The Pilgrimage of Grace

More from The Mirror and the Light:Mary reconciles with her father, and is the great risk to all the rest of England. The two Royal Personages will not kill each other but will kill anyone else, or risk anyone else’s life, for their own ends, because they are royal.

Cardinal Wolsey considers the command to “give all you have to the poor”: ‘So what do you want me to do, Barnes? You want me to leave off the state and ceremony which honours God, and to go in homespun? You want me to keep a miser’s table, and serve pease pudding to ambassadors? You want me to melt down my silver crosses, and give the money to the poor? The poor, which will piss it against the wall?’

Jane is not the brightest: And in gratitude for the gold and precious stones, she smiles slowly and blinks at him, as if she were a lass whose lover has cut her a slice of apple, and offered it to her on the point of his blade.

Hunters, it is said, live longer than other men; they sweat hard and stay lean; when they fall into bed at night they are tired beyond all temptation; and when they die, they go to Heaven.

Richard Riche admires Cromwell: ‘And yet he has a remarkable mind,’ Riche says reverently, ‘remarkable. I think if writing were rubbed out, and all the records of government erased, he would carry them in his head, with all the laws of England, precedent and clause. And I am a fortunate man, to stand his friend, and to have been able to work a little to soothe his temper. Yes, I am glad I was standing by. Praise God,’ says Richard Riche, ‘I learn from him every day.’

They scarcely knew Christophe was in the room. But there he squats in the corner, like a gargoyle fallen off a church. He remembers the boy saying, that day when they rode up to Kimbolton, ‘I will kill a Pole for you. I will kill a Pole when you require it.’

Catholics rebel: On the farms around, labourers see the chance of a holiday. Faces blackened, some wearing women’s attire, they set off to town, picking up any edged tool that could act as a weapon. From the marketplace you can see them coming, kicking up a cloud of dust.

These broils begin the same, and from age to age they end the same. The gentry pardoned, and the poor dangling from trees.

If his informants are correct, the rebels are writing lists of demands, and what they demand – along with the restoration of the Golden Age – are amendments of certain laws that bear on inheritance, how they can dispose of their goods in their wills. These are not the concerns of simple people. What has Hob or Hick to leave behind him, but some bad debts and broken shoes? No: these are the complaints of small landowners, and men who don’t like to pay their taxes. Men who want to be petty kings in their shires, who want the women to curtsey as they pass through the marketplace. I know these paltry gods, he thinks. We had them in Putney. They have them everywhere.

The king’s companions are prepared to march. So scented, the courtiers, so urbane: the rustle of silk, the soundless tread of padded shoes. But slaughter is their trade. Like butchers in the shambles, it is what they were reared for. Peace, to them, is just the interval between wars.

The common folk of England live on songs and tales and alehouse jokes. Spending their pence on candles to burn before holy images, they live in the dark, and in the dark take fright. Let us say a calf is born dead. By the time the tale crosses a field, it is a calf with two heads. Cross a stream, and it is a calf with two heads, chanting backwards in Latin, and some friar is charging a shilling for a charm against it. So it goes, in half a day, from abortion to Antichrist: and somehow, everybody is poorer except the priests. Pastors warn their flock that if they do not send tribute to Rome, trees will walk and crops will blight. They make them dread the fire of Purgatory, which eats to the bone; they ask, can you bear to see your dead folk burning – your helpless old mother, your dead little children, bound in agony and screaming for your prayers?

The king leans forward. ‘The burdens of tax do not rest on the shoulders of labourers, or small husbandmen. Dives, the rich man, knows and has always known how to pass off his interests as the interests of Lazarus, the beggar.’

He foretold a day would come when churches would be flattened and monks forced to marry; where German heathens sat at table with the king, and true noblemen were herded starving from the hall. But of course, Merlin also said that the river Usk would boil, and that bears would hatch out of eggs; that the soil of the future would become so rich that men would leave farm work and spend their days in fornication.

The Pilgrims claim they crusade for the Virgin in her innocence and purity. But knowingly or not, they serve the pride of Gertrude Courtenay and Margaret Pole – the young woman who would like to be queen of England, the old woman who deems she already is.

If any malcontents should penetrate London, they would attack Austin Friars. God knows what they would expect to find. A great heap of treasure: confiscated chalices winking with gems. Precious relics, such as twigs from the burning bush, and a box of the manna that fell on the Israelites in the desert.

Everybody’s agin him and hoping to do him down, filch what’s his. Filch them first, is Walter’s maxim, and that’s how he thrives. He clip-clops through life to the sound of other people grieving: sniffing out weakness, anybody sad or lost, so he can inflict them.

‘The burden of kingship,’ he says, ‘no man can imagine it. All my life, to be a prince: to be observed to be a prince; all eyes to be set on me; to be an exemplar of virtue, of discretion, of excellence in learning; to have a mind young and vigorous yet as wise as Solomon; to take pleasure in what others have designed for my pleasure, or be thought ungrateful; to discipline all my appetites, to unmake myself as a man in order to make myself as a king; to waste not a minute lest I be seen to waste it; for idleness, no excuses; always alert to prove, always to show, that I am worthy of the place God appointed me … When I was a young man I suppose I showed the calf of my leg to an ambassador and said, “There, has your French king a calf as good as that?” And my words were reported, and all Europe laughed at me, a vain idle boy, and no doubt people laugh still.

