Embarrassment

Is everyone like that? “I don’t know how long to look, or what to say,” said the man in the art gallery. Look if you are captivated, look away if you are uninterested, “say what you feel, not what you ought to say”. I imagine him trying to think what others who knew more than he would say, getting it wrong, and being laughed at. If you say what you feel, it is not wrong- at least, not in a gallery. “Normal is what everyone else is and you are not.” It’s hard to imagine other people trying to think what the cognoscenti would say, and trying to imitate it, and failing. It’s only me that could possibly do that. It’s only me, that anyone would ever laugh at.

And yet, there he is, saying he does not know, and pride has stopped him learning. Or self-effacement. His wife’s an artist! Would she never have told him what she saw in art? The horror at appearing not to know, that embarrassment, stopped him asking. Perhaps she never thought he would listen to her, because that would mean appearing not to know.

I went to art galleries because I knew that was the cultured thing to do, and it was good to appear cultured, then more and more I went to galleries because I love them. I don’t care what to say. Sometimes, “Wow” does. Possibly, “That smile looks enigmatic because the eyes and the mouth are expressing different emotions”. I have ticked off the Mona Lisa from my list, while I was going round galleries from an idea that I ought to, that that was the cultured thing to do.

Needing to appear to know makes doing the work to know unbearable. Curators know the power of some images, and will give a vista: you look through an opening, it catches your eye on the far wall of the next gallery, and you have to go and look- a bit like love at first sight. Art galleries can do that. You know so little about art you don’t even know what you like, and then you are captivated.

It’s easier to write this post when I think- other people might be like that too. Not everyone, around every situation- sailors know ships, artists know art, parliamentarians know parliament- but around most situations where there might be expertise, some people will know, and some will be uneasy, because they don’t, and imagine everyone else does. I’ve tried bluffing and been caught out.

There must be a sensible thing to do in this situation and I don’t know what it is, and when I do something else, people will laugh at me, or despise me, or exploit me. Who? Well, the Normal people, that is every single other person. But if only I felt like that there would be no word for it, and there is. It’s called embarrassment. I understand the oldest use of the word is for a debtor, who is embarrassed when they cannot pay. Pause to look it up. No, apparently: that use is “L19” and the play “Embarras de richesse” was performed in 1753. But the definition “perplexed” does not capture the harsh pain of it. “I will be found out!”

Embarrassment is the obverse of false pride, never wanting to be seen wanting. If I can admit ignorance many will be willing to teach me. I might give an exchange, teaching them something, or might accept the gift.

Fear of Embarrassment is one reason I fear to go out. The normal people- everyone else- will see me, and despise me. Pride, shame, stop me taking action, for fear of embarrassment. I think I inherit it from my mother, with her fear of her weird sexuality being found out.

That thing I could do is good enough. No-one will see it and despise it, because they won’t know the details or care enough to try to puzzle them out. What if it does not work? It will work well enough. It will be over soon enough.

I know a bit about art, enough to bother reading that Paolo Caliari, painting in Venice, was known as Veronese, the man from Verona. But who could not look up at this and see drama in it? It may help to know the cherub with a bow is Cupid, not necessarily to know it was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II for Prague Castle. If your response is simply, “Wow”, your friends will not feel the scorn you fear from them, and no-one else will care.

I have been wrestling with the thought of this post all day. How can I express the pain of embarrassment, and not write something which is unbearable to read? By dancing round the pain, and making a joke of it.

A target for our feelings

A Chinese man apologised for The Virus. Case closed? Unfortunately not.

He appeared sincere, and unleashed a wave of sympathy. No! Don’t apologise, people said, it isn’t your fault. You are not to blame. Do not feel bad. I can’t see how it would be his fault, unless he took the particular pangolin to the Wuhan wet-market. He is just Chinese, as if all Chinese people are responsible for the “China virus”. I hope not, because if so I am responsible for the British Empire.

He seemed sincere, though he could just be zoom-bombing, to find out how people would react. I had not seen him there before.

