Away with the Quakers

She leaned closer, and I noticed her eyes flicking from side to side, looking into mine. She put her arm along the back of my chair, and lightly touched the skin above my scooped neckline. Inhibited, I froze, rather than relaxing against her side, my head on her shoulder. Still, I am delighted with the flirting.

A yoga teacher asked if I would like her to correct my posture, and told me to feel the bones in my bottom on which my weight should go. My spine should curve above those bones, balanced, so there is no strain. I should pull my shoulders back and my shoulder blades inwards. Then I should pull my head back while keeping my gaze level, so that the skull balances on top of the spine. Bowing it forward, we overdevelop the trapezius muscle. Similarly, standing I should have my weight on my heels then bear it equally between heels and the balls of the feet. I have been practising this, queueing for the tills in Aldi. Pull the belly in slightly and the chest up.

I have been away with the Quakers, and seen that we are going to disappear in Britain and probably deserve to, but that our gift could liberate the world. A Friend said that it is so nice to dress simply, and be with others whose values make them dress the same way. This didn’t just irritate me because I was in a different pretty dress, and make-up, and while most women there wore trousers a few were in skirts. It’s that it produces far too narrow an understanding of who Quakers might be, and what openness to the Spirit might produce in a person. It does not make us all look alike. The spiritual discipline is living with people who are different.

We had an animator in to help with the children, and she spent some time with adults too. So I used a free app to help make a film. She provided an iPad suspended over a backing sheet, the idea, and letters cut from coloured paper, and I made the letters of the word “community” move onto the backing sheet and dance round a bit, for ten seconds at twelve frames a second. Then I had my own idea, and pulled fragments off a pine cone, which, when the film was reversed, marched towards the pine cone and reconstituted it. I heard she commented to someone about how seriously I had taken the exercise. Well, I do. When I commit to something I give it my all. People liked watching the letters dance and spin.

I played ball with a little girl, who was just learning to catch one, in the sunshine. The bits I find most memorable in the weekend, two days later, were about play. Saturday evening, we entertained ourselves. I read my sonnets, and a man asked for copies. Did I do dramatic readings elsewhere?

I cycled 28 miles there with Google maps. I should have looked at the route beforehand. I kept making mistakes, as the phone perceived me as a few feet off to the side of the path. When I returned, it was almost all off road through woods, but going I went on some nasty road. At the end, the app sent me through a research station, which had a gate blocking the way.

A man told me I could not get through, and told me I had to go back round several miles to get on the road. I just stared stupidly at him. Eventually he told me he knew the combination, and drove ahead of me to let me through. I was tired. So anticipating going back, I was worried.

On Sunday morning, in free discussion, I addressed the group: we sit in a circle, we speak when moved, we do what we are called to. That’s it. Anything more comes from the evil one. Then in worship I wanted to say anything to reassure and encourage these people, but I had already spoken. But, this is what I want to say to Quakers:

Speak when moved. Don’t speak when not moved.
Act when led. Don’t act when not led.

We sit in silence for an hour a week, and talk incessantly the rest of the time. Much of that talk is mere intellectualising. I believe we act for other motivations than being led: we want to appear good to ourselves, or it seems like a good idea. Only in leadings is there life. And, we are good enough already, filled with the love of God. If we act from the Love in us, it is enough.

When the yoga teacher told me to bring my chest out, saying I am filled with feeling, I started to wail. The pain and uncertainty is too much for me. A lovely woman came over to console me. All morning, I had managed to hold my pain and sadness without particularly expressing it.

As a complete contrast to John William Godward, here is Walter Sickert.

Value and desire

Every word of my affirmation is fought for.

I am Abigail, a gentle, vibrant light.
I am a human being, a feminine woman.
I have value, desire, agency, determination, dignity.

I am Abigail, the name I chose. Someone else said, “gentle, vibrant light” and I thought that is too beautiful to leave out. You might think it obvious that I am a human being, but I am asserting my uniqueness, beauty and wonder as a human being, and also that I am one in 7.9 billion. I am a woman, despite denials, and feminine. I denied it too. I said on facebook it made no sense to say I was not “biologically” a woman, unless you believe in a soul separate from the body, and was roundly mocked for this. Yet I am a woman.

I thought I was worthless for so long, but I have value. I have desires, chiefly about safety, social contact and the regard of others. Activity is a means to those ends. I have agency: I can take action, and I do. I have willpower, or determination, when I decide to do something. Dignity, I read, means being worthy of honour or respect, and that is a leap of faith I will make.

