Encounters at Buddhafield

campsite

After a hot and sweaty ceilidh,Tara I am standing outside the marquee with my wig in my hand, and a small girl approaches me. She could not be more than six.

-Is that a wig? I say, yes, it is.
-Why do you wear a wig? I show my pate- very little hair grows there.

“Put it on,” she says, definitely, imperatively. “Now, a boy might kiss you.” She turned away, leaving me, well, awestruck.

“41 is a prime number” announced a high, clear voice. How old is he? I asked his aunt Lucy, whose tent was near mine. I had approached her for a chat, and we had chatted easily of life and stuff. She spent days cycling here. “Five in three months’ time,” she said. “His father’s a mathematician.”

When I told that to R, she disapproved: we pump children so full of information, nowadays. Though she was reading very early. I was impressed at his ability to take in such a complex concept. Earlier I had watched him climb onto the canvas of the bell tent, stretching the guy ropes. Initially he was leaning on the guy, then straddling it, then finally climbing on the canvas, looking over at Lucy and me, three yards away. When he was lying on the canvas, feet off the ground, she told him authoritatively not to climb on it. She explained she needed to sleep there, and did not want the tent pulled down. And when he reached out to touch the guy rope, later, looking over at her, she told him not to. “I wasn’t climbing on it,” he said. No, but we need to sleep there.

Boundaries tested, boundaries stated, all beautifully done. How difficult to raise a child! I still don’t feel ready for that effort. It feels that my emotions would be too quickly engaged in the No. As I had breakfast at my tent, I listened to a man tell his son The Truth, addressing him as “Son”- the fatherly fount of wisdom- and then saw that the boy had indeed gone to lie in the sleeping-place as threatened, and the father had to tell his wife The Truth. And she told him The Truth.

Then there was Finch, whom I saw in his sling, and wondered at how small he is; then we knelt in the women’s space tent for a workshop, and cooed over him. Hands! Toes! Face! He was seven days old when the camp started. So tiny! He was eight pounds when he was born, a good weight- but babies grow so quickly, one rarely sees one that young.

They’re all boy, aren’t they? I said, admiring, and we talked of how difficult that can be. In a workshop, the facilitator referred once to choosing a partner and working with “him or her”. At the end, when she asked for “challenges”, I said this challenged me, as it excluded me. I am both, and neither. We talked of it, after. I think I let her off too lightly- gender binary is all-pervasive in our culture, and I was at pains to point out that it was not her I objected to, but the cultural assumption, and that her workshop was wonderful. I did not make clear enough that dividing people into “man” and “woman” oppresses both, and that anyone may choose to distance self from it.

Moral objections

Is there any moral difference between someone having a moral objection to homosexual behaviour, perhaps religiously based, and someone simply hating queers? No.

The hater needs human beings to despise. It makes him feel better about himself. Many “Christians” who are particularly vocal about homosexuality fall into this group.

If he surrenders his moral objection to gay lovemaking, will he have also to surrender his objection to sex with animals, children, or corpses? No. People over the last fifty years have surrendered their moral objection to black men having sex with white women. However loudly they protested that this was Moral rather than hate-based, we now think such a moral position merely prejudiced.

Also, there is a difference between gay lovemaking and sex with corpses. It unites two people in Love, which is the primary purpose of the sexual act in human beings: we make love when we are infertile, we make love far more than we make babies. Baby-making is essential, but not everyone has to do it. Not every straight woman who has sex has children.

Gay sex is morally objectionable if it is oppressive, just as straight sex is, for example sex with children.

What about the results of gay sex, the spreading of disease? But straight sex spreads disease too. Perhaps unsafe and promiscuous sex might be argued to be morally objectionable on the ground of its outcomes, but not gay sex per se. And, as straight promiscuous sex carries the risk of unwanted pregnancies, straight promiscuous sex is actually more morally objectionable than gay promiscuous sex, from the point of view of outcomes.

What of a Bible-based objection? It is a delusion. It has no moral value. Some of the clobber passages are translated to mean a wider range of behaviour than the original justifies. Others are ridiculous. Gay people an abomination who should be stoned? Well? Should we stone people to death, or not? Idolising the Bible above the needs of human beings, that is the immoral act.

