Graham Linehan

Graham Linehan will no longer be posting transphobic tweets, he claims. His Medium post explaining why summarises many of the transphobic and idiotic arguments put by the transphobes. So I will answer them.

Linehan objects to trans people having surgery. He quotes transphobe Kristina Harrison, saying children are being medicalised with inappropriate, irreversible treatments. However he also objects to trans people not having surgery: “current ideology dictates that you don’t need surgery or hormone treatments to be trans”. He repeats the old trope of “transsexuals” not benefiting from self-ID, and claims that because some trans women parrot these tropes he cannot be transphobic: “they are the wrong kind of trans to some”. Perhaps he has never heard of internalised misogyny.

Where to start? So who benefits from this? Who is feeding the furnace? Not transsexuals, many of whom are watching with horror as the rights they do have come under threat from such nebulous concepts as self ID, and are labelled ‘truscum’ for opposing them. No, there are, it seems to me, four groups that benefit from the toxicity around this topic: predatory men, con artists, misogynists and fetishists. It is in their interests and their interests alone, that none of us can have a grown-up conversation about this subject.

The few trans folk who agree with him are the good people, and all the trans people trying to live our lives are the bad people. The “transsexuals” are the people who have the surgery and hormones, from the threat of which he wants to protect children. Every trans person who disagrees with him must go into one of those four heads. Many of us are living full time, having had surgery or seeking it, and on hormones, but he still dismisses us as “misogynists and fetishists”. The “predatory men [and] con-artists” are wholly fictional. A man can barge into a woman’s loo without bothering to dress up, dressing up to disguise yourself shows premeditation so is an aggravation for the purposes of sentencing, and most cross-dressers cross-dress in private, so where are these people?

There are a few chaotic individuals who show signs of being trans who commit sexual offences; and Chris Langham is a comedy writer just like Graham Linehan, who was imprisoned for possession of child pornography. I judge Linehan on his transphobia, and do not imagine he is a paedophile, just because he shared that characteristic.

He wants to protect children from medicalisation, and cannot distinguish a referral or psychological treatment from hormones and surgery: “Why are children being sent down a medical pathway?” Well, because when a child is clear that they are transgender, or they want to present cross-gender, it is good for that to be assessed. Is there some underlying mental health problem? Can a psychiatrist discern whether the child will want to live transitioned as an adult?

A child psychiatrist told me that much of his work is treating the parents. Often, toxic family dynamics manifest in abnormal behaviour by a child; Linehan claims “whistleblowers” at the Tavistock clinic say homophobic parents try to transition gender non-conforming children. This is the system working: the children are referred to the clinic, which diagnoses that they are not trans.

Should children be medicalised? The hatred of such as Linehan, calling us fetishists, drives us to prove ourselves, and one of the ways we can show we are serious- even to Linehan, who might deign to call us “transsexual” if we never disagreed with him- is to seek hormones and surgery. 60% of those seeking treatment as adults want surgery.

There is no magical essence called “gender” that can be “born into the wrong body”, he says. I agree. Yet we exist, and the somewhat confused Linehan admits that “transsexuals” exist. We do not vanish in a puff of logic. Even though he can criticise some of the words we use to explain the inexplicable, we exhibit this behaviour. I no longer explain it by “gender identity”, myself, I believe that I transitioned because of not fitting gender stereotypes- sexism and patriarchy made me do it. I am gender critical too; and yet the thought of reverting revolts me.

He imagines that transition, or “gender ideology”, is fashionable. I must admit I also rather naively hoped a few more high profile people might join in and help make those like myself and the ‘gender critical’ women and trans people I support feel less isolated. That never happened. Has he not noticed The Times, The Spectator, The Daily Mail, and a host of smaller yappy dogs, all pumping out transphobia? The Guardian has printed some horrible articles. I could not understand such blindness, but having observed it in so many Trans-obsessives like Linehan, I think they like to imagine they are on the Left and so want affirmation from people on the Left, such as Jeremy Corbyn and most female Labour MPs, who are trans-affirming. Perhaps they experience cognitive dissonance- the rabid support of Murdoch, Koch and others shows their cause is a hard-right one, not Left-wing as they desperately assert.

Or it could be that in the heat of the conflict he is in a fight or flight situation. He only notices the threat. All the support they get does not seem to matter so much to them as the condemnation. That’s the lesson trans people can learn from them: don’t obsess over the condemnation, notice all the support we have. Thank God most people don’t care.

Being an ally

I feel an obligation to be an ally to other disadvantaged groups. I like to think that trans folk, and LGBT more generally, would see the value in that, as together we are stronger, and we know the experience of being an outsider so should wish to mitigate it for everyone. I like to think that any civilised human being would understand the value of diversity.

I hate to think of humanity as everyone for themself, a survival of the fittest struggle. It is a mark of increased civilisation and maturity to abhor the idea of an out-group, to have fellow-feeling with everyone, and indeed the whole biosphere. More co-operation is always a good. Everyone gains when everyone is included. “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me,” says Jesus.

