Quakers and Equality

Quakers have no hierarchy, but we have leadership. Every time someone speaks in ministry in the business meeting, they offer leadership. The rest decide whether to follow or not. With a single leader, decisions might be made more quickly, and not necessarily less well, if that leader listens to others. If anyone can lead, everyone has to be willing and able to follow when appropriate, or we just bicker pointlessly.

This is difficult, and requires practice. On listening to others, Britain YM’s Advices and Queries says, “try to sense where [the words] come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language.” We have to be careful in both speaking and listening.

Every human being has inexpressible value. We are made in the image of God. Jesus says the hairs of your head are numbered, all valued by God. Quakers say there is that of God in every one. I am materialist, averse to the idea of a mind or soul in a body, so think of it as the incomprehensibility of the whole human, responding in the moment, so much greater than ego or consciousness which is just a part of it.

On the spiritual path, we learn our value, and the value of every other human being.

Unfortunately, out in the world, we learn the opposite. Capitalism values people for what they produce. White supremacy and the ideology of empire values white people higher than others. Men are valued higher than women. People who have been to university or have higher status jobs are valued higher than others. Certain accents are valued more highly.

My autistic friend is devalued because of his difficulty reading certain social cues, rather than valued for his excellent memory and systematising ability.

In hierarchy, life is a struggle. How can I exalt myself, and do others down? Or, how can I keep up? In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is among us, ready for us to step into it, everything is beautiful. Just as we seek the value in others’ words, we seek the value in everything, and are rewarded by seeing it. What is there that is good, in this moment, situation, encounter?

We grow up in the world, we are steeped in the world, and we are imbued with the world’s habits of hierarchy. It teaches us not to see God in the other. Seeing God needs practice, effort and thought. The unconscious reaction that another is a lower status person is hard to shake off. First we have to become conscious of it. My source of pride, that I am white and educated, is an invisible barrier preventing me from seeing the value of others. It is painful to lose something that is a source of pride, and gives a sense of entitlement and safety in the world, yet felt so normal and natural I thought no more of it than I think about gravity.

Quakers are wrestling with these matters now. Iowa YM (Conservative) asked “How is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” Well, by making Black people uncomfortable amongst us, so that they do not stay, or do not imagine they will be welcome, and by making white people think less of Black people’s ministry. More widely, our privilege stops us listening to the disprivileged, and makes them feel unwelcome. We do not hear the voice of God in the words of those we subtly devalue.

I am aware that the Black person’s experience of a Quaker gathering may differ from my own. I feel assured of my welcome and that if I speak I will be listened to. A Friend told me of Quakers touching her hair, a put-down so cliched that it made a book title. Perhaps the white Friend thought she was being friendly. She meant no harm. She was blind to the disrespect she exuded.

With LGBT folk, in the 1950s Quakers might tell them their love was sinful. Since then we did a great deal of discernment to come to the point where we support equal marriage, but Meetings have split over the matter, and even now some LGBT folk feel pressure to appear normal among Quakers.

Our initial steps to include disabled people can feel othering: it is what we, the good Quakers, who are able-bodied, do for them, the disabled. A ramp gets a wheelchair into the building, but not necessarily its occupant into the position of trust and service fitting their potential. Or some talk of how “we Quakers” are well-off, which can make people who are struggling financially feel excluded. In reality it should be what we can do for us- every person has gifts, strengths, needs and weaknesses, and we must care for each other, allowing each to serve.

When we restrict the range of people in our meetings we restrict the range of perspectives we hear. The Spirit speaks through people, and cannot say what her instruments are incapable of saying. White supremacy restricts God’s voice among us.

Most Quakers come to the Society as adults. We are on a spiritual path. We are not perfect. We do the work necessary as we become aware it needs done.

More fully human

Paolo Freire sought political liberation for oppressed groups, including LGBT groups, through personal liberation. Power relations benefit a few, at the top, while people who would benefit from solidarity with each other are turned on each other for small differences of status in the hierarchy. To correct this, he sought to make people “more fully human”, relating as equals not through domination.

