Spirit of Life

Am I safe? Yes- until I am not.
Am I good? Yes- until I am not.
I am powerful, until I am powerless.

I am not sure I fully agree with Paul, but what he says makes some psychological sense. What does he mean? I do the very thing I hate. I agree that the law is good. I will what is right, but I cannot do it. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

What is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus [that] has set [me] free from the law of sin and death? What is that law of sin? It seems to me, wrestling with the passage in Meeting, that the law of sin is an external standard of Right- not just the 630 commandments of the Torah, but every external standard, every set of rules for conduct no matter how well-intentioned, every attempt to keep safe by telling others what to do. Every standard imposed from outside, even if I accept it and think it is a good standard and want to live by it.

The spirit of life in Christ has set me free. If I walk according to the spirit of life within me, I will do Good- for I am Love as God is Love. Any other Rule is impossible to obey. And yet we feel unsafe, and we feel threatened by the Others, so Christianity since Paul is filled with these sets of rules. A trans man I met had been subjected to “Heavy Shepherding”, where his church did not believe in his ability to make correct decisions for himself, so his pastor had to vet each one. That comes from Hell not Heaven. I am not safe, and no-one is safe from me. Or, I am safe and good, until I am not. Yet we are children of God, brothers and sisters, so we will act in love.

One ministered on decluttering- not just stuff, but relationships, ideas and memories. Why keep a memory and worry at it like poking a bruise? I said to her after, because it still has something to teach me. My mother’s lack of understanding had so wounded me from the age of nine to 44, when I accepted it. I recounted the memory. She had experience as a teacher, of parents driving their children to achievements they never realised. That’s close enough. I had accepted my mother’s lack of understanding, but today I accepted my powerlessness and inability to communicate my own feeling, which was a lack of confidence. I wanted to be confident.

I am powerful until I am not. Sometimes I am not as powerful as I would have wished. IT FEELS LIKE DEATH! IT SCARES ME! But it isn’t death, not really. I am still alive, even well-situated and happy. If only I could recognise that.

In the afternoon, in the Quaker business meeting, we considered whether we should become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or remain Unincorporated when we register as a charity. This is fairly dry and technical. What makes it beautiful is the way we deal with it, in discussion before and in the moment of the Meeting. I am open to persuasion, and I am not going just to give in. So I talk to the former managing director of a company with factories in several countries, and feel somewhat abashed, the queer benefit claimant. He could seek to dominate, and I would defy him; instead, we respond in Loving equality.

Social Pressure II

There are people. Some of them are assigned female at birth, AFAB, some are assigned male at birth, AMAB. Some of them are intersex, they matter too, and my friend was fair pleased to learn she was Klinefelter’s- she had two X chromosomes! But I am writing for people who fit “normal” sexual development but not gender stereotypes, and find this uncomfortable.

The gender stereotypes affect AFAB and AMAB differently. Women do most of the caring for children and dependents, most of the housework, get promoted less, get interrupted more.

The stereotypes are rigid in childhood, enforced by toyshops and peers.

Many people don’t conform to those, perhaps most. “Patriarchy” is the concept that society is configured in the interests of the dominant males. Depending on personality, some people are happy in their own skin and happy not to conform- the boy who does ballet, the girl who plays rugby. Some try to conform, until that becomes unbearable. There is a spectrum, so some only differ a little from the stereotype, some differ a lot.

Some people are homosexual, some heterosexual, some bisexual. I don’t say “gay” and “straight” because, while there are men attracted to men, “gay” is a particular way of conceptualising that.

When you don’t conform, there are different ideas on how you can conceptualise yourself and your relation to the wider society, including “trans”, “non-binary” and “gender-non-conforming”. Non-conforming AFABs are not merely soft, non-conforming AMABs are soft, so there are differences in how they respond. Radical feminists can be very angry.

Each person is an individual, so no-one precisely fits those boxes; the boxes are fuzzy enough to include different people.

There is social pressure on the person who does not fit, to be trans. The wider society understands that, so if you are gender-diverse they may think you are trans and get confused if you are not. A GP once told me that one of the GP’s main tasks is to protect patients from specialists, who want to do stuff- and surgeons had the brilliant idea of implanting a womb in Lili Elbe, killing her by organ rejection. Surgeons busily remove wombs and gonads, and alter the appearance of bodies.

