Identity Politics

Is “Identity politics” destroying beauty and truth in Art? Writer and art critic Sohrab Ahmari argues particularly trans and gender variant issues are clogging galleries with worthless pieces.

Why is there identity politics in Art? It is a reaction to failings in the art world. All art is political. I love The History of Art by EH Gombrich, but it has only one work by a woman. Here it is.

Women’s art addresses issues important to women from a woman’s perspective. Men will benefit from seeing this, by gaining empathy and understanding. Almost ignoring women’s art, Gombrich missed out the perspective of half of humanity. Artemisia Gentileschi’s rapist said she could recover her honour as a woman no longer virgin, by marrying him. See the glorious contempt her female subjects have for the men:

Ahmari says political work is not beautiful. Identity politics is fundamentally opposed to free speech and free thought… art that deals with race, gender, sexuality, power and privilege dominates the art scene. He contrasts this with a Caravaggio:

The beauty of Italian art in the 17th century is clear. Both these paintings show real people, in complex poses. Their faces are expressive. The boy reaches out for fruit, and is unexpectedly bitten, perhaps a metaphor for a dose of the clap.

Ahmari wants art to describe the world as you really see it rather than putting everything through a political frame. Yet the experience of unwanted sexual attention is the world as Gentileschi experienced it, and any man should see is widespread.

It is not clear that the “identity politics” work, dealing with the women’s issue of unwanted sexual attention, is less beautiful. However, the skills of representation are so widespread now, when many illustrators could show a wide variety of facial expression and human posture, that art has moved on. Gombrich shows how the greatest painters learned them from scratch, over centuries, but now they can be taught in amateur sketching classes.

Contemporary art is beautiful in a different way. Charlotte Prodger’s Turner Prize-winning piece is beautiful. In her video she talks of being misgendered. I relate to it. My experience is in her art. It may not be Ahmari’s experience, yet art about how trans and gender variant people experience the world directly speaks to us, and enables others to see our point of view- it enlarges their empathy and understanding.

Ahmari claims not to be criticising autobiography in art, using one’s own life, but you need to say something about the human condition as well, not just about yourself. Well, Ahmari does not get misgendered, but he probably gets misunderstood and misrepresented. If he approaches Prodger’s work with empathy and imagination rather than judgment, he would see the universal message in it.

In the programme, Alexander Adams says publicly funded art tends to have a very narrow political view. There should be art that is critical of multiculturalism, critical of immigration, critical of transgenderism. If he can point to any good art critical of immigration I would like to see it. I am reminded of the Great German Art exhibition, running concurrently to the Degenerate Art exhibition. We hear again the idea that the Trans Lobby is fantastically powerful, shutting down debate, and yet here are all the free speech advocates, endlessly inveighing against us.

All art is political. It either underpins or subverts current power structures. It either silences or gives a voice to disempowered groups. In the programme, Tiffany Jenkins says I think the arts have been asked to solve social problems. So they’ve been asked to improve the lives of communities by raising their self-esteem, by making them feel good about themselves. I don’t think the arts can do that. But I loved the exhibition Art in the Age of Black Power: Black people, standing tall and proud despite oppression. Seeing these heroes must have inspired Black people looking at these works, and I, with my white privilege, can delight in that heroism and resistance.

Ahmari mentions the controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till. He ignores the point that Black artists are underrepresented in white-run art galleries. When we are equal, we can share each others’ stories, but the powerful should not use the stories of the weak for their own gain.

My experience as a trans woman is generalisable to universal human experience- of the tension between being yourself and fitting in; of feeling and hurt and delight. Art by trans people seen with sympathy can enlarge the understanding of its audience. It is not “identity politics” to show art by gender variant people, but simply Art- seeing the universal in the particular, enlarging our understanding of what it is to be human. As Ahmari says, probably most of the art created now will not be around in fifty years’ time- but the best will survive, and will include art by minorities. Because not only white western men can be artists.

Blessings at Christmas

A woman artist gives a different perspective on the Annunciation. Gabriel kneels to Mary as the Holy Spirit descends, as she bows to him in assent- ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Against the spiritual or even sentimental view of the Holy Family, here is a physical act with the human mother and child. Often in painting, the child turns towards the viewer with hand raised in blessing. Here he is a baby, with a baby’s wants and actions.

Biblical paintings were a mix of authenticity, contemporary references, and symbolism like the flower in Jesus’ right hand. The roses may symbolise Mary’s life, controlled by the imperative of the Saviour’s life journey. Or Love; or her role as the Bride of Christ. Your knowledge and tastes affect your response to the paintings.

feminine feminism

Feminism is divided. One side says without patriarchy women would think like men- which makes trans women doubly deluded. It dates back at least to Mary Wollstonecraft, and may include Artemisia Gentileschi, whom I love: raped then forced to become engaged to her rapist, or she would be seen as dishonoured: see the strength of her Judith or Susannah. I hear the anger, and admire the people.

