Don’t out me

He has held the core of the atomic bomb in his hands. “What? You touched plutonium?” Well, it was behind a screen, with insulated gauntlets bolted to the glass. And he had a radiation monitor. He wants to tell his stories. His Bentley has the gear shift on the right of the driver, which is unusual in a British car. Someone remarked on this to a friend of his, who had the perfect riposte-

“You mean, other cars have it on the left?”

He waited years to use that line, G tells me. He also tells me what he told the Archbishop he would say to St Peter if he was wrong to disbelieve in the afterlife: “I have lived my life as well as I can, and if that isn’t good enough for you, I don’t want in to your Heaven.” We agree. Of course. And he met John Paul Getty, who was a fascinating conversationalist.

I really like this gentleman.

As we are getting up to leave, P says to me “Say, ‘I want to be a vegetarian’, like you did last week. You sound just like Miss Fritton“. Which would be less objectionable if just after introducing me to his friend Sophie today he had not said the same thing. I am angry, and turn to G: was he aware that I am trans, I would ask. But G has turned about and walked quickly, about ten yards away, so as to be not part of this conversation.

I am particularly peeved at this because G is a humanist and P a Creationist, and Richard saw fit to bring that up. I disapprove of Creationism. It makes Christianity ridiculous. But we all know the arguments on both sides, and are not going to convince anyone to change their mind today. Bringing that up is shitstirring, so I rebuked Richard. I do not want a pile-on, I want a civilised conversation over tea and cake in the sunshine. I could have brought up P’s idiosyncrasy. That was a peculiarly autistic cackle he emitted, high pitched, loud, utterly unselfconscious. And this lack of awareness of others’ feelings is pretty autistic too- yet one can learn social rules. Don’t out people. It’s not difficult.

Probably G was aware that I am trans. I sound like Miss Fritton, after all, and he has been engaging me in conversation for half an hour. He is a highly intelligent man.

I want P to laugh his autistic laugh freely and without anyone objecting. I want people to know that his autism is part of the glorious diversity of humanity, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. I am sad these things need to be said: when I say, “I am not ashamed of being trans”- needing to say that shows that I have been, and have worked to free himself of the burden of shame. Part of getting there is consciously not remarking on these things- P is autistic, I am trans, deliberately we think to ourselves, No-one should mind. Eventually, no-one will.

The church is beautiful. The misericords are 15th century: I taught Sophie what a misericord is. She looked at them and we chatted, friendly-like. She did not snub me because I am one of those people. Being trans is not a bad thing. The rood screen is 15th century too, and there is a Chantry chapel adjoining. I don’t think she had known what a rood screen is. Richard told me that one of the crests facing the nave is Thomas Becket’s, and that the stained glass showed the nine orders of angels from Pseudo-Dionysius. After they had gone, I waited in the churchyard for the sun to come round, to shine on the barefoot warrior. Perhaps coming back on an overcast day would show greater dedication to photography.

Is Quakerism a religion?

A religion gives shape to lives, and binds communities together. It helps us understand and live well. A religion is not merely a “belief system” but a way of life. Ninian Smart analysed the phenomenon of religion in seven dimensions, some of which fit Quakerism in Britain particularly well:

The practical, ritual dimension

Quakers worship together weekly. Our ritual is simple, so that I have denied it was ritual at all, but it gives shape to our worship. We go together to a particular room, where we sit in silence, in a circle or square. There is a table in the centre, with a Bible and Quaker Faith and Practice on it. The meeting starts when the first person sits down, so others joining may nod a greeting, but not speak one. People may speak during worship, and there are complex rules governing who speaks and how, designed to foster speaking in a mystical sense of being moved to “minister” for the benefit of all the people there and discourage other speech.

We learn to sit in silence, listening for that motivation to speak, then act in the same way when we make decisions together. We hold marriages and funerals. When the family arranges the funeral elsewhere we hold a memorial meeting. We have no formal ritual for welcoming a new-born into the meeting, but procedures for making an adult a full member: usually there is a “visit” where the applicant gives an account of their spiritual journey and calling into Quakerism.

