The “Cotton Ceiling”

Of a thousand people, only a very few might want to have sex with me. For many of them, they would feel an obligation to be faithful to a partner. For many more, I would be the wrong age. Even if they would not want sex with a trans woman, or not with a post-operative trans woman, that might not be the main reason. People have varying strengths of sexual response, but I can imagine that most would not be that into me. You need to feel it to want it.

Because most people in any group would not want sex with me, I tend to feel that need not be said. I can accept it that people simply like my company without wanting more; I do not find it an insult that they do not want Heughmagandie. I don’t want sex with them, either.

This is why lesbians saying they would never have sex with a trans woman, or a pre-operative trans woman, is transphobic. It need not be said. When I meet someone I expect they will not want sex with me. If they feel the need to say so, it feels vaguely insulting, either assuming that I do not accept their non-interest, or implying I am uniquely repulsive: it’s not just that they don’t want sex, but sex with me would be impossible or unimaginable. “I would never have sex with a transwoman because I am a lesbian” is saying I am a man, or at least not a woman, and I find the statement that I am in no way a woman insulting. I am culturally a woman. That I am generally treated as a woman makes my life bearable. There is no need to say it. It is transphobic.

Possibly, a trans woman has come on to that lesbian, and not taken no for an answer. That is an unpleasant experience. I sympathise with the lesbian in those circumstances. The trans woman has no right to behave like that. But imagining that other trans women will behave in the same way because one has is transphobic. We are not all the same.

Many lesbians have had relationships with trans women. That does not make them not lesbian.

Transphobia can also make someone imagine that she will never fancy a trans woman. Generalised trans phobia might mean others never check us out, or try to get to know us.

The origin of the term was the cotton of women’s underwear, that we would never get inside. I find it an unpleasant term; I am demisexual gynaeromantic (ie not that interested physically but wanting heart-connection with a female partner) so the term seems a bit coarse to me. But it was one seminar by Planned Parenthood, with seven attendees. Here is a history of the term, and the transphobic overreaction. If you google “cotton ceiling” you find lots of TERF stuff, a lot of which is quoted on that link. It’s pretty horrible. We never meant any harm. We never did any harm.

Dignity

I have no sense of dignity. Possibly it would be an advantage, but if it just cuts me off from stuff I like, why bother with it? I draw myself to my full height, say “How dare you?” and stalk off. But then, me going was what they wanted, and they humiliated me with that purpose in mind. (No-one reading this should imagine I mean a particular incident- I am playing with ideas, and they may have a glancing reference to something which has happened, or not. It’s a way you might consider an incident, without being the whole truth of it.)

It might be nice to say “How dare you?” and watch the other back down, but that is not a trick I have mastered. The ability to do that might be part of Privilege.

I have always seen myself as ridiculous. That might be Privilege too: the ability to Be Yourself, without apologising for it, or surprising people and seeing that as your own fault. “And what relationship are you to the account holder?” asked the woman on the helpline. I explained that I am trans, and my voice can sound masculine on the phone. “Oh, that’s alright,” she said, without apologising, as if I were apologising to her.

They might humiliate me again in order to force me out. Or they might enjoy a punch-bag to humiliate repeatedly. (Again, this is not paranoid speculation about particular people, but imagining how unknown people might just be.)

Dignity is an expression of power, and I do not experience myself as powerful. I could go all spiritual, and say Power and Dignity are ego-manifestations; the Spiritual person does not bother about such things. However, that is not why I do not bother about such things. I think of the dignity of Christ on the cross- after all that repeated pain and humiliation, designed to break him, he speaks in Love to the man beside him; the inability to be humiliated is a spiritual gift-

perhaps I have dignity, but the problem with that kind of dignity is that the ego could not perceive it. And I would like ego-dignity.  I can imagine it being advantageous.

