. She starts with a smile of welcome, as at a persistent date who has not yet realised how far out of his league she is. Welcome to my lair. Then the mouth turns down a little, and the eyes widen ever so slightly. Then there’s blood coming out of her- what’stheword?- V- V- Victims! Stephen Colbert and the rest remain entertaining.

As usual, Mr Trump inflamed his opponents.

This is not presidential. He should be above this sort of whining. He has been roundly mocked- “Stop picking on my vice-president” said the British mouthpiece of Mr Murdoch, owner of Fox News. The Sydney Morning Herald just reported the story straight: quoting the tweets is enough to make a fool of Mr Trump. As always.

And yet- there you are on a hair trigger. One side sets to enthusiastically liking and retweeting Mr Trump, the other to abuse. “I don’t think I am going to make it through the next four years.” “I’ll take resignation or impeachment, I’m not picky.” “He turned into a snivelling puddle of poor me.”

Things are serious. The racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is a disaster for your country, and Myron Ebell as chief destroyer of the Environmental Protection Agency is a disaster for the planet. Your president-elect’s son in law got Chris Christie sacked as head of the transition team, because Christie prosecuted his father for tax evasion. Your president-elect busily insults foreign leaders. And- a stooshie about Mr Pence being rebuked at the theatre is mere froth.

Some of it is witty. First they came for the Muslims, and we said, ‘not this time motherfucker’. Some makes it worse than it is. People are wearing safety-pins to show they are a safe person. You can trust me, it says, if you are abused in the street. A meme says, “Wouldn’t it be nice if this [a cross pendant] meant, ‘I’m a safe person’.”

You know, it does? It takes an extreme, frothing at the mouth fundamentalist not to be shaken by the abuse of gay people or Muslims in the street. They might wade in. I don’t like the fashion for wearing safety pins. Common civility is not eroded enough for it to be needed. It makes things look worse than they are. Most people, even many racist people, will be uncomfortable if someone is abused in the street, and many will intervene.

When I have been abused, it has usually been quiet. I and the abuser have been the only pedestrians, or I have been alone and someone has shouted abuse from a car. A man abused me once and the woman with him rebuked him, rather than cheering him on. People still read me, and some may object, but keep quiet about it.

We need to lower the temperature. Mr Trump thrives on rage and fear, because they stop people thinking. By expressing care for others, we may enable them to hear differing points of view. From a state of calmness, we may see what positive action we might take.

margaret-sarah-carpenter-ada-lovelace

Victim Culture

I have had a really hard time. I grew up knowing I must conform to a stultifying masculinity, never living up to it, terrified of being found out. Almost no man fits the “man” box, that particular stereotype. It wounds all men, not just trans women.

It wounds cis women too, treated as sex objects, not taken seriously in careers, subject to predatory men at work, and often violent men in relationships.

There you go- we are all victims of society. Of course some are more victims than others: black lives matter, and people need to keep saying that because not everyone seems to agree. There is an angry response. “All lives matter”- why should those POCs draw attention to their deaths? “Blue [police] lives matter”- the police must be able to protect themselves, and even make mistakes.

Yes, all lives matter. Let us care about all lives cut short.

People of colour remain oppressed by society, but white people are too. If you thought you could get a good job, and your prosperity would increase because you work hard, and your children would be better off than you, and instead you have found your real income reduce and become more precarious: you have a right to be angry, though not to oppress others. And if you see others’ difficulties and oppression a subject of concern, but not yours, you have a right to be heard. Even if you are a racist, that does not make your concerns immaterial: hurting people express unheard hurt in a rebarbative way.

When I don’t feel heard, I shout louder. Sometimes my need to be heard so overwhelms me that I can do nothing else until I feel heard. Or my anger stews inside me.

Even Donald Trump is oppressed: his father sounds horrible, and apparently did not inculcate civilised values in him. So he boasts of assaulting women because he feels that such a man is one William Bush will respect, and then he is called disgusting. Poor man! His acts should be corrected, but his person, or being, has value as a human being created in the image of God, and deserves Love. If he could be loved simply for himself, rather than for what he does, he might not be so destructive.

We are all victims. Let us hear each other’s pain, for all pain matters. You are a child of God. If we could all feel heard, we could get beyond our anger, pain and grievances, and work together in love and creativity. Rather than needing Syrian refugees, Mexicans, women seeking abortions and gay people to be treated as badly as you feel treated- I suffer! They should get what they deserve!- we could hear their pain and seek our common good together. On the day of judgment, people hang their sorrows on the Sorrows Tree, then look at the sorrows of everyone else. You can choose someone else’s sorrows instead, but everyone chooses their own, as less burdensome.

I notice my own expression of anger is so paltry. Real rage at music in the supermarket, or my friend not seeing things exactly as I see them. Then I was uncomfortable, now I am comfortable. These things are incomprehensible; but I know we need heard, we need care and support.