The experiential, emotional dimension

We highly prize experience. Even when we affirmed and taught Christian doctrine, it was a framework for the experience of worship, being moved to speak, and living out our lives as led by the Spirit. People may come to our society by Convincement, a period of felt spiritual hunger and seeking then seeing that our way fits their spiritual needs, even their spiritual selves. We experience Leadings, where a person will come to understand a particular form of service to the Quaker and wider community is required of them. Living well is doing what feels right, rather than following a system of rules.

We do not seek a heightened state of emotion but a quiet integration of it. “Take heed, dear Friends, of the promptings of love and truth in your hearts”- this is a felt sense guiding action not an emotional state for its own sake. We teach our faith to new attenders, but also provide libraries so that people may explore it as they feel the need.

The narrative, mythic dimension

In the Enlightenment humans came to understand the world rationally, and to make truthful statements about it. This has confused Christians, some of whom take Genesis as literal history. Some Quakers react against that by rejecting the Bible. So we and they lose stories which should have power for us. We can reclaim the Bible by finding value in its stories, of men and women created together in the image of God, of Jesus speaking as moved by the Spirit and following God’s leadings to a non-violent resistance ending in his death. Too literal and rational, we may reject “conjuring tricks with bones”, or accept Christ as a real presence among us.

We might use them better, but the myths and stories are there in the Bible to teach and inspire us if we are open to it. These stories are true, even though Adam is not a historical figure: they tell us about God and humanity. We are more comfortable with stories of our own history and heroes, of Elizabeth Fry working with prisoners and their children, of 17th century Quakers speaking out in the King’s churches and claiming equality with the King’s judges.

The doctrinal, philosophical dimension

Our doctrine is in the service of our experience.  We have several easy mnemonics for profound truths: “There is that of God in every one,” we say, and what that means, for me and for my relationships with others, works out through my life. I can begin to understand on first hearing the phrase, grow in understanding as I apply it, and read what Quakers have said about it. Quakers sit in silence for an hour on Sundays and talk incessantly the rest of the time. We think and teach what is the experience of the meeting for worship. We learn to communicate our spiritual experiences.

The ethical, legal dimension

Stating we have testimonies to Truth and integrity, Justice and equality, simplicity, and peace, we begin to learn what Quakers consider is the good life. We retain Christian ethics including the Golden rule. I am a Quaker insofar as I am part of a Quaker community and leading a good life according to Quaker values and psychology. Advices and Queries explain what we have found to be Good.

We would like to think our ethics are practical. We take sexual morality seriously, but do not have a uniform set of rules for everyone: different kinds of relationships are accepted. Some Christian ethics has the effect of creating an out-group, but we reject that as unethical.

The social, institutional dimension

Every Quaker is part of a local meeting, their own worshipping group, then the area meeting, a group of local meetings. We know each other in the things which are eternal. There are gatherings of Quakers doing work for Quakers in Britain as a whole, with links to local meetings, coming together in different groups to knit together the whole community of the yearly meeting. We support paid workers to undertake particular tasks, overseen by committees of Quakers meeting in worship.

The material dimension

Many of us would say that the material dimension is irrelevant, that we can meet in any space large enough for the gathering, but we often have special meeting houses for our worship. We want these to be practical buildings, let out to others for meetings, and yet we come to love them as spaces hallowed by worship. We rarely produce Quaker art, but make vast quantities of records of our decisions, and libraries of our writings.

Seeing a religion as a belief system drives Enlightened people away. Genesis as an account of how the Earth came into being is worthless, long superseded by scientific knowledge. Religion as the ties that bind a community and teach the good life nurtures people and enable us to live well together. Christians with the Creed at the heart of their worship might first ask a religion new to them, what its adherents believe, but denial of reality and assertion of falsehood is no necessary part of good religion. These seven dimensions of religion show how it can have practical value for everyone. I read of them in Buddhism: a very short introduction by Damien Keown.

cracks in the concrete

All those silent Quaker meetings! What am I doing there? They can seem long and painful. I am groping in the dark. Thoughts run through my mind, of what I need in the supermarket.