If he was sincere- it is possible-

we have all- seven billion of us, perhaps, or a good proportion of that- lost a huge amount this year. We have lost human contact, jobs, family, our understanding of the world and our place in it. Imagine, the whole world in mourning. Imagine waves of grief of people who have lost a colleague and suddenly their job is dangerous in a way it had never been before, or people who bought a house then lost their job, or people who have lost a child, or have brain-fog from long covid. Their pain is explicable. Now imagine people who are a little less secure than they were, who are not good with change, who don’t like the feel of masks on their face. They are mourning too, waves of grief, and their feeling is less explicable.

Feelings are best responding to the moment. You see them in animals. A dog gets angry, fearful or amorous and it deals with the problem immediately. The whole body responds. Two hundred million years of mammal responses, those etched-in brain pathways, and a few thousand years of civilisation do not equip us for emotional stimuli without a clear, immediate response. Angry- do a dominance display- other backs down- sorted. Sad- stop, rest, accept, move on. Now, instead, we get stressed.

Bad things have happened this year, and everyone is affected. Loss we cannot regain. Fear of loss we cannot certainly avoid, or not by some instant act like a mouse fleeing a predator. So we attach it to something. Anti-maskers attach it to Bad Law: there is a conspiracy to take our freedoms away, the virus is either a hoax or wildly exaggerated. I know one. Suddenly all that feeling sloshing about inside is explicable, and has a righteous outlet- shouting in Trafalgar square once a week, for the moment, it must be liberating.

We all know this. In other circs it’s called “kicking the cat”. A lot of HoBiT rage is misplaced emotion. You can’t shout at your boss so you shout at some harmless queer. And there is so much now. We have a pandemic to rage at, and lots of rules to say that feelings should be suppressed.

The people who told him not to apologise did not help. If he finds expressing guilt to Americans makes him feel better, why should he not? It could be catharsis, and attempts to manage it- “No, don’t feel bad”- might prevent that. He could be trolling for reactions, though.

Passion can be well directed. Someone might start a campaign. Anger can be fuel. Anger which cannot be used as fuel can be felt and acknowledged.

That we are all in mourning could bring us together or drive us apart. I want that Chinese man to be comforted, but want to hold myself aloof from the feelings he stirs up.

Fear, shame, curiosity, determination

What would it be like to meet yourself at 16?

Dan’s new song idea moves between an augmented chord and an inverted chord, and we were talking of chord progressions- the diminished chord in the Maple Leaf Rag, and then “Song without words”, Fauré op.17 no.3. When I was sixteen, I was told to learn this, and the first time I looked at it, playing sections hands separately to get a sense of its shape, the chords at the end made me cry. It is a beautifully delicate piece. There I am, trying to make a man of myself, and loving the Pathetique sonata, which is thunderous, around the same time: and crying at music. I could never become completely distanced from myself, no matter how hard I tried.

Now conscious of my inner gaslighter’s nastiest stories, that all my feelings are feigned, all my motivations cowardly, and self-centred in the most stupid short-termist way- being comfortable for five minutes because comfort for half an hour is impossible- I know they are not true. Then, trying to make a man of myself I was enmeshed in Don’ts, and the music touched me, and the memory touches me now.

“What would be your reaction if you could meet your sixteen year old self?”

I don’t answer that question. I did not properly hear it, I was thinking of how he would react to me. I don’t think he could bear to be in the same room with me, and I could not bear his rejection. I don’t like the “he” pronoun, and it fits, he would insist on it. He would be shocked and horrified. Seeing me expressing female would be too much for him. Possibly if we had two adjacent rooms, with pianos, and a way of communicating by text. (Though he couldn’t type, then.)

He did not know himself, because he thought he knew himself. He was denying his qualities. There was so much in me that I could not value. He thought he knew about how the world should be. I would feel complete compassion, devoting myself entirely to his feelings, but I would fear his reaction. He could not tolerate who I am today.

I do not tolerate who I am today. My inner gaslighter surfaces, and that is a sign it breaks down, it is failing, but still it governs me unconsciously much of the time. On Sunday I cycled that 13 miles, and I was concentrating furiously all the time. I knew I could be too harsh to myself, demanding too high a gear, which wastes effort, and I avoided that by telling myself not to- harshly. Or, determinedly. Seeing possibilities, seeing that the extra effort in too high a gear cost too much, did not give a sufficient return in greater speed. I took off a minute from my previous time, and was pleased.

