Upsetting scenes

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Carpioni%2C_Giulio_-_Apollo_and_Marsyas.jpgTorture was broadcast, for entertainment, on major channels on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. I watched, and was mostly entertained. Why do we tell each other these stories?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Victorian_pillar_box%2C_Ramsbottom_-_geograph.org.uk_-_813899.jpgIn Ripper Street, on BBC1, a man had poisoned a batch of flour so he could become famous as a mass-murderer. The heroic and saintly policeman had his associates twist the man’s broken arm to find out where that batch was. In Utopia, on Channel 4, two murderers working for the shadowy, Powerful, Evil Corporation (SPEC) asked a question of a man who did not know the answer, and maimed him. There was a build-up to the maiming, and we saw it all. The torturer, conversationally, described what he would do and in a quiet, gentle manner said “Now, now, stop screaming” and “Can you speak?”

That gentle manner, with the threat of his accomplice, got two men to co-operate in breathing the gas which killed them- calm, apparently reasonable authority, requesting something and making it seem as unthreatening as possible.

Utopia is an unsettling programme. The murderers are camp, and there is black humour in their interactions. Only the feral boy, his voice harsh though not yet broken, gets it: when his head teacher calls him in, and introduces the murderers as policemen, he does not bother protesting “I saw them kill someone” but jumps out the first floor window and limps off. But he has no false, comforting certainties to challenge. Ours are challenged when SPEC corrupts a senior civil servant and shows it controls a Government minister.

The murderers do what they must, to achieve their goals, without compunction. File:Scuttler.jpgQuestions like- what will people think? Will it work? which restrain me, do not affect them.They kill people by reassuring them: the victim should see the threat, and take action, so they blind him to it.

The ridiculous, impossible thing to do, when it is the only thing one can do- well, try it. The blind man shoots the torturer. The torturer is not all-powerful, or immune to chance.

I did not like Ripper Street’s Edmund Reid as a hero initially because he seemed so Wonderful: a figure like Doctor Who that comes upon a bad situation, and makes it all better. This Victorian Whitechapel is recognisably us, English-folk, but in a much dirtier, darker world, of clear threat and difficulty we do not see. Reid has an angelic care for other human beings. He refuses to judge anything as unconventional, only as destructive: he is gentle with the habituĂ©s of a Molly-house, where the men dress as ladies. He is extremely intelligent, spotting connections which would not occur to lesser men. Torturing his prisoner makes him human- at his wit’s end, he does something vile.

Why do we tell these stories? Because the comforting certainties crumble, and those lessons about Action and clear-sight are the ones we need. Habitual conventional responses cease to work.

Tolerating intolerance

Judge not, that ye be not judged…

“I suppose there are two views about everything,” said Mark.

“Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”

That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis.

A rather lovely comment from Mindy, here:

I disagree that love requires judgment. (And from everything I’ve experienced — both inner and outer — pointing out another’s sin, evangelizing, requires judgment.)

I can absolutely share my opinion with a beloved friend about what’s right for them, and doing so can be a very loving thing. But I do not believe that it is love to insist that they agree. For one thing, it’s entirely too possible that I am wrong about what’s right for them. For another, I am not their keeper. (My kid being somewhat an exception of course, heheh… altho a diminishing one as she gets older…)

To frame it in a Christian theological context: is not the idea of free will birthed from great love? Personally, I think the immensity of God is limited by binding that idea into a box of sorts that says “you humans must behave a certain way in order to be worthy of salvation. And, by the way, you are charged with telling each other about that certain way.”

I know there are scripture quotes that can be used to refute what I’m saying.

And I also know that I would much rather that those people who are righteously judging (judging me as a gay person, judging non-Christians, judging universalist Christians, etc.) would change their behavior… which means I am judging them. I get it. /sigh…

I am a firm believer that following the words of Jesus does me good, and that the evil consequences in the Bible are descriptive- just what happens- rather than prescriptive- God rubbing his hands and Punishing. What do I lose by judging?

I lose the fellowship, input and response from the homophobic Evangelical. Possibly I know what they would tell me, possibly they would not want to associate with me, possibly our approaching each other and “Not Judging” would be so artificial and hypocritical that the falseness of the situation would be unbearable- and the more I can hear another person, the better it is for me.

Is it enough, when Not Judging, to say, That is how the person is, and that is not a bad thing. Quite certain about his beliefs, but that does not harm me. Still doing his best under difficult circumstances, like human beings do. Or, should I surrender my belief- “he is quite certain about his beliefs”- in order to perceive better?