Saturday was difficult. I thought my friend’s union was handling his redundancy procedure, but when we met for lunch I found they weren’t, and he was meeting with management on Tuesday. I worked with him to make a statement of his case, to try to get the union involved, and looked up the law on an argument I had never put in a claim, when I did tribunals eight years ago. It is more restrictive than I had hoped, but I found another thing I could say. It felt far too crude to me. I was saying “This is harassment” rather than arguing why. He gave a long involved account of an issue at work which I struggled to understand. Would it really save the employer time and effort, as he claimed? What would they say to such a claim? I felt my efforts and abilities were so meagre compared to the difficulty of the task.

There are personal relationship issues within the meeting which I cannot discuss here, and they weighed on my mind. It seems to me that in the succession of silent meetings we stew in our own woes and self-castigation, not hearing each other- though of course I may be projecting. I sit with people unable to hash things out. I see misunderstanding growing to hurt.

It seems to me I learn better to see things from another’s point of view. He’s wrong, but this is why he sees it this way. We explain he is wrong. Oops, is he abashed and hurt? What he says next shows he is not, but resentful and protesting he is right. Mmm. Maybe that is his way of dealing with it, maybe he will work it out later, or maybe he is incapable of empathy in this case. People are different. Empathy is difficult, unless you can make an analogy to your own experience.

No, I can’t resolve the issue- but I can possibly move it forward.

In Meeting, one ministers on gratitude, for family and worthwhile work among other things. I just feel my pain, shaking, twisting my body, clenching my teeth trying not to gasp. The pain’s intensity is surprising: my surprise and resistance make it manifest in movement. After, I stood and spoke, of the injustice I see in my friend’s “redundancy” dismissal, and my powerlessness: what I can do seems so little! Then I stand, uncertain- are there any more words?

and I feel a sense of love, blessing and acceptance from above.

I hope this was ministry for other people. It may have been just for me- and I need to know that pain! How else can I heal it?

After, I discuss the redundancy with an employer. “It’s very difficult to prove redundancy”, he says, and I observe that I always acted from the claimant’s point of view- it is very difficult to prove it is Unfair or discriminatory. They do need to save money, and why not on salaries- and why not on his? Then he makes useful suggestions- there are organisations which do pro bono work- as if I would not have thought of that. He explains why my friend’s face might not fit, and his manager find him threatening, which is interesting, but mainly it is useful when I am speaking. I lost that job because I got emotionally involved, I say, then start to squeak and gasp out the words. NOT because I felt with the claimant, who was having such a difficult time, but because

I should be able to accomplish more!

The rage against my powerlessness! I see it more clearly. I hold it in awareness, with less distraction. I am not suppressing it so much.

Doing benefit tribunals, the image came to me of facing a brick wall. Sometimes there was nothing I could do; but sometimes I would see a crack in it, and launch at the crack. Here is the same image in a song, which I found here:

This world is for the lovers and the fighters
The bold hearts and the dream-igniters
The bold hearts and the decolonizers
The bold hearts and dream igniters

You better believe there’s cracks in the cement,
Transphobia just came and went…

Speaking the Truth

I was in touch with my compassion.
I was in touch with my femininity.
I was in touch with my whole self.
I had never felt that way before.
It blew my mind.

That was February 1999, but this is now, speaking on the phone to Lucy:

I was in touch with my femininity, I said. I was in touch with my-

and the word in my head is “compassion” and I cannot say it. I was in touch with my-

it runs through my mind again. I pluck up the courage-

I was in touch with my compassion.

I am Abigail, and I am truthful. Andy Braunston observed in the 90s that I was very hard on myself, and I remain so. I could not say “compassion” because it is claiming a good quality and that is difficult.

