Anger, pain, and Ministry

The Spirit speaks in meeting through human beings, and our individuality affects the message like the wood or metal of a flute or trombone affects music. It is a paradox: self-abnegation of the petty self or ego, self-actualisation of the true self created in the image of God. I am most fully myself when giving true ministry.

The self I have found in Meeting is filled with paradoxes. I feared meditation, because I fear I will encounter my pain, and when I brought myself to it I felt the pain fully and it did not matter. Possibly it is that life is painful. I am always confused, always wanting, and acceptance is a constant discipline not a single act. And my harsh judgment of myself makes a setback into a failure, a mistake into proof of idiocy, and my sensitivity heightens my own pain, and I have habitually suppressed my pain in order to function, and sometimes it just bursts out of me. I feel, strongly; I try to suppress; so when I start to weep it is the way my pain communicates to my conscious self that it is so strong. If I accepted it I might hold it within.

Anger and pain are close. Anger is sad’s bodyguard, I read on facebook: but pain, expressed, seeks help, and anger demands a solution, often a particular solution, immediately. Yet anger can be an expression of pain, where the pain is too great and confusing, and it bursts out, and is a more acceptable response from a man, inculcated into us in childhood. Big boys don’t cry. Though in competitive situations, nor should women.

What of Quakers? I feel it is incumbent on us to process our pain and anger before speaking them in Meeting. Sometimes, I just can’t. I think it better to express pain in Meeting than to suppress it, where our conflicts are brushed under the carpet, but both are failures of the Quaker process.

That suppression. I realised that I feared my anger, pain and fear, and in fear tried to suppress them. But that gives energy to the feeling. I suppress, and it seeks to burst out, and it becomes more unbearable, more painful. And now I fear my feelings less. My journey over the last two years in Quaker meeting has been towards openness and acceptance. It is hard to explain, and I am not sure I understand it. I found in Meeting in Wellingborough I would, several times each meeting, withdraw into myself. I would cross my arms and legs and curl myself up as small as possible, head bowed, just self-protecting, against- I don’t know what, the world and my experience, or the pain I felt because of it. All of that, I think. And then, I would open out again. I would be open to feeling and sensation, and even perhaps being moved by the Spirit. My feelings would be too much, I would curl up and self-protect, and then the feeling would pass and I would open again.

Over the last year, I felt no need to curl up in this way. Instead, I would feel the pain. I was more or less silent in the silent meeting. I would gasp, or sigh, or start to rock. I have noticed others’ hands tense slightly, clasped in their lap, and my whole body would go rigid. I conceived of it as a discipline, bringing myself closer to acceptance and clear perception of my world. I felt it was a process of healing. I was growing stronger. That curling up was a trauma-response, and I needed the trauma response less. Then, before the 6th January business meeting I was sitting in the corner looking at Heather two yards away, and I found myself curling up again.

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I was enraged at Heather- I don’t think that is too strong a word- because of her article that I had only just seen. It was for a hard-right website, funded by the Koch brothers, who are American oil billionaires who give vast amounts of money to hard-right causes. It is ludicrous. She complained that trans rights restrict free speech, but lots of platforms will say Trans is Bad- the Times, the Daily Mail, Standpoint, the Spectator, the Guardian, to name a few. I agree with Julie Bindel, to whom Heather once offered to introduce me, that feminists should not associate with the hard-right. I agree with the hard-right calculation, that making life more difficult for trans people will not result in people being openly gender non-conforming without transition, but rather in gender stereotypes being more oppressive and more enforced.

I emailed that website, copy to Heather, complaining that her statement ‘trans women’ (as opposed to transsexuals) have penises was false. Many transsexuals have a penis, as they have not yet had the operation. Most of us self-identify as trans women, even post-op, objecting to the use of “transsexual” as a noun. Much of the scaremongering about trans people is around penises. Having a penis does not make a trans woman or a trans girl a threat. Heather responded by emailing to say our friendship was at an end.

I first met Heather four years ago when I saw her across a crowded Meeting room. I thought, Wow. We have gone out for a drink together fairly regularly since, and I have made periodic declarations of love which have been kindly rebuffed. In the autumn I had thought that I would not invite her again. Her campaigning against trans rights, and my disagreement with her, had come between us.

In the meeting for worship before business meeting I was thinking of what can be said in a meeting, in love. When gender came up in the business meeting, following up on Heather’s recognised Concern, I was expostulating. This is who I am. The elder wanted me to sit down. The clerk wanted to hear what I had to say. His minute said, “We have heard-” clerkly code for one person said, when it is not that which we unite behind.

I have not processed my hurt. It is an open wound. I wanted the operation more than anything else in the world, and now I regret it. Two women have said to me, this bluntly, “I could find a man like you attractive, but- no penis!” So fearmongering about penises really gets to me.

My anger deserves your sympathy. Trans women are almost all completely harmless, often quite badly hurt. There is a campaign to drive us out of the women’s spaces where we have been for decades, without harming anyone, on the pretext of gender recognition reform. Gender recognition reform will mean no more trans women in women’s spaces any more than a change to blue passports will mean more foreign travel. The campaign fearmongers, pretending we are dangerous. Of course I am angry.

