Liz Truss and Anna Akhmatova

The world is changed utterly, since December, but one thing that continues is conservatives seeking out vulnerable minorities to hate, so as to spread division. Trans people, especially trans women and children, have been targeted by Liz Truss, “Minister for” (actually against) “Women and Equalities”. I will write to my MP.

Truss says she wants “Protection of single sex spaces”. She is lying. Gender Recognition has no effect on single sex spaces, which are governed by the Equality Act.

She wants us “Free to live our lives as we wish”- as long as we behave in increasingly constrained acceptable ways, restricted for the good of others. “Checks and balances,” she says. Oh, totally reasonable rules for the good of everyone. Ha.

And she says she wants to “protect” children and young people. Truss claims she is better qualified than specialist gender psychiatrists and endocrinologists to determine what is good for under 18s, and that is to make sure none of them have treatment to aid transition. She produces the Tory bugbear, the ordinary child hoodwinked by trans ideology rushing heedless into “irreversible decisions” to prevent trans children getting the care they need.

Meanwhile I went out for my daily exercise, and also wanted to take some photos of the eerie silent world we are now in. This out of town shopping centre would have been hoaching, but for covid 19.



And it was odd to see a Police Community Support Officer walking along this unmetalled road. We are allowed to be there for exercise, and I want to be there for time in nature, too, time with the birds and the lakes, to preserve my mental health. It is a lone young woman, I don’t think she’ll be arresting anyone, but she might be seeing if there were breaches of rules for a more heavy handed presence later. I saw her twice, both times studying a phone.

I am frightened, by a conservative government which handles the crisis badly, with more people dying of slow suffocation here than elsewhere in Europe, and with the deaths not accurately counted, but which still finds time to promote hate- quietly, subtly at first, with this new target. I am fearful for my vulnerable friends. And the world is beautiful. Never has the contrast been so sharp for me: it is always there, but it is so much stronger now.

Fear and loss.
Wonder and beauty.
Death and God.

Anna Akhmatova puts it beautifully:

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death’s great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses
something not known to any one at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

I am afraid. I read a piece in the New York Times about how covid suffocates people so they don’t realise it, and immediately ordered an oxymeter. It is predicted to arrive in June. There is a small risk of my dying in the most hideous way, and a much greater risk for all the people I know who are over 70 or with certain conditions. Liz Truss chooses this moment to announce her campaign against trans people. Trans children must not be treated, as a political decision. Single sex spaces- No Transwomen!- must be maintained or extended. This is couched in terms of “protection”- protecting vulnerable women and children from the Trans Threat. I am more afraid than ever, and today the sunshine is beautiful.

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I wrote that, and then thought, possibly I should give the minister the benefit of the doubt, until I hear more. In Scotland, the government offers a good reform, but still talks about single sex spaces. It is reassurance for the phobes rather than a serious threat to our rights. I am fearful and unknowing at the moment and it reduces my ability to trust. Then I remember she wants to stop treatment for children, and that is unequivocal. She trusts Daily Mail editorials over doctors. She trusts herself over specialist psychiatrists.

Leaving your house

No person in England may leave the place that they are living without reasonable excuse, during the emergency period. What might a reasonable excuse be? Some are listed in the regulations, but if you have to go out and a police officer challenges you, you can explain why and they must decide whether that is “reasonable”.

The regulations are reviewed every three weeks, so on 16 April Dominic Raab announced they would last a further three weeks, and may last months. He must also withdraw parts of the regulations, if those parts are found to be unnecessary. They will next be reviewed on 7 May.

The regulations are here. Paragraph 6 lists some reasonable excuses. Going to work is a reasonable excuse, including voluntary work, when it is not “reasonably possible” to work from home: even if the work is not classified as “essential work”. Shops are closed except those listed in schedule 2 part 3:  bike shops, laundrettes, dentists, and car repair shops but not car showrooms, are allowed to open. Businesses listed in part 2, such as hair salons, gyms and playgrounds, have to close. Theatres, concert halls and bingo halls, but not nightclubs, can open to broadcast a performance.

A friend can only attend a funeral if no family member or member of the household of the deceased will be there.

Giving care to vulnerable people is an excuse. Some vulnerable people are listed in paragraph 1- people over 70, “any person who is pregnant” (including trans men and non-binary people! Yay!) and any person with an underlying health condition, some of which are listed in schedule 1. So if someone is not included in that list, you might still argue they are vulnerable, and I think mental health conditions make someone vulnerable. Therefore I argue that visiting to talk to a depressed person is a reasonable excuse to leave your house. Isolation can make mental health conditions worse. Communicating electronically is not the same.

That is my argument for sitting on a park bench, or sunbathing in a park. Being outside is good for depression. There is class privilege here. I am articulate, and sound like a middle class person even if I do not always look like one. So I might try to persuade a police officer that I had a reasonable excuse for sitting on a park bench. Other people might not.