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I have no partner at the moment, and I am not thinking of marrying. So why do I believe equal marriage the most important thing for LGBT folk to campaign for? Because it is the strongest symbol, now, of our equality. Because the State will collude in the celebration and support of our relationships on an equal footing with those of straights. Because the haters find it sair to thole, and are campaigning strongly against it. Because greater equality will follow. Because there is no good ground to oppose it, and many Conservative arguments in favour, about helping people be happier, more productive members of society. Because it catches the imagination of straight allies. Because it is simple to achieve and costs nothing- a one line Act of parliament will make it. Because the only people who oppose it are homophobes.

Because it is coming, and coming soon, and we can make it come more quickly.

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I went to the top deck of the bus, and then thought, this is the bus the schoolchildren get. Should I go downstairs? I decided not to, though I was the only adult here. After they got on, I heard voices from the back- “That’s a tranny.” “A tranny, there, at the front.” One came forward to have a look, and I smiled at her. They did not bother me particularly. They are good kids round here.

That is my main argument for work on equal marriage. We need to win equality battles. Any equality battle won makes all our lives better. This is one we can win.

Evidence

The American Medical Association has declared that

the conclusions by the leading associations of experts in this area reflect a consensus that children raised by lesbian or gay parents do not differ in any important respects from those raised by heterosexual parents.

I found that here. Debate over. Thank God, we can be left in peace, and possibly even permitted to marry like normal folks. However, here is a claim that “a study reveals that kids fare worse in same-sex households”, here is a claim that “a study suggests that traditional marriage promotes child welfare” and here is an assertion that the AMA’s claim “cannot be supported scientifically”, based on this article by Loren Marks. Oh, and here is a woman who has gay friends, but who when she wants to pluck from the air an example of sin, just happens to pick on homosexuality.

What should be compared? A straight couple who stay together throughout their child’s adolescence may produce better outcomes for the child than a gay couple adopting a child, but the true comparison is a straight couple adopting a child. And a gay woman having a child and having a partner should be compared to a lone parent who finds a new partner. So Loren Marks’ criticism of comparing with lone parent families is unjustified. They are the proper comparator. The “Marriage-based intact family” is increasingly rare.

Possibly a marriage-based intact family is the best environment for a child. This does not mean that public shaming should be used against other groups, or that parents who “stay together for the sake of the children” do not screw up their kids worse than loving gay couples. And my AMA quote does not refer to marriage based intact families, only to “heterosexual parents”.

Then, studies before 2000 generally used educated, high-earning lesbian couples as the homosexual parents. This is because they were the gay couples who could parent children. Also, there are no longitudinal studies of children brought up by gay parents, compared to equivalent straight couples, dealing with adolescent issues, educational attainment and salary at age 30. That is because it has been extremely difficult to live in a loving gay relationship in the 1970s, let alone bring up a child: 1% of couples in the 2000 US census were gay. As Loren Marks states, Southern California is not typical of the US. Well, go find a sample from rural Alabama, then. She criticises the small sample sizes. Qualitative research generally has small samples.

Then she describes a study by Sarantakos, from 1996 where children were assessed by teachers. 54 children of married couples, 54 of cohabiting couples, and 54 of gay couples were assessed, and the gay couples’ children came bottom in eight of nine categories. The APA has reasons to discount this study, and I am not aware of all of the reasons. Sarantakos published a book in 2000 on Same Sex Couples, stating:

children of homosexual parents report deviance in higher proportions than children of (married or cohabiting) heterosexual couples.

I would be interested to know the incidence of bullying of those children. This is my fall-back position: how would the children of gay couples fare in a society without prejudice? We cannot know.

Loren Marks refers to childrearing outcomes of concern to society:

intergenerational poverty, collegiate education and/or labor force contribution, serious criminality, incarceration, early childbearing, drug/alcohol abuse, or suicide

whereas the studies of gay couples’ children have considered such matters as emotional functioning, which generally affects these outcomes, or sexual orientation, necessary to refute a Scare story of the oppressors.

Her main criticism is that the studies are not large enough positively to support the statement that there is certainly no difference, rather than the much weaker statement that no difference has actually been found. Loren Marks gives a counsel of perfection. Yes, a larger longitudinal study considering outcomes would be of value. However, it would be difficult to find a representative sample, and costly. She asks:

Did any published same-sex parenting study cited by the 2005 APA Brief (pp. 23–45) track the societally significant long-term outcomes into adulthood? No. Is it possible that “the major impact” of same-sex parenting might “not occur during childhood or adolescence…[but that it will rise] in adulthood?