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I came to Quakers in April 2001, and joined in February 2002. I am afraid I have always been the Needy Friend. I am trans. I had a difficult childhood. I had a difficult time at work, and have been unemployed since March 2011. My confidence is very low, and my ability to accept who I am and how the world is is limited. I like to think I am healing, making spiritual progress, but sometimes it seems I am just going round in circles. I am isolated, and the Labour Party and the Quaker meeting are my only social outlet, apart from things like facebook.

Quakers are nice people, and like to help. In Central Manchester meeting once, shortly after I started going there, an Evangelical came in and took advantage of the ability to stand and speak into our silence to preach a long sermon about Biblical inerrancy or suchlike Evangelical stuff. I interrupted, got upset, and went out to the library with two people holding me as I raged and wept. Someone who listens to my woes gains something from the encounter, a feeling of having done something worthwhile. That places obligations on the needy person, me, not to exploit the good will of my Friends.

Clare, who supported me in Manchester, saw my transition male to female from a year before changing my name formally to a year after, and said “You have climbed a mountain”. I had. Transition is hard to do. Her Testimony, and her husband’s, came out last year. She gave me a lot of support.

I came to Wellingborough meeting again terribly hurt. Well, I am sensitive. L. again gave me a great deal of support, with weekly piano duet sessions for months. I am proud of what I achieved as AM clerk, giving space for the Spirit to move us- I was contributing too- but I took a lot of support. There were tensions in the meeting, such as, there was one regularly-worshipping member with whom I only had one conversation. I approached her in my capacity as member of AM nominations committee, and got no farther than saying “Would you consider” before she said “NO!” A small meeting should be closer than that.

I demanded more support than the meeting could well give, especially after someone moved to the South-west. L. organised my 50th birthday celebration. I saw her outside meeting often. Twice during Meeting (with a year interval between them) I stood and shared my desolate misery, swearing at the horror of it. Too much. I sensitised people to myself. You can’t centre down easily if you are worrying what Abigail will do next. I was told to leave Wellingborough meeting after a man who used the homelessness service came into the meeting house just before coffee, and became abusive and physically threatening when I asked him to leave. I was not going to back down. It is a tragedy that the meeting could give no more support at the moment that I was most entitled to it. I could not get beyond that for over a year- I would have been entitled to support in that moment, but for the history leading up to it.

So I went to Kettering. I am not the only vulnerable, fragile or hurt individual in any meeting, and all of us are vulnerable in particular ways. I am better able to hold my own hurt now, but not perhaps when the meeting considers Heather has a properly Quaker “concern” about “freedom of speech” rather than being the dupe and tool of right-wingers, and for the “care of children”, though that means denying them the care they seek, and denying that they can know themselves. Generally, trans people know who we are and what we want. Some revert, but generally we are happier and more centred when we can express our true selves, and often that means hormones and surgery, however much that surgery may revolt some people.

I went to the Inclusion weekend at Woodbrooke, and after I was shouting angrily at Heather during the Sunday morning worship I have been told not to attend meeting in my Area. My heart sank a week before when I learned she was going. In worship, she stood and rather than giving ministry stated she was an expert. She stated, falsely, that gender recognition reform, “self-ID”, will affect women’s rights, and that there is no biological basis for trans, which is irrelevant, as trans people exist. I stood to say worship had ended at the point she stood up, but I was angry.

I am writing this because one wise and well-regarded Friend told me he is “appalled at the injustice” of me being excluded. It is not quite that simple. Another said he “pray[s] love and truth will prevail”, at which I thought, well, that would be me completely screwed. (Joking.) I think love and truth will; and it may take some time.

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I have also been told not to represent the AM, which may also be a good thing. I love prolonged periods with Quakers. Possibly they get me over-excited, like a child on a sugar rush. I have not mastered Quakerly reserve, yet I dare to hope I contribute. Sometimes, if I try to assess intellectually, or when my words come particularly close to my own vulnerabilities, I doubt the value of what I say, but I feel I get it right most of the time. I liked what I said at YM, and mention Deborah Rowlands hugging me as I left more to convince myself that it had value than to convince you. I have been twice to the Quaker Life Rep Council, and think I contributed there, too, though too many of us stood in the final Meeting for Worship.

If ministry speaks to people it will have an effect, and if not it will be forgotten, unless it is spectacularly bad, sufficient to disrupt worship. I speak from my heart, from my love, my creativity and my desire for good, apart from those two times in Wellingborough when I spoke from my misery and negativity and disrupted worship. Yet I think “Where I am at the moment” ministry, if not overdone, helps bring a meeting together, to know each other in the things that are eternal and the things that are quotidian. One that has been much on my mind since it was given in July was Heather’s. As I remember it she spoke of how as a child she had wanted to be confirmed into the Church of England, and had gone to confirmation classes. In part she wanted the white first communion dress.  She was not confirmed, because her commitment to truth prevented her from believing some of the things that church demanded she believe. And now she felt she may be forced out of the Society of Friends, because of her commitment to Truth. My heart went out to her, even though I knew what she thought of as the falsehood driving her out was the Society’s acceptance of trans people and our transitions.