I argue if you go out with a reasonable excuse, doing other things incidentally is lawful. So the Northamptonshire chief constable saying that police could go through a shopping trolley to see all the goods in it were “basic necessities” (including pet food) was simply wrong. You can buy chocolate along with your tinned tomatoes and spaghetti.

The Crown Prosecution Service issued a practical guide on reasonable excuses. It says, There is no need for all a person’s shopping to be basic food supplies; the purchase of snacks and luxuries is still permitted. In general terms, a person has a reasonable excuse to visit the shops which remain open to customers under the Regulations. So even if you went to a permitted shop and only bought chocolate and alcohol, that might be OK, but I would stick in a pint of milk as well to be safe from police questioning.

The regulation says you can go out to “obtain basic necessities,” not “to go shopping”, so the guide says you could pick up surplus basic food from a friend’s house.

The guide says you can buy tools to repair a damaged fence, but not brushes and paint to redecorate a kitchen. That means they could actually look in your trolley, at the hardware store. Again, you could buy essential items, and also get non-essential items incidentally.

You can drive somewhere to go for a walk, they say, if you don’t drive longer than you are walking. This makes sense. If people from separate large towns go to a particular beauty spot, there is a chance for Covid from one town to pass to the other. It is a question of balancing risk. Other people will lawfully be going between the two towns. In France the distance you can go from your home to exercise is one kilometre. The guide says you can stop for lunch while on a long walk- or cycle ride, I would have thought- so they are imagining people being quite far from home.

The guide seems keener on interpreting the given reasons in the regulations, than considering other possible reasons, and possibly it takes a suspicious view. If someone has a row with their partner, and goes away to cool down, Moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home is OK. This is explicitly under the “moving house” exemption. Moving out for a few hours, says the guide, is not OK. Possibly, they think people might use “cooling off” as an excuse for visiting friends whenever they wanted. Not every visit to a friend will be spotted by a police officer. But then people are going to allotments, which I think is reasonable, and they are not specifically mentioned.

I note the regulations specify to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm as a reasonable excuse- so if the house is on fire, or to escape a violent partner. Now it’s reasonable to state every excuse they can think of, perhaps, when drafting the regulations, but that this needs stated might indicate the police will question reasons not explicitly stated in the regs.

Don’t make mordant jokes to police officers. Irritated by delay, my friend once told a US border guard that the purpose of her visit was “subverting the government and constitution of the US”, and the official, with a weary sigh, said, “Shall we start again, Sir?” Don’t assume that the police officer is as forebearing. They may be angry and scared.

Before deciding you have committed an offence, police officer has to assess the evidence, which includes what you tell them. Therefore, they should believe you unless they have good reason not to. Cycling for exercise, I noticed a police van prominently marked ANPR. Then they consider whether your excuse is “reasonable”. If not they can tell you to go home, or take you home using reasonable force if necessary. If you are out without reasonable excuse you have committed an offence, and they can issue a fixed penalty notice. The penalty is £60, £30 if you pay within 14 days. The second fixed penalty notice is £120, the third £240, the fourth £480, the fifth £960.

This means that if an officer simply tells you what you should not do- don’t sit on that bench- they are giving advice, as they are allowed, rather than investigating an offence. Listening politely and saying as little as possible is a good tactic, in order to avoid such an investigation.

If a child is going out the police can order their parents to keep them in and the person responsible for the child is responsible for enforcement.

I don’t want to spread this disease. I have vulnerable friends and relatives. So we should all behave responsibly and not go out unless necessary, because going out might spread the disease. However there may be reasonable excuses for going out which the police don’t recognise.

Here’s a second world war poster to make us feel all British:

A Covid Death

Britain has a thousand deaths a day from Covid, because of Government incompetence, and in the US 7% of deaths had Covid-19 listed as a cause of death, from Trumpian incompetence, and I thought that by now everyone knows someone who knows someone who has died of this thing, and by the end we will all know someone.

On 27 March I met a man for the first time, in a Zoom social gathering. Over the video I saw a man in a mask deliver oxygen to his house- he needed it for health reasons unconnected to the virus, and I thought how vulnerable he was. He died on Good Friday. On Sunday I heard of some of his achievements, and why people admired and loved him. They knew him, I did not. He was over ninety.

It seemed to me when my father died his life was complete. I could think of him, his gifts, his career, two marriages, political work, and achievements, and feel admiration and gratitude and love. And this man (I don’t say his name here because it is almost to me like any other covid death) I can’t say that of him. Something killed him which first killed last year, which was not heard of before December. He would be alive, but for this randomness.

I feel more horror at the man’s death than that of Colin Morley. I knew Colin through Community Building, so we had shared some deep personal things, and in the sharing felt we were growing as human beings and as a group. I knew of Colin’s start-up, “Be the Change”, seeking to bring that growth to more people, and when he was killed in the London bombings of 7 July 2005, I had a slight personal link to that horror, though less than his family who loved him, less than hundreds of others.

