Omicron

Should I refuse my booster vaccination, as a protest against the failure to vaccinate most of the world?

Covid news moved quickly last week. There was a variant which might be of concern, which South Africa reported to WHO on Wednesday 24th, as B.1.1.529. Then there were news media referring to it as Mu or Nu. Then on Friday WHO classified it as Omicron. They said the earliest known case in South Africa was sequenced from a sample collected on 9 November. So flights from South Africa were suddenly banned, but too late. With minimal prescience I thought, it’s here already. On Saturday afternoon, the first British cases were reported.

Dr Ayoade Alakija expressed coruscating anger, eloquently expressing what I feel. Omicron, reportedly with reinfection rate 2, has many mutations affecting its spike protein. The spike is the basis of many vaccines. So Omicron is more likely to defeat the vaccines than Delta. Rich countries could have reduced the risk of variants reaching us by vaccinating poor countries. But we didn’t.

The UK has delivered only 11% of the vaccines it promised to the global vaccine distribution agency.

A certain level of covid appears to be found acceptable. In Britain testing has found around 30,000 cases a day since July. Not all positive tests may be reported. There have been over a hundred deaths a day since August, but the figures seem fairly stable. The UK total deaths is now over 143,000. Since August, around 800 a day have been admitted to hospital– some to be put on oxygen, some to be put on ventilators.

The world cumulative death toll, with all the data-gathering problems that has, was given as 5.2m as I typed.

I am convinced that the vaccine substantially reduces my chances of infection, of serious illness, and of passing on Delta. I think it probable that a booster would also reduce the risks of these things with Omicron. I fear there will be sufficient data available soon to test that hypothesis. If not, there may be work on other vaccines. Whatever doubt there is that the booster would affect Omicron, there are currently high rates of Delta infection in Britain, and taking the booster is the action I can take to reduce risk to myself and others.

A hunger strike is only a risk to the individual concerned. Refusing vaccination causes risk to others. I have an obligation to those I might infect. A protest has limited effect. I would inform my MP, but it would not by itself make our Nationalist government take vaccination of other countries seriously.

Separate from what effect any action might have, I might try to consider whether it was right to refuse vaccination.

Saturday, I went to an organ recital by a friend. Some were masked in the church, some were not. In “For the fallen”, Elgar arr. Harrison Oxley, he took us on a profound emotional journey. In carol preludes by Noel Rawsthorne he filled me with joy. After, a group of us went for coffee. There was a small sign on the table about masking when away from tables, and noting our presence with our phones, but I did not have my phone and don’t know if anyone did. As I type, there were further restrictions predicted, but I have no idea what “Let the corpses pile high” Johnson might countenance to reduce spread.

I would want to distinguish any depressive lack of motivation to arrange the booster, now I have had my invitation letter, from a principled desire to protest.

Then on the news on Saturday evening I heard that Omicron symptoms might be less severe than Delta. However, even if Omicron is not a serious threat, Delta is, and the same arguments about not getting a booster apply.

I don’t know. What do you think?

Communicating liberation

In November 2021, I stepped into my grace. Is it possible to state this in a way people will understand? Mine is a project of self-liberation: can I express my insights in order to liberate others? Or, I cannot liberate anyone, but I might help them to see some truth, so that they liberate themselves?

It’s a poetic metaphor- “I stepped into my grace”. I have begun to write about this. I have spoken about it, and on Wednesday night someone rhapsodised her gratitude to me, quoting that phrase. She had heard me at a moment when it really spoke to her. I felt slight embarrassment, but also great joy which continues today.

Poetry works. It spoke to her. It might only speak to a few people in the same way. I expanded the image-

God=Power
Goddess=Grace

Reading the Tao Te Ching over the last twenty years, it has seemed that I understood the poetry when I had already learned the spiritual lesson. Now, from experience I have an idea of what “flow like water” might mean, which expands as I grow into it. So rereading different English versions I might see more in them, and come closer to living like that.

Rumi (translated by Michael Burch)- “Your task is not to build love, but to bring down all the barriers you built against it”- speaks to me. I am taking down the barriers.