I may have made this impossible, but I would still like to be part of a Quaker decision making process on trans and gender issues. I see people in favour of trans rights in the society, and people with a strongly gender-critical view (they call the term “trans-excluding radical feminist” a slur) and it seems to me that the pain of the gender non-conforming or gender critical, and the gender dysphoria of the trans people, is the same pain at gender stereotypes blocking us from being ourselves. So Quakers should actively oppose gender stereotypes as part of our testimony to Equality, and help us see each others’ pain. The tragedy is that we are in conflict, as if others’ way of subverting the stereotypes somehow invalidates our own. If only we could see, we would be on the same side.

I am forbidden to attend Quaker meetings at the moment, yet I hope the video designed to make us attractive to enquirers, and featuring me, will remain on the website. I was not sure the outreach leaflets should all feature the same four people, because I thought I was quite weak on Quaker work, but I stand by what I wrote:

My work in the world, my witness to others, is learning to know and accept myself as God made me, moving from suppressing my feelings to owning them… I know the truth is setting me free.

So I will carry on with that, and perhaps be readmitted at some point. Coming across this Karl Barth quote this week seems a synchronicity- It is not that you have been called to bear the suffering of the present time, it is that you have been idiots. Yet contrary to some evidence I feel that this organism, this creature, conscious and unconscious, soul and body, has value. I am a Quaker; and at the moment I have irked too many people.

If you have got this far: this is what I want of Quakers. Gender stereotypes do not fit people. They are an engine of oppression. Therefore the Quaker testimony to Equality should lead us to oppose the stereotypes, and search out what in ourselves seeks to enforce them on others. And we should trust and support each person to oppose those stereotypes and deal with them in their own way, including by transition.

Solitude

You are never alone with the internet, which is a problem: always being tempted to check Likes and Stats- eight page views in the last half hour! Ten upvotes for that Guardian comment!- creates a brain fog, distancing me from my feelings in a nutrition-free series of tiny pings of excitement. I am not alone with a book, or the TV. I had hoped “Cleaning Up” would be gentle escapism, the cleaning ladies getting one up on the wealthy, but it is far more subtle, even realistic: actions have consequences, there is both good and bad luck, and there is a slow, doubtful path to redemption for the hero, though she lies to herself and others, acts to make herself happy or safe in the moment whatever the consequences in two hours’ time, and is drowning in debt. Her daughters love her. But I even face that with half an eye on my laptop, and those facebook likes.

Possibly in some circumstances an Anglican church should be a “safe space”- in the East End during the Blitz, for example, giving some community reassurance in the horror. I don’t think a Quaker meeting should be. We encounter God there. But if mine has to be made safe, I may confront reality better meditating in my own flat, or in a walking meditation. I took the camera not to create beautiful images, but to record sensation. I wanted to create pictures of what caught my eye, not to package and curate a celebration or an imaginary ideal.

Though who am I to suggest the natural process of rusting, or the scaffolding of my civilisation, is not beautiful?

The photo does not show how steep the path is. I am constantly afraid of slipping and landing in the mud. And in the field, there was the sensation of soft divots thrown against my lower calves, and again the fear of slipping. And tension in the tendons at my knees. The intention is to observe what is around me, and how my body is, and for practise to develop awareness of my situation and feelings.

Because of the mud, suddenly the bush looms up, loaded with leaf-buds.

Ice on the river, though the air is above freezing. The one photo I actually wanted was from my last walk here, a coot walking on ice in the sunshine. I will see if I can take something like that. So I am not just in the moment: I am planning, and blogging, as I walk.

The river is half-visible above the thicket.

Despite the stern warning, this gate is no longer locked.

Geese on the water. I cannot create a record of my clearest impression, of a goose sliding down that bank into the river. I would need to set up the camera and wait for such a thing.

Even though there are still some on the bank.

The wet patches on the bridge are also slippery.

I did not intend to record the dog leaving a scent-mark, but that was the luck of it. My original picture did not show that the woman wore her right glove, but not her left, for the handholding.

I am not a nice person, I think, and I am where I am. This week I will meet my support worker, who is paid to get me into work (!) and the counsellor she has arranged. And I will exchange a few words at checkouts. I have stumbled into solitude, which I muddy with that obsessive checking of stats, and want to take the opportunity it brings. My boots heels hit the path with small shocks. Walking faster than others, I am slightly hot in an open coat, a thin shirt and no scarf.

That grass, taller than me, is striking.

I had not seen this inscription before. Now, writing, Google tells me it is from The Windhover by Hopkins, and that “sillion” is fresh soil upturned by a plough. Everywhere, evidence of human love!

That twig in the sun. A girl points her pink camera over ice, in the sun, with her parents on either side, encouraging, and her brother slightly ahead, on a scooter.

That I might have taken if I were curating a sales-pitch image of this place, or something for my managed image on facebook. I love the way the park is continually improved with art works.

This is the only one I have cropped. I have not adjusted the colour or light on any. That was the best view I could get of a bird walking on ice.

And the bottle catches my attention.

What of feelings? There was not much litter, the weather was beautiful, and I feel- not sure. Some fear and anger possibly. I have created my aloneness (which is different from solitude). “Self-Pity!” shout the Guards, aka the Inner Critic. They always speak up for my good, and I feel I might benefit if I could retrain them.

I know what would be good for me. Less screen, more meditation, possibly even action and encounter. I don’t know if I will manage it.

One truth, or many?

The reason we have had enough of experts is that they tell truths we don’t care about. That you can’t articulate a truth does not mean it is unimportant. That everyone else thinks you should have a particular priority does not mean you do.