Flocks of geese

The geese take off from the lake, fly around in a great flock, as far as three miles perhaps, then alight on the water again.

geese-flocking

It is very beautiful. I saw them on Friday, but was with a friend so did not want to be messing about with a camera. Now, the next sunny day, I wonder if they will repeat. I see no flocks of geese as I approach. Just my luck if they had all emigrated!

the-self-aware-swan

The self-aware swan, nervously looking at its reflection, is some consolation.

geese-hierarchy

Then- there they are! It would be beautiful, just to contemplate them; but I want a good shot. They are towards the sun: perhaps from over there I would get a better view.

how-close-geese-fly

They fly so close together! Many shots are less well focused than this.

geese-above-the-houses

I love this shot:

geese-flocking-glorious

I stood around for about half an hour, waiting for them, then snapping away, seventy shots, most unfocused, some just of sky or trees. I got chatting to an old bloke who comes here every day, can tell different kinds of geese apart, and has been watching them from the causeway.

a-v-of-geese

This family has four young, a good survival rate. They were ten yards away, aware but unfazed by me.

swans-ten-yards-from-me

Love trumps hate

A Trump supporter leant me his coat once. I was cold and unprepared, and am grateful. In my almost monochrome Facebook bubble of despondency his elation, increased by the successful bet he laid on the outcome, is a contrast.

I did not sleep well so was awake around 4.30 to hear the Florida result, and as I type the Republicans have taken the Senate, the House and the Electoral College decisively even though not all results were declared. So they will take the Supreme Court, perhaps more partisanly than before. This is worse than being awake to hear Nigel Farage’s first snarl of triumph in June.

Leadership matters. An organisation takes its culture from its leaders: do they inspire creativity, trust, and joyful working together, or do they have security search warehouse workers in case they have stolen goods during their shift? Hearing Mr Trump’s rhetoric for four years will embolden those who speak and write coarsely in imitation of it; and, worse, his demonisation of out-groups will prevent many from growing beyond that false view of the world, when they believe some enemy is the cause of their privation so cannot address their real difficulties. In Britain, I am one of those demonised already, as Mrs May sneers at “Liberal metropolitan elites” who voted against Brexit. I am comfortable enough on my income, but doubt many calling me “elite” would be.

And people’s desire for a leader as saviour will be tested to destruction. Already it has: President Obama did not close Guantanamo, his drones are still killing, and we still need the Black Lives Matter campaign, in England as well as the US. There will be no growth in purchasing power for Mr Trump’s rural and rust-belt supporters from his policies, no reduction in violence against them, no real hope.

The ozone hole is healing, but our dependence on chloro-fluoro-carbons was far less intense than that on hydrocarbons, for fuel warming our planet and for plastics in particles from microscopic to huge, non-biodegradable, polluting the web of interdependent life. The Anthropocene threatens the biosphere, including us, and English-speaking political leaders have concerns, such as economic growth, that they deem more important than mitigating it. Mr Trump’s world view is one of Winners and Losers, a zero-sum game where he may use nuclear weapons.

And- we are human, capable of love and self-sacrifice as well as blind obedience and cruelty, finding joy in compassion and togetherness, our mirror-neurons forcing most of us into empathy. We are made in the image of God, and so are loving, creative, powerful and beautiful. Without a leader as saviour we are thrown on our own resources, to build communities of trust and co-operation in the face of exploitation and oppression. Truthful, compassionate people can show the frightened a better way, for we are alive, and living beings all strive towards health and wholeness, and we are a social species, fulfilled when brought together. A man I did not know well leant me a coat, because we were in a social group together. a-v-of-geese

Owls

This is my prayer, this my worship:

Hello.

At the Lakes, there is a display of owls: shown on wooden perches and happy enough to be stroked on the tummy. Children crowd round, at first shy, but seeing others stroke are emboldened to try too. It seems exploitative to me. “Owls to behold” rescues and rehomes birds. They are tame, so releasing them perhaps would be cruel, and the petting zoo funds their care; and the fact that I am disturbed does not stop me wanting photographs. He also sells owl pendants and tea-towels.

owl-balancing-act

Could you ask her to spread her wings? I asked. He lifts her from the perch, and explains that they do that in order to balance. He moves his arm to get her to spread again. “Did you get one?” I did.

owl-that-plays-with-finger

This one, when I stroke her tummy, “plays with” my finger. It is not a nip: the beak goes right round the finger rather than pinching flesh. It is playful, exerting a tiny part of the force that back-breaking, flesh-tearing beak could.

Beautiful plumage.

owl-settling-the-feathers

This one fluffs out her feathers before settling them again, I hope more comfortably.

