Bullying in Schools

The Church of England supports homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools shock! It would not admit that-

The church has just published “Valuing All God’s Children”, which says some lovely things. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said in the introduction, Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem. Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value. In the context, that means trans kids are accepted for who they are. The guidance, according to their press release, aims to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, they quote Stonewall’s research: 9% of trans pupils receive death threats at school. 46% of pupils hear transphobic language “frequently or often”. 84% of trans pupils have self-harmed, 45% have attempted suicide, and 68% of LGBT pupils report that school staff only “sometimes”, or never, challenge HBT language when they hear it.

In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.

Um. Not every child with gender diverse play is trans. The guidance is not clear on this. That should be general guidance, not guidance on HBT bullying. The language teachers use when they comment, praise or give instructions [should] avoid labels and assumptions
which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences. In our highly gendered society, everyone needs that protection, not just trans kids.

Tutus and tool belts, a memorable example, was picked out by the New York Times for its headline covering the matter. I hardly think the NYT would cover any other guidance by the Church of England to its schools, but trans stories, with the frisson of weirdness, get coverage.

The Daily Mail rushed to a transphobic nutcase, or “conservative Evangelical”. What would she say? These rules are unkind, unloving and lacking in compassion. We are all against bullying, but the church is using these guidelines to pursue an agenda that runs counter to the church’s teaching. We are getting to the point where if you are not careful, the slightest slip from the correct agenda in a Church of England school will get you punished. The anti-bullying agenda is aimed against people who step out of line — the anti-bullies are becoming the bullies. That is, she wants to stand up for children and adults who would enforce restrictive gender norms, and deny we are “made in the image of God”, even by mockery, taunts and bullying. She gets reported in the Daily Mail and NYT.

Grassroots Christians, including teachers and school staff, have HBT views on Christian Doctrine, and are self-righteous about that, banding together to protect their right to bigotry. The Church’s report confirms that when it reports those statistics on bullying, teacher non-intervention, and self-harm. Possibly the Mail is looking for the controversy, in an attempt to make the story interest its readers, but it dredged up another homophobic windbag who said she and others long for clear and courageous biblical leadership, that is, they want bishops and press-releases to be as openly homophobic as they are. That bigot was recently on the Archbishop’s Council- the bigotry is at the top and throughout the church.

It is important that the church hierarchy says nice things, though perhaps they only do so to continue to get funding from the State. They could do more, but have not: We have not offered lesson plans or materials for physical, social, health and economic education (PSHE) or relationships and sex education (RSE), but the appendices do provide practical examples and templates for schools to use as they instigate anti-bullying policies and strategies.

Meanwhile, little girls are discouraged from playing with superhero capes, in case they are thought to be unfeminine. It’s insane.

The report pdf.

overcome

What did Jesus mean, “I have overcome the World”? As a postmodernist, I would say whatever the reader needed the phrase to mean, in that moment- and if you had a blinding flash of Insight into it, perhaps he meant that. Certainly he means we can overcome: there is little point in the God-man, once, overcoming if his followers do not overcome too. He does not mean that he has what outsiders imagine is the Zen-like calm, as Jesus wept and became angry. I started my spiritual journey wanting not to experience difficult emotions, but they are unavoidable.

And for me, it means this. I had the sense of being lovable and acceptable, loved and accepted by God and by myself, and that is enough. I do not need the acceptance of others, which they can withhold to manipulate me, or to avoid their condemnation as it will not hurt me. If I accept myself, that is all the acceptance I need. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ- for the Spirit of Life in Christ has set us free.

The whole verse is this: I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! Just before he was crucified. It is not conquering in a worldly sense, but leaving worldly sense behind.

I seek integration. There are all these voices in me, or feelings, or even characters, different ideals of being and understandings, and I want them all to work for the same goal, to pull in the same direction. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. I say,

I am here

and I am, one being, present and aware. It feels like it is what I called the inner child. Then there are my counsellors: the rational self, knowing the sensible thing to do. Even the inner critic. “You will embarrass yourself”- embarrassment is extremely painful. There has to be one making the decisions, and it has to be the one with the power to decide.

 

Homes and Gardens

I went into the garden, but could not sit in my usual seat. I thought, how beautiful to be here, and wake up to this:

and how horrible. In October it might be bearable, in January it would frighten me. Not just the cold, but the possible lawlessness.

