Greenbelt Festival 2021

Grace Petrie is the weekend’s headline act. I took down my tent unhurriedly, helped by neighbours, and stayed, chatting. Over tea, a woman told of the trauma of being brought up Catholic- terrifying small children with Hell- then of how she needed a church, so was now Anglican.

I cycled home with the tent, then checked if there were tickets available: I bought one. I decided to commute in, so cycled to the festival on Saturday without my tent. On Monday Paul N. had greeted me by name as I came in, and now Joe does. We chat of Quakers.
All the venues are next to each other: Caravan of Love, Tiny Tea Tent, Indian street food, Long Barn main venue, Café, Shed talks venue. There are toilets at both ends, showers at the downhill end away from the path out. I love “Please do not be a selfish tit” signs, and this is a prime example.

A little way away is the Clearing, for worship, with logs to sit on among the trees. All the tents are close to the venues. 1500 is a good number attending. The Long Barn is a large marquee without sides, and for Harry and Chris the audience spills out. We are lucky it did not rain at all in the day, with only one brief shower in the night. And still, in front of the stage in a large dancing crowd I wonder if we could spread covid. Its friendly. I parked my bike, with clothes to keep warm in the evening, by the top end, unlocked.

I am here for the music, but went off for the introduction to stargazing. So now I know what the Summer Triangle is: the bright stars Altair, Deneb and Vega, from which constellations can be found. The man pointed out Saturn and Jupiter.

There was also a poetry workshop. We went into the clearing, and first looked down to what was underneath our feet. I loved the ladybird. I saw the creeper all across the ground, the leaves and twigs not yet mould. The creeper has been cut from the trees, and apparently the dead, hanging strands cannot draw life from the trunk itself, but new creepers are climbing.

Next exercise was to pick a tree and write about it. The trees are tall and straight, but I picked a shorter one. I noticed some of its branches had no leaves at all.

Come late? No matter.
Hungry leaves at all levels below the canopy
Keep trying. Spread wide. Reward success.

You can address the tree, as I did, or give it a voice.

In the café, a woman told me she worked in a mental hospital locked ward. I had for a time. She wanted to train as an advocate for the patients. One says that the nurse on suicide watch overnight fell asleep, and she felt unsafe. The staff member denies it, and the patient is ill, so not believed, but then the same thing is said by another patient.

Another nurse told me that she worked in palliative care for a bit, and one of the nurses had managed to steal morphine, diluting the vials. Trust can cause problems. Now, she works overseeing the first human trials of new drugs, on healthy volunteers.

I got chatting to another Scot who had come to England after Uni, and went to her tent for coffee. There is a trans flag on a tent, and I ask her if she knows what it is, but she does not. She introduces me to the people in the tent opposite, who share their chocolate brownies. Then I wander off to another tent as the gazebo has a Pride flag, and chat for a bit. They may volunteer with the Out at Greenbelt group next year. There’s a Welsh flag further on, and I could have gone and said Shwmae. Someone told me her flag was Devon’s.

There were about fifty for the Quaker meeting, and after I went for tea with a woman who had found Quakers at Greenbelt in 2015, and just become a member.

Music. This is Nick Parker and the False Alarms

and this is Daudi Matsiko.

I am here for Grace Petrie, and her fiddler. Of course she sings Black Tie. I turn to the woman next to me, and say, “This is what I am here for”- and then burst into tears with the chorus. After all the hostility of the anti-trans campaigners, it is wonderful to hear such a strong blast of goodwill and sanity. Then I cycle home.

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Sandra and Ezra

“Is your child trans?”

Greenbelt is a good place to camp. I have got chatting with lots of people around the site, as if it were a party, and we can get quite deep quickly. Now I chat to Sandra in the next tent, who is a teacher, and we talk of difficulties pronouncing names from other languages. Conversation meanders, and she reveals her “child” is also here, just camping up there. Use of the nongendered word is a bit odd, so I asked that question.

