Quaker diversity

Edwina Peart is measuring how diverse Quakers are. A friend thought the survey badly designed. Rather than the tick-boxes I see on job application diversity forms, there is a blank for whatever words you wish. So if she is measuring how many working class people there are in the Society, she first has to decide what the words used mean.

Class is difficult. George Orwell called himself “Upper-lower-upper middle class”. I think of myself as “lower-middle” class, which for me is a matter of attitudes ingrained from my upbringing. People are capitalists through their pension funds or savings, as well as workers. Pierre Bourdieu defined social, economic and cultural capital: Social capital is the resources you gain from being part of a social network and social groups; cultural capital is non-economic resources such as knowledge, skills and education; economic capital is money. I was familiar with five classes with class C divided between C1 and C2, but a BBC social survey resulted in seven classes from Elite to Precariat.

We still think of class as a matter of family origin as well as current status. Family origin affects social and cultural capital, both the groups you are in and the ways of relating that show your membership. My Friend from a family of miners was in an association of working class academics, and felt that social signifiers she had or lacked disadvantaged her in her profession.

The survey question is “How do you define your socio-economic status (class)?” It could produce all sorts of answers- by origin or current income/savings, or in terms of the five letters or new seven classes. To approximate a quantitative result, you would have to assign those verbal answers to a particular box before counting the boxes.

The survey will not confirm or deny the statement “Quakers are all middle-class”- which can feel excluding to those of us who are not, even if the speaker is lamenting the fact. It can be an expression of those social signifiers, the subconscious ways we decide who is most comfortable to talk to. It may give an idea of how we think of ourselves rather than an objective view.

I found out about the survey from the AM assistant clerk Membership. I don’t see how it can be a representative sample if it is voluntary, and publicised haphazardly.

For sex there is the Tabular Statement. The word “other” produces an element of uncertainty: I have said I want to be classified as “Woman”, but some trans people would definitely be “Other” and some would be revolted by the idea. You might be uncomfortable classifying the Attenders in your meeting, but some people might not want to be asked. It can be unpleasant putting these matters of identity into words. They are implicit, in our body language and our relations, but not stated.

Most people mould ourselves to fit the social groups we belong to, minimising our differences. Differences which should not be relevant in a worshipping community matter to us.

The survey asks “How would you describe your gender?” It asks for “gender”, not “sex”, and some say they are different: sex is a matter of reproductive organs, gender is cultural, so my gender is “feminine” rather than “woman”. The survey won’t produce numbers, so much as different stories of where some people are.

I am a trans woman, but don’t really want classified as one. See me as a person, not by that characteristic. There is some latent transphobia in the Society. No-one will refuse to worship with a trans woman, but some trans women have left, or been ejected. Being trans affects the way I am in any dispute with others. It affects the way I am seen.

If as a white person I said “Quakers are overwhelmingly white” that could seem excluding. I love YM. I can start a deep conversation with almost anyone. I spoke to a man with a different skin colour, and that was not his experience. Do we feel “colour-blind” while in fact being slightly less open to talking with people of colour? We would not ask the “Where are you from, no, where are you really from?” question; are you as open with all Quakers you meet for the first time, or does colour or class make subtle differences? I have heard that “colour-blind” is impossible for a person of colour, for you wonder how important your own colour is to the people around you.

I fear I am less open with people of colour, and my self-consciousness might make it so. I know diversity is of value to the Society, for different voices, different perspectives, different experiences enrich our common understanding. And groping for understanding, when hearing another I try to find what in my own experience fits what they are saying. Hearing that difference is difficult.

It asks national identity. Mine is Scots, as I was brought up there; English, as I had an English parent and have lived in England for many years, and British. I don’t know whether any other Quaker would specifically name those three, or whether there is a relevant difference between me and someone putting Scots and English, or British.

The survey will unearth some of the stories that we tell, and perhaps a quantitative survey would not attain the objectivity it pretends to. You can take it here.

Safety, and proper boundaries

I wanted us to revise the book of discipline as soon as I heard of the possibility, because of this sentence: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” I know it was 1987, but- not “PDAs during Meeting” or even “homosexual relationships” but the acceptance of “homosexuality” distressed some Friends. Some of them might have been elderly, and repressed gay themselves. Some might have thought their view integral to proper respect for the Bible, and seeing Quakers as Christian.