I hoped I might write a book one day, a spiritual autobiography saying how I had won my freedom, if I ever was successful in life, in the hope that it might speak to people and help them win freedom too. I would describe my journey to find God in me, and what God was.

My own journey does not fit everyone. Human spiritual maturity requires us to bring what is unconscious to consciousness. Different people are conscious of different things, and have different blind spots. I feel my trauma and continuing recovery is relevant to people as my trauma is not unique, but not everyone is traumatised in the same way. There is that of God in everyone, but it may be very different in each.

I can get something from Isaiah’s servant songs. For example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12. My God within seemed acquainted with infirmity and held of no account. It was an “offering for sin” in that my wild free femininity appalled and frightened my mother, because her spirit had been crushed out of shape too by her society. The sin is the failure to accept human diversity. The offering is that diverse people are crushed. And now my God within begins to see light and find satisfaction.

I don’t know if the Songs’ authors had a similar experience to me. I take the words to bolster my understanding that I am on the right path. I look back at that path, and see echoes of Isaiah. What is on the path ahead I cannot know.

But there are lots of ways to seek wisdom. I recommend sitting in silence, in meditation, Buddhist worship or online Quaker worship. Many people value A Course in Miracles. I dabbled with it. I keep thinking I might return to it and never quite do.

Noticing what moves me to tears may help me see unconscious needs. In this radio programme, one sentence at 12.15-25 had me sobbing. “Tammy, meanwhile, feeling alienated from her televangelist peers, found herself identifying less with them than with the objects of their scorn.” For me it encapsulates why people loathe Christianity, yet I love it. Jesus identifies with the oppressed, and the gospels are full of calls for us to do the same. So far as I liberate God within me, I see its oppression, and identify with it.

My judging it stops me seeing God in me. God speaks, and I say, that cannot be God. It is too weak and silly. Yet I am sure that it was. Gosh, that was 2015. This is going so much slower than I would have wished. I continue to be liberated, and pray that we all may be.

St Albans Cathedral

A cathedral is a hodgepodge of styles, designed to intimidate, perhaps, at best to inspire with awe. At St Albans, the Normans tore down the English cathedral to build their own. Nothing says “We are the masters now” quite like that. And different parts are from different ages: the brick tower, the stone nave, then the newer, faced stone porch, tediously symmetrical. You enter the west door then, unusually, climb stairs to walk down the “longest nave in England”. The important people are at the far end. This is intimidating.

It’s not the highest nave in England, because of the Norman arches in the north aisle. They cannot support the same height. Yet there are Gothic arches in the South aisle. I found that weird, ugly and unsettling when I first saw it. I wonder how the builders felt, when news filtered through to them of the new, fashionable Gothic arch.

The earliest of the mediaeval wall paintings dates from 1215.

All are faded, some almost unrecognisable.

So the curators have set projectors, which can indicate on the site what the original might have looked like. Between restoring with new pigment and covering over the original work, and leaving the faded originals, this is brilliant and beautiful. A touch on a tablet, and she is transformed.

This is “The Leaves of the Trees”, a touring artwork inspired by Covid.


This is the latest art added to the cathedral:

The shrine was broken up, and used as infil when the East end was walled off. When the wall was taken down, it was rediscovered. It has just been restored, with a new canopy. You can see the precise way it was broken, with pillars cracked and repaired in the same place. Here is the reredos.

That’s the best nourished dead Jesus I have seen. His head could be bowed in prayer, rather than death.

Here is the sculpture, which the priest would see, facing this altar:

It is Victorian restoration: the older screen was empty of statues. At the time, crucifixes were illegal in Church of England churches. The Reformers got at the older sculptures:

And here is a Chantry chapel, a bribe to God to get a rich man out of Purgatory early. What is so oppressive as religion enslaved to the interests of the rich.