And I had a vision of me as a small child asserting something to my implacable mother and being judged for it. My truth and value being rejected so that even now fifty years later I reject it myself, I cannot bring myself to utter it.

Yet I did utter it. It is getting easier. Especially, it is easier with her, I know she will affirm me.

I am Abigail. I am loving and truthful. I have the experience of gathering myself and saying something I know to be Truthful, with my integrity, with my whole being.

“I know you do,” she says. “I’ve seen you do it.”

Expressing myself female gave me permission to be myself with other people rather than attempt the male act. It freed me. I might now regret hormones and surgery, but I do not regret that.


That conversation affected the whole week. I thought before, “The monster will get me”, and of granite statues judging me, and see more what that is. I was frightened of saying “my compassion”. I felt I would be judged for it. I had known that is not an adult assessment of what another individual is like, but a terrified child assessment of the whole world. When I make a claim like that, to compassion or some other good quality, I am a small child with my mother knowing she will deny it, even though I am 52 and she is dead.

I found myself able to talk of my compassion. I named it at Quaker Quest and in the Meeting for Worship the word “compassion” was woven through the ministry. I was in the same state of authenticity, speaking at Quest, and I named it- “I am there now”- though far less frightened, and less mind-blown. It is not familiar, exactly, but more known and trusted. I had thought a lot about what I would say and the stories I would tell, but in the end the words were given to me: “The truth will set you free”.

With H on Friday night, we discussed trans issues and were distanced, but the first glass of wine brought us together and I told her why I could not have spoken of my compassion, and now I could. I was crying again, I am so hurt by this. Awake early on Saturday morning, I phoned The Samaritans and told the man. I took a long time to pluck up the courage, once he had answered. The thought that it would sound ridiculous to him terrified me. After, I said “You heard how big a deal this is for me, didn’t you?” He assented.

This is a big deal for me.
I was in touch with my compassion. It is at the heart of me.
I will remember this, and claim my truth again.

Learning to minister

On 14 February 1999 I was born again- not in the Evangelical sense, into strict Evangelicalism, but with a shocking about-face to my understanding of the World, suddenly appreciating that God was on the side of all humanity, and that we were all in it together. I gained hope. Shortly after, I attended my first Quaker meeting, after staying over with my girlfriend, and blurted out “The holy spirit is here!” I don’t know what I was thinking, and when someone thanked me for my ministry after I was back in my masks and pretence, unable to be sincere with her or really hear her. I went back later for an Enquirers’ day at that monthly meeting, with Carol.

I started attending Manchester Mount St meeting, and spoke fairly often. I remember sitting after speaking, wondering if it had been Ministry. I could make no rational case that it had, and I still like to understand things rationally, but if I sat with what I felt about it, I was sure enough. And visiting Chester meeting, I decided to share an insight I had gained from the Gospel of Thomas, which I am quite sure was just me telling Friends something which interested me, even though it was about spiritual matters and might have given someone there new insight. And I was not moved to speak, and felt great shame about it for months afterwards.

We learn by making mistakes, and by seeing what works. I have been tempted to go on beyond my leading, to give a neat peroration to sum up, and found myself shut up by the Spirit, unable to say it. I have seen others speak, then an expression of shock goes across their face and they sit suddenly. I am not giving a speech, and leaving ministry open ended may be better- though that is a feeling in a particular situation, and not a rule.

In Becoming Friends, there is a flow chart designed to discourage speaking during worship. It starts Is the message from the Holy Spirit and not just from you? It ends, Is the message also truly “not from you” but from God’s Holy Spirit? Must you speak? I find this hectoring. It empowers my inner doubts: however clear I am that I should speak, or have given ministry, doubting voices arise in my head. One answer “Yes” to this question is enough. If the message is just from you, you should not share it. A man has moved on from my AM who visited the other LMs regularly and generally spoke, explaining that recent attenders benefited from having some speech during the hour. He would not be Eldered. I sometimes felt what he said was preachy, not true ministry.