However brave 22.45 was in 1987, it is a bit clunky now. We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends. Of course! Why should it need to be said? But it was against the culture of the time to recognise that some gay Quakers might consider themselves married, and ask their meeting to celebrate their commitment.

In 1994 we minuted, The Yearly Meeting has struggled to find unity on this [subject of sexuality], which comes so close to the personal identity and choices of each one of us. We are still struggling for the words which will help us, so that we may come to know the balance which allows us both to deal with the personal tensions of our own response to sexuality and also to see ourselves as all equal in the sight of God… we recognise, in love, the Friend whose experience is not our own. We pray for ourselves, that we may not divide but keep together in our hearts.

Attending encounter groups, I was most distressed by the person who said they wanted to “feel safe”, or, worse, that “people should be safe”- that is, they wanted to restrict other people’s shares, and they were claiming it was a principled stand for the good of all. But you cannot feel safe in this process. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Today at Meeting my Anglican Friend was wearing his clerical collar, as he had celebrated the Eucharist before coming. That’s the first time he has not changed his shirt. I felt this was disrespect (I am speaking as a fool) and more so when I saw the Book of Common Prayer on his seat in Meeting. This, even though I am former Anglican. The prayer book made me feel uncomfortable.

What do I mean by “speaking as a fool”? I am speaking from the ego, from a petty desire for safety in the sense of more or less being able to predict what is going to happen and knowing I will be comfortable until it is time to go home.

Meeting is not “safe” in this sense. Sometimes it is like a roller-coaster, where I see over the plunge and my stomach turns over. It is very rare that someone is hurt on a roller-coaster; but it is probably better not to ride one if you want to appear dignified.

I would definitely wonder what was going on if in Meeting I realised that someone was verminous.

I am angry. Excuse me while I go and chew the carpet for a moment. I may even scream at it.

Ah, that’s better.

My Friend’s clerical collar offended me. I could get righteous about it- what about the notional person who has been hurt by the Church and has been told we are somehow better? It’s the principle of the thing! (My law lecturer said principles are good, because they make money for lawyers.) There is the ego, or small self; and it is in me, and it reacts in that way. In this particular case, I can deal with it fairly easily: I spoke to him, sharing my love for particular Anglican prayers which I used to pray every week. I do not want to deny or suppress my reaction. It is me that objects. The Meeting itself gives me the way to deal with it, of emptying myself of the desire that the world be other than it is. Repeat as necessary. There is no harm- probably. All manner of thing shall be well. Any harm will be dealt with organically.

In another case I am angry, resentful, frustrated and frightened, and living with uncertainty. The uncertainty makes it harder to “respond in love”. Possibly a petty-self, or ego, desire assists me: I want my Meeting to be inclusive (even, possibly, that is a leading, something from my inner light). In the 1980s we might unobtrusively and without much fuss have sorted ourselves, so that in some meetings “homosexuals” felt unwelcome, and did not attend, and in others those “distressed by homosexuality” quietly left. I don’t know. If you were around at the time, were you aware of this happening? It might have felt safer, but it would not have been, really. It would have been a reduction in the Light available to those meetings, which is in our diversity. If we are all the same, we lose something.

So I keep telling myself, as I try to live with that anger.

I love what my Friend Rhiannon wrote: even the merest, softest touches of suggestion that in order to be a Proper Quaker one ought to [x]… sets me imagining ways in which I might find myself outside that boundary. I want my Meeting able to include trans folk, and those “distressed by trans” (or anxious sharing a toilet with me) but that might be uncomfortable. But then, it’s just possible that I will become homeless, in which case I might even get lice.

I thought, 22.45 is not so objectionable read as a whole, and it is good to show the history of our discernment. Chapter 16, last revised in 2015, shows where we are now, governing our marriage procedure. I wanted a beautiful quote from there to round this off. 16.03 is not really beautiful, but matter-of fact: “Friends understand marriage to be equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.” But then I see 16.07, which refers to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act: “It is, therefore, expected that our registering officers, on appointment, understand that they will be required to officiate at all marriages authorised by that area meeting.” The homophobes may still be with us, mostly keeping quiet about it.