Offence, hurt, fear and trust

There is a caricature of a trans person or woke ally, objecting to some phrase as not the latest, most correct language, and being “Offended”. When should you use the word “trans,” and when “transgender”? Someone in my mostly-safe space said that they “weren’t sure of the right words”, at the weekend, and I was in part irritated, in part frightened. It maintains a hard-Right myth that the powerful metropolitan elite, the radical Woke, and even trans people are oppressing ordinary people by demanding they talk and think in a particular way.

I am way beyond offence at misgendering. I will try to maintain an illusion that the other means well, just made a mistake, and mistakes are OK.

Or if I hear on the radio a fawning interview of an anti-trans campaigner, I am not offended, I am frightened. The outside world, where there is hostility to me simply because I am trans, has intruded into my house. I am interested in politics, and want to read mainstream centre-left commentary, but in the New Statesman, Guardian and BBC anti-trans views are regularly platformed uncritically. I am not the Elite, using being Offended to oppress others. Instead I hear the powerful broadcast their hostility to me simply because I am trans.

Well, what do you expect? Do you think society should support its members, and do you expect such support? That expectation, the basic trust that society is on my side, is a sign of privilege. Do you think the police support the population generally, or the powerful? A friend told me of going with three bus-loads of demonstrators. The police turned them back, closing a dual carriageway but for the buses with a police escort, which changed at each county boundary. They weren’t allowed to pee. Later, she got £5000 compensation. For her, the police are an oppressive force, and the courts work for her because she has the contacts with the knowledge and funds to use them. Not everyone has.

My bad experiences with policemen are not that bad, in the scheme of things, and I still feel some nervousness seeing a police van with seats for officers and a cage at the back for a prisoner parked in my street. Probably the person they have come for is violent or theftuous. I have some trust that their work has some value, but not a sunny expectation that if I am in a confrontation they will be on my side.

Society as a whole does not seek my good. I can survive and find allies. Much distress comes from the difference between expectation and reality. Surely the New Statesman and Guardian, even the BBC, should support the rights of minorities? That is not how the world is. I need to see reality as it is, however discomfiting the experience.

I remember Saira’s casual contempt when abused in the street. The men shouted “Fucking Paki!” She told me she thought, “Oh, get it right”- her parents were from Bangladesh. She is not cowed by them. Also at the weekend there was lovely, charming and just the tiniest bit creepy Alan. His delight and admiration at my femininity, beautiful hands, indeed personal beauty, was flattering, and I was perturbed for my boundaries. He told me the secret of good posture walking and standing was not to pull the shoulders back but to tighten the muscles of the lower back slightly, which support the rest of the body in a relaxed posture. Hold your head high. Pass through the hostility unashamed.

Of course it is frightening. Bad things may happen. Powerful men are inciting anger and hostility against trans people. I cannot trust society to support me. I can only trust myself. This is about stepping into power. The problem is that society tells us we will be safe, if only we don’t make a fuss, rock the boat, get noticed. I have tried that for too long. It does not work.

I had a wonderful weekend. I cycled to Peterborough, got the train to Diss, stopped off in Ely going, Norwich coming back, to see the cathedrals, and spent three nights with ten friends. The devoted love our hosts have for each other, in spite of difficulties, is inspiring. I also touristed a church, opened up for a prayer group, with a tower from 1500 but the rest rebuilt in the 19th century. The priest chatted a bit, of her six churches, testing out whether I might worship there. I don’t believe in God the Father Almighty, I told her, and she said there is also the Spirit, as if there is a choice.

At one point I spoke on “It’s not easy being trans” and a friend got up and walked away. I love her humour and intelligence and I sympathise with her resenting becoming a foreigner at Brexit. I want that friendship, but nothing is guaranteed.

Men and Women: healing the wound of the planet

What is wrong with the relationship between Men and Women? Sixteen questions on how it could be put right, from Jamie Catto:

15) Where do non-binary, trans and LGBTQIA people intersect with these questions?

Mentioned as an afterthought, on the outside looking in, at the sharp point showing the conflict clearly. As the wise others, who can’t play the game, so have a clear view of its rules, or as people broken by normality and desperate to fit in, even if it means negating ourselves. Hoping to save the World, or hoping to survive. Let’s start with some of the easier questions.

