My spontaneous morning affirmation was,
When I think about it, I enter the Now. Nonduality accesses consciousness. These words are the best approximations I can manage.
People say in this state they feel joy. It depends. If I am by the river, and lay down my useless burden of rumination, and use a mantra such as “I am here. This is. I am”, I will notice the uncountable tones and shades of green, the birds, perhaps some wild flowers, the path and the grass, and am likely to feel joy. Sometimes I feel terrible misery.
I share because it is good to have these things recognised. A man asked how I was, and I replied, “In Heaven and Hell at once”. He said, “Yes, it can be like that for people who feel deeply,” and I felt affirmed. Even if no-one responds, here, at least I am shouting into the void with the possibility that if I were wrong I would be contradicted. And putting things into words often clarifies them for me.
I am still working on negative and positive thinking. It is never good to deny uncomfortable reality in the name of positivity. And, I do not like how my life has turned out: all these difficulties while I ploughed grimly on. We all have our crosses to bear, and it is good to count our blessings. Perhaps it is as simple as that.
I have been hot from the world in Meeting with a bit of facebook nastiness winding me up, and I have felt that I am larger than this befuddlement. So I allowed it to rant as it needed, and felt that I was a calm presence holding and permitting it.
And there is the voice of my inner light speaking the truth. There I am, video-calling with my Friend. I want to say something, and cannot get it out without upset- my voice breaks near tears- then I settle into being the Light. The pitch of my voice goes up, and the inner critic is angrily denouncing me- that’s weak, put on, unreal, etc, etc- but I can say what I needed to say calmly without tears. I call this
the voice of my inner light speaking the truth.
As I grow to accept it, the misery may become less. In Pendle Hill worship I pick on this mantra/affirmation to repeat:
I am who I am.
It is as it is.
It is all right.
That self feels unbearably soft. Release the judgment, and I might release the agony. I am still exploring. Am I improving? Integrating is a better word.
Calling this a particular mental state, different from other mental states I often or habitually inhabit, has value to me. It feels different, just as practising a more erect posture feels different. I am conscious of it, as my muscles or mental pathways adjust to the unfamiliar way of being. Some time ago, it was magical and extremely rare. Now, it is more common. Speaking from it still requires a conscious adjustment, while I pass through discomfort.
I am in conscious incompetence. It behoves me to analyse, to notice, to adjust. And there is innate wisdom, so that letting go has value too. I need to value myself before I can complete this task, so I repeat,
I am a human being.
I have value.
I am a human being.
I have value.
All shall be well.
All shall be well.
All manner of thing shall be well.
I am a human being, or, perhaps, I am a living creature. So, whatever else I get from someone, I should oppose their cruelty to me at least as much as I would oppose their cruelty to, say, a cat.
This self feels unbearably soft, and yet, more real, more authentic, than the male mask. I suppose I am performing a teenage task: creating an adult persona for myself. I spent an hour on the phone with Jane from the Samaritans, on my various difficulties, my current rumination, and this decision, and feel affirmed.
I have presented to the world in shards of my male personality, though I know they do not fit, and often then cried and gone into the authentic self, speaking with a softer tone, telling the truth from my heart. Now I want to speak from that soft self all the time. I have heard the inner critic. I know the soft self is the real self. This may mean that I may keep some privacy: someone on Zoom admired my thick head of hair, and I surprised myself by not revealing it is a wig. Instead, I just smiled.
Why can’t you just be a feminine man?
Possibly, transition is a hack. Being a feminine or effeminate male was utterly forbidden, through the door marked Death, but I had not picked up that transition was equally forbidden, because it was unimaginable. So when I imagined it, it was my escape. I wanted to follow the rules of my society, and I found there was this path my society barely tolerated.
I think of a boy at school, a year or two older than me, telling me I am “soft as shite”. It stung at the time. It still stings now: I remember the remark with unusual clarity for a conversation at school. He was claiming I was unmasculine, so inadequate, less than others. Now J sees that I am not flexible, able to be a “feminine man”, to contain contradictions which I had found unbearable: so J also judges me as inadequate or less. I am so knocked about by such judgment that I can barely resist, and my “femininity” makes resistance harder. I want reconciliation, not conflict. So my femininity works against me and I judge it too.