‘Only a fool sees plots where there are none. Any crime may begin in impulse – a rash man, an angry man, a fool the worse for drink. But an impulse will not sustain rebellion. Nor can anyone rebel alone. It needs forethought. It needs confederacy. By the nature of the thing, there is conspiracy.’

Never enter a contest of wills with the king.

Keep your eyes clear. Remember he is a king first and a man second. This is where Anne went wrong. She began to think he was only a man.

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.

The Cis Gaze

I took off the dress, and put my suit, shirt and tie back on. “Perfectly normal young man,” said the psychiatrist, approvingly, finishing off the aversion therapy. I saw my body as wrong, so now I was an adult I hid it. My arms were too thin, my sternum too prominent. I did not enjoy team sports, only swimming.

The white gaze socially constructs Blackness, the male gaze objectifies women, through the power to control, but my view of my body as unmanly and therefore inferior and inadequate must have come from somewhere.

Here are some men, looking at art, and some of them are frankly ogling. Yes it’s culture, the technical skill and Titian in the forefront of innovation, with the ambiguity of a woman either covering herself or playing with herself, where the ambiguity is part of the artist’s skill and the value of the picture, but it’s also a naked lady. Other men look at naked men, also aroused. I wonder what Zoffany thought of that. I can see it as inclusion, with the man on the right above described and acknowledged not condemned.

I had come across Zoffany, or Zaufallij, before, but got this, Tribuna of the Uffizi, from Mary Beard’s documentary Shock of the Nude. That also had the artist Jemima Stehli talking about a series of photos of her, aged 39, stripping in front of men. Nobody is in control, so that the woman can be powerful and sexual and objectify herself and still be interesting, intellectual, all the other things that she also wants to be. At art school I was a feminist but I wasn’t happy with 80s black and white feminist simplification and especially the idea of demonising men. She claims the power, and some women, not all, have it, even though men tend to be larger and stronger, which can count for a lot. There is power in having what men want, though danger when men feel entitled to take it. The photos are taken from behind her, facing the man. One looks uncomfortable.

Now, others may see me as a freak, a cat to kick for the lowest-status straight male, and often I limit my attention in the street so I do not consciously notice if someone has read me and is shocked, amused or disgusted by seeing a trans woman, but after transition was the first time I started to love my body and see it as beautiful rather than malformed. There is relentless hostility seeking to make us an out-group, but it does not affect how I see my body. My body is fitting, doing what I need it to do, enjoyably. Valuing my character has been a long struggle, helped on by others’ regard, valuing what I was taught to denigrate. “Soft, gentle, peaceful… truth and courage” came from one man. Despising softness and seeing it in myself came from the culture, boys at school, so many influences until it was as commonsensical as gravity, and moving to value it was a hard, drawn-out process of which transition was only the start.

I have redefined the word- from “soft as shite”, a direct quote from someone, I remember where we were, who he was, in about 1980, to softness as strength, for healing and peacemaking. Others would change the word, to “squishy”- I remember reading that too, from a TERF- calling to mind the softness of a ripe peach and the squishiness of a peach that has gone off without ever properly ripening.

My glance of approval in the mirror, or a distressed “Oh God I look like a man,” seem to come from general self-confidence rather than any actual change in appearance. Others seem to have the same experience, sometimes feeling alright enough, sometimes desperately unconfident, which leeches into everything, including how we see ourselves.

We are seen, and despised, controlled, made to serve. There is the “male gaze”, conceptualised by and for feminists, where men define women, their regard showing their power and control, where men film women, male cinematographers and directors display women to male audiences, with women tagging along. The woman is Other, and Less, primarily emotional rather than rational because her emotions are denigrated rather than affirmed as a man’s are. Critical Whiteness Studies can adopt this concept: the Black person is Othered by the white Gaze.

I hardly know, for myself. I tried to pass as a man, to make a man of myself, for Being a Man was good and if I could develop particular traits, and strengthen my body- going out running until my tendon gave way, taking long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks- I might be OK. And that was based on denigration, of my natural traits. I too reject the black and white feminist simplification: if there was a Rightness in Men, to be affirmed by Patriarchy, it was not in me; I had to ape it as best I could. Now, stopping trying to ape it, attempting to find myself under the male act, value myself under the denigration I received, has some benefits and some disadvantages. Walking down the street I may be obviously queer in a way that I was not, wearing that dark grey suit and silk tie. And I despise myself less, so torture myself less, so my pain lessens, slowly.

Recently I attempted to use words to describe a process of acceptance of another human being as she is. What is our thoughtless attitude? To reject and condemn. This woman does that, which we cannot tolerate in the Quaker meeting. We would start with our Testimony to Equality, tolerating as we expect her to learn the rules by osmosis, and eventually get more and more tetchy as she should have had time to obey the rules until we make her uncomfortable and drive her off.