It was an unexpected pleasure to find the owls. I was here to meet C., who has just discovered my Quaker meeting. We talked deeply of our lives and of politics, and then walked around the park. She asked of my trans experience. And I found that I was closing off discussion: she would say something deep, and I would say, “Look! An Iron Age hut!”

The hide is beautiful. That door is self-consciously rustic, with metal binding its edges even a bit steampunk. At its back, a wooden awning juts out like a prow, supported by a pillar. I have had a lovely conversation.

Thinking on the fifth circle of hell. Depressives, lying under the muddy stagnant water in marshes by the Styx, turning anger in on themselves- such a psychological insight for a Renaissance poet! Yes, I am there; and also open to new encounters, and new views. After, I walk home and have some of the last of the blackberries: lots are shrivelled but some are still ripe and round. Worship and prayer is where I, simply myself, unadorned, unpretending, look out and pay complete attention to- something other than myself, a person, or a blackberry, or an owl.

Hello.

On stage at Greenbelt

Spotlight- Stage- Audience. Heaven?

I was speaking in the Little Big Top on trans issues. On the Friday morning, before it was open, I crawled under the sides of the tent to feel the stage. The spotlights flickered on and off intermittently. I had no idea, then, how I would introduce myself. People say what they have achieved. I hit on, “I have found the work of self-acceptance so difficult that I have almost done nothing else. I am not here to tell you what to think. I am here to tell you who I am.”

I was fair pleased with my yellow wristband with “Artist” on it, but when I showed it off people would ask me what I was doing, and that meant I had to come out. After, I could say “I did a talk on trans issues” almost immediately, but while I became more confident before, I always had to pause to collect myself.

I spent Saturday psyching myself up for it. I wanted to speak from a place of authenticity. I practiced looking into people’s eyes and saying that introduction. After, someone said that when I said it, it hit her in the chest. I did not want to say that I regret my operation: that’s complex stuff, I will write more on it. It’s also something I have not processed, and processing such things on stage, or using the stage as a psychotherapist’s couch, is dangerous, possibly traumatising, not good for the audience either. There was the space to do that, on a deserted grassy path between tall trees. I pause to take in the beauty around me and centre myself. The peevish or frightened monkeymind thoughts quieten. I might clam up or get upset on stage! Well, that is unlikely. I don’t really worry about that.

Friday night was cold, camping, and I woke to add blanket, woolly hat, socks. Saturday some used the word “tornado”- the sky was unusual, and the rain torrential. I managed not to have to walk in the rain, moving between tents when it was dry. I met Christina at three at the OuterSpace stall, and we walked down to my tent to get changed. Then the heavens opened, and the wind rose, and a puddle formed inside from the sloping ground; and the wind made the tent expand then contract suddenly. The Artists’ Glamping coffee tent, next to mine, escaped its guy ropes and leapt over the fence behind, rather than on to my tent.

One has standards! I wanted high heels, a pretty dress baring my arms, so wore boots and tights. The nail varnish, difficult while camping, only had to last one evening. I spent weekends with Christina in The Sibyls just before transitioning, but never knew her. She has steel, she would have to, to remain a Church of England minister through transition fifteen years ago. She got a job as a hospital chaplain, and continued leading services though the Bishop asked for her licence back. She also needed reserve; and she is a lovely, practical person. I would like to know her better. The Craft Theatre Company had ordered an electric buggy, so we rode to the Green Room. 

Here we meet Jamie, and eat together. I had wanted to meet earlier, thinking of it as “team-building” before the evening, but I  was  better taking responsibility for preparing myself. 

Greenbelt 2017

I have not had a spiritual experience at Greenbelt.

I have not developed a new ability to enter Mindful Presence. I could walk up from the Glamping by a less well used avenue into the main site, over short grass, between mature trees, and if I was having a bit of a whinge to myself I could just stop and see the beauty of where I was and the beauty of the sky. Pause- There. It is easier, of course, when you are somewhere beautiful but you can do this anywhere, with practice. I have not had a spiritual experience at Greenbelt. I have been reminded how mindful presence is beautiful, and that it is worthwhile to practise it.

I have not found Authentic communication. I have had some good conversations: a youth, still at school, told me he came out to his parents three days before. He knows no other gay boys in his year, only one in his school. He wants to set up an LGBT society, and wondered how he could make it welcoming for the T. A curate in her thirties demonstrating what her “Prime” means- physically beautiful, and gaining mature presence and confidence- told me, as the ordinary development of the conversation, “I told my husband if he had an affair I would cut his balls off”. I have not had a spiritual experience at Greenbelt, to make me suddenly Spiritual and Sorted and OK. I have had authentic communication, and seen yet again that only authentic communication has value; and that pretending to feel what one ought to feel, or conversation designed to find what one ought to feel, comes from the outer circles of Hell. I have been reminded authentic communication is possible, and that I must make my communications authentic.