I have started reading Richard Rohr’s meditations, available here. There is the true self and the false self, and the false self appears rational and sensible and the true self below it all understands, except she cannot always put it into words. The false self is programmed by society to know what society wants, the true self is the soul or the organismic self. I wondered if it were actually an evolutionary backwards-step: humans live in words, but these true-selves are the vestiges of the brain before language. Or language is bolted on, and because of language we can live more complex lives, but sometimes it is good to return to simplicity. If I die to self, I might find natural dignity, but the ego would not recognise it; or the ego could see it by painstaking analysis later. (My ego is learning to value that unconscious process.)

I only know my own value when I reject the ways society values me.

Or, I could lack dignity, but that would simply be part of this ongoing relationship developing. Or I could observe it as a skill, and practise it.

The wisdom to know the difference

I have the bloody-mindedness to keep fighting the things I cannot change
The weakness to run from the things I just might change
And the blindness not to see the nature of either.

When to fight, or work, and when to back off. That is important, difficult wisdom. Now, I begin to think that the difficulty is not being able to back off, rather than not being able to stick at it: I stick at things really hard, because I am passionate, but do not value or protect myself, so that when I am forced to stop I have been hurt, so find it difficult to force myself back, or wheedle myself back, or trust to go back freely. I can never trust myself not to hurt myself. I am not safe, because of myself.

In counselling I find it hard to speak, but I can type a note for myself, then read out the note.

I am seeking to escape the restrictions transition places on me. Then I rethought this:
I place on me.

No, restrictions I sort of accept, not challenging, but might challenge.
Might find out how to challenge
Am challenging as best I know
Self-expression as best I know, now, may improve. Transition, the “feminine role”, does restrict me; that I have not overcome all the restrictions yet does not mean I am not trying my best to, and getting better at it.

I think of Her. She is worth my time, my attention and my work. I am not going to stop yet. I would like everything stated clearly between us, but then I might play games with it, or use it in bargaining;

I feel I am guessing what you want and if I guess right and give it I will have it too.
Except it must feel right for you or you will withdraw.
Or if any pathway goes wrong you will not go there again- we tried that and it didn’t work.
Treat you as a puzzle- well, I am thinking, now, after. At the time I respond, and so often apparently wrongly.

That led to the insight. As well as retreating from the world, just staying in my living room, watching telly

I do difficult things.
Difficulty is not a deterrent.
If I see a way forward I take it.

And yet in so many cases

I don’t do things I have found not profitable. “We tried that once and it didn’t work.”

In some of my battles I have been badly hurt and not gone back. Yet in others I have kept fighting despite being hurt.
Have been frustrated and seen no way forward and not gone back, the effort of understanding and seeing becomes too painful.
Some problems I just run from.
WHAT do I run from, but should not? Or stick with, for no useful purpose?
Go back? Others do not find hard and I still find it hard to admit that looking for those jobs is too much for me, it ought not to be, well maybe it would not be if I could take care of myself better
Give up, find something else to do-

So I came to

The bloody-mindedness to keep fighting the things I cannot change
The weakness to run from the things I just might change
And the blindness not to see the nature of either.

That got seven likes on facebook, more for the elegance of expression than the thought perhaps.

-I see you celebrate your passion in lots of ways, says Tina. That reassured me. I do. I had a wonderful time at Yearly Meeting Gathering, and I bestowed my Light on many people.

And- I feel I do not know which problems to stick at, which to accept, because I am using my rational, ought-mind, the common cultural judgment. I know what I need to work on, and if I trust myself I might even know that consciously.

Passion. Charisma. Ardour.

I asked, she answered. I paused, stiffened, closed my eyes. I felt intense sadness and frustration. Yes, she said, I felt that very strongly from you. She is a sensitive, empathetic person. I paused to analyse how we might have communicated that- through body language, facial expression and mirror neurons, or through a spiritual link.

I have this wonderfully precise and sensitive emotional instrument I am only just learning to use and value. I feel deeply, and that is beautiful.

At the discussion group on death, a man said how much he loved Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard. I leaned over and quoted,

I THAT in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie:—
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Looking directly into his eyes, speaking strongly with controlled passion. After, he said he would love to hear me recite poetry.