Doing that meant writing about the woman from the view of the powerful person who rejects, even while preserving his self-image as a wise, generous acceptor, before saying we must see it in a different way, and expand our concepts of normal and acceptable. She was hurt by my gaze, though I inhabited the gaze of the powerful person only to show that their view should be changed, to see her not as that unacceptable thing, but as within the range of normal and acceptable.

I suppose saying “Some see you as this” is threatening and dehumanising, reminding of rejection, even though I name it in order to bring it into full view, critique it and dispatch it. I was trying to be an ally, but I have been angry with allies before, and praised them. I should have been clearer. And, in part, it was me. I was uncomfortable with particular characteristics, before making the decision to see them as positive. It’s my process. This is the human being. Calling aspects objectionable as a way to make her pitiable, or to drive her away, is wrong. I will not do it, because I would benefit if I gained her perspective, understanding and companionship. But for me that has to be a conscious process. I see the exclusionary acts I commit without thinking, because now I am making an effort to notice them, in the hope that I will learn better habits, that inclusion through practice can become habitual. Writing, I observe that process of exclusion or inclusion in me and others, to call it out.

Lionel Shriver, novelist, wants to write any story she can imagine, without regard to “call-out culture”, wokeness or political correctness. {Content warning: there’s a nasty sideswipe or two at trans folk.} Um. Sometimes we want to tell our stories ourselves, resenting the privilege or luck that gives others platforms. Sometimes we resent stories of trans women who are always victims, or deceitful, or messed up, and want stories of our success. Allies have to be careful. People hurt, and feel justifiable anger.

Who is like me?

Who is like me? Everyone, and no-one. I am a human being, one of 7.8bn; and unique, so that no-one will ever be the same.

Everyone is like me: we all feel tired, hungry, thirsty. We all need community. We are animals, with animal needs and desires, and physical experiences, and those drawn to Quakers or those who would gain from our fellowship and we would gain from theirs have or are open to spiritual experiences. The spiritual experience, the leading, the light, is the thing which draws Quakers together. It is a particular kind of spiritual experience: my father loved the Eucharist, but though he sat in silent worship twice, perfectly courteously, got nothing from it. I find openness to immediate relationship with God among people who have barely heard of Quakers, in Faerie and in Extinction Rebellion.

As I explore silent worship, including the meeting for business, over eighteen years, I have found more blessing in it. All I should ask for, in another, is the desire for that stillness. If we talk of the stillness, over coffee or in discussion groups or worship sharing, we expose our most vulnerable, real parts, the parts we protect. The inner light is the most real part of me, and the least known. I need a practice of worship to find it. I meet who I am in worship, without the masks that I wear habitually elsewhere even to myself.

I like to be with people who are like me, and I have had the experience of coming home to people like me, being with my kind, first with Mensa around 1990, then with the Sibyls, Christian Spirituality Group for the Transgendered, in the late 1990s, then with Friends in 2001. With Sibyls we had weekends together, and on the Saturday night we would put on our evening gowns and have intense conversations into the small hours over several bottles of wine about how terrifying impossible and unavoidable transition was. With personal growth workshops which rip us open I have found that feeling of togetherness, at the end. I see people experiencing something similar in the live audiences of WPUK videos: what do they have in common?

If finding that everyone is like me, or discussing how Quakers, in seeking the inner light, are like me, means exposing my most vulnerable parts then I may be tempted to find who is like me in more superficial ways. Who has a degree? Who is comfortable moving in professional circles? Among Quakers I have bonded well with other Scots in England, and other queers, though not usually with other trans women. We remind each other of our failure to pass as cis women, and our great hurt. That part of me is too vulnerable, still too hurting, to form a bond with others. I do not like being reminded of it. Audre Lorde said, What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny? I could be one with the normal people, if only I passed! I marched with Pride until I transitioned, then I did not join a Pride parade for eighteen years. And Lorde’s answer, looking at her past, was sometimes herself.

It may be that Quakers are mostly middle class. I visited Meeting for Sufferings in 2015, and ministry on privilege referred to our wealth, individually and in our meeting houses and investments, which I do not have, and I have heard Friends say similar things since though others have said that excludes people who are not middle class. We might be more middle class because a middle class upbringing gives confidence and self-regard, and life might not be a constant struggle, so that middle-class people have more time to be open to the things of the spirit, and with our comfortable lives we can notice the Spirit’s call; though I was born again when my way of life broke down and I was in extremes of pain and need. But most, not all, working class Quakers (whatever that means) I am aware of have come out to me, and told me of their upbringings, but pass as middle class.

If we are mostly middle class, it may be that what we think of as Quaker sensibilities are really middle-class sensibilities, and that these convey subtle signals that those who do not fit are not wanted. Then the working class, or Black, or disabled, people leave of their own accord and we bemoan how we do not have diverse voices and we are aging and shrinking in numbers. Over coffee, rather than bonding with people like me seeking the inner light, I seek out people like me in less threatening, vulnerability-revealing, ways, such as, being able to talk about Art, surely a sign of middle-classness. It is personal- I am talking of what I love, showing my feelings, and so deeper than small-talk, but not as deep as the inner light. It is a thing I am comfortable talking about, feelings I am safe and happy with, that will not be rejected.