Getting the new name hurt. Sandra says you have to mourn your child. The name is Ezra, so the child is either nonbinary or binary trans, but Sandra insists on using female pronouns. I asked her, could she refer to her child (I did not use the name Ezra) as “they”? No, she felt the need to use female pronouns. “She’s still exploring! She was wearing a dress the other day!”

Well, it was hot and sunny, perfect weather for a dress. And why ever not? You can be nonbinary and mostly one, but still a little of the other. But Ezra chose his/their name when they were twelve, eight years ago, so you have had time to mourn.

“You’re not in one of those horrible ‘concerned parents’ groups, are you?” No, she’s not. That’s a mercy. However, she is still concerned for her child, a little resistant, and concerned about her own loss. Ezra is going into their second year at Uni, though that’s been a nightmare too, what with Covid.

Ezra comes over and chats for a bit, and I feel unable to say “Hello, Ezra” because they/he will know their mum has been talking about them, and I can’t ask Sandra to introduce him for fear she’ll use the wrong name. It’s embarrassing.

I go off to the loo. Camping, you need much more food. Talking to Sandra, I can be caring- for Sandra as well as Ezra. It is not my place to tell her off, and would probably do little good. Encouraging her, rather than shaming her, to accept her child is more likely to work. And now I feel upset. Sandra talks to the trans person, and feels quite happy to go all Poor Me. I have done a caring thing, for both of them, and now I feel my own needs.

We’re packing up. I go to say goodbye to Ann and John, and break off because I have to say something to Sandra. I go over to her in a rush. “I’m so much happier, now, transitioned,” I say. She does not look reassured. Possibly she sees how old my clothes look. Well, I am camping, there will be sweat and mud, and still.

I explain to Ann and John why I dashed off so suddenly. “She’s not gone to Mermaids or Gendered Intelligence, then,” says John. You know about this! Well, Ann is a teacher too, and has had trans or questioning pupils. We help with each others’ tents, and then go off for a cup of tea before leaving. At the Tiny Tea Tent we meet another couple, and talk of our experiences of churches. Margaret was brought up Catholic, and has a great burden of guilt and shame round that, so has found another church. She likes churches which do not emphasise Hell. John says he always remembers hearing of a boundaried model of church, you’re one of us or you’re not, and a centred model of church: Jesus is the centre, and we are either moving towards or away from that centre. What matters is the direction, not the distance from the centre, which no-one can tell anyway.

I enjoyed the Out at Greenbelt service, worshipping with LGBT folk, only about twenty of us in a tent together.

Wisdom at Greenbelt

An author, Linda Hurcombe, said to me in the volunteers’ tent,

Abigail you are an incredible person.

I breathed the words in. I am learning the depth of my gifts, and my difficulties. I kind of know that, but I asked her to write it down so I could absorb the affirmation, and she added,

I love you.

In that tent there were urns for tea, biscuits, phone charging and good conversation. Outside, loos and water taps, the shade of trees and a slight breeze.

Ilia Delio contrasted Transhumanism, a rationalist attempt to control the world, with Posthumanism, a way of seeking wholeness in an age of fragments. Matter and consciousness are two aspects of the same stuff. Love is the core energy of the Universe, which is undivided wholeness. We hope for the end of the liberal concept of the autonomous subject for a new subjectivity, integrated into the World and embedded in technology which extends us.

And then I went to sleep, because it was all too much for me.

The Revd. Rachel Mann transitioned aged 22, passed, and came out in her forties. Daringly she hinted Christ was like a trans woman: when Mary kisses the baby Jesus they “share this moment of their strangeness together”, their outsider status.

As usual I joined a group for the Communion, and after they invited me to share their picnic lunch. It was fun and moving. We sang,

Reality is sharp
It cuts at us like a knife
Everyone we know
Is in the fight of their life
We believe in a better way

Leunig said drawing intuitively was not ascending into cleverness but descending into something primal. Celebrate the elusive, fleeting and intangible. He does not like being slandered. He was called wrong like an antivaxxer or something. I think, I am in my own self-slander and criticism so that others’ seems unremarkable, but keeps mine topped up and simmering.