The horror I feel at this death is my horror at what is unfolding. He would not have died if the rich did not flaunt their wealth by spending $150 on a pound of pangolin meat, whence the virus emerged, and if the Tory government could have stopped public gatherings a few days sooner, when it was clear what was happening in Italy and Spain would happen here. I met a friend for coffee on 6 March. The coffee-shop had boxes of tissues on the tables, and I was unsure whether covid caused a runny nose as well as a cough. I proposed we meet again in April, not really admitting to myself what was coming, and my friend knew that would be impossible. I would have hoped the British Government would have known too.

The Tories have caused untold deaths- only deaths in hospitals are yet known- by underfunding the NHS, and by cavalier failure to impose precautions timeously. We are social distancing too late. Johnson has been in intensive care because of his personal stupidity, shaking hands with covid victims and holding face to face meetings, and infected his partner and colleagues. The Tories have caused NHS workers to die by their failure to provide PPE.

In the gorgeous sunshine my life is comfortable. I cycled 9.5 miles in 45 minutes (280 ft of climb) and sat outside in the back yard reading. I am used to being alone, and while I would like to see friends am talking to more, actually, by screens. And the economy is sliding, the virus continues as a threat, the government still fails to test for it, and there is a tiny chance I could be one of those gasping for breath on oxygen in a hospital, alone and terrified. Intubation means a hard road of recuperation, learning to breathe again, coping with scars and wastage. And a chance I could get the virus and shrug it off in a week as a woman I know did.

I would feel a slight sadness at the man’s death, had it not been from covid. I would be sad for his partner (whom I have not met) and his friends whom I know. And I attach the death, it becomes a focus, for my own fear, my discomfort at uncertainty. My day to day comfort makes the threat seem distant, yet it is not, or I would not be affected by the death of a man whom I met once. I hear of his death and feel horror at the chance of my own.

I dislike the term “afterlife,” like “afterthought”. There is continuing life.

I wrote that I hoped Johnson recovered, and blamed him for his misfortune, and someone reacted with horror. “Shocking”, she said. “Appalling bad taste.” She could not make the distinction. I wish Johnson no harm, but I want him called to account for the deaths he has caused.

Quakers say, Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully. Blithely I denied it, and now face it. As always, my resistance to reality makes it more painful for me: I will not claim to have learned the spiritual lesson yet.

Covid dreams

My house is much cleaner than normal. I tidied away a lot of papers and stuff a couple of weeks ago, and have gone on a cleaning jag today, vacuuming crannies and crevices for dust. If a tiny particle can make a sufferer cough, irritating the airways further, I do not want my house as dusty as it was.

Eight percent of people over fifty coming down with Covid 19 need hospital treatment. My fear is that if I can phone and describe symptoms I will not be deemed sufficiently sick for transport or treatment, and if I can’t then I won’t be helped. And what that means for poorer areas without a fair hospital system horrifies me.

Oh I would like to talk face to face! I last had a friend over on Monday 16th. I like video calls, and now can attend Quaker meeting twice a week or even more- so I am having more conversation!- but I like hugs. Ministry is mostly guardedly positive- things are bad but we will be OK, quotes from 17th century Quakers- with occasional reminders of people who are particularly vulnerable.

And I think of people I know- people with MS, people over ninety, people who need oxygen to breathe even without 19. I fear for friends, I fear for people, I fear for myself. I am likely to suffer only minor discomfort, little more than any cold, but the worst possibilities are unthinkable. It is likely that someone I know will die of this thing.

The restaurants were told to close on Thursday 19th, and we were told to go into lockdown- only essential workers to go out to work, others can work from home if they can, stay at home but for one session of exercise daily and one shop weekly. Not having a freezer, and not always finding what I wanted, I shop more often. There are no rules yet on wearing masks. I don’t know the differences between masks, but with NHS staff angry about their lack of PPE, and the ENT consultant Amged El-Hawrani dying- he will not be the last- should I have a mask at all?

On Saturday I went to Asda, and was taken aback to find the front door locked. There was only one door in, round the back by the car park, and people were queuing quietly to be allowed in, one in one out, by the guards on the door. The aisles had arrows on the floor marking a one-way system, so we could keep 2m apart, and while I heard gallows humour a week before now it was silent. Again I could not get tinned tomatoes, but cooked with fresh tomatoes instead. I could not get basmati rice, but got brown instead, so that now I have got basmati rice I have 1kg of brown rice to use. Boil uncovered for 20-30 minutes, in six measures of water for each measure of rice, then drain, put back in the pot and cover to steam for ten minutes. It’s alright. This seemed to bulk out quite suddenly after 22 minutes.