In thinking about being an ally to Jews against antisemitism, I see from both sides- the ally to Jews, and the trans woman supported by allies. I am reading in order to learn more, and find beautiful things:

Dara Horn wrote in the NYT: Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds. The Jews’ continued distinctiveness, despite overwhelming pressure to become like everyone else, demonstrated their enormous effort to cultivate that freedom: devotion to law and story, deep literacy, and an absolute obsessiveness about transmitting those values between generations. The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possible, but only with responsibility — and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all.

So it is in my interests to be an ally. I find cosmopolitanism attractive, as an antidote to the blood and soil nationalism of Batten, Farage, Yaxley saying “I want my country back”. I am not a little Englander- Vaughan Williams is wonderful, but not a patch on Beethoven or even Bartok. Some peaks of non-European culture are mine, and I benefit from engaging with Hokusai or The Tale of Genji. Jews’ freedom to be Jews and my freedom to be trans are inseparable, but our freedom makes all more free: supporting minorities is enlightened self-image. Farage does not want to do anything for his countrymen, beyond giving them worthless myths. When he whips up hatred and fear in order to get votes, no-one gains.

As an ally I will see differently. I have read Augustine’s confessions, but remember little of them. For me Augustine is “Make me chaste, but not yet”, Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. A Jew might recall his treatment of Psalm 59- he says of the Jews “do not kill them”, but the context is of the enemies of God- allow them to live, as a dread reminder of God’s wrath.

The beauty of Amos Oz! I love his story about being the child throwing stones at soldiers in uniform with guns, though in his case British colonial troops. It does not mean he was a supporter of the Intifada, but a supporter of a two state solution. He wrote, Israel is a refugee camp, Palestine too. The conflict is a tragic clash between the right and the right … both nations don’t have another place to go. Crusade, Pogrom, Holocaust, exile, two thousand years of persecution and murder. So I am against anything which makes the continuing presence of Jews in Israel impractical, so against BDS.

I feel an obligation to be an ally to Jews because I am a member of the Labour Party, which faces a continuing stream of allegations about antisemitism. We desperately need a Labour government to reverse the damage done to the social fabric by the Tories, and Mr Corbyn’s pacifism might reduce some of the damage done by “defence” contractors and spending. And his admiration for JA Hobson, without condemnation of Hobson’s antisemitism, is wrong. He should apologise for it. He has greater prominence than he had in 2011 when he praised Hobson, so things come to light about him which went unnoticed before. And an obligation because I am British; we did damage as the colonial power with our divide and rule policies.

I do not think Quakers are antisemitic, but our engagement with disinvestment from the Occupied Territories means I feel an obligation to be clearer about the boundary between legitimate support of the Palestinian people, and antisemitism.

I have also read about “philo-Semitism”, which Jews may see as suspect. It is clearest in the extremes, with US Evangelicals supporting the State of Israel in order to bring forward the Rapture, from which I discern how being an ally in ones own interest may repel Jews. So: I don’t have a right to define the boundaries of the group, or groupish behaviour.

That being an ally involves Respect comes far more clearly to me thinking of antisemitism than of transphobia.

Here am I, being an ally. I love Richard Rohr; and yet find this sentence about Etty Hillesum rebarbative. In The Universal Christ chapter 6 he writes, although she wasn’t a Christian, she was highly spiritual in the best sense of that term. She was an utter realist, devoid of self-pity, and with an almost impossible freedom from need to blame, hate, or project her inner anxiety elsewhere. Without desiring to patronize her, I would identify Etty as a person Karl Rahner would’ve called an “anonymous Christian”. Rohr may fear that his audience think Christians uniquely enlightened by God, more than he needs to with me, but the implication that anyone should be surprised that a Jew was so wonderfully spiritual is offensive.

What can I do, as an ally? I can learn, and I can speak out- as I do here.

God, Spirituality, Atheism

Much as I would love either to confirm or deny that God exists, I cannot. I want a winsome Quakerism reaching out to theists and non-theists, and solidarity with both, saying “Look, how beautiful what we have is!” I want to know, express and affirm The Truth. These split me between affirming and denying God.

It seemed to me that I talked of God purely because of my history. I was brought up Episcopalian, so had a child’s belief in God, and a communitarian habit: I went to church because that was what my family and friends did. I recited the creed and sang hymns in a crowd, all together. I was ashamed when I did not speak up against expressed atheism, and sometimes I did. When my partner strongly asserted that Quakers should be Christian, and a Friend in my Meeting said she was non-theist, I felt a long, slow withdrawal of belief over about six months: against my own interests and inclination, I no longer believe in God. Then, the day after the Hoffman Process, when one is open and off-balance, I went into a church and felt forced to my knees by the holiness of the place.