A man comes out to join me. The Quaker meeting is discerning about this use. It’s the only place in the town centre which is not patrolled by guards or wardens. The other side of the garden, a prostitute plied her trade, having laid a mattress behind the bush, and they only found out about it when she led two men in while a Quaker was there.

Now it is another bed-space. You can’t sleep in polythene bags, all the sweat condenses inside the bag and soaks you. Possibly that sock is hung out to dry, or wash in the rain. There’s a water bottle hidden in the bushes. You need access to water. Most people, he says, put cans in the waste bin.

He goes to put a large piece of cardboard in the recycling bin. It could be insulation for bedding. The council take the view that there are sufficient spaces in hostels so that no-one need be homeless, but the hostels are unpleasant, and you cannot enter under the influence of drink or drugs.

Hard exercise in Meeting again. Do I have an Inner Guide? I can discern different ego-states, but the part seeming closest to real me is the depressed and lacking in motivation part which says Don’ wanoo when the rational bit says what it would behove me to do. Someone quotes Isaac Pennington: Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

and, she said, it is not. That is a lovely ideal, and there are tensions. And- we- can just- try- to- follow- the- Spirit.

It seemed to me that she was going beyond her leading, trying to get some hope, and the slowness with which she squeezed the words out showed the Spirit’s resistance. But that could just be my pessimism, at this moment.

I had thought, how beautiful are all the people here! I love them! And, I can be guarded, or even acting a calm, collected front; I can be present in the moment, aware of my surroundings- can I be Open?

Intermittently, perhaps. But when she quotes Pennington, I start to weep, and go out to wipe the mascara smudges from under my eyes.

Outside, there are a group of four people, in torn dirty clothes, chatting and perhaps drinking on one of the benches. I tell a local Friend, and he says they know them.

Presence II

I can be present, and when I am it feels like I am conscious and the rest of the time I am asleep. That is the ubiquitous metaphor: Wake up! various groups shout at other groups, spiritual leaders at their willing audiences, people of strong political views from all parts of the spectrum at everyone else. And it really feels like that. I am asleep. This morning in the Quaker meeting I felt I was there, present, conscious, open to myself and the world, Continue reading

Tiredness, energy, depression, motivation

I cycle badly because I am ashamed. That is, I do not want to switch down a gear because I am ashamed of needing to; so my cadence, the number of times a minute I revolve the pedals, is too low. People with a faster cadence cycle more efficiently. I rebuke myself that it is not what I see that should decide what gear I am in, but how my leg muscles feel. Wind, but also temperature, affect me, I may be feeling tired, and I can have good days when it feels like I am flying, and less good days. I am pleased to cycle up that steep hill, and glad for the work it makes my legs do, and I might do it more easily in a lower gear. I drive myself hard, and it makes me less efficient.

I feel tired all the time. That is so common it has a doctors’ abbreviation, TATT, but also is fake-reassuring: if only I got enough sleep, I would not “feel tired”, yet somehow I always feel tired despite dozing in the afternoon. And generally if I do something in the morning, I just want to watch TV in the afternoon. Today is quite a good day, actually (strike through the words I habitually use to minimise such things): I did a post this morning, I have done a washing and a little cleaning, and am not writing again. And there are bad days when I just read on the computer in the morning, and watch TV later.

I am tired, and sometimes have energy, sometimes have none; or I am depressed, and sometimes have motivation. I need to go to buy food. Maybe later, not now. I know I need it, and have no motivation to deal with that. Or, yesterday I was in the caff with R and I realised that now I feel energised and motivated enough to go to the supermarket, but soon I will not and it will be too much effort. That’s useful. I do the minimum, usually, and I need to know when I can.

I don’t tend to bully myself with the word “lazy”. I choose “useless” or “no good”, words which do not even say how I might improve, instead. “Get on with it,” I tell myself. “Action,” said Ann, and that generally seemed to work for her, but I heard little joy in it. I like the idea of behavioural motivation, that I would praise myself for the little actual amount I had done, be happy with it, and so be motivated to more, but I have not got round to that.

Perhaps sometime I will not feel tired, or will have motivation. I hope it is a carrot rather than a stick which makes me feel that. Sticks have the opposite effect, in my experience. I wonder if a different way of conceptualising it would make me feel better. Bullying myself does not. I must no should (hang it) might “come to delight in every tiny fragment of good” or something. Or face reality – no, that’s judgmental too, that is saying I don’t, now.