And the other side discerns differences between the sexes, and celebrates them. In 1999, in the white heat of my spiritual awakening, I read Feminist Counselling in Action by Jocelyn Chaplin. She wrote it in 1988. Thinking, society, have moved on, and even Chaplin apologises for using the words ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ which she places in quotation marks: they are burdened by so many layers of socially constructed meaning that I would prefer not to use them at all… ‘female’ and ‘male’ imply some rigid biological determinism that I also reject. This book does, however, stress real differences in ways of thinking that thousands of years of patriarchy have associated with females and males respectively.

She values feminine thinking, as do I. It is not all women, or no men. She posits a masculine control model, with a strong mind rigidly controlling a vulnerable body, against a feminine rhythm model with the person flowing between mind and body, joy and sorrow, valuing both. Masculine hierarchies emphasise competing opposites. Non-hierarchical feminism stresses interconnected opposites, which she dates back to neolithic Goddess worship.

She also writes of helping a woman assert herself against a harassing male; replacing patriarchal dominance with feminist equality. What am I to make of this: one client saw her rational side as cold and calculating. She wanted to get rid of it altogether. Its opposite, the feeling side, was seen as all good. In counselling she was able to see both sides as valuable… the very thing we call our weakness can be our greatest strength. There is patriarchal conditioning, overcome. Her model is a saner maturity for men and women; though valuing the feminine.

1988 is so long ago. Mrs Thatcher had changed Britain; but the Left was still resisting. The people won the second world war, and decisively voted for equality after. Without the Labour government in 1945, my father could not have gone to University after demob. In the 1970s, Britain was at its most equal.

I love the Icelandic drama Trapped. Dark things happen: a man discovers his friend is responsible for his daughter burning to death: so he burns him to death in his shed. Yet against the unforgiving icy landscape, people must all come together, work together, to survive.

These are huge themes. I am not saying Radical feminism is right-wing. I value its anger which is passionate energy for change. But I beg you: please, please, can there be some space for me?

Gentileschi, Judith and her maidservant


In the Bible, the book of Ruth is a lesbian love story.

Ruth’s husband has died. Naomi is Ruth’s mother in law, who prays The Lord grant that you may find security. But where? The only place is in the house of your husband. Then Ruth makes her famous declaration of Love, often read at weddings:

Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.

At Bethlehem, Ruth meets Boaz. He does not speak to her at first: he asks the foreman, ‘To whom does this young woman belong? But Ruth does not belong to any man. So Boaz has to order the young men not to bother her. They might sexually assault a lone woman like that.

How are these two women to survive? Naomi tells Ruth to find where Boaz sleeps, and lie down by his feet. That is, she offers herself to him, and he accepts. But after the declaration of love between the two women, there are no words of love between Boaz and Ruth, only gratitude. After she has lain at his feet, he gives her a gift of barley.

A woman cannot own property. Only a man can. So who shall redeem Elimelech’s land, which his widow Naomi holds? Boaz is the only kinsman who will do so, and with the land he acquires Ruth as his wife. The purpose of this law is that the name of the man Elimelech will not die, for Boaz effectively will give him sons to inherit his land, through Ruth.

The only place where these two women will not starve is the house of a man, and it is better to have one man to protect them or any man may sexually assault them. (Marital rape was legal in England until the 1990s). The final proof of their love: the women say to Naomi your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons. Naomi took Ruth’s son and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.

This post is for deorl, who boasts of being “a degreed student of the Bible” and accuses me of eisigesis, which by etymology means “reading [my] own biases into the text” but is more often used to mean interpreting a passage in a way the speaker does not like. The text is clear, and only his homophobia prevents him from seeing the love of two women celebrated in the Old Testament. That is, his is a cultural interpretation from conservative evangelicalism, not an open-minded interpretation seeking the meaning of the text.

Ruth is the Bible at its best, challenging the extreme oppression of women. In the Torah, we see women as chattels, so that if a woman is raped the solution is to marry her to her rapist, on the principle of “You break it, you buy it”. The Bible supports the rule-based oppressive religion that deorl still craves. However it also continually subverts it, as with this story.

Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders 1


Gentileschi, St CeciliaWomen often comment on my slim, feminine, beautiful, pianist’s hands- these adjectives come up again and again. U showed me her wide hands and wide nails: she would never wear nail varnish, it would bring attention to the nails, which were, shock, horror, wider than they were long. The first time she did this I acknowledged it, but said nothing in particular, and then seeing her after each time found myself assuring her how pretty her hands were. It only took me two years to forget this lesson: J shows me her broad thumbnail- “Look how broad it is!”- and I acknowledge, but do not reassure. I should, really.

She wanted to talk something through, she wanted to do something you might think was mean. Not jumping to that conclusion, I hear her reasons and assent- she has a perfect right to do that. And she asked me whether I had had the Operation. Not as bluntly as that, of course, I cannot remember how she sidled towards the question. I said because she was so good a friend I had no objection to telling her “I am anatomically correct”. This is not quite true, but close enough.

We went out for the day, which was lovely, and ate in a tea-room- we agreed, so much nicer than Costa! I found myself noticing more as I spent time there, the flying ducks on the walls, the old cameras on shelves, the framed “classic” advertisements for Ovaltine and the 1950s lampshades. We then went to the supermarket where she picked up some bits, and bumped into friends: she introduced me, and they told their news.

Then she felt moved to advise me. Each of these she repeats for emphasis: she would no more go out without earrings than without shoes; I must wear make-up, it would soften my features; I walk with long strides which some might think mannish, I should take shorter steps. Though when I told her Carol had said my walk was Neanderthal (in 1999) she thought that was going too far.

I wonder when one might speak so personally to someone, and can think of two circumstances: when I am shocked by their behaviour, it really is beyond the pale, or when I am embarrassed to be with them and simply must say something. It could be transphobia- “She looks like a tranny! People will see I am out with a tranny!” That she is my friend shows it is not just that simple, and difficulty with confrontation might affect her manner.

I have not grown up with fashion, or such conversations, and appear unfeminine, and get uncomfortable;

and I don’t want to think of that as making a mistake, because that implies I am putting on an act. I am myself.

and I want the help with it that I want.

Oh! The conflicting feelings! I just don’t know!

And now I am clear

Essence process day 16

I wrote, I am unsure where I am with this, and now I am clear. I realised this morning,

No-one can hurt me if I love and care for 
and respect myself.
Therefore, no-one else has ever hurt me.

Gentileschi, St CeciliaArguably this is not true of children; but by the current legal definition I came of age thirty years ago. So, with Ruth, where did that situation come from? Four years ago, overseers considered looking after me- I was quite needy- and Ruth took me out for lunch, and we walked together several times.

What do I Want? If I find Ruth’s emails like sandpaper rubbing at a sore, I want them to stop. So I must consider my attack carefully, in order to make them stop. However sweetly and smilingly I approach her, I would not come from love, just from an attempt to gain the moral high ground and shame her into stopping.

If I can accept them- this is Ruth, yes, Ruth does feel a need for things to go Right within the Area Meeting, I am happy with my actions as AM clerk or can see a way of improving- then I can come from Love, and seek a warmer, less fearful relationship. This morning I saw this as a “necessary confrontation”- I must establish boundaries and take my power; my self-respect and proper functioning requires her to behave how I consider appropriate. And now I don’t. I will see her in January.

Coffee this afternoon with my wise, delightful friend Liz. I told her what I had been doing, and she got it completely. I told her “no-one can hurt me” and she understood. Taking a little courage, I held her gaze and stated my affirmation, and she smiled delightedly and said Yes.

-You’re a different person from the one I met four years ago. You were anguished.
-Yes, I said, and enraged.
-And now you’re not.

I have gained permission to be myself. I have gained respect for who I am, and do not wish to be otherwise- at last! I am so grateful for the space and time I have to process all this. Liz agreed, and helped me to clarity about Ruth.

It was quite lovely, affirming myself to Liz. And- it is my responsibility to affirm myself: if I cannot, no-one can do it for me. I want to communicate this Blessing to others. I take care with Holy things- and it is a challenge! Communication is my gift, and my delight!


Artemisia Gentileschi, SusannaOooh look! A trans boy!

Katy commented, and her acolyte Pruett led me to this post with hundreds of comments. Lindsay writes that she was a tomboy as a child, and preferred “boy-things”, her friends were boys, but now she is happy as a wife and mother, who likes DIY (“man thing”) as well as nice clothes (“woman thing”) and therefore shows rigid division into male or female activities or ways of reacting or anything is ridiculous. And so is the phenomenon of transsexualism.

Then all Katy’s regulars, and hundreds on Lindsay’s post, showed off their writing ability, reasoning skills, empathy and common sense to a greater or lesser extent, all shaking their heads and expatiating on one of two main themes:

1. The parents are monsters, torturing their child for their own nefarious purposes, seeking notoriety perhaps, or being “liberal”, and the child could not possibly imagine herself to be a boy unless tortured by monsters; or

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant2. The parents are idiots, letting the child follow a silly whim.