So possibly I could tolerate someone who is not like me in these superficial ways, by having a conversation on their home turf. Can I do that without patronising? “I have the benefit office Capacity for Work Assessment next week,” says someone, “and I am terrified”. And we become campaigning good Quakers, with an object of concern whom we can help, if only by expressions of solidarity. How awful! This is what I have done to campaign against Universal Credit! Let me hear your pain or give you a hug and thereby make you feel better.

The University should be a place where status accrues to merit, as diverse as a Quaker meeting, and Sara Ahmed found that the Asian-heritage lesbian was put down in so many ways that she had to resign and forge her own path. There is Impostor Syndrome felt by women and others, and there are the subtle indicators that you are in fact an impostor. Sometimes it is clear. Surely even the educated white straight male will see it, when she explains: at a meeting, the academics are introducing their courses, and someone is chairing, introducing each of them in turn- this is Professor Jones, this is Professor Smith, and when the only female, the only person of colour in the room stands the chair says “This is Sara”. (Living a Feminist Life, 2017, pp126-7.) Diversity work is dragging these moments into visibility, what Professor Ahmed refers to as being a “killjoy”, thwarting people’s expectations and exposing the racism, sexism and queerphobia of their complacency. Sometimes it is only a feeling, a fleeting look of shock on another’s face when someone who is not white comes into the room. How can you convey that to someone invested in believing that the University is diverse, that everything is OK, that they are colour blind and so if you point out a problem you are playing the race card?

Someone said “I was full of respect for your restraint and gentleness” and others found me so obnoxious I must be silenced. Possibly, I think, the problem really is me.

Sometimes it is clear. Look! Look! we say. And sometimes it is not. There are other explanations. It is hard to see when we exclude another. We would not do it if we could see it, we would be too ashamed.

This is what Sara Ahmed has to say (ibid.p146). It is about Universities, which have diversity policies, rather than Quaker meetings which have a Testimony to Equality, so there is our get out, should we choose to accept it: we would surely not be like that.

“We could think of whiteness as a wall. You know that experience: you walk into a room and it is like a sea of whiteness. A sea: a wall of water. It can feel like something that hits you. It is not just that you open the door and see whiteness but that the door feels as if it is slammed in your face, whether or not it is. It is not always that you are not allowed in. You might even be welcomed; after all, you would promise to add diversity to an event. But you would feel uncomfortable. You would stick out like a sore thumb. So you might leave the situation voluntarily, because it would be too uncomfortable to stay. When you leave, you leave whiteness behind you.”

A Friend has told me of having that experience among Quakers. It is an experience I do not have, I am white. I am grateful that whiteness does not alienate me, and wish our whiteness did not alienate anyone.

Uppity trans

I don’t want to ask for permission any more. I don’t want to tell my hurt in a desperate quest for sympathy, because if they sympathise with my hurt they might not be so horrible to me. Rather, if I tell my hurt I am written off as hysterical, emotional, not worth listening to.

I ask you to tell your hurt so you will cease to be the expert social scientist and become the hysterical woman, and people will laugh at you.

I ask you to tell your hurt so that people might genuinely be sympathetic, and be motivated to take action against the wrongs you have suffered.

I am ambivalent about this.

The Jews who called for a vote to defeat Labour at the last election appalled me. They would pick on some evidence that Mr Corbyn is anti-semitic, rather than pacifist and supporting oppressed groups, and so boycott Labour giving a boost to the racist, homophobic and probably anti-semitic Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a psychopathic liar. This article offends me in so many ways, particularly this bit: [Jonathan] Sacks wrote his book as an eloquent critique of multiculturalism, and a plea for Britons to find a way to build a common culture predicated on respect for difference. What Sacks does not describe is the one form of unity that arose from multiculturalism: intersectionality, where diverse groups have come together in a shared culture of victimhood and a shared hatred of Jews. As Sohrab Ahmari wrote in these pages: “Precisely because it is a theory of generalized victimhood, intersectionality targets the Jews–the 20th century’s ultimate victims.” No, intersectionality is about seeing people’s disadvantages, so that we may work together against them. You are not the only group suffering victimisation, and your insistence that you are repels me.

I don’t like members of disadvantaged groups pretending that theirs is the only disadvantaged, or the most disadvantaged, group. It just sets groups against each other. I don’t want merely to dismiss arguments for such a position- some speak to me, for example this one“The older generation in the African American community, they kind of bristle at the fact that same-sex marriage is being compared to the civil rights movement,” says Maryland Delegate Keiffer J. Mitchell, who represents part of Baltimore and voted for gay marriage. “People would throw bottles, cuss at us, say all sorts of names, just because of the color of our skin,” Derek McCoy [a pastor and campaigner against equal marriage] recalls about his childhood in the South. “So I can’t imagine that we can equate the redefinition of marriage to the civil rights struggle.” I hear your pain. I do. And gay people have also suffered violence, even murder, and daily abuse.