A man I knew, a committed Christian feeling rejected by other churches for being gay, started attending, and had his name added to the attenders’ list, but after an Elder interrupted him during worship to say he had said enough never attended again. Possibly it was not good ministry, but I would rather he had been drawn aside after Meeting, and asked about his understanding of ministry rather than publicly told not to speak like that. But then I visited another meeting where four people spoke, and one, a trans woman, told a story which I thought to be unduly negative, sharing her pain rather than ministering. I thought she should be spoken to after, but other Friends after wanted to let her be. Let her grow in understanding. She is committed and will learn through experience in time. And trans women can be uncomfortable around each other, unduly alive to negative impressions others may be getting from us.

I went once to Glasgow meeting, and seven stood to speak, which I thought too many. The last just seemed to say she was glad to be back in Glasgow. I have heard of people always speaking, or of there always being lots of speech, and that causing tension in a meeting. I can see that could be a problem. I find meetings with no speech beautiful; and I wonder if more spoken ministry could benefit my meeting. Could it draw us together in love and greater understanding of each other?

That flow-chart has some good rules. Is the message intended for the whole meeting, not just for you or the previous speaker? (If not, I say share it with someone after, over coffee, or treasure it in your heart.) Is it meant to be shared right now? I have had Meetings where thoughts come together during the meeting, where I might have spoken at the start, did not, and could say something more- yes, more valuable is the word I choose- at the end, as well as the commonly attested experience of hearing another say what one might have been moved to say. But- Will others likely mistake the message for a political statement, lecture or personal announcement? Will they mistake it is not the test, but is it these things. And personal announcements can be ministry, drawing us together in greater understanding and love of Friends. One recent one is probably unforgettable.

People object to “daffodil ministry”, something trite you noticed on the way to meeting that morning. And it is good to be reminded of beauty, or possibly anything a Friend could share in a sentence, or their presence and being in worship with us.

If there is too much ministry it can be a problem. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others. It can still be a problem. And possibly a lack of spoken ministry could be a bad thing too, losing a chance to see how alike we are, to learn through one another, to grow in unity.

Speaking in public

I hate the repetitive announcements: “Welcome to —— station. Please keep your luggage with you at all times. If you see anything suspicious, please report it to a member of station staff or to a police officer. Remember the three S’s- ‘See it say it sorted’.” The risk of terrorism is not sufficient- 126 people have been killed in the UK between 2000 and 2017, and many times more women murdered by partners or ex-partners. The purpose is to foment authoritarianism by creating a miasma of fear and promoting regimented thinking and behaviour. I loathe it.

So I thought, roll with it. Cringing when I heard it did me no good. Perhaps it could be an all-purpose greeting. To reassure someone as you leave them, you say “See it say it sorted,” encouragingly. Or a secular version of Allahu Akbar- you find a parking space when you are in a hurry, and give thanks with “See it say it sorted”.

I imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg in a stadium with his followers, at the end of his speech. “See it,” he whispers, and the multitudes repeat after him, like a great tide, quiet but inexorable. “Say it,” he says, conversationally, and their excitement builds as they repeat the words. Then he shouts, “SORTED!” They shout “SORTED SORTED SORTED SORTED” rhythmically, ecstatically, their joy uncontained.

The sunshine is beautiful. The announcement is disturbing. I go to Tate Britain, for “All too Human”, the exhibition of a hundred years of representative painting. It starts with two Stanley Spencer portraits of Patricia Preece, his second wife, with whom he never consummated his marriage but instead supported her and her female lover. She is naked, painted like an animal, with attention to the colours of her skin. I cannot read her expression and perhaps neither could he. At the end is a huge head by a younger artist. I love the moistness of the half-open mouth, and then up close see that the glistening light on the teeth is a single precise white brush stroke. Beautiful and disturbing at once.

Preparing to speak about worship, I have been thinking about it for weeks. Speaking at Quest helps me get my ideas clear in my mind. Worship is a part of my healing, improving my self-acceptance and understanding. We make decisions in worship. Speaking is a benefit to me. It also makes me feel useful, which makes me feel good. I share from the heart, and am so absorbed in my own sharing that I could not tell you much about what the other two said.