There is an intermediate position- the child had a silly whim, and the monster-parents are forcing “her” to go through with it, but it all boils down to, “Of course she’s a girl!!! How could it be otherwise? Transition is kooky and wacky and completely wrong and NO GOOD CAN COME OF IT.” Few suggest that the child, the parents, and any other involved adult, are doing their best and might have some idea how best to live their own lives. Katy has met the parents of a trans child, and can accept that the woman she has met might be doing her best, but not the mother she has not met, who is obviously a “trendy crusade junkie”.

Yet I, and thousands of others, go about our normal pursuits, transitioned.

Yesterday I mentioned Miriam, and her trans-exclusionist argument. It makes some sense. Some might say it was a valid argument. It appears to hang together. So I say to Miriam’s TERF friend,

 I don't care.

So she says to me “In saying that you are a typical trans, an M-T, you insult all women, you insult all women who have ever been victimised by the Patriarchy and you are part of the Patriarchy and you are the tool of the Patriarchy and the weapon of the Patriarchy against all women and you are using the Patriarchy to oppress women and perpetuating Rape Culture…” and I say

 I don't care.

And I go about my ordinary life, using women’s loos and changing rooms, and going to the lesbian weekend. Bit scared, even though they have said they accept lesbians who are trans women. Still going.

It’s all different world views. Take Tim, who has accumulated this vast store of argument to make the Bible literally true and inerrant, and in doing so has ripped out its poetry and metaphor and story. I debated with him far longer than I should have. Too much effort and too little chance of success. We might seem to be using words to communicate and argue logically, but we are not. Not really. He hears mine through his worldview and refutes it to his own satisfaction. There is nothing for me to say but

 I don't care.

Love and kisses to all. May God bless you and keep you and make God’s face to shine upon you, and give you peace.

Other people

A_Gentileschi_Allegoria_dell'inclinazioneIf New York is the city which never sleeps, Marsby is the town which never wakes up. I was glad to hear that Steph has given notice on the flat, not because I want rid of her, particularly, but because otherwise I might wonder where she had got to. She wants to move into Zhuzhkov, because Marsby is just dead.

She grew up the other side of the Eagle’s Nest, in Alexanderplatz. Her mum still lives there. When she married, she moved over to this side, which is (very slightly) posher. She then had two children, who are now 25 and 23. Her husband divorced her, though she did nothing wrong; he went off and had the affair. He’s been remarried two years. I did not ask whether the drinking might be “something wrong,” but she tells me she is only drinking at weekends now. Her children tell her she sounds as if she had been drinking, but that is the stroke, last October. She was in hospital five days, and still cannot carry a mug of coffee with her left hand. Her daughter is getting married soon, and she worries about the top table, because they hate each other. Possibly if they sat at opposite ends.

-You are the mother, I say, but do not reassure her. I wonder if that is because she fears her daughter will prefer the new wife, or her father.

Have you been on holiday? She and her mother had a week at the Aquadrome in April, sharing a caravan. It’s only twenty miles away, but it is a change of scene. They took the food and cooked in the caravan. There’s lots of takeaways and a funfair. Her husband went abroad, but she finds flying too stressful. With the kids they would run off in the airport.

When she was last in Zhuzhkov the flat above and the flat opposite held drug dealers. I don’t know where the drug dealers are in Eagle’s Nest, at least I have not seen needles lying in the gutter.


After we successfully confronted the cows, we saw the main attraction: the Llama. It is 18, there used to be four of them, but this is the only one left, and it is old for a llama. Ben takes photos of it, and I got chatting by offering to photograph him with it- but it ran off.

He tells me he was a postman for thirty years from 1970. He has a scoliosis, because they had no trolleys then, and could not use a second bag unless the first weighed 35lbs. You reach in to a side opening with your left hand, which holds the mail for you to post it with your right hand. From seeing his back, the consultant correctly told him the bag went on his right shoulder, but though the risk was clearly well known no left-handed bags were available. Instead they retired at 60, as men over sixty had too much time off sick. Long after, he saw a twenty year old girl who gave him two things for inside his shoes, which relieved the pain almost immediately.

He told this at great length, and we were in the village. “Look, that car’s window is open,” I said. “Trusting folk round here”. He ploughed on with his story, and I interrupted occasionally: “Car window open!” “Parked car!” “Trusting!” To no discernible effect.

The beautiful local stone is formed of the desert sands of Pangaea.