I fear my softness. With antidepressants I might take away my depth of feeling and support myself with warehouse work. I anticipate attack. I have the gazelle’s alertness.

A word I can’t say. I am in such conflict. I fear my- the word authenticity goes through my mind and the gaslighter stops me saying it. I move through strong feeling into a state of authenticity, ceasing to fight my feelings for a time. Authenticity is risky. Then I go back to scrolling facebook or reading columnists, shutting myself down with the prescribed emotions for my tribe for the prescribed stimuli. Trump/Johnson Bad, etc.

Or another zoom call, and was I angry? I find what I want when I see what I do. “I suppose we all do that,” she says. I want to know. If I don’t know what I am feeling at the time, how can I know I am safe?

Daenerys Targaryen at her wedding. Perhaps for the first time, she forgot to be afraid. She did what she had to do, wanted to do.

Anger is risky. It puts people’s backs up.

Oh, what’s going on here? “I wanted to give you space to feel,” she said. She sees me put my head back and breathe very deeply, and imagines that I am feeling a rush of emotion, I control it and it dissipates, but she wonders if I am in my thinking and not aware of any feeling at all, what you think happens to you in those moments.

I am aware of putting my head back. It felt I was analysing. “You work very hard to understand.” I do. “Can you just be and not think?”

“What is it like for you when you can’t analyse and find an answer?”

Oh, horrible. I am just hurt. I shut down again. It is the curse of intelligence, though: I think, while others act.

Fear and shame dominate my life. Shame at my lack of worldly status and achievement, fear of the world- the world is a scary dangerous place, but my fear of it is so extreme I don’t distinguish what I ought to fear and what is probably OK. Fear of my own reactions, as I can’t live with ever making a mistake. The worst is my fear of my own feelings, which completely disables me and shuts me off from my perceptions.

And now I am conscious of other feelings: during the session I named one “interest”, curiosity is a better word. And determination. I like these feelings. Conscious of them, I might feel proud of them. I am climbing out of the pit.

Kindness to yourself

“Practise ways of being kind to yourself,” she said. He had a way: put your hand on your heart, and make this noise: Awwww. Awwwwww. He meant it entirely sincerely, which is mindblowing: normally no-one would use such a noise to an adult except in cruel and bitter irony, but it can be an act of acceptance and healing.

We are broken to be whole. Yang, the Will, makes and does. Yin receives, hears, and is impacted by the world- it notices what is in the world, and it notices and hears my own feelings and reactions. There is no need to rescue, fix or control such feelings. There is no need to take the Spiritual Journey too seriously: stop striving, and just Be. Every twenty minutes, ask, “What am I feeling?” Often I don’t know. If I am tense, that is against my self-image, which says I should not be tense, I have nothing to be tense about. That makes me tense and stressed most of the time. Be open and curious. Welcome the feelings. This is not a struggle, breaking through, deep work, but kindness and gentleness with the self.

In 2011, I wondered how to keep the sense of being in touch with perception and feelings during action. Sometimes it happens. I feel it now.

Humans are approval addicts, and the Shadow self includes good things like our Shining. So when we are first shamed, a part of us sloughs off, remains at the same level of maturity, and guards the doors against such shame. It’s a child that age desperate to stop me shining, with all the intensity, anger and desperation of that child. If we listen to our own feelings, we can recalibrate and discharge them.

“I am now a human being who is willing to feel and be with my uncomfortable feelings.”

Something upsetting. If it was a training, what was I trying to learn? If it was a reminder to self-care, what self-care is necessary? How is it an invitation to show up more, to be more honest, visible and vulnerable? How does it hurt more because of pain in my past? What are the gifts I can share with others?

My Not Going Out is not a minor thing at all, it is not a “minor thing” at all.

With feelings, find the Heart Mountain. The mountain will not be moved. Be in the heart, and check in with it. There is the trigger, and the explosion- if it is in the mountain, I can feel the explosion, see how big it is, permit the feeling, then Respond. The wise kind part of me feels the feeling, the charge goes down, and I can be a reasonable adult.

This is difficult. My ego is always telling me to be that reasonable adult, so I mimic an idea of a reasonable adult while suppressing the feeling, then my mimicry becomes ridiculous and I break down. Many things trigger me into my protective mask.