When I use the word “uppity” in my title, I am alluding to Black people’s struggle, as it was a word used to condemn them. I am nervous about claiming the word. Yet I am claiming it.

I abhor the selfishness of that Jew. How dare he pretend his victimhood is greater than others’? It’s not just the Holocaust, of course, it’s the exile from England, amongst other things- the oppression of English Jews was shocking, and the persecution and murder runs throughout the ages- yet that does not entitle him to dismiss the suffering of gay people Black people Muslims or others any more than an Eton-educated white straight non-Jewish man should.

Yet I love this bit.

This electoral result is truly a source of jubilation and celebration; but what occurred in Anglo Jewry before the election is worth celebrating as well. The stand taken by Rabbis Sacks and Mirvis, and others in England, should inspire Jewish pride everywhere. After centuries as guests in an English “country home,” and decades as targets of the multicultural left, British Jews spoke as equals in their country.

Of course he is delighted. They stood up and said loud and proud,

THIS IS OUR RIGHT!

I would like to speak in that way too. Anyone may be broken by prejudice. That’s why we don’t play oppression olympics: however little it seems to other people, you may be crushed by it. I need the hate to bounce off my shield of righteousness. “Fucking poof!” that man screams at me, and I laugh at him, because he is laughable, a dimwit consumed by his hate.

There is a time for apology and circumspection, and “if the rest of you don’t mind”, and a time for assertion. This is who I am. If the assertion is honest, confident and unforced, we might even be accepted on our own estimation!

Are women the victims of prejudice amongst Quakers? Just because there are 66% more female members and attenders than male, does not make this impossible.

Howard Thurman

If I never feel confused, is confusion that terrifying emotion which I must always suppress below conscious awareness? If the distance between how things are and how they ought to be is so great that I cannot see how things are, being just confused, how can I do what I need to do? If my anger is always directed at myself- do better, try harder, keep going- how can I survive a world unless it is designed to fit me and support me? When do I realise that it isn’t?

I am wary of using Black experience as a way into my own as their oppression is greater than mine, except that mine matters too. I am a trans woman, conveniently available for anyone to punch down at, relieve their feelings on, use as a scapegoat or ridicule. We get screamed at, assaulted, killed by casual acquaintances or strangers, and painted as perverts or predators when any need is felt to justify that though often it isn’t.

So I read extracts from Howard Thurman, Black mystic and spiritual adviser to Martin Luther King.

“The stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free… is God.”

God speaks through my survival instinct and the occasional, fleeting desire I have to be equal, not to be that whipping-girl. I will not wrong others, and I will survive.

God lives in each person, we are each the outworking of God’s love, power, creativity and beauty, each hair on our head is numbered and God wills our flourishing- yes, even trans women.

The Black man, used by whites for the most menial work, lynched- murdered- by whites to keep all Blacks in a state of terror and subjection and satisfy those whites of their own righteous superiority, finds that in religious experience “I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.”

God is a real me, more real than I can conceive. This is not a matter of dogma but immediate experience, to be captured in feeling not prose or theory, perhaps to be glimpsed in poetry. Then I am my full glory as my part in God’s outworking of creation.

Thurman’s God and mine is transcendent, eternal, all-encompassing, and personal and intimate, caring for me like God’s child in self-sacrificing, motherly love. So, I will show myself the love God shows I am worthy of.

Christianity is an ideology of empire, for security and respectability for the strong and powerful, giving grudging “charity”, sometimes, to deserving outsiders but teaching us our obligations to our betters. This makes those betters feel good about themselves. No, God requires that we are brothers and sisters, equals. I claim my equal worth. God in me seeks not to serve or dominate but to hear and communicate.

Why do I call myself Christian when Christianity oppressed me? To create it anew!

I am a human being among human beings, not for anyone to categorise or judge as “a trans woman”, for no-one’s stereotypes classifications or perceived understanding- even my own. That is love of self in my incomprehensible beauty, a love worthy of loving others with. I am my part of Life, as you are. Each Christian encountering another Christian as an equal, a beloved fellow child of the loving Mother would be an example to all other people. “See how they love each other!” We would win souls for Christ.

Gender is as oppressive as race and we who do not fit gender stereotypes or are not served by them must come together. So I take Richard Rohr’s questions and apply them to gender:

Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?

What gender identities or stereotypes have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a person?

What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about gender? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?

This is what to do with my anger, whether directed inward or outward- transmute it into a sense of self-worth: which becomes understanding, then love.

My right to my feelings and perceptions

He told me that “Look mate, I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman” is not clearly objectionable. He explained that I have quite a deep voice. I am glad Tina reacted to this with incredulity: it helps me value my own view. If I go up to a man and say something unrelated to my trans status, and he responds with that, he is saying that I am a weirdo (his tone of voice emphasised that, but the phrase shows it). That is only relevant if he thinks it means I do not deserve his respect.