To relate as equals, we listen from the heart, engaging empathy and compassion to empower oppressed groups. This Mutuality is a basic human value for Friere. It subverts society, which is based on a “collective lie” through which all accept a way of life maintaining the interests of the privileged. Being Alienated from ordinary society could be an advantage, as you might begin to challenge it.

Freire thought people could mature into a greater understanding of how they are oppressed. In the lowest level, “magical consciousness”, they accept life’s circumstances as fate, without challenging social injustice. People are forced into inferiority, robbed of our dignity, confidence and self-belief. Freire likened this to domesticating animals for service, and said children’s education is often formed for this purpose. The answer is to work for empowerment of oppressed groups, by raising consciousness.

In the second stage, “naïve consciousness”, they see their problems as personal failures rather than disadvantages caused by the structure of society. This is like internalised homophobia, where the queer person believes they are less than the straights. It is “false consciousness”, imposed by the powerful.

The third stage is “critical consciousness”, when life situations are seen to be caused by social structures. People need the language to express the way they are oppressed, which can otherwise simply seem to be the way things are.

Oppression is structural, embedded in society, not random and personal. Britain has had 130,000 deaths from Covid because of Tory government corruption and failure, not because of individual selfishness.

Normality is a social construction, a culture of silence, where the dominant group’s values are imposed on the subordinated groups, silencing them. The oppressed internalise the dominant cultural attitudes, and so feel ignorant and unimportant.

“Placatory practice”, making the symptoms of discrimination slightly less painful without tackling the root causes of discrimination, is not enough. The dominant group may encourage this with “false generosity”, a term coined by Engels, which does not challenge structural inequality. They treat the oppressed as passive objects in need of benevolent gestures, rather than active individuals who can transform our world.

The answer is Problematizing- showing the unchallenged normal to be contradictory and oppressive, so that groups see them clearly and are encouraged to resist. The dominant group responds by pathologizing the oppressed, attempting to convince them that their poverty is caused by their own inadequacy, or attempting to silence them.

Praxis is the unity of action and reflection. We think about what we do, to develop theory from our actions, and to “walk our talk”, acting based on our theories. When people see their political context and the unjust contradictions of everyday life this is Transformative. In authentic praxis, theory and practice are so integrated they cannot be separated.

The oppressed need safe spaces, by themselves, to explore how they are oppressed, to support them seeing that they are not inadequate. Knowledge is power. Sharing our stories builds energy for action. Freire sought to return the humanity stolen from people. Capitalism is destroying the planet with climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

We speak from our Power, which is liberated from ego.

From “Community Development in Action” by Margaret Ledwith.

Status, Rank and Power

How does unjust privilege fester, and how can it be combated? Leticia Nieto and Margot Boyer explain. People experience oppression or privilege based on their gender, gender identity, ethnicity, social class and membership of other groups. Nieto calls this our “Rank”. A white straight middle-class educated able-bodied cis male has the highest rank. He is overvalued- society makes him seem better than a disabled person or a woman, but he is not, really. His privilege is a social construct. Power relates to our connection to God within: are you stuck in your ego, or do you have true integrity? Anyone can connect to their power through spiritual practices.

“A person’s ability to be grounded, to exercise compassion, to use humor in a healing way, to love without demands, and to support themselves and those around them can indicate the presence of Power.

Status arises from rank and power, and varies between interactions. High status behaviour is marked by posture, and claims of leadership, knowledge or dominance. Low status behaviour is marked by submissive posture, and messages of compliance, acceptance and support. With close friends status might be fluid. High status behaviour can be positive- teaching a group, speaking up- or negative- physical or verbal violence. A high rank person can temporarily take a low status position, but that does not change their rank. Low status behaviour can be positive, for example active listening, supporting another’s idea, or appreciating someone; or negative, for example passive-aggressive behaviour.

Nieto calls the higher ranked person in an interaction the agent, and the lower-ranked person the target. Working age adults, 18-65, have higher rank than old people or young people, and so having been a child is the only experience that white male etc has had of being a target.