I know the truth of Brexit. Governments working together can provide a social safety net, decent health care for all, education, legal aid where someone needs to navigate the courts, a legal framework of human rights and regulation to hold polluters and exploiters in check, and the rule of law to enable entrepreneurial activity: to enable people to work together by enforceable contracts. At the moment we do not have in Britain government organising the utilities of water, gas, electricity, public transport and internet, but that can work well too. We need a fair living wage enforceable by law, not the meagre minimum wage the Tories fail to enforce. Governments working internationally can combat climate change and other pollution, limiting the wealth of the exploiters. So the exploiters object, though unchecked they would eat the planet.

The aim of the exploiters, of the Tory Brexiters, was to weaken the power of democratic government to prevent their depredations. Many Tories voted for that. How did they get Labour voters to vote for it? By lies, about what the EU does, and about what it costs; and by hate, stoking hatred and fear of immigrants. That lie about 70m Turks coming here, when there is less prospect of Turkey joining than there was twenty years ago. The Tories had the plan for an unskilled one-year visa for people from anywhere in the world, without any rights, so the immigrants taking the worst jobs will continue.

Now there is the rise of the far Right, some nebulous myth of Britishness involving the Second World War and facing down the Germans. There is Lexit, but while the EU may be coloured by neoliberalism any Tory Brexit will make things much worse, inside the EU and out.

Remain is hope in what we have built together. Leave is hope in what we might achieve some other way. I don’t just have to give hope to the hopeless, but to restore hope in something where it has been lost, and people have found illusory hope elsewhere.

Possibly if I could put the Leave arguments without mocking and undermining them, I would understand them and then could work against them. If I were open to being persuaded, then I could engage. I know the Tory government has two priorities: to preserve Tory rule, and to destroy all we have created together, privatising the NHS and education, destroying the safety net.

It is not truth against lies, but one truth among many, what is and how we understand it, what is likely and what is possible, with exaggeration, illusion and denial but also clear seeing, and not all the clear seeing is on my side. The complexity is too much to grasp so what I can grasp seems contradictory, and trying to communicate it muddies it further like a photocopy of a photocopy exaggerates the distortions. There are reasons why someone might be wrong in particular ways, and people might be wrong in an interesting way, on a path to new understanding. And then there are competing interests. I sympathise with anyone who sees a part of the whole, and clings to it as the only part that matters. We are divided into bubbles when we need to come together.

Very occasionally, there might be some good I can do, but much of the roiling national argument is like the monkey mind, going over the same things repetitively without change or growth or openness. I have no control over this. All I can do is leaflet if there is another vote. All things are transitory: my ceasing to worry over Brexit is part of the endless task of letting go. Isaac Pennington: Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion. “Seed”, or Real Self.

Journeying towards God

God appeared to be a monster, and I fled. I found Christianity as a framework, an understanding of good behaviour which would train or mould me into a good person. Underneath the training, held down by powerful guards but never silenced, was something I could not name, which acted through me or influenced me in ways I did not know.

I attempt to use words, and even the word “I” breaks down here: “I” in that paragraph is the “I” “I” imagine, which the part of me which is conscious conceives to be how “I” am, how it imagines my personality and character to be. Underneath there is an unconscious I, the thing I could not name.

The journey towards God is bringing what is unconscious into consciousness, so that the conscious conception of the nature of the person as a human being comprises the totality, the whole nature of that human being. For each person it is different. My understanding of it includes some theology, some psychology, but mainly is my dogged attempt to find that unknown being, to see what I could not see, to dissolve the pretences and blind spots preventing me from seeing; and my experience is of it-I, breaking through from below.

It feels like a river- however firmly the river has been dammed, eventually the stream breaks through and the natural flow asserts itself.

I am made in the image of G-d, so I may be like Christ. In Him the divine and human nature are united without separation, without mixture, without confusion and without alteration. This is Miaphysitism, the belief of the Oriental Orthodox (Churches including the Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian), a word I have just learned. I am not, yet, so united, but believe this non-dual state is possible for all people.

I want to be understood, heard, believed, accepted. That “I” is the unconscious “I”, where all my power, desire, love and creativity reside. First, in an act of self-surrender, by the conscious I. This may be aided by others, seeing and valuing the unconscious I, accepting in the moments when it bursts forth: in the counsellor’s “unconditional positive regard”, perhaps. For I, united I-I, know it.

The journey involves shedding my introjects, all the judgments of others I have taken into my conscious understanding of who I am of what is important and therefore what I should consider important and therefore what I value, which is not what

I

being the unconscious I

truly value. For the Buddha, who had fabulous wealth, and had been taught to value that wealth, it involved leaving that wealth behind, but that does not mean that anyone can learn from him that they should “give all they have to the poor”, or that ceasing to value wealth and instead valuing what elementary Buddhist textbooks teach will be liberating. The liberation, the non-duality, is in shedding whatever one is forced to value which one would not have valued without that external force.

I

state that rather it means setting aside all you imagine you think is important, and delving to what is truly important to you.

Ah. That unconscious I is speaking, more and more, which puts the conscious I in fear, excitement and delight. Sometimes- more and more- I and I unite and I am one.