I am a good person.
I do my best.
This is where I am

I am frightened

City of Culture 

We walked away from the city centre, through an underpass, and over waste ground to the River. This is still industrial rather than touristy, but there is a fenced-off path by the water. We go by Port Authority land, where huge stacks of pipes sit. Perhaps the docked ships are nothing special, but they are imposing. We can just see land the other side of the Humber. Up river, we see the Humber bridge. It is windy, sunny, bracing, beautiful.

I love the vigorous signs of my civilisation, working together. I am kept warm and well fed by it. I love the beauty of this industrial landscape, even the rust on the metal, showing it is rugged and well used.

There is a bridge over the canal, which is open to ships. We thought of walking back, but a man leant out of the office to say it would be passable in half an hour. So we sat and waited, and I worked out my idea of gender.

The binary only matters for reproduction. Some people have testicles, some people have wombs, but all gendered behaviour is natural for and should be permissible to both groups, and all who fit neither. I am poisoned and mutilated because I went along with the attempt to make me normal and explicable.  I should not have to bear the cost of being different. My gifts are valuable and I, following the desires of others, have wasted them in a pointless attempt to fit in.

So there.

We go past the marina to the old town. This is touristified former industrial. Here is the House of Kings and Queens exhibition, photos of gay people surviving persecution: we are at home!  From there we go to the Minster. The nave is closed off for extensive works. The sanctuary and choir are worth wandering through, and the stained glass on the South of the transept is worth paying attention to. Here we meet the artist Annabel McCourt.

After some halfwitted hate-preacher said he wanted to put all the queers behind an electric fence so we would die out, she has built one, and here it is. It is eight feet high and in a square about three yards across. It curves in at the top. She is making a film about it, and as I enthuse she offers to record me. I am delighted. I am on fire.

I say how I love this civilisation, its power and organisation, and I recognise order and deferred gratification is necessary; and I love the beauty of this church which preserves that order; yet the Church and her Fence are part of the same thing, and I am on the outside. I want to tear the fence down, I say angrily.

She’s smiling and nodding. I carry on repeating I want to tear the fence down,  decisively, matter-of-factly, plaintively, sexily.

Would I mind being filmed? I would be delighted. I curl into the foetal position in the centre of the Fence, trembling, then am pictured caressing the wire with my beautiful hands.

Lucy and I go off for lunch in a market hall. It’s cheap, £1 for a cup of tea, but beautiful. These people own their own businesses and care for the place. The we sit in the sun by the flowers and the fountains eating fruit.

In the evening I explain myself to Sam. Society seeking necessary order has mutilated and poisoned me, and I have seen the necessity of loving and forgiving it. At the time he protests society is wrong about so much and I exclaim, “I have forgiven the bastards!” Of course as with any spiritual lesson I have just seen the possibility, not taken it into my heart and made it real; but I will.

Sam says he exemplifies for anyone who can see it a better way. Even that might be possible.

I am amazed to think of the coincidences which have brought me this rich experience and life-changing lesson. Annabel is only filming for one day, and it was odd to meet Sam who offered to put me up in Hull. I would not have come otherwise. A day later, I feel that I have made a connection between the Order which enables our civilisation, and the Order which excludes queers. You can have one without the other, but people find that difficult sometimes. I am letting go of shoulds, and resentment. It is as it is.

Masks III

The greates reason for transition is that you can be your true self. Of course, you can never not be your true self, or anything other than You, but you will admit it, and be happy with it, and freed from that dreadful act of pretending to Be a Man. (Or a woman in the case of trans men- I never want to exclude anyone, but as gender is so important to us inclusive language is cumbersome. And the experience is analogous, but different.)

It might seem that the Man is a mask, a painful one like the Iron Mask which could not be removed, and when its rivets are finally broken there will be only freedom.

Yet the Real Self is elusive. It is important to maintain a professional attitude, including professional detachment. We have a job to do in whatever place of work, it is usually defined by others- unless you are an Artist, and extremely fortunate- and the part of you you express is that professional person. I wondered whether you might be your real self with a partner. Not before transition, in my experience, possibly as I approached it. But then even in those Spiritual Growth workshops where I am told to look into the eyes of another, and hold their gaze, I know the rules of the situation, I follow the rules, my face is calm, the time passes. Whether there is any real contact or communication I don’t know.

Though I judge myself harshly, and do not want to claim anything which may not be true.

Possibly we can be ourselves when we escape words. Words might trap us in our masks, words to explain ourselves to ourselves or to others, words to reach a common Understanding, words to define what we must do in this moment. Then again words are how we are with each other, and I found myself forming a connection even as I spoke to someone. I was aware of the subtext later. The words may have some part in that.