14) Are there different laws in your country depending on your gender?

I have a detailed knowledge of the Equality Act rules on women’s services, where trans women can go, and the rules on when we might be excluded. Rape is defined as the penetration of a vagina by a penis without consent, and in Scotland these specifically include trans people’s surgically constructed organs. Only heterosexual sex counts as “adultery” or “consummation” in marriage law. I could get more technical if you like.

3) What checks and precautions do you take to feel/be safe when you go out in the evening?

If I have more than one drink I want to sleep in the same building. I just don’t go out, especially since March 2020. When I go out I don’t take precautions particularly and sometimes I have only just avoided trouble.

4) What would it take for you to feel safe without taking those precautions?

A bit more money, so that they did not seem like precautions- taxis everywhere, go out when I feel like it. Walking through a park alone at night? I just don’t.

13) Do you think men and women have different brains?

I know they do. Women have more white matter than men. The Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, central section (BSTc) is twice the size in men that it is in women, slightly larger in gay men, and the same size in trans women as in cis women, but no use as a diagnostic tool because it can only be measured by dissection. I looked into this stuff, trying to work out whether I was truly transsexual, before I realised the only question is, would I be happier transitioned.

Men and women have similar psychology. There is no trait, vice, virtue, emotion, or aptitude, which is in one sex and not the other, or is not equally valuable in both, but gendered expectations exaggerate or squish traits, which harms everyone. People vary within sex far more than across it. So,

1) What are the most uncomfortable stereotypes you feel are associated with your gender?

Stereotypes affect us because of the demands or expectations of other people. I face the “tolerant”, who judge whether I am trans enough- “Have you had the operation?” I also face the hostile, for whom I can never be right- performing femininity I am a reactionary, enforcing a stereotype, but if I play with the stereotypes I am a man, not even a “transwoman”. Some accept me as I am. So stereotypes are uncomfortable which are furthest from who I am, like with everybody, and so will be different for everybody. But stereotypes which I fit are also uncomfortable, because they can be used against me.

The one which has harmed me most is conventional heterosexuality. I don’t identify as lesbian because I have my father’s sexuality: a pansy, or soft male, attracted to viragos, or strong women. I was so terrified of not being seen as a Real Man that I did not know that, and before transition I could not form relationships as I wanted a partner to complete my Normality disguise rather than to relate to. My mother died and my father found a new partner who was right for him, but I see men with the wrong woman who wants them to “be more manly”, and they try, making themselves miserable.

Stereotypes are harmful because they don’t take into account human variation and persist because seeing a human as they really are is hard, and the stereotypes often kind-of fit.

7) Do you want more touch that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex?

I want cuddles. To have sex would mean breaking down so many trauma-induced barriers that it may not be possible.

6) Do you have anything you need to be forgiven for?

Yes.

8 ) What would it take to be seen as you are without other genders’ preconceptions and definitions of what your gender is and should be?

When someone has expectations of me, it sets up a fear reaction in me: I must fit in or I will not be safe. So I have to accept myself as I am, know myself, and heal away all the inhibitions which prevent me from seeing who I am, which are reinforced by disgust and horror at who I am, and an inability to perceive who I am, or see that as in any way good. This has been a lot of work. One phrase I have for it is “step into my power”, which gets in the way for me, as my concept of power does not fit who I am. It has been a lot of work, and I am getting there. I am not weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and deluded, as I thought, but loving, creative, beautiful, soft, gentle, peaceful. For me a better word than “power” is “grace”.

What questions did I leave out?

2) What would it take for Men and Women, and the nuanced genders in between, to step into their full potential together?
5) How can Men heal the abusive and violent sins of their ancestors?
9) What do the different forms of violence and abuse, on both sides of the gender divide, look like?
10) What positive progress do you notice in these areas? What gives you hope?
11) How do you perpetuate the sense of battle and divide between the sexes?

