Freedom and control

Ours is a free society, and we are controlled. Trans folk are free to be ourselves, mostly, and some people get angry about that. Why are we free to be trans, and how are people free and not free?

Why would humans not be free? There is economic freedom- I am not free to go out this evening because there are no buses and I do not have a car, and find taxis too expensive. I can go out for the evening, but it needs planning. There is imaginative freedom- I cannot do what I do not imagine possible. And there is social control. I read that in Prague pedestrians expect to pass right shoulder to right shoulder on the pavement- it prevents pavement dancing- and will be irked with you if you do not know and do not follow the rule.

There is social control to avoid fear. Are those noisy young men over there “boisterous” or “threatening”? If we feel there is an unwritten rule that people should be quiet here, the breach of the rule is threatening. Music leaching from folks’ headphones on the bus may be most irritating because you feel it is discourteous, another breach of a rule, something you do not expect. There are many distracting or unpleasant sounds or sensations on the bus. Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose, but it is rarely that simple- whose rights come first is a matter of status, boundaries are pushed and tested, and I feel I have personal space and do not want your fist within two feet of my face, at an absolute minimum.

Moral compliance can be a matter of status. “I don’t mind them being gay as long as they don’t rub our noses in it,” perhaps by holding hands. Sexual morality has moved from a set of rules to a matter of obligation- in some circumstances people have a duty of faithfulness- and possibly a matter of moral hygiene or exploitation or more subtle wrongs. In the Am Dram group, F who was in her forties- fabulously old- took M, in his teens, to her home, and I saw how he was looking at her after, and she did not seem to care. I did not go to her house. And now generally gay is OK, because it harms no-one and that is enough.

High status people can be more free than low status people, and low status people might resent that our former even lower status no longer applies. Higher status people have taken from them their right to look down on us, and on anyone “foreign”. Unprincipled politicians like Mr Trump or Mme LePen know that desperate people will give a lot to be allowed to look down on someone. If they are free to blame immigrants, LGBT will be next.

Arguments against trans acceptance are transphobic, where people have an unreasoning disgust or abhorrence for us, or perhaps symbolic. For a certain kind of feminist we are a symbol of their gendered oppression. They loathe our freedom as they claim it conflicts with theirs. Yet we are completely harmless, more a symbol of gender than a tool of oppression.

Do you like my new coat?

Benefits of immigration

Immigration is always a benefit to the economy. There are more people, and the new people are more likely to be economically active. The economy grows, and they can be taxed for public benefit, all the things like health, education, natural monopoly utilities and transport which are better done by society, together. No way exists of using competition to make companies serve the public in these services. Public services get better because of immigration. They have got worse since 2010 because of deliberate cuts by the Tory government. The Nationalist lie that immigrants flood our country and damage our public services, used to get hard Right politicians elected who will cut those services further, is a great evil. Cuts inflame people’s fear and anger, and that anger makes people more authoritarian.

Dancers, flibbertigibbets and butterflies like me are in for a hard time.

My friend asked, but why is it always expressed as “good for the economy”? Is there nothing more important? Yes. Immigration is good for the culture, and for each person.

It is difficult. It causes tension. Migrating to a country can curtail horizons rather than expanding them. Polish or Bangladeshi communities exist where some people hardly go out of that small group, or learn any English. Well, people have to achieve the means of survival before they can self-actualise. Any organism explores its surroundings, looking for what will benefit it, avoiding harm, and once they get time to draw breath and really look about themselves loving, creative and adventurous souls will embrace the possibilities of different cultures. Not me, particularly, if I see a “Polski Sklep” I stay out of it, but I am not adventurous cooking even in English cuisine, and once something becomes mainstream, like Italian or Bangladeshi restaurants, I use it happily.

And I feel it is possible to be too assimilated. I was uncomfortable around an Indian Christian woman. I am not sure why, or what she had done I might object to, or what I would rather she had done, but there is something I can’t quite put my finger on. This is a blog, I would never throw out such an inchoate idea in writing published anywhere else.

And yet for adventurous leaders, whom the community will follow, our possibilities are expanded. Culture widens, we get new ways of understanding, expressing ourselves, and relating to others. We have more options, so we are more free.