File:Byron Katie 2.jpg

In the Quaker meeting, I went to the bookshelves, where I do not normally look, and found Byron Katie’s Who would you be without your story? It contains her Judge your Neighbour worksheet:

1. Who angers, frustrates or confuses you, and why?
2. How do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
3. What is it that they should or shouldn’t do, be, think or feel? What advice could you offer?
4. What do they need to do in order for you to be happy?
5. What do you think of them? Make a list.
6. What is it that you don’t want to experience with that person again?

Judge your neighbour, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around.

The four questions are,

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Turn it around. Find three genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

T drove me home after the Quaker meeting, and asked me what I thought of “faith is believing in impossible things.” That could be bad, or it could be good. It could be fitting in with a social group defined by its demonstrably false beliefs- gay people are damned, or whatever- or it could be stretching my own false beliefs of which I have convinced myself, in order to see reality more clearly. Faith in something better allows me to question my limiting belief.

In associating with Evangelicals, not all of whom believe that gay people are damned, it might be harder for me to cope with their belief in the basic depravity of humanity, or their terrible need that others Must believe the same as they do. Oops. Judging again. Even if a person does believe these things, how could it possibly hurt me?

Graeme McGrath

Graeme McGrath, now retired, was an odd hybrid, a consultant psychotherapist: a physician working as a psychotherapist. He did not specialise in transsexuality, but dabbled, and three friends found him very helpful. I saw him in 1998, and that Autumn I got copies of the letters he had sent to my GP. I think the diagnosis accurate, though I hope I have grown beyond it now:

Mr Languish’s difficulties are related to a narcissistic personality structure. He is clearly unhappy and at times has felt despairing and, I suspect, suicidal. I am not sure formal psychotherapy is likely to help, and will require a direction and intensity of therapy which we cannot offer.

A month later:

His attitude throughout the interview was detached and somewhat ironic. It is increasingly clear that this functions as a very powerful defence against acknowledging the strength of his feelings. He briefly became extremely distressed, but when I tried to explore this he controlled himself very rapidly and returned to his normal way of interacting.

A further month:

Although he was keen to tell me about particular incidents when he had experienced intense feelings, I felt it was difficult to engage in any fruitful discussion of these. He tends to ruminate in a rather intellectual way and I thought his preoccupation with his own mental processes was part of his general difficulty in engaging with others rather than the kind of psychological reflection which leads to effective change.

I do not think exploratory psychotherapy has much to offer Mr Languish now. He is not transsexual, but his cross-dressing serves an important psychological function. Although he often feels extremely distressed and unhappy, I suspect that even if he were able to engage with the process of psychotherapy the threat to his defences may well make him feel much worse without necessarily leading to any effective change. He may well get something from a relatively non-intensive supportive relationship with someone who might be able to help him adapt to his chosen lifestyle. I suspect that this may well be available through the transgender network with which he is already in touch. I have not arranged to see him again and have discharged him from my care.

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A few years after I transitioned, I felt wary and alert in the tribunal waiting room in Manchester, and then realised: I had noticed a medical report another representative had, which happened to have Graeme McGrath’s letterhead. Those letters really got to me. I burned them and some other tranny papers in 2009.

His diagnosis is wrong: I am transsexual. I would not still be expressing myself female were I not. His diagnostic error comes from exalting the scientific “understanding” over the reality: some trans women are observed to have certain characteristics, therefore anyone without one or more of those characteristics is not a trans woman.

The personality issues: Yes, that is how I was. I am better able to relate to people now. I am more aware of my own feelings, and more self-accepting. I think they come from being female and forced into male role, and being intuitive and touchy-feely in a family where that was devalued in favour of control and rationalism.

I am going back to this now to see how I have ended up unemployed. It helps me understand. It helps me value my journey.

I feel ready to go back into the World again. I feel no particular sense of entitlement, though some resentment of the difficulties I have faced. I am better able to face the World.

Trusting my emotional being

What if I am merely ruminating, rather than working through things?
That would be disastrous. That would be me, broken and worthless-
Oh.
That would be me, who I am, where I am, after those experiences.
But I do not think I am just ruminating, because
it feels like I am working through things.

What of me, being still, doing nothing?
I am doing something. I am healing. I am doing the work of self-acceptance.
Not as fast as I might wish-
-as fast as I can, in this moment.
Everything is alright.

Darkness and Light to you are both alike- Psalm 139:20.

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In the light of consciousness all sorts of things happen and one need not give special importance to any.

The sight of a flower is as marvelous as the vision of God. Let them be. Why remember them and then make memory into a problem? Be bland about them; do not divide them into high and low, inner and outer, lasting and transient.

Go beyond, go back to the source, go to the self that is the same whatever happens.

Your weakness is due to your conviction that you were born into the world. In reality the world is ever recreated in you and by you.

See everything as emanating from the light which is the source of your own being.

~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, quoted by Miriam Louisa at precisely the right time for me.

