The heart’s desire

I want to know The Truth of myself. Will I find it in James Baldwin? In Notes of a Native Son, he fights to realise himself, recognising that there is a choice: dive into the void that is the unknown self, or accept what society makes of you. He was a friend of existentialists. A human being is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves- we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves.”

Aged 60, he wrote that society limits him, but “my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever”. Wow. Everything that is possible for a human being is possible for me. To believe that would be a great responsibility.

Or would I find it among Quakers? There is an inner light, which is so strange and wonderful we call it that of God. But it might just be a seed thrown among weeds which choke it. I thought I had found it. I was speaking from the Heart, and the proof was my voice being a higher pitch. Well, it made sense at the time.

Then that part of me said, “Do to me as you wish”. That is a brave prayer to make to God, but utterly foolhardy to a human being. I imagined myself saying it to someone, then thought, how can that be speaking from the inner light, if it is so slutty? It could be the heart’s desire. It is hard to piece together what I want, but I want that. Then I said, also from the “heart”, “I need to protect myself”.

Then I started judging the “heart” because of that particular desire. Sometimes something seems to work in a person like the Inner Light, but it deludes them. Like her. And him. Is there an “inner light” below this heart? I need a sane ego, which will protect me, rather than the ego I produced, which was the shell, imprisoning me because I was so hurt and afraid. I would need it to be my counsellor, not my prison guard; a male self to protect my feminine self. All my gifts are in both selves.

Or, perhaps, if I speak from the Inner Light, it is a lot more playful, creative and joyful, not sensible as the world sees it. I said to another my Light is more playful than I had thought, and she loved that idea. I could get authority for it from St Paul: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Or, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong”. I have a vague idea that Paul said “In my weakness is my strength”, and so did Katharine Oliver and others, but I cannot find it in any particular translation.

Why should I seek authority? Make it my own. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man,” and live by that.

Someone quoted Rumi, The Guest House. Yes, it is a metaphor, but I cannot differentiate the house, the feelings- joy or momentary awareness, depression, meanness, a violent crowd of sorrows, a dark thought, shame or malice- and the “me” that invites them in. I am one human being, the feeling and the I which would resist it. Do not resist pain or confusion. Welcome them, says the poet, and it is my experience at least that resistance does no good.

In The Good Ally, I read of people taking action to manage their own feelings or how they appear to others, rather than to achieve a result in the world. At a Quaker peace zoom, we discuss people taking action to feel better about themselves rather than as led. It is so good to know it is not just me.

Michael Leunig imagined people with their opinions, concerns, memories, anxieties, secrets, ambitions, causes, grievances, regrets, theories, reputation, style, lies, pains, charms, tricks, vendettas, powers and obsessions, and a man who lets go of all that. “He’s had enough and just wants to connect.”

A child of dysfunctional parents on a twelve step programme for such people talked of “emotional sobriety”. It means being comfortable with the full panoply of feelings, but not hijacked by them; having healthy boundaries for self and others; not being subsumed in others, or engulfed. One might get joy from another person because there is no dependency. Just appreciate them. One ceases to be addicted to drama.

Worth a try, perhaps.

The wisdom to know the difference

You know the serenity prayer. It encapsulates the human condition so elegantly.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I might imagine that “know” to be instantaneous. How often I carry on banging my head against a wall, though there is no crack in it, no way I will break through in that way. I should “know” it is fruitless, I should perceive immediately that it will do no good, but often I have to learn that. I carry on banging my head against the wall because I have not accumulated enough evidence to convince myself that it will do no good.

Or, I sit amongst wonderful opportunities, taking none of them, because I do not see them. I should know they are there, and choose one, and pursue it. I should know, now, not have to work at learning of their existence.

So, perhaps we should change the word “know” to “learn”. I did not know, I say. I thought the wall would crack eventually. I had not seen the possibilities.

But I am insane, not seeing because I do not want to see. I want to believe that what I am doing has value. I want to believe my choices and decisions so far have been good enough, and my perception clear. Admitting I am wrong is painful. And so I carry on beating my head against the wall, because it is better than admitting I have been wrong.

So another word for “know”, there, is “accept” or even “admit”. There is blood streaming down my face, sweat stinging my eyes, and my trembling fingers find no cracks in that wall. There is a moment when I must admit all my virtue- courage, tenacity, intelligence, strength of will- has been insufficient to break it down.

But I know, really. I can carry on

banging my head against the wall

or stop. I can carry on

ignoring the possibilities

or consider them.

That wisdom entails admitting all the pain I carry into my immediate awareness. All the choices I have made that have not gone well. All the false hope and illusion. All the times I claim to desire something but take no steps to bring it to fruition. It involves choosing what I actually am over what I wish myself to be, and choosing reality over fantasy. It involves staring unblinkingly, and acting. This is who I am, here, now, with these characteristics, with this fixed past, with these possible futures. Wisdom is terrifying, the face of God.