I met Lucy Aphramor, a poet. She is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at the Quaker Meeting House with her show for two weeks. She quoted some of it, powerfully affirming, to me, and I wondered if it were Mary Oliver. Later in the bar she recited some of her lesbian erotica, and I felt her words and her voice caress my nerve endings, bringing them to life, tingling my spine. I loved our communication. I love her assonance rhyme and alliteration, binding the words together, making them rich. In verse, I might take more care of the sounds of words.

Wonderful woman- when she is in a group, I sometimes notice it is not a circle of people talking, but her, shining, and an audience. She has charisma, and I have charisma, I thought. Or, I like to show off. I can hold an audience too. Then I thought, not charisma, but ardour: I feel strongly, and can communicate that, because my strong feeling is beautiful. We are drawn together in depth of feeling. When I speak from the heart I speak directly to people’s hearts.

I have passion, charisma, ardour, and a great desire to express them and have them valued, and a lack of experience expressing them. I hide away to hide these characteristics. I have been hurt when I have been too passionate, when it has been “inappropriate” or against some rules I don’t understand so just suppress them all the time. It’s not English.

I have these qualities. They are gift, and not curse. Recognising that is a great step forward- I could not always see them as merely part of my wrongness and oddness, I naturally heal from such wounds. Now I need to practise their use. So my hiding away blesses me, reducing the amount of challenge I face.

Whoever you are
However much you wish your body different
I count you in
when I ask which of us has value
Through all the stages of the self you would create your worth holds fast
Your worth is
stable
unchanging
innate

The public trans woman

I stood and spoke to a thousand people. I had seen you, entering late and walking deliberately round the back of the opposite balcony: you always catch my eye. I shared the ardour of my heart, for my ardour is strong and beautiful, and (wonderful as these people are) my words could add to their life and health. I am here. I have things to say. Listen to me. I delight in what I said, and how I said it, and at the same time I want the good of the whole group. I want to serve. Perhaps I cannot judge: I can only be myself, show myself, and that will have the effect it will. What I said was loving and generous, for I am loving and generous.

I am very pleased by this paragraph, too. There is the tincture of self-doubt and criticism in it, but I feel it is appreciative and truthful not a self-aggrandising over-reaction.

I sat, and was strongly moved by the experience. The woman next to me offered her hand, which I held as I recovered, then returned to her with thanks.

In the afternoon, I was sitting outside the Arts Centre with new friends when a woman came up to me. A relative of hers had transitioned, and she wanted to know how to treat her, and how to think about her. She asked if I was willing to talk, and I was, because I want to help her and her relative. And there are problems with this. I am not at all the representative trans woman who will tell you how all trans women think: the understanding of trans you get from me will get in the way unless you are willing to discard immediately any part of it which conflicts with how her unique individuality interacts with her unique experience of transgender. Possibly it is better to hear from a stranger than your relative the basics of pronoun use and dead-naming, it is wearing to have to keep explaining that, but even there her relative and I may disagree.

Even here, in the blessed space of Yearly Meeting Gathering, among Friends, where deep connection is possible in a moment’s meeting, there is something slightly off in her approaching me like this. She asked. I consented. I want to help. But it is my Life, burden, perplexity, truth, not a public property for others to learn of a social phenomenon, even though I chose to stand and talk about it in front of a thousand people.

In the evening was the Ceilidh, and I sat near a doctor. She told me how she had gone with a trans man to educate a group of doctors about transition, how ignorant they had been, and how amazed: they thought the man was a male actor, they had not known a trans man could pass so well. It is a way of starting a conversation. I had sat at her table. It is her interest, she is an ally, she had something valuable to share; and it is my life. I told her I do not think transition is the final answer, and certainly not the operations which sometimes go with it- they are part of the doctors’ desire to create a Solution, clear definite and apparently Scientific, and laypeople’s demand of that from doctors. That ended our conversation. Because it is her professional interest, and my life, and it does not respect me for you to bring up my most sensitive part, even when I have talked about it publicly, however strong your goodwill towards me. She may not have noticed her presumption, only my curtness.