The need to possess objects and have experiences is crazy. Leunig has a poem, The Joy of Missing Out. He used to draw political cartoons, and one day included a duck. Why? Because it needed a duck. They have a rounded beak for dabbling. They seem friendly. Later he was told it was a psychoanalytic symbol of transcendence.

He seeks mature innocence, not naivete but wisdom. He can be the voice of voiceless people, and unexpressed grief. To end a world of Them and Us we need cooperation and forgiveness.

Nadia Bolz-Weber asked why does the church reach chastity when Love is so good for us? The Church preaches Purity culture, that sex is dangerous, you must suppress all sexual thoughts, as if God wants you disconnected. Sex is an energy infusing life, and the Church stops us finding our power. There is a hostile obsession with the sex of others.

Like swords into ploughshares, she melted down purity rings women gave her into a sculpture of a vagina. Hearing her, I feel rage and hope.

She wanted the first words her daughter heard from her about sex not to be fear of STDs or pregnancy but positivity. Learn how your body reacts, and what delights you.

She was freed from anger when she stopped thinking dualistically. With a Fundamentalist upbringing she still judged women preachers, even though she was one. A voice inside would say how dare you do that. So she made friends with the voice. Grace creates acceptance.

I find myself gasping with the strength of my feeling, my resistance to it. I need to accept the feeling and enter my power.

She wants church rules of Do rather than Do Not. She includes trans people automatically: she says to “brothers sisters and siblings, queer straight cis trans, bodies are holy.”

We move in the Church not from vice to virtue but from imagined virtue to Christ. I would say, from the virtues I craved to the virtues God created in me.

Later, she talked of the Song of Songs, of magnificent bodies, not of vanity but aplomb.

A man who spent time with “extremists” said how hard it is to be Tommy Robinson, with all the hate targeted at him, and how hard he works, making placards until 3am. We won’t convert his followers by shouting at them.

In the URC tent I took a card, hand-made with lace, reading True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable.

Encounters at Greenbelt

I hugged a bishop. He agreed to wear a pronouns badge, when I explained what it meant. It is a declaration not so much that he is binary male, as an ally to trans and non-binary.

He understood about privilege, as a white man in leadership. He had a tour of the Supreme Court and took tea with the Lord Chief Justice, and it may even be a good thing for such different pillars of the Establishment to be in dialogue- yet revealed why he understood privilege when he said he was a “Grammar school boy made good”: seeing class privilege is his way into seeing white and male privilege. Yes. We English place every one on a precise pecking order, as he says.

I walked from the Shelter, and gatecrashed a conversation on the Second Amendment. The US Supreme Court decided the right to bear arms was as unlimited as the right to free speech- only about ten years ago. Yet we cannot say “That man is wrong. Kill him!” A woman joined the conversation and said but we say that all the time- and my understanding changed. Yes, but only a few people can choose the victim. She is a nun. She leads clowning workshops. I hugged her, too. I hugged lots of people, after meaningful conversations: at Queer Spirit I went up to strangers, asked for hugs, and usually got them.

I went to the Inclusive Church stall for more pronoun badges. I got my first at the Out stall. I wore three, one He, one She and one They, to stir things up. Had there been an It badge I would have worn that too. The woman there was a Quaker, and she said she had got them to change their Inclusion statement from “Our Statement of Belief”, which is Evangelical sounding,  to “Our Vision”. They don’t just let churches sign up, they go to work with churches to ensure the congregation is behind it, that the church has undergone metanoia, a Christ-inspired change in their way of being. No out-groups. The discussion can be a powerful moment for growth.

They pledge to challenge discrimination in the Church on grounds including gender and gender identity.

On to the United Reformed Church. I asked, and they said individual churches can decide to solemnise gay marriages. It’s a matter of church government- but the discussion leading to such decisions can be a powerful engine of growth and maturity.