I like worship on the net. I place the laptop on a table slightly to my left, and sit below my window, composed. Today, I sat in the sun for twenty minutes paying attention to my fear. Paradoxically, the desire for a crisis in which the British can show our mettle is the desire for a more ordered world: a world where priorities become clear, action becomes defined or predetermined, our feelings fit the needs of the moment. Actually, the crisis increases mess: we still have the same old problems in the same messy lives, but unaccustomed new ones- using kitchen roll as toilet paper, perhaps, or not knowing how to care for parents suddenly under such great threat.

There are horrors, on the net, such as video of overworked doctors and patients on ventilators. The New York Times quoted a website advising doctors on how to broach difficult topics with relatives- your beloved granddad is getting no better, so we need to take him off the ventilator so we can save someone else. So here is a sweet article by George Monbiot on people being creative and generous. I have The Mirror and the Light to savour, but at the moment I am rereading Bring up the Bodies. Here is Cromwell: in those huge hands Holbein places a legal writ, but that crease down the middle of it makes it look like a dagger.

I was moved to parody TS Eliot.

Johnson the Etonian, a fortnight dead,
had forsaken spaffing for bouts of coughing.
Those are pearls that were his lies.

We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven days we have lived quietly,
Zooming, and queuing at the supermarket,
Living, and partly living.

Let us not go, you and I
where society now sleeps upon the world
like a patient etherised upon a table
Let us not go through half-deserted streets.
In the room the women stay
With Covid, there is naught to say.

Is this the world changing, or the world’s strangeness revealing itself?

Covid moodswings

The weather is beautiful. Living in the country, I can go cycling, and afterwards I sat in the back yard and had lunch. I met my new neighbour and his daughter, who is four, as they played together with bouncy-balls. He is an essential worker.

I sat in the sun yesterday as well. My upstairs neighbour, whom I have not met yet, occasionally kicked tiny stones off the flat roof. None landed on me, some landed near, and I wondered about going up and telling him off. I don’t know if he knew I was there. Especially after my friend was burgled for food4fuxache! Burgled for food!- this led me to paranoid thoughts appearing reasonable. It is the covid 19 lockdown, I thought, people will be angry and will be looking for a cat to kick, and the first resource will be us queers. Thank God simply being queer is no longer an excuse as it was in the nineties, but they will imagine excuses for hostility easily.

After the isolation was announced- only essential workers can go out to work, others can work from home if they can, I can go out for one period of exercise a day, and once for essential shopping as infrequently as possible, and as far as I am concerned my common yard is staying at home- I thought, well, actually, I feel quite good. There are rules, which give a false feeling of certainty. My comfort is old male Doctor Who. It’s not that I have anything against Jodie Whittaker, but I find Chris Chibnall mean and repulsive- I like mild threat and horror, but his situations are horrid rather than horrific. Spoiler for the latest episode: Time Lord cybermen in the wreck of the citadel are the last straw.

I want to talk to people. My friend proposed a video chat this morning then could not, as she had crises to deal with, and I was disappointed. So I went cycling, and paid attention to the beauty of grass, trees, sunshine- the sun sparkling on what I will call a brook by the road, though some might call it a drainage ditch. The rapid change of experience on these back roads, as they go up and down over the downs, among trees then open farmland. I paid attention to my momentary experience rather than fearful projections of what might happen. There was the effort of climbing hills and exhileration of descents.

Added: next day I went to the supermarket and got spaghetti, rice, fresh meat and fruit, bread and milk. I felt anxious, queuing up at the checkout. One of my anxieties was being picked on as trans. I stood and noticed the anxiety, and consciously accepted it, and then it bothered me less.

I took a lot of photos at that camp in 2012, and one of them has resurfaced. At the time, it might have been thought unflattering or uninteresting, but now it contains just the right level of seriousness.

And now, here’s today’s little drop of sunshine from Théodore Géricault.

Covid 19

How my life is affected by the coronavirus, so far.

It has moved quickly. On Sunday 15th I made a plan to go into London on Sunday 22nd. I would go to the Quaker meeting, have lunch with a friend, then go round the National Gallery, to the 16th century section. That Veronese was so beautiful! On Monday I thought of asking if the friend still wanted the risk of lunch out, and on Thursday we agreed to cancel it, as the pubs and restaurants closed, the Quaker meetings closed, the National Gallery closed. A lot of people have been trying online meetings for worship with Zoom.

There are 22 cases in my county though how they know, what testing is being done, I don’t know. On Tuesday evening I saw an ambulance go down my street, the sole entrance for the small estate, its lights flashing but its siren off. I have not felt fear seeing an ambulance before. After an age, it returned to the main road, again lights flashing but siren off, progressing slowly, more slowly even than a car would, there, as if it was trying not to frighten anybody. This had the opposite effect on me. Blue lights mean Emergency Now. I don’t know if they found a Covid sufferer on my estate or not.

A friend is self-isolating because his son has the symptoms. On Monday a friend came round to pick up some stuff. He is seventy, and will be self-isolating for the foreseeable future, as a heightened risk. I am worried for him.