I tend to hope that line is generally seen as abusive. However, the bland denial has a purpose: to show that my response was objectionable. I am reduced to the plight of William Brown, saying “I was just statin’ a fact”- often, William is. If I proceed, I will face more denial of facts seeming self-evident to me. It is destabilising for me when someone asserts 2+2=5, but fortunately we do not have to agree on all facts, and no-one has a cage with a rat in it to hand.

In mindfulness practice, I develop self-respect. I am clearer about my judgment and my feelings. I have a right to both. This does not mean that I will not take another’s perspective into account, but that I will not merely submit to it. I will exercise my own judgment.

Whose feelings and perceptions matter? When we want a common understanding (which is often reassuring) how do we reach it?

She said, Is this going to have a unilateral application across all diversities? Should it be essential for everybody to have a self-respect which is impervious in order to be part of these meetings?

No, I said. I meant that I desire the equality of others. Now, I think it helps to know different perceptions may coexist. Those things I resent about H- I was thinking of saying, possibly she couldn’t have done anything better- I actually said, anything else. I don’t want to enforce my idea of “better”. Better for whom?

This is humility! Why does it appear arrogant to others?

-I have great strength as well as terrifying weakness.
-Of course: and also great weakness and terrifying strength.
-Terrifying for whom?
-Other people, who don’t expect you to have it? Human beings are a marvellous mess of paradoxes and dichotomies and conundrums and everything else-

The mercurial organismic self responds unpredictably because it responds to the actual situation it perceives. Its perceptions may be incomplete or inaccurate, but it continually reevaluates them. Unfortunately part of the situation is the self-concept’s need to believe certain things about itself. The self-concept is a great burden to the organismic self.

How can you be a square peg in a round hole? It’s difficult. It may be sustainable for a time but not permanently, eventually you revolt. Or you might manage it if you know what you’re doing, or perhaps if you appreciate the needs of the hole. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

-At the moment you are strong. YM did you good. I am curious about what your isolation means for you?
-I refuse to surrender belief in possibilities.
-There are eejits in every gathering of human beings. I wish they were more clearly marked.
-Well, we just have to open our mouths, you know.

I get knocked down. But I get up again…

In the actual situation, I wrote:

I feel anxious about being late. The way I respond is self-soothing behaviour which actually makes me more late. When I start getting ready I will feel my anxiety and hurry. Or despondency (which I feel now) around not measuring up. This lessens my energy and motivation.

I want to meditate on feelings, but I have to go. I am putting down the burden of my feelings, and picking it up in a different way. How do I know what was going on in that situation? Well, it seems reasonable. I can’t know that the people making the decision knew what I knew. I thought they did, and it made them do what they did. But possibly no-one reported to them, and they didn’t ask.

I was stressed, then, and again arriving late, so that I even thought of giving a long elaborate explanation of my feelings and how they affect me, but decided that’s a big excuse to be saved for another time. My lateness, less than five minutes, is noticed and possibly hinted at but not commented on directly, and I don’t apologise for it.

Human relationships are difficult!

“Cis privilege” and safe spaces

Do we regard women’s need for safe spaces as privilege?

Well, I don’t. Yet “cis privilege” exists. I try to create understanding and see from more than one perspective. I want to get beyond trump cards, the killer argument which makes one side win, or Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show our suffering is greater. I would welcome a response which might find some grain of value in this, and build on it.

I do not believe in “female privilege”, as Patriarchy favours men. The need for women’s safe spaces comes from Patriarchy. But Kyriarchy- rule by lords, or the privileged, over others, is a useful word: people of colour, queers and others are also oppressed. There are intersections.

Trans people are in all sorts of cultures around the world, over millennia. Trans people are those who think they are, want to be, or want to be seen as, the other sex. The word transsexual was coined to fit that, but it does not quite fit. Some thought that the word increases pressure on us to have surgery which some of us may not want, and some say that we fit a cultural perception of the other sex so “transgender” fits better. Then some object to being seen as culturally a woman: if by genes, gonads and genitals you are a woman, you are a woman no matter what the culture thinks.

Part of privilege is not having to explain yourself. We’re everywhere, and we always have been throughout recorded history. Still we have to explain ourselves. We have to explain ourselves to ourselves, to pluck up the courage to transition, and we have to explain ourselves to others, to justify doing what we want to do.

Being a Quaker, I value experience above belief. I observe that dressing in clothes deemed fit for women by my culture and a feminine name were what I wanted more than anything else in the world. This came after a period when I tried to make a man of myself, going for long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks, or joining the territorial army. Lots of trans women do. I now think of that as suffering social pressure to conform as a “normal” male.

Part of privilege is having spaces where you fit. At Yearly Meeting I noticed a queue outside the “All-gender” toilet, and wondered if I were female enough to use the women’s. I decided I was. I have only noticed all-gender toilets in the past year or so, and might be delaying a wheelchair-user’s use.

The need for safe spaces is the opposite of privilege. The common space is made for men- so when there is a sex murderer on the loose, the police tell women not to go out alone, rather than impose a curfew on men. And, the common space is not made for trans folk either. We don’t have our discrete spaces, we are lumped in together.