But Honor Logan denies femininity exists: it is merely a patriarchal tool of oppression. It is “something given and taken away on man’s whim”. Are we good enough? So I do not share some mythical “femininity” with other women, but I do share the condition of being oppressed.
I felt it excluding that the women’s group talk of bleeding, until I thought, but this is their way of defying taboo and claiming freedom. This is a place for us to claim freedom together however we do it. That is my answer to the suggestion that it is “transphobic” to say 1970s feminism had allowed young women to explore their own vagina and clitoris as intimate companion. Young trans women did not have this experience; but different women have different experiences, and that does not mean any of us are not women. It is anti-feminist, rather than transphobic, to suggest all women have the same experiences. And perhaps I could get to know my vagina as a source of pleasure.
We can split into tiny warring camps, or find a solidarity that celebrates our differences. Women who deny femininity exists must find a way to be with cis women who celebrate it.
I don’t think “femininity” is a coherent concept, either in the culture or as a property of most women and few men. So, what makes me a woman, if not femininity? Two possibilities: my long-standing desire to express myself this way, and the acceptance of others. Everyone relies on the acceptance of others in order to survive, but dependence on it makes us liable to oppression, which we must meet with self-affirmation.
How much do we create ourselves, how much recognise and realise ourselves, how much are we moulded by other people? If I accept what others say I should be like, I allow them to mould me, but it seems to me there is a real me underneath. I am submissive. It feels like recognition. Attempting to suppress it feels like self-abnegation, paradoxically: to self-abnegate by fighting my self-abnegation. It is part of me. If I suppress and deny it, I cannot allow for it and how it affects me, so others see it and use it. It becomes a source of pain for me, so I work harder to suppress it.
I feel that trauma causes me to suppress parts of myself, rather than to alter them. I do not think my submission could have been created by trauma, though the trauma played upon it.
So I will guard my submissive nature as precious. I will protect it. I decide to see it as part of me that can be beautiful for myself and others, a gift, and seek evidence of this. Perhaps my kindness and gentleness are evidence: three qualities fitting together. This is shadow work: I have used words to define a part I can cut off and deny, then projected all my fear and anger onto that shadow part. Liberating my shadow self is liberation from my own judgment.
Days after the question, still stewing on it, I thought of why I could not be a feminine man. Perhaps I’m just a bit second rate. Perhaps I did not see the possibility. Perhaps I was too suicidal and terrified to properly understand what I was doing. Possibly I am a sexual pervert, and therefore a threat to women and children– there are lots of places on the internet you can read that. And, just perhaps, I am trans. James Baldwin: “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself and half believed before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”
I want to be here. I don’t want to be here if you want me to go. How might I fit, here? Could I just be part of the group, or do I change it?
Am I a woman? This is who I am. Presenting male was unbearable. I am a woman if your definition of the word includes me, so I could be a man, a woman, both or neither, depending on what you think the words mean. Words do not fit reality, but they mould our understanding of it. If I am not a woman, I am at least a trans woman: I can be no other. I would rather “look like that, all the time”, facing prejudice and derision, than move through the world disguised as a man.
Being a woman is physical and cultural. I have not ovulated, and I never will, but I had synthetic progesterone for a time, and experienced glorious highs and terrifying lows on it. I had a conversation just after transition when I thought, as a man talking to this man I would top his story, and as a woman I did not have to, which felt freeing, at first, then oppressive. This man knows it is for him to speak, explore his opinions, show off his knowledge, wisdom and experience, and for me to listen: to be a mirror in which he sees himself reflected, rather than a whole human being.
The value of the women’s circle is that women can find their own voices without the weight of male privilege shutting them up. In mixed groups, the unconscious expectation of the men produces an echo in the women from long habit. Women and their concerns are devalued. Here, women can free themselves.
I presented male for 35 years. I had a voice. I was expected to use it. But I too was silenced, so suppressed that I did not say anything from my true self, only from a “real man” mask. I worked so hard at being a real man, not letting the mask slip, always feeling inadequate, and then the real me broke through and I had to liberate her. My voice- if only a trans woman’s, not really a woman’s- is not the man’s voice I was taught to imitate.