Mystic language appeals to me, yet materialist language may be available. This is a healing process, a maturing process- the river will not be dammed in the end. Religion may aid devotees towards it, if it does not create more introjects to ensnare those devotees. Humans will our freedom.

Parts of the Human, which have not been loved and accepted, lie in strong chains. Vigilant guards are ready to push back when the prisoner shows signs of acting, crying “Wrong! Stupid! Meaningless! Wicked!” So my Shadow terrifies me (conscious-I). The guards are part of me too, which I created as a way of survival. I find the unconscious I, see the error of the guards, and quiet them, in contemplation and meditation.

Where is the Life? Where is the Drive? The unconscious i hurts so much, so my way to God is through all its pain. I believe the Quaker term “Inner Light” refers to this unconscious I.

I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame
The Righteous One shall make many righteous.

If any of these words speak to you, I pray they may bring you to full humanity, which may be Divinity. And let us share our words if we want to understand as well as to Be.

The real self and the critical voices

The risk of imagining a “Real self” separate from the negative self is that I could project onto the negative self all the bits I don’t like. However that would not even convince me, and certainly not a magistrate. The negative self is part of me, within me, a voice, a part of my brain circuitry, part of an organic whole.

My real self has been so suppressed that I have been consciously analysing my desires from outside, rather than feeling them from within. I find what I want when I see what I do. I have desires, and carry them out, but not through conscious planning. The Real Self is where my desire, energy and motivation appear to sit. So I want to make it conscious so that I am less conflicted.

Possibly the Real Self spoke on Sunday, in immediate anger.

I realise, with Sally, that that is what I want to speak about, and that the critical voices immediately tell me I should not. Don’t talk about that, it will not achieve anything. You need this time for more important matters. It’s self-indulgent, which is their strongest word of condemnation. I realise how the critical voices inhibit me from speaking my desire, even here, in the counselling space, though they are not strong enough to change the subject, and eventually the desire gets through.

It’s wallowing, and I do not want her sympathy. I would say how miserable I am and you would say, “Awwww”.

It’s what I want and am terrified of showing that I want.

-That’s the conflict there, she says. Well, yes. The critical voice stops me speaking, and frustrates my desires.

As a child I was so squished that I was unaware of being squished. My mother believed her complete control was for my good. In my early thirties, I realised it was time to rebel against my parents and I have been doing teenage ever since. I feel it was a working out of human organic development and healing- that this phase of maturing can be suppressed, but not prevented indefinitely. The stream can be dammed for so long, but eventually it finds its way.

Mmm. Sunday. I feel wretched about that. Normally I would suppress that wretchedness below consciousness, so that it becomes a weight I keep carrying. I feel if I become conscious of it, I can let it go. Just as when meditating, if I feel an itch, but resent it because now is the time to be pious and holy, meditating- the itch consumes my thoughts, because I am trying to suppress the feeling. If I pay it attention, feel it fully, then it bothers me less and I can move on.

If I feel the feeling fully I can let it go. That’s the hypothesis, not completely demonstrated yet. I worried from my negative self that I am a bottomless pit of pain, I just feel the pain and it is neverending, but I don’t think that, not really. I can work through it.

Now I feel the desire to tell you something that makes me happy, and the critical voices say that is boasting, it is Bad. Well, that video makes me happy. It is always easier to think “This too will pass” when I am happy: I observe that in other people as well as myself. I am happy to have contributed to something which has value. I want it to be seen. I consider I have done a good thing, and that pleases me.

I am unsure about my desires, and I don’t appear to have any particular overarching desire, yet I have-

pause. The critical voices are at me again. They diminish everything my real self says, trivialise its words, take away the words’ meaning and importance. I have desires, and pleasure in accomplishing them, and frustration at not. I am not getting much of that pleasure, and the critical voices inhibit it.

Last time, I had the idea that I had to pack the real self away, be in some other part of me, in order to be sufficiently safe and in control to cycle home. Yet my real self is my own desire, rather than introjected desire, my own feelings conscious not suppressed, my real self is where the power actually is and the distrust which I have internalised for it has not led me to a better way of being.

The critical voices are far too strong, completely dismissing my Real Self. Yet they have their place, they could make a valuable contribution. They have something to do with What will other people think and it is possible to estimate that. They need balanced. My default state at the moment is that the critical voices are suppressing me, but I am coming out.

Quakers, inclusion and class

The attender who took me to my first Quaker meeting was a member of an association of working class academics. As the daughter of a miner she found that certain attitudes and assumptions in academia were less natural to her. Possibly that produced diffidence contributing to her delay in applying for membership. I know some Quakers have working class (WC) origins because they have told me, rather than because I have observed particular traits in them, and such observations are invidious.

There is a great difference between the child whose family inculcated a great respect for learning, and who progressed to the adult section of the library at the Working Men’s Institute (“The ‘Stute”) after reading all the children’s books; and the Quaker with a violent past who said to me “I grew up in a plague zone, and I caught the plague”. Possibly what they would both lack in childhood, and I had, is an idea that society is basically good, and set up in their interests, but even that is a huge generalisation. There is privilege here and it is difficult to put my finger on what it is. The generalisation has some use, but putting people into two Classes, six or seven, will obscure idiosyncrasies.

Class is wealth, status, education, attitudes and behaviour. There is strength in class diversity: with it, we able to speak directly to more people, and have more different perspectives.