In the Grove there was a Play for Adults workshop. We were told to visualise a tiny self, an inch tall, and imagine their adventures in the undergrowth. Some used this as a way into fantasy. I used it to enter mindful awareness of the growth and decay. Then she offered us choices. A friend said at his two year old’s birthday party the children were all playing separately, having not got the idea of playing together, and here we were, as adults, mostly playing separately.

I joined a person drumming with twigs on a log, and two others joined us. After the person said their name, and I am now unsure of their gender and assigned gender. I mention that. It’s unusual. It feels a little weird, and good.

My other time with a microphone was at the LGBT social, when I spoke to the group about becoming Quaker, and how proud Quakers are of the welcome they gave me.

Greenbelt affirmations

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-”

Outrage, pain and anger- the answer?

How can we bear the injustice in the World, without being overwhelmed? How can we oppose injustice effectively?

Nadia Bolz-Weber at Greenbelt said she did not pick the low-hanging moral outrage fruit. She did an interview about pornography, and a Conservative commentator used one line from it to publish an article with a clickbait title, Feminist “Pastor” says porn can be ethical. He did this to get ad revenue. Then his readers all click, and get riled, and have a pleasant feeling of righteous anger. Then The Federalist picked up the story. People are angry, because sites want clicks. The anger produces no good at all, no worthwhile change, just greater self-righteousness and division. So what to do?

She also says her husband was a wonderful human being but with her lover now she is truly loved and it has released her softness. She can still do acerbic stand-up Nadia but does not want to.

Michael Leunig drew cartoons on a wipeable sheet with a camera. He showed his little man and how simply he could show different emotions with a slightly different shape of mouth or eye. He says he draws intuitively. When he has a conscious idea of what his picture might be it often turns out badly. So he starts to play on paper and something emerges. He wanted his time in the Playhouse to be a conversation, and microphones got passed round, but he was not understanding the questions. Several times he would look puzzled and say, “what?” And we did not repeat ourselves.

I wondered if it was our accent- he grew up in Melbourne- and our politics, so I used an Australian example, Andrew Bolt mocking Greta Thunberg as autistic, but his face still showed incomprehension. I talked about anger and how there were people seeking to channel our anger for nefarious ends; so I was grateful for him making us happy. He wasn’t sure about happy. Be kind. Be like children. I got applause for my question. We need activist energy not sucked into the anger outrage machine.

After I got chatting and a woman suggested Leunig’s incomprehension had been about the miserable stuff. Many questions made a narrative: goodgoodgood positive possibility; but- angstangstangst; so- what? Or, Help! Except for the man who asked Leunig to draw a teapot, which he drew on the character’s head.

Mmm. Just tune the angst out- at least when it’s clear it is old anger, recycled, not doing any good. That could be a plan.

Thinking about this, I tried it. I walked past the Action for Children stall (she needed to explain it was formerly National Children’s Home) slowly enough for the woman there to call me over. She told me how AfC had their 150th anniversary, and marked it with a report on how childhood had changed over that time and the difficulties of childhood now. As she listed them, I allowed myself to feel the sadness and puzzlement and hurt they evoked in me, and as she went on I showed misery in my face. When I closed my eyes and bowed my head she asked if I was alright and whether the festival was too much for me, and directed me to the Haven where there was emotional support available. Then I explained what I was trying: allowing the feeling and emotion to flow in the moment without filter. It needs work. I am alright, just not filtering.

Extinction Rebellion did a talk, and as I walked past I heard of affinity groups. I believe I will not take personal action against DSEI, and am sad about that. I don’t know if it really is my leading and I am bottling it because I don’t believe I am strong enough, or I would like it to be my leading because that would make me feel good about myself but realise it isn’t. Or I am conflicted, part of me wants to participate and part does not.

I don’t have an answer. Knowing and accepting my feelings as I increasingly do is good. Being aware of the ways the internet can channel them harmfully and seeking not to be so caught up is a possibility. I might notice when I am caught up. Or realise that the wash of emotion happens, and sometimes I am feeling in the moment, knowing my feeling, and empowered by that.