A man might see the weight of privilege, and encourage a woman to speak, in order to get to know her as a person, or out of respect for her personhood. Even if I were joining in the work of encouraging and enabling each woman here to find her voice and be celebrated for who she is, would I be seen to do it as a man- as a game, or as a gift the man could take back at any time?
I would certainly not want to be the half-man whose privilege you could practice challenging because I would give way, so that you could claim your power and personhood in the world outside the group.
Instead I want to be one of you, a sister helping sisters find their voices, equals celebrating each other and so being freed to be ourselves.
Possibly my residual manhood, things in my appearance, mannerisms and voice, make me appear so much a man to you that the dynamic of the women’s group seems lost. And, when any new person joins the group there is a new dynamic. Please do not be too quick to attribute the change, here, now, to some masculinity in me, and call it a loss. All women have some masculinity in them. When a new woman joins the group you have to get to know her.
I am an asylum seeker here, not a colonist. I do not want to take control, but to fit in, and contribute. I am nervous because I am different. I hope tensions in the group can be explored and worked through, bringing us together. We gain when we see how we are different from each other, as well as how we are the same. I hope I can come into the beautiful thing you have created, and help you build it into something more beautiful.
There is “Being in the Now”. I am aware of sensory input now. I listen to what people say. I see their body language. I am aware of what I feel now, and it flows without overflowing. I speak what I need to say, now. And there is “Being in past and future”, thinking of what I will say rather than hearing the other, being with worries and ruminations, walking and barely seeing where I am because I am treading the old cognitive paths. Continue reading
I am smiling, though I feel intense misery: I smile because this is me, the most feminine part of me, speaking now. I definitely don’t have multiple personalities, and this is me, speaking naturally above the break, wearing earrings and enjoying the sensation of them in my ears.
The process, the whole animal, does not cry, and here am I, I, crying, and feeling the joy at being this feminine part of me, and surprising myself as I did not expect this. Another, perhaps more cynical or appraising rationalist part wants to break through and I don’t want it to.
I do not need looked after.
I do not need restrained.
The world is not dangerous for me, nor I for it.
I speak from this place when I stop fighting, relax and open out. I am exploring now, I don’t know what’s going on. I want to see the world from here, from this perspective, and I want to show it to other people. Normally I am more guarded than this.
In this feminine part is my appreciation of beauty. I look at the stems and leaves pattern on my net curtains. The curves are dancing. This feels more authentic than any other part of me and I don’t really know what she wants, what she does, what she can do, she has been despised for too long.
Going back to one of my myths: I wanted to build the dome, I wanted to do it quickly and efficiently, and well- out of fear of being useless, fear of being seen to be useless, and because it would prove my value, to me, and possibly to other people. I think doing it was valuable, I am not merely projecting. I don’t think it was just fear.
Fear and love, the two great motivators, running from or running to.
This is where my playfulness lives. This is where my ability to know other people lives, not analytical, though the analytical is not alien to this, rationality is a skill this can use. This is in no way an emotional part separate from my analytical power.
Why would you fear being childish? Because it is vulnerable. Yet- vulnerable to what? The judgment which matters is my own. If I fear this I cannot show it to anyone. Yet they might accept me like this.
This is beautifully soft, and can be determined. I am determined now. I hunger to know how I may be when I am like this, because the lesson I have learned that being like this is dangerous is I think a childhood lesson which no longer applies. Other parts of me seek to protect me from the hostility of others by making me shut up and vanish, but I don’t think everyone would be hostile.
This is the part of me that writes poetry.
I often wonder how my analogues are doing in alternative universes. In how many am I dead? Do I have children? Fear and desire- in one, I present the most popular television programme, to millions of adoring fans. It is an hour-long interview in which I strip away the masks of others, my own authenticity inspiring theirs, generally as liberation and occasionally as complete humiliation- a politician would have to be very brave to accept the invitation. An hour long interview with someone revealing entirely who they are, any age from five to ninety.
Though while electrons are capable of quantum superposition, being a fuzzy cloud expanding to fill the whole universe, I am not.
This feminine self is where my hurt is. I had no access to this at all, because of the hurt, and there is still the possibility of hurt, though not the annihilation the child feared.
This is the part of me where my strength is. In part this is scared, and in part she has complete confidence.