I cycled 36 miles, which is as much as I want to do in a day, and don’t want to do two days running. So, while I like the idea of cycle touring, I don’t really see myself doing it. I thought of cycling daily, and just did not. It’s the difference between liking an idea of myself, and wanting the reality. Or, it’s wanting the reality and not having an idea how to get there. Or just not doing the work.

I want sexual surrender, and a friend suggested I needed more long term planning- not just the immediate delight, but the possibility of partnership. Are they a catch?

Taking my bike on the train, I went to visit the artist, who showed me their studio. Their Greek characters are sculptures and prints. I love the Helen of Troy, oozing sex and death. The Heracles is a killer. I was introduced to the stories as a child, and these are an adult reappraisal.

Coming back on the train, I started a conversation with a woman from the headline on her Guardian. She is a Quaker, who is just writing pastoral guidance for her meeting on trans people, whose meeting has been called transphobic. I told her of my experiences. I hope she would not see me as a threat.

A writer on dementia wrote of the need for a sense of self. A woman in a nursing home was disrupting the nursing station, until they found she was a former nurse. So they let her sit there, even write fake notes, and she became happier. I don’t take pride in having been a lawyer, and my sense of self comes from what I have found out about myself. My vulnerable, inconsistent pride comes from being this particular human.

I want to add good qualities to my affirmation. I have many gifts, and the ones I value are these:

I am loving, creative and decent.

I wish I had more outlet for these qualities. It seems a desire to be not to seem. I am this person, and I have so much doubt and fear. So I go back to the affirmation Menis Yousry crafted with me, and what I did with it. Someone called my words “honest, astute and brave,” and I treasure such affirmation.

Image from Wikimedia. Godward was painting for men. Those young women, probably shallow and dissatisfied, are a caricature beside Evelyn Blacklock’s self portrait. This is a real person, confidently and openly looking out at us.

Meeting a swan

Lunch was lovely. I had a large glass of wine, and when my friend decided she did not want to finish hers I had most of that too. Over two hours, I complained about my life to a kind, attentive listener. We were at the back of the restaurant, where the waiters barely looked, and it was just the right place, overlooking the water. Then, with me still a bit squiffy, we walked round the lake.

This is where canoeists can cross the path from the lake to the river. As we approached, we saw swans use it too. First there was an adolescent, full size but still with cygnet colouring, and then an adult.

I wanted to see how close I could get to it. It seemed happy enough for me to approach, and even curious.

Now it was getting a little nervous, so I left it alone.

Then we went round the dress shops. There’s social media, where we learn about the anti-trans campaigners who have captured the EHRC telling services to exclude trans women, and the Tories deciding that conversion therapy for trans people is a good thing really, they shouldn’t ban that. Please sign the petition. It’s gone over 120,000 on its fifth day. As with Ukrainian refugees, the Tory government has gambled on the sheer selfish nastiness of Tory supporters, and found the British people well to their Left. Then there’s real life, where we got chatting to Karen, and even swapped the dresses we had brought to try on. Two trans women in the women’s changing rooms! Kishwer, Karon, Akua, if you’re reading this: the cis woman was not traumatised. She was happy to chat.

In a stationery shop there was a notepad with headings: Goals was prominent, other blah, “rewards” at the bottom for you dutifully to record why the goal was important. Yuck. “My psychiatrist said goals are overrated,” I said loudly. Well, I love snippets of overheard conversation, so spread the joy. “One of my eight psychiatrists said goals are overrated.”

After, I worried about it. The swan would walk down the slope, as take-off for such a heavy bird is hard work. It does so slowly and carefully. It might not want to, with me hovering behind it.

A Quaker testimony to community

The American term SPICES lists six testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship. Four overlap with the list in Quaker Faith and Practice: Truth, Equality, Simplicity, Peace. The BYM website adds Justice, and many Quakers speak of a testimony to sustainability. Sustainability proceeds naturally from living from the Spirit in the love of God.

Rather than Truth, SPICES names Integrity. A mnemonic is useful as far as it goes. Truth goes beyond what we speak, to how we are in the world, being our true selves without pretence or self-delusion. That is, integrity. Even Quakers evade unpalatable truths, or we would not need counselled against that. Illusion seems comforting when reality is too hard to face. Truth is also about how we see the world, as far as possible as it is, which requires commitment and may require Love.