Many AMAB find dressing as women arousing. There are taboos against being visibly or discernably aroused in public and these extend to being cross-dressed.

Some people may have a physical sex dysphoria, and would want their organs altered even if there were no gender stereotypes. We can’t know. However, transition provides a relatively comfortable place for some people. I am happier transitioned than I was before, and I realised, before, that even if in five years’ time I was trying to make a go of life presenting male again, transition was the route I had to take to get there.

Because transition is a relatively comfortable place, I want transition, including physical alteration, to remain possible for people. I would also like people to feel accepted in their assigned sex, as gender non-conforming as they wish. I feel both groups are similar people with similar problems, and a similar interest in social acceptance of the widest possible gendered behaviour, for both genders. If I feel I want to do something which is particularly masculine I say “Today I am non-binary” and do it. This is liberating.

However, where there is social pressure to conform, the interests of each appear to be in opposition. Non-transitioners may feel pressured to transition, the “acceptable” way of being non-conforming. Transitioners may feel pressured not to, as transition is seen as harmful by social conservatives and radical feminists alike.

I want both choices to be accepted, but I take a side in the debate. Those who transition may see themselves as a class apart, really transsexual, AMABs who are really women, AFABs who are really men. It is not a choice of a particular course of action, it is the choice to recognise and affirm rather than suppressing who they really are. I say it is a choice. Yes, they really are naturally very far from the stereotype, but that does not mean they really are the other gender. I don’t accept theories of brain sex to justify transition, and ideas of a feminine soul or two-spirit are myths, stories to say why transition feels comfortable, appropriate, or the most desirable thing in the world, rather than a rigorous scientific this therefore that hypothesis. If it is generally thought that transition is a choice, it will be less acceptable.

Scientific studies are fraught. How many children detransition? Can you tell which trans kids will definitely want to transition as adults, and prevent their wrong puberty? People with a particular interest fight over the methodology and conclusions. Particularly, what should be the default when we don’t know? Why should it be that a trans child must undergo an assigned sex puberty, making transition later more difficult?

Some people detransition because of social pressure. Society forces them back in the closet. Some find a way to self-acceptance that does not involve presenting as the opposite sex.

Yes, it is a choice, but a choice made by oppressed people between unattractive options: given that you don’t fit the stereotype, you can pretend to fit it, live openly not fitting it, or transition. It is easier not to conform if you are comfortable in your own skin, but not everyone is, and people who face this choice often aren’t. Social Justice Warriors who want everyone to self-actualise, be valued, and reach their full potential should be very careful what they say. Social conservatives who value order and conformity should back the fuck off.

Social pressure

Do people transition because of social pressure? How could you know?

Now, I identify as a pansy, a feminine male. Before transition, I felt social pressure to conform to standards of masculinity, but I was aware of “transsexuals”. I felt liberated when I could express myself as Clare. In May 2000, I decided to transition. That decision lasted less than a week: I went to the local TV/TS group and sat with the TSs. None of them had jobs. They seemed miserable. They did not seem to pass particularly well. I thought I could not do it. Then at another group I found trans women who seemed to be able to make a go of life, and in November 2000 I decided to transition. I transitioned in April 2002, and still express myself as female. I have no plans to revert.

As I understood it at the time, there were two kinds of people with a Y chromosome who dressed as women. There were transvestites, who did it for sexual kicks, and transsexuals, who did it because they were really women. TVs were perverts, ridiculous and disgusting, but TSs had a medical condition, and were not to be condemned. I did not feel able to express my feminine self as a man, so the alternative was to transition. I wanted to transition, so I was TS.

In the Northern Concord, of those who did not proclaim themselves TS, there were still people who were like blokes down the pub who happened to be dressed strangely, and some very feminine types. I was friendly with the latter, and some later transitioned.

I wanted sex reassignment surgery. I paid for it. Now, I believe that I had it because of social pressure, because it was part of my understanding of what a transsexual was. Some of that pressure came from the transsexual support group, but also from cis folk, who talked of a “sex change”. Now, many who transition full time do not have SRS. We are “Trans”, which includes cross-dressers. We can make our own path within Trans, rather than being classified as one or the other of TV/TS.