On Wednesday 11 March, with jokes about panic-buying loo roll, I noticed there was no spaghetti in the main supermarket. Next day I bought almost the last spaghetti in Aldi. I got more than I would normally. By Tuesday 17th Aldi were restricting customers to four of any item, and there were no oatcakes. I have enough loo roll. I am frugal with loo roll, and had bought it as I would normally.

Yesterday I thought I could probably do with UHT milk and there was none of that; and I did not see any onions, the first fresh food I have noticed not available. In the supermarket people were making Blitz Spirit jokes- one said “You’ll have had a good childhood if you can remember rice”. A man chatting outside spoke of how long the queues were. I got a fresh pizza and read just after they were shutting their pizza counter.

I would feel a lot safer with a Labour government. We would not be careening towards an Anarcho-Capitalist Brexit. In Priti Patel, we have an incompetent but enthusiastically authoritarian Home Secretary. She was sacked for her personally arranged meetings in Israel, and here she is back. The Coronavirus special powers Bill authorises compulsory detention, and is being nodded through. With Labour the financial stimulus for the economy might prop up the income of the poorest. This is sensible- they would spend the money immediately, locally. With Tories I worry the stimulus will go to preserving capital values. I got an email from the letting agent- if you can’t pay the rent, please contact us, we will sort something out.

I did not mind the BBC suspending filming EastEnders, but was sad In Our Time was not recorded. They are now broadcasting repeats.

Being depressed, self-isolation is not much different from my normal lifestyle, but I look forward to the social contact I have. So I have not been blogging, and a friend emailed to ask if I was alright. Yes; just a little more depressed. I did not see anything to blog about. Not coughing and with a fever. Over fifty, the risk level is slightly raised, and I considered getting a thermometer a couple of weeks ago but still have not- and this is how the depression works, I imagine something I could do, that would be good to do, I do not do it. That friend said social isolation is how a lot of trans people live, and several I know do live like that. I am not the only one.

Another Veronese, which I saw last month. The Allegory of Love is in an octagonal room, hung at eye level though clearly designed to be viewed from below. I had liked galleries to hang paintings in one row, but these are paintings which would benefit from a higher row. I sat on a stool to look up at them, then on the floor, which improved them. I hope to see them again soon.

Implicit bias

People can be prejudiced even when they have a strong ethical belief in equality. I see signs of this in myself. Trans people know of internalised transphobia- though we have transitioned we still can behave in a prejudiced way towards other trans people, or even affirm others’ prejudice against us.

Some people are biased and know it but are unwilling to state it. I know when someone is being transphobic, if their transphobia is greater than mine, and I don’t care whether they are aware of it, but if I believe they intend to behave ethically- they are Quakers, for example- the existence of implicit bias shows that they can still behave transphobically.

I believe in my own implicit bias. Because I intend to act ethically, I will be unconscious of it. I can become conscious of my unconscious motivations. They could come from the wider culture. For example if I watch a lot of dramas in which Black people from poor areas trade drugs- The Wire, Snowfall, Top Boy– and the news sources I read report prosecutions of Black drug dealers (not stating the race of the accused unless it is relevant, but showing pictures of them) I can be appalled when racist Trump says “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime” but might still make racist assumptions about drug dealing.

They could come from liking familiarity. There were no Black children in my year at school. There were three in the school when I was there. I have less excuse for “being unfamiliar” having lived in cities and moved around the country, but am still affected by the associations of others. It can be hard to be the only Black person in a social group. There needs to be deliberate effort to mix people. Trans people are probably the only trans person in any group except LGBT+ groups.

My liking for familiarity shows in my desire for code-switching. I am most comfortable amongst Quakers when the code fits “Educated professional”. I was surprised when my Friend started with her Durham accent, I had heard no sign of it before. We don’t use our regional accents outside our region, often. Now, hiding signs of working class roots should not be necessary for Quakers. We are a group united by our spiritual work. And still working class people often hide it. I seek to hide or dissimulate my class status myself, bringing out aspects which show a higher class, embarrassed by other aspects.

In my experience, quick responses are more likely to produce a prejudiced action than considered responses. Slow thinking uses time and effort. Especially when I know implicit biases exist, consciously analysing what decision to make produces less biased outcomes.

If the biases are unconscious, are we morally culpable? Yes. They harm people in out groups. “Do no harm” is a good moral principle. If someone finds their anger hard to control, criminal law still deals with them when they hit someone. “He made me angry” is mitigation but not defence to assault. So what harms society takes care to avoid is a political decision.

Some biases are structural. A lot of factors work towards Black people being more likely to suffer penalties for drug possession and supply than white people, but some of them are in the minds of individuals. We can work against both factors.