What are the primary triggers that most knock you out of your heart? I need to consider that, but I need to practise being in my heart as well.

The self-hatred, the cry that I am Wrong, or not good enough, is all in me. My masculine protector cannot protect me. My feminine self is now safe enough. The main threat to her was that The Monster Will Get Me- my mother, withdrawing love for the child. There is no such monster now, except for my own fears.

My great desire is Safety. I beat myself up over this, quoting the Parable of the Talents to myself: “You wicked and lazy slave!” is the kind of language I use to myself; but I imagine there is a safe and sensible course of action which will produce a predictable result, and even two possible results which I can predict make me seasick.

My needs are in conflict:

The need to survive
The need not to be overwhelmed
The need to be the real me in the real world

The conflict is almost entirely unconscious. I need to bring it into consciousness, into slow thinking, perceive what is going on, work out a response, consciously, and accept all of it. I need to treat it with love or I will be unconscious and unable to see.

Under all that, everyone is lovely and generous.

Jamie Catto’s exercise was to write comic scenes where I am ridiculous because I go into my mask, my pretending self. I did not because my mask uses ridicule to suppress my real self. Don’t be stupid and don’t pretend, or act out a feeling, the mask tells the real self. However, in the mask I lose all my power.

I could not tell a history last week. With my psychotherapist I got as far as saying my parents loved each other very much, and were a strong partnership, and could not say how this damaged me. This week I told a history and noted that I could not merely assert something, I had to prove it, to my own satisfaction, with a story which demonstrated it to me. I could not say “This is how it was/is”. I felt angry with her and expressed it- “I don’t give a fuck what you think”- though in acted quotation marks. Where does the anger come from? It is anger at being judged, and the judgment is in my own head. I told of the Fauré “Song without words” and my love of its beauty.

After, I had a healing cry, over my mother’s death, over my hurt and the waste, which was exhausting. Here is the Sorrow. It is healing. From the Atlantic, I found two quotes which speak to me.

“The nature of their brokenness is incompatible with [what do I want more than to hide?] But as a man of faith I would like to believe there is transcendent grace.” As a rationalist, I might say, human resilience and creativity.

The second was about mass shooters, which fits my self-loathing. “You were owed something, or your life should have been X, but because of”- my upbringing?- “you can’t access them”. Don’t Wallow! I tell myself sternly, which only makes me feel more hurt, incompetent, and exhausted. I beat myself up so hard it makes me too much in pain to do anything. I am not kind to myself. So I may benefit from working on being kind to myself.

Self-acceptance, social feelings, and my own feelings

Self-acceptance is liberation. If you can accept yourself, you are free.

Something put me into a state of complete terror today. It was so frightening that I don’t want to allude to what it is. Then I saw I had made a mistake, and felt relief. I wept like a child. I wanted someone to hear me. I would share about it on social media. Or I would phone the Samaritans, to say this had happened, and I felt terror. Then I realised I did not need to. I could accept the feeling myself. I was terrified, and I understood that I was terrified, accepted that terror was completely the right reaction, and felt the terror. As a result I did not need to tell anyone. I am only telling you now to show how self-acceptance makes feelings so much more bearable and useful, not to process the terror. I don’t know how I would be if my initial impression, which terrified me so, had been correct.

Had I been unable to accept the feeling in myself I would have needed validation from someone else. “Yes,” she would say. “I can see why that might make someone feel like that. I would have been terrified too.” And I would feel validated. This might cause problems if she was bored with validating me, and did not want to, or even worse was controlling me and using intermittent validation as a way of maintaining control. It might have been different if the terror could have been used, in fight or flight, but as so often it could not. I envy my friend, who reports that for her anger is usually an instant thing. She responds to the provocation and the anger ends, its job done.

I am glad to discuss these things. When you agree with me I trust my perception better. It seemed to me that I am not properly alone with my computer. I scroll through social media or news media, and feel the appropriate thing, which society dictates. I read about masks, and I feel resentment of those bad people who refuse to wear them. Or I read about Brexit and feel fear. There are socially acceptable feelings. I am plugged into society, and feel those feelings.

In worship it is completely different. I sit in silence, and whatever comes up comes up. Then I am with my own bespoke feeling, as it is, not some off-the-peg feeling I “ought to feel”. I do not want to be alone with myself. Difficult feelings may come up. I far prefer to plug myself into the television or computer and feel feelings which are safe, because they are prescribed.