This is mere scaremongering. It is no argument for the societal prejudice against gay couples, and their legal restrictions, which are the problem and not the solution.

Here is Loren Marks’ conclusion:

Are we witnessing the emergence of a new family form that provides a context for children that is equivalent to the traditional marriage-based family? Even after an extensive reading of the same-sex parenting literature, the author cannot offer a high confidence, data-based “yes” or “no” response to this question.

She does not know. And so where that Catholic priest claims the APA statement has been “debunked”, Loren Marks’ article does not support his claim.

Of course I have an interest here. We do not know how children would fare, brought up by gay couples in a land without prejudice. That is an argument for eliminating prejudice, not for restricting child-rearing.

Being no more qualified than that priest to read scientific literature, and not having the time to read the studies themselves, I am reduced to the argument from authority. However, I think the support of the AMA and two APAs make a very strong argument from authority.

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St Peter’s

I want to be near you
You’re the One, the One, the One

I live in the countryside. I can walk across the field, along the river and round the Lakes, such a beautiful walk that I need no other. And- that town of 45,000 people is just over there, and there are 35,000 just that way, and the duel carriageway and the other duel carriageway.

I am not a serious cyclist, and I can cycle away from those two “urban areas”, and quickly be in proper countryside. The metalled road has no number, and I can hear no cars or machinery, only the birds. There are sheep and lambs in that field.  “Woodbines- a great little cigarette” says the metal sign. I thought tobacco advertising illegal, and Woodbines discontinued- the more disreputable George Orwell characters smoke Woodbines. On to ———-, which was a town before Mercia was a kingdom, and eat under the awning of the pub.

The rain is so light, that the tiny droplets could almost be mist- a “smirl”, I would call it. Across the fields, the trees more distant are mere impressions, and the Willow only hundreds of yards away is quite clear. So beautiful.

These tiny villages are in the Domesday Book, with huge stone churches: all that love and respect and wealth going into building a place of worship. The church is open: I prop my bicycle outside, disdaining the lock. This is no longer the way I worship, but the stone and the Victorian pews make me feel instantly at home, in childhood, and my heart is warmed. Standing in the bell tower at St Peter’s, you see that the chancel bends off to the left: in the 12th century it was believed that if anything was perfect, the Devil would pay it particular attention to damage it, so the church was made imperfect. Parts of those two stained glass windows, one of St George, one of St Christopher, date from the 14th century, around the time of Bannockburn. I stopped the woman driving away from the Old Rectory to ask her to confirm that. I am amazed that stained glass could survive our cultural revolution under Edward VI.

Going through G—, I hear a familiar tune. At the infants’ school, the six year olds are country dancing, to a tune I danced to when a child, and which Playford might have known. There is a crowd of parents, one filming on her iPhone, some carrying trays of cakes. I stop to watch. Here are some words, not quite the words I remember:

 The first couple separate, go out around the ring
You meet your partner going out, you meet her coming in
You honour your corner lady, promenade your own – sing
I want to be near you, you’re the one, the one, the one
I want to be near you, you’re the one for me

Transsexual children

David Reimer was born a boy, raised a girl, and tried to reclaim his manhood as a teen.

David Reimer was born a boy, raised a girl, and tried to reclaim his manhood as a teen.

When David Reimer was circumcised, his penis was so badly damaged that when he was 21 months old his parents agreed that his testicles should be removed, and he should be raised as a girl. He never accepted that, was nicknamed “cavewoman” at school, and aged 14 assumed a male gender role. In 2004, he shot himself in the head.

Contrast Pasupatidasi and her daughter Ziona. Ziona knows she is a girl, and loathes her penis and testicles, such that the thought of their removal puts her on cloud 9. It is likely that she will transition completely, and the earlier the transition, the more likely she is to pass: consider Caroline CosseyJenna Talackova and the model, Lea. I do not get objectified by the patriarchal culture for my looks. No, acceptance should not depend on passing. Unfortunately, it does, to a great extent. Here, the mother tells something of what her daughter had to do to convince her.