British Quakers have a testimony to Community though we do not name it. We practice Quaker spirituality, worship and life as part of a Quaker community. Those who do the work paid ministers do in other churches, and the work of organising, do it for a limited time. Many of us serve the wider community, building community, bringing people together, meeting need.

Leadership is a service. Decisions have to be taken, and it makes sense to delegate some to specific people. Sometimes leadership is a gift, absolving others of the need to make a decision, if not of responsibility. Anyone can offer leadership, by making a suggestion. Others will follow if they agree to.

We are a society of people with equal value but differing gifts.

We make decisions together, seeking God’s loving purposes. We seek to do what is right. Ideally, our business is conducted in a spirit of worship, and anything spoken is inspired ministry, though people can disagree. Sometimes, someone will propose a new approach and there is a feeling of the meeting coming together behind that.

Part of the discipline and practice of Quakerism is being in the meeting community, where there are the usual conflicts and stresses. Someone told me of feeling their local meeting was cliquey, so they stopped going. We can appear homogenous, almost as if people were not expressing their full variety, and those who could not fit simply left, or never came. Diversity of belief is welcomed, but other ways of being diverse may make people uncomfortable.

At our worst, we imagine that we are Peaceful so deny conflict until it explodes. The advice is to “make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome”.

Wholly Zoom meetings avoid much of the tension. We can have the discipline of sitting in silence, and I like to mutter to myself, sometimes, words, mantras or longer thoughts, while muted. I can switch my camera off, arrive late or leave early. There is no need to walk into a building where you know no-one. The spiritual practice of sitting in silence with others becomes open to far more people. And, we might know each other less well.

So Britain YM would benefit from specifically declaring we have a testimony to community, as it is so important to our religious life together.

The dance and the game

As she looked at me, I felt my softness being valued. In her regard, my delicate flower stood tall. She said it was beautiful to look at me. I have to accept my sadness completely, in order to appreciate my delight. We are present to each other.

This is how I want to be, and I enjoy it, then analyse it. What am I doing, now? I take off my masks. I speak from the Real Me. Or, I show my vulnerable, feminine self. Three ways of seeing it each casting light from a different direction, each illuminating parts other images leave in shadow, none complete. The mask seems welded on, and to be seen without it is liberation, my only desire.

Burnt Norton: In the still point of the turning world, there is only the dance. There is who I am and what I do in the moment, and how I imagine it looks or want it to appear falls away. In almost all my actions there is care for appearances, more to myself than to others, and self-consciousness, and here I might flow naturally, unconstrained.

Nirvana is nonbeing. There is no I. There is only the dance. Possibly I should only do this with a lover (not with her) or possibly it could expand to all of life. This is paradise everyone old has dreamed of all their lives: the deep blue air that shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless, behind high windows Larkin could only look through, hoping that couple of kids were free to fly, like birds.

As a potential partner I have a great deal of beauty but fear I have little use. My earning potential is minimum wage at best. So I unfankle all the mess, the masks and pretence, the desire for appearance rather than reality, the impossible falsehoods. “I” is the whole animal process dancing with the world, changing it as I am changed, and “I” is the illusion that blocks the flow, the demands not to feel that were branded in me.

Mind-blown, I went to the Quaker group. With adolescent certainty I told them where they were going wrong. There is the dance, and then there is the game, which has rules. The business meeting is on the second Sunday of the month, and members should send agenda items to the clerk by the first Sunday so that the agenda may be circulated in good time.

But—but—

The DANCE!!!

If only I could put it into words. But those words would become dust as soon as they were spoken, not even a finger pointing at the moon. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

If only we could trust the wisdom we know. If only we could sit in silent worship in the business meeting. You only speak once, so you gather what you must say. You seek the good of all, and not appearances. You listen to Friends, and see their unmasked beauty. It is not a committee meeting where we talk over each other.

Nirvana is possible, and ungraspable. I fall away from it into habit. The words cast light and shadows. And I dismiss the rules, for they only permit a game, which is less than the dance. But there is wisdom which might let us dance freely. And I delight in my adolescence: I have been stunted, welded in, and adolescence is growth and life.

The joyful, playful child

“Forgive me,” said Anna, “but you seem confused”. Well, yes. I have had a striking week. I wrote my love poem, which enabled me to say the words “I love you” to someone. Wednesday 5th I would read it in public.