I might attempt to control my bias, or change it. To control:

  • inter-group contact, where we see each other as equals.
  • approach training: notice when you hear stereotypes, and deliberately deny them.
  • evaluative conditioning: a trainer could show a Black face and counter-stereotypical words, such as “genius”.
  • counter-stereotype exposure. I could pay attention to people who break stereotypes. I never really thought “role models” mattered, but seeing someone fulfil a role helps break the idea that no-one like that could do that. The Radio 4 interview series The Life Scientific has a strict gender balance, 50% women interviewees. I could consider particular people, or imaginary counter-stereotypes.

To change it:

  • implementation intentions. Before marking scripts or considering CVs, the assessor reminds themself of racial bias in such things, and forms the intention not to show such bias.
  • Techniques for noticing prejudiced responses after they happen. I feel bad about it when I see I have done it, and that makes me want not to do it again.

These are things to practise, but everyone should know that working towards equality requires more than good intentions.

Much of this comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This study proposes five strategies, including

  • Stereotype replacement: recognise a response is based on stereotypes, label it as stereotypical, reflect on why it occurred, consider how to avoid it in the future and replace it with an unbiased response.
  • Individuation: getting to know a wide range of people within the group, so that I no longer apply stereotypes.
  • Perspective taking: taking the perspective in the first person of a member of a stereotyped group– It sounds like empathy.

The study showed people who wanted to could use these strategies to reduce their bias.

Trans pronouns and the US Constitution

Can a professor use male pronouns and the title “sir” for a student who is a trans woman, because he claims his religion requires it and he has a right to Freedom of Speech under the United States Constitution, and that “forcing” him to use people’s pronouns violates his right to exercise his Presbyterian religion? Jordan Peterson first achieved notoriety by refusing to use the pronouns courtesy requires, and Nicholas K Meriwether, an otherwise unremarkable academic, sought to follow in his footsteps supported by an anti-LGBT+ hate group called “Alliance Defending Freedom”. He has failed at the US District court, and I hope that’s an end of it.

Meriwether questioned students during lectures, addressing them as “Sir”, “Ma’am”, or by the titles Mr or Miss and their surname. Treat a student as an adult, and they might behave like one. He addressed Jane Doe, a trans woman in his class,  as “Sir”, and refused to address her as “Miss Doe”. So he differentiated her, by addressing her as “Doe”. According to Meriwether Jane Doe “became belligerent, circling around [plaintiff] and getting in his face in a threatening fashion” while telling plaintiff, “Then I guess this means I can call you a cunt”- but the evidence has not been heard in court, and Meriwether’s exaggerated whining about the complete impossibility of treating students the same or the claimed effects on him of the university’s response makes me doubt his credibility. The judge says at least one of Meriwether’s claims is “not entirely accurate”.

The university suggested Meriwether could address all students by their first name, or surname, but Meriwether refused. In August 2016 the university emailed all academics to require them to use students’ pronouns. On 9 January 2018 Meriwether called Jane Doe “Sir”. After repeated meetings and discussions, on 22 June 2018 the university gave Meriwether a written warning, which Meriwether claims unmanned him completely: he could not discuss gender identity, fearing dismissal, so he sought an injunction preventing the university from enforcing the discrimination policy on him.

The policy for reporting discrimination prohibits Negative or adverse treatment based on… gender identity, [where] the treatment denies or limits the individual’s ability to obtain the benefits of Shawnee State’s programs or activities. It defines gender identity as A person’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Calling Jane Doe “Doe” and all the other students Sir, Ma’am, Mr or Miss is plainly disrespectful and would make the class needlessly unpleasant for her.

Meriwether said he would respect Jane Doe’s gender identity if he could include a disclaimer in his syllabus that he was doing so under compulsion and setting forth his personal and religious beliefs about gender identity. He was teaching a political philosophy class, not otherwise relating to gender identity, and as his student I might find that disclaimer more offensive than his refusal to use a title for me.

The judge said any reasonable person would discern the difference between refusing to acknowledge the gender by which an individual student identifies and a discussion of substantive issues surrounding the topic of gender identity.

The judge found use of pronouns was speech, but not protected speech. He was addressing his student as part of his duties as an employee. He might have been entitled to state his beliefs about gender identity in class, but his refusal to call Miss Doe “Miss” did not by itself convey any belief, state facts or make arguments about gender identity. Even if people hearing knew that he did that to express his belief on gender identity rather than to insult Miss Doe for some other reason, the judge said he was not sharing ideas or inviting discussion but was directing his personal beliefs toward Doe, who objected to his speech, and other members of a captive audience who were not free to leave his class or decline to participate in class. The speech did not take place in the context or a broader discussion, and there was no admitted academic purpose or justification. In the speech of an employee the court distinguishes self-expression from the expression of ideas or opinions [which is] participation in the intellectual marketplace. So whenever law or rules protect us from discrimination, we can insist others use our pronouns.