There may be social pressure to identify as trans:

I discussed that article in detail. The mother finds professionals and others surprised that her daughter is not trans- there is social pressure- but mother and daughter are resisting it. It does not show that people transition because of social pressure, that someone comfortable with gender non-conforming behaviour will transition, and certainly not that anyone who could conform to the cis gender stereotype would feel any pressure to transition. It also supports the cisnormative default: the girl is thought to be trans, because she is not like girls are supposed to be. But she could still fit social expectations if she were trans, confirming how girls and boys are different- though the mother writes of others’ surprise, not disapproval. The gender non-conformist who refuses to transition is the real social pariah.

Talk of “social pressure” implies that we are in some way unfree, unfulfilled or prevented from self-actualisation. I would say that I felt I could be more myself if I conformed to the concept of the transsexual woman, so I leapt at the chance. Cisnormativity creates transgender: I would not have needed to transition had I been able to live as a flamboyant pansy, still male. (“Been” able or felt able? Social pressure was too strong for me.)  That is, there is social pressure on the gender non-conforming person to satisfy societal expectations, either by conforming to gender expectations of their sex or by transitioning.

Aged 51, I feel more able to resist social pressure, but possibly I am just ignored. I cycled to the station and took off my wig, unable to bear it. “You need a pair of long earrings,” said that woman. Um. Probably strong makeup too. There is an acceptable look for bald women, but it certainly is not my male pattern baldness, with hair thick round the back and sides but wispy or absent on top. I am paranoid about that even though I shave the sides.

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I tried that line on a trans activist facebook group. Cisnormativity creates transgender. One said Dysphoria is an emotional response to the gender variation of self, which may be a misunderstanding. Cisnormativity creates the idea that a boy should be “boyish”, and grow up to be “manly”. But it may be a disagreement. She is really a woman, she thinks. Another said she observed in children aged 2 or 3 distress at possessing a penis. I find it disturbing that the child, who is allowed to dress as a girl, should know that penis=boy, and not wholly credible without some parental pressure, but she believes that.

How you see it depends on your theory. I say we- transitioners, detransitioners, closeted people, open gender non-conformists, are all the same, all people who do not fit gender stereotypes, who respond to the difficulties that causes in different ways. She says she is a woman with a trans history, yes, really a woman. How you behave depends on your theory. I might not have transitioned had I not believed I really was transsexual. Later, I realised the question which mattered was “Will I be happier if I transition?”- what do I want to do, rather than who am I or what is my fundamental nature. I resisted transition, imagining I was not really TS: thinking I was autogynephilic instead. I say “non-binary” is a freedom-word, a claim I make when I want to act in a particular way, not a separate way of being human as bi or gay is. Different people might argue we are all NB, or all trans, or all GNC, and would act differently because of their theory. Which word you choose may either retrospectively justify your desire, or alter the way you express that desire. The way you do not fit stereotypes may be minimal or extreme, and how much that distresses you will differ.

It is not just we who debate these things. The doctors, and the wider society, debate them too. Some people, not personally affected, argue for what they think is good for the individual, some for the wider society, having different ideas of what it means to be man, woman, human. Ignorant people have strong opinions. Should people have access to cross-gender hormones and surgery? Should society repress gender non-conformity as a perversion, or only permit it to be expressed in a particular way? We can’t make our decisions isolated from the wider conversation, and we may be angry with people trying to push us into a path, or an understanding of the phenomenon, when it’s not the one we want.

On another trans group, person after person anticipates or celebrates their SRS. That I feel now I had it because of social pressure does not mean that anyone else did. For some dysphoria means a loathing of the body because it does not fit the person, which is cured by surgery.

All this is an introduction to the article in The Stranger, and particular responses to it.

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Katie Herzog wrote an article, The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren’t. Julia Serano and others responded, Katie Herzog wrote again, woundedly saying she was only a journalist reporting people’s stories and experts’ opinions, and Julia Serano wrote again. Briefly, I feel the problem is that people want to make their own decisions- transition, detransition, surgery, hormones, behaviour- but feel that expressed opinions about others’ decisions may make their own more difficult. As Serano writes,  trans communities are highly aware of how notions of “social contagion,” “trendsgender,” and “cisgender people being turned transgender because of peer pressure” are routinely used by those who wish to rollback transgender rights and access to healthcare. We won’t get hormones if others are simply gender non-conforming and public pressure says taking cross-gender hormones is icky, they will not permit it.

