Stonewall and the transphobes

Stonewall gets much of its money from its Diversity Champions Programme. It helps more than 800 employers ensure that all LGBT staff have “Acceptance without Exception”. A transphobe, who attempts to foment fear and anger against trans women, is seeking to take away this source of funding for Britain’s leading LGB charity, even though she is lesbian and claims to support the rights of lesbians. However, she uses extreme right slogans in her campaigning.

Allison Bailey is a barrister with Garden Court Chambers. Their first statement on their About page is “We are committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law”. They are part of the Diversity Champions programme. Last year, Bailey took part in setting up LGB All Liars, a group committed to fighting against trans rights. According to Bailey, Stonewall complained about her because of her links with All Liars, and the chambers investigated her. So she is suing them. Her claim is that they investigated her because of her “gender critical beliefs”, and because she claims more women than men hold such beliefs, this is indirect discrimination.

Transphobia whited out. Select text to view. “This was an attempt by Stonewall to intimidate and silence me and others critical of what we see as its malign influence in British life”- “malign” because it supports trans people- and she claims that she “criti[ises] and investigat[es] notions of gender identity that are in conflict with, and doing harm to, the interests, safety and rights of women, children and LGB people”. I got those quotes from a screed claiming martyrdom for her anti-trans campaigning.

Indirect discrimination is justified if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The claim is worthless. Maya Forstater’s similar claim, heard in the Employment Tribunal in January, failed- or else we would have heard the result by now. The legitimate aim is promoting trans rights, and it is proportionate to complain about and investigate an anti-trans campaigner in order to do that. Such an extremist in chambers might make LGBT people less willing to use the chambers. In her statement she does not claim any action was taken against her beyond the investigation of complaints, and she is still a member of the chambers.

However, litigation such as this might make employers less willing to enter the Diversity Champions programme, choking off a main source of income for this LGB charity.

Extreme right slogans: the headline for her screed is “I am suing Stonewall to stop them policing free speech”. “Policing free speech” is meaningless. You are not free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. I am embarrassed to quote that, it is so well known. “Free speech” is never licence to escape consequences: if you preach hate, people will condemn you. The extreme right: I mean this attack on higher education.

Bailey’s crowdfunder reached £60,000 within three days, despite being suspended by CrowdJustice because of serious complaints. It is now closed to further donations.

Bailey has also challenged the Equal Treatment Bench Book, guidance for judges which says that trans women should be treated as women. She wants trans women not to have a fair trial, because the trans woman would be fighting prejudice as well as assessing the evidence. Defendants, innocent until proven guilty, should not have to face that. Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to, said a female judge who does not share Bailey’s prejudice.

The threat to free speech comes from Bailey. Another quote many will be familiar with:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Bailey writes, “I have always been an advocate for transgender rights. I believe passionately that transgender people must enjoy protection under the law from discrimination and abuse.” She means, our human rights apart from the ones that let trans women share women’s space. That’s not what international or British human rights lawyers mean by our human rights. Bailey is lying, by twisting the ordinary meaning of words.

It does LGB rights no good to defund Stonewall. Bailey’s hatred of trans women means she is doing LGB folk lasting harm.

Being trans is an act of generosity

Being trans is an act of generosity. Being trans is hard, tiring work, and joyous creation.

Reflect on which identities you are most comfortable discussing? Which give you the most joy? Conversely, which identities are you least comfortable discussing and involve the most pain?

Which of your identities do you question the most? Is there an identity you often need to defend?

Sara Ahmed: When being is labouring, we are creating more than ourselves.
Sara Ahmed: When we loosen the requirements to be in a world, we create room for others to be.

I read these questions from a white cis straight professional male, and they do not fit me. They imply that the identity I am comfortable discussing gives me joy. Well, sometimes it’s hard to be a trans woman, and I can be intensely uncomfortable talking about it with a woman who wants me excluded but says she “only wants the freedom to say sex is real and women need single sex spaces”- with one of her “male allies” it’s much worse- so I wondered, does my joy only come from self-actualisation? There’s nothing joyous about being a trans woman per se, it’s just that having suppressed in fear I realise in courage and being myself and finding myself gives me joy? Or even being a trans woman is inherently uncomfortable because I have to explain myself all the time.