I thought, it is a separation between my rational and emotional selves. Rationally, I assent to Professor Brian Cox’s idea: if “spirit” affected baryonic matter, it would have been detected by CERN. (A wicked and corrupt generation has asked for a sign- we cannot demand proofs of God). Emotionally, I am a primate, an animal in a social species, incapable of independence and needing relationship. But my “rational self” is emotional, and my “emotional self” is rational. And, can I use the word “God” if I wish to be truthful, not deluding Theists into imagining I believed what they believed?

So I wondered, was it a maturing understanding of God? From a literal belief in a God like that of the Sistine Chapel, in his pink shirt, I had a young-adult assertion of an idea of God, outside the Universe and its creator. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touchpaper, and advanced”, I wrote. God with us. Utterly distressed by life, I prayed “What the Fuck are you playing at?” So God meant different things at different times, in theology of knowing, positive assertions about God and unknowing, negative ones; in the prayer for a parking space when I was late and the wordless being together in worship.

Opposites: God the Creator and Sustainer of the World, dying on a cross.

God is, and God is not.

I want to make sense, to have a coherent understanding of Reality, and I cannot. And I want to communicate in words. There is the silent being with another, where we might share our Humanity, and that is only Now. So I want control, and safety, and attain it through understanding with words. In words, we may agree, saying the Creed together as we do each week, or coming to a joint understanding which I know we both hold and will hold. So I know I will be safe.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought forth praise.
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

Or, should I simply assert atheism? If I believe Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell, there is no more a God than a teapot orbiting Jupiter. When I use words in a rational orderly way- rather than in poetry or paradox- I am defenceless against them.

And I wonder if using the word God is cowardice (as I am always quick to judge my motives): I seek to blend in, not cause offence. I believe in God, I say, to groups where that will be winsome, and anyway I am not lying as the words have so many different meanings- even “belief” may mean trust or faith or relationship rather than an Enlightenment concept of a quasi-scientific theory. Perhaps it is just that I am hopelessly eirenic, wanting to smooth away conflict with everyone even when they are irreconcilable, like Bunyan’s Pliable.

Or I could take refuge in “Spirituality”: a series of activities, such as meditation, aware presence, Meeting for Worship including Meeting for Church Affairs, which more or less work. One may believe in the practice without believing in the theory, and we multiply words, the inner light, that of God, and for me as atheist the Unconscious.

Richard Rohr says complete wholeness is “the coincidence of opposites”. God is, and God is not. I decided I was opposites around the time of transition, male and female, but also Scots and English, loving countryside and conurbation, rational at home in statutory interpretation and relational with clients. Still I want certainty, and use words as a crutch, to weave a web of understanding around an uncertain world.

Sitting wordlessly in relationship with a God I cannot understand or manipulate, knowing I will die repeatedly as I have already died, can I cast away that crutch?

Self-respect through fighting

-How are you?

The previous time she asked that, I immediately felt sad, which I had not felt before, about something. The thought that someone might sympathise enabled me to feel my sadness, and I might just whine. I felt that would be a waste of time. This time when she asked it, I felt opaque– I did not know. You, as the observer, might affect what I felt. It is safe to feel sad when one might encounter sympathy, not necessarily when one won’t. So then knowing I am “sad” might be useless or counterproductive.

One of my strongest condemnations of myself is “self-indulgent”. I could be self-indulgent by saying all the things I have to feel sad about! But it might be more useful to discuss other things. It is lovely to sit outside and see birds having decided to meditate, get out of words and into perception. It is an addictive escape to sit and scroll through facebook, one might waste an hour making the occasional comment and hoping for likes. Or on the Guardian website the hundredth Brexit article probably won’t add anything to what I knew before, but I might comment and get likes again. It is more compulsive because the likes and upvotes are not a regular flow.

Sometimes I comment to get a precise understanding in words, and I think that’s a good thing. Things seem clearer.

There is an online world where I can hold my own through my intellect, and then I am confused about the man who comes onto the rationalist blog to argue that the Earth is flat, because the Bible says so. I don’t know why. He could be playing, being contrary, but it stops the words having a clear relation to reality, and that distresses me. When I use words, I want them to be true.

What I would like from you is to gain the idea, and seriously internalise it, that it is alright to be me.

I loved her, and the way she stood up to her husband, not once but repeatedly, though he seemed so much stronger. He wanted to humiliate and exploit her and she stopped him. She left him, won a good divorce settlement through the courts, and having complained of dressing from charity shops now dresses much better. Facing him down, and no longer being threatened by him, has done wonders for her, and so has giving talks to small fanatic groups who applaud and affirm her.

She seems to find the world a series of battles. Had she not stood up to it she would have been crushed. Jesus said, “I have overcome the world”. I abominate the thought of the world as battles. I do not want to win against anyone. I want to win over, I want to win with- a positive sum game achieved by co-operation- but I do not want to defeat anyone. Here am I, hiding away, without the motivation to get up sometimes.

