Quakers and gender diversity

Can we as [Britain] Yearly Meeting acknowledge and welcome gender diverse people who are or would like to be among us? Can I as a trans woman contribute to our discernment?

I mourn the loss to the Society, and to my nonbinary Friend, who felt forced out of their meeting. I have met a gender critical feminist who also felt forced out of her meeting.

Do you know what “gender critical” means? It is like the few Friends who have a detailed knowledge of the political statements of Hamas, and the treaty obligations relating to Area C, when I mean well but have no real clue about Palestine and Israel: generally Friends do not form sides, but in these issues we come close. Many Friends will not have heard of Helen Joyce or Laurel Hubbard, or know why each is a hero and a villain to different sides. I might think of platypuses, giggle, and then need ten minutes to explain why.

We are constantly triggered. I can barely look at The Times. I read in the New Statesman that gender critical feminism is now respectable, and Cancellation will not work any more. So before meeting with Friends I write a letter, then find Friends sympathetic yet uncomprehending.

Facts matter. The last Labour government constructed a scheme whereby trans people would be treated as our true gender from the moment of deciding to transition, with trans women using what the Equality Act refers to as “single-sex” services for women, when there were only a few thousand trans people who were all expected to fit gender stereotypes. Now there are ten times the number, and the concept of “living as a woman” is known to be indefinable.

Trans women can be excluded from women’s services if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, and the courts are yet to flesh out what that means.

So both sides can have their cognitive bias of loss aversion activated. I know I am generally entitled to be in women’s spaces, and am triggered when Liz Truss deploys the magic words “single-sex” now redefined to mean excluding me. Others fear a flood of people looking like men in women’s spaces. Misinformation makes it worse: you can read online that only trans women with a gender recognition certificate, after a psychiatric diagnosis, are conditionally entitled to be in women’s spaces.

How can those on a Side hear and value each other when there is this Hell-spawned zero-sum game? For either I am allowed in, or excluded. One’s win is another’s loss.

Some Friends believe that preventing children from having puberty blockers, and 18 year olds from having cross-sex hormones, is protecting those children and young people. I disagree. I know that people of any age beginning to express ourselves in our true gender are intensely vulnerable, often suffering rejection and fearing it everywhere.

I know that Friends, gender critical feminists, have experienced the oppression of patriarchy including male sexual violence, even within our Society. I know that they are entitled that Friends do what we can to reduce that oppression. I do not believe that excluding me from spaces I have been in as of right and often welcomed for years will reduce that oppression.

It seems to me that Friends who are gender critical feminists are particularly distant from feminine gender stereotypes, and have a great deal in common with nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth. To a great extent their aims to subvert gendered expectations are the same, and their conflict is merely over language. But gender critical feminists have told me all women are oppressed by feminine stereotypes equally. Some gender critical Friends have applied the words “gender diverse” to themselves, however uncomfortably.

Welcome means individual meetings welcoming particular individuals, knowing and affirming the whole person. Yet one meeting’s minute can offend Friends in other meetings, who then feel less welcome.

I know that expressing myself as a woman is living my truth, and that living my truth helps others do the same. I know trans men are men, trans women are women, nonbinary people are valid, and that my being trans is as real and worthy of affirmation as anything else that is biological. I know all aspects of being human are subsumed under socially constructed meaning and culture.

I have enough experience of speaking from my Inner Light to believe I can do it all the time, and develop theory around what that means, what helps, and what hinders. I know this means casting aside the stereotypes through which I habitually interpret the World, and seeing people individually. I quail from the overwhelming amount of new information intake that would mean. And sometimes God in me sees God in the other, and I feel joy.

In worship, I feel turmoil. Jesus said,

I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

And,

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Writing out of the Silence

The world has depth. The world is magical. There is infinite complexity and beauty beyond the surfaces we impose and the concepts we use to manipulate the world. We need the concepts to get what we want.

The world is huge. There is God in all of it: all the people and all the things. I want to bring treasure back, for the delight of Friends. I find it within. I shall find the beauty and truth in myself, and use it to bless others.

Imperfection is only in our minds. I don’t want to say “All I need is freely available” facilely, but I have usually had what I needed- except at the trauma. I don’t want to say “Flow like water” facilely, as conscious incompetence is good too: but that is also Flow, as its desire is not divided, like mine is- for appearances, what I ought to want, propitiating my inner Idol. Out of many desires, I will make one, by submitting to God within.