I am going to die. My chance of life after death is in the memories of people who know me, and the lives of people I influence. My life will be finished: before then, it is for me to complete it, to make it a whole.

I have not actually been reading existentialist philosophy, just an introduction to some of its concepts. Some of them chime with me, though. Even when I do not admit, I still know.

Eccentric Freedom

The test of the freedom of a society is the freedom of its LGBT members. No one is free, if I am not.

In thinking of this, I came across the Simone de Beauvoir quote “No one is born a woman. She becomes one.” That led me to Philosophy Talk. Following Sartre, Existentialists seek to make choices in “good faith”, that is, proceeding from and expressing their authentic selves.

It is harder for women who are oppressed by their society into second class status, and not educated, as they are expected to be wives and mothers. Laura Maguire herself escaped to college but most of the girls she grew up with repeated the pattern. This is all the more shocking as she was born around 1980.

Maguire thinks Beauvoir’s quote can be extended to the oppression of any group, such as people of colour, told constantly that they are second class. Maguire’s interpretation seems economic: can the person reach their potential as an earner. She overcame oppression in going to college, taking her PhD, and becoming a director of research at Stanford- so she overcame it because she was exceptional. Most of her female contemporaries became wives and mothers, with only secondary education. They were held back by the expectations of others, which they internalised, and perhaps by force, such as being taken out of school by parents.

Had Maguire not been a girl, her Irish society could have seen hers as worthwhile ambitions and good outcomes. That is the difference with us queers. My ambition to transition does not make economic sense, only existential sense. Even before I could bear it, I wanted to express who I am.

My decision inspires disgust in some people, and some of those would seek to prevent it.

For me, expressing my authentic self was more important than any economic progress. (I make excuses for myself, now: my current damaged and vulnerable state is the result of my upbringing and society.)

I would change that first sentence. At the moment, the test of the freedom of Western society is the freedom of its queer members, to make choices others find nonsensical or disgusting. Even when life paths of transition, or of gender neutrality, are well mapped out there will still be good faith decisions which others find incomprehensible. The measure of freedom is the level of acceptance of those decisions: do people find their diversity blessing, rather than threat?

OK.
If that’s what you want
Go ahead.

Simone de Beauvoir

Who decides?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/B_Pierpont_252v.jpgWho then decides if I am a woman? I do. Scientists and policy-makers agree on that. This quiet revolution has taken place without many of us noticing, maybe because we thought it concerned only a small minority of the population. But it affects all of us, and the way we organise society. If we can accept that sex and gender are a personal choice, with a whole range of possibilities between the extremes of male and female, man and woman, the battle of the sexes as we know it will be over. What comes next? Perhaps a new model of society where we negotiate relationships with each other and the State on our own, individual terms.

I love Jo Fidgen’s conclusion to her Analysis programme. Despite my critique of one ridiculous, vile contribution, I find the whole programme positive and informative. At the moment it is not quite true. There is no recognition of a third gender in law: in law, one must be one or the other. And while in Australia some can have an X instead of M or F on their passport, I understand that is only people with particular intersex conditions.

The law says I am a woman, contrary to my original birth certificate; but the birth record in Forfar still states that I am male, it is only the extract copy that I can change; and I can only change that because a psychiatrist from a statutory list of specialists and one other doctor have certified that I had lived female, and am likely to do so life long, and I have formally promised to do so. Even with equal marriage there will be slightly different rules for opposite sex and same sex marriage. It is my choice in that no authority insists I am male against it, but there is great difficulty having the choice recognised; and it is a choice to act on my fundamental nature,http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9b/B_Pierpont_174v.jpg/557px-B_Pierpont_174v.jpg rather than a free choice of which sex is best to be generally.

And yet as I read on a blog months ago, the issue for the whole LGBT community is a gender identity issue, as we seek the freedom not to conform to gender stereotypes. That has to liberate everyone: no-one entirely fits the stereotype.

(Tranny claims trannies are at the cutting edge of the liberation of humanity. Ha!)

Am I a radical challenge to the very notion of gender, or a conservative reinforcement of stereotypes? The former. The radfem myth- person with stereotypical repulsive male behaviour, in ridiculous, clichéd and highly sexualised clothes- does not really fit reality. The argument that we reinforce Patriarchal ideas of femininity is the alternative radfem attack. Often we are ultragirly, but if we were not we might be able to make a go of life as men. And- there are ultragirly women, as well as more masculine women.

The point of feminism is that women should have choices, and fulfil ourselves. “Radical Feminism” is not that radical position, but a reaction to sexism. To a Chauvinist “women should stay at home and look after the children” the Radfem position is a reaction- “Not bloody likely”. The mainstream of feminism has gone beyond that: women should have a free choice. Feminists who falsely call themselves radical might meditate on “What you resist, persists”. The rest of us have moved on, to modelling and so creating the non-oppressive world. That is the radical challenge to patriarchy.