Can you be yourself by yourself? We are made real by others. Possibly when outside, where there is life and unpredictability. There is the moment of the task, which is using yourself to some end, and the moment of perception, which is receiving rather than being.

Or, we are not made real by others, we have been forced into masks through childhood with continuing reinforcement so that a human face is an impossibility, there are only masks.

I said,
I am this person
This individual
Myself, and no other
and felt I was looking out of my own eyes. It is a particular state. I can ease myself into it, then I go to sleep again.

You put your arm round me, and I reacted in an instant, I felt and knew what I felt, I could see myself and be seen without a mask. There was a moment when one aspect of The Real Me was visible to me, and possibly you- No! Not a habitual response! You put your arm round me and I relaxed into your shoulder, and felt intense misery. I hate my sexuality. I am ashamed of it. It merely humiliates me, it distances me from others rather than bringing me together with anyone, it is weakness, I do not know what to do with it. It would not be so hard for a woman- as vulnerable, as fearful, but not as ridiculous, or Impermissible. So I lay back on your shoulder, needing the contact, a few drops of water in the desert. And on stage a woman conducted a woman’s piece, Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia. She was professional, as an artist perhaps her true self, sufficiently in control of the orchestra. One of those white shirts in the audience is mine, but I can’t quite be certain which.

Queer Christianity

Liz Edsall says Christianity must be queer: it must learn from LGBT folk to be truly Christian. In Queer theory, queer is a verb, meaning to rupture. Queer breaks down false binaries between male and female, to make space for queer people. Christianity too, when working properly, ruptures false binaries, between human and divine, sacred and profane. The Revd. Liz, an Episcopal priest from New York, ignores the clobber passages. Why should we engage with Leviticus 20, which calls for our death by stoning? Who would cite such a passage imagining it had anything to do with life now, or was other than repulsive? Instead, she starts with the story of the Good Samaritan, the Outsider who did the humane, loving thing, the despised foreigner who saved a life when Jews would not. Christianity ruptures the boundary between self and other, as there must be no outsiders, no bad people, no Them.

Even St Paul wrote, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. I loved that verse, and yet there is Presbyterian and Episcopalian, even ECUSA and ACNA.

Queers find the identity which defines us, and tell the truth about it. We build community with others with the same identity. We live this path over and over, and get better at it. Liz Edsall learned the Christian path from following the Queer path, what she calls “Queer virtue”. The importance and effectiveness of both paths is rooted in their relation to Scandal. Both are powerless because they are scandalous, and that is the basis of their power. Christianity was never expected to be respectable. Mark calls Jesus “Mary’s son”, that is, the illegitimate child. It was a scandal for Jesus to touch the Unclean, defend adulterers or value people on the margins of society, such as the women who followed him. The cross was designed as a public shaming, destruction of the personality, and breaking of the body. The Resurrection overcomes death and the violent destruction of dignity. Jesus shook up convention and disrupted the understanding of power.

This disruption is good for the whole world. When she protests racism she does not just quote the Bible but gives it a meaning for us, now. The Christian Left needs a theological framework to make sense of the tradition and the world. Queer is a lens to give clarity to our vision of Christianity. Queer shows us how to be Christian: come out, find healthy pride. Christianity is actual Good News, allowing everyone to be their authentic selves, as opposed to conservative Christianity which would crush everyone into the same straitjacket.

People on the margins will not be nice but will gain their God-given dignity by opposing violence to their souls.

An audience member asked, how to queer liberal Christianity. When they oppose equal marriage, the conservatives portray themselves as counter-cultural and the liberals as infected by secularism. To revitalise our faith, Queer it; be honest about the dynamics in play in relationships, pay attention to the life and health of everyone, and make community.

Liberal Christians want nuance, and others want false simplicity. Everyone is entitled to respect.

The woman next to me, who recognised me from my talk last year, photographed my notes.

The men’s sharing circle

I went to the Grove, where there are thick logs to sit on and drums to play. The man leading the group says this group is for Men, but I say my Y chromosome is as good as anyone’s, and he ceases to object. I am in my purple dress, pretty sandals, wig and make-up; I am not trying to fit in.

There are not enough drums, so I pick up a washing up bowl and try hitting it with the flat of my fingers. Not loud enough. I use a dry twig, which makes a more satisfying sound, and drum off beat, or attempt a slower beat so that my strokes sometimes are just after the others’ beats, sometimes just before. It is a way into the silence with others, just listening to the beats of all and making my own. Sometimes I am investigating different noises the bowl can make, sometimes thinking about my strokes, sometimes just in the group activity, mixing beats. The Grove is beautiful.