God, Love, is who I am. I am who I am. I am waiting for what I want to happen, or I am maturing, changing like a chrysalis, reordering within. I do not know what that would look like. False ideas of God get in the way of the reality of God. What must I let go?

I submit, to God, or to a great lie that is my enemy, an illusion that promises little and gives nothing. If I am struggling, the struggle is unconscious. I could not bear my fear and sadness if I were conscious of them, but sometimes I become conscious of them and the world comes alive.

I am never safe. The way I seek safety is barren. Only love is real.

Freeing the Spirit

If ego is wrapped around spirit like ivy round oak, how do you become spirit
naked spirit
unencumbered spirit
free spirit?

Is it by letting go of something?

I do not let go words. “Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life.” I might let go words which distract from that.

Can you stop seeking to persuade? A multitude of words to persuade that trans women are harmless amid a long scream that women need to exclude us and are entitled to.

Descriptive words- words drawings and symbols describe a Saturn V rocket, and if you followed those words you could send people to the moon again.

Words as truth. Words as poetry. Recognising that words always have a tincture of persuasion or judgment, and of inaccuracy, so I cannot set down a set of rules to follow. I get better with words.

What of Desire? Trauma? Let go of illusion and the Idol, the wish to seem.

Should I let go of fear of the future? There’s a way of thinking I don’t like- imagining a particular threat, and pleading with it, or shouting at it. That’s not fair or this is what really happened or its wrong to do that, when I feel others will not agree with me but I’m still right. Partly it’s rational, thinking through how I could be most persuasive. Partly it’s denying reality, emphasising the truth of what I say and the complete wrongness of how I believe/know/fear/am unsure about how others will see it. Partly it’s picking up a particular fear and dwelling on it without doing anything to improve things.

Possibly I only hate this habit of mind because my experience is often that others don’t agree with my arguments, when I eventually put them. I am like William Brown, desperately or defiantly but pointlessly crying “I was just statin a fact”.

I can escape that habit by making my life so simple that there are few of the threats that would engage my attention in that way. Maybe I have faced so many threats that I can’t bear them any more.

A more horrible experience of rumination is replaying incidents in the past. For those ten years old or more I have mostly distilled these to “I was right, they were wrong. It didn’t matter.” For ones less than ten years old, it’s “It was what it was. I suffered more than I deserved, perhaps. I wasn’t perfect.”

A woman who used to research and write articles for a think tank had a traumatic brain injury. Now she finds her mind is as quiet as she had wished. It is in a state she had sought through yoga before the accident. It could just be that her life of argument is wrenched from her, and all that remains is her recovery and being able to “run errands without getting lost”. The kinds of issues she was writing about no longer matter to her, so much of the content of her conscious thinking has become unnecessary. It’s not that she does not care about the homeless, it’s that she cares about them as fellow suffering humans, rather than as a topic which affects her own position.

Then there’s the experience of the divided mind. You know the quote “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” Well, judge myself harshly, go into denial, freeze. I know I ought to X. But I don’t want to, because it will be uncomfortable, and involve admitting I was wrong, at least in the sense of making the wrong decision when full information was not available.

I am seeking spiritual enlightenment, that “inward stillness”, in order to be better able to engage with the world. Enlightenment does not mean no longer having to face conflict, loss, or error. It just might mean having a trick, or a knack, for dealing with what Kipling called “impostors”.

Calling it a gimmick is showing disrespect. I am serious now.

I want that inward stillness to be large enough to contain my fear and hurt so that it does not simply burst out of me, so that I am conscious of it, and can bear it. The law, the method, the way, seems to me to be Love. I judge myself- my fear, anger or resentment is unbearable- I deny or suppress it- it bursts out of me- I suffer. I love myself- I accept my fear, anger or resentment- I contain it, and see how best to act. I love the world- I see it better- I respond and act better.

Love is the answer. Love is the way. Yes, spirit is like the oak, and ego like the ivy- though they might look like one plant, spirit provides all the strength to hold ego up, as both seek the sunlight, which is the love of God. I am bombarded by experience and my emotional reaction to it, even when I rarely go out. The only way to bear all that is to love it all. It’s not letting go, it is accepting.

There are other spiritual lessons to learn. Accepting the fact of your death is a big one; but the greatest of anything is Love.

Trauma and the Idol

There is something of God in every human. Therefore God suffers. We need to cherish God.