At the diversity and inclusion gathering, I met someone else downwardly mobile, with middle-class origins, and working class jobs. It made me feel slightly less inadequate. I begin to think of what in my background might be thought of as “class” rather than idiosyncratic family background. I took copious notes, and can’t remember what exactly was said when I noted “Working class people can have deep rich spiritual lives”. It depends who’s saying it, doesn’t it, how you react to that. I am shocked it needs saying. It could be the amazed ejaculation of a MC Quaker seeing a WC Quaker minister: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. I think it was the comment of a WC origin Quaker who felt Quakers need to hear that.

How much of our practice is MC culture rather than Quaker spirituality? The Guardian and Radio 4 were mentioned as the MC indicator, but one who often cited The Guardian in ministry had I think a WC background. I don’t like “The Archers” either, but that started when I imagined myself MC.

How much of our practice is influenced by whether we are introvert or extravert?

What gets in the way of connection? People stereotype others, and judge whether they are competitors. We were told to share the joys and difficulties of our class journeys, and I have suggested that to my LM. I feel it will bring out hidden depths of diversity we already have, and help us know each other, but in the workshop we shared pain of internalised judgments and changing to fit in. A Southern child was ostracised as “posh” in Lancashire. A man lost his accent in an MC job.

Sharing the pain of these internalised judgments is a risk. I am hypersensitive to the possibility that my hearers may judge me the same way. After all, it is my judgment, so it feels right to me.

Our speaker, Lynne Cullens, an Anglican priest, found systemic barriers to achievement as the child of a lone mother in Ordsall. She said despite her degrees WC Anglicans could instantly recognise her as WC. When I met a criminal lawyer he said the clients needed to see him as on their side of the desk, with their understanding of their problems, sorting those problems out. I got better at that, doing benefits appeals with people. Lynne could see motivations MC people couldn’t. Why would you get a large telly on credit when behind with the rent? The MC social housing workers could not understand. Lynne suggested you want a sign of status even for a moment, when money was always tight and the rent arrears hardly more disastrous than other continual money problems.

In the CofE, MC people reporting on WC concerns can seem like anthropologists. We talk of hierarchy, upward and downward mobility. As a lone mum she can inspire other lone mums. People like people who are kind and compassionate. A working class church thrives with working class leadership, as with the last Anglican church I joined.

Local Friends did not like the diversity survey, with open text boxes. “If you treasure it, measure it”; but they made a quantitative result difficult. But then, Quakers might be resistant to stating “socio-economic group”, and with an open text box could give an idea quite how resistant, and produce the categories we might use later.

I got the impression that a Friend thought gender recognition reform would mean a sudden flood of “men in women’s spaces”. We are there already; whatever damage we might do, there should be evidence that it has been done; but the lie is that there is a sudden change, and a threat.

Quakers, inclusion and Trans

I feel a Concern that different views of trans issues must be acceptable in the Society, and accept that this is a risk. Just because Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness later gained the nickname “The Chuckle Brothers”, does not mean they were laughing when they first met Senator George Mitchell. It will not do to “say peace, peace where there is no peace,” or try to brush problems under the carpet.

So when I say that some Quakers, including one who has ministered movingly about the need for Truth within the Society, are lying, I should be clear what I mean. The lie is that gender recognition reform, which they refer to misleadingly as “Self-ID”, will have more than a marginal effect on women. The reason is that most of the law and practice treating trans women and cis women the same is years or decades old. We have self-ID: when an AMAB person decides she will transition to female, she is protected from discrimination, even if she has no diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a psychiatrist. The later official diagnosis depends on the patient’s own conviction and desire, which is a form of self-ID.

I got a passport and driving licence indicating I am female years before the Gender Recognition Act came into force, and a bank card in my female name six months before I changed my name officially, or stopped going to work dressed male. It would be more honest to argue against trans women’s legal rights to be in women’s space, and to be treated as women, under the Equality Act 2010 and its legislative precursors, but that would entail dealing with the fact that there have not been great problems under the law as it stands. After human rights law for gender recognition could no longer be resisted, the main purpose of the GRA was to prevent same-sex marriage, and now is to regulate how marriage is seen and prevent opposite-sex civil partnerships. Anyone who writes or speaks on the issue should be aware of this. There are marginal issues, which she might attempt to inflate, but they do not affect most trans and cis experience. For example 40,000 trans folk are a rounding error in statistics, even if we are ten times as criminal as cis women. Especially, the lie should not be asserted during a meeting for worship.

Insisting that women’s rights are suddenly imperilled foments fear of trans women. Trans women are in women’s prisons, sports, statistics, domestic violence and rape services, loos and changing rooms already, mostly harmlessly. We must abide by our testimony to Truth if we are to talk meaningfully to each other. I can tolerate being told that someone thinks I am a man, or that I should not be in women’s spaces, but not that a group including me are dangerous as a group, or that our group rights threaten women. Or that a group I used to belong to, or a group from whom I can only be distinguished by a groin inspection, are dangerous. To be clear, I think there is no real problem with me in women’s spaces and that welcoming me enhances women’s rights, and I am grateful to cis women allies putting those points. And the opinions I tolerate, some trans women will find threatening, and feel excluded.