We move from a homogenous society in which we can predict how people will be, to a diverse society where we accept difference, and that benefits flibbertigibbets and queers, who really have to curtail ourselves to fit a village homogeneity. But no-one fits that homogeneity, really, so everyone benefits.

Except the authoritarians, the grinches, the know-alls and control freaks who want everyone marching in step to the same martial music. Few people are like that naturally- even Mr Farage seeks his own freedom, as he seeks to deny it to everyone else- but people can be forced into that mould, by inflaming and misdirecting their anger and resentment. Diversity is our best defence against totalitarianism.

louise-catherine-breslau-a-young-woman-asleep-in-a-chair

Trans and body dysmorphia

Most of the questions at Greenbelt were friendly, but the last woman to speak compared us to people with body dysmorphia or BIID. I wonder why- to engender disgust with us, perhaps. We should not be indulged, because what we want is repulsive- to save us from ourselves or to save others from going the same way. Tina found the comparison repellent.

Anyone who likes the world nice and neat, with simple comprehensive categories, may need me to “be a woman” before they can tolerate me. The first response, never having come across us before, might be Yuck. Oh, says a wise friend, that’s a trans woman. She’s a woman born in a man’s body. Or, she’s born that way. She is mostly harmless. And the person who likes the world to be explicable accepts the explanation. Or the friend says, he’s like body dysmorphics, one of the bad people. Yuck is appropriate.

I can tolerate a certain amount of disapproval. I just have to. Some people think my way of being ridiculous or disgusting, and as long as enough people accept me I sort of rub along. My view is that body dysmorphic people are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I hold the liberal view that they should be allowed to do what they want if it does not harm others, because they should be trusted to make their own decisions for their own flourishing.

I feel I benefit from an atmosphere of general tolerance more than a categorisation as among the Acceptable kinds of weirdo. Body dysmorphics bad. “Trans women- women, really- and therefore acceptable” is subject to argument. “Person who is in part inexplicable, just like every single other human being” is not. Let us rub along as best we may.

After, we were surrounded by people wanting further encouragement; then we went for a drink, and to The Canopy to hear Lorraine Bowen. Her songs should not work, being not sophisticated at all, but they are joyous. Much of the crowd danced the actions to the Crumble Song:

Everybody’s good at cooking something- mime stirring pots
I’m good at cooking- both hands to chest indicating self
Crumble!- Hands in the air like a gymnast at the end of their routine
In fact, I’ve got one in the oven- bending down miming taking it out
Would you like some?- Mime offering it.

I think it’s intended as a double meaning for a bun in the oven, or pregnancy. It seems innocent and ridiculous to me. We liked it, a joyous crowd not concerned with how we appear. The freedom of silliness. How we appear is a terrible tyrant.

-Any requests?
-Dill Pickle!
-Oh, I’m not sure I could do that one at Greenbelt.
-Dill Pickle! Dill Pickle!

Safe Spaces II

Transphobic opinions are incitement to violence.

Here is Maryam Namazie’s talk at Goldsmiths. She claims that there is a clear distinction between criticism of Islam, an idea, or Islamism, a political movement, and bigotry against Muslims. However, there is no clear line between fair criticism and dehumanising of  enemies: calling us men is a threat to us.

And she has an essential task, mocking Islam by drawing attention to insane fatwas that the Earth is stationary or that a starving man may eat his wife (no fatwa has been issued that wives may eat husbands); but also speaking out about the execution of rape victims for fornication, or of those who leave Islam. Thirteen countries impose the death penalty for apostasy, she says, though the Library of Congress puts it at eight. Here, Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid argues that death is no less than the apostate deserves. Here, Kashif N. Chaudhry argues that the Koran does not support apostasy laws, but gives freedom of conscience for belief.

Maryam Namazie speaks out for apostates, through the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. I want to support her in this, to encourage people to choose freely whether to believe.

So opinions matter. Opinions can kill. Belief systems include moral beliefs condemning other people.

Waiting around in Accident and Emergency, I saw a white woman enter wearing an Islamic head-scarf, though not a niqab. Others noticed too. “Bin-laden,” sniggered a woman (it was before his murder). Such words might put the apparently Muslim woman in fear and alarm, though there are still taboos against physical assault. A woman who would pull a niqab from another’s face- an assault- might be encouraged by such giggling dehumanising. Or by the expression of opinion one might psyche oneself up to assault.