Being normal or having one of the acceptable characteristics- white, middle-class, with a degree- is comfortable. I am white, and it is comfortable, I don’t have to think, Oh God, another room full of white men. It’s not necessarily comfortable talking about it, though. I am woker than most, I have heard a small amount of experience, two people separately talking about white people touching black people’s hair and how invasive that is. I am uncomfortable, but pleased, to talk about whiteness with a Black person: pleased because I can find how better to be an ally, be one of the good people who is supportive whose support they need and so polish my halo because I want to be seen as a good person, and give evidence of that by doing good. Uncomfortable because I glimpse how much I don’t know. Then I talk about whiteness with a white person and with some we nod our heads wisely and want to be better allies, though not all white people are like that.

I am comfortable when I am reinforcing the rules of my social group: with the white man who like me wants to be an ally. There was the Suffragan bishop who wants to be an ally, and then he came out to me as “lower-middle class”, the grammar school boy in society on suffrance, with some privilege and some matters excluded. We want to be allies because we too are excluded in some ways. It seems everyone on the Diversity and Inclusion course is excluded in some ways.

I am uncomfortable when I am labouring, when whether I can go to the toilet without being shamed comes into question. The Equality Act 2010, with its rules on how I can be excluded if it is reasonable to exclude me, was fragile toleration of me, rather than acceptance, and some are working hard to tear down even that.

So we build as men must build
with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other

Building is fighting, for women as well as men, and in Eliot’s poem they were building necessary defensive walls for Jerusalem.

And the trans-excluder might see herself as building, a space for women, for women to be in solidarity, where a trans woman would damage that precious fragile space. We are set against each other. It is tragic that we fight each other.

There is joy in being trans. All my personality and all its beauty is ὁμοούσιον with being trans. I am one essence. There is me, not a trans bit I can separate out from the rest of it, not one bit which is to be deprecated and fenced in, or removed so I could be a productive member of society.

There is work in being trans, in defending my right to be, in being myself despite the flak. It is creative work. It expands the realm of the possible for everyone and particularly for those whom gender stereotypes do not fit (Everyone, but some more than others, some much much much more than others).

Which of your identities do you question? Well, that is a personal question. “What are your most vulnerable, insecure spots?” None, I tell you. “What of yourself do you doubt?” That might lead me to finding that imposed identities are forced and not real, self-concept not organismic self, not “myself” at all but a lie. And, I think I have ferreted out most of that already.

Four Jews

Knowing I must act against antisemitism, but not sure how, I have been reading books by Jews. I will challenge antisemitism when I hear it, and with Amos Oz I draw the line at challenges to Israeli policy which would make the State of Israel’s continuation as a safe place for Jews impossible. So I cannot support a right of return for all Palestinian refugees. I see the reasons for the different names- if they are Palestinians, they are a small oppressed minority under the Israelis. If they are “Arabs”, they are part of the people who sought to destroy Israel immediately the UN voted to establish two states on the territory of the former British mandate.

I read Oz’s account of the siege of the Jewish area of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness. He was eight. His cousin had been murdered in Auschwitz. He describes having a bucket of water per person, sometimes, sometimes not, and people he knew being killed by snipers. His seeking of that two State solution, his mourning of two oppressed peoples set against each other, inspires me.

I have been reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list of them at the end. It includes Hitler, who ceases to be a great man as soon as his troops start losing, describing his thoughts and feelings and how his underlings see him. It includes a journey to the gas chamber from the moment of boarding the cattle truck, to the panic as people are packed into the dark room.

And it has the only account  of the joy and wonder of scientific discovery I have seen in a novel. Victor Shtrum has a conversation about politics with friends where they allow themselves to speak freely, and ever after the thought of that conversation tortures him. Is his friend’s brother an agent provocateur? Has he been arrested? But the free conversation leads to a moment of inspiration. There have been experimental results which have not fitted the current theory. Are the results merely anomalous? That evening he has a flash of inspiration integrating the old understanding with the new results, and over the following days he works on a mathematical proof of his theory.

Then he is denounced for polluting Soviet science with Talmudic speculation.

Grossman was a fearless journalist, telling the story of the troops at the front as they wished. He portrays a vile, corrupt Commissar, Getmanov, and loyal Communists interrogated in the Lubyanka. It is a brave book, suppressed under Khrushchev, surviving miraculously.