Unfortunately, before that I was discussing my psychotic friend. He comes to Quaker zooms to rave. One of his delusions is how the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is the perfect society. I wish he’d go to one of their concerts, proclaim his gospel, and get sectioned again. I wish he would realise he was ill and consent to the depot injections, but he believes he has unique spiritual truth to change the World, just like Licia did. He accepts he is hypomanic, and when he is less so he can have an initial appearance of profundity from all the Buddhist texts he quotes.

Then there was the BBC, explaining laboriously yet disingenuously that my complaints were without merit and Justin Webb did nothing wrong.

I read my poem in the Lovely Gathering. Jamie needled me a bit, and my barriers collapsed. I do not mind appearing ridiculous. That ship has sailed, I said- I have appeared ridiculous to some people since transition. But not like this. He asked if I wanted him as celebrant, and I asked if he could do the registration too. I would not want to have to go to the registry office as well. But, the barriers- I had not wanted to make claims about another, or potentially embarrass her. Jamie did not need a jemmy. He put an exploratory fingernail under my covers, and they exploded off. I felt exposed.

She wrote to me of my ethereal beauty, my blooming heart. I am grateful for the expressions of love from her deep integrity. And Thursday afternoon I spent some time wailing wordlessly and some time being listened to by my wise friend, who recommended howling.

I had given up hope that my sexuality might attract me to, leave alone unite me with, another human being and I am grateful that I now believe in the possibility. Friday afternoon I zoomed with a woman who has overcome huge challenges. She does herself down, and still I saw her humility is beautiful. She wrote to me of my generosity, receptivity, sensitivity, spirituality, thoughtfulness, beauty and desire to spread encouragement and love, and called me

a human daring to stand.

Tuesday at Morning Communion, which I experience at 1pm because of time differences, was striking. I was just feeling the feels. People would say something changing my view of what was being discussed, and my feelings changed with them. In order to hold these mercurial feelings, be present and conscious with them, I found my body flexing and stretching, tensing in different places. It was almost as much as I could bear. I thought I might look a bit weird but no-one said. I was pleased with this. I want to feel the feels and accept them, then I feel I will stop fighting myself and stand in my power.

I have been thinking of my honour, and one thing I want to do is keep any obligations into which I enter freely. So Friends asked me to do something, and I said yes, and I did not do it. I just did not respond when my fellow Friend involved contacted me. I did nothing for six months, and facing the prospect that the work was not done someone else was appointed. Then they asked me to do something else and I did not respond to the first email, or the phone message. I need to be able to say “No”, and I need my word to mean something. When directly asked I said “No”.

Another thing I want, passionately, is not to have my feelings just explode on show as they did on Wednesday evening. It makes me feel unbearably vulnerable and stupid. After, I hate myself for it. I need control.

I had an hour and 45 minutes with Anna the Samaritan on Friday morning. They did not seem particularly busy, and I had a long healing cry. Then I talked from my misery when I can only articulate words in a high wail. Then I talked from my Real Self, or whatever it is, when my voice goes higher than usual, I am fulfilling my needs telling my best understanding of truth and I feel frightened and vulnerable. I told of chasing Ulrika like a lost puppy, and how she used me to keep Luke on his toes, then chucked him away like a used tissue. I told of Jude’s girlfriend wanting him to make a man of himself, and how when they split up he was so much more relaxed. By the end I was more explaining to her than working things out for myself, so I stopped, and I have not felt the need to cry since.

F, to whom I said “I love you”, has been in touch and caring in a way making me feel cared for. I spoke at the Zoom Quaker meeting, when someone heard humility in my ministry and that felt true and fitting to me. Then there was the afternoon Quaker zoom where we addressed the question, “Who in your life enhances/encourages your connection with God, and how?”

I said I felt that God in me is when all of me is integrated and working together, and anything can either lead me towards that or drive me from it, and my attitude to it matters. So I welcome unravelling on Wednesday, making a fool of myself. I will learn from it.

I told the story of the grey corridor with doors to overwhelming light and colour. Jeannine had a new angle on it: the corridor more constrains me as I outgrow it. Ruth suggested I could open the door for a look, keeping in the corridor for safety.