We learn rank unconsciously, and how we should behave as members of those groups. We follow the rules, and adopt status positions accordingly. This has certain advantages: “When both people insist on taking a high-status position, there’s likely to be conflict. When both choose the low-status position, the interaction can be stagnant and the pair may find it impossible to make decisions or move forward.” However it is wearing for the targets. The ideal is that status is flexible, and all support the good work or ideas of each.

Overcoming that social conditioning takes a lot of work, and acting from our Power. As targets, we learn to take the low status role, and that is a survival skill. Also, behaving as if the Agent way of being is normal and preferable is a survival skill. This makes Agents comfortable. Then we behave like the Agent’s conception of our target group- girls adopt “feminine” behaviour. Whatever other skills we develop, we may find ourselves driven back to that survival skill- when tired, or threatened. We get the most practice in survival skills, so they seem easiest, but they are exhausting because they require us to conform to others’ expectations of us. Targets merely surviving may oppress other members of their target group.

Nieto calls the next level of target skills “confusion”. We become aware that survival is exhausting, and we are being oppressed. We see the Rank dynamics, though we cannot yet respond to them constructively. We don’t have the language to understand, but sometimes we think, say or do things which do not fit the Target role. Nieto calls Survival and Confusion Agent-centric skills, as we cannot yet act independently of target role.

To move to Empowerment, an agent-relative skill, where we are in principle equal with the Agents, takes a great deal of energy. It is being born again. We need access to spaces for Empowered targets, such as for women, BAME people or LGBT people. Targets talk about our common experience, and learn to value each other and ourselves. We learn about the roots of oppression. It’s painful but keeps us awake. Empowerment skills involve bringing up the issue of oppression in different interactions. We express anger at Agent norms. Then we mobilise to resist oppression. This is exhausting and risky.

Then we develop Strategy skills: when using Empowerment will produce the most good, when using Survival skills is necessary. We make more conscious choices of when to walk away. We align ourselves with our Target group, and spend less time on Agent expectations. We find norms which work for us, and support our own and other Target groups. Nieto calls these Re-centring skills. We operate out of our Power. We challenge systems of oppression in the most effective way.

Few Targets get to use Re-centring skills, and even the wisest and most skilful use them only some of the time. We use the higher level skills best when feeling calm, supported and well. Anything causing distress makes this more difficult: so self-care is important for anti-oppression work.

Agents can be allies. Because rank is unconscious, Agents rarely notice their privilege even as they enforce it. Unconscious agents start in Indifference. We don’t notice or value Targets. Then privilege is not our problem. Everyone pays attention to different information and stimuli, and through conditioning Agents become indifferent to anything that threatens their superiority.

When we encounter Targets and cannot be Indifferent, we practise Distancing. We notice how much they are not like us. Distancing Out- we hold them away. “I don’t have anything against—-, I just don’t want to live next door to them.” Distancing Down is most easily seen as oppressive. “They’re dirty.” Distancing up makes us pretend to value them: claiming that — people are musical, spiritual or close to nature. Distancing takes more energy, and organised hate groups support people to distance Targets.

Inclusion is more comfortable. We use verbal messages that emphasise similarity and connection. “I don’t see colour.” It feels that we are valuing Targets, and no longer oppressing, but we as Agents still centre ourselves. We want the Target group still to meet our expectations. We can’t work effectively against oppression until we wake up.

Moving beyond Inclusion, to Agent-relative skills of Awareness and Allyship, requires strong motivation, such as a strong relationship with a Target group member. Awareness feels unpleasant, and we feel disorientated by guilt and shame. We remember when we took advantage of privilege. We recognise how harmful Indifference, Distancing and Inclusion skills are, and that we normally use them.

Society discourages Awareness skills, so we need to practise them with a group who can confirm the reality of oppression. We can learn from Targets even if they might not want to teach us. We see the Rank system and see how much talent it wastes.