The cis organisers of the diversity and inclusion gathering produced a trans speaker who cuts through this sterile debate. Sabah Chowdrey makes it irrelevant. They shared who they is, their mingled femininity and masculinity, reframing and subverting binaries. You can’t necessarily place someone on the gender binary by looking at them, and they said they knew people were speculating. There are all sorts of stereotypes we use: I loved Sabah’s phrase that we should

normalise uncertainty.

Then we get to meet the person not the stereotype. It is worth the extra work.

Sabah wants more than tolerance. They want to take their space. They are not ashamed and not hiding. Gender stereotypes restrict all. It is difficult to have to constantly justify my identity. They notice they are safer when seen as a man, seen more as a person, given privilege, yet the are non-binary, not a man. People should not need to pass as others. Trans people should be trusted to know our own minds. Statistics don’t add validity to our experiences.

Fear stunts everyone’s ability to explore who they really are. We should make the world a safer place. We should acknowledge and identify our power. We should show solidarity across communities. We should value being uncomfortable, Keep questioning, Listen to diverse voices.

Rhiannon Grant led an exercise in which we named words used to indicate gender, and then in pairs and small groups made sentences with them and discussed them. Naming a word did not indicate approval of it: the words indicated not a binary but a hierarchy, which needs deconstructed. I said to the group, harridan is an unpleasant word for a good way of being. A Black woman said Black girls are considered more macho than white girls, and I thought of quotes- “White folks feel, Black folks do”; “Ain’t I a woman?” These quotes are American.

I noted a difference here between participants asserting their rights, and those seeking to be allies to others, not always paternalistically. Some of course were both. Though there was little mention of disability, the woman in a motorised wheelchair was a noticeable presence, a member of our community, and we benefit if we value her.

Quaker inclusion

Speaking as a white person, I feel it is in the interests of white people among Quakers to listen to BAME voices. We gain a better understanding of the world when we see it through everyone’s eyes, rather than just a narrow range of privileged experience. Last year, I decided I should be more actively anti-racist, and so have read a little, two books and a number of articles so far. For example, this is clearly racist:

-Where are you from?
-Wellingborough, says my Black friend.
-No, where are you really from?

But racism goes much deeper. That question excludes people, but exclusion can be more subtle. We should consider outcomes: if the proportion of BAME people in our Society is less than in the wider society, that may be evidence that subtler forms of exclusion are at work. A Black Friend at the Quaker gathering on Diversity and Inclusion told me over the decades he had lived in Britain, with a white wife, that a third of white people were supportive, a third hostile and a third could go either way. He needed the support of the supportive third to be able to bear the hostility of the others.

Black people do not have the luxury of being “colour-blind”, so nor should we whites. They are intensely aware of the prejudice and social friction making it more difficult for Black people to fulfill their potential, and so should we be, actively to oppose it. They may also not want whites to be blind to distinctive cultural contributions which can enrich lives.

We had excellent speakers. Edwina Peart, the Quaker diversity and inclusion project co-ordinator, who is Black, introduced Robert Beckford, Professor of Theology and Culture in the African Diaspora, who is Black. She enumerated many of his achievements and cultural contributions: the assumption that the privileged white male speaker is worthy of his platform is not always extended to others. He comes from a Pentecostal tradition where the Spirit moving in the congregation is manifest in movement, speech and song, unlike Quakers where deep feeling may be indicated by a slight tightening of the hands folded in the lap. This announcement brought out some self-conscious whoops from the audience. He explained that Black people do not talk of “Diversity”, which is top-down; rather they talk of “Whiteness”. He is expert in Critical Whiteness Studies. Whiteness is a social construct, which can exclude some of us: the pseudoscientist John Bedloe (sp?) measured British skulls, formulated an “index of negrousness” and decided that the Irish were closest to the Negro. Such hierarchies and sense of superiority underpinned the exploitation, cruelty and destruction wrought by the British Empire.

Professor Beckford went to a new post, and someone approached him to ask if it was his first day there. When he said yes, he was led to the kitchens to scrub potatoes. When he had finished his talk to us, another eminent academic stood to state the insights he shared were replicated in critical gender studies. The sex difference has been invested with cultural meaning, which needs deconstructed.

I am trans, and I am delighted that Trans inclusion was at the heart of the weekend. When our elders stood to welcome us on the Friday evening, they welcomed all genders and identities first, then all ethnicities and languages. After they mentioned “disability” someone talked of “impairment”, which is a physical or mental state; “disability” arises from the way social space is organised, to facilitate or impede all people moving through it, and is socially constructed. There was a long list, including different sexualities, faiths, ages, levels of activism. They said we welcome your emotions, joy, grief, rage, indignation, contentment and disappointment. They offered us a chance to name other diversities, and people named different social classes and backgrounds, and routes into the Society. I named “disagreement”, feeling it important to be able to live with differing views. Someone named Romany heritage.

Quaker history mentions our Abolitionists, and Samuel Galton, disowned in 1795, is less well known. He had been in the Society for decades as a successful gun manufacturer, and refused to give that up, arguing that the whole of British society, including many Quakers’ trades, was based on war and war-preparation.

Edwina Peart introduced intersectionality. Where do we find That of God? Who is erased? If Black men are excluded from an audience for prejudiced fear of their violence, but white men and black women included, we may only prove the discrimination by properly describing it. In Quaker history she could not find celebrated Black Quakers.