This is the North-East chapel of Coventry Cathedral. The inscription on the plinth says, “I am among you as one that serves”. I love the light in here, the crown of thorns which could tear flesh, and the way the congregation is a circle round the altar, one body of equals.

Not Cis; not a TERF

My friend loathes the word “cis”. She told me of going to University, where the young ladies had a curfew of 11pm imposed on them, and had to wear a dress for the evening meal on Sundays. Male guests were not permitted after 7pm. She rebelled.

She was amazed and repelled by how compliant the others were. This was in the ‘Seventies, not the ‘Forties. I love her strength and determination. She managed to get round some of the rules, and was part of the pressure for their relaxation. There was no curfew when I went to Uni in the ‘Eighties, though one lad asked when “Lights Out” was, and we got the impression he would have liked one.

Back in the Eighties, feminists talked of “Consciousness raising”. If you could explain to women how oppressed they were by patriarchy, they would become feminists, fighting it. No-one talks of that now. No amount of consciousness raising will drive the soft pink floral sweater from the nation’s wardrobes. Some women see the oppression and fight it, some women love femininity and work with it. I don’t know whether James Damore, formerly of Google, is right that women are generally more co-operative, interested in people rather than things, or whether that is from socialisation or predisposition, but some women are.

Why should she be called “cis”? She rejects the feminine gender stereotype, because she does not fit it. She is a radical feminist: women share reproductive organs, and femininity is merely cultural, merely oppressive. She is a woman, but that does not make her a particular gender, and her gendered expression sometimes fits and sometimes fights the gender stereotype.

I wish she would meet me half way. I would love co-operation between her gender non-conformity and my own, because the gender stereotype, the Patriarchy, oppresses both equally and because I am more interested in people than things, and in co-operation. She called Trans a conservative movement. Tell that to the conservatives, who hate us! I suppose her argument is that we go along with the idea that my co-operativeness, etc, makes me feminine so I should express myself as female. Feminine = Female is a conservative idea. However, I have sought out the way society permits me to be my extremely feminine self- it is transition, which allows me to escape the masculine expectations forced on me. I love floral blouses and dresses, so want women to wear men’s shirts, jackets and ties if they wish; and if they wear dresses I do not imagine that says anything about their levels of co-operativeness or interest in people.

So, she is not Cis, because she does not conform to gender. Not only trans people reject the gender enforced on them. I could argue that it makes a useful shorthand to distinguish those who call ourselves trans or non-binary from everyone else, but she is not having that. She even rejects the idea that we might be particularly distant from the stereotypes, thinking gender oppresses everyone, apart from a few “alpha” males.

I would not presume to state her argument against the word TERF, but she is not hostile she says to trans women, only supportive of the rights of- she would say “biological women”. Calling us “women” sticks in her craw, but it is our way in to freedom.

The lesson I draw from this is that it is a disaster for both trans folk and her kind of feminist that we should be ranged against each other; that the oppression we suffer from Patriarchy, or whatever, is very similar, as is our interest in attacking that oppression. I feel in some cases her side’s objection to us is rooted in revulsion from femininity, falsely enforced on them. Femininity freely chosen is beautiful.

Death threat

I make a strong impression on people, but rarely make them want to kill me.

I hate how drivers are desperate to pass bicycles. Here, there is almost no flat land, and the roundabout is at the bottom of a dip. I want to build momentum going down, to help me go up the other side, and so take the roundabout at a fair clip. It is reasonably safe, I am not taking huge risks: I can see all around, and can brake hard if needed.

However this driver is a selfish, thoughtless man: he passed me as I was accelerating, and slowed down for the roundabout. I had to slow down behind him. When he stopped at the roundabout, I whizzed past him on the left, shouting something about him not passing me then slowing down.

Going up hill, I noticed that he had come to a stop, behind a car turning right. He had pulled over to the left, but I could pass him again and shouted that passing me had done him no good.