The “nuanced genders in between” are mentioned in the second question, and still an afterthought, because all these questions assume a conventional heterosexuality, with a man “wearing the trousers” in a relationship with a woman, and I can’t begin to answer them. I am not a man in that sense, and while I have suffered harassment as a woman- a man coming on to me on a bus, abused as a “whore” or “slut” when I did not conform to a man’s expectations that I would do what he demanded- it has been less, and as an adult. And I yearn to surrender myself, but to a woman, not a man. My scars are different.

16) What questions are missing from this list?

The questions address various aspects of

How are you hurt?
How have you hurt others?
How can we make things better?

So, ask those general questions directly.

And finally,
12) What would you like to do that you can’t do now if you changed gender?

I did! It liberated me to be myself!

Come, join me.

Discussing trans rights with people who don’t care

Some people do not know what LGBT stands for. Being online gives a false perspective. Being interested in trans rights, we could scroll for hours a day and still read only a tiny proportion of the insane hatred devoted to rolling back trans rights, and the resistance to it. Twitter, facebook, etc, are desperate to show us transphobia in the hope we will engage, but usually only those already invested look.

I wanted Greens to know Shahrar Ali was making his pitch to anti-trans campaigners, so shared my blog. Mad haters plunged in: one alleged that Ali was being targeted by Zionists for his support for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I called them “mad haters”, which makes me seem angry and confrontational, not good on a Green forum. Another went to the drafter of the Labour Party Transphobes’ Declaration and passed on her scurrilous accusations against me.

By using the term “mad haters” I had a tactical loss. I defended it- they are “mad” in that they are divorced from reality, only caring about opposing trans rights and not any other party issue; and they are haters, demanding the exclusion of absolutely every trans woman from all women’s spaces. And I was still rebuked, and warned to use constructive language, by people who apparently thought claiming a Jewish conspiracy was absolutely fine. She’s not attacking Jews, she’s attacking “Zionists”. Yeah, right.

Then someone wrote, “I certainly wouldn’t be happy with a Green party that didn’t support trans rights, but it doesn’t seem to me Shahrar wouldn’t. He explicitly says he supports the Equality Act.”

I wasn’t sure about that. Was this an anti-trans campaigner who had the knack of appearing reasonable? Ali does not say he supports the Equality Act, only “all the protected characteristics”. Anti-trans campaigners say they “support trans rights”, meaning trans rights as they define them- a right not to be harassed in the street or be sacked for being trans, but not a right for trans women to use women’s loos. But if someone could not recognise a trans flag, they would not spot that nuance by themselves.

So I explained, and met another question: How is ‘sex based rights’ code for excluding trans women? I explained that too. To my slight surprise she accepted my argument, saying people should accept the “single-sex” services in the Equality Act should include trans women. Then, rather than putting an argument, she was thinking out loud as she typed, she said some women felt vulnerable and threatened by trans inclusion. Could we work together?

No, is the answer to that. They make it a zero sum game- no trans women in women’s spaces, ever. They could see what they gain by trans inclusion, and work for a range of spaces, but they would be affronted to be restricted to some out of the way loo which was for trans-excluders, with the women’s for all women. But this woman has Green sympathies- For the Common Good- and likes to think people can always work together.

And then she said, if Shahrar supports the EA, surely he supports trans women in women’s spaces? I had to explain the other code he uses, around “politically homeless” women and “sex-based rights”. She still thought there was some doubt, and a need to help both sides of the “debate” to understand each other. Only a direct question to “Shahrar” would clear it up, but he isn’t answering.

-Do you still think there is doubt?
-The vast majority would not read Shahrar’s site the way you do. And trans people need to listen to the excluders, and hear their concerns.

She is right on that. People would not read it that way, unless they are engaged with the debate. They do not read it closely, and don’t particularly think about the bits they don’t understand- of course no novelist should receive a death threat for writing a think piece, and they don’t bother asking which novelist he means.