Here are my own, entirely reasonable opinions on the veil. A woman might freely choose the veil. Anonymity in crowds, or when on business, is desirable. We communicate with our faces, and a poker face is an advantage. A woman might choose the veil out of loyalty to family, or because of the express disapproval of others, and that is the moment where the choice is constrained rather than free. Though human beings are interdependent, and loyalty or the desire to please others are legitimate motivations. The veil is also a clear indication of adherence to Islam.

I agree that much of the belief of Islam- including the belief of many Muslims that apostasy should be punished, even if that belief is not supported by the Koran- is poisonous and harmful. I want to defend the apostates against those who would harm them. That opinion may make a Muslim feel defensive, or encourage someone who would use violence against them.

People form tribes, with loyalty to the group and rejection of the outsider. As we mature, we recognise that no-one should be excluded from the tribe, that everyone is my neighbour. However to reach such a position we need to feel safe.

So gay people and trans people must speak out for the Muslims, even those who would throw us from high buildings. We need them to feel safe too.

As for the Muslim, so for the trans woman. The opinion that I am a man, or that I oppress women, is an excuse for excluding or erasing me. Violet and friends are also discussing Maryam.

Blake, The Blasphemer

Liberation

I have lived my life with the handbrake on. Too prone to hit the foot-brake too, and terrified of the accelerator pedal, I seek to free myself. My project here is finding what stories, understandings, and responses serve my freedom, which increase my serfdom. Jtteop, despite a rebarbative idea which initially blinded me to the value which might be in what he says, seems to seek such freedom through words, so repays a closer look.

His “myth” is that one is born gay, only attracted to persons of the same gender. His counter-myth is that being gay is not innate.

The process starts when a person says words or performs actions that are outside the range of social acceptability for their gender. It will then be suggested to the person that they might be ‘gay’ and they will be asked to meditate on that possibility, with the hope that they will have an epiphany of sorts that will lead to a confession. This is called ‘coming out’.

The human brain is very flexible in this regard and will presumably help out, as it always does, to let the denounced person see the previously unrecognised possibilities.

There is a huge amount wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with being gay, any more than with having red hair. Twin studies show that there is a greater correlation of orientation between identical than non-identical twins, so there is a genetic component, even if that correlation is not total. Then again, before death the only orientation anyone can be sure of is bisexuality: there are lots of reasons to fight particular sexual attractions, but “I’m not gay, I’m straight” is not one of them.

The word “gay” is liberating, as “Uranian” was before it. It fosters acceptance of ones desire and permits sexual fulfilment. It is not as jtteop asserts linked to not fitting the socially ordained gender role, though it may be.

However the tincture of truth in jtteop’s post is that the label “gay” can be constraining, leading a person to imagine they should behave or respond in a certain way. More usually, it is liberating: it is permission to respond in that non-standard role, without shame. The word “straight” is far more constraining: men have an idea of how straight men “should” behave.

For jtteop, gay is simply the shortcutting of a natural process (same with drug use) . You gain pleasure without the necessity to go though all the usual mechanisms to get that pleasure. Well, no. Here he says that only straight sex is natural, or indeed that gay sex is easier to get- not for those with internalised homophobia it isn’t. Also that straight sex is fulfilling, but gay sex only seems to be. Though he is libertarian: he wants people to be able to do whatever they want to.

Words and understandings can imprison us. Jtteop recognises this. The way to freedom is to permit responses, and to perceive without judgment.

Osiris

Oppression

and the cure of it.

I seek to create the Kingdom of Heaven in the world, and around me see chains of oppression. Dog eats dog. What may I do?

So much oppression! The exploitation of third world workers, people smugglers charging migrants tens of thousands of dollars for a place on a sinking boat which might barely make it to Lampedusa, Fortress Europe and Unwelcome as the response. So much oppression of women: the denial of reproductive rights, genital mutilation, domestic violence.