An Interrupted Life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, are a mystic journey to service of God in love of all, including the German soldier as the Nuremberg laws bite, and a clear-eyed acceptance of reality. She describes her self-induced abortion and encounters with public spirited citizens challenging her presence in a pharmacy. Is it against the law? It is not, she explains, courteously.

And now I have started The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama. He begins in 5th century BCE Elephantine, where Jewish soldiers serve the Persian occupation of Egypt, and are expelled when the Persian empire begins to fray. They built their own temple for sacrifice. Contradicting the Seperatist story of Ezra Nehemiah and Haggai, Schama tells another story of living in the company of neighbouring cultures, where it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, as after it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American, possible, not necessarily easy or simple, to live the one life in balance with the other, to be none the less Jewish for being the more Egyptian, Dutch, British, American.

These books which I love are eclectic, and I draw no conclusions from them about Jews as a whole; but I am more determined to be a good ally against antisemitism.

Jessica Yaniv

Does any trans woman support Jessica Yaniv? She is suing several Canadian beauticians for refusing to wax her scrotum. She demands several thousand dollars each from them in compensation, and some have gone out of business.

She pretended to be someone else when approaching them,  using the profile of a pregnant woman.

Wedding cakes are symbolic of equality. If a baker can refuse a wedding cake, a landlord can refuse an apartment. The same might apply to waxing, except that it is an intimate service. Some traders are happy to wax a penis and scrotum for payment, some are not. Also, it is different from waxing a vulva. The hair lies differently and the surfaces to be waxed are more complex. Jessica may have a woman’s genitals, but she does not have a vulva. Arguably, a “Brazilian” is a vulva wax. (Added Oct 2019- This was part of the grounds for the decision against Yaniv.)

For me it is not the appropriate cause for activist litigation. Punch up, not down.

I heard about it days ago in strident Facebook comments from anti-trans campaigners. “What would be a good enough reason to force someone to handle someone’s genitals against their will?” They put the case as shockingly as they can, of course, but it is an open goal.

Then it got into The Guardian, in a popular piece which was about as little transphobic as possible, I suppose. “It’s not a hate crime for women to feel uncomfortable waxing male genitalia” said Arwa Mahdawi. I agree, though I don’t think the case tells us anything interesting about trans rights, or equality legislation, except that some trans women are unpleasant people. I don’t want to be so vulnerable that I am unsafe to be unpleasant, and I also don’t like the press drawing attention to people whose only newsworthy characteristic is that they are an unpleasant trans woman. It increases transphobia.

Mahdawi points out that right wing media which usually campaigns against women’s rights and immigrants are now hypocritically using women’s rights and immigrant rights to hammer a trans woman. But then she states Yaniv is a “troll, not an activist”. I agree, because I feel there are reasons to sympathise and argue for Yaniv’s victims.

Catriona Stewart in The Herald used the case to campaign against trans rights. “The case encapsulates the concerns of feminists around self-id”, she writes. No, it doesn’t. There is a clear distinction between a vulva wax and a scrotum wax. Possibly it “Disregards women’s boundaries and dignity”, but in a unique way. I don’t expose myself in a loo, I use a cubicle. It is easy enough to make the distinctions and see where trans rights are justified, unless you want to make a transphobic point.

“There is a bitter divide between trans allies and women’s allies,” she writes. That is the hideous lie. It is not all cis women against trans women, many support trans rights. I am glad of the female politicians Stewart quotes taking a stand, though she mocks them.

Stewart writes of another Canadian case in which a cis woman would not share a room in a hostel with a “masc-presenting” trans woman, that is, one with a beard and men’s clothes, and so was evicted. That’s a difficult case. I don’t think UK law would require the trans woman to share with a woman. But then my voice does not pass as female. There is a line to be drawn, and if it is at stealth then I don’t measure up.

So liberal media plays the conservative game, drawing attention to problematic trans women, which has the effect of making us look bad. Yes it’s transphobic to judge all trans women by a few onjectionable trans women, just as it would be antisemitic to judge all Jews. It does not mean people don’t do it.

People often think of issues in terms of individual stories. The relentless focus on unpleasant trans women turns people against us.

To end on a positive, here are those female politicians Stewart quotes. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says “trans women are women”. Mhairi Black, Scottish MP, supports us. And The Herald is on both sides like the Guardian, with an opinion piece saying Scotland must introduce gender reform.

October 2019: This is the tribunal’s decision and reasoning.