From Sara Ahmed, I get the understanding that people do not like to believe their social group contains bad people such as sexual predators, or those who discriminate on gender, colour or sexuality. So, they find accusations of bad behaviour a threat. The accusations and the accusers threaten their comfortable illusion that everything is OK. Surely Professor Smith would not do such a horrible thing? Diversity policies are put in place as proof that the organisation acts properly on diversity, not as a template for action against discriminators.

So I asked her directly. Now I have explained the code, do you accept Ali is calling for trans exclusion? I explained the whole screed again. And I was rewarded. “I think the issue here is exactly as you say.” But then, she immediately qualified. She still wanted a straight answer from Ali to “clear things up” and could see that Ali’s site could be interpreted as innocuous.

Even LGBT+ people disagree on what letters to add to the end, or what they stand for. QIA- Allies? Asexual? Both? I have seen a strong argument that Allies are definitely not included. The mad haters have created a jargon all their own. “Sex is Real” they say, and only the trans excluders and trans people, only people who have scrolled for hours and hours, see the pure nastiness they put in that phrase. It is hard to persuade the unengaged, and has to be done with great care.

Still, it’s lovely to think of someone who gets sympathy when she whines on a mad hater group, “I can’t go out, because there are no single-sex toilets anywhere! I haven’t bought new clothes in five years because there’s only mixed sex changing rooms to try them on!” Then she tries that with unengaged people, and meets perplexity and derision. If instead she stokes paranoia- trans women are dangerous, penises in women’s loos, etc- she may put off the Left-wingers, as she is more clearly spreading hate.

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Sandra and Ezra

“Is your child trans?”

Greenbelt is a good place to camp. I have got chatting with lots of people around the site, as if it were a party, and we can get quite deep quickly. Now I chat to Sandra in the next tent, who is a teacher, and we talk of difficulties pronouncing names from other languages. Conversation meanders, and she reveals her “child” is also here, just camping up there. Use of the nongendered word is a bit odd, so I asked that question.

Getting the new name hurt. Sandra says you have to mourn your child. The name is Ezra, so the child is either nonbinary or binary trans, but Sandra insists on using female pronouns. I asked her, could she refer to her child (I did not use the name Ezra) as “they”? No, she felt the need to use female pronouns. “She’s still exploring! She was wearing a dress the other day!”

Well, it was hot and sunny, perfect weather for a dress. And why ever not? You can be nonbinary and mostly one, but still a little of the other. But Ezra chose his/their name when they were twelve, eight years ago, so you have had time to mourn.

“You’re not in one of those horrible ‘concerned parents’ groups, are you?” No, she’s not. That’s a mercy. However, she is still concerned for her child, a little resistant, and concerned about her own loss. Ezra is going into their second year at Uni, though that’s been a nightmare too, what with Covid.

Ezra comes over and chats for a bit, and I feel unable to say “Hello, Ezra” because they/he will know their mum has been talking about them, and I can’t ask Sandra to introduce him for fear she’ll use the wrong name. It’s embarrassing.

I go off to the loo. Camping, you need much more food. Talking to Sandra, I can be caring- for Sandra as well as Ezra. It is not my place to tell her off, and would probably do little good. Encouraging her, rather than shaming her, to accept her child is more likely to work. And now I feel upset. Sandra talks to the trans person, and feels quite happy to go all Poor Me. I have done a caring thing, for both of them, and now I feel my own needs.

We’re packing up. I go to say goodbye to Ann and John, and break off because I have to say something to Sandra. I go over to her in a rush. “I’m so much happier, now, transitioned,” I say. She does not look reassured. Possibly she sees how old my clothes look. Well, I am camping, there will be sweat and mud, and still.

I explain to Ann and John why I dashed off so suddenly. “She’s not gone to Mermaids or Gendered Intelligence, then,” says John. You know about this! Well, Ann is a teacher too, and has had trans or questioning pupils. We help with each others’ tents, and then go off for a cup of tea before leaving. At the Tiny Tea Tent we meet another couple, and talk of our experiences of churches. Margaret was brought up Catholic, and has a great burden of guilt and shame round that, so has found another church. She likes churches which do not emphasise Hell. John says he always remembers hearing of a boundaried model of church, you’re one of us or you’re not, and a centred model of church: Jesus is the centre, and we are either moving towards or away from that centre. What matters is the direction, not the distance from the centre, which no-one can tell anyway.