Meriwether’s religious beliefs are repulsive. He believes in Hell for those who fail to declare faith in Jesus Christ- that’s eternal conscious torment for most people, imposed by a “loving” God. The chair of his department, of English and Humanities, expressed her revulsion. He claims his religious beliefs are extremely limiting: they constrain him from calling a trans woman “Miss”. I think his religious beliefs do not limit him at all. Rather they permit him to do what he likes, including insulting and bullying a student, and imagine he is acting morally. However, public authorities may enforce neutral and generally applicable rules and may do so even if they burden faith-based conduct in the process- including a rule to use preferred titles, or, say, a rule against bigamy though it affect some Mormons. Religious beliefs, even if sincerely held, don’t allow you to break any rule you choose.

God save us from what Neil Gorsuch might make of this case, but for the moment in the US our pronouns are safe. Meriwether v. Trustees of Shawnee State University may be found here.

The Cis Gaze

I took off the dress, and put my suit, shirt and tie back on. “Perfectly normal young man,” said the psychiatrist, approvingly, finishing off the aversion therapy. I saw my body as wrong, so now I was an adult I hid it. My arms were too thin, my sternum too prominent. I did not enjoy team sports, only swimming.

The white gaze socially constructs Blackness, the male gaze objectifies women, through the power to control, but my view of my body as unmanly and therefore inferior and inadequate must have come from somewhere.

Here are some men, looking at art, and some of them are frankly ogling. Yes it’s culture, the technical skill and Titian in the forefront of innovation, with the ambiguity of a woman either covering herself or playing with herself, where the ambiguity is part of the artist’s skill and the value of the picture, but it’s also a naked lady. Other men look at naked men, also aroused. I wonder what Zoffany thought of that. I can see it as inclusion, with the man on the right above described and acknowledged not condemned.

I had come across Zoffany, or Zaufallij, before, but got this, Tribuna of the Uffizi, from Mary Beard’s documentary Shock of the Nude. That also had the artist Jemima Stehli talking about a series of photos of her, aged 39, stripping in front of men. Nobody is in control, so that the woman can be powerful and sexual and objectify herself and still be interesting, intellectual, all the other things that she also wants to be. At art school I was a feminist but I wasn’t happy with 80s black and white feminist simplification and especially the idea of demonising men. She claims the power, and some women, not all, have it, even though men tend to be larger and stronger, which can count for a lot. There is power in having what men want, though danger when men feel entitled to take it. The photos are taken from behind her, facing the man. One looks uncomfortable.

Now, others may see me as a freak, a cat to kick for the lowest-status straight male, and often I limit my attention in the street so I do not consciously notice if someone has read me and is shocked, amused or disgusted by seeing a trans woman, but after transition was the first time I started to love my body and see it as beautiful rather than malformed. There is relentless hostility seeking to make us an out-group, but it does not affect how I see my body. My body is fitting, doing what I need it to do, enjoyably. Valuing my character has been a long struggle, helped on by others’ regard, valuing what I was taught to denigrate. “Soft, gentle, peaceful… truth and courage” came from one man. Despising softness and seeing it in myself came from the culture, boys at school, so many influences until it was as commonsensical as gravity, and moving to value it was a hard, drawn-out process of which transition was only the start.

I have redefined the word- from “soft as shite”, a direct quote from someone, I remember where we were, who he was, in about 1980, to softness as strength, for healing and peacemaking. Others would change the word, to “squishy”- I remember reading that too, from a TERF- calling to mind the softness of a ripe peach and the squishiness of a peach that has gone off without ever properly ripening.

My glance of approval in the mirror, or a distressed “Oh God I look like a man,” seem to come from general self-confidence rather than any actual change in appearance. Others seem to have the same experience, sometimes feeling alright enough, sometimes desperately unconfident, which leeches into everything, including how we see ourselves.

We are seen, and despised, controlled, made to serve. There is the “male gaze”, conceptualised by and for feminists, where men define women, their regard showing their power and control, where men film women, male cinematographers and directors display women to male audiences, with women tagging along. The woman is Other, and Less, primarily emotional rather than rational because her emotions are denigrated rather than affirmed as a man’s are. Critical Whiteness Studies can adopt this concept: the Black person is Othered by the white Gaze.

I hardly know, for myself. I tried to pass as a man, to make a man of myself, for Being a Man was good and if I could develop particular traits, and strengthen my body- going out running until my tendon gave way, taking long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks- I might be OK. And that was based on denigration, of my natural traits. I too reject the black and white feminist simplification: if there was a Rightness in Men, to be affirmed by Patriarchy, it was not in me; I had to ape it as best I could. Now, stopping trying to ape it, attempting to find myself under the male act, value myself under the denigration I received, has some benefits and some disadvantages. Walking down the street I may be obviously queer in a way that I was not, wearing that dark grey suit and silk tie. And I despise myself less, so torture myself less, so my pain lessens, slowly.

Recently I attempted to use words to describe a process of acceptance of another human being as she is. What is our thoughtless attitude? To reject and condemn. This woman does that, which we cannot tolerate in the Quaker meeting. We would start with our Testimony to Equality, tolerating as we expect her to learn the rules by osmosis, and eventually get more and more tetchy as she should have had time to obey the rules until we make her uncomfortable and drive her off.