In the bronze age, the human relationship with our food animals was symbiotic: we cared for the cattle, and took their milk and meat. Now it is exploitative, with industrial battery farming. I could escape this one oppressive system, and become vegan. This was difficult thirty years ago, but now the work has been done: people know how to get the necessary carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals without meat or dairy products, and the foods are available, and appetising. You can go into the matter in great detail, finding vegetarian cheese or vegetarian wine- either as a constriction, refusing anything tainted and withdrawing from the world, or as a liberation, using the knowledge to reduce your vestigial oppression still further. It is in the culture. We all know some nutrition; I hear that my potassium levels may fall in hot weather, and I need potassium to retain water, so I eat bananas. That seems enough, at the moment. I could start with occasional vegetarian meals, learn more about cooking and sourcing, and eventually become an expert, excluding animal products from my shoes, clothes, house.

(Cheese. I know. Well, being vegetarian or even pescatarian could be a stepping stone.)

You can do the work. Which cleaning products are best for the environment? Which forms of investment are most ethical? What does “Fair trade” mean, exactly? You can slowly, steadily reduce your complicity in oppression. You remain complicit, and at the start your complicity far outweighs the progress you have made; yet all the progress is worthwhile.

Actually, I start to talk myself into it. When I started this post, I thought of writing how all-pervasive oppression is, and how the oppressed oppress: eg, the porn performer who needs the money, and is brutalized by her trade. As are other workers. I know what I devote myself to; but could take some of the many opportunities to reduce my footprint on the faces of other humans, or the environment.

I know that my transition is not oppression. I am called liar and rapist, but the oppression comes from others, and not from me.

I devote myself to my own freedom. I have desires and promptings. I have a Real Me, a beauty, to express and create in the world. I have internalised fear and judgment of that, and I liberate myself of it. That is my work and learning now.

Sebastiano Ricci, Resurrection

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

Feminism and choice

How might I understand the choices people make?

Sometimes people make choices because they are oppressed. Possibly, a Muslim woman in a hijab- head-scarf- or niqab, face covering, is oppressed, by societal or family pressure, and possibly she has decided to wear it as a positive affirmation that she is Muslim, and as a defence against the sexualisation of women in Western culture. Arguably the Koran does not require women to cover so completely, merely requiring their dress to be “modest”, and arguably the predominantly non-Muslim culture cannot do anything to relieve the oppression.

Do what you can to relieve oppression.

I want to turn heads. I want to attract attention and interest. While carriage and mien help, fashion is a good tool. That is difficult: I do not go where I may observe fashionable people, and most of my clothes purchases are in charity shops. Is it “oppressive” that something fashionable two years ago is now past it, that I must buy a new wardrobe twice a year?

Considering the examples of the celibate gay Christian and the housewife, there are many choices which could involve internalised or external oppression but few which do so of necessity.

Why do women stay with violent partners? Because their self-confidence is destroyed by that partner, and they do not see an alternative. People do things which they do not choose to do. I asked a woman if her husband hit her, and she said “Only occasionally”. Some of us have deep-seated psychological scars, and the violence fulfils some sort of strange need.

Why do women become sex workers? Some are trafficked and brutalised, some are privileged and sex-positive.

Choices affect others. Does the prevalence of pornography affect the culture in a harmful way?

Choices can appear irrational. I do not understand my choice to transition. If I say “I am a woman” I might not be explaining it, but explaining it away. There was a desire in me which I could not resist, however hard I tried- I would call the resistance “Internalised transphobia”- which was the most important thing in my life, which eventually I actualised.

I tend to feel that a person’s choice to harm herself is an attempt to make her life better: we drink to avoid consciousness of pain.

I am in favour of the freedom of every human being 
to pursue their own good in their own way, 
so long as they do not harm others.

But the political position that requires me to adopt on any particular issue is not always clear.

Evelyn de Morgan, Angel piping to the souls in Hell

Limits on freedom

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 2

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 3Comment, here: As there is no right dependent on labor and efforts of others there is no right to healthcare. The ACA forces people to pay for something for others, doesn’t really matter what the thing in question happens to be, it’s a violation of individual liberty.

The stark purity of extremism is attractive to a certain type of mind. I prefer messy bodges, myself: I might not produce a rigorous argument, but I know what I like. Or I am special pleading: obviously, people in a position I can imagine myself in should not suffer X. That comment was about birth control, and an American company’s refusal to pay for a health insurance plan for its employees which includes a morning-after pill, which it claims is abortion.

