Being trans is an act of generosity

Being trans is an act of generosity. Being trans is hard, tiring work, and joyous creation.

Reflect on which identities you are most comfortable discussing? Which give you the most joy? Conversely, which identities are you least comfortable discussing and involve the most pain?

Which of your identities do you question the most? Is there an identity you often need to defend?

Sara Ahmed: When being is labouring, we are creating more than ourselves.
Sara Ahmed: When we loosen the requirements to be in a world, we create room for others to be.

I read these questions from a white cis straight professional male, and they do not fit me. They imply that the identity I am comfortable discussing gives me joy. Well, sometimes it’s hard to be a trans woman, and I can be intensely uncomfortable talking about it with a woman who wants me excluded but says she “only wants the freedom to say sex is real and women need single sex spaces”- with one of her “male allies” it’s much worse- so I wondered, does my joy only come from self-actualisation? There’s nothing joyous about being a trans woman per se, it’s just that having suppressed in fear I realise in courage and being myself and finding myself gives me joy? Or even being a trans woman is inherently uncomfortable because I have to explain myself all the time.

Being normal or having one of the acceptable characteristics- white, middle-class, with a degree- is comfortable. I am white, and it is comfortable, I don’t have to think, Oh God, another room full of white men. It’s not necessarily comfortable talking about it, though. I am woker than most, I have heard a small amount of experience, two people separately talking about white people touching black people’s hair and how invasive that is. I am uncomfortable, but pleased, to talk about whiteness with a Black person: pleased because I can find how better to be an ally, be one of the good people who is supportive whose support they need and so polish my halo because I want to be seen as a good person, and give evidence of that by doing good. Uncomfortable because I glimpse how much I don’t know. Then I talk about whiteness with a white person and with some we nod our heads wisely and want to be better allies, though not all white people are like that.

I am comfortable when I am reinforcing the rules of my social group: with the white man who like me wants to be an ally. There was the Suffragan bishop who wants to be an ally, and then he came out to me as “lower-middle class”, the grammar school boy in society on suffrance, with some privilege and some matters excluded. We want to be allies because we too are excluded in some ways. It seems everyone on the Diversity and Inclusion course is excluded in some ways.

I am uncomfortable when I am labouring, when whether I can go to the toilet without being shamed comes into question. The Equality Act 2010, with its rules on how I can be excluded if it is reasonable to exclude me, was fragile toleration of me, rather than acceptance, and some are working hard to tear down even that.

So we build as men must build
with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other

Building is fighting, for women as well as men, and in Eliot’s poem they were building necessary defensive walls for Jerusalem.

And the trans-excluder might see herself as building, a space for women, for women to be in solidarity, where a trans woman would damage that precious fragile space. We are set against each other. It is tragic that we fight each other.

There is joy in being trans. All my personality and all its beauty is ὁμοούσιον with being trans. I am one essence. There is me, not a trans bit I can separate out from the rest of it, not one bit which is to be deprecated and fenced in, or removed so I could be a productive member of society.

There is work in being trans, in defending my right to be, in being myself despite the flak. It is creative work. It expands the realm of the possible for everyone and particularly for those whom gender stereotypes do not fit (Everyone, but some more than others, some much much much more than others).

Which of your identities do you question? Well, that is a personal question. “What are your most vulnerable, insecure spots?” None, I tell you. “What of yourself do you doubt?” That might lead me to finding that imposed identities are forced and not real, self-concept not organismic self, not “myself” at all but a lie. And, I think I have ferreted out most of that already.

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.

What I probably don’t want to write to elders

The question is, can you trust me. The answer may be No.

If I had wanted to be on time for this meeting I would not have stopped at the parish church to spend some time with God. One likes to talk to ones equals occasionally. I was kneeling at the altar rail, looking at the symbols of death, a plain wooden cross, and power. About one in four of the floor tiles around the communion table have little heraldic lions.

I probably don’t want to talk of quantum superposition, but even if I don’t understand it my idea of it makes a good metaphor. Until you measure them, electrons have several different positions, momentums, and spins, at the same time. Only when they are measured do they have one particular position. The idea of an atom like a solar system with electrons orbiting a nucleus is inaccurate.

In the same way, we look at each other, and evaluate. I look a bit rueful. Can you trust me? It could go either way. If we use words too soon, Continue reading

How we are seen

I want to be seen, in my glory, for this human being is beautiful. Let us dance together, sharing our moves, developing them together. Let us empower each other, being our whole selves, and encouraging others to be so too.