God is in my reaction to life and events. Something hurts me, and God feels that hurt. This God is crushed beneath the weight of ego. Ego is concerned about how I appear to others and myself, and has taken into itself false ideas about safety, which are an idol: much of my effort goes to propitiating its ideas of safety. This involves denying my own, God’s, reactions, which threaten my sense of safety.

I am still dwelling on that incident in 2003. I will continue to dwell on it until I have extracted all the wisdom I can from it. I faced an injustice. I tried to fight it, but it was too much for me. This made me miserable.

I could not face that misery, because it felt like a threat to me. The false idol of my delusions of safety was threatened by it. Why?

Because if I can overcome even such injustice as that, then I am powerful, and so can keep myself safe. If I am not, I feel unsafe.

Because if I make such a contribution, then I have value. If I cannot, then I feel worthless, which makes me feel unsafe.

These feelings of unsafety come from trauma, the imminent fear of death. With Winston Smith I scream “Do it to Julia”. The terror is so great I will do anything to avoid it. It completely distorts my perceptions and desires.

I carry the weight of an increasing burden of distress, all the accumulated evidence that God in me does not fit my terror’s need for its omnipotence. Only omnipotence could have saved me. The threat receded, by luck not my actions, and I made myths about how I could avoid it in the future: I created the idol.

The burden got so great that I collapsed under it.

God is loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. That Love is in us. Cherish it, and it grows in us and guides us. My feeling- that distress- is a guide for me, telling me of the World. If I deny it, I block out all the positives too.

Someone wrote that I am “calm, sometimes passionate, always mindfully considerate, equipped with a fine sense of humor”. Zoom chat is a rich seam that I mine for appreciation of me, and will, until I take it into myself. When I can process the misery I will be able to process the delight.

My Friend who does good works, and never thinks they are enough, sent me her article on Dorothy Day, who did great works. I felt crushing judgment, and projected it onto her: I imagined she was judging me, but it was my Idol. I should be doing worthwhile things too.

Then I realise, I don’t want to save the world. Not at the moment anyway. That would be an ego desire, to prove that I am powerful and worthwhile so could keep myself safe, but I can never prove that to the Idol’s satisfaction.

My task now is to cherish God, that God’s love may grow in me, and nurse the idol gently until its screaming demands for tribute are lulled away. The trauma was unbearable, but, look around through God’s eyes.

I am as safe as I can be, for the moment. I am safe enough.

I keep going back to this. Each time, the Idol says, “Oh Goodie! The spiritual work is done, now you can go back to feeding my fantasies of invulnerability invincibility inviolability.” Each time, I go deeper.

This post is suffused with Advices and Queries paragraph 2.

Stating my needs

I was blessed today by a beautiful role-model. She stated her needs as she saw them, fully and completely. I wasn’t taking notes, so I am not completely sure how she expressed them. It was hard to hear. She said she needed “single-sex spaces” because of male violence against women. I don’t know if she used the term “trans women”, but I don’t think so. I am pretty sure she spoke about “male-bodied people” meaning trans women. I know she meant trans exclusion. She claimed that the Equality Act allowed “single-sex spaces” which is misleading: the Equality Act allows women’s spaces, which include trans women (anyone who has decided to transition male to female). Trans women can be excluded too, but that is a separate step requiring separate justification. Continue reading

The theology of Advices and Queries

Can we find a Quaker understanding of God in Advices and Queries?

Advices and Queries are guidance for life, rather than a creed. They are practical guidance on how to relate to God and each other. And in their repeated references to God we find an understanding of how God is thought to act on us, and who God is.

As well as 43 references to God throughout, there are references to “the divine” (3), the “spirit of Christ” (2), the Holy Spirit (3), the Light (5) and the spirit of God (7). I am not clear that these phrases mean anything different, here, from the word “God”, but Advices and Queries are closer to poetry than to statute, and different phrases may evoke different understandings as we grow in our relationship with God.

God is in us (2), and in everyone (17). Does God have an existence beyond humanity? Several references seem to indicate that: the phrase “the splendour of God’s continuing creation” could be a claim that God is in all that is, or in some way eternal and beyond it (42). When we worship, it appears that we have one communal experience of God: we can be aware of “God’s presence among us” (12). We can be aware of God at any time (7), but when we come together in worship we find “God’s love drawing us together” (8). And a visitor to our homes, who might not have direct experience of God in them, might “find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence” there (26).