How we are seen

I want to be seen, in my glory, for this human being is beautiful. Let us dance together, sharing our moves, developing them together. Let us empower each other, being our whole selves, and encouraging others to be so too.

I wrote, It is my right to specify how I should be imagined, or how I should not be imagined. Another objected, the one thing nobody can control is how others imagine (i.e. think of) them. Um. Let’s try again. Burns’ idea that to see ourselves as others see us would free us from blunders, foolish notions, and airs, reflects the idea of the Tall poppy, that it is good to be one of the crowd, not to stick out too much. A louse walks over a young woman’s fine clothes, and the poet thinks that puts her in her place. Rather than see the beauty of her bonnet or her lace, he ridicules it by focusing on the one imperfection which would revolt her, perhaps distress and mortify her.

What I mean is, see my beauty. We are all imperfect. Dwell on the gifts, and lift me when I fall. Be gentle with my blind spots, they are not the most important part of me. So says Kaleidographia: face to face they may misread situations and be humiliated, or be lost for words, but in writing they communicate clearly, expressing winsome feelings persuasively and winning sympathy. I love their passion and creativity.

See my individuality. Don’t see me as a stereotype.

Of course this relates to being male or female. The sad tale of Sam Kane stops me wanting to revert- being “treated as a woman”, that is, ignored, belittled, not seen or heard- she reverted, but has transitioned again because she is trans, and presenting male is even more unbearable. I am tempted to assume male privilege, but would probably find all that goes with it too uncomfortable. So I am relegated to the role of listener. I am standing with a man who is holding forth, and recognise that he believes the conversation is his, and the sound needed is his own voice, and nothing will persuade him otherwise, or even open him to the possibility of another view. Sometimes I can go along with that, sometimes it’s a relief- no need to compete- and sometimes it’s a bit of a pain.

On being dangerous- a friend writes, some people find it very hard to feel completely safe and relaxed around you. I don’t think anyone believes they are in physical danger. That’s something. I am not going to hit them or smash something, and they get that- but what might they perceive as the risk? Well, I might get excited or distressed.

Playing brass instruments, you push your upper lip forward slightly, and the lip vibrating starts the sound waves which the instrument moulds and amplifies. Playing the tuba at school, given a mouthpiece to get a raspberry sound out of it rather than simply the sound of breath blowing through, I vibrated my lower lip instead, and never corrected the error, though I played for five years and got grade 5. It meant I had to anticipate any cue, because I could not start the sound immediately. In the same way, I have huge self-control, and can suppress emotional reactions, but I suppress them with fear and anger directed against myself rather than in a healthy way, feeling but not expressing.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist and ethologist, distinguishes feelings and emotions: feelings are internal subjective states that, strictly speaking, are known only to those who have them. I know my own feelings, but I don’t know yours, except for when you tell me about them. We communicate about our feelings by language… [Emotions] are detectable on the outside in facial expression, skin colour, vocal timbre, gestures, odour, and so on. Only when the person experiencing these changes becomes aware of them do they become feelings, which are conscious experiences. We show our emotions, but we talk about our feelings. Studying humans “from a biological perspective”, as the animals we are, creates the difference. In both feelings and emotions, there is the wordless response then we frame and define it with words.

Still, often, I don’t know my feelings, I suppress them too hard. So they become noticeable, as emotions, which might bother others but also bring them to my own attention. I would rather I knew what I was feeling. I can’t respond to you if I don’t. I can be a sounding board, vibrating in sympathy- feeling your feelings with my mirror neurons, helping you get something clear in your mind, I might even critique it with my intellect, but I can’t respond.

Do you want a mirror, or a tool, or do you want to talk to me? If I feel differently to you, that does not mean your feelings are wrong, or unacceptable, simply different. Is the risk that my personality might overwhelm yours? That is not my wish. I want to hear and be heard. It’s not a competition. We do not have to feel the same way, about anything.

Now being trans the question of how you see me can seem binary: see me as a man or as a woman. See me as an individual, with individual responses. That is why we are allies of feminists: neither set of gendered stereotypes works for anyone, but their failure to work is completely obvious with us. That discomfort of the person who does not want to be discourteous, and refers to me as “he” then quickly corrects herself- that discomfort can change how you see anyone.

If this person is exactly the same as you, it is a relief. It is comforting. But, if this person is different, it is exciting. What new perspectives might they have?