So I began the lovely gathering with Emotion Detector.
Illusions are painfully shattered
Right where discovery starts
In the secret wells of emotion
Buried deep in our hearts.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to become that sane, well-boundaried person, who does not lose control like I did on Wednesday. And now, five hours later, I don’t.

The next Quaker question was, How do you hold people in the light? How do you believe that works? Well, it changes me. I think of another with love, and it enhances my capacity to love them.

Then I said words new to me, which felt true. I find loving important, and am good at it: the price is not knowing I am good at it, so striving to be better. Seeing Friends assent helps me believe this.

So now I know. The lesson I wish I had learned as a toddler, which my parents could not teach me, was that losing control was not the end of the world.

I would rather be in touch with my feelings and in control. And loss of control is not ideal, but OK. Outside the corridor becomes less terrifying.

A better life in 2022

How may I improve my life next year? I see the fragility of how I have organised my life, and have to see the blessings of it as it is. What do I desire, and how may I achieve it?

A velleity is a desire too weak to act on. I found the idea amusing. I have always had a velleity to try the various human approximations of flying- hang gliding, paragliding, parachuting- but never have, and now think the reduced elasticity of middle age means I never will. And, well, so what? I have other sources of excitement, joy and beauty. I can imagine the terror and exultation.

Now velleity feels like a threat because I do not recognise when something is a desire, and I will act on it, or a velleity, and I will not. I lack motivation. Velleity seems like genuine desire. I shock and disappoint myself. I find what I want when I see what I do, or avoid.

I did not know what I wanted, because of my upbringing. I was taught to find my desires and feelings shameful and threatening, and they became unconscious. I have only named my desire to hide away and not be seen in the past decade, in a process of self-discovery and self-acceptance I journal here. I hid first in a myth of conventionality which better fitted my parents, who were forty years older and conservative, than my generation. Then I hid literally. I go out as little as possible.

Over my suppressed desires I constructed a fantasy of who I ought to be, and what I ought to want. I believed that was who I was, and what I wanted. Hence the difficulty of spotting what is velleity. I wondered if I could construct rules about obligations helping me to motivate myself to, say, reply to that email. I would be adopting rules others live by and recommend, but it would be my choice to adopt them, and then I should stick to them. They would be my guide.

I want community and connection, and a chance of contributing. In one Quaker group, possibly another, I do. In my local meeting Friends have given to me generously, and I have mostly just received. I might use moral argument with myself. So they asked me to do something, and I did nothing about it, to my Friend’s surprise and measurable loss. They asked me something else, and I have not replied. I could name stinginess and hypocrisy in me, or think of exculpation, and the words don’t help. Conscious me contemplates unconscious me, wanting to understand.

I also want to know my capacity. If I cycle thirteen miles in the morning, I might not want to do much else but read or watch TV for the rest of the day. As well as motivation issues I have problems around the amount of energy I have. I usually have a sleep in the afternoon. I want to cycle because I want to keep physically fit. I came to accept how I enjoyed aspects of it, and found other aspects unpleasant, so I might lie in bed thinking I want to cycle and then get up at lunchtime, not having cycled. I found my conflict between an inner slavedriver and an inner protector, cycling.

I don’t know I am exhausted until I conk out. Again, this is from my upbringing.

How to get to know these things- how am I, in the moment? What do I want? What should/could/will I do? I find sitting in silence helps, though finding out has to cut through so much, it is a slow process. I built up such a forest of self-protective illusions through sustained trauma that my desires remain elusive to my conscious self- even as I act on them, and even achieve them.

I have found a way to explore my desire for submission, which I could not have named before I was forty. I am beginning to explore things most people explore pretty thoroughly in their teens and twenties, and I have not. So I am reacting like a giddy teenager. Through my parents’ shame, through shaming in the culture which treats my kind as a laughing stock, and through deep internalised repression something which has only caused me misery is finally bringing pleasure, and I have intense mercurial feeling, delight at finding it, rage at missing it, so that I have been crying thinking of writing this. And I am contemplating another human being in amazed delight and thinking, who is she? What will nurture her?

Should I visit Edinburgh?

The sadness comes upon me, like a predator.
At its touch I stiffen and writhe.
I must collapse on my bed, weeping, wailing,
possibly screaming.
It will prove its mastery of me.
And then, a change.
The sadness is in me. It is me. It fills me,
chest, belly, fingertips
I know I am big enough to contain it.
That knowledge is relief and delight.
I hold the sadness, dance with it:
I am aware of its fulness,
and, satisfied, it flows through my heart.