It had seemed to me that when fear is not accepted or processed, it remains, and curdles into anxiety. Anxiety is fear from the past, and it makes up horrible things which might happen, but won’t, to explain why I feel fear when I ought to feel safe. (That ought may be introjected.) Then it seemed that sorrow is curdled sadness. What was curdled anger? A conversation with a friend revealed it is Resentment.

anxiety is congealed fear
sorrow is congealed sadness
resentment is congealed anger

With time, courage and acceptance, these ancient feelings may be processed. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin- anger is appropriate when a quick flash of action will correct the problem, sadness when it will not. With practice, perhaps a balance of anger and sadness would help with the conundrum of the serenity prayer- “knowing the difference” is difficult.

As so often, Artemisia takes the standard female subject and makes her a woman with power and agency. Here is St Lucy with the palm of martyrdom and two eyes in a goblet.

Powerful speech

There is no free speech in the world. Instead, we have power speech. Powerful people can say what they like. The rest of us might not be arrested for our opinions, but anyone can be persecuted if the persecutor is sufficiently powerful or determined. People are persecuted for who we are.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, challenged anyone to disagree with “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” one of the “anodyne statements” in this letter to Harper’s magazine. OK. These things often don’t work. Paul Krugman talks of arguing with zombies– because the zombie statements are in the interests of the powerful.

Here’s what would have been arguably an “anodyne statement” in 18th century London. It’s transphobic. On my blog I will white it out, that doesn’t work on the WordPress reader app unfortunately:

Edward Gibbon states that when Elagabalus proclaimed herself Empress and married a man, she “subverted every law of nature and decency”.

The social consequences of challenging this opinion would have been severe. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the ornaments of the Enlightenment in England, a feat of scholarship, well worth reading, and includes this brutal prejudice. No trans person could have silenced him then, or had that opinion excised. There were trans people, but they were quiet about it. They might have been mistaken for gay.

The bad opinion that harmless trans women should be expelled from women’s spaces is subject to endless reiteration by the powerful, particularly Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and their minions or hangers-on. Sometimes it might persuade people, particularly when they are made to look away from the real issue. If you believe the myth of the predatory men just waiting for gender recognition reform so that they can pretend to be trans and attack women, you are a fool, but it is so loudly proclaimed that it feels like an anodyne statement. Jonathan Freedland, who is Jewish, should know the blood libel was anodyne, in some cultures and at some times. In the diaspora, there have been many Jewish commmunities, where the surrounding goyim could attack, encouraged by the authorities, at any time. The blood libel is false, but here’s a Saudi cleric repeating it, on television. He may even convince some people.

Possibly the blood libel, and the common transphobia of such as Rowling, is best defeated by looking to its consequences for its victims. Enough people see the harm and suffering such rubbish causes, and rise up against it. This is a response from the heart, not an Enlightened refutation. The answer to Mein Kampf is a roar of righteous anger, not wasting time reading the thing.

The letter says that the main threat to “the free exchange of information and ideas” comes from snowflakes like Mr Trump, but leftists should be better than that.

Several NYT columnists signed the letter, possibly objecting to the resignation of James Bennet. Then Jennifer Finney Boylan distanced herself from the letter because JK Rowling had signed. I don’t get that. If you think Tom Cotton’s article calling for the National Guard to be called on protesters should be met by reasoned refutation, surely Rowling’s should too? What if David Starkey had signed? His racist remark, which leaves me speechless, may be read here. I won’t quote it because of systemic white supremacy in the UK. He would only have been saying that bad ideas should be met with good ones, not that his own statements are always good. That remark could have been refuted by the definition of genocide: the term includes attempts. Completed genocide is rare.

Starkey has been a “controversialist”, making his money from saying offensive things, for a long time, clickbait both for his supporters and many who loathe him. He’s pushed it too far now, but previously he dismissed female historians as “historical Mills & Boon”. That is a nasty little insult. It’s trolling, not the “free exchange of information and ideas”. Anyone responding to it with a long, detailed account of how female historians make a worthwhile contribution would be feeding the trolls. No-one who disbelieves that may be convinced of it.