I enjoyed the Out at Greenbelt service, worshipping with LGBT folk, only about twenty of us in a tent together.

Quakers and Equality

Quakers have no hierarchy, but we have leadership. Every time someone speaks in ministry in the business meeting, they offer leadership. The rest decide whether to follow or not. With a single leader, decisions might be made more quickly, and not necessarily less well, if that leader listens to others. If anyone can lead, everyone has to be willing and able to follow when appropriate, or we just bicker pointlessly.

This is difficult, and requires practice. On listening to others, Britain YM’s Advices and Queries says, “try to sense where [the words] come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language.” We have to be careful in both speaking and listening.

Every human being has inexpressible value. We are made in the image of God. Jesus says the hairs of your head are numbered, all valued by God. Quakers say there is that of God in every one. I am materialist, averse to the idea of a mind or soul in a body, so think of it as the incomprehensibility of the whole human, responding in the moment, so much greater than ego or consciousness which is just a part of it.

On the spiritual path, we learn our value, and the value of every other human being.

Unfortunately, out in the world, we learn the opposite. Capitalism values people for what they produce. White supremacy and the ideology of empire values white people higher than others. Men are valued higher than women. People who have been to university or have higher status jobs are valued higher than others. Certain accents are valued more highly.

My autistic friend is devalued because of his difficulty reading certain social cues, rather than valued for his excellent memory and systematising ability.

In hierarchy, life is a struggle. How can I exalt myself, and do others down? Or, how can I keep up? In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is among us, ready for us to step into it, everything is beautiful. Just as we seek the value in others’ words, we seek the value in everything, and are rewarded by seeing it. What is there that is good, in this moment, situation, encounter?

We grow up in the world, we are steeped in the world, and we are imbued with the world’s habits of hierarchy. It teaches us not to see God in the other. Seeing God needs practice, effort and thought. The unconscious reaction that another is a lower status person is hard to shake off. First we have to become conscious of it. My source of pride, that I am white and educated, is an invisible barrier preventing me from seeing the value of others. It is painful to lose something that is a source of pride, and gives a sense of entitlement and safety in the world, yet felt so normal and natural I thought no more of it than I think about gravity.

Quakers are wrestling with these matters now. Iowa YM (Conservative) asked “How is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” Well, by making Black people uncomfortable amongst us, so that they do not stay, or do not imagine they will be welcome, and by making white people think less of Black people’s ministry. More widely, our privilege stops us listening to the disprivileged, and makes them feel unwelcome. We do not hear the voice of God in the words of those we subtly devalue.

I am aware that the Black person’s experience of a Quaker gathering may differ from my own. I feel assured of my welcome and that if I speak I will be listened to. A Friend told me of Quakers touching her hair, a put-down so cliched that it made a book title. Perhaps the white Friend thought she was being friendly. She meant no harm. She was blind to the disrespect she exuded.

With LGBT folk, in the 1950s Quakers might tell them their love was sinful. Since then we did a great deal of discernment to come to the point where we support equal marriage, but Meetings have split over the matter, and even now some LGBT folk feel pressure to appear normal among Quakers.

Our initial steps to include disabled people can feel othering: it is what we, the good Quakers, who are able-bodied, do for them, the disabled. A ramp gets a wheelchair into the building, but not necessarily its occupant into the position of trust and service fitting their potential. Or some talk of how “we Quakers” are well-off, which can make people who are struggling financially feel excluded. In reality it should be what we can do for us- every person has gifts, strengths, needs and weaknesses, and we must care for each other, allowing each to serve.

When we restrict the range of people in our meetings we restrict the range of perspectives we hear. The Spirit speaks through people, and cannot say what her instruments are incapable of saying. White supremacy restricts God’s voice among us.

Most Quakers come to the Society as adults. We are on a spiritual path. We are not perfect. We do the work necessary as we become aware it needs done.