But then I say we don’t make our decisions free of public pressure. We may feel that pressure in different ways, as there is no consensus. Detransitioners, social conservatives and TERFs say Transition is Bad. Social liberals recognise that men have been dressing as women since Deuteronomy and probably long before, and there is a tradition of trans surgery going back to Lili Elbe. Depending on the circles we move in or what we read, different options present themselves to us, and what attracts us to one rather than the other may be luck or chance.

Serano has also written, stop pitting detransitioners against happily transitioned people. Yes. We’re the ones who have to live with our non-conformity. We share a lot of common interests. We should strive to minimize unwanted irreversible changes, she says. Of course. But when I so badly wanted SRS in 2003, I did not know I would regret it later.

This is long enough already. I may come back to these articles. I want us all to be able to make whichever decisions feel right for us, to deal with gender issues- but we cannot do that in a vacuum, as if there were no social pressure. It is continued: Social Pressure II.

How feminine is Clémentine-Hélène Dufau’s portrait of Maurice Rostand!

Need and desire

Why “Need,” and not “Desire”?

My wise friend H did not like my formulation, I am Love, Will, Playfulness, Curiosity, Need, Courage. She pointed out “Need” sounds, well, needy. Needy is not good. Adults get their needs through exchange, economically or socially, and needy is needing without having something to exchange- though lots of people like to think of themselves as Charitable therefore Good, so the giving is the reward in itself; and some may be altruistic.

I picked “Need” because some needs are very basic, and I have them. I need food and shelter. Without these I die. They are not mere desires- there are moral rules around how one may satisfy desires, which do not so clearly apply to needs. Particularly, I have moral scruples around desires, which may be over-scrupulous, and working out what are my Needs as a way of surviving.

I am still unlearning my toddler’s lessons, and learning more worthwhile toddler lessons. I  learned I am worthless. I wanted to hide away. I wanted not to impinge. So I did not know what my desires were. They could not and should not be granted.

I need society. I need human interaction. Too much alone, I shrivel up. It is not just a desire.

I need safety. This one is really strange. A troll posted on a Quaker facebook group a 22 minute video arguing that “Evolution is not just highly unlikely, but impossible”. The point of the video was that as we do not yet understand how abiogenesis, the start of life from non-living matter, could happen, God must have done it. It enraged me, then I was weeping at the horror of it, and I am not sure why. I expect Quakers to seek the truth as they best can. I know Biblical literalists have this deep need to believe in Biblical creation, and that makes them impugn the integrity of evolutionists; at any rate they believe something I find false, and no argument across the aisle will produce agreement. As we do not know the truth about abiogenesis, a person of integrity may posit their best guess. People can be wrong in an interesting way.

Perhaps I can tolerate a certain level of precariousness, but at that level small threats become too much. I expect to trust people here. I find I cannot- and the bottom falls out of my world-

This Need not Desire is a toddler’s eye view. Toddlers have little agency. Adults should have the ability to choose what they want, and gain it. I don’t have strong belief in my agency. Too many experiences have contradicted such belief. This might have some link to the inexplicable Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

The moral imperative works the other way. I have need- and I have value, so it is a moral imperative to preserve me, and fulfil my needs. And, I may graduate to desire, when I reach teenage. Baby steps…

Art, Life, Beauty, Wonder

Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

At the Tate, I become bigger.

There’s Forward, by Erik Bulatov. It is imposing, and slightly ridiculous; it is made vulnerable by the Ρ lying on its side. In it, there is a group of young women, laughing and photographing each other; a pair of young women, talking and taking photographs, more quietly, and me. The pair were happy to take my photo. This temporary art work outside the gallery relaxes us, makes us open and receptive. In the same way the exhibitions move me and open me up. I see beauty, and a representative sample of an artist’s life’s work, and it changes the way I think. It knocks me out of my groove.

A counselling session. I am proud of my formulation: I am Love, Will, Curiosity, Playfulness, Need and Courage. This may replace my former view, “I am Worthless”- I recognised that former view was wrong twenty years ago, but could not shift it; finding an alternative view to replace it may be the way to break its hold on me.

What do I do? How have I spent these six years of unemployment?

I interact.

I talk to people, including strangers. I write, here and for print. I entertain, challenge and provoke: others see things differently because of me. Some of my NYT comments have hundreds of recommendations, and hundreds more readers.

I heal.

My self-analysis makes me better able to flourish in the world.

I serve.

Over the last six years this has been most clear with Quakers. In Quaker roles I have tried to achieve the good of my Friends, as I best saw it.