I am glad that Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, and the Leaky Cauldron condemn Rowling. There are any number of posts refuting Rowling, some line by line- may I recommend my own? As the Cauldron says, her remarks are “harmful and disproven”. That makes no difference at all. If “exposure, argument and persuasion” were enough to refute her rubbish, Rupert Murdoch would have made his money some other way than newspapers. The money of millions of Potter fans may have some effect on Rowling.

Margaret Atwood signed the letter, tweeted something mildly pro-trans, and was subjected to a hail of abuse, including calling her a “gender traitor”.

Affirming trans sexuality

“I want to open up like a flower,” I said. The three women agreed. I felt affirmed. My sexuality felt fitting, possibly for the first time.

The exercise, on this day Zoom workshop, with people I might never see again, was to make three requests of men, what we would want them to know and understand that we wanted. We discussed what opening up might mean, and while there was some agreement, this is my interpretation. Ideally, it is like the flower opening up to the sun- warmed, caressed, fulfilling itself, the flower opens. I want to be caressed. I want to be wooed, courted. I want foreplay.

I want to be able to trust. I am hurt, and I need my hurt held; and that enables me to be vulnerable. I want to be my full primate, animal nature, which might seem like darkness and chaos. I need to be enabled to trust. I want to feel safe, nurtured and protected.

When I said that after, a man said that is the most beautiful invitation he had ever heard from a woman.

A woman said, she wasn’t keen on “wooed and courted”- should we not be escaping traditional roles and meeting as equals? Of course! I do not want to define womanhood for any other woman. Possibly, not all men will fit all women. Though my gay friend said he could be a bottom or a top, when he changed from one to the other he felt the erogenous zones on his body changing. Some people might adjust to meet a wider variety of possible partners.

And for me, the winning of trust is more necessary because I have been hurt, and hurt can make me freeze, make me numb, make me unable to open up, state my needs or even know them myself. We all have baggage. When I trusted, and opened, and was cared for, I opened fully. More experience like that, more exploration, more acceptance and understanding, I might need less to set me alight.

This is sexuality for mature people. We want an authentic, truthful, journey to complete bodily connection. I want us to help each other to maintain conscious awareness and see when we are triggered, when we are back in old patterns or old pain, when we are numb. Welcome, rather than resisting the pattern: what need does it express? Possibly, when one is triggered they will trigger the other. I was briefly triggered during the workshop. Taking responsibility for myself being conscious and aware- of my feelings, the other and our surroundings, and undertaking to help them to be aware too, we may escape the triggers. Notice the feeling without blame or judgment.

It’s about being conscious of feeling without needing to express the feeling in order to be conscious of it; and responding to the stimulus in freedom and strength rather than reacting like a machine- when that button is pressed I can only react like that. So, recognise and disconnect the buttons.

People recognise the difficulties, too. Freezing and becoming numb, that “courting” is just the time to develop trust.

In the patriarchy with rape culture, men and women are hurting, not just trans people. Jamie Catto planned this as a truth and reconciliation exercise between the sexes, telling each other what we wanted, defusing male privilege, maintaining our positivity and lightness among some heavy stuff. Seeing myself as a “man” attracted to women, I wanted to open like a flower to a woman. I have seen these relationships working. I have also approached a woman in that way and while that was what we both wanted, we just triggered each other. And I have seen a man with a similar sexuality to mine try to “man up” for a woman, and become so much more relaxed after they split.

We recognise masculine energy in women, feminine energy in men. It does not matter whether this comes from nature or nurture- my problems come from resisting who I am now, whether that comes from nature or nurture. Some is unchangeable.

Men can be strongly affected by women’s radiance. Women cannot be held solely responsible for that. I tend to feel no-one should dim her light to avoid hurting another. A man should appreciate the beauty without needing to take her, or resenting that she is not available to him. There are the stereotypes of the modest maid and the bad girl, and men should not assume the whole applies to a woman because she shows one alleged characteristic of one.

I loved the description of the tango. A man and a woman catch eyes across the dancefloor, and agree wordlessly to dance. In the first dance the man assesses his partner’s expertise, and does not push too far. The man is leading, but the woman’s assent is needed at all times. They dance together, both giving and receiving, with balance and reciprocity.