I offer myself
as the grit in your oyster.
Let us create pearls!

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Quaker diversity

Edwina Peart is measuring how diverse Quakers are. A friend thought the survey badly designed. Rather than the tick-boxes I see on job application diversity forms, there is a blank for whatever words you wish. So if she is measuring how many working class people there are in the Society, she first has to decide what the words used mean.

Class is difficult. George Orwell called himself “Upper-lower-upper middle class”. I think of myself as “lower-middle” class, which for me is a matter of attitudes ingrained from my upbringing. People are capitalists through their pension funds or savings, as well as workers. Pierre Bourdieu defined social, economic and cultural capital: Social capital is the resources you gain from being part of a social network and social groups; cultural capital is non-economic resources such as knowledge, skills and education; economic capital is money. I was familiar with five classes with class C divided between C1 and C2, but a BBC social survey resulted in seven classes from Elite to Precariat.

We still think of class as a matter of family origin as well as current status. Family origin affects social and cultural capital, both the groups you are in and the ways of relating that show your membership. My Friend from a family of miners was in an association of working class academics, and felt that social signifiers she had or lacked disadvantaged her in her profession.

The survey question is “How do you define your socio-economic status (class)?” It could produce all sorts of answers- by origin or current income/savings, or in terms of the five letters or new seven classes. To approximate a quantitative result, you would have to assign those verbal answers to a particular box before counting the boxes.

The survey will not confirm or deny the statement “Quakers are all middle-class”- which can feel excluding to those of us who are not, even if the speaker is lamenting the fact. It can be an expression of those social signifiers, the subconscious ways we decide who is most comfortable to talk to. It may give an idea of how we think of ourselves rather than an objective view.

I found out about the survey from the AM assistant clerk Membership. I don’t see how it can be a representative sample if it is voluntary, and publicised haphazardly.

For sex there is the Tabular Statement. The word “other” produces an element of uncertainty: I have said I want to be classified as “Woman”, but some trans people would definitely be “Other” and some would be revolted by the idea. You might be uncomfortable classifying the Attenders in your meeting, but some people might not want to be asked. It can be unpleasant putting these matters of identity into words. They are implicit, in our body language and our relations, but not stated.

Most people mould ourselves to fit the social groups we belong to, minimising our differences. Differences which should not be relevant in a worshipping community matter to us.

The survey asks “How would you describe your gender?” It asks for “gender”, not “sex”, and some say they are different: sex is a matter of reproductive organs, gender is cultural, so my gender is “feminine” rather than “woman”. The survey won’t produce numbers, so much as different stories of where some people are.

I am a trans woman, but don’t really want classified as one. See me as a person, not by that characteristic. There is some latent transphobia in the Society. No-one will refuse to worship with a trans woman, but some trans women have left, or been ejected. Being trans affects the way I am in any dispute with others. It affects the way I am seen.

If as a white person I said “Quakers are overwhelmingly white” that could seem excluding. I love YM. I can start a deep conversation with almost anyone. I spoke to a man with a different skin colour, and that was not his experience. Do we feel “colour-blind” while in fact being slightly less open to talking with people of colour? We would not ask the “Where are you from, no, where are you really from?” question; are you as open with all Quakers you meet for the first time, or does colour or class make subtle differences? I have heard that “colour-blind” is impossible for a person of colour, for you wonder how important your own colour is to the people around you.

I fear I am less open with people of colour, and my self-consciousness might make it so. I know diversity is of value to the Society, for different voices, different perspectives, different experiences enrich our common understanding. And groping for understanding, when hearing another I try to find what in my own experience fits what they are saying. Hearing that difference is difficult.

It asks national identity. Mine is Scots, as I was brought up there; English, as I had an English parent and have lived in England for many years, and British. I don’t know whether any other Quaker would specifically name those three, or whether there is a relevant difference between me and someone putting Scots and English, or British.

The survey will unearth some of the stories that we tell, and perhaps a quantitative survey would not attain the objectivity it pretends to. You can take it here.

Drive

I realised that the most important thing for me is suppressing my emotional reaction, at least my conscious feeling, rather than dealing with the issues making me frightened, frustrated and angry. Irresistably I am drawn to thinking of the low-status chimpanzee, who cannot show he is angry as it would attract the alpha-male’s attention. The feeling will continue until the situation causing it changes, and that could take weeks- when it could be much worse.