And the opportunities for interacting and serving have been so minimal! I remind myself to be positive, to value what is. I have sought opportunities as my self-worth has permitted.

I need to achieve!
I hunger for Action!

I could easily afford to go in to London twice a month to the Tate, then perhaps to see a friend or go 5-rhythms dancing, getting train tickets two or three days earlier and cycling to the station to limit costs. So why don’t I? I find what I want when I see what I do. I love it when I do. Possibly I have some worry about doing something simply for the delight of it, or possibly I don’t like the faff of the travel, four hours or more travelling which is not particularly pleasant. Recently I have not had good train conversations- on Tuesday I asked a woman if she liked to talk on trains, and she said she had only little English, then went to the seat she had pre-booked. Why have I not done it? I don’t know, but those could be reasons.

I have not explored my world, and yet I have- with a bit more thought, I could put that less paradoxically. I still see the world as a threat. Or, I have not learned all the positive lessons from my explorations. I am careful and frightened, and I seek to look after myself. I am generous with a ruthless streak- humans cannot bear very much reality, and we are rarely so confronted with reality that our ruthlessness becomes apparent, but I think I have ruthlessness when in a corner.

That could be Love tempered with Will and Need, she says.

It seems you feed Curiosity, probably Will and Need, but possibly not the others equally, she says. Possibly you could see which of the six you do not look after as much, and make space to serve them too. Have you considered writing for children, for your toddler self?

I am tantalised by art, life, beauty, wonder. I have some experience of them, but not enough for my taste.

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understandings about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gift can emerge.

– Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow

Critical thinking

Arguing that critical thinking cannot be taught, Daniel Willingham gives an ideal definition of it. Thinking, whether reasoning, making judgments or decisions, or problem solving, may be critical or not. Critical thinking is effective in that it avoids common pitfalls, such as seeing only one side of an issue, discounting new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning from passion rather than logic, failing to support statements with evidence, and so on. Critical thinking is novel in that you don’t simply remember a solution or a situation that is similar enough to guide you. For example, solving a complex but familiar physics problem by applying a multi-step algorithm isn’t critical thinking because you are really drawing on memory to solve the problem. But devising a new algorithm is critical thinking. Critical thinking is self-directed in that the thinker must be calling the  shots: We wouldn’t give a student much credit for critical thinking if the teacher were prompting each step he took.

To think critically about an issue, he says, you need some understanding of it. Using primary sources in history takes a historian’s skills, and if you read, say, a Liberal backbencher’s opinion on Home Rule for Ireland in the 19th century, you need to know the context to consider it critically. By Willingham’s definition, a lawyer analysing what facts needed proved, what law needed argued, to win a case, would not clearly be “critical”, nor their ability to see through the opponent’s eyes, to imagine what they would argue, in order to refute it, even if the lawyer had not argued such a case before.

The historian of the period would have the skill of erasing hindsight and getting into the knowledge of that MP at the time; know what the issues were, and the opinions, and the interests and power of the different actors. But the journalist’s question, “Why is this bastard lying to me?” might get anyone somewhere. Children are capable of understanding that an experimenter must control all the variables but one- he calls this a “metacognitive strategy”- but in order to do that they need some knowledge of what they experiment on, including what variables might have an effect.

If Willingham is right, only experts can think critically, and only about their area of expertise; but this is too restrictive. Other metacognitive strategies, such as internal contradictions being an indication to trust a person’s statements less, can be taught. As everyone is a layperson concerning most matters, the main question is how much to trust any particular account of an issue. I could probably understand the evidence that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but do not want to make the effort. I simply trust when I am told that it is. I have reasons to do so, from the way I have been taught about science and what I have read about climate change. It matters to me that those reasons are good enough. I care about the truth.

Many other political questions may be affected by personality. Should we apply the precautionary principle to particular pesticides? How much evidence do you need that neonicotinoids weaken bees, so that other causes kill them more easily? Careful souls may need less evidence before the pesticides are banned, pending more research. Anyone should realise, though, that those with a short term financial interest in using the pesticides, and their lobbyists, are less trustworthy than independent scientists, so we need a strong publicly funded University sector to maintain that independence for the good of all.

People think habitually and creatively, mistakenly and accurately, and sometimes believe the truth because of invalid reasoning. We work hardest thinking about things which concern us most, and often decide questions emotionally then rationalise retrospectively. We also hold particular opinions which don’t really matter personally- I am never going to have an abortion- because the opinion fits a particular group. The skill I need is to work out when I might trust an account, and when to disbelieve it; but to know stuff people can’t work out for themselves people need to trust, and undue trashing of trust drives us apart.