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The break in that for me, the suspension of suspension of disbelief, was,
“You were [not] born into this world.”
Of course I was born into this world. I am a physical being, in a physical world.
-Oh.
The World is not as I see it. If I let it be, I may see it more clearly.
Recreate it in me better.

Ooh, goody! I’m having a mystical experience! Happy dance!
My Inner Child, Ladies and Gentlemen, doing Inner Child stuff. I thank God for it.

What might this Strewthcrivvenswonderful, Mystic, Personal Growth Experience achieve for me?
Emotions attuned to the current situation not past stuff, held in awareness and accepted.
A clearer more truthful view of what is outside me, held in consciousness and accepted.

Masks

j wrote of a conversation with a woman about experiences of Love, where she realised how alike we all are. It is not a new thought: the line in my mind was

the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skins!

and I stick by that on looking at that whole poem. The auld sodger in whose voice it is slips away when Kipling says that. I am sure there is something Biblical on the thought, even if St Paul often articulates our different gifts. A quick search for “We are all one” yields this. “We are all brothers and sisters” yields Glenn Beck! For a British person, whose glimpses of Fox News are in satire showing how weird these Americans can be, with Beck the principal exhibit, that was a surprise. However, while it is a sentiment anyone may mouth, it is a truth each person has to see for themself, experientially, and ideally in the muck and mire of living, not just in meditation on retreat. Like j’s deepening conversation.

What gets in the way of the realisation is the masks each of us wear, pretending to be normal. The mask creates a feeling of inadequacy, and impairs our vision of other people: we think they are closer to “normal” than we are. I am taking mine off. All the time. The mask of being male was impossible for me, but when I transitioned to female I still kept a great deal of my reserve and silence, which is also too painful for me.

Quentin Crisp, gay when that was dangerous, said

What I want is to be accepted by other people without bevelling down my individuality to please them- because if I do that, all the attention, all the friendship, all the hospitality that I receive is really for somebody else of the same name. I want love on my own terms.

One friend says of my sharing, “it is so wonderfully surprising how open and vulnerable you are. I truly admire you.” I discount that less than I would have at one time. A reserved and private man, quite eminent in his field, who once told me of being very badly hurt by the dysfunctional Cardiff Quaker meeting, called my earlier effusions “cries for help” and counselled me against them.

It is important for me to state precisely why I am so open and vulnerable. I am not showing off my insecure spots to be rescued and validated by others, to have someone say “there there” and kiss me better, to be accepted so that I can accept myself- for that is what I wanted, and when I could not accept or value myself, no amount of validation expressed by others was enough for me.

I am taking off my masks because my aim is to accept and value all the bits which the masks hide, all the bits which I am self-conscious about. So that I can achieve the state in my tag line, “Open heart, independent mind” which I took from a strong-minded friend who I think is closer to that state than I am. Or Neil Peart’s Cinderella Man-

eyes wide open
heart undefended
innocence untarnished

This is the best way I can see right now towards my own flourishing and growth, and ability to survive in the world. I am taking off the masks, or the Shell, because I cannot live that way any more.

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I am a primate, and primates are social animals. So other people have great power over me. But the nature of that power and its exercise has changed.

All my friend did was touch me lightly on the arm- two fingers by the elbow- and kiss me on the cheek, but such is the state of my heightened sensibility at the moment that I was- the best word I can come up with for it is “Unmanned”. Moved to the core of my being. It was completely lovely. When I was trying to pretend to be a man, repressing all my feelings, that would have had no effect on me at all. I remain lonely, and starving for such connection- and now it is possible, and I will find it.

In the coffee shop, the woman behind the counter said “That is ÂŁ3.10, ‘s”. I was not sure I had heard aright. What did you say? “That’s ÂŁ3.10.” Did you say anything after that? She denied it. Then she said, “There’s your change, sir”, and this time admitted it. So, calmly, I took time to explain to her. “That is not the right word. What do you think the right word is?” With the sound of disbelieving questioning, she said, “Madam?”

So I explained to her that I am a woman, and I feel insulted by the implication that I am a man. She apologised.

Now, I am irritated. I do not have time for such petty games, and buying a coffee should be a pleasant experience, as I am sure Darcy Willson-Rymer would agree. But I am no longer subject to this woman’s power. I am not, now, lying curled up in a ball on the floor weeping, as I might have been ten years ago.

Seeing the person

File:Macaque neonatal imitation.pngIf I do not hear what other people say, do I see them? I understand there is an NLP tag, “perceiving is projecting”- so, No. Is it that bad? Well, it is my mirror neurons firing off when I try to understand another’s feelings: it is something in me, with my blind spots and my over-emphases. This might be most difficult when I know the situation, but not the reaction: Others may react to their particular situation differently: it is worth pausing to see the actual reaction not the reaction I would have imagined.