With young Friends

I was privileged to join a Young Friends’ special interest gathering on affirming trans people. I saw these people being themselves, being real with each other, and feel hope for the Society: this is what Quakerism can do for people.

It is striking to spend time with a group of people a generation younger than I am. Of course there is the energy and brilliant intellect I find everywhere among Quakers: the PhD student, the person doing important work; and a wide range of different life-experiences, different from mine. “I have honestly never seen someone do that before,” said one, and I am delighted to have increased his options or perhaps moved him to investigate further. I am so glad that he said it. And I was self-conscious; I know that cultural references I would expect everyone of my generation to get are a bit nerdy twenty years later, and the Hufflepuff slippers show people deeply affected by something I found entertaining but no more. With another I shared my way into appreciating art, and found it was his way into appreciating music.

I saw one particular expression of beautiful masculinity, unselfconsciously expressed. He was serving us, and the leadership he gave was also service. It has led me to think anew of “toxic masculinity”: it is “toxic” when it is forced on people, or demanded of people whose gifts are different; or if someone thinks he must be dominant or a sissy, and lashes out. It is toxic to the man as well as his victims. Yet masculinity can be fitting. We just need to enlarge our concepts of what a “man” is, or can be: and the generation after me are doing just that.

They supported each other, and they supported me. I talked with each person, at least glimpsed them, shared something with them. In Meeting for Worship on Sunday, at Chester meeting where we had been sleeping on the floor without showering, I was thinking of the Kingdom, of the beauty of each person in their place, their gifts and strengths valued and used, their vulnerabilities protected.

We wrote a draft values statement about trans issues, which we hope will be adopted (perhaps with modifications) by Young Friends’ General Meeting. We spoke deeply of trans issues, and I am inhibited: even to say whether there were trans or non-binary people there might reveal specific things about specific people. I feel valued and affirmed by the draft. I spoke of my experience, it was why I was there, and one asked if I had internalised transphobia. Oh, yes, I am filled with it, it has constricted my life and scarred me deeply. I second-guess and judge myself, and people pick up on my own discomfort and reflect it back to me, so that I feel more uneasy in my skin. So seeing people who do not suffer in that way is liberating. I feel that I understand better, and that the disputes of my generation are finding creative new solutions in theirs. The law needs to get beyond its rigid insistance that everyone must be one sex or the other, as being non-binary is real, and liberates people from stultifying boxes.

Would that we older friends were more blessed with the presence of young friends. We need their leadership and their understanding. The George Gorman lecture is a good start, and Chris Alton’s Swarthmore lecture showed off a beautiful Quaker man.

Why I am a Christian

Christianity is wonderful and beautiful. At its heart is Sacrament: regularly we meet with God and are loved and accepted. And Story: we are told myths which enrich us, such as: We are created in the image of God. Therefore we are

Loving
Creative
Powerful
Beautiful

The root of Christianity is the person of Jesus: a human being who is God. We are followers of Christ- the anointed one, his brothers and sisters, who tells us to be our full selves in our power, and act in Love. The Spirit is in us, and when we are our full selves, self-actualised and self-defined, we can shed the small person we learned we were, and follow the guidance of this indwelling Spirit.

Christianity is a Way, of becoming our best selves. Albert Einstein: Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison [of ego] by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. We are part of all that is.

Christianity also provides community. We are followers together. We can bring up immature persons, who want a clear framework of rules to regulate their own behaviour in order to feel safe. More mature Christians can give guidance, but we are all followers, all on the Way.

Christian spiritual practices can facilitate universal human spiritual experiences. In contemplative prayer or in the Quaker meeting we enter immediate communication, through our senses rather than through words. Art can give us this too: if I sit with an art work it communicates directly to my feeling self. We know we are a part of the Whole. We are not alone. I can experience this in nature, seeing a tree or a wild animal- this is why some people hug trees- and there are stories separate from Christianity expounding this, as in William Blake’s

see the world in a grain of sand
and Heaven in a wild flower

-there are other spiritual Ways to full humanity- but Christianity is my Way, the Way I have walked since childhood.

Through art, nature and my Quaker meeting I can be Opened to reality. The world is magical, more beautiful and real, and I am myself as God created me.