Possibly it is luck. There is luck in Backgammon, but the better player generally wins over time, getting more points from the good luck as she sees the value in it. Possibly it’s all random.

I find myself getting into scrapes, and so I need to escape. There is a variation on Oware where the player who makes the first move can win without the other player making a single move. I worked it out, and wrote it down in my diary. It did not require great intellect, but it did require precision and concentration, as one mistake renders all subsequent work worthless. I escaped into that precise work, and after thought few people capable of it could also hold down a job. I can’t find it now. And a rule variation makes that impossible.

Helpful beliefs

What you believe may be helpful or harmful not so much as to whether it is true or not, but how it helps you to navigate the world. If natural selection is true, we form our beliefs in a way inherited from ancestors who formed beliefs which aided them to survive and reproduce. Possibly, false beliefs may profit those who believe them. For some jobs, objective assessment of truth matters in the job itself- doctor, forensic scientist, police officer- but they might be able to be truthful there, yet hold false beliefs which do not directly impact their work.

I place a high value on truth. Possibly, that inhibited my acting in my own interests. I wondered, “Am I transsexual?” I assessed that by my understanding of the concept of transsexual, what observers considered it entailed, but now believe it is in part socially constructed and the important matter is the desire to transition. How should I judge people who habitually deny the truth?

Yuval Noah Harari writes that fiction helps people. Peugeot as an entity, rather than as a group of people and physical assets, depends on belief. The “Good-will” of a company is based on belief in it as an entity. Religions help people trust strangers, and co-operate.

Traits come in a range of strengths. People are varied. So, just because your ancestors held their beliefs in a particular way, and had offspring, does not mean that you will. I have no children, and neither had my uncle, who only married late in life, or aunt, who never married, and died in her early forties. Some inherited trait may be holding us back. My sister has children.

People hold contradictory beliefs. A belief may be useful for some purposes, but not for others; so you might ignore it in contexts where it is harmful. For the creationist doctor, scientists are arrogant fools when they disprove Creationism, but believeable enough when they research medical treatment. Or at least his suspicions of scientists do not result in angry denunciation, when it relates to his job.

Creationism in Christians could draw the community together. The community values belief in this sibboleth, and because outsiders despise it they have an Out-group to define themselves against. They might collect arguments for their position, building community.

It affects their understanding of wider society. They observe that there is a large group of people whose profession is (they believe) to make illegitimate conclusions from sparse, contradictory evidence, but who assert those conclusions with a high degree of confidence and despise the Creationists. Believing that so many people would have a professional interest in asserting falsehood would decrease trust in wider society. But perhaps they would not work out the full implications, which would cause cognitive dissonance.

I have been wondering about this after a Creationist wrote, I have solar on my roof, and I drive an electric car. I take better care of the environment than most, and have a smaller carbon footprint than many… all it would take is one large volcano eruption to put us into a persistent Global winter. I can find no assertion of persistent global winter from volcanoes, though that was one result of the Chicxulub impact. The second largest eruption of the 20th century, in Mount Pinatubo, put gases and solids into the stratosphere only for three weeks, but sulfate aerosols persisted for 3-4 years. The troposphere generally cooled, but warmed in winter. So says NASA: I don’t know how trustworthy he finds them. They have to be careful of truth while engineering rockets, or the rockets would not work. In 1816 the Tambora eruption in Indonesia created a “Year without a Summer” in the US and Western Europe. That would have been observed, by Christians, so have a high degree of credibility, but the connection is made by scientists. That was the largest volcanic event for 1300 years.

His understanding of science is grievously affected by his creationism, which requires him to disbelieve scientific knowledge and distrust science as practised. He misunderstands about volcanoes. Yet he behaves morally, as if climate science were true.

It is clearly easier for a science denier in one field to be a denier in another. Creationists are more likely to be climate deniers.

Possibly I overvalue truth. Trust in climate science, and indeed the scientific account of the history of life on Earth and the development of the Universe, is part of my trust in wider society. It feels like seasickness when someone denies the clear truth, either a Creationist or a conspiracy theorist. I feel angry when someone I know asserts that Saggitarians have particular traits, Diana was assassinated, or the World Trade Center was demolished by explosives rather than planes. I feel I depend on being able to discern truth. I don’t, really. The world is a complex and confusing place, and weird things happen. Knowing the age of the Universe does not make it more controllable.

Passing, or masking?

Trans people are often ambivalent about passing. Just because someone is courteous, does not mean that you pass- it could mean that they were not transphobic! If you pass, you may be worried that someone will read you, your secret will be out and you will never be seen the same again. So we pay out vast amounts for facial feminisation, for surgeons to grind away our foreheads and shape our noses, or perhaps masculinisation. The thought of a surgical scar across the top of the head, even if covered by hair (mine wouldn’t be, but by a wig) was enough to put me off.