I wrote, It is my right to specify how I should be imagined, or how I should not be imagined. Another objected, the one thing nobody can control is how others imagine (i.e. think of) them. Um. Let’s try again. Burns’ idea that to see ourselves as others see us would free us from blunders, foolish notions, and airs, reflects the idea of the Tall poppy, that it is good to be one of the crowd, not to stick out too much. A louse walks over a young woman’s fine clothes, and the poet thinks that puts her in her place. Rather than see the beauty of her bonnet or her lace, he ridicules it by focusing on the one imperfection which would revolt her, perhaps distress and mortify her.

What I mean is, see my beauty. We are all imperfect. Dwell on the gifts, and lift me when I fall. Be gentle with my blind spots, they are not the most important part of me. So says Kaleidographia: face to face they may misread situations and be humiliated, or be lost for words, but in writing they communicate clearly, expressing winsome feelings persuasively and winning sympathy. I love their passion and creativity.

See my individuality. Don’t see me as a stereotype.

Of course this relates to being male or female. The sad tale of Sam Kane stops me wanting to revert- being “treated as a woman”, that is, ignored, belittled, not seen or heard- she reverted, but has transitioned again because she is trans, and presenting male is even more unbearable. I am tempted to assume male privilege, but would probably find all that goes with it too uncomfortable. So I am relegated to the role of listener. I am standing with a man who is holding forth, and recognise that he believes the conversation is his, and the sound needed is his own voice, and nothing will persuade him otherwise, or even open him to the possibility of another view. Sometimes I can go along with that, sometimes it’s a relief- no need to compete- and sometimes it’s a bit of a pain.

On being dangerous- a friend writes, some people find it very hard to feel completely safe and relaxed around you. I don’t think anyone believes they are in physical danger. That’s something. I am not going to hit them or smash something, and they get that- but what might they perceive as the risk? Well, I might get excited or distressed.

Playing brass instruments, you push your upper lip forward slightly, and the lip vibrating starts the sound waves which the instrument moulds and amplifies. Playing the tuba at school, given a mouthpiece to get a raspberry sound out of it rather than simply the sound of breath blowing through, I vibrated my lower lip instead, and never corrected the error, though I played for five years and got grade 5. It meant I had to anticipate any cue, because I could not start the sound immediately. In the same way, I have huge self-control, and can suppress emotional reactions, but I suppress them with fear and anger directed against myself rather than in a healthy way, feeling but not expressing.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist and ethologist, distinguishes feelings and emotions: feelings are internal subjective states that, strictly speaking, are known only to those who have them. I know my own feelings, but I don’t know yours, except for when you tell me about them. We communicate about our feelings by language… [Emotions] are detectable on the outside in facial expression, skin colour, vocal timbre, gestures, odour, and so on. Only when the person experiencing these changes becomes aware of them do they become feelings, which are conscious experiences. We show our emotions, but we talk about our feelings. Studying humans “from a biological perspective”, as the animals we are, creates the difference. In both feelings and emotions, there is the wordless response then we frame and define it with words.

Still, often, I don’t know my feelings, I suppress them too hard. So they become noticeable, as emotions, which might bother others but also bring them to my own attention. I would rather I knew what I was feeling. I can’t respond to you if I don’t. I can be a sounding board, vibrating in sympathy- feeling your feelings with my mirror neurons, helping you get something clear in your mind, I might even critique it with my intellect, but I can’t respond.

Do you want a mirror, or a tool, or do you want to talk to me? If I feel differently to you, that does not mean your feelings are wrong, or unacceptable, simply different. Is the risk that my personality might overwhelm yours? That is not my wish. I want to hear and be heard. It’s not a competition. We do not have to feel the same way, about anything.

Now being trans the question of how you see me can seem binary: see me as a man or as a woman. See me as an individual, with individual responses. That is why we are allies of feminists: neither set of gendered stereotypes works for anyone, but their failure to work is completely obvious with us. That discomfort of the person who does not want to be discourteous, and refers to me as “he” then quickly corrects herself- that discomfort can change how you see anyone.

If this person is exactly the same as you, it is a relief. It is comforting. But, if this person is different, it is exciting. What new perspectives might they have?

I offer myself
as the grit in your oyster.
Let us create pearls!