And when they appreciated me, people acknowledged that I spoke from the heart, as in worship-sharing. I contributed to a deeper, more profound evening.

I am bothered by Sandy asking what my pendant was, and picking it up between finger and thumb without asking. I stand there, she holds my pendant which is round my neck. I would have taken it off had she asked, and this is strange.

I am pleased by Graham talking of walking to work and being aware of surroundings, for the feeling. It’s spiritual, it’s animal, it might even be a symptom of a mental deficiency, but if you can turn it off you tend to like it when you do it.

People there were pleased at the idea of Quakers demonstrating, getting charged and found not guilty. Those who spoke from the floor are a radical lot.

“I’m going to —” said a trans woman. “Oh, good,” my mouth said, surprising me at its ease of fibbing. I am going there too. I think she is too negative and does not get Quakers. Others think she is OK and is getting there slowly, she just needs a bit of support. Well, I needed a bit of support in my time.

Finedon meeting house

Should Quakers spend £50,000 on a Quaker meeting house built in 1690?

Quakers were active here during the Commonwealth. After the restoration of the king, one refused to pay tithes of forty shillings, and was distrained for fifty pounds. He later spent a year in prison. As soon as toleration was granted in 1689, they built their meeting house, but local people stoned them as they went to worship there. They refused to retaliate, but built a high wall around the meeting house to mitigate the attacks. The meeting lasted until 1912, when it was laid down and the building acquired by a local family.

The local history society keep it open, and developer bought it and sought planning permission to make it a house. It would be a small house- the meeting room is about fifteen by eighteen feet, and there is a narrow corridor at the back with a sink and an electric socket. There’s an old harmonium, which is still working. The lawn outside is a burial ground, reducing its potential uses.

The council refused permission. I don’t know how else the external structure may be preserved, how it could get an owner sufficiently interested to do the work on it. I needed it pointed out to me, but that pointing, of concrete rather than lime mortar, is ugly:

The history society has an exhibition there now. I think those mannequins are dressed as Quakers.

People now care more about preserving such structures than we did in 1912.

What would we use it for? Our meeting houses are big enough for the Friends who meet there. Mostly, we rent them out making an income. Possibly we could rent this out as offices. If we started worshipping there again, I am the nearest and could go there to keep the meeting: a Friend did that at Kettering for years, and now Kettering can have 18 on a Sunday morning. I don’t feel I particularly want to, though.

A Friend said we could have children here from local schools for an experience of the silence. We could offer it for artists, she suggested.

We could buy it. The asking price is £50,000, money the AM has. We held area meeting there this month, and I sat there hearing this, unconvinced. We are not a historical society for the preservation of old buildings, that’s the Church of England’s job. I don’t know what we could use it for. I feel an emotional pull from a meeting house built in 1690, and suddenly started taking hurried photographs, so I could ask you what you think.

Heaven in London

Trans women don’t like each other very much, certainly not in real life. If there was a group of us we would all be staring at our shoes periodically hissing “Stop it, you’re embarrassing us”. In the tube the day before there had been a poster advertising “Photography on the Edge” with a picture of a trans woman or drag queen, looking not very happy. Then there was one on the Underground platform, at least 6’6″ tall, in a light summer dress, with a manly tattoo on her arm- rather gorgeous, actually, that unapologetic “I am here,” with a slight hardness, I thought, as sometimes people would notice her. I scuttled away, frightened that they would read her then notice me.