The term used by autistic people, masking, gives a different view of the matter. Why should we (or they) pretend to be normal, just so normal people are not discomposed? This account of an autistic breakdown is a good example:

To be autistic is to live in a world where everything is too loud, too smelly and too bright, populated by people who say one thing and get angry when you fail to realise that they really meant something different. At the same time, your brain is struggling to keep track of and process the stimuli constantly bombarding it. Your brain and body then shut down and go into overdrive at the same time. Adrenaline courses through your veins. You are swallowed in a cloud of panic and cannot help but scream and sometimes lash out at others or even yourself.

That’s a clear example of the social model of disability. The autistic person does not melt down because of autism, but because of the need to mask her or his condition. Ideally, before meltdown, the autistic person would be able to reduce the sensory overload in some way, perhaps by withdrawing. Either other people nearby would notice and take care of them, or they would notice that it was getting too much. It seems the shame and exhaustion afterwards are socially enforced rather than natural. You have tried to mask too long, and that is exhausting. So, of course you have a meltdown. It should be nothing to be ashamed of.

Masking. You are different, and you hide that, because you know mockery or worse will ensue when your difference is discovered.

Autistic people devote energy to masking, to pretending to be normal so as not to disconcert the neurotypicals, when stimming or other ways of relieving the pressure would enable them to use their gifts far more productively. That we NTs demand the “normal” behaviour rather than being kind and accepting of their weaknesses, so their gifts may shine, is our loss as well as theirs.

If only we could just be people! There is no need to pass, and you would not be judged according to how well you conform. I could enjoy looking striking, without fearing the second glance that read me as Trans therefore Bad. I could be myself more, not wanting to conform so much (not that I want to conform, particularly).

Masking makes you safe. Masking avoids perturbing the neurotypicals, or the cis-het folk. We will all want to mask sometimes, even if only to go places where we would be less safe when read. But masking is a burden we take on, for no-one’s benefit really, from the stultifying social pressure to conform. If people could reveal their diversity more easily, everyone would be happier.

Everyone moderates their behaviour, in order to fit in, to a greater or lesser degree. If only we were freed from that burden!

Aphantasia: having no mind’s eye

I have no mind’s eye. I can’t visualise things in memory or imagination.  This blog is about the experience of being trans, where some people find me viscerally disgusting and others are fomenting fear and anger against people like me. And still, it is alienating to hear people talk about how strange people like that (aphantasiac) are. It is a good thing that All in the Mind on Radio 4 should report on it, to help people understand others’ differences, but I now feel frustrated and sad- while also delighted to hear the voices of people who share this. I am here! Hominem scias!

On the programme someone commented It’s “only been known about for four years”. Well, I have known about it all my life. I have had to imagine what a mind’s eye is like, which I think is a greater leap of- the word is image-ination, but I can imagine, I assure you. I have told people about it, and they have not understood. I hate the word “Aphantasia”- I googled “phantasia meaning” and find the Greek word is usually translated “imagination”.

I have always avoided painting and drawing as much as possible, because I cannot imagine an image before committing it to paper. Instead I write verse: here I do not conjure up images, but sensuous experience. Does it do anything for you? My family as animals together, I wrote: you might create a picture, but for me it is a sense of togetherness unmediated by words, like a hug.

Unmediated by words-

I am good with words. Dysphasia is as frightening to me as blindness. On Radio 4 people like me at a conference reported my own experiences. One reads novels. Her friend said that was like a movie playing in his head, and she thought that sounded really cool, but for her it is just the words. Like an audiobook, the words play in my head. I don’t know if an audiobook conjures images for you, but for me it is just the sound of the words. Yet I know Dorothea Brooke and Elizabeth Bennett like real people- I have no idea what they look like, but know what they feel and desire. I had that conversation with my father as a child. He knew how many novels I read, but still could not understand how I could experience them without visualisation, and my impression now is of him finding this weird and sad.

So, letting words go, in meditation and immediate experience, is a way of touching emotion directly, inner experience as well as outer perception. I have done lots of guided visualisations too, and can use them to access the unconscious, just not in pictures.

On the radio, they said it is hard to come up with measurements so “we can only really ask people what their experience is”. Um. When I close my eyes, I see dark- or bright light shining through my eyelids. It makes sense to me that there might be gradations of this experience, or levels of skill in visualisation. Brain activity does not necessarily correlate to conscious experience. I do not know my unconscious experience, without hard work in excavation, or it just coming to mind.

And I have tried to visualise something: on the radio a CGI artist was asked to visualise a sphere, I tried a beach, the sea, the sky- two straightish lines, three colours. Like him I tried it for a week without success.