Christianity must Change or Die, wrote John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, and though I have not read that book I agree. Christianity is infected with exclusivity, the thought that only Christianity will do as the Way to God, even that those outside the Christian community are damned. Partly this can be dealt with through translation. Jesus said,

I Am is the way, the truth and the life. No-one can come to the Father except through I Am.

That is, it is through being ourselves as created by God, not attempting to conform to some set of rules drafted by men (non-inclusive language intentional, “the white fathers” is Audre Lorde’s phrase) that we are able to relate to God.

For too many people, Christianity is a belief system, so what we believe is more important than what we do or how we relate to each other. It is how we relate that matters, not believing impossible things. If a virgin giving birth is impossible, that should not be a barrier to being Christian. We can be gentle with each other- because relating is more important than believing- hearing others’ beliefs in a gentle spirit. For scientific enquiry, rigorous clear explanation may work; for religious truth, mystery and paradox fit better. Even for scientific enquiry, mystery and paradox may be inescapable: light is a wave, and a particle.

And Christianity is disfigured by too close a relationship with the apparatus of State power, as with the Emperor Constantine, President Putin wooing Patriarch Kirill, or the Queen as the head of the Church of England. Christianity has been a State ideology, enforcing obedience on the subjects. It must free itself from all such temptations. “My kingdom is not of this world.” That has made it emphasise personal morality, especially sexual morality which prevents us from connecting with our deepest selves, who are Free and powerful and feared as a threat to rulers and the powers of the world. Part of the reason I assert I am a Christian (rather than simply “on a spiritual path”) is to stand in the face of those who say you cannot be trans, or LGBT, and Christian.

My power is not a threat to the powers of the world, for it is a power of love and service; but overweening State power may feel it as a threat because it is independent. Over two thousand years, Christianity has held so much darkness, from arguments for enslaving Africans and supporting colonialism to oppressive power structures within individual parish churches; and yet at its best it is a Way for humans to reach our full potential in loving relationship.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms,” said Jesus, and Christianity at its best expands to fit what humans need. The Sea of Faith movement includes as Christians, even as priests, those who think God is metaphor rather than reality, and churches have always welcomed those who doubted the core beliefs yet wanted to remain in the community.

Resurrection II

My friend did not think the new debt initiative was necessary. People get themselves into muddles. Why not talk to the CAB or the landlord if you can’t pay your rent? I found myself agreeing with him. When I was with the CAB we helped with bankruptcies and insolvency agreements, and with debt budgeting. One or two were on their third bankruptcy, and a trickle of people would come in with a document saying that bailiffs would evict them the following day.

I went into the meeting room and sat down, wondering why I had agreed. People don’t talk to landlords because of denial, powerlessness and shame. If I didn’t go out again and say that to him it would get to me all Meeting. So I went out and said that, and he agreed; and he talked of a good landlord he knew of, helping people through their Universal Credit difficulties.

My landlord is a cheery chap, and he comes round to prune the bushes in the back yard, or poison the tarmac. And just before he moved my neighbour had lost the key to open the windows, so his windows could not be opened. He told me the landlord had said, oh, that’s alright, they could replace the windows and take it out of his deposit. He borrowed my key.

My friend agreed. We are not on opposite sides of this. We both have a nuanced understanding; but he names the possibility of talking to the landlord.

In meeting, I thought that is where I am, a sense of denial- not dealing with the problem- powerlessness- unsure how I can- and shame- it is My Fault! I have a crushing loss of confidence. I don’t have faith I can sort myself out, and Know that if I attempt things the other people I need to work with will block me, even though intellectually I know that is ridiculous. Last year, something happened to extricate me, which I could not have expected: this is not Micawber’s “Something will turn up” but something may turn up.

And I had an image, shadowy to me now, of Resurrection.

I am still at war, opposed extremities battling within me- “denial, powerlessness and shame” v Resurrection. I am simultaneously in Hell and Heaven, both part truth part fantasy, together a wider view of Truth than I can compass altogether so I divide it. Hope and Love, rage and terror. Meditation may help. Spoken ministry, not mine, was of being in community, bringing our entire selves, emotions, even tears, to Meeting.