God is vulnerable, and needs to be cherished (2). We can be distracted and disturbed (12), or turn to God; we can open ourselves to God, but God is at work in us even when we are not aware of God (7). Our proper attitude is reverence for God (9) and for life (42). Jesus’ relationship with God (4) is our example, to challenge and inspire us.

God is intimately involved with us: there are references to God’s love, guidance, presence, gifts, word (in vocal ministry, 12), forgiveness, help, purposes, and God’s will (36) for individuals or divine guidance (14) for the community.

God is in everyone, and may be working in them though we cannot see it (17). I cannot judge what God wants for any other person, 19 says: I might think that I know more than a child, but must learn from them, “leaving them free”- God leads them as God wills. We have a responsibility to nurture children, not to constrain them. Our “wishes and prejudices” (36) should not get in the way, and we can still help them discern God’s will for them.

We have responsibilities to God, including our standard of integrity (38), which should be “strict” (37).

Some of this fits my experience of God, and some challenges my ideas. I am a materialist. I do not believe in a divine creator: I can see “that of God in each person” has a useful meaning, and relates to human psychology in a useful way, but find “God’s continuing creation” more difficult. This cuts to the heart of disputes around nontheism in the Society: will we be religious, if atheists can expunge all references to God that they do not like?

When I contemplate all that is, I know that I do not understand it all, and that wonder, awe and reverence are valuable attitudes to it. So seeing God in everything may have value as a metaphor, reminding me of that. And calling the part of me which seems to best fit this conception of Light or Spirit “God” helps me balance my value with the value of other Quakers, other people, and wider reality. Spiritual language can only approach reality, not convey it like a scientific text hopes to.

When I first started attending, contemplating Advices and Queries helped me commit to the Society. I use them in outreach. I recommended them to American Friends, and one wrote that he “was so profoundly touched and inspired by the freshness and the vitality of these advices and queries that I wanted to share them more widely”, including to non-Quaker friends. Expunging any suggestion in them that there is a God beyond the brains of humans should not be done lightly; what do love and integrity require of us?

As an atheist, I would not want a lowest common denominator, when the word “God” was used only when everyone could agree on it. 17:

When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you.

Instead, I notice the word, and see what meaning I find in it.

Is the Quaker meeting a safe space?

The Meeting might seem a safe space, where we come together in Friendship to worship. We come to recharge, away from the World, to be better fitted to live in it. Often it is. I come away feeling loved. And “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

God gave me a gentle working over at Zoom worship, reducing me to tears. I hope I come away with strengthened Love, better fitted for my world, with greater understanding, and it was painful. It did not feel safe at the time.

There was a harsh sound like a fog-horn, in repeated blasts, and I was irritated. Someone should mute themselves. They are not showing proper respect to the meeting. Such a horrible sound would distract anyone. I was certain of the rules, and my entitlement.

Then my wise Black Friend ministered on the love and mercy of God, quoting psalm 139 on God’s inescapability. Black Friends have told me the Quaker meeting is not always a safe space. “Can I touch your hair?”

The meeting is safe as far as we work to make it so. We have love, one for another. The practice of sitting still, like poker players where a sigh or the slight tightening of muscles indicates inner turmoil, is an attempt not to distract our Friends. (I find sitting still difficult.) Only love will bind us together, create safety amongst ourselves as we run our meeting, with our different desires and understanding.

Some find that having something to do with their hands, such as knitting, seems to help them centre down. Others find this distracting- perhaps, it is the sense that the crafters are breaking the rules. They should not be doing that. Here is a Quaker discussion. Love can bring us together- the person who is easily distracted, the person who needs something to do with their hands, and others supporting both.

Looking back at it, Quakers are delighted with our 2009 YM, agreeing that we would treat gay marriages precisely equally with straight marriages. This outcome was not widely predicted. Gay Friends went to YM feeling valued members of their meetings, their relationships accepted, even celebrated, knowing that “the acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”. Those Friends too might be apprehensive about the meeting. We came together in Love, led by Spirit, and other yearly meetings have split over accepting gay people, each side believing they were rooted in Christian principle and even in Love.

Again Friends approach YM in fear. Again, our sense of ourselves- the trans person, and the gender critical- feel threatened. With the clerk in a discussion group, I knew I should not lobby her about the Correct Result of YM, but the temptation was so great I could not speak about the topic.