When he passed me again, he was really angry. He stopped, I stopped. He was shouting incoherently, I shouted at him that he should drive more carefully. When I shout, my voice sounds particularly masculine. Or I’ll kill you, you fxxking pxxf, he shouted, and started to get out of the car. I pedalled on, too slowly for my liking as I was going up hill. He was stopped well out from the side of the road, and I heard another driver honk their horn at him, which must have further irked the poor man. He came past me again, shouting You need killing. “Pxxf”? I’m gynephile! His gaydar is not very good…

I was scared when I got to the Quaker meeting. I wanted to put my bicycle in the garden so that there was no chance he see it, even though the chance he would pass and notice it was pretty small. Quakers were mostly sympathetic. One said he was a very sick man, and I should not “let him live rent free in my head”. Given her professional career, she should know better, though she is quite well off and not queer herself. I hesitate to talk about her privilege, but either she can understand that I feel frightened of passers-by as a default state, or she can’t. This was really horrible, and it was in my mind for much of the meeting. My anger emerged in thoughts of him starting a fight and me finishing it. The thought that came to me at the end of Meeting was that, for all his malice, and his greater power being in a car, because of the way society is he had managed to do me no harm at all.

Transracialism

Can someone cross between races as we express other genders? Transracialism is not a good analogy for transgender, either for those seeking to support transracialism or oppose transgender.

When considering transition, one of the ways I argued myself out of it was to imagine what Afro-Caribbean friends would think if I blacked up. Blacking up for entertainment is seen as repulsive and racist, but transition is not blacking up: Drag queen expression is more like it. We do not perform a caricature to mock, we seek to live our lives normally. Now women perform imitating drag queens, and some say they are appropriating gay culture, and should not.

White people use black people’s art forms- white rappers, white jazz players, without pretending to be black. Could we not dress in brighter, softer fabrics without claiming to be women? No- playing the piano is only part of my being, my nature, and would be so even if I did it as a full time job. Improvising in words or music, the free flow rather than planning and executing the plan- or planning in advance a musical edifice, an epic poem, a symphony- is human, not of one race. No. I could not have softened and presented as a soft male. Others could, perhaps, I could not. I was too terrified of it. As a man I had to be Manly. Only as Clare could I free my soft self.

In one way, transracialism may be more justified. People who appear white may have black ancestry. In Black and British: a forgotten history David Olusoga met apparently white people who had black ancestors, who intermarried rather than being part of a black community. Those people should be allowed to celebrate their heritage. And they do not have black skin in a white-dominated world.

Why would you pretend to be black? When I googled “Rachel Dolezal” I found she had changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. She taught African Studies, and tried to advance her career through the NAACP and the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission. She told lies, claiming to be the victim of hate crimes which did not happen, using the title “Professor” without being entitled, copying JMW Turner’s paintings without acknowledgment. Her lies were designed to produce career advantage and social capital. She is a fraudster. It is therefore not clear that her claim to be black is based on her internal sense of her identity, rather than a feeling that a black person might have an advantage in the career path she chose.

As a teacher, she would be a role model for black students. She has no right to that. I do not claim to be a role-model for girls. That is one of the attacks on us, that we prescribe an ideal femininity, we enact the patriarchal oppression that this is the way to be a woman, but I do not imagine my way of being is ideal for anyone but myself, or deny the good of “manly” virtue in women, or assert that they should not exemplify any virtue seen as unfeminine. I speak for no-one. My identity as a woman is cultural not biological, and so I exemplify the freedom to alter cultural identity.

The NAACP has white officials, black people have white friends, and it is not clear that any Caucasian self-identifies as Black as a matter of identity rather than a way of fraudulently seeking advantage. The analogy of Nkechi Diallo breaks down, and the analogy of some transracialism for other motives is worthless, as such transracialism does not exist.

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Trans discrimination II

Why should discrimination against trans folk be unlawful? Because it stops us from thriving, and so stops us using our gifts to the benefit of all. People are weird. Our weirdness and difference is a source of strength. Accepting the idiosyncrasies of each frees everyone.