More Burne-Jones. This object, of silver and bronze leaf overpainted with gold, is fabulously beautiful. I sat looking up at it, seeing the light reflecting on metal which the picture cannot reproduce. The “grey ladies” are young and beautiful, apart from their eyelessness, which is clearer, and more disturbing, on the original.

The Latin is a synopsis of the Perseus myth. That greave is impossible- showing the beauty of the leg’s shape, in shining silver.

Being misgendered

-Are you finished with these, sir?
-I’m female.
-I apologise.

I am still irked by that. She could not see my face, I think. My waterproof jacket is fairly unisex but fastens the feminine way. That wig, again, is clearly a woman’s wig, the woman’s side of the line, even if it’s fairly close to the line. It’s a well-marked line.

Now, I am thinking some day I will have the energy for the follow-through:

-I apologise.
-Well, don’t “Sir” people unless their gender is clear! There’s no point in having “All-Gender Toilets” if you misgender people!

It didn’t really- well not really really– bother me until later, when I was in the Turner Prize exhibition, which this year is all video. They are close to documentaries, in parts. Naeem Mohaiemen’s work is a history of the Non-Aligned movement, worth seeing from beginning to end, though it is on three screens and has the feel of looking at an art work. To me; some commenters said that’s not art that’s documentaries.

Charlotte Prodger’s work is 33 minutes long, and consists of video taken on her phone, with bits of her diary read as voiceover. She had had a job near Banchory, and I wondered if anyone else in the room had been there, or at least through it, like me. She is lesbian, at least sometimes she presents Butch, and part of the voiceover says how at the ferry terminal she was washing her hands in the toilets and a party of women came in, and one went out again to look at the door, then said “I thought I was in the wrong one for a moment”. And how wearing it was when people asked her who her girlfriend is. “Is she your daughter?” Eventually she said “She’s my friend” and thought, now I’m closeted as well.

There is paradox here. She (I checked her pronouns) is misgendered repeatedly, and the thought that a woman could be her partner is seen as remarkable, yet she is up for a huge accolade, notoriety in the right-wing press, and £40,000 if she wins the prize. Highbrows like me, and the odd idiot who goes out and writes the comment “That’s not Art!” on the comments wall, (Actually that’s so stupid, surely it must be irony?)-

onywye, I am watching this Installation feeling intense powerlessness exacerbated by her frank admission of failing to respond to being misgendered, and the middle-class white straight men, well, it might just go over their heads. What’s this wumman on about?

On the comments wall, I took two pieces of paper marked in large letters

Power

and scrawled, “Charlotte was misgendered in the CalMac lavs. I was misgendered in the Tate Gallery Members’ Room” on one and “I have the

Power

to say I exist” on the other. Then I took lots of wee pins and stuck them all over these pieces of paper, skewering the word “Power” and each of the “I”s.

So there.

Waiting for the film/installation to start, I sat by a low table leafing through the books there. One is on queer art, another is a selection of the poems and essays of Audre Lorde specifically for the British market called

Your silence will not protect you

So now I have a book of Audre Lorde, to help me be an ally to ethnic minority people and, perhaps, help me survive.

What if I had shouted out in the showing that I had been misgendered? There were workers in the Duveen Gallery working with children, with suggestions as to participate in art, and when I said I too like to be playful the man gave me a pair of drumsticks. I noticed how the sound they made was different hitting with the tip or the middle of the stick, and investigated the sounds. I could break people’s absorption in the art work, and that distraction would be like Brecht’s alienation technique, they would see it in a new way. But the rooms showing the videos are carpeted, and I just hit the sticks together occasionally, very quietly. And if I had shouted, people would be too well-bred (or something) to show they noticed.

I had a fabulous day. I also spent hours with the Burne Jones exhibition. Pieces here come from the ordinary displays a few rooms away, and from as far as Stuttgart or Melbourne. Is not Madeleine Vivier-Deslandes utterly beautiful? There were so many beautiful things. There’s Perseus stealing the Graeae eye, on oak, and his armour is silver, and their dresses gold. The grey sisters are young, here. One has her pretty face and empty sockets turned to us. There’s a huge tapestry, of Gawain contemplating the Holy Grail and his two companions blocked by three angels from approaching. The trees are dark, and the wild flowers Botticellian. So, the Pre-Raphaelite descent into myth and fancy, before Freud, how ridiculous- except Madeleine is, perhaps, “chimeric, disordered and suffering”. All those buttons on her cuffs undone, and that bodice, so easily ripped. I went in ready for my irony to be exercised, and was entranced- and just a little disturbed. Just now and then.