Sometimes gay people, in childhood, wonder if they are “really” of the other sex. There is a huge difference between gender identity- “I am a girl”- and questioning- “Am I a girl?” There are huge barriers for a child in stating gender identity different to that indicated by gonads. There is great difficulty for the parents accepting their child’s statement, and great hostility from outside when they do. So Transactive, supporting these parents and children, performs an essential role.

It is possible that a parent is sick and twisted enough to so bully and manipulate a boy with testicles that the child might even imagine he chooses to express himself as a girl because he is trans. But unlikely, even if he is gay. That child with testicles is a girl if she gets the puberty blocking treatment. It is just too difficult to get it otherwise.

This does not prevent Bug Brennan from publishing a lurid attack on Transactive, accusing them of forcing gay children into transgender role from fundamentalist Christian motives to deny the existence of gay people, as in Iran. To her credit, Bug publishes Jenn Burleton’s response. To her discredit, she does not take note of it.

Another comment suggests that the parents are trying to make themselves out as brave, when they are manipulating the child. The feminine box girls are forced into, Disney Princess style, gets narrower and narrower. A child should just be allowed to be a tomboy. Well, yes, but not if the (child with a uterus) is actually a boy- such children need far more support, not benign neglect.

So, it is all a horrible, extreme right Christian conspiracy. Tell that to Lefty Begone. For Lefty, science is clear, testicles means boy, uterus means girl, so the child who disagrees is a fantasist and his parents are creating a Democrat voter.

And yet, despite this near-universal condemnation of the parents as monsters who are torturing and maiming their children, and the children as fantasists or passive victims, despite all the hate, the children and parents working with Transactive carry on, many progressing to extremely successful transition. If that is not proof of the existence of gender identity separate from physical indications of gender, then nothing is.

Wedding ring

I said hello to Derek, and he stopped pruning his hedge to chat.
-Have you lived here long, me duck? I’ve seen you goo past.
18 months. -Not long then. We introduce ourselves. You’re not from round here, then- he likes my name, he does not know another like it. Reound back, his hedge is 8′ tall, and he is scared of heights, so he gets two young women to trim it for him.

When he came here, there was a fence at the front, and he took it out and put a hedge along there. He lost his wedding ring. Thirty years later, he took the hedge out and built a wall, and his ring was round the first branch in the hedge. He shows it to me. It’s a miracle, Audrey said. He’s been alone three year. One daughter lives just along from you, round the corner, the other in D—. Lovely house it is, four bedroom, from her bedroom you’ve got a view across the paddocks. How is it where you are? Three year ago, it was awful. Kids running wild, they threw mud balls at his windows. He knows the fathers, and the father of one lad told him to go and apologise to Derek. I’ll ask him if you have, he said, and if you haven’t I’ll take you round myself to say sorry and give you a good hiding. So it was alright after that.

Across the fields. I thought these cracks in the surface were a sign of long dry soil, but here there are puddles from the heavy rains we’ve been having- the river is higher than I have seen it, I could not walk across the ford, water was flooding over the lock gate- and just next to them, the surface is cracked. It’s the type of soil.

The volunteers are out round the lakes, and I chat to the man from the Trust who is working with them. They have to keep the willow back. It just grows anywhere, cut it and it grows more. Here, it will be a maze for children. They cut branches, and planted them deep in gravel, they can water it if it gets too dry, and the branches are regenerating. There are walks down the valley, S. will tell about the gravel from the glacier in the Ice Age, and that longbarrow there, the burial site, which has never been excavated. They had to excavate the other side, where they found the Saxon village, when they built the bypass. Round Cygchester there are Roman remains. Have you been down there?

-“Chester”. Of course. I had not made the connection. No, I haven’t. Somewhere to cycle to.

Grading

M drove me to the grading, in this sports hall in the Borough. There is a climbing wall at one end, and floor markings for various sports, just like all over the country. There is a buzz of excitement, of a friendly crowd out for fun, about 75 of us for grading, and about the same number of family and friends watching.

We line up in three lines, white belts on the left. On command, we kneel, and shut our eyes: and I am in the moment, present and aware. On command we open our eyes, and touch our foreheads to the floor three times. Up, and we stand relaxed, feet apart, on the outer edges of the feet, knees slightly bent and slightly pushed outwards; elbows bent, fists balled in front of our hips. Immediately I go into this stance, I am Aware. M agrees: “You’re in the Zone”. It is a good place to be.