More: AC Grayling thinks philosophy, defined as “careful enquiry”, should be taught in schools.

Interloper at home

Everyone who experiences themself as a woman is welcome. So I went over for a chat, and am now on the constituency party women’s forum Facebook page.

And looking up at her, beside her friend in the “I am a Feminist” t-shirt I felt like an interloper. What do I have in common with these women? It is just nervousness, but I am wondering what it could be, a shared experience of upbringing, unwanted sexual attention or even a female body that locks me out, makes me Other. The trans are welcome thing is policy, not these women’s choice.

It is just nervousness but it feels real.

A few days later, to the Tate. In the Members’ room I hear two men talking of what makes you the same person as you were years ago and what if you could be uploaded to a computer. They are transhumanists drinking Schiehallion lager- drinking rather than climbing or dancing- and I say I think of myself as a process, rather than a being. I do not understand object oriented ontology, but I like the idea of no hierarchy of objects- no order of importance between quarks, individuals, biosphere. Transhumanists are individualistic, and he says the culture is. They go on to Fermi’s paradox. I say aliens are likely to be social. It is worthwhile passing on how to make a flint axe, or smelt iron, only in a social species. If they have developed space travel and not wiped themselves out they will be collaborative. If they have not destroyed themselves with weapons or climate change, they will be altruistic.

He tells me that does not follow. Just because it has happened with us that we are co-operative, does not mean aliens will be.

We are sharing ideas, but also competing. I tell them how interesting it has been talking, and go to the Farrelnissa Zeid exhibition.

She was married to an Iraqi Prince, who served as an ambassador till the revolution, when he took a rented flat. Aged 57 she cooked a meal for herself for the first time.

It is quiet. Which of these huge canvases is “My Hell”? I ask the security guard, who asks another worker. She has graduated from art school, like most people here. The security guard goes round the room looking at the captions, slightly embarrassing me, as I could do that myself. Rose and I follow at a more leisurely pace. I only asked as it is named on the introduction.

She wants to know what I think of the last room, so we walk through. The Princess’s style changed dramatically. I love those oblongs of resin, with things embedded- they seem so fragile.

What are you working on now? This is a personal question, don’t answer if you don’t want to. She is doing embroidery, of Lisa Minelli as Eva Peron. Lisa wanted the role but never played it. Eva had cancer, but still went campaigning- she had a thing made so she could lean but appear to stand. It is about stories we tell about ourselves and others- Eva’s ability to stand, Lisa’s about Eva, Rose’s about Lisa and mine about the picture. All untrue. It is taking her years.

Oh the sunshine is glorious! Outside is a work of art, that word repeated. I ask a woman to take my picture in it, and she is happy to.

To the pub. I get a pint and look quizzically at the front step. The door is narrow. Can Efrat get in,  in her motorised wheelchair? An Irishman asks if I would like to sit with him. He calls me “Darling.” I say I am waiting for a female friend. I go off to blog. Well, it’s a nice enough place to sit, and the live music is good. He goes to the toilet, and says to me, “Your friend not here yet?” No, she isn’t.

Efrat wanted to come here because it had an open mic, and she wanted to sing. Actually the blues band did not like her song so did not let her, and played boringly but at huge volume. Rather than talking, we typed on my phone. She was born in Beersheba, and though her English is good it is slow for her. We got onto whether people could live in peace in a state of anarchy, when it was time for me to leave for my train. She wore a ballgown decorated with classic tattoo designs which she bought in Camden.

I fit well enough, and know which sex I prefer.

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That nervousness with women could be my pansy sexuality, the soft male deferential with women, wanting to attract the strong woman. It might even work! This couplet I find extremely sexy:

Boys are like rules they were made to be broken,
girls are like guns you better run when they’re smoking

Who am I?

Who am I?

I am Love.

The question “Who am I?” is a toddler’s question, and I approach it as a toddler. I did not learn this lesson well enough as a toddler- how blessed, to be able to go back to it!

I am Love. I am a human being, one of a social species, unable to live alone, needing a tribe, needing to bond. I am Love, which may have the advantage of promoting bonding but which I experience as delight in others and will for their good. I am Love, for God is Love, Love is God’s essence.