Why I’m talking to white people about race

Because I am a trans woman.

Because when I was about to transition, I was representing at about a hundred tribunals a year, and decided the tribunal members should be told, so that my change did not distract them from my client’s case. After one hearing I went back in to tell the tribunal I would transition, and ask how to notify other panel members. When I explained, the doctor on the panel said that tribunals do not discriminate on any ground, and I saw the shutters close behind his eyes as he said it.

You can see their eyes shut down and harden, wrote Reni Eddo-Lodge, in Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. It’s precisely the same experience. Because there are quotes from people on the back endorsing the book, and all of them are people of colour, apart from Paris Lees, a white trans woman- who is also the only person allowed to be herself, a recognisable name, “Paris Lees” not “Marlon James, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015”. In that list of endorsements, the men come first, then the women.

Because all that stuff about telling people before we transition is problematic. Human Resources might get an expert in, to give training to the staff members- “Stephen is going to transition. From 25 April, she will be known as Clare”- as if this was something weird or unusual which no-one had ever heard of before, or the correct pronoun to use was in some way difficult or complicated. To give people a chance to ask the intrusive, insulting questions, so that they would not have an excuse to for months afterwards- “Are you going to have the operation?” If you want to find out about trans, there’s this thing called the internet. There are even books!

Because we know this stuff, and yet we still face it. “People talk to my husband over my head,” said the woman in the wheelchair. Oh, God. “‘Does he take sugar?'”- disabled people have been complaining about this, framing it, mocking it, pointing it out, with simple phrases to lodge in people’s heads, for decades, and it still happens. Or my friend suffers this:

-Where are you from?
-Wolverhampton.
-No, where are you really from?

Wolverhampton. Really. We have been getting closer to mere courtesy for some time. We said Asian people, then Asian origin, now Asian heritage– because they were born here, as were their parents in many cases, so they are not Asian nor do they originate in Asia. We do need to label these matters still, because people of colour can’t be colour-blind, they notice that they stand out, that white is the default normal- just as trans women stand out. She still gets “Where are you really from?”

For so long, the bar of racism has been set by the easily condemnable activity of white extremists and white nationalism, writes Eddo-Lodge, and I feel yet again the recognition I feel, over and over again, reading her book.

There have been black people in Britain for millennia- the first colonists, walking over Doggerland, were black, there were Roman soldiers from Africa, black sailors in our ports-

slaves

and lots of black immigration in the 1950s, because the mill-owners of Lancashire, rather than investing in new plant and equipment, wanted to keep costs down by employing immigrants. There were century-old looms working in mills closing in the ’90s. So the hard work for diversity and acceptance of all people came from people of colour first, and GSD (Gender and Sexuality Diversity, I still feel the need to explain that abbreviation and wish I did not have to, straight publications even spell out LGBT) rode on their coat-tails.

Because everybody benefits from acceptance of diversity.

Because I see people being wronged, and their fight is my fight. The book is excellent. It gives history. Muriel Fletcher, reporting on “The Colour Problem in Liverpool” in 1930, said white women who married black men fell into four categories: “the mentally weak, the prostitutes, the young and reckless, and those forced into marriage because of illegitimate children”. That’s vile. Her use of the word “half-caste” has contributed to its use today.

Reading, writing, understanding

“It was Heidegger who rendered phenomenology hermeneutical.” Are you still here, Jim? Jim wrote here, once, “I adore Heidegger”. I just about understand that sentence, have some understanding of what phenomenology is, or hermeneutics, though I am unclear about how one could be the other. And then a shaft of light: Heidegger describes understanding as the human’s fundamental way of being-in-the-world… the basis of human knowing in general.