We must be prepared to be changed. I have been changed beyond recognition, and as God Loves me into wholeness it has been intensely painful. In Meeting I am weeping, for myself and for the World. And at the end of the meeting I hear the foghorn again, accepting it. It does not bother me, and I weep again in joy.

Only Love can save us. All will hear things that might hurt them, but the meeting is not mine to control, and others will say what seems to them right at the time, which may be an act of courage. I pray for a good result, and try to let go of conceptions of what that result should look like.

Becoming the whole self

Trying to make a man of myself was a betrayal. How can I heal that trauma now?

Quakers will be considering trans rights in August, and I am optimistic and pessimistic at once. Possibly we will have a revelation, as we did with equal marriage in 2009. And Quakers can be conflict-avoidant and arrogant, imagining we know best and we can reconcile conflicts. So some well-meaning Quakers might try to find a reasonable middle line between trans people and the anti-trans campaigners. And some Quakers are anti-trans campaigners, imagining themselves good and righteous and wanting all trans women out of women’s spaces, and all treatment for trans children to cease.

I must convince them trans is real.
I fear nothing I can say will be enough.

I thought, if I can show trans people cannot be other, are not making a lifestyle choice but expressing our essence, then they might accept trans rights are at least of equal importance to others’ rights. If we could be other, I would be. I fought to make a man of myself. I paid privately for aversion therapy. I asked a priest to lay hands on me to heal me.

And I am weeping helplessly, wordlessly, convulsed in my pain and grief, screaming and moaning. I fought like that to make a man of myself because the fear of death was in me.

There is a me that just wants to survive
That, with hands round my throat holding me underwater
will do anything.
There is one goal.
What I preserve of myself there is mere life.
Everything else is stripped away.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is a metaphor. Being drowned is the only metaphor that captures the fear for me. It is the small child, dependent on parents, distraught when love is taken away. And, to forgive the betrayal of ceasing to express me, becoming the male-acting automaton, I need to fully acknowledge the threat I experienced. I was forced, and it was not my fault.

That was when I was broken, as a horse is broken.
After, I would do anything to avoid being underwater.
I worked it out, so I did not need telt.
I forgave my mother’s, and the world’s, betrayals:
there is nothing to forgive.
The betrayal I cannot forgive is my own.

I want to be Perfect-me,
that being that does everything I ought to do,
want to do,
would like to do
have to do to survive
effortlessly.
Without perfect me
all I have left is failure and betrayal.

There is no perfect-me. My betrayal of myself was under pressure I could not have borne.

I take a postmodern view of Wisdom-sayings. If it has some meaning or value for me, I accept that, and I don’t care if that is its “true” or “original” meaning. If it’s a proper wisdom-saying, I doubt it could have one true meaning. If it has no meaning for me, I can let it go. Sometimes, when I loathe a wisdom saying, it can be particularly fruitful. I can’t get my head round Jamie’s idea of the “walking permission slips”, being ourselves and allowing others to become themselves too.

I know I am myself
interpreting a statute
comforting a friend in tears
cycling uphill and downhill
confident and assured, or doubting and fearful.
Always there is the sense of threat.

And there’s something there, of being fully aware of the feelings, of being in the doubt and fear without regressing to the traumatised child, who felt fear and shut down. Fear must not be a switch, to turn me off, or to beat me. It must be integrated into my adult self. So there’s another bit to my verse which is true but difficult. I don’t want to say it and it is just cheap consolation.

Oh the beauty and wonder of it
It is too much for me to bear
and it is all glorious.

The glory comes if I can feel the feelings fully, and still function. The glory is in being fully myself, feeling all my feelings. It is not easy.

Then, to a Zoom group. How is S? I saw his email. He is detained in a mental hospital, and desperate to get out. I am pretty sure he needs the anti-psychotics, and he hates them because they mute his spiritual experiences. Right at this moment I sympathise. Feeling the full range of feelings seems insane: people will be shocked and disgusted. I feel disinhibited, tempted to behave inappropriately. I want to stop twitching.

A Black woman went to Kenya when she was twenty, in a gap year, and saw a picture of Jesus Mary and Joseph. She could see it was them, the haloes proved it- and they were Black. It was the first time she had seen such a thing, just in a souvenir shop, hunting at the last moment for tatty souvenirs. It touched her deeply, and she expresses that. And I am feeling all the sense of liberation I imagine could be in that moment. I am remaking myself, closer to the image and likeness of God.

All glorious? I want to insist on that. Everything that is. All of humanity. And one says the larger the church, the more evil can hide in it. Yeah, s’pose. Possibly the glory is me, the full feeling self. And I am not alone.