What identities can you bring, and which can be named modest-proudly, or need asserting, or might cause nervousness? When someone said they were exploring Paganism I was keen to talk of Quakers interested or involved in Paganism, to make her feel welcome. I want to pass as educated middle class, to fit in and have my voice heard; yet I do not want to deny I am a benefit claimant. When well-intentioned Quakers state “We are all” old, prosperous, middle-class, white, Quakers who do not fit that description can feel excluded.

We should set aside our ego before speaking in Meeting, including business Meeting. We should not have to set aside our life-experience or our personalities.

There was disagreement. Even in the final Meeting for Worship, questionable ideas were expressed which tend to increase prejudice against trans folk, particularly trans women. I stood and remonstrated. I am not proud of all I said, or the way I said it before walking out, but I said that worship had ended for me at that moment. Someone has said to me, many Friends agreed the previous speaker ended the worship. I still hope Quaker processes can find a way to ease this tension.

More on the weekend tomorrow.

More counselling

Bloodi’yell, this counselling lark is weird. I go into this tiny room with a woman with purple hair, she asks how anxious and depressed I have been in various ways on a scale of one to three, and then I tell her stuff and start crying. I hate the crying. I would much rather pass as a normal person. Meet a woman, no introduction, no idea who she is, tell my woes and start crying.

I want to get my inner rationalist talking to my Real Self. The Real Self is the part with the energy, but all it can say is “No”, at the moment. Actually I want to get it heard. I am intelligent and articulate, and much of the time that part of me has no conscious voice. I want my inner parts talking to each other, and on facebook someone suggested Internal Family Systems– but Sally confirms that we don’t have time for that; but when I say these two need marriage guidance counselling she seems to think that is a worthwhile use of the time.

I thought, I have to be aware of myself if I am going to counselling tomorrow and so knelt on my meditation stool, about 10.30pm last night. Nothing. Just bleak and dead. Vague sense of anger and misery beneath. So I played Metamorphosis. Slept not that badly, cycled in a bit of wind, the day cold and clear.

She apologised for the smallness of the interview room. It’s got room for two chairs and a tiny table, and if I stretch out my legs I’d block the door. Conversationally, I say I’d alter that door to open outwards, if I were you. Someone violent or threatening could easily block it. I realise this could be taken as a threat. I am thinking of violence.

Do I want her to find a bigger room? No. Not worth the trouble. I push myself back into the corner, huddling as small as possible.

I am upset. That email saying our friendship had run its course. She’s right, of course, and the finality is still upsetting, and the tragic circumstances leading to it.

I am not dealing with the threat to all of my income. I used to do benefits tribunals, I say, and I noticed people would pour out their woes to me and feel better afterwards, and I’d be able to get an idea of what they could say to indicate they were entitled and how I could get evidence to back that up. And I would not take their distress into myself, I felt I earthed it. I would listen and sympathise and care, and then when they went I would let go of it, be glad I was helping them, and move on to something else. But some seemed to tell me their woes and just get more and more angry and distressed, as if they were a bottomless pit. They would feel no better having dumped their misery on me, and it was harder to let go. I worry I am like that, here, now. I don’t know how I could deal with that.

I am highly intelligent, creative and articulate. I say my verse.

On the Marble Cliffs
my walls are six feet thick
and twenty yards high.
Day and night
the pitch steams over the fire
and the guards make sharp steel darts
One for everyone in the World.

I do not say the rest of it. “It’s a powerful image,” she says. I start bawling again. I am so lonely! I say. Ordinary rules of shame and humiliation do not apply here.

-How long have you been counselling?
-Since 2002, so seventeen years, she says.
-Do you get paid for this?
-Yes, she says.
-Are you doing any training at the moment?
-No, I’ve done several courses over the years but am resting from that for now.

-Same time next week?
-Yes, another swim in the icy lake of my misery.

I go to the supermarket which has no skimmed milk out, then cycle to Marsby where I get milk in Tesco. I am standing in front of the refrigerated cabinets, and as I have grown hot with the exercise take off my jacket, fold it up and stuff it in the panniers. I become aware of a woman with a pushchair who wants to get into the refrigerated cabinet, and I am blocking her way. I think, I would move if she asked me. Eventually she kneels down, opens the next door and reaches along for what she wanted.

Then I am ahead of her in the queue to pay. I can’t get the milk in the panniers without taking out the jacket, putting the milk in and stuffing the jacket in after. I do this before paying. I held her up again. I notice that this is mean and nasty. Horrible. I could have accommodated her so easily, it would have cost me nothing. I did not look her in the eye, just took my time with the jacket.

That was the moment it clicked into place. This part of myself is what I think of as my negative side. I don’t go here much. I don’t think I like it. I don’t know how it would be in a confrontation. I fear it a bit. I have felt a strong need to choose the positive.

And yet, there is so much energy there! I feel the energy, I need this energy. This is another part of myself that I need, conscious, and pulling in the same direction.

I stopped talking, once, saying I have run out of things I want to explain to you, ask me a question. I can’t remember if she did. I talked of coercive control and she indicated understanding. Having a human being listen to my stream of consciousness might be therapeutic enough, even if she contributes nothing more but her presence.