Afraid to go out, afraid to go in- I have not been meditating, because I fear it, and then yesterday felt moved to, so did. And this morning I felt moved to so did and found my pain and sadness, at the heart of me, it just hurts. Being with it, being conscious of it, was what I had feared and why I had avoided meditation, and why I may avoid meditation in the future. And yet just sitting with this pain the emotional accretions to it cease to matter. There is the pain and sadness, and there is the terror and sense of incomprehension and powerlessness which they evoke in me, but if I sit with the pain the terror disappears. Perhaps I am still powerless, I don’t know. Perhaps, I am not. Perhaps, I will meditate.

Become blind during contemplative prayer and cut yourself off from needing to know things. Knowledge hinders, not helps you in contemplation. Be content feeling moved in a delightful, loving way by something mysterious and unknown, leaving you focused entirely on God, with no other thought than of [God] alone. Let your naked desire rest there. . . .

I have been reading. I love the idea of the Oxford “Very Short Introductions”, books about 120 pages long on all sorts of topics. The one on Existentialism has required my concentration, reading slowly, re-reading paragraphs and chapters, and that concentration seems a worthwhile practice to me as I sit at home. Maybe I should take notes. It seems a less frittery way of spending time than others open to me. I wish they were slightly easier, but there are concepts new to me which may be as lucid as possible. It fits this section, on how an inkling may grow to an understanding, how it might be aided by others, shaped by words. I have experienced such learning before.

She may be there this weekend. I hope so, hope not. I have spoken at her twice, both times imbecilically. (If you’re reading this, I don’t mean you.) She is utterly alien to me, beyond my comprehension, of fabulous intellect which I intuit may create loneliness in crowds like there will be. If she is there it will be her gift to us. If I dare approach her, not for absolution for my past idiocies but to say

Hello

as a gift not a request or a pawing attempt at robbery- an attempt at I-thou-

could it possibly result in communication I could bear? Though my communications so far, impertinent though they were, have elicited reactions so that I have seen her slightly better. What is the best that I want?

That intellect should win respect from all, but merely being female exposed her to insult and contempt, over and over again, probably still does.

Another person will be there, also alien to me but with whom I have communed, in Tate Modern, making the art we contemplated together dance and sing and give up mysteries. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are.) I so desperately want to commune.

Faced with the possibilities of Bad Faith or Authenticity, explained by Sartre as mediated by Thomas R. Flynn, I will occasionally make progress, slower than I would like, wanting instant communication and finding attempts failing over and over again. But then in meditation this morning, fleetingly, I managed to communicate with myself.

Buying women’s clothes, as a man

Behind me in the winding queue, an old man started singing. “We three kings of Orien Tar, one in a taxi, one in a car…” I turned round, and completed it. “One on a scooter, blowing his hooter” and he pointed to the button on his electric mobility vehicle. He was thinking of Christmas, he said, because his wife was buying presents.

-Those look nice. Are they for you?
-Yes. I was looking for a pair of warm Granny slippers, and was pleasantly surprised by these, I said. They are fluffy inside and out, ankle-boots, black with lots of tiny gold-coloured metal bits like stars in the night. I also got socks.

Well. With his head at the level of my waist, he would notice my narrow hips first, and my white shirt and skinny jeans would not indicate I was female. Even my breasts- I was wearing breast forms, then chicken fillets, then padded bras, and sixteen years after starting hormones I finally started wearing an unpadded bra- would not indicate otherwise, when I turned round. So he started a conversation. I don’t mind speaking to people in the street, and he wasn’t actively unpleasant, just a bit mocking.

No real problem. He wasn’t loud, or violent, or scornful, and had he been I would not have been cowed; but he saw me buying slippers, and thought to remark on it. So, it’s almost all right, not quite normal, still remarkable but not entirely unpleasant: as an androgynous or effeminate man, I could buy styles I like, not have to alter my body, and suffer no more than a few impertinent remarks.

There had been a man over by the sale rail, looking through women’s garments. Final reductions were up to 75%, and I saw a pretty t-shirt for a fiver. I queued for the fitting rooms. All were occupied, and I thought of saying to the woman that I could try it on in the corridor. After all, there are no men here. She said someone would be out in a minute. Then I looked at the shirt again. I had thought it looked a bit small for the size 16 marked on the coathanger, and the label inside says it is 8. I did not try it on.