I turned the corner by the east end of St Paul’s, and the scent of the blossom hit me with insistent beauty. I paused to enjoy it, but even though I stood still in the place where I had first smelled it, the smell was still lessened. It had overpowered me for a moment, and then the sensation was gone though I tried to make it last. Just the way the air currents were, or the blossom, or even my own nerve cells.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I sat in the dappled half-shade of a tree in front of Tate Modern, listening to the saxophonist in a wheelchair. He’s good. The tide was out and I could go down on a sandy beach. Then I saw you and stood for a long close hug. I took in your style- necklace and two pendants on separate chains, flowers embroidered on net over skirt over sloppy jeans and trainers. Unique. We went to the abstract art and photography exhibition, and admired a Kandinsky, excitedly. We stimulated each other, seeing each part of it together, how it was made and how it showed movement and stillness in balance. The alarm sounded, insistent, and people wandered, compliant but unconcerned, to the exits. Outside, the man in the wheelchair had a harmonica and was joined by another saxophonist in a tight twelve-bar blues, improvising in dialogue within the structure of the form. We waited until the crowd had dissipated, then walked back in.

In The Last Battle, Jill Pole and the dwarves all go into the stable, which Jill finds is the gate of Heaven. She sees it, beautiful countryside, the foot-hills of something more wonderful, but the dwarves think they are in a smelly old stable. So she picks flowers for them to smell, and they say, Why are you pushing mouldy old straw in our faces?

We sat in the shade, in the warm air on the fifth floor balcony, looking over Thames to the cathedral. These shapes, the bridge, the river, could be a Kandinsky: looking at art and making it has taught you to see. I told you my poem, you said I should be remembered for it, and I was abashed, saying there is such an abundance of talent about.

I am starving. I need this friendship. This- this process, this creature, is Beautiful. I affirm that. I know it and I can say it, because it is true, yet I cannot say “I am beautiful”- though I can say “I am trussed up”. I am trussed by my fears and illusions. I need this friendship, not to be a momentary scent of blossom but growing the flowers, the work to know and be known, talking of the weather and politics as well as of such high-flown, real things.

We agree we are in Heaven. Seeing that trans woman, unapologetic, unashamed, is heavenly. How strong she is! Yet it could also be mouldy straw, the fear I felt of discovery. And the scent of the flowers, a moment of delight comes and goes and my efforts at rediscovery cannot lure it back. If I know this is a world of abundance, and such delights are quotidian, never the same and endless in succession, I am happy enough to move from one to the other; and if I feel tantalised by the aroma, teased and not satiated, it is hell. Even in this lovely day of the best of company in the beautiful places I am tantalised, and the next day, freakishly colder as I cycle, cold, in strong wind to see Richard the contrast depresses me.

The knack, or trick, might be Fear and Love. If I love the Earth it becomes Heaven, if I fear it it is Hell, but that cycle ride was difficult in the wind. I starve for beauty and connection.

I walked to the centre of Swanston from the Station, and Umar came up beside me and started talking. His job is making model aeroplanes, then putting them in wind tunnels to test their aerodynamics. Wind tunnels and computer models complement each other. I was happy enough to talk. I said I was going to the supermarket, he to the bank, and as he got there he asked if we could meet again- “Just as friends,” he said, plaintively. I thought about it. I decided against, in fear and mistrust, and am not sure I decided correctly.

Meeting women

Women’s generosity is beautiful: I love it when they practise it on me. I didn’t, as it happens, want to spend £2 on sandwiches right then and was planning to go without until dinner time. I feel cared for. And then she listened to me when I complained. Yes, Quaker disputes can be painful, and Quaker self-righteous bullying inexorable. I enjoy her company, am interested in what she has to say, and like to be heard and understood.

Then there was K, who is glad to see me here. She was on the appeal panel when I could have lost my membership, and always reminds me of it. She is glad to see me, but the way she says it reminds me of my past problems with South Wales Quakers. I feel uncomfortable even though she celebrates the fact that Quakers still have my gifts and service, and I their company. We talk for a bit. She tells me of her life. If I tell her, it seems in context of that- this is how it’s been since, moulded by that. A man wandered over and she introduced me to him, with a subtly pitying allusion to that.