This experience blew my mind at the time, and is still intensely memorable. As it means so much to me, it might delude a researcher into thinking my usual experience different. I was driving home through the city, and I thought I could go — or I could go — . Not by Manchester Road or Featherstall Road, but-

I was thinking without words, and that was utterly strange to me. I only thought in words. I fantasised, planned, remembered in words. It wasn’t like seeing, really, but when I read of blind-sight, not seeing an image but knowing what is there, when someone has a healthy eye and optic nerve but brain damage causing blindness, it seemed it was like that. I know what’s there. I don’t see it. In dreams, I know what’s there- I don’t remember seeing anything, though I suppose I might. A nightmare must be more terrifying if like a movie. I know how the bookshelves are arranged in the living room. I know the colour of my Oware board, and its curve.

I have a good mind’s ear. Elgar could look at a score and hear an orchestra in his head. I can hear an orchestra playing a piece I know, and sight-sing a short, single-line phrase. I tried to imagine something I had not heard- a solo violin playing the National Anthem- and found this difficult, though having done it I can repeat the exercise. Like as if I have laid down a memory and can replay it.

On All in the Mind Claudia Hammond, who I am sure is more empathetic than that, played the presenter’s game of being the ordinary person, saying this is all a bit strange isn’t it. Her guest Catherine Loveday, a cognitive neuroscientist from Uni of Westminster, explained rather well:

For most of us, remembering is so wrapped up in the visual experience that it’s hard to imagine how someone can remember if they’re not visualising something but obviously people can, we know that congenitally blind people can still have memories, and if I think back to my holiday in Wales I can still have lots of other memories other than the visual thing, I can think about what I was smelling, what I was thinking about, what I was hearing and saying all of that comes back so we can still have memories without visual elements to them but about a third of people who have aphantasia also have significant memory problems.

And still it’s from the point of view of the Normal person. That Normal person may understand, though feel vaguely pitying. I was really excited to hear the programme trailed- at last! The experience of people like me! I still feel that delight, in hearing my fellow aphantasiacs, though I wish it did not need mediated through the perspective of the Normals- people who are Normal in that way, at least.

I would like a mind’s eye. It would be great to play a movie in my head. I am sure I would still retain all the ways of thinking, imagining and remembering that I have now. Possibly I have developed them because of the lack, but possibly I would have developed them anyway.

Hominem scias, I wrote, as if you would understand it, in order to alienate you if you don’t, so you may get something of the feeling I had listening. It is from the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society, Quemcumque miserum videris, hominem scias: whomsoever you see in distress, recognise in him (sic) a fellow man (sic). Educated people may do a bit of Latin, but I would not expect anyone to read the phrase if they did not know it, as I could not myself.

My country and its values

Was Great Britain ever my country? Like Nigel Farage, I was born in Britain to British parents, and educated here. I see he did not go to university. He says “I want my country back”, and now follows in the footsteps of bankrupt fascist Nicholas Griffin, former leader of the British National Party, by attempting to foment race hatred in Oldham. Griffin failed to get even one local councillor elected there.

In a speech in Pennsylvania, he said, Let me take you to a town called Oldham in the North of England where literally on one side of the street everybody is white and on the other side of the street everybody is black. The twain never actually meet, there is no assimilation. These, folks, are divided societies in which resentments build and grow.

He does not actually mean “black”, but “Asian”. The town has an Afro-Caribbean community, which is integrated as far as Griffin, Farage and their ilk allow. I met with them at my church. It has an Asian community, mostly in particular areas rather than one side of a street. I met with Asian-heritage people at work. I went to the homes of Black Asian people. I counted them as my friends. Farage is wrong. We met, ate together, played together.

Farage writes of the values that underpin British civil society, but gives little hint of what they are. A National identity based on our Judeo-Christian heritage. But some of my best friends are atheist. This seems to exclude: what about our Islamic, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu heritage? And, historically, Christians have been homophobic: what does he think of that?

Theresa May named British values when she was Home Secretary: regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities…

Everybody living in this country is equal and everybody is free to lead their lives as they see fit. We are free to practise any faith, follow any religious denomination, or ignore religion altogether.

You don’t only get the freedom to live how you choose to live. You have to respect other people’s rights to do so too. And you have to respect not just this fundamental principle but the institutions and laws that make it possible. Democracy. Equality. Freedom of speech. The rule of law. And respect for minorities.

We must always take care to distinguish between Islam – a major world religion followed peacefully by the overwhelming majority of one billion Muslims worldwide – and Islamist extremism. Islam is entirely compatible with British values and our national way of life, while Islamist extremism is not – and we must be uncompromising in our response to it.

Freedom and co-existence, and uncompromising opposition to the Enemy Within. At the same time, her Home Office was implementing its “Hostile Environment”- the actual words they used- to expel British citizens and people with a right to be here, because they had not retained particular paperwork. Records of National Insurance payments were not counted.

Not every country is democratic, and not every country allows people to “lead their lives as they see fit”. Mrs May is an ally to Saudi Arabia, promoting the arms sales which enable the Saudis to bomb Yemen into famine. So her British Values are for British People, not for foreigners, just as the British Empire was a tool of oppression and wealth extraction under a veneer of brotherhood in a “Commonwealth of Nations”. Hypocrisy has always been a British value; and while dangerous humour and satire is, thumbing our noses at those in power, that is international.