Those whose glass is half full find it easier to empathise with those whose glass is half empty than the other way round. The pessimists do not quite get what it is they are missing, and may not see that there is another way. Similarly, those operating on Fear do not quite get those who operate on Love, though when operating on fear I found that other kind, on rare occasions when I could perceive it, powerfully attractive.

It may be most difficult to see another’s reaction to myself. My own experience of myself is so intense it is hard to imagine that others do not experience me the same way: I project my judgment of myself onto others. Being aware of the issue is a good step.

Communicating

It was thoughtful, though hardly “Benzine is a ring” thoughtful; it was kind, though not the sort of kindness which actually put me out or cost anything. I said, that is not the most important thing in your father’s life, and my friend said that I had given her a new and liberating perspective. Ten years on, after I said that she said “I want to tell a different story now”. Cue girly screams of delight: this pleased me as much as anything last week. And, as so often, I was talking to myself. The other thing need not be the most important thing in my life, either.

Another friend told me something which really pleased me, though when I asked what she had meant it sounded subtly different. What I had heard was that she had been unable to see me as a woman (yes, that thing, still the most important thing in my life, I am working on it)- she had been unable to see me as a woman until she had wept over her own upbringing in Spain, before the death of Franco- and then she could see me as a woman. So I checked with her, and she told me, “Connecting with the grief of having being brought up in a Catholic, narrow minded and reactionary environment allowed me to fulfill your desire that I address you as a woman. After you revealed that you have been born a man I was conscious of something blocking me verbalizing that you were a woman, so I self-enquired and found that a conservative upbringing was the issue.”

I told another friend I had been hurt, and later she referred to “the man who had been really horrible to you”. But that was not what I had meant at all: I had been hurt by circumstances, and blamed no-one for it. Perhaps I should not ask, just imagine I have got over what I wanted to, it does not do great harm.

Image and Reality

Pictures of God as a child in the arms of a woman are far more common, but Google Images produces a lot for the search “God enthroned”, and quite a few of them are the old man with the beard. Blake’s is one of my favourites. The old man with the beard is the perfect image for Richard Dawkins to ridicule- how could anyone believe in that- and also for a fair few fourteen-year-olds to use in their journey to atheism.

There are other images of God. There is God as life-force, immanent in all things. For the Quaker, God is Relationship, experience, the inner light which we get to know. Moving into Quakerism, I had experiences of being moved to minister, possibly of being led into action, and I found that any idea of God I had got in the way of experiences of God. I decided to be open to new perceptions of these experiences, rather than being too quick to interpret them in the way of my understanding of previous experiences. I do not necessarily attach the experience too quickly to the word “God” or other words, and this is a discipline I use to try to get to the fullness of the experience.

I now seek to apply this to other experiences: getting to know other people, for example. Really, who is this person, now?

Allison Grayhurst applies it to spiritual growth. Indeed one of the barriers to growth is my preconception of what the new, more mature Flourish might look like. And when it comes, I have not anticipated the result, except once or twice in deep communing with my subconscious. Of course I need a “world map”, an understanding so that I can navigate quotidian situations, but also I need openness to experience so that I can gain the full blessing of it.

Confessional

So why, this blog? Why all this confession? Because I think it will advance my healing.

As I quoted before,

Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample on them, then you will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.”

Also see this video of Bruce Muzik giving a TED talk, on YouTube, which I am not entirely sure of intellectually, and yet I am doing it.

In 1998, I did a course in counselling skills level one, and was introduced to the work of Carl Rogers.

organismic self

This bowled me over, and started my conscious search for growth and awareness. There is a human animal which knows what it desires and how to get it, which is the organismic self. With conditional positive regard from parents and others, the ego develops seeing itself as the person they wish, the “self-concept”. However, this means that a lot of what the person thinks about himself is a false self-image, and he cannot bring to admit to himself the shadow which other people had not accepted in him. The aim of counselling, with empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard (Love) is to make the self-concept congruent with the organismic self. The aim of spiritual growth is to discover and truly accept the full richness of onesself as a human being. This may be what Eliot was getting at:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

When I came upon these ideas, I thought I was more like this:

organismic self

and now, I hope, like this:Organismic self 3

so I make public my shame and my weakness, so that I need not expend energy on it any more. And I can understand and accept why I would have been like that, and can transcend it.

Actually it is possible that “my confession will be good for others”. I have been read by at least one woman with similar experiences to my own, and we have shared how good it is to hear these experiences. But chiefly, I am doing this for me.

Oh, Christianity is a strange thing. I have known the cliche “Confession is good for the soul” for years, and even parroted it, and now know the truth of it more.