Doing that meant writing about the woman from the view of the powerful person who rejects, even while preserving his self-image as a wise, generous acceptor, before saying we must see it in a different way, and expand our concepts of normal and acceptable. She was hurt by my gaze, though I inhabited the gaze of the powerful person only to show that their view should be changed, to see her not as that unacceptable thing, but as within the range of normal and acceptable.

I suppose saying “Some see you as this” is threatening and dehumanising, reminding of rejection, even though I name it in order to bring it into full view, critique it and dispatch it. I was trying to be an ally, but I have been angry with allies before, and praised them. I should have been clearer. And, in part, it was me. I was uncomfortable with particular characteristics, before making the decision to see them as positive. It’s my process. This is the human being. Calling aspects objectionable as a way to make her pitiable, or to drive her away, is wrong. I will not do it, because I would benefit if I gained her perspective, understanding and companionship. But for me that has to be a conscious process. I see the exclusionary acts I commit without thinking, because now I am making an effort to notice them, in the hope that I will learn better habits, that inclusion through practice can become habitual. Writing, I observe that process of exclusion or inclusion in me and others, to call it out.

Lionel Shriver, novelist, wants to write any story she can imagine, without regard to “call-out culture”, wokeness or political correctness. {Content warning: there’s a nasty sideswipe or two at trans folk.} Um. Sometimes we want to tell our stories ourselves, resenting the privilege or luck that gives others platforms. Sometimes we resent stories of trans women who are always victims, or deceitful, or messed up, and want stories of our success. Allies have to be careful. People hurt, and feel justifiable anger.

Encountering others

How could we stop depersoning each other?

-Why did you edit yourself?
-Because she wanted affirmation, and I didn’t, actually. I didn’t need anything from that conversation and I don’t think she could have given it to me.

I hate to claim wisdom. I feel if I am claiming wisdom I am missing something. Surely I could not be in such a mature place. But. With respect to the local meeting I think, well that was that. There were bits which were really wonderful. There were bits which were painful. I think it’s their loss, but I really don’t think I could convince them of that. I told people what had happened without self-justification, and that felt liberating.

Oh God it hurts, and I have to live with it. There will be other delights.

We say we want the I-thou encounter, and just like other human beings we note the class and status indicators and see people by stereotype. These are shortcuts, which get in the way of knowing. As apes, part of our initial impression is of the other’s hair, as an indicator of health.

I feel I made a step forward and as always it’s hard to know what the step forward is because in some sense I have been like this forever, and in some sense this is entirely new. I feel my undressing, my exposure of myself, has value, increasing understanding for myself and others. I have not particularly felt it has a cost, either because I don’t understand how people see me, or can’t see that it might make them see me less positively. Tout comprendre est tout pardonner.

And before I was not concerned with reality, but how I could manage its appearance to a part of me that judged me. I may be considering reality more. My aim is to respond to reality rather than manage my own fantasies about reality. I would do something to manage the fantasy rather than achieve something in the real world. But my situation is such that I don’t know what I want to achieve in the real world, or how I might go about starting.

There’s the deep hurt, fear, perplexity. I don’t think there’s a great deal of resentment, this is just where I am. I have achieved a great deal, and it may help me to earn a living in the long run.

TERFs are often people I would really like, and might relate to well, were it not for this dispute. I like them, yet I know my loyalty is to me in 2001 desperate to transition and completely terrified of it, and to people in exactly that position now.

There is one thing I could do to get more human contact and the experience of a working routine, and do something worthwhile, and I just don’t want to. I found it too unpleasant. Why did people vote for Brexit? Because it was couched emotionally rather than rationally, in terms of taking back control, not being bothered by immigrants seeing things differently and getting things we don’t get, and a cheery wave from the milkman in the morning. A simpler world, where everyone was comprehensible.

Everyone and no-one is like me. We meet wearing masks, and the masks prevent us from meeting, but shared experience may let us share real parts of ourselves. I self-disclose here, endlessly, because I want to take off my mask.

We voted for Brexit because we are thirsty, and someone showed us a mirage. Big Ben won’t bong on Friday, as there was no plan to ring it until it was too late. However Mark Francois blames the deep state, writing on his Gofundme page that it was much cheaper than £500,000 to ring it before: £14,200 on Remembrance Day.

So, Leavers get to feel a bit of resentment at being thwarted, even on their day of greatest triumph as they fondle their commemorative 50p’s and anticipate their blue passports. That bongs could have been as cheap on Brexit day had Francois and Johnson planned to bong is brushed aside.

The propaganda value of this is enormous. Leavers never get their triumph, they are always tantalised that great things are around the corner and can be gained but for the Bad People. So their anger and fear and resentment are kept stoked, for political purposes.