Women are objectified. If you objectify L, you will see her having none of the qualities of female attractiveness, as being short fat and old. There. I have not damned her, but objectification. “You won’t remember me,” she said, self-effacingly. “Oh, I do,” I said. I am really not good at this, but I might even recognise her in the street, without this context. Her name badge reminds me of her name. I can’t remember where (amongst Quakers) we met, or what we discussed, but I have a strong recollection of a- bubbly– personality. A sweet person. This sweetness is constrained and funnelled through the objectification: she is not seen, so not known. If you see the whole person with the personality you see her beauty. We hugged. We are both starving.

Twenty of us out of 1200 went to the “Meeting for worship for movement”, expressing our inspiration through movement rather than through words. This is the bit why I have delayed writing this post. I can’t explain it. A woman- I know her, we have talked, I remember some of the conversation from last year- again the eye of pure objectification would see nothing in her, but she has charisma nonetheless. She smiled at me, touched my hands, and I was plunged into consciousness of that distress which is mostly unconscious in me, but constant. Perhaps it was a gift of something which I am starved of, which forced me to contemplate that starvation. No, it’s not alright most of the time, not really.

At yearly meeting

Yearly meeting, a thousand Quakers in one building in Euston for four days, is heavenly for me. I am with my tribe. Sitting in the sun, I said I had mislaid my lunch, and a friend bought me sandwiches. She has previously bought me coffee, dinner and champagne, and had me to stay, and shows me the weirdness of my world can be lovely as well as threatening.

That was after the Salter lecture, organised by the Quaker Socialist Society and given by Diana Jeater. She wondered why she, rather than Zimbabweans, should be considered a world expert on Zimbabwe, and spoke on how we in Britain are still colonialist. British people went to Africa, and some went to study Africans; but to explain them in British concepts for a British understanding, with metaphors we were comfortable with, which did not precisely fit. So they attempted to formulate how grammar worked in local languages, and then in schools told locals they were speaking their own language ungrammatically. People say “I have been to Africa” as if it were homogenous. We looked at them as if our technological superiority and different religion were superiority of civilisation, and imposed on them. How would it be, if we could find new words, to understand their other ways of seeing? Or let them say who they were, rather than defining them? This is so close to the idea that trans people should speak for ourselves rather than mediated by cis people that it strengthens my acceptance of myself.

I am sad to say that Quakers who spend less time with me seem to like me more- or perhaps it is just harder to negotiate ongoing relationships, and occasional encounters can give the joy of seeing and sharing without the difficulty of working together. Those who have met me before here want to talk to me, and while they care for me they also receive from me. I was glad to see someone again, though they spoke of the increasing difficulty of travelling, and dislike of being apart from their wife. If you’re ever in —-? I will look you up, I said. I may not see them again.

One observed that she had not heard me speak in the business meeting yet: um. Well, even with a thousand people there I often know I can contribute something worthwhile, and I spoke on racism later- to much the same effect as I wrote here. Most of that session was from people pre-arranged to speak, and there was only time for one person from the floor. I was moved to hear my words “Who is like me?” in the minute of the session. The meeting the evening before was a synchronicity. All worked out for good. What one woman heard was that “we are animals”- she brought her young daughter to hug me, as her daughter says the same thing.

Two years ago there were signs on the disabled loos that non-binary people should use the unisex toilets in the basement. This year the disabled loos were marked all-gender toilets. That was OK. I tried the men’s once, and though it was clean I was more uncomfortable than anywhere else- I felt my awareness shrink to my physical location, so I did not bang into anyone. I could not allow myself to be aware of anyone’s reaction to me there. I don’t know how they reacted.

We are included and heard. I heard trans folk give ministry in meeting, and from someone at Oxford meeting about the hire of a room to “A woman’s place”- she showed there was no transphobia in the Quakers hiring out the room. Quakers stood with the demonstrators outside. They only heard details of the room hire at 3pm that day, which was dishonest of AWP. If they make a statement I will publicise it as soon as I hear of it. Yet at the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity meeting, some expressed trans-excluding views. I hope we can hear each other amongst Quakers.