Preaching joy may not work, though. I saw Vickie Cooper signing her book “The Violence of Austerity”. I went over to say that I can’t afford my rent and my savings are draining but- here we are in the beauty of the Field and the people! And she talked of how bad austerity is. She gave me her book without charge, signing it “Keep fighting the Struggle and don’t let them get you down”. So now I have to read it.

I get better with feelings. Practice helps. This analysis helps. What do you think, Friends?

Per ardua ad astra

At the Greenbelt festival, I loved the Death Cafés the most. We gathered in groups to talk of death, and as there were about twice as many there as we expected Annette asked me to help facilitate one of the small groups each time. In one of those, people seemed more concerned to talk about how to set up a Death Café than actually participating; in another a priest whose previous professional experience included business facilitation took over, interviewing each participant until I mildly said that was my job (though she was doing great at it), and I borrowed a woman’s umbrella to poke the awning above our heads, to drain the puddle bulging down towards us. We took turns, propping up the awning.

The attitude to talking of suicidal ideation is “how brave you are” (to talk of it). In thee separate sessions, my groups talked openly and fearlessly. What do we think of the Afterlife? At a Christian festival, my disbelief was not agreed with, but was heard without challenge.

I was on stage, to talk of Quaker understandings of God, and how we were changing our Book of Discipline. This was on Monday at 5pm, after quite a lot of festival-goers had left, before an audience of thirty. There were four of us. I have a thank you card, signed by eight, thanking me for my moving, open and honest sharing, and my wonderful presence. It delights me.

I made some contribution on the Saturday morning with the children’s activity. We had pictures of heads to glue onto paper, and the task was to draw a body; twigs to decorate with wool, glue and glitter; and “fairy dust” to play in. I played in fairy dust, making ephemeral pictures in metal trays, and some children joined me.

I met PT, an Italian-heritage New Yorker who spent tens of thousands on gay cures, which inspired his first stage show. Before the festival started, we walked around the field, going up on the Mount to look over the festival ground, almost empty of people but with all the tents and banners, and into venues where he would speak. I found him lovely: clear-eyed, deeply sensitive and courageous. I feared he had a poor impression of me, based on three things he said.

He asked what inspires me, and I felt inadequate, because I have got nowhere with what I love: writing, speaking on a stage. We walked into the Green Room, not guarded yet as the festival had not opened, and they gave him a meal ticket and a copy of the programme. I asked him to get me a copy, and he asked if he could. They told him he could not. “It’s on sale, right?” I did not say I cannot afford one- or can, but money is that tight. He handed it to me, and I carried it as we walked out into occasional light spits of rain. Then he said, quietly as if not expecting, or not wanting to hear an answer, “I gave that to you to look at. Oh, never mind.” I carried it back to the Quaker tent.

Next evening I came up to him after his last evening talk, not wanting to go off together just to talk for a moment- to the other speaker, or someone, about Evangelical ideas of Love, actually- or- and he said he had to go, he would see me tomorrow. As if he felt the need to escape me, I thought.

That hardened into my own depressive view of myself as grasping and boring. And, of course, inadequate, always inadequate. Probably, the viral infection worked with the depression, making me feel greater lassitude than usual. Days after the festival, two weeks ago, I called Samaritans.

What could I do? I could read, I suppose. Queer Virtue by Elizabeth Edman, perhaps, on how authentic Christianity and Queerness alike rupture and sustain us, of how the queer people she knows are in touch with their moral centre, of how Queer theory, Queerness and Queering disrupt binary thinking to get closer to reality.

That sounds heavy, he said. It may be the most accessible book I have in my reading pile- introductions to epistemology and existentialism, a Hannah Arendt reader. I have thought, trying to know myself, that I can work very hard at something; now it seems that though I do almost nothing, when I do something I am working hard. This is a good thing- I appreciate culture because I have spent time seeking that appreciation- but essentially I have two speeds:

Captain! The engines cannae take much more o’ this! and
Dead stop.

All this struggling people do! All the struggling we demand of each other.

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