Counselling session. I am frightened of telling Tina this, the most sympathetic listener I can imagine, and I don’t want to say it. I want to make a joke and avoid saying it. Rather than acting, I reach for facebook and my blog stats pages, hoping to get a kick, though the returns are variable. I can feel unconsciously, but instinctively I see conscious feeling as the most important problem. Rationally I know there are things I must do, and I put them off. Holding feelings out of consciousness takes energy leaving me feeling lassitude.

There is the addictive rush of responses on facebook and the blog stats page, but the returns are variable. I reach for the computer in the morning hoping to get a hit big enough to get me out of bed, and often it is not there. At best it is borrowing a boost that has to be paid back later. But, suppressing genuine feeling, I can spend hours with half an eye on the TV and half on the computer, not writing or doing anything, and feeling rotten about my worthless inactivity.

On a facebook group, a man said he was leaving, because I had driven him out, and that I was “manipulative”- a high compliment, I have wanted to be able to manipulate people all my life. He calculated he would get enough “Oh Alex, please don’t go” comments to shame me into leaving and continue posting his drivel, or “inspiration of the Spirit” as he put it. Had I not gone on facebook that morning I would not have seen his post, as it was deleted. He had raised a serious matter in a solipsistic and frivolous way, and I had called him on it. Storm in teacup. This is not good for me, and it is most of the social interaction I get.

The woman had not needed a wheelchair a year ago. It’s a lot to process as people crave independence. She can roll up to the Quaker meeting and be welcomed, but she wanted to get out of her chair into one of the ordinary seats so that she would not be obviously the woman in the wheelchair, the disabled person, just for a short time. Three times, Quakers meaning well took away the seat she was wanting to get into, thinking that she wanted to wheel her chair into that space. I saw the effort she put in to getting out of her chair. She WOULD NOT GIVE UP.

Ah. That story comes to mind, as an illustration of determination and frustration. It illustrates what I am feeling, unconsciously. It helps me understand how I am now.

The medical term for neuro-diverse folks passing as neurotypical is “masking”. Women, particularly, mask symptoms, at the cost of crippling anxiety. One came to the notice of the doctors because of her anxiety, her high intelligence predicting neurotypical behaviour when she could not read it “normally”.

Quakers are my main face-to-face social outlet. I have written a report for Quakers on my last weekend away. Still procrastinating, I did it probably the last moment I could, on Monday evening. Had I been politic, I would make it a serious report about the serious business of the weekend, and instead I made it entertaining, with jokes, and my own concerns: as H would say, I was “pissing about”. What I wrote has my passion, emotion, my Drive to achieve, my desire to do what is good (as I see it) for the World rather than for me.

There is a huge depth of motivation in me. When I want to do something and persuade myself that it’s possible, out comes my drive. My drive is powerful, and it is frustrating that I can fritter an afternoon with half an eye on the television and half on my blog stats page or facebook.

-This drive, strength, creativity, can it not hold and help the part of you that is distressed? Are they too separate?

I think it does, and I am bringing my separate parts together.
slowly, too slowly-
I think I am pulling myself together, reconciling myself within, writing and suppressing less, conscious of more-
I see how important it is to me not

not to feel a feeling and yet

I am more- feeling the feeling.
Seeing how hard the barriers are and taking the barriers down.

Diversity, inclusion and Quakers

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Do Quakers welcome everyone? Do they feel welcome? An area meeting committee considered the possibility of putting the Inclusive Church statement on our website, or something similar: We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ. That is probably too Christocentric for us in its language. “Gospel” means “Good news”, which I would prefer in case there was any misunderstanding. We don’t need you to know our jargon yet. It also has the ring of a paragraph designed by a committee, to please the people inside rather than those outside. I have read Marcus Borg, so think a “scripturally faithful” church is liberal not conservative, but that could be off-putting.

Roll up, roll up! Get your spirituality and mysticism here!

Ten years ago I was inspired by City URC in Cardiff, which had a welcome sign outside: now, their website says We are an Open and Affirming Church, made up of and welcoming people from all communities regardless of race, colour, gender, age, nationality, economic circumstance, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability or emotional condition. I like that. It says we welcome, without making any requirements. Yes, we still need to talk about economic power, though James worked that out two thousand years ago.

