Your silence will not protect you

When I did not see myself, I felt alone; but now I see myself, I see myself everywhere.

When they bully you, they cut out a part of you. They so mock and deride it that you think it shameful, and try to hide it. You deny it is you. But everyone sees through your pitiful attempts, and knows how to reduce you to a quivering wreck: they point out that part of you that shames you. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but we are no less vulnerable hiding the part that shames us. Hiding it, we have the work of hiding it, and we carry it for all to see.

I face my terror. I will not hide my shameful part any more. It is frightening not to, but trying to hide myself does not work. When I stop trying, my failure ceases to matter. When I fight myself it is a burden, but when I accept myself I find strength in what I denied, hated, sought to expunge.

When I am seen and accepted, I am enabled to see myself, in my power and beauty. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but they mean, come into our power.

I read Audre Lorde, and feel accepted. When she writes of herself, I see parts of me within her, and am enabled to see their beauty. As a child, she wrote poems which expressed what she felt. Poetry was her language, to communicate to others. She had difficulty comprehending how other people thought- it seemed to be in a logical progression, but for her non-verbal communication was more important. Her feelings were chaos and confusion, anchored in poetry.

The words were deceit, misleading her because they misled the speaker. Still the human communicated, beside or alongside the words. “I used to practise trying to think,” she says. She could not learn without a teacher she liked, to feel the truth of what was taught rather than pick up facts.

The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free.

Without her mother, she felt alone and worthless because only her mother could see her and accept her. I do not generalise from what she says to people of colour here, now, as she was in America, growing up in the ‘forties, writing in the ‘eighties, but it echoes what I feel, now: “White people [others] feel, Black people [her critics and mine] do.” White people have the luxury of feeling, in her world, but Black people had to just get on with the drudgery of mere survival.

I feel stung by the allegation that I do not Do. I ought first to Do, to earn, to produce, to support myself, before I can take time out to feel, but my feelings cry out to be heard and give me no quarter, they will not be silent until I hear them and honour them.

I feel more stung. Black women could not hear or see or love or accept or nurture or honour one another because they saw themselves in the other, she says. I am suspicious of trans women: Audre writes of the struggle, the need for Black women to confront and wade through the racist constructs underlying our deprivation of each other. When I see a trans woman, I see all the things I ought not to be, and I turn away in shame. I see her through a haze of transphobia; I see myself mirrored in her, and all that has been stolen from me, called shameful, all that I attempt futilely to hide, I see in her and therefore in me, and feel that imposed shame.

I am myself. I can be no other.

We are ourselves. We are beautiful, and when we see our beauty, when the mists of transphobia and bullying disperse, we come into our power.

Audre’s mother loved her, and showed her that, accepting her, nurturing her to be herself, then teaching her how to be herself in white america which never wanted her to even be alive. My mother loved me, but seeing herself as worthless could not accept me; she sought to force me into a mould so I might survive (even if only as an automaton) not knowing the mould would kill me. And yet I survived.

I feel seen. I read Audre, and she explains myself to me, and she validates and values and thereby nourishes and enriches me. I feel and therefore I can be free.

It ceases to be vulnerability when I accept those parts of myself that I sought to hide, and becomes dignity.

Now, I see myself everywhere. I see myself in the deep rich authentic feeling of my beautiful friend, in stories and portraits and cultural artifacts valuing cherishing and honouring people just like me, even in God who made me in God’s image, in all people who are part of me as I am part of them.

I am not alone.
I feel seen.

The Bad person

You made an adult cry, and then you gloated about it. “She cried like a small child,” you said. “She had a woman with her with her arm round her, comforting her like I would comfort a child.” You mocked them.

I have cried like that, I said. Cried like before the Abomination of Desolation, as if my heart had been ripped from me, wordless, screaming, unconsolable.

I am not here to share my hurt. I would tell of the time I was crying hysterically– by which I mean, in the way a rational husband and a rational doctor, a man, would see as a reason to put a woman in a lunatic asylum, diagnosed as sick, so not to be listened to. When I was curled in a ball weeping on the floor. When I was screaming at the floor. I would tell of these times and they would put their most concerned-sympathetic face on, lean forward, put a hand on my knee and whisper softly “How shit it is to be you.”