I cannot fit into roles defined by others. They imprison, squeeze, constrict, suffocate me. I have to carve my own role, breaking rules, being inconsistent, selfish- at best spontaneous and creative, at worst like a toddler screaming all the louder because he has just received what he was crying for a moment ago. I have to make a lot of mistakes to get one thing right.

The group leader, a big man with a strong baritone voice begins to speak, and I could almost lose what he was saying in the incantatory repetition of the word Men… Men… Men… Their group is based on the ideas of Richard Rohr, and leads Rites of Passage workshops.

We split into two groups, nine in each, and share. Our two questions are, why we are here, and what is our darkness. The rules are to speak from the heart, and listen from the heart- not to spend time while others are speaking planning what I will say, but to pay attention to the other Men in the circle; then to speak spontaneously. This gets easier as I age: I have practice, and I care less about how I appear and more about truth. I have space to observe others. Of course what they said is confidential.  I want to honour my femininity as a male way of being, to flit between the Man and Woman in myself, and unite them, and to expand my expression, my understanding, and my options. I don’t say all this there, I say it now.

What is your darkness? My darkness is a tiger, pacing angrily in a too small cage. The image came to me then, spontaneously as I spoke it. In the right places, letting go of the inner censor can produce wisdom. My darkness, the parts of myself I cannot permit, are power and strength which I can use if only I can open that cage. The tiger seems frightening, and is untrained, but holding the cage shut takes effort I could use elsewhere.

I do not want to disrupt this Men’s group, but to contribute to it. I come not to mock but to affirm, to speak truth as best I can, to state positive, good, opportunity, reality rather than the Bad. Rohr preaches on Noah’s Ark- God invited everything in, clean and unclean, predator and prey, male and female, and locked it in together. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. And if I am here, listening and speaking, I am a threat and a promise to the group, just as I am in the Red Tent, just as every group member is.

The Red Tent

The Greenbelt women’s space is for all who identify as women. I asked permission to enter, and was welcomed, at least officially. For the opening session, they ask us what we want from women’s space. I say I want to explore the tension between the femininity I choose to express, and the womanhood of most people here.

The name “Red Tent” is not particularly welcoming for trans women. Of course it refers to menstruation; a woman asked if it were linked to the Red Hat, but that is separate, named from Jenny Joseph’s poem. The Red Tent creates a space for us to honor our blood cycles and womanhood journeys. Yet there is no objection to me here. That could be a legal thing, I cannot think it would be a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” to exclude me. Others wanted to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale, and time is set aside. And given that reproductive physiology is such a huge part of most people’s experience, it is reasonable to make it a defining matter for women’s space.

We hear that some men object to there being a space solely for women. Ribald catcalling ensues. We can tell them there is a Men’s Journey group at 11am on Saturday, and 11pm on Sunday. Later, I saw notices up about this in the Red Tent: a feminine taking care of others’ feelings, while asserting their rights.

I went off to eat, and as I ate a woman sidled up to me. “It was brave of you to speak like that,” she said. I don’t think it brave, myself. I was participating. There is no point in being there otherwise. She said she knew someone who transitioned, and “he” said (I am fairly clear she means AMAB) “he had transitioned with a small T not a capital T”. I get what she means. There is no good way of asking that question, but this sidling round it is horrible. I don’t answer, but don’t ask if that should make a difference to the Red Tent. It’s not as if we were getting undressed. We ate together, then went for a drink, and talked more. I insisted on buying my own. I would not accept a drink from her.

After that, I had to go back to the Red Tent. I would not be chased away. We are in small groups discussing, and a younger woman talks of children learning of sex through porn, and sex education being solely biological, mechanical, rather than about relationships, or even about pleasure given and received. An older woman talks of being a minister, and having her leadership subtly disrespected. Where a male minister would be “charming” she is read as “flirtatious”. She wondered about mentoring younger women in similar roles. Two black women talked of more content here to attract black people. Then all my group but me left, and I was left sitting in the middle of the floor, with everyone else round the sides. I felt a bit exposed, but fed back to the larger group what they had talked about. A minister in another group gave her take on the matter, as clearly I had not understood.

-Oh, and we talked about sex. (laughter).
-Did any group not talk about sex?

It’s evening, and getting colder, so I put on my tights, then walk out.