Some of my Meeting do not know what “intersectionality” means. Oppressive institutions are interconnected, so misogyny and racism together oppress the woman of colour; more generally, there are harmless or worthwhile parts of ourselves which we keep quiet about, as we fear they will not be welcome in any social group. At a Greenbelt session on intersectionality, I heard

When they enter, we all enter

-that is, if the most marginalised person can thrive in a group, everyone can. Every part of ourself is welcome. If my Friend does not know the word, I could quote Jesus: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

All the chairs in my meeting room have arms. We are replacing them. They are sturdy enough, but getting a bit shabby-looking, and I feel my respect for the worship requires, if we can manage it, attractive chairs. But I was embarrassed today when someone who worshipped with us for the first time, having been thinking about it for a year, had those chair arms pressing into her flesh. They simply were not wide enough for her.

We are considering getting two or three of the firmer sort of easy-chair, supportive of the back, high enough to ease getting up, as we have older people who find our existing chairs uncomfortable, which makes them less likely to want to come. We are considering painful backs, poor balance, difficulty getting up from a chair and we could also consider the range of sizes people come in, if we get over our prejudices. We have so many unspoken ways of doing things, what we’ve always done, and people who don’t fit in can learn to like it or leave- just like any other community which has not thought about these things.

I went to talk to her afterwards, but that breached a rule against personal remarks. It is intrusively personal to comment that someone does not fit a chair, because it is seen as a criticism of her rather than of our welcome. I couched it as an apology. I explained that we were getting new chairs- and fat-shaming is so prevalent that it was still seen as a personal remark, as “You don’t fit our chairs” rather than “Our chairs don’t fit you”. The personal remark is the usual thing in society. The apology and pledge to make amends is revolutionary.

I was introduced to my first Quaker meeting by a lesbian, and because I had learned of Quaker action for LGBT folk I chose Quakers when I left the Anglican church. I was a stranger, and you took me in– because of this, I have a need to be an ally to any group disadvantaged among us. We need similar positive work on behalf of all disadvantaged groups. And we need a careful audit of all the things we don’t notice, imagining ourselves as the people who don’t come to meeting.

With a content warning on sexual assault, violent assault and abuse, here’s Whippoorwill, a self-described gender freak… existing somewhere between intersexual and trans-gendered. They have been able to pass, sometimes, as one sex or the other, but hiding was killing them: and “owning their peculiarities”, no longer seeking to pass, they feel less fear. I hope this delights you.

Understanding Neurotypicals

I feel qualified to explain Neurotypicals. After all, I am one.

As many neuro-diverse people will have realised, neurotypicals are not good at empathy. The neuro-diverse person will listen to words spoken, place themselves imaginatively in the speaker’s position, and know what they feel. A neurotypical will expect the speaker to “emote”. So it is not enough to hear the words “My dog died last week. He was only four years old” and realise that the speaker is sad: the neurotypical will expect the speaker’s voice to sound different, and certain facial muscles to move in a particular way, for that is how neurotypicals communicate that they are sad. If your face and voice do not do these things, neurotypicals may insult you. Please do not blame us for this. We do not know any better. For example we might call you “unfeeling”. And we expect a particular kind of reply, in wordless sounds like “aw” or “oh” and particular facial muscle movements. If you reply in words, to show you understand that way, we might become irritated or angry with you, and insult you with words like “unreasonable” or “weird”. This is because we are extremely sensitive, and many different stimuli will make us behave rudely to you. Please forgive us. We do not know any better.

A neuro-diverse friend asked, when speaking with neurotypicals why do they not take turns in speaking? Why do they ignore him when he listens courteously and then object when he takes his turn to speak? By now, many neuro-diverse people have learned that neurotypicals imperiously change the conversation from an enjoyable one to a weird neurotypical one. The neurotypical might say, “You’re infodumping. Stop.” Then they start talking to someone else. Infuriating as this is, it helps to realise that the easily-hurt neurotypical’s attention span is short, and many suffer from a lack of courtesy. Neuro-typicals are simply not as good at conversation as neuro-diverse people are.

Neuro-diverse people will take turns in conversation. Neurotypicals often won’t. Male neurotypicals especially often treat conversation as a kind of competition. They interrupt when you pause for breath, and want it to seem as if they know more about the subject than you do, even when they don’t. Some neurotypicals object to this behaviour, and call it “splaining”. However the neurotypicals who splain will never admit they are doing it, and some even deny splaining exists. Imagine a neuro-diverse person denying that info-dumping exists. As soon as anyone explained what info-dumping was, they would understand, and do it only with people who welcomed it. However, the more you explain splaining, the more the splainer splains.