I have not developed self-confidence. Someone whom I might never see again told me “You are beautiful”, and perhaps if I keep that in mind it will take. I am beautiful, physically and spiritually. Someone else told me how gifted, intelligent and articulate I am, and I did not deny it, and I am feeling less guilty than I did for being where I am, for I have always used my gifts and I will continue to use them; they have always blessed other people, and I want that blessing to increase. I have not had a spiritual experience at Greenbelt, but I have seen the need to see where I am, see possibilities, forgive lapses, not judge myself against some imaginary perfect me but improve my performance, and keep beginning this again. I have found things I need to practise.

And I have a new affirmation:

I am Abigail
and I am beautiful, physically and spiritually.
I am gifted, intelligent, articulate
and I can use these gifts to bless myself and others.

I may not have had a Lifechanging Spiritual Experience- but I did get a kazoo!

This isn’t the magnum opus either. You will recognise the magnum opus.

Bodyache

The symptoms described were simple, aches and pains constantly all over the body restricting all movement and requiring frequent attention throughout the day. This made the woman- it was always a woman- unable to work, so entitled to incapacity benefit or income support, and because she needed care entitled to disability living allowance.

I can’t remember how many of them got the benefit. We chucked them at the tribunal, in the hope that some would stick. Many had Dr D. for a GP. He saw anyone who dropped in, rather than giving appointments, and disappointed his more articulate patients: one said to me, “He had his prescription pad out before I sat down”. He would for our standard fee of £50 write that his patient could not walk fifty yards, could not stand for ten minutes, needed help up from a chair, etc, but give no details of why beyond a bare diagnosis which was often merely “bodyache”, and so though we argued “The GP knows his patient far better than someone who examines her for the first time, for ten minutes” the evidence was of little value.

One ritual I saw over and over was the child or child-in-law encouraging the woman as she painstakingly traced out BIBI or BEGUM on the consent form, so we could write to the GP. Sometimes, organisations would insist on original consent forms rather than photocopies, so this had to happen more than once. It is lawful for the relative to support the wrist, but no further up the hand.

I have no idea how much the woman actually did, at home with family, or whether she actually had the care they claimed.

And yet I am happy with my role representing these women, for it was my role to translate what they said into legally effectual claims and appeals and place the available evidence before the tribunal or decision maker. If they had lost recently, I would refuse to appeal again, as I would judge that the likelihood of success was so low that it was not worth my time, but I felt all were entitled to one try, and after a year, perhaps a second. I have no particular record of the proportion of Dr D. bodyache cases who won, but some did.

And I am happy that they would get benefits. “Bodyache” sometimes seemed quite hopeless to me, at least possibly a psychosomatic expression of misery and despair which enabled the person to retreat to her home, stare at the walls, and be looked after. I have no idea of the family life of my clients, who were all individuals, who may have presented a face to me, the careful account of help needed known to mean entitlement to money. I feel few were simple frauds, though; they were doing what they could to better their situation, in the way that they saw.

Margaretta Angelica Peale, Still life with watermelon and peaches

Coming out, again

H stretched, luxuriously, so I leant against her side and she put her arm round my shoulder. It was a little ungainly as I am so much taller than she, but I liked it. The busker was particularly good, a saxophonist with a smooth tone, and a quiet backing recording which supported him without ever being the main attraction. She had put me up in London and we were wandering along the South Bank. Then a woman looked down at me with disgust on her face. Two women, like that. Surprise, perhaps, H thought, and indeed I stare at women holding hands, in surprised delight.

The day before, there was a relaxed social gathering near Barnet, and I was in the garden of a woman I had not met before with about twenty people, three I’m meeting for the first time. It’s far too hot, and I take my wig off. I am chatting to F, who asks me if I have had chemotherapy. Her friend’s chemotherapy makes her very sick, and only gets rid of the cancer temporarily- three months, the last time, before she needed more- so chemotherapy is on her mind. I was surprised, but then, not everyone is switched on to the possibility of a trans woman, so some don’t read you however obvious you are. I told her I had gone bald before I was thirty. She tells me how good my lace-fronted wig is.

Circle time. Are there any priority shares? There are, and looking at F I say, oh, I am not having chemotherapy, I share that just because it came up. But then in circle time I wanted to share about that man, and how I felt, and how when cis women learn to deal with offensively pressing men in their teens, this was a new experience for me. Which means coming out as trans, to F. Back in the garden, she thanks me for my “honesty”. But honesty does not require me to make sure everyone I meet knows I am trans. If you can’t work that out, which always surprises me- though people working it out quickly disappoint me- I don’t have to tell you.

F is bi, and her mother was disappointed, disgusted even. Mum’s new partner is terribly homophobic. And when F had a long term male partner, Mum was relieved. Now F has a female partner again, and will have to come out to Mum again with all the same resistance as before.

Every day you may have to come out for the first time.

bright lily