A friend went over her handlebars into a ditch, and has been terrified of cycling since. I suggested she cycle in the carpark of a supermarket after it had closed, when she has an expanse of tarmac and no cars, so that she can learn to trust.
I can learn to trust. I have been hurt, and can practise on small things-
I want to show off, because I want admiration and affirmation- though since this experience I have been affirming myself. This is where the possibilities are. This is where any desire worth anything is.
I have hidden it, and fought for it, and had glimpses and occasional moments of being, my feminine self is still unrealised seventeen years after transition, often quickly submerged or suppressed.
Authenticity is possible.
Taking the microphone and looking out over the thousand-member audience, I said, “I am wise. Listen to me.”
I am feeling powerfully affirmed right now. I have spoken before in conversation from my integrity, all of me united in a belief or intention. I check it is right and true then say it. As I do this more I become clearer.
Then there was the Queer Spirit festival, 16-18 August. At the Authentic Communicating workshop I talked of this, of the way of speaking from my whole self, and the facilitator addressed me, “Tell us the truth, O wise one”. It is hard to imagine such words without sarcasm, but he said them with utter sincerity. There I saw beautiful playfulness, and a profound shift in a man, shedding his introjects. I asked to be lifted and supported on nine pairs of hands, and was borne aloft. I could trust. Then we group hugged.
That night I left the big top at eleven, and dozily left my handbag in a toilet. I went to that workshop with no money, no house keys, no way of getting home, wondering if I could ask anyone to drive me there. We decided I could ask the festival to loan me enough for a taxi and the buses. At eight, no one had handed in my handbag but after the workshop someone had contacted the organiser, and I went to pick it up from the Faerie area. If there was anyone who would steal it at the festival, they were unlikely to be the one to find it.
I knew no one at Queer Spirit but started conversation easily, asking and receiving hugs. I noticed how forebearing we were with each other, anxious to please as if used to hurt and slights- as you might expect in an LGBT festival. I see it in myself and in queer friends.
Leaving Queer Spirit I resented the cost of the taxi to Nupton, the buses having been cut, but a man joined me and talked of Faerie, halving my fare. It is an alternative gay culture for men tired of shallowly pumping iron and using the right grooming products. He is spiritual but not religious, having had a harmful religious upbringing, and liked my line “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”.
Then there was the Quaker meeting. It was a Leading to hold it at Greenbelt, but my leading was not affirmed by my Meeting, who had told the Festival there was no one to organise the worship. It felt haphazard, and I felt unprepared. Yet after we had 110 in worship and I introduced it, emphasising the welcome enquirers should expect, I felt vindicated. My leading had been recognised by events.
Nadia Bolz-Weber talked of bodies, how people are ashamed of bodies and how we are fed false ideals which we cannot match. She told us to turn to a neighbour and say something we liked about our bodies. My neighbour had beautiful eyes, and said so. We were in a place, after three days of Festival, where we could say such things.
If women did not spend the energy fruitlessly chasing the beauty myth we could solve global heating.
I spoke into the microphone. I said how after transition I finally loved my body, its beauty and effectiveness, and of how people are also shamed about Gender, and how humanity needs to affirm soft men and powerful women, strong and gentle humans. I asked the speakers to affirm our gender in all its variety and contradictoriness. I got applauded. I am affirmed again.
Another woman said whenever she had an unpleasant experience her mother would ask, “What did you do to cause that?” Such shaming could make a child hide away completely, like a rabbit fearing all attention was predatory. She is in middle age recovering.
Another said as a trans man he wanted chest surgery, yet he also wanted to bear a child and breast feed- but not yet, maybe in six years’ time. How could he live with his body as it is, and all it means to others, in that tension?
I am feeling powerful. My working out my need heals others. Having valued my softness as strength when I saw it as weakness for so long, I can help others free themselves.
This pillar was marked “The wisest thing I ever heard was-”
I asked trans men if they were transitioning because they were really a man, or because they were masculine; women if female or feminine, non-binary because their true physical form, or their character, was non-binary?
Several trans men said they were really men. Their female-developed bodies revolted them. Their breasts, their widening hips, had been horrible, a weird, squishy, fleshy thing. Their chest masculinisation freed them to be feminine. Femininity before transition was an act, now they could be their authentic feminine selves if no-one would think them a woman. Female puberty had confirmed that they really were men, if there had been any doubt. Body hair delights them, the voice breaking delights them. So even in a utopia without gender stereotypes, they would transition.
