Being an activist

Does being trans make you an activist? The time comes when you realise, it is OK to be me, just as I am. Then all the messages that it is not OK become toxic monstrosities, and you take up your sword against them. Or, perhaps, you transition, and carry on making your life.

The problem with being an activist is the people who aren’t. Here I am, the Truth hot within me to be proclaimed and defended, and there are they, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes bemused, sometimes wishing I would give it a rest. It does not stir their hearts as it does mine.

And I see other activists for other activisms. The woman tells me that by patriarchy men are to her like white people to black people, in a time when to say Black Lives Matter is to challenge, because for too many people black lives do not matter enough, if at all. She is oppressed. I could sympathise except she says that she is oppressed by me, and trans women are perverts who get sexually aroused by fooling others into imagining we are women. I cannot be an ally, only a persecutor. Then I see that activism may be wrong, rejecting allies and chasing irrelevancies, putting off the allies we need so making the struggle more difficult.

The Friend, the Quaker magazine, has an article this week enthusing about Greenbelt, and one by Symon Hill criticising it. If you expect the Guardian – or Greenbelt – to be a voice of the radical grassroots, to meaningfully include the excluded, or to be run as a workers’ cooperative, you’re going to be disappointed. They both broadly accept capitalist assumptions and are compromised by being large commercial institutions. They are liberal, not radical. He is glad that gay couples can hold hands there- queers are celebrated, where elsewhere in the church toleration is often too much to ask- but angry at the wickedness of the Government in cutting away support for disabled people and thereby making Britain a less civilised country, and angry that this was not highlighted at Greenbelt during the focus on disability. The Government deliberately undermines our social fabric, and Greenbelt should resist that. I sympathise- I fear the benefits snatchers. I have a personal stake.

He wrote a similar article for the Morning Star, removing references to Quakers and including references to Communists.

I was at the Greenbelt session when someone said the police should be abolished. They are always there to preserve the status quo, to prevent demonstrations changing anything, to protect property rights, to move on homeless people. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting- why?” I don’t actually agree, because I think public order and its preservation are important, and that we can change things through democratic politics. People will see that selling arms to kill people in Yemen is criminal. We may by opposing end it. There were people there who strongly objected to such views being expressed there. I had not considered the idea before. I feel without the police, strong capitalist forces would find more brutal ways of defending themselves.

At the festival, there are a range of views. I am not dismissing the idea immediately. Someone who is angry that it even be voiced is still exposed to it. There is a mix of people, talking to each other. It’s a church festival. There might be someone there who thinks themselves wildly liberal for being willing to tolerate queers, but a bit uncomfortable seeing people holding hands. If you build coalitions and gain support, you have to have a place where activists can meet with people who have not really thought about it, might be open to some of our least radical ideas. Our choice is between ideological purity- being right, and being agreed with- or achieving change. Though it is restorative to spend time with activists, you have to work with others to make a difference.

Femme jealousy

Alicia’s jealousy was pure paranoia. Yes, I am quite sure of that. Of course I have interests in common with Liz, which Alicia does not seem to share, and in our first conversation round the fire toasting marshmallows we shared about them while Alicia was silent. I noted how Liz’s girlfriend was much younger, and very attractive, as a positive for Liz. I found her thought inspiring.

Next morning, I watched Alicia painstakingly groom her highlights.
-Are you laughing at me?
-How could someone as ridiculous as I am laugh at anyone? I asked. Sometimes my humility comes across as sarcasm. She did not know how to respond to that one.
-How long did you stay after we left? asked Liz.
-I had just said “I love you” to a man I had just met. I scarpered immediately!

He had apologised for his poor English, and I said, to reassure him, that I know no Persian. Say “دوستت دارم“, he said. I repeated it as best I could, then asked what it meant.

That night, round the fire again, Alicia talked with an American man about American cities they had both lived in, a subject giving me no entrée. I did not say I have not been West of Reykjavik. My last sight of them was them walking hand in hand down the quiet, peaceful path from the festival site. Liz smiled broadly and greeted me. Alicia didn’t- even though they will go back to New York at the weekend together.

I noted with interest that they live in different boroughs. Continue reading

The men’s sharing circle

I went to the Grove, where there are thick logs to sit on and drums to play. The man leading the group says this group is for Men, but I say my Y chromosome is as good as anyone’s, and he ceases to object. I am in my purple dress, pretty sandals, wig and make-up; I am not trying to fit in.

There are not enough drums, so I pick up a washing up bowl and try hitting it with the flat of my fingers. Not loud enough. I use a dry twig, which makes a more satisfying sound, and drum off beat, or attempt a slower beat so that my strokes sometimes are just after the others’ beats, sometimes just before. It is a way into the silence with others, just listening to the beats of all and making my own. Sometimes I am investigating different noises the bowl can make, sometimes thinking about my strokes, sometimes just in the group activity, mixing beats. The Grove is beautiful.

I cannot fit into roles defined by others. They imprison, squeeze, constrict, suffocate me. I have to carve my own role, breaking rules, being inconsistent, selfish- at best spontaneous and creative, at worst like a toddler screaming all the louder because he has just received what he was crying for a moment ago. I have to make a lot of mistakes to get one thing right.

The group leader, a big man with a strong baritone voice begins to speak, and I could almost lose what he was saying in the incantatory repetition of the word Men… Men… Men… Their group is based on the ideas of Richard Rohr, and leads Rites of Passage workshops.

We split into two groups, nine in each, and share. Our two questions are, why we are here, and what is our darkness. The rules are to speak from the heart, and listen from the heart- not to spend time while others are speaking planning what I will say, but to pay attention to the other Men in the circle; then to speak spontaneously. This gets easier as I age: I have practice, and I care less about how I appear and more about truth. I have space to observe others. Of course what they said is confidential.  I want to honour my femininity as a male way of being, to flit between the Man and Woman in myself, and unite them, and to expand my expression, my understanding, and my options. I don’t say all this there, I say it now.

What is your darkness? My darkness is a tiger, pacing angrily in a too small cage. The image came to me then, spontaneously as I spoke it. In the right places, letting go of the inner censor can produce wisdom. My darkness, the parts of myself I cannot permit, are power and strength which I can use if only I can open that cage. The tiger seems frightening, and is untrained, but holding the cage shut takes effort I could use elsewhere.

I do not want to disrupt this Men’s group, but to contribute to it. I come not to mock but to affirm, to speak truth as best I can, to state positive, good, opportunity, reality rather than the Bad. Rohr preaches on Noah’s Ark- God invited everything in, clean and unclean, predator and prey, male and female, and locked it in together. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. And if I am here, listening and speaking, I am a threat and a promise to the group, just as I am in the Red Tent, just as every group member is.