What can be weighed against that? A feather against a gold brick. Some people are transphobic. They find us repulsive. They want to say that, they want a nice, predictable world where everyone, but especially some groups such as fat people, queers, and immigrants are restricted, controlled into conformity by oppressive speech, and given a ghastly time.

Don’t compare your sin to my skin said Black evangelicals, who opposed gay liberation. There are so many overlapping oppressions. Trans folk are divided against ourselves, as if the bigots would tolerate a particular group of trans, if the others did not spoil it for us. Fighting ones own oppression is such a grievous task; and not everyone has the personality to sympathise with others, even when their problems are so similar. Do you think he can hide his nature? Jimmy McGovern’s hero priest in Broken asks the Afro-Caribbean man who despises his sister’s gay neighbour. We can, but it costs so much! None of us can escape who we are.

I demand that level of sympathy. All are broken, all are oppressed, all must work for the freedom of all; and when you realise that, you can be free.

It is not a free speech issue. You’re a man, really has little value as speech. Why would anyone want to be rude to me? To exercise power over me, to oppress me. A pointless, thoughtless cruelty for the sake of it. What do they gain? A fraudulent sense of their own correctness, understanding and control- but they don’t understand or control anything, not really.

The freedom that matters is the freedom to live your life as you choose. Freedom of speech has value where it allows people to work out new ways of living, but not when it restricts us. I harm no-one by expressing my femininity. I should not be deterred from it by the fear of not getting a job, or housing, or services. There is no value in being able to say to another, Ew! I disapprove of you!– unless that person is doing something which clearly harms someone else.

I wonder how this relates to Nietzsche’s conception of the strong and the weak. I feel, expressing myself female, particularly weak and vulnerable, yet feel that is closer to his Hero than to his resenting lesser men, who conform to a conventionality defined by others. It is not the same- I do what I must, what I may, not what I Will. I seek a world where none are weak, where no-one need to conform to anything but their true nature.

Cycling while trans

After a wonderful day, I got to the station at 12.15. It is lovely to cycle in a light summer dress, but not at night in the rain, so I put on my waterproof jacket. That’s quite hot, and I don’t want my wig rained on, so I put it in my handbag. What could go wrong?

I expect to take about forty minutes at night. It is lovely with the roads so quiet, even against the wind, even after such a storm that there is a lot of standing water on the road. I am almost home when there is a barrier across the road, with a police car behind it, and a diversion sign. Oh dear. That’s a long way round, I think. I asked the police officer, politely, if I could get through as it was such a long way. No: the storm has brought down power cables, which are lying right across the road. They have called for someone to come and remove them, but don’t know when they will come. I could wait if I want, but it could be half an hour. I go down the side road.

When I get to the dual carriageway I see there is no ramp down leading westward. I had forgotten. As it is quiet, I go down the footpath beside the exit ramp. However when I get to the bottom I see there is a barrier across this road too, again with a man in a van to prevent anyone sneaking through.

-Do you mind if I cycle through? It’s a long way round, I am not sure of the way through Zhuzhkov and the road through Marsby is blocked.
-Yeah, go on, mate, he says, just mind out when the lorries are reversing, yeah?
-I’m female, I say, but he makes no response to that.

At one point I am cycling over hot tarmac, enjoying its rich aroma. At another I pull into the side to let a lorry reverse past. Again it is lovely in the quiet, with almost no traffic going the other way. The wind is against me but not too much. There is little drizzle. I slog up the hill from the roundabout and get home in about twice the time I thought it would take.

The more people there are about, the more likely it is that someone will read me and object to me, but most people don’t mind. This bloke, seeing my male pattern baldness and hearing my voice, nevertheless behaved reasonably. I have been thinking about pride. What did I do- how would I conceptualise it? I begged to be allowed through– no, I asked, with my tone of voice indicating the only reasonable course would be allowing me through. Or, pride in appearance- practicality is more important. The dress was comfortable, in the day-time. I met with setbacks and dealt with them.