I am Will.

This is the toddler’s hardest lesson, which needs the best-adjusted, most loving parents to accomplish without some trauma. I want things which I do not have, even some, perhaps, which I cannot have. The parent can use this to teach deferred gratification, co-operation, sustained effort, hope and trust if the parent knows these things, but any difficulty the parent has with these will pass to the child. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.

I am Playfulness.

I am joy, laughter, and delight. I have an affinity for every beautiful thing. We can bond and learn to know and trust each other in play. We can imagine new paths and possibilities. We can relax, completely.

I am Curiosity.

I am interested in life, and anything new or different. What is it? How could it be used for my purposes? Who are people, and what makes them tick? I want to know my world, to bless me and all whom I love.

I am Need.

I cannot live by myself, without the help of others. I cannot accomplish my desires. I have skills and gifts I may offer, but I cannot be independent. This too is a difficult lesson for a toddler. The parents can use it to dominate, to crush the child’s will. Yet it is part of being human- I would not want to be a polar bear, self-sufficient in the arctic ice.

I am in Meeting when I produce this list. I don’t know how it came to me, but I sat down about 10.10am reading a pamphlet on Love, noticed who is here, and found this around 10.40. This is who I am. I am certain of it. I wanted to know myself, and this is the foundation of knowing. There was one more lesson before the end:

I am Not worthless.

And I was pain. I was the pain of the lesson I learned as a baby, of my Worthlessness, the pain of carrying that lesson all my life, at first so deep in my essence that it affected everything in my life though I was not conscious of it it was just the truth part of the air I breathed or the reality I walked in. And then when I became conscious of it and found, intellectually, that it was not true, it was still there like a spider with its claws in my back, so that I could not shift it.

Now I have laid that burden down. I am Love, Will, Playfulness, Curiosity, Need. I am Not worthless. At best I have laid the burden down, at worst I have broken its back so that it may have some effect on me in the future but less and less. I am Not worthless. I am beautiful and true.

At home, I come up with a further characteristic.

I am Courage.

I will face down threats and go where I need to go. It is only human, after all.

Everyday Hero

I suffer because I am wrong and bad, so need to change. I need to change that perception, which is wrong and bad, as I suffer because of it. Rather than change it, turn it inside out. How is it true? Only self-valuing will give me the courage to face the world more.

The stories I tell myself are of facing odds and failing: never getting what I wanted, never being good enough. I have faced shitstorms, and, well, collapsed before them. I have one or two stories about winning against great odds. The respondent wanted to lodge a defence to the employment tribunal claim late. Is that in the interests of justice? Almost always, the answer will be yes. I thought of just supporting the motion so I did not have to take a day out of the office, but that would have seemed weak; so I looked at the case the day before and found the arguments against it. I won.

The stories I remember are similarly emotionally intense. It was really hard and I overcame. It was really hard and I failed- but I should not have failed and can see, with hindsight, what might have improved my chances. I am wrong and bad, compared to the hero I desire to be, the centre of the Universe all-conquering master of all. That was my survival mechanism, creating the Perfect Hero. I would be the Perfect Hero, and then I would be safe. Except it never worked. I knew I was Worthless, inadequate, useless and of no account. I saw I had those two self-images, centre of the Universe and worthless, and had the idea the truth was somewhere in between. I said “I am a human being”, but the two self-images are hard to replace. It takes a lot of repeating, to take down and replace a defence mechanism clutched at in babyhood.

Not, “I am wrong and bad” but I am imperfect– I don’t see everything to do with a situation immediately, but work things out over time, and sometimes too late for what I wanted to achieve. Often I don’t have the power to make the decisions, even though I know what is right. I respond in my idiosyncratic way, which is different from how others might. I make mistakes.

Possibly I should get my diaries out and consider the stories I have forgotten, the everyday proceeding with tasks, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, seeing how I actually behave- imperfectly but well enough. Like a human. I could see the consequences for me: most of the time it is bearable. Even now, as Larkin predicted, I have not actually starved. Of course people do starve alone, like that friend of Josie’s who died in her flat and lay there undiscovered for weeks until someone complained about the smell, and someone else broke the door down- but such cases are sufficiently rare not to worry too much about them. We’re all going to die eventually.

To engage with all that I am

Goodness is a bad thing. Goodness is weak.