“They”, here, are everyone but me, everyone outside my skin, the undifferentiated chorus of condemning humanity circled around me mocking, berating, ignoring. They are individuals. You know who you are.

You made them, “her,” cry, and they won’t talk to you again, or interact with you. And it happened fourteen months ago and it lives with you. It affects your life and important relationships now. You both are hurt, but their hurt is heard because they cried, like a small child, and were heard and comforted, and you will not cry, because too often others have made you cry and been pleased: it is their victory, proof of your worthlessness, proof of your abasement and irrationality. Why should they listen to anything you say?

I love your strength. You will not cry. I have been able to cry and be comforted, and able to cry alone, and I have cried and been abased, amazed at my own tears, proof to me of my worthlessness. Such strength, to stare back dry-eyed, at the man, a foot taller than you, perhaps twice your weight, and resist him.

So they are the expert, speaking to audiences of good, thoughtful, decent people of their experience and understanding, and you are the person who must be controlled. Your hurt becomes anger. It becomes fuel. Audre: a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life. You use it. And you have Sisters, people who love you, and support you.

You, with humanity circled around you since the age of twelve, to use you, blame you, touch you, hurt you, only your cleverness (not any human custom or rule) to protect you.

And I, a man in women’s clothes, terrify women who see me in women’s spaces, as I remind them of violent men where they are told they should be safe and their safety is an illusion, the unspoken rules contradict those spoken. “Do this and you shall be safe” say the con-men. The internet is a pain: I hear all the anger against people like me, which in the street or in my curtailed life I might have been able to avoid. I was not there, but I saw the video, of a hall of women, whipped up, their necessary anger permitted so unleashed against “dangerous men,” and how could I not take it personally?

The rules say you should be safe, not hurt or crying, so when you are hurt it must be your fault. What were you wearing? What did you do to provoke it? Don’t be so sensitive!

You made them cry, and you became the Bad Person. I am not a bad person, I say. “You’re a man,” you say, reasonably, rationally, incontrovertibly. We are divided. I see your hurt and my heart grieves, and yet you are made my enemy and I might use your hurt against you, as proof of your irrationality, you should not be listened to, and proof of your Badness, as you made them cry.

Audre: Why does that anger unleash itself most tellingly against another Black woman at the least excuse? Why do I judge her in a more critical light than any other, becoming enraged when she does not measure up? And why is our anger channelled against each other?

I hate you because I see myself in you. You are my enemy because you want what I want, though perhaps in a slightly different way. The people circling will never let up, never concede anything to you or to me. We are in the ring together, in that circle, and cannot but fight.

Living on the edge of chaos

What they were saying aloud was, “We need strong [Trans] people”- but what they were also saying was that their ideas of what strong was had come from our oppressors and didn’t jibe with their feelings at all.

I have always had the sense of Armageddon and it was much stronger in those days, the sense of living on the edge of chaos. Not just personally, but on the world level. That we were dying, that we were killing our world- that sense had always been with me. That whatever I was doing, whatever we were doing that was creative and right, functioned to hold us from going over the edge. That this was the most we could do, while we constructed some saner future.

What about the effects of white racism upon the ways Black people view each other? Racism internalized? What about black teachers going into ghetto schools? … Not just in terms of expectations, but of self-image, in terms of confusion about loyalties. In terms of identifying with the oppressor.

The black mother who is the poet in every one of us. Now when males, or patriarchal thinking whether it’s male or female, reject that combination then we’re truncated. Rationality is not unnecessary. It serves the chaos of knowledge. It serves feeling. It serves to get from some place to some place. If you don’t honour those places then the road is meaningless. Too often, that’s what happens with intellect and rationality and that circular, academic, analytic thinking. But ultimately, I don’t see feel/think as a dichotomy. I see them as a choice of ways and combinations.