It is a lovely day. I cycled back by the stony track, saying good morning to the occasional walker or cyclist. There’s a Primark there, I could get a coat quite cheaply, and even Marks has cheap lines, jeggings for £15. A. was complaining that Marks had closed in Nupton, and it’s also closed in Kettledrum. You could get a bus to the out of town shopping centre, but it takes an hour. I would rather the shops were in towns, and as for online shopping, how can you get clothes to fit?

In the pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist if she could recommend a doctor from the local practice. She could not, she was not allowed to, she said. She thought I objected to one because he had dismissed my being trans. I knew that from her sympathetic tone and words she used which I cannot precisely remember. In that case, it was not specifically about being trans, possibly about being seen as unimportant, but that was her assumption.

Partial inclusion

When I am not accepted, often I am tolerated. When I am not wholly valued or cherished, I may be partially included: I pretend to be a normal person, and am allowed to be that normal person in the group. So naming the way in which my difference is rejected may be a threat to me: it draws attention to my difference, so maybe my pretence at normality has been seen through, and I will be rejected. No, no, it’s no trouble, I say. Please don’t worry about it.

Though I am depressive, and need a lot of acceptance before it gets through to me; and I am hypervigilant for any sign of rejection. And, that could be seen more positively: particular aspects of me are appropriate for this group accomplishing this task, and others can come out at another time.

Our liberation is bound up together. If I can take off my masks, I can accept others without theirs, and even help them to remove them. We shall stand together naked and unashamed, but conscious and aware. Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.

This is a spiritual process, among Quakers. My Friend asked, What would it take to enable us to live in consciousness of peace, love and joy so that such issues as these and many others are resolved spontaneously? I think we need practice. I don’t know we will ever manage it spontaneously. I replied, For me, that is a continual process of emptying myself of my requirements of others and my false perceptions, and appreciating what is around me and within me. It is not instantaneous- noticing something and welcoming or emptying it, as it also involves things I desire or need to explore. There is love in me. I have blind spots where I do not notice- logs as well as specks in my eye- and it is a matter of seeing. I am pleased that I said there is love in me. I can acknowledge my goodness. Not everyone can.

Trans people are bound up in the concept of a real self, a kernel which is unchanging, which is the sex not assigned at birth. That might be a chimera. I can imagine a person’s self-concept being exhaustively defined, all the things they think they are and ought to be, but not the organismic self because it is an organism. I am an organism that reacts to circumstances, taking in ideas, responding to stimuli, so I cannot know how I will react until I am provoked. As the world I am in changes, I change.

How comfortable are you? There is a Quaker booklet, Owning power and privilege, which considers how some of us are advantaged, and the first voice in the text is a “white, middle class, educated, affluent” person who calls himself a “typical Quaker”. My voice comes later: For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides- how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures. I am white, middle class by origin at least, educated, and I have refused policemen peremptorily demanding to come in to my house, unlike that typical Quaker who acknowledges “police attention bypasses me”. I know he is a man, from the pronouns he uses of himself. I think he’s straight. He does not mention being a straight man in that list of privileges. Fair enough, it’s a toolkit for recognising privilege in onesself, but the most privileged person is heard first.

Though the toolkit’s epigraph is by an “Aboriginal” activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. She could be educated, too.

How comfortable are you? Bud Tillinghast has started a blog on the Roman Empire as a way of understanding the Bible. He quotes an English publication: August is named after Augustus Caesar…[who] brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire… The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity. He points out that “peace” was in the interests of the Roman elite, at the expense of the rest, and that those roads helped soldiers march easily to places the Pax Romana was threatened. Tacitus said, They make a desolation and call it peace. If we think of that “peace” as a good thing, it is because we think of our own imperial adventures as beneficent, spreading order, rather than rapacious.

The way to equality is owning our power and privilege. It might help us get people of colour in if we recognised our privilege, as part of the emotions, attitudes and prejudices in [ourselves] which lie at the root of destructive conflict, the things we can’t see because they are so normal and expected. This is just how things are. This is not how things should be.

I am seeking my own liberation here, not just as a trans woman oppressed by the Patriarchy but as an educated white person oppressed by my education, which blinds me to other perspectives. When the least of us is free we are all entirely free.