Why would you want to be “good”? To curry favour, perhaps, to be safe by fitting the rules. For goodness is an external standard, goodness according to someone else. It does not fit reality, your situation or what is the ethical or truthful in that situation. Goodness is slavery.

When I was a solicitor, we acted for a debt collection agency with Scots and English clients. 90% of the debts were recovered without court action, and 90% of the court actions were undefended. I, a second year trainee then a newly qualified solicitor, dealt with the defended actions.

I have some sympathy with the clients. They felt they had fulfilled an order and were entitled to be paid, and I wrote to them saying I needed several senior staff in Inverness or Perth on a particular day to prove it, or I asked them about a defence they thought spurious. I put the defence to them, and some complained to the debt collection agency. The English office wrote to me and said I should not write to their clients direct, but to them, and they would write to their client. They rewrote my questions in their own words, sometimes misunderstanding the point of the question. Getting the letter dictated and typed took days. Then they did the same with the client’s response. I would wait weeks and get a response that was little more use than “They tell us the debtors owe them the money”.

There are risks in this. You might be able to settle the day before a hearing, but you might not. The creditor might not accept half the debt in full and final settlement. The debtor might sense weakness and not make an offer- one defender’s solicitor refused to negotiate, saying I had attempted to bully him. I am a careful soul, I like to dot all the ts and cross all the is, and found this stressful. The partner could have backed me up, but he was a chancer. Later he was sent to prison.

I joked to him Responsibility without power- the plight of the cuckold through the ages. But I did not analyse it clearly enough: we should have warned the agency, our client, of the risks of their policy. I don’t know whether we did. Instead, I tried to make it work, pursuing a claim without enough information. In the end I got sacked over some other error, but I am sure the stress of this contributed to that error. And now I notice the hindsight: I was not good enough to make that work. I should have done something else. Or Alistair should have. It is my bad qualities, such as lack of resilience, and even my agreeableness, not wanting to confront, was weakness in that situation.

At this point a sign comes up on the screen that there is an internet connection problem and Skype will try to restore the connection- but I can still see her movements, and we can hear each other, so that appears untrue. We carry on talking, hoping we will continue to be able to. Eventually the sign goes away.

Is agreeableness a bad thing? I should have more self-respect, more care for my own rights and well-being. Whether the problem is my neither making that system work, nor changing it, the problem is my failure and my inability to see, my bad qualities. Hindsight is a curse unless mixed with forgiveness.

I have told of that man before. He was a pitiable creature, but I felt disgust first. Before I saw him Andy told me he was a paedophile, and when I met him he put on the table a key ring with two or three keys and about five fobs, each with a picture of a child in it. I could not take my eyes off the keyring. I had to ask him to put it away, it revolted me so much. He said it was his grandchildren. What had he been in prison for? “USI”, he said, as if that were an abbreviation everyone would understand- underage sexual intercourse.

Later he phoned me and complained about various things, but I could not find what had gone on. Security guards had ejected him from the hospital, and he wanted to complain, but I could not find out what had happened. After twenty minutes, I asked him what he thought I could do for him, and he said,

“I want you to make it so I don’t have to fear any more.”

My heart went out to him. I wanted that too. Others would see him as a paedophile, and the important thing to prevent him from being a threat to vulnerable children. I saw him as a vulnerable human, lonely and frightened. For the avoidance of doubt, I would want to protect children from him- but not by destroying him.

Soft-heartedness is a bad thing? It is Love. Love is not a bad thing. Love is me, and I am Love. I would not be other than I am. But caring can make life difficult.

Soft-heartedness can be a bad thing, but when people lost their benefits they wanted someone to sympathise, and did not want to answer my questions until I showed I did. And they wanted to tell me the problem the way they saw it. I had strict time limits imposed by the Legal Services Commission, but my attempts at robotic time-limiting, insisting on my own questions, did not actually save time. Sympathy oiled the wheels.

I might slough off “goodness” for integrity. I was inadequate to the challenges.

-Being a person of great intellect and deep emotion is a bugger, she says.

As usual at this time in the session, my intellect seems to be bringing it all together, just one piece missing or one piece too many, and I change it slightly then desperately and my incipient Great Understanding all falls to pieces again. How could I either bring together that Intellect and Feeling, or separate them?

-I see you as a person of honour, integrity, intellect, deep feelings and distress, she says. What steps can you take, so that you can engage with all that you are?

Confidence, acceptance, belief? Trust?