I’m saying that we must never close our eyes to the terror, the chaos which is black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is sinister, smelly, erotic, confused, upsetting-

The way you get people to testify against themselves is not constantly to have police tactics and oppressive techniques. What you do is to build it in, so people learn to distrust everything in themselves that has not been sanctioned, to reject what is most creative in themselves- to have them reject it to begin with, so you don’t even need to stamp it out.

But I’m used to associating a request for documentation as a questioning of my perceptions, an attempt to devalue what I’m in the process of discovering.

I have a difficult enough time making my perceptions verbal, tappng that deep place, forming that handle, and documentation at that point is often useless. Perceptions precede analysis just as visions precede action or accomplishments. It’s like getting a poem-
That’s the only thing I have to fight with, my whole life, preserving my perceptions of how things are, and later, learning to accept and correct both at the same time, and doing this in the face of tremendous opposition and cruel judgment. And I spent a long period of time questioning my perceptions and my first interior knowledge, not dealing with them, being tripped by them.

Quotes from A Conversation between Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich. I hope to inspire you to seek her out, as her writing is liberating.

Heaven, Hell and Reality

I wrote that I am in Heaven and Hell. The beauty of the world overwhelms me. The threats I face terrify me.

CS Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

Lewis related Heaven and Hell to the afterlife, but also to acts and experiences in life. I treat them as metaphor. Hell is the pain I cannot bear, Heaven the delight that seems incredible or impossible. Not my acts, but the world that surrounds me, other people doing their thing which I might not influence. For Lewis, my own acts, in Love or meanness create my place.

What is the name of the golden mean between selfishness and self-abnegation?

What would it mean to take responsibility for my brokenness? Not denying it. My complete loss of confidence just stops me acting. I should do this, I say to myself, it is a simple thing, and I find myself not doing it.

I do not see others for what I can get out of them. Instead, I see them generally as implacable, unsatisfiable. So I do not act, not out of fear of failure but fear of destruction.

I might find simple things to start on, I will take just this one step, but find myself not doing it. Or, having done it, I think, well, that was nothing, no-one would have had any problem with that. I have difficulty assessing how difficult any particular act will be for me, because I have imbibed others’ judgments of what should be easy or difficult and my own different judgments have been suppressed.

Marlowe’s Mephistopheles said, Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. But then he goes on,
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?

After Heaven, everything else is Hell. Of course he is a deceiver and predator, seeking to destroy Faust, possibly incapable of truth even to himself. One wonders what his experience of Heavenly bliss was, if he left it, or thought there could be something more.

What is Heaven, for me, here, now? Standing in front of art and relating to it, especially with my dear friend as our feelings and words together reach critical mass and explode. And feeling my pain, knowing my pain, for it is me and I will not deny any part of myself.

Audre Lorde, in her conversation with Adrienne Rich: One thread in my life is the battle to preserve my perceptions- pleasant or unpleasant, painful or whatever…
AR: And however much they were denied.
AL: And however painful some of them were. When I think of the way I courted punishment [throughout my life], just swam into it: ‘if this is the only way you’re going to deal with me, you’re going to have to deal with me this way.’

Heaven is acknowledging the feeling self I denied. Heaven is being a whole human. Not just delight, but also pain fully felt and owned. Or Heaven is freedom and Hell oppression.

Having habitually denied my feeling self, and got on with it, whatever the it of the time was, I don’t know how to be my doing self and feeling self both at once. It’s like having to carry two large bags of groceries without handles. I can embrace one and carry it, but if I try to embrace both things fall out the top and the bags slip through my arms.

And, I am in Reality. Heaven and hell are not future states, or even metaphors for possibilities now, but an expression of the range of my experience, of delight and terror. This world now is bigger than both, containing things more Heavenly and more Hellish than I can imagine.

So I will release my feeling self. I will permit myself to feel, and to experience the feeling, whatever the feeling is. I practise this in the Quaker meeting and in the Silence in my own ritual space at home. I am carrying her, or needing to learn to walk again, in a new way- but it is getting easier.