So we scrap amongst ourselves. I experience a great deal of sympathy from women. Some are proud to be allies, speaking up for trans people. Many say “trans women are women” which as a factual statement might be disputed, and its implications taken to the extreme are absurd. Non-trans women are women too. But it’s a statement of intent about practical arrangements, about how we treat people.

Some women are upset and angry to see a trans woman in women’s space. Some women are creeped out by it, and some collect stories of actual trans woman sex offenders, as if to tar us all with the same brush, but not all women are.

I tend to feel that temporary solidarity from women who are repulsed by a trans woman in a woman’s loo would advance feminist concerns and subvert conservative gender roles (conservatives hate trans women because we subvert gender roles by transitioning, even if we reinforce gender roles in our presentation after transition). So I feel recognising some trans disprivilege has value, even if you don’t feel privileged over us yourself.

If “trans” refers to one who crosses over, “cis” means one on the same side. I want a word which means “non-trans” without clearly excluding trans women from the class of “women”. Now, we have two sets of terms, one prioritising genes gonads and genitals as a way of moulding how people should react, and the other emphasising universal (though rare) human actions. Could we have one language?

Yearly Meeting 2019

What is privilege? In the context of inclusion and diversity, privilege is the cultural bias towards white, male and straight people over black, female or queer people; towards particular abilities over other abilities, and towards fitting in to an unjust system. My Friend pointed out that my initial definition, above, missed out intersectionality, where one may have more than one disadvantage: change that to the unprivilege of black, female and/or queer people. And/or other things, too, of course, socio-economic origin has an increasingly chilling effect on some people- but we have difficulty adding other disadvantaged groups when some Friends do not seem to accept this definition of privilege at all.

On class, a Friend pointed out that the Attlee Government’s reforms, allowing so many people to get a good education and be the first in their families to go to University had permitted her (as well as my father) to get a degree and join the middle classes. The Tory government is tearing these opportunities away. Another was distressed by one question about privilege. “Did you have more than fifty books in your home when you grew up?” She had, because her working class parents were leading lights in the Workers’ Educational Association.

This view of privilege is closer to the 1993 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition, a right, advantage or immunity granted to or enjoyed by a person or class of people, than to a looser use which seems closer to “something good which I enjoy”. The right, advantage or immunity is granted by the culture, rather than by law, and it may be invisible to many people, giving Queer studies, Women’s studies and Critical Whiteness or Black studies academics the impetus to bring it out into the open so it may be problematised and deconstructed. Men having more senior positions in scientific and technical careers is a result of our sexist culture rather than differences between men and women. Everyone is the poorer because of this: society loses the benefit of individual women’s gifts.

I feel the Yearly Meeting of Britain Yearly Meeting was a missed opportunity, this year, because of an inability to be clear about what “privilege” is. The Epistle made it completely unclear: The word privilege has been used in two ways this weekend: as a blessing we experience and as the unearned advantages a person can inherit from birth and/or accumulate over time. One Friend referred to having a good brain as a “privilege”, but that is not a right, advantage or immunity: kings, barons and villeins, white and black, will have easier lives if they are highly intelligent, but the kings and the whites will still have an easier life because of privilege however stupid they are.

In documents in advance, the YM programme used the word “privilege” without defining it. The document “preparing for yearly meeting” referred to the toolkit for action, Owning Power and Privilege, which gave a clear introduction.

I am grateful for the first ministry from the floor. My Friend said how she felt great love for the Friends present, and how this was a fraction of the Love of God. I thought of my Friend’s love, and was strengthened by it, sometimes when I saw her in the room. Strengthened and corrected: sometimes I was harsh as the impatience I felt manifested in my words or actions.

When I spoke in the business session, I divided people. A Friend had shared something deeply personal, showing vulnerability. Asked to share something about her privilege, she had said joining a Quaker meeting at the particular time she did was a “privilege”. No, it was a blessing. Joining a Black pentecostalist church might have affirmed and strengthened someone else in a similar way. I stood and stated my understanding of privilege as the source of oppression of BAME people and women. I stated my own privilege. I named class privilege, the ability to appear like an educated, middle-class person; and residual male privilege, having the confidence to speak, and being called. As a trans woman I do not suffer from sexism in exactly the same way, I said, though I also said I do not speak for other trans women.

This split the meeting. A Black man thanked me effusively. My Queer friend said he had heard a lot of positive reactions to what I said. And I was eldered, as I had spoken harshly after a Friend had exposed her vulnerability. She had; but she had set back our work towards Inclusion and Diversity, which requires all of us to be aware of privilege and to subvert it.

On the Sunday, there was an Event on “Ten years of Quaker marriage equality”, when Michael Booth explained the work done in the Society towards lesbian and gay equality from the 1960s, leading to Yearly Meeting in 2009 in York when we agreed marriage was God’s work, and if God made a marriage between two men or two women who were we to gainsay God? So much work had to be done to prepare the way for that Minute. I was not there, but I have been often told how the Spirit brought us together, and our Unity was palpable.