In contrast, here are Will Hutton’s Labour values: the recognition and celebration of international interdependence in the pursuit of justice, solidarity and fighting climate change; tolerance of the other and joy in diversity; commitment to equality and enfranchising workers.

I believe in human rights. The Conservatives want to restrict human rights law, by fixing it in 1948 rather than allowing it to be living and developing. They name certain rights granted which they oppose, such as the right of prisoners to vote, or to have some hope of release at some time in the future. They want the European Court of Human Rights no longer to bind UK law. They state in their policy pdf that they want more power to deport people.

When Mr Farage got his country back, after the Referendum, I felt I had lost mine. Now I feel it belongs to neither of us in that way: we cannot demand that it be inclusive, or hostile to Muslims and immigration generally. There are all sorts of people here, each with a voice in stating what their values are.

Trauma in Meeting

How can we accommodate deep hurt in Meeting? My Friend’s question on a facebook thread cuts to the heart of who we are and what we do, as Quakers, in our worship and in our communities.

The heart of who we are is our worship together. We sit together, opened up to God and turned towards the Light. “When two or three are gathered together I am with them.” Someone may be moved to speak, which we hope is the leading of the Spirit, but recognise may be partly from ego. It may immediately strike a chord with another worshipper, or they may need to work with it to find that of God in it. Vibrant conversation may go on after Meeting, teasing out the meaning of ministry and reconciling differing views.

We recognise that we are all growing in God. We are called, justified, glorified. We talk of spiritual growth, or spiritual journeys, though the lessons we learn on them are in a different order for each person. Some people drawn to us will be newly conscious of the journey, and some in our Meetings have a life-long experience of growing in God, living out the Love of God in their actions and relationships. We all have blind spots, hurts, scars, and moments of tiredness when we do what we might regret. We are all made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful and beautiful.

We appoint elders to take care of the Worship, to foster helpful vocal ministry and sometimes restrain unsuitable ministry, and to uphold the Meeting, though all present are responsible for the meeting.

And we get it wrong. Accepting what is involves sloughing off a great deal of expectation. I find myself going back to my old habits of expectation continually. Words fail: there is only the situation, and me in the situation, and when with words I seek to classify possibilities I only approximate them; and it seems they are two sides of the same coin, to be irritated by what is and to see a way of improving it, or at least something worth trying. Serenity, courage, wisdom is always a difficult balance. Love and forgiveness are continually necessary.

Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another.

Here we find sorrow and joy, difficulty and overcoming, creativity and achievement. If the encounter with God affects us, our petty ego self, self-concept, pretence, gets stripped away, and there is the full human being, God within shining through, Glorified.

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. We each need the love, support and help of the whole Meeting.


So what happens with trauma? We are all hurt, but someone comes with deep hurt to the Meeting, which we find hard to-

Everyone needs support from the meeting, and generally once we work out what support is needed we are happy to give it. A baby screaming is something else, but a baby chuntering and gurgling is beautiful in a meeting. We do not expect the child to be quiet and are delighted to support the parents and have them among us- if we have flowers on our table, how much lovelier are babies! We build ramps, and install hearing loops.

Sometimes it is more difficult. A Friend found it helped to centre down to knit. The movement of the hands quiets the mind. And others thought this was inappropriate for Meeting. And then there is a discomfort, which needs to be handled. If the Friend who objects to the knitting tolerates it, but is still irritated, they might, out of a belief in their own Spiritual Maturity, suppress the irritation and imagine they were in Acceptance; or they might live with their distress, not wanting to express it and show their own vulnerability and need; then they can hold it no longer, and burst out in anger. Or someone knits, and others whisper together about it.

I have had to leave the Meeting occasionally. I have needed a glass of water to calm a coughing fit. Or I have felt great distress and needed to pace it out in the garden. We are one context where quaking is seen as a sign of healthy humanity, rather than mental illness, but there are limits. My neighbour offered me her hand, and I clutched at it, then regained calm. We are dealing with deep matters. It is all blessing, but sometimes it does not immediately feel that way. There is unknowing, when something is taking time to work out rather than being quickly resolved.

Someone cries quietly in the Meeting. This can be disturbing. The human instinct is to give some consolation, but to expect that will stop the crying.

These are matters of Inclusion and diversity. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses need support so our strengths can flourish and serve.


With trauma, a little consolation will not assuage it. The hurt is too deep. Someone might bring pain and anger to Meeting, week after week. What can a Friend do?

Don’t try to bear another’s burdens on your own. It’s not possible unless you are a bodhisattva. Anger must be acceptable in Meeting, or the whole human being is not acceptable. We become trapped in our petty selves, trying to appear acceptable. I feel we need a space for anger and pain to be expressed and heard, not necessarily during worship.