I worried about this, when I heard it. I have no idea what proportion detransition. It might seem to confirm the gender-critical feminist perspective, that teenage girls want to transition because being a woman can be horrible, subject to groping, unwanted advances, sexist “banter”, sexist assumptions and treatment at school, university and in employment, and being a man would seem liberating, and yet being a woman is wonderful, being a mother, giving birth and suckling a child are the purpose of these body parts, as well as the sexual pleasure of their owner. Women can be used sexually in a way men are not, so much. Approximating to being a man is liberating, at great cost in physical mutilation and long term hormone treatment with unknown consequences. These women pay the price of sexism with their beautiful female bodies. Sexism erases lesbians.
And yet, that denies the ability of these trans men to make decisions for themselves, or to know themselves. None will say that they transition to escape sexism, but because they really are men, and that they want their bodies to reflect the fact. They are clear that they are men.
I feel feminine. That is how transition enabled me to discover myself and value myself: I could be my feminine self, and begin to peel back the thick layers of shame obscuring myself. I don’t feel constrained by any particular concept of feminine. It is elastic and fuzzy, covering a wide variety of women. I don’t know how things would be, if I had not had hormones and surgery, but had attempted a transition without, but I transitioned because of my femininity.
Others echoed this. They were feminine rather than female. Many, men and women, were not really masculine or feminine, they thought, but both or neither. “I’m just me” is a good way of being. I feel non-binary is freeing. We should be able to adjust our bodies just as far as we need, and express our personalities without feeling constrained by ideals of masculinity or femininity. Men need to find and liberate their feminine side, not just trans women. Yet it is uncomfortable being feminine, and appearing to be a man.
As people went through the transition process they thought less about these things, and were more simply and unaffectedly themselves. Not everyone. Some detransition, and curse the whole idea of changing sex or gender; but it saves many lives.
And the gender-critical should get alongside us. So, yes, they are oppressed by sexism, by men interrupting and taking up space and not respecting them and suspicious of their leadership and ogling and groping and demanding sex. They are distracted from fighting these things by being drawn to fight a few thousand mostly-harmless trans women. We liberate ourselves from patriarchal oppression as best we can.
What does “gender non-conforming” mean to you? To me it’s quite clear: there are gender stereotypes, most people more or less fit them, gender non-conforming means you don’t and you don’t want to pretend that you do. Gender-punk I quite like: the person who told me about it is clearly AMAB, and wears skirts in public without breast forms or make-up. Cross-dressers and trans women genderally try to look like women, but this person chooses the pronoun “they” and doesn’t, though their height might make it difficult. They mix it up, choose what they like. The clothes and mannerisms are symbols, which indicate an underlying personality, and they break expectations. I usually see them in skirts which don’t look feminine at all, just practical.
-Ooh look, a man in a skirt! shouted someone at them.
-Ooh look, a woman in trousers! they riposted.
So depending on how non-conforming, or how uncomfortable with gender stereotypes you were, there would be say 10% of women and 10% of men who were so far from the stereotype as to be gender non-conforming. That would include all lesbian, gay, bi or trans folks but a lot of others too, and we could all join in one big happy family because we had that in common, and advance our rights together.
Some people think gender stereotypes matter, and they will be judged and punished for breaching them. We observe the bullying of non-conforming boys, we were bullied like that, we have an idea of masculinity which we don’t fit and it crucifies us. Some people are comfortable with a wide range of behaviour, some of which might seem to fit the gender stereotype and some not. And the stereotype itself is fuzzy- how rigid or restrictive is it, really?
I was chatting with a gay man about “gender diversity”. He agreed with my definition of gender diversity, and we agreed a woman we know might fit in a “gender diversity community” or a “queer” group. I don’t think she would agree. A feminist perspective is that women are oppressed- disrespected, treated as sex objects, disadvantaged because of their reproductive systems, as women. Then the gender stereotype is part of the oppression of women, and no-one fits it, not really. It is a series of demands and expectations, such as being the carer in all sorts of situations, which oppress every woman.