The work has to be done. We have not come to a common understanding of privilege, leave alone a common purpose to subvert it and work for BAME people to have true equality, which might bring as many BAME people into membership as we have LGBT people. Yet, seeing how much work has been done, with a full time Inclusion worker at Friends House for the past year, conferences on Diversity, and that Toolkit, I see the YM as a missed opportunity. Did we not notice the work? Do we still not see our privilege?

Of course working against privilege means a change in our relations with everyone, which is far greater than the change needed to accept gay marriage. Gay marriage is a matter of belief, and only of identity in the sense that someone might have a sense of being a bible-respecting Christian meaning “being uncomfortable with homosexuality”. You can still be a bible-respecting Christian and accept equal marriage. Working against privilege involves seeing the advantages you have from being white, educated, apparently higher on the class hierarchy, and/or male etc, and working to reduce the disadvantages of others. How may everyone be heard and included, and treated as equal?

The Minute we produced on Inclusion was beautiful, but I have an acid phrase for it: there was more Unity in the minute than in the Ministry. Not all of us understood our privilege. Some spoke about gifts rather than privilege, and confused the issue. I stood to offer an alteration, and was not called. Had my suggestion been accepted, the minute would have to be redrafted, to say that some say privilege is oppression, but others say other things.

Quakers, inclusion and class

The attender who took me to my first Quaker meeting was a member of an association of working class academics. As the daughter of a miner she found that certain attitudes and assumptions in academia were less natural to her. Possibly that produced diffidence contributing to her delay in applying for membership. I know some Quakers have working class (WC) origins because they have told me, rather than because I have observed particular traits in them, and such observations are invidious.

There is a great difference between the child whose family inculcated a great respect for learning, and who progressed to the adult section of the library at the Working Men’s Institute (“The ‘Stute”) after reading all the children’s books; and the Quaker with a violent past who said to me “I grew up in a plague zone, and I caught the plague”. Possibly what they would both lack in childhood, and I had, is an idea that society is basically good, and set up in their interests, but even that is a huge generalisation. There is privilege here and it is difficult to put my finger on what it is. The generalisation has some use, but putting people into two Classes, six or seven, will obscure idiosyncrasies.

Class is wealth, status, education, attitudes and behaviour. There is strength in class diversity: with it, we able to speak directly to more people, and have more different perspectives.

At the diversity and inclusion gathering, I met someone else downwardly mobile, with middle-class origins, and working class jobs. It made me feel slightly less inadequate. I begin to think of what in my background might be thought of as “class” rather than idiosyncratic family background. I took copious notes, and can’t remember what exactly was said when I noted “Working class people can have deep rich spiritual lives”. It depends who’s saying it, doesn’t it, how you react to that. I am shocked it needs saying. It could be the amazed ejaculation of a MC Quaker seeing a WC Quaker minister: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. I think it was the comment of a WC origin Quaker who felt Quakers need to hear that.

How much of our practice is MC culture rather than Quaker spirituality? The Guardian and Radio 4 were mentioned as the MC indicator, but one who often cited The Guardian in ministry had I think a WC background. I don’t like “The Archers” either, but that started when I imagined myself MC.

How much of our practice is influenced by whether we are introvert or extravert?

What gets in the way of connection? People stereotype others, and judge whether they are competitors. We were told to share the joys and difficulties of our class journeys, and I have suggested that to my LM. I feel it will bring out hidden depths of diversity we already have, and help us know each other, but in the workshop we shared pain of internalised judgments and changing to fit in. A Southern child was ostracised as “posh” in Lancashire. A man lost his accent in an MC job.

Sharing the pain of these internalised judgments is a risk. I am hypersensitive to the possibility that my hearers may judge me the same way. After all, it is my judgment, so it feels right to me.

Our speaker, Lynne Cullens, an Anglican priest, found systemic barriers to achievement as the child of a lone mother in Ordsall. She said despite her degrees WC Anglicans could instantly recognise her as WC. When I met a criminal lawyer he said the clients needed to see him as on their side of the desk, with their understanding of their problems, sorting those problems out. I got better at that, doing benefits appeals with people. Lynne could see motivations MC people couldn’t. Why would you get a large telly on credit when behind with the rent? The MC social housing workers could not understand. Lynne suggested you want a sign of status even for a moment, when money was always tight and the rent arrears hardly more disastrous than other continual money problems.

In the CofE, MC people reporting on WC concerns can seem like anthropologists. We talk of hierarchy, upward and downward mobility. As a lone mum she can inspire other lone mums. People like people who are kind and compassionate. A working class church thrives with working class leadership, as with the last Anglican church I joined.

Local Friends did not like the diversity survey, with open text boxes. “If you treasure it, measure it”; but they made a quantitative result difficult. But then, Quakers might be resistant to stating “socio-economic group”, and with an open text box could give an idea quite how resistant, and produce the categories we might use later.

I got the impression that a Friend thought gender recognition reform would mean a sudden flood of “men in women’s spaces”. We are there already; whatever damage we might do, there should be evidence that it has been done; but the lie is that there is a sudden change, and a threat.