Recognise and state your own needs. Speak them before they become unbearable. Ask the help of the traumatised person. This is a radical statement of Equality, of each person having responsibility for the meeting. There is a problem. How may we deal with it, together? Vulnerability is difficult- the petty-self cannot bear it.

Some may feel a need for rules, and boundaries. I don’t like them. I don’t believe in freeloaders. I became aware that I was on a spiritual path, and one of my first lessons in that awesome month was that all people are doing our best, in difficult circumstances. (If you disagree, talking about it would be our way of showing respect to each other’s insight, trust in the process, and belief we might come to a better understanding together.) Rules are a shortcut when we cannot do any better, a quick way of assigning blame. But we are human beings, in infinitely varied situations, which do not fit words, or rules, closely enough.

Breaking down the barriers

If I had no problems, I’d be miserable.

A green caterpillar had dropped onto my clothes, and was now going round and round my table. It would grasp the table with legs at its rear, and lift its front end, waving it about, trying to sense food. Then it would put its front end down, bend and bring its rear end a few millimetres forward, and lift its front again. This was perfectly rational behaviour, but ineffective as there are no leaves in that room. There’s an Iris Murdoch character who finds a snail somewhere, say Kings Cross, and takes it somewhere else, say Hyde Park, as it needs soil and vegetation.

-Will you take it outside?

In the Still Face experiment, a mother faces her baby, who cannot walk or talk, expressionless. The baby tries to interact, smiling, laughing, pointing to something so she will look as she looked a minute before, but she does not react. The baby quickly gets distressed. In one of the various personal growth email series I accumulate, the exercise was to watch the video and state three emotions the baby was feeling. I thought of perplexity, and one other, but could not think of a third. After about a minute, I thought of fear– and instantly felt huge distress. I interpret this as referring to my own unbearable fear. It is a memory, empathy derived from having had the exact same experience.

With Tina, the problem is to tell her about it, and then I find the barriers. I am talking of other things for fifteen minutes after thinking of it- instead I was enthusing about various things. A Quaker I met in London on Sunday, from California, told me how meditative she found life-drawing. I was excited to hear of a radio programme about people who have no mind’s eye, as I find it hard to explain to people and have not heard of others like me in that way before.

I was fascinated by Salvage magazine: I got a paper copy. An essay argued, pace Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, that demand for clarity is authoritarian: the idea that a piece of prose would have one meaning which could be discerned by every reader, rather than provoke different minds in different directions, is limiting.

After about a minute of the mother’s still face the baby is distressed, and the mother starts responding again.

-I am wondering what would happen if I didn’t explain to you why I’d started on that, just turned to another matter.

After a long pause I feel hurt, and the thought crossing my mind to stop me articulating my hurt is that I’m making it up. I feel the hurt comes from my early childhood, and the thought is that it could not possibly. As I tell Tina this I am forcing the words out, pausing between each. There is a brake in me, a barrier, against articulating these things.

Then the thought crossed my mind that I should be
facing- current- problems rather than- moping- or-

Then the thought that the internal blocks and barriers preventing me from moping and wallowing are for my own good. Yet the exercise of discerning what the baby was feeling during the Blank Face distressed me at that moment. So it is a current problem.

I have two habitual metaphors. One is seeing through my blind spots. How can I see when I don’t even realise there is a blind spot. And the other is breaking down a wall with my head. That’s what this feels like: I have internal blocks and barriers to seeing certain things or seeing them in a particular way and having discerned them I want to break them down.


(I am talking to myself, of course.)

It seems to me that if I can overcome the block I can allow and assuage the distress. Unarticulated distress congeals and haunts me. My attention may heal it- fifty years later.

It felt wonderful to be able to say this to another person. Typing it, even to blog it to anyone who might read it, is comparatively easy. I celebrate that I can see the blocks, see the truth behind them, and articulate it to another. I am making progress. And then I am tired. It is hard work.

I have been here before, of course, considering the blocks, considering the distress of the baby, but I am clearer now.

-Did you feel loved as a child?
I don’t know what I felt as a child
-When did you start feeling?

At University I noticed that I did not know what I was feeling, and around the age of thirty I could articulate strong feelings, sometimes. Strong feelings got through. In childhood I don’t remember noticing feelings, unless extremely strong.

Strange that “unaffected” has the double meaning of not showing emotion, and not pretending it. Why should “simple and unaffected” be a compliment?

The caterpillar had climbed onto my phone, and I took it outside, trying it on various leaves to see if it liked them. I could not hold the phone still relative to the leaf, so the movement of the leaf might repel the caterpillar- so I thought of holding the leaf against the phone, and the caterpillar crawled onto it. This could have been my act of kindness, or just doing the thing in order to see if it were possible, out of interest. The caterpillar could have been a pest, even an invasive one. I want to say I was kind, and I have blocks against that type of claim too.

I was kind. That pleases me.

There. I said it.