Not permitted to show my sadness
I fought it, and it curdled into sorrow,
a weight I could not bear.
And now it flows like water.

But what of my love?
My breasts are full,
and I have no-one to suckle.

Yes I could go there. It would be lovely.
We would walk by the firth.
I love the way you live your life,
your courage and tenacity, meeting the challenges.
I would see him, and her, possibly her, and him,
whom I wish well.
I might call up she
who was cursed to see my full beauty,
and love me for thirty years.
When, too late, I saw it
Her love warmed and perplexed me.
She has got over me at last.
She might not come.
I might meet a wise woman.

We faced the traumas side by side
but walled apart.
We did not have each other then.
On two islands, we wish each other well
but to reach you, I must cross that sea,
the pain of the past,
the terror of death.
It is easier to wave at you and smile, then turn away.

You want to meet me too!
Would we be blown apart, or sink?
or would we hold the terror,
adults together,
at last, enabled to touch?
We would dance with it.
It is us.

If I can feel all the overwhelming sadness and terror,
might I feel joy as well?

I imagine you asking,
How is your life? What have you been doing with yourself?
I have wrestled my dragon
but not yet climbed on its back.
We watch each other warily.
We want to fly together, and feel land bound.
Nothing, I say. I have stayed in my room for ten years.

You have such presence! they told me. You’re just there!
They missed me when I did not come.
One sees “a lovely air of authority”.
My bafflement increases their enthusiasm.
At last, they make me smile uncertainly.
Could they be right?
What might I do, if they were?

Joining the women’s sharing circle

I want to be here. I don’t want to be here if you want me to go. How might I fit, here? Could I just be part of the group, or do I change it?

Am I a woman? This is who I am. Presenting male was unbearable. I am a woman if your definition of the word includes me, so I could be a man, a woman, both or neither, depending on what you think the words mean. Words do not fit reality, but they mould our understanding of it. If I am not a woman, I am at least a trans woman: I can be no other. I would rather “look like that, all the time”, facing prejudice and derision, than move through the world disguised as a man.

Being a woman is physical and cultural. I have not ovulated, and I never will, but I had synthetic progesterone for a time, and experienced glorious highs and terrifying lows on it. I had a conversation just after transition when I thought, as a man talking to this man I would top his story, and as a woman I did not have to, which felt freeing, at first, then oppressive. This man knows it is for him to speak, explore his opinions, show off his knowledge, wisdom and experience, and for me to listen: to be a mirror in which he sees himself reflected, rather than a whole human being.

The value of the women’s circle is that women can find their own voices without the weight of male privilege shutting them up. In mixed groups, the unconscious expectation of the men produces an echo in the women from long habit. Women and their concerns are devalued. Here, women can free themselves.

I presented male for 35 years. I had a voice. I was expected to use it. But I too was silenced, so suppressed that I did not say anything from my true self, only from a “real man” mask. I worked so hard at being a real man, not letting the mask slip, always feeling inadequate, and then the real me broke through and I had to liberate her. My voice- if only a trans woman’s, not really a woman’s- is not the man’s voice I was taught to imitate.

A man might see the weight of privilege, and encourage a woman to speak, in order to get to know her as a person, or out of respect for her personhood. Even if I were joining in the work of encouraging and enabling each woman here to find her voice and be celebrated for who she is, would I be seen to do it as a man- as a game, or as a gift the man could take back at any time?

I would certainly not want to be the half-man whose privilege you could practice challenging because I would give way, so that you could claim your power and personhood in the world outside the group.

Instead I want to be one of you, a sister helping sisters find their voices, equals celebrating each other and so being freed to be ourselves.

Possibly my residual manhood, things in my appearance, mannerisms and voice, make me appear so much a man to you that the dynamic of the women’s group seems lost. And, when any new person joins the group there is a new dynamic. Please do not be too quick to attribute the change, here, now, to some masculinity in me, and call it a loss. All women have some masculinity in them. When a new woman joins the group you have to get to know her.

I am an asylum seeker here, not a colonist. I do not want to take control, but to fit in, and contribute. I am nervous because I am different. I hope tensions in the group can be explored and worked through, bringing us together. We gain when we see how we are different from each other, as well as how we are the same. I hope I can come into the beautiful thing you have created, and help you build it into something more beautiful.

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?