This is not for everyone. My colleague was born again, and felt liberated from a life of drunken sexual promiscuity. The rules felt protective. She wanted something formal, secure and comforting. And I want something more: the Glory of God, the full glory of my whole self. To be the whole human, and give permission for others to be whole too: answering that of God in every one.

Sunday 16th: before worship, I read various stuff on conversion therapy, including a transphobic lie. I am wound up. Then in worship Dugan quotes QFP 2.12. Suddenly

I am the light. I am the Fullness.

I am the light, noticing, accepting, loving. Rather than descending into that part of me which is wound up, and stewing in it during meeting, or attempting to suppress it, I am the Light, aware of it, noticing, accepting, loving it. Noticing, accepting, loving, all of me- body, thoughts and feelings- and being in the Love. It makes me think of George Fox’s instruction to dwell in the power of life and wisdom. Ministry moves on to the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is hard to hear this in love. Now, there is my reaction and the other person as well, to hold in awareness and to love. Finally there’s the sound of a music keyboard through someone’s zoom account. That’s against the rules. What is he thinking? Still there can be the other person, my reaction, and me in the Light, noticing, accepting, loving all. That would be a dwelling-place of tremendous power. It is something to practice. It is a religious experience this morning, an hour of fabulous wonder, and I want to take it out into all of my life, so it becomes my normal state. I ministered, explaining some of this.

Yearly Meeting and Trans people

At our Yearly Meeting Quakers in Britain will consider “acknowledging and welcoming gender-diverse people”. This will be

early steps in a longer journey. As a starting point, we hope to name the places where there is unity, acknowledge that there are trans people in Quaker communities and state that they are welcome.

We are enjoined to respect our diversity and “take care over how you communicate”, and told bullying will not be tolerated, either from unconscious patterns of behaviour or deliberately: people breaching the guidelines may be excluded. Immediately I feared being excluded, which I hope is just a paranoid reaction on my part. I don’t know it has ever been seen necessary to warn against bullying before. I agree bad behaviour is more likely online than in person, and Quakers are not immune.

And, the distress felt by people affected may result in hasty words. I hope this could be handled with sympathy rather than condemnation. Stating that trans people are welcome seems innocuous, and minimal, but do we trans people feel it? I know trans people who have been in dispute with meetings. A cis woman Friend, with whom I reconciled after years, suggested trans women were like teenage girls. Well, possibly. We are in adulthood coping with unfamiliar hormones which change us, and coping with the loss of male privilege passing as straight. Even if that trans person who left was being totally unreasonable, could love have found a better way?

There is huge hurt around gender diversity. I know of trans people, allies, and sex-based rights campaigners who have felt unable to continue worshipping with their meeting or with Friends.

The hurt is not always expressed as hurt. Arguments for reducing trans rights may be couched in impersonal, superficially rational terms, without expressing underlying hurt, which I believe is the trauma of male privilege and violence. I am aware of male violence against women even among Quakers. Asking people to express their hurt makes them vulnerable, so requires a space where they feel safe. Rooms full of Quakers do not automatically feel safe for everyone.

We do not share language. The concept of “sex-based” rights is an attempt to exclude trans women from women’s spaces by stating we change gender but not sex. Sex-based rights campaigners can demand the end of trans rights without mentioning trans people, because of their definition of “woman”. There is a campaign against “medicalising children”- that is, to prevent trans children having treatment they, their parents and specialist doctors consider necessary.

I am glad documents for YM use the term “gender diverse”- in my experience sex-based rights campaigners are often particularly different from feminine gender stereotypes, and have a great deal in common with nonbinary people and trans men. However, they might say all women are oppressed by those stereotypes.

We do not share facts. Trans women have been in women’s spaces for decades, and with legal entitlement since the Equality Act 2010. Some campaigners argue the law is far more restrictive.

A Friends Quarterly article included the claim that most trans women do not have genital operations, based on a false interpretation of the source it cited. The scary idea of penises in women’s spaces is used to incite fear of trans women.

I have seen a minute claiming that adolescent children are making life-changing decisions, that is, getting hormone treatment they will later regret. In fact, since November 2020 trans children have been refused hormone treatment their doctors recommended, because of a high court decision.