Sometimes neurotypicals make rules for conversation, such as that one speaker has five minutes to speak and the other will listen, then they will change roles, so that the previous speaker listens, and the previous listener has five minutes to speak. That we need rules like this shows how competitive we are, and how poor at listening. Typically in such settings, there is a group leader who will explain the rules slowly and carefully, and even then the neurotypical will fail to keep to them: and such neurotypicals using these rules imagine that they are being particularly “spiritual”!

Neurotypicals can have different speaking styles. One told me he always knew what he would say before he said it. Yes, I said, because you can think a sentence in an instant. Actually I didn’t, I said because you can think a sentence like that, and snapped my fingers: we find our ways of communicating without words useful sometimes. Another said he knew what he thought when he said it: trying to explain it to someone else helped him get it clear in his head. But it needs to be clear that we are having such a conversation, or someone else might just interrupt and change the subject when he paused to think. In that way, neurotypical conversation can meander from subject to subject without ever saying anything new or meaningful. This is because neurotypicals are poorly understood, and badly educated. With thought and practice, some neurotypicals can be brought to have conversations which are almost useful. However, often there is one dominant individual who just tells everyone else what to do. This explains the work environment neurotypicals prefer, with managers who have never done the job they are managing.

I wrote this post for Barry, who asked how neurotypicals negotiated conversations. He reported that most neurotypicals do not know, having never thought about it. This shows the need for more neurotypical education. With patience, study and understanding, some neurotypicals can be brought to live almost normal lives.

Allies IV

Allies can say things I find difficult to say. “A woman could be frightened and distressed to see you in a women’s toilet,” says a TERF. “Don’t you care?” Of course I care. Of course I would be sorry about that- but not sorry enough to change my life. What my father, a teacher, used to call “dumb insolence”- just looking at her but not saying anything- might be my best resource. I do not want to get into an argument, and I do not want to give ground.

If I were to argue the point, I would say I mind my own business in loos, worried about confrontation, and did not think it likely enough to warrant excluding me at all times. However Mhairi tells me it would not bother her. “A man might have been coming on to you, in a creepy, threatening and inexorable way, you escape, but see me and feel sick,” I said. “A lesbian might have been coming on to me,” she countered.

The answer to that one- for these arguments are rituals, honed in hugboxes then flung at the enemy- is that lesbians take “no” for an answer, but men never do. Mhairi merely snorts. My “but- but- but- I would never,” or even “well, I wouldn’t. Judge me by my acts, not by someone’s fears about me” does not have nearly the same force.

She is about 15-18 years younger than I am, and she has not got my baggage. The idea that trans is queer is bad never occurred to her. She does not need my circumspection. All women have different histories, different experiences, she says. Menstruation may seem to be the great trump card to others, but not to her. Perhaps it is that these things are not an argument at all, but a stand-off. No trans woman is going to hear a TERF and be persuaded, though some might be discouraged and revert in misery. Both sides have arguments as armour, protecting them against recognising the other side’s humanity.

She gave an example of a man showing emotion, crying far more than women do. She loves that. Possibly she is particularly an ally because she is neuro-diverse. She hates forms asking whether she is disabled, because her diversity gives her a different perspective. It is the social model of disability: her condition is accounted a disability because of the shallow observation that she does not pick up particular skills as neuro-typicals do, and that is perceived as a lack. There has been little attempt to see it as good, or even to find better ways suited to her for teaching those skills, so that the difficulty would be less. As an ally, in our conversation most of that came from me, though I was not telling her anything she did not know.

I can spend too much time with the “trans-critical”, so that their arguments come to seem to have force. It was good for me to spend time with her, to reassure me.

“Fat” is the reclaimed word. I wondered what was the self-identifying word for anorexics. Just as “obese” is a medicalising word, is “anorexic”? Is “skinny” insulting? I searched for “Anorexia forum” and found this site. It’s “pro-ana”, promoting behaviours related to anorexia nervosa, as a lifestyle choice or identity rather than a disease. So as a word chosen by the group themselves, it’s “ana”. And I find that problematic. People die because of these behaviours, but then so do climbers and cave-divers. I’ll go for “thin”, which has never been insulting in my culture.