First, the morning-after pill. I don’t see much practical moral difference between preventing sperm reaching a fertile ovum, and preventing a fertilized ovum from implanting. However there is a moral difference between preventing implantation and aborting an eight-week foetus- the mother should decide when she needs an abortion, but the longer she waits, the more traumatic it is for her. Alternatives are banning impulsive sex- good luck with that- or insisting that women take large quantities of artificial hormone. All the alternatives are worse, but the ignorant rationalist, who likes verbal arguments, says morning-after pill is an abortion, so wrong.

My justification for limits on freedom is the need for society. I recognise that not all people have the same felt need for society- Kim Jong Un seems happy with his rigid controlled state of hate and fear, based on ancient Chinese philosophy, which I like to think I would find unbearable, even were I in a position of power.

I observe that Great Britain, where the Industrial Revolution started, did not have democracy until 1918, when 60% of adult males acquired the vote. It had limits on free speech in the law of sedition, and on freedom of assembly in anti-Union law. The Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 1freedom of the capitalist to set up large companies with cheap labour contributed to industrial growth, and someone with the talent of Beethoven growing up in a pit village would still go down the mine. That sort of freedom limits human flourishing. If it were necessary in 1800, with the wealth of the world it is not necessary now, and restricting the freedom of billionaires to do what they like, in order to benefit billions of poorer folk, is worthwhile.

A Christian libertarian will have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus points out he rescues a man who will die without help, and this is a Good Thing. The link between that one charitable act and society, through taxation, paying for the health care of all, is obvious. If the conservative Christian cannot see it, he suffers moral blindness, a mental disability which diminishes his humanity.

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump

Freedom

Tarot fool 1How could we be free of society? Social norms are there for a reason: transgress at your peril.

I find Scott Freeman and Anahad Ahluwalia provocative enough to merit an answer, but instead here are my own views.

I am unclear what Scott means by “Sex taboos”. I find bestiality disgusting, but am unclear on what basis I could recommend anyone else to feel that way. We have taboos around adultery, which have value: adultery betrays a partner and loosens the support the adulterer has from that partner, though some partners turn a blind eye. Our taboos against homosexuality and gender transition are weakening rapidly, because they are harmful; yet the weakening process is painful, and there are casualties.

tarot fool 2As Anahad says, on breaking one rule- children should not drink alcohol- adolescents are entrapped by the social pressures of their drinking culture. By middle age, we recognise there are more choices, and we grade the consequences better: from thinking “Not keeping up with every round is Social Death so Impossible” we find different goals and ways of achieving them. Society gives out conflicting signals: alcohol is the acceptable drug to drown out the misery of existence. We find our own way, which happens to be the way many have followed, and may choose social groups because they fit with our way, or fit our drinking habits to the social groups we find for other reasons.

“Why not tread our own path?” he asks. Because it is difficult. How to know even which of the role-models would best fit, leave alone invent our own way. In those social groups we test the boundaries, and find a way of rubbing along together. His suggestion of “giving yourself time” to find what really fits you is a good one.

tarot fool 3Scott says we should stick to the roads, which are for motorists; children playing should give way. If Scott meant gender expression, our rigid norms distort us. People do not fit 1950s ideals of masculinity or femininity. This is an age of experimentation. Some people go their own way. Lili Elbe, the first trans woman to have genital corrective surgery, was a pioneer, and now her path, of choosing to be reassigned and express oneself as the opposite sex is protected by gender recognition and equalities legislation. There is a new road we can drive down, which Lili walked alone and which has been tarmac’d and fenced by the legislators. People are finding new ways, and new words- genderqueer or neutrois (neither or both male and female); genderfuck to express anger at gender expectations.

The result will be enhanced freedom, with a greater range of human expression and a better fit for each person to how they see they can express themselves. The process is painful: the pain of seeing others transgress boundaries one feels should be sacred, the pain of not quite finding what fits and not, yet, being accepted. Scott would keep us Safe, and I see the attraction of that; but a lot of human creativity and individuality would go to waste.

It works for Society, though is hard on individuals, now. Sometimes, the end of all our exploring is just to stop.