If you include Quakers who support trans rights, like me, and those Quakers who are anti-trans campaigners, there is no unity. Individual Quakers do not have a right to “stand in the way” of a Yearly Meeting decision if most Friends are convinced it is a spiritual leading; but a decision can hardly exclude those most involved or concerned in the issue.

Unity might have to go back to the most basic principles. Quakers value Equality. But we do not all agree about Privilege. White straight men with professional careers can get nervous when the word is mentioned, as if it were an attack on them. Privilege is usually unconscious. Stevie Krayer’s article in The Friend gives an example: she had an immediate reaction she then analysed, and found it was unconsciously racist. Quakers may have such reactions without performing the necessary analysis, and, believing their adherence to the testimony to equality is sufficient protection, not see their unconscious prejudice. Society is awash with racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. People, even Quakers, take it into themselves unconsciously.

The sex-based rights campaigners would argue I have male privilege. In a negotiation, I would not want to concede that. But a Meeting for Worship is not a negotiation, but coming together in Love under Spirit.

I love meeting on Zoom. I have experienced gathered meetings on Zoom. Some Friends have not found Zoom meeting nourishing and sustaining, and miss meeting in person; when meeting for worship in person has been discontinued some have not worshipped on Zoom.

God moves in mysterious ways. I trust the process of meeting. I know that for there to be progress, people must come prepared to be changed. Common-sense, rational answers will get nowhere.

Meeting for Stillness

Does the term “Meeting for Worship” put off people who are “Spiritual, but not religious”? Jan Arriens in The Friend suggested “Meeting for Stillness”, and Peter Jarman dismissed worship as “what happens in other churches”.

As an Anglican I believed in God the Eternal Father, Whom I worshipped. Just before I came to Quakers I found Matthew Fox’s explanation of Panentheism, God suffusing all that is, and later William Blake’s statement “Everything that is, is holy”. Rather than worshipping, I was communing- with the Mystery, with that which is greater than myself.

I took a combative line as a Christian against the non-theists: it’s a Meeting for Worship, we must be worshipping something, and was referred to Old English: weorþscipe, meaning worth or dignity: noun, not verb. But I still think Quakers have always used the term as a transitive verb. We worship God. What of those who reject God, as refugees from the Churches, or consider God a superstition? Meeting as a spiritual practice has value, and does not depend on belief.

Some might come to us having meditated, as a Buddhist or even non-religious practice. We tell them our meeting for worship is not meditation, as it is something we do together. Well, Buddhists meditate together, but in Meeting someone may feel moved to speak in love for the others gathered there, and for the World.

Jan referred to David L. Saunders’ article saying stillness is so much more than silence, which is merely the absence of speech or noise: it is about Presence. Be still and cool in thy own mind. In stillness, Saunders says, we seek the place of being, encounter, power.

There is no silence outside an anechoic chamber. Friends can worship at a noisy demonstration. There will always be distraction: I try not to be distracted, and sometimes the distraction inspires me.

Stillness is also a deceptively simple concept, the absence of motion. I sit in stillness for what happens in stillness to my perceptions, of my surroundings, the others with me now, and my accumulated experience of life in the world.

In a “Meeting for Worship” I still think you must be worshipping something. I turn outward to the mystery of all that is outwith myself, and inward to what is within me but beyond my ordinary conscious experience. What do I worship? If forced to put it in a simple phrase, I would say the “Mystery of being”, but the phrase does not satisfy me. I want a phrase which is immediately understandable- like, “Meeting for Stillness”- but which leads the enquirer attender or member into new depths. If I said I worshipped God, I would mislead some, and deter others. I am not a theist.

I do not like the word “Meeting for Worship”. I thought of “Meeting for Contemplation”. Meeting needs our concentrated attention, and diligent practice.

Another alternative is simply “Meeting”. At the moment it is shorthand- we go to Meeting, we say. It could be the whole term. Meeting what? Each other, or- something else, perhaps.

I thought of “Holy Meeting” or “Sacred Meeting”- a time set apart from worldly concerns- but these words remind me of the Christianity which at least since Constantine has been used to oppress people and maintain worldly control, and I support the seeker’s rebellion against that.

Meeting. Or, Meeting for Stillness. A practice of Love which helps human beings reach our full potential as individuals in community.

Quakers in Britain have a similar issue having rejected the word “Overseer”, meaning, roughly, pastoral carer, but not agreed on a single preferable term yet. We should check the terms we use periodically: might they mislead, or put off, someone who might otherwise join us? Are they accurate descriptions of the things they refer to?