Though not all women are feminists in the same way, and some find feminism means they can choose those “feminine” roles- it is the right to choose, not the particular thing chosen, that matters. Then some are clearly gender conforming. It does not follow that those who are not will ever identify as gender non-conforming. Just as heavy drinkers think they are average drinkers, women particularly distant from the gender stereotype think all women are equally distant.
I don’t understand. I knew before I transitioned that even if I reverted, I needed to go through transition or I would be stuck in my desire for it. To live as a man I needed to transition to female. Does that make any sense at all to you? I don’t want to revert now, it would be too much trouble, yet I wish I could have avoided it. From this particular position, I don’t understand anyone else. I don’t understand the trans woman or trans man who talks of their gender identity, which looks to me like a verbal justification for a particular act, not an objective measurable thing. My identity is me, which formerly was “a trans woman” and is now “a feminine male”. I am a trans woman because I have transitioned and not reverted. As I see gender roles as important and limiting, I don’t understand anyone who breaches them without seeming to care.
For gender non-conformity to mean something we need an idea of what feminine gender is, and to believe that some women fit it. Many of those women I think are gender non-conforming deny there is a coherent concept of femininity, or that anyone fits it. Being gender non-conforming, they believe, makes them feminist, not part of some queer subculture.
So it is possible to identify as gender non-conforming, to feel something in common with other GNC people and find some value and self-understanding in the term, but not possible to define it or apply it to anyone who does not apply it to themself.
“In most mythologies and archetypal psychology, the feminine principle has greater interest in the inner, the soul, the formless, intuition, connection, harmony, beauty, and relationality in general; it is more identified with lunar subtlety than the over-differentiating light of the masculine sun god or the literalism and linearity of the left brain. … Jesus himself illustrates these feminine qualities…and God is variously described as a compassionate mother, a hen protecting her chicks, and even “The Breasted One” or El Shaddai.
“The masculine principle, as I experience it and have observed it, is more interested in the outer, the mental, exterior form, idea, the movement or action of things, the naming and differentiation of things one from another; solar clarity of individual things, as it were, as opposed to the relationship of one thing to another. It prefers the ascent of mind to the descent of soul. It often moves toward “agency” and action before relationship or intimacy. Just watch little boys play, and watch how men love to fix, build, and also demolish. It is often a more “focused consciousness” than the “diffuse awareness” of the feminine principle, as Carl Jung noted. We see examples of these characteristics in Moses, the Hebrew judges, the practical, eager disciples, and in many images of God as lion and king.”
That’s Richard Rohr. I find his comments harmful. People need to experience both to be fully rounded. He is clearly more comfortable with the masculine principle than the feminine: he ascribes the masculine specifically to boys and men, but not the feminine to girls and women. With the possible exception of the judge Deborah, he does not name women- even, he implies that Mary Magdalen was not a “disciple”. In describing the feminine, he specifically contrasts the masculine, in negative terms, but describing masculine he alludes to the feminine as “descent of soul”: he is frightened of critiquing what he calls feminine.
What he calls feminine is necessary to serve what he calls masculine. It is all very well to “fix, build and demolish” as long as you are not in conflict. The “feminine” relationality means we can co-operate, and eases the self-doubt of the man when he fails. I see female architects building, which creates a shift: the work of supporting is for all of us, not just females. Monks and male priests, men of peace, ideally take on that feminine role, using intuition, compassion and connection.
The “descent of soul” is a matter of maturity, not just femininity. We learn who we are, and come to accept the whole in unity rather than just the active, confident mask. Men have to learn to do this for themselves, without women supporting them. Then we can support each other, and move between soul and intellect, intuition and action, as necessary. We can be co-operative rather than hierarchical. We will have diverse voices and so greater collective understanding.
In “The State of the Art”, Iain M Banks’ character observes that a particular Holocaust memorial is a cave to walk into, “a cunt rather than a prick”. The man approves, but they are two parts that fit together, not symbols of discrete roles. One might think of the active yoni “enveloping” the phallus, and of monuments being just that, stone symbols of commemoration, not penises.
The result is a union of archetypes. Each person’s gifts are valued. Couples may be partnerships without “men’s” and “women’s” roles. These separate archetypes have value, but as active and contemplative, or nuanced and decisive, rather than masculine and feminine. God may unite them as of equal worth without being seen as mother or father.