We do a series of punches, blocks and kicks, at slow pace, medium pace and full focus. The slow pace is to teach the finer points of the move, the medium to speed it up a little, and “full focus” to put the force into it. I want to make my Gi (white suit) “snap”- the limb whips through the sleeve, making a sharp sound which I find really cool. In slow pace, doing the kicks, we do them in four stages: the first is foot up, and balancing on the other foot the left end of the lines are swaying all over the place. “Look at a point on the wall” says a sensei. I need to practise this.

In front of me are two six year olds, the girl in trackie bottoms marked Hello Kitty. Perhaps the finer points of hips on or hips off escape her, but she punches as we punch. Beside me is a girl with a headscarf. I dislike that interpretation of religion, putting a girl of ten in a headscarf, but I am glad she is here.

There are problems with punching the air. M says that some people have their feet in such a position that if they ever kicked someone they would break their toes, and for fighting there is an advantage in experiencing taking a hit and having to come round from it quickly to keep up the guard and fight back. I still work up a sweat. Some classes are “full contact,” but you do not want a child with a black eye, and the following week a split lip.

Before the yellow belts and higher do the first Kata (do watch, it is beautiful) we white belts sit off to the left. I would rather sit to the right and watch the higher grades. They go through the kata, at slow pace and then full focus in own time. Each belt grades on a higher kata, so fewer and fewer are standing until two brown belts, one a professional dancer, go through their last. We are silent, watching them in concentration- even the six year olds- and applaud.

Yellow belts and above get up for sparring. This is non-contact, and if a fist or foot gets through the block it should stop just before the Gi. Still, I do not want someone’s fist in my face, and it is worth blocking. We white belts just watch. The six year olds have lost all interest, but sit still and talk amongst themselves: it really does teach discipline. A two year old runs out to his daddy, a sensei, who picks him up. One man- M explains he does this full time- is harder than the others, though still non-contact. Again, by the time the brown belts are sparring with the senseis, it is beautiful and we all concentrate watching them. B. who got her blue belt today, is 69, and glowing. Having done this, in this atmosphere, I feel wonderfully powerful.

And, as you can see from the photographs, I now have my yellow belt.

Child benefit

In the UK, a parent with a child under 16 or still in school, is entitled to child benefit, £20.30 for the eldest child and £13.40 for each other child a week. The last Labour government increased this amount above inflation. The current government has frozen it.

The government proposes to withdraw entitlement to child benefit if a parent or step-parent pays the 40% top rate of income tax. This is unfair: where one partner works, and earns £45,000, there is no entitlement, but where both partners work and each earns £40,000 a year they are entitled. However, it has the advantage of being comparatively easy to administer and check, and perhaps there is less concern about fairness to high earners, even if the single earner households that Conservative supporters so admire suffer.

But the health and social security system gains support because we all pay in, and we all take out of it. We all can use the health service, and we all get the state retirement pension. “We are all in it together”, as Mr Cameron says. Child benefit is the most universal of benefits. It gives the wealthy- top 20% of the British public- a stake in the system as a whole. Restricting their access to child benefit turns a universal system into a charitable system. And children are a source of hope in the future for the whole community, not just their parents.

In 2010, a parent with a household income below £55,000 a year would also be entitled to some child tax credit, probably £10.40 a week. Now that figure is £40,000, and soon it will be below £20,000 for most households, because of cuts in entitlement. That is a backwards step for a different reason. Paying some tax credit to most parents meant that parents could realise it would be worth claiming. That increases take up. Otherwise, people who would be entitled do not claim because they are not sure they are entitled, and so the benefit does not reach its intended recipients.

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“The intolerable wrestle with words and meanings”- Eliot had it much harder than I have, but then I am simply trying things out, practising writing rather than seeking to express Reality in a wholly new way. There we have it, three hundred words on child benefit, a rather dryer topic than I normally address here, a bit of fact, a bit of opinion. In what order should it go? The aside about tax credit in the first paragraph grew until I had to shift it to a new topic in another paragraph at the end. And people read this stuff, and comment. Does it jar if I repeat a word? Can the expression be more elegant, or more beautiful? I read a complaint in a magazine about meaninglessly using the word “So” at the start of sentences, and I notice it in myself. I am enjoying writing, and think it worth my while practising, and seeking an audience.