Let us be kind to each other, heal and forgive each other, explore together and enable each other. We inherit so much pain. I am not going to pass on the pain.

I felt like a woman, as if transgender is real. I think it is.

Bearable anguish

I was speaking from my feminine self. It is delightful, and also frightening. I feel vulnerable. There have been moments when my voice goes into a higher register and I say something I know with my whole heart. At last, my mask slips. It is an iron mask, put on to protect me, now constricting and rubbing at me.

Speak from your heart, said Menis, and you speak directly to the hearts of others. It is the most direct way to touch someone apart from a kiss. Five years later, I speak from my heart. I spoke at Jamie’s zoom workshop, and then his zoom get-together, where I said the government’s threats to trans people frightened me. And I felt the love:

You’re also warm and wonderful
I feel like I want to give you a huge long hug Abigail xxxx
I love those words, I am scared…I am mostly harmless. : ) A poem could come from that…..Your voice is so important. Don’t give up hope. Be the poet that you are and spread yourself into other people’s lives. Get writing girl!!!
Sending long, warm hugs m’luv xxx
Really feeling that Abigail ❤
🧡💛💛Love you Abigail
Big Love Abigail ❤

And I spoke at the racism zoom. “I want to move from guilt and embarrassment to action”. I don’t know precisely what the mask is- ego, or the sense of “What will people think?” I know there are feelings around taking it off, fear, which I don’t want to feel so I don’t even consider taking it off. And then I pass through the fear and talk from my heart and people hear me and value me.

I loved the zoom Quaker worship on Sunday. Some people sat outside the meeting house under a mulberry tree, some people joined by zoom, and I sat with my eyes closed listening to the birdsong. I wanted to be at the meeting house.

I am not alone at home. I have all these books, magazines and sites on my computer, which give me a war. There is always something to react to, so I am in the reaction, much of which is habitual, rather than in simple wordless perception which is generally delightful. I look up, and consider my curtains. I find the colour glorious, this soft, gentle green.

The simple wordless perception is delightful, I think, then in comes the challenge: what about cycling uphill when too hot? I have wanted to cycle that thirteen miles, but not enough actually to go. What weighs against it is fear of perception, of being with my actual feelings, or with truth, manifested as fear of going uphill when too hot.

Pure happiness rarely gets through my defences, and when it did my first thought was all things will pass. Momentarily happy now, considering those curtains, then considering where I am now, worrying, questioning, comes in immediately.

It is anguish.

The anguish is bearable because I am worthy. Happiness and anguish co-exist. They may be separate brain circuits firing off at the same time. I feel a passionate desire to understand which may be different from my usual desire to keep in control. It could be a desire to see truth in all its complexity and to understand for its own sake.

Reading of that Quaker meeting’s racism, in 1948, and then discussing it, I felt embarrassment and a deep desire not to exaggerate the racism, to be clear about its precise bounds, which is difficult when I cannot remember the details of the paragraph in which I read about it, and in any event that paragraph is a secondary source and the writer of the primary source might not have been there. Layers and layers of fog, and my embarrassment and discomfort, white guilt, and a desire not to accuse that pastor of any more than my knowledge clearly supports. Or, cut through the white guilt, let go of my shame and embarrassment, and just be clear. They were racist. This is bad.

It feels the same way as taking off the mask and speaking with my female voice.

Quakers can be gentle. We rarely say something is wrong- only when called to stand against it. We exhibit polite interest, and of an idea which is clearly wrong, guarded neutrality. I may refuse to do something to support another when I don’t see that it is right, but may investigate to see the good in their position. We don’t directly confront unless we can’t avoid it. That makes it difficult when someone is suffering the ongoing emotional pain of discrimination, anti-trans, racist, sexist, against disabled people, whatever- and others just don’t see it. There is the general perception that Equality in the UK is pretty much alright, and Quakers share this. My guarded neutrality in me, with inquisitiveness- what is going on here?- it is a virtue in me, but it can get in my way if I expect it from another, perhaps another who is howling in pain.

Possibly the embarrassment I see on a wife’s face when the husband stands to minister is similar. Breaking through the shell or mask is difficult. It does not necessarily mean she thinks he is wrong to minister.

There is truth and clarity in the Now. There is safety in vulnerability.