If we can bear the discomfort, we may be able to learn Allyship. We are aware of oppression and our own privilege. We stop being paralysed. We work against oppression, support targets and help other Agents wake up, see oppression, and develop anti-oppression skills.

This is based on Nieto’s summary pdf. More details are here.

Liz Truss

Liz Truss spoke about Equality, and attacked Trans rights.

“In Britain, you can be whoever you want to be. Dress however you want to dress.” Of course this is not true. At work, some men are expected to wear ties, and some women skirts. But worse, it is an attack on trans people. It’s not just about the clothes. The clothes are the way I express my nature. It’s not just that I could wear a man’s suit and a tie, but choose to wear skirts. It’s that I find presenting male unbearable- weeping, curled in the foetal position unbearable.

And no, trans women can’t wear what we like. Presenting male, we might go under the radar, though it is living a lie in a way that makes the rest of life a drifting dull ache. Expressing ourselves female, we are exposed to hate and prejudice which Liz Truss and her government have encouraged.

It is a clear trans reference. Why else would she tell a falsehood about clothes?

Liz Truss says she will reject identity politics, and “move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics” because those “end up excluding other people”, and are used to define people rather than our “individual character”. People often don’t see my “individual character”. They see only my gender reassignment, and treat me worse because of it. Sometimes they think they are considering my character, but they judge me more harshly because I am trans. (If someone with Cotard’s syndrome can rationalise away evidence that they are alive, anyone can rationalise away evidence that they are prejudiced.) That’s why we need protected as a characteristic, because we suffer direct discrimination. It’s also why we need statistics gathered about our employment rates, because we are less likely to be employed, and that is a sign of discrimination against us.

She names some protected characteristics- “sex, race and gender reassignment”. Why those three? Half the population are female, and 14% are BAME. A different but overlapping 14% are immigrants. 22% are disabled. By contrast only about 50,000 people are protected by the gender reassignment rules, 0.1%. She is using the rule of three, which is a good way of inspiring passion but also a way of conveying bathos. She uses “gender reassignment” not as a climax, but intending it to sound a dull thud, making the protected characteristics even less inspiring- because she finds gender reassignment unpleasant, and imagines other people do so too.

She will consider “socio-economic status and geographic inequality”, and “white working-class children”. This is pernicious. It divides the working class, and encourages the white majority to be racist, seeing themselves as particularly done down. The problems of BAME and immigrant people often come from being working class, because they are disproportionately so. We need class solidarity, not division by race.

The data project she offers is a good thing. It will “look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background”. If the government actually addressed regional disparities, with infrastructure spending in the North of England, that would help. Her government is arguably exacerbating geographic inequality, spending £44bn on another rail link between London and Birmingham. Public spending is no problem to them, as long as the money is wasted.

She promises more Academies, run by private companies rather than supported by local authorities. This results in worse education. Always she puts the Tory privatisation ideology above the good of the country.

She has some warm words: “It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces”. She promises no action against that.

The most threateningly transphobic line is not on the government website, which excises “political content”, because it is an attack on the Labour Party. It is also an attack on trans people: “It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women, enabling and tolerating antisemitism, or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.” Antisemitism, sexual abuse, and trans women in women’s spaces are linked together here, equally appalling.

She describes protected characteristics as “misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people”. She will do less to advance the equality of protected groups, and especially trans people. Her other attacks on trans rights frighten me. The speech is here.

Since then, I have been debating the speech on a public facebook group- not a trans or “gender-critical” group, but a general interest one, where trans folk and phobes may attempt to convince the public. One person raised Truss’s Foucault with a Baudrillard, which I thought a good bet. I said Foucault was right, and found myself in a debate with six women, which started when one claimed only transphobe MPs were “sticking up for women’s and children’s rights”. I asked them repeatedly whether they found any of the speech objectionable- its racism, its opposition to any method to ameliorate inequality- and they did not say, as if its one use of the term “single-sex” had hypnotised them. For them, it appears there is only one important political issue, eclipsing even Brexit and Covid.

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.