Being a Trans Activist

How can I cope as a trans activist with all the hostility to trans people, especially in lockdown with all the uncertainty?

Someone shared an Etty Hillesum quote: Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. In Occupied Amsterdam under the Nuremberg Laws, she put that into practice.

Someone wrote, And to claim peace, we must excavate our shadows, make the unconscious conscious, reclaim and accept all parts of self.

Contrast Hilary Mantel’s description of Stephen Gardiner: Master Stephen resents everything about his own situation. He resents that he’s the king’s unacknowledged cousin. He resents that he was put into the church, though the church has done well by him. He resents the fact that someone else has late-night talks with the cardinal, to whom he is confidential secretary. He resents the fact that he’s one of those tall men who are hollow-chested, not much weight behind him; he resents his knowledge that if they met on a dark night, Master Thos. Cromwell would be the one who walked away dusting off his hands and smiling. I know resentment. I know threat and conflict, even fleeing down unknown streets at night. Resentment is curdled anger. Anger may do something about a situation, resentment cannot. Resentment focuses on the “things we cannot change”, but the “wisdom to know the difference” is hard practice, especially if there are few things we can change.

I read that rights for trans women are rights for sex offenders. I object, and read that the statement is unobjectionable, even though I feel anxiety in the supermarket, partly feeling fear, unjustified at the moment, that I might be abused as a trans woman. Etty Hillesum bought toothpaste in a pharmacy, and a public spirited citizen challenged her: as a Jew, was she entitled to buy that? She replied she was. And there are public spirited men wanting to stand up for the rights of women against perverts, by which they mean me, and so far I only meet them on line.

I sat in the Quaker meeting, on Zoom, in my exercise. It is possible to challenge an ASA ruling: can I do that? I want the people who pay to tell everyone that I am dangerous, or might be so that no-one should take the risk, rebuked. And I can’t face doing the reading or the writing to make that happen. The answer comes: I can do it, if I can let go of attachment to outcomes. Taking advantage of a video call where I can mute the microphone, I repeat that to myself aloud. “You want to cling to it, and you stop further messages,” my friend said. Perhaps; and I want to accept it, take it into myself, and act on it, because surrendering the need for a particular outcome is difficult. I have seen that with benefits appeals: if people could accept the loss, and make the appeal because it was the thing they could do at that time, they would be far less stressed; and some of them won their appeals! But that is easy for me to say, and instead, often, they resented. I have seen that expressed as a Law of Change: The individuals and the group may have goals, but they may not have cherished outcomes. It is a hard lesson.

So I wrote my challenge, and sent it off, and now see that it would have been better had I spent more time on it, and read it over and revised it before sending. But I hated it too much to do that. I hated the advert and my hate extended to the work I did against it. I would rather not have to do that work. Or I hate my work because I anticipate it will be inadequate, it will not achieve the goal I desire. I will not work well if I hate what I do, only if I can pour love into it. I read that there is an infinite fountain of Love, which I can bathe in, draw strength from, send to wherever I see needs Love. For example, Etty: I should be quite unable to do the work were I not able to draw each day on that great reservoir of peace and maturity. I read that, but I am not sure I trust it or have learned how to do it yet.

Etty Hillesum is of course my teacher and not my comparator. On 15 July 1942 she was given a job with the Jewish Council, and wrote, Tomorrow I must betake myself to hell, and if I am to do the work properly, I shall have to get in a good night’s sleep… Despite the deadly fear I saw in all those faces. All those faces, my God, those faces! And later, They are merciless, totally without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. I love her ironic prayer: “Have You any other plans for me, O God?”

A Géricault which is slightly less miserable!

Love song

How could I claim to love you, and ever cause you pain?
You’ve said our friendship’s over. I won’t call you again
I battle to forget you and you still invade my brain
I re-read all our emails and I’m crying out your name

You smile at me and touch me, and climb into my head
Obsessing a week after, I wish that I was dead
I think of you each moment, your body haunts my night
And then I wake up weeping, deprived of my delight

I see you in the distance. You’re shining like a star
Some worshippers are near you, I worship from afar
In movement and in stillness, your beauty blows my mind
You’re brilliant, witty, clever, charismatic and unkind.

seeing and being seen

If you saw someone you could not fail to love them. You would see aspects and feel something like pity but more like fellow-feeling and other aspects and feel awe and recognise them in yourself.

I want to be seen. I am a human being. Human beings are beautiful.

If you do not want to love anyone you can restrict what you see. No, not looking at that bit. So we agree to look at a tiny bit of the other and talk of nothing at all.

-How’s the campaigning going?

Or it’s not even a part of me, it’s like what I thought was a shiny badge but it’s not even a sharp piece of gravel from a road builder’s yard, not even as beautiful as that, as it’s not real.

-Well enough. It’s great when a Tory says they don’t trust the Tories any more.

I can’t do that for long. I recall: I used to read the Telegraph, and then one day there was an article by AN Wilson

(Noted aesthete, fogey, and biographer of CS Lewis)

and I thought he’s having a laugh. It was so right wing I did not think anyone could believe it. The following week, it was the Sunday Telegraph, there were several letters saying “how wonderful to read The Truth from AN Wilson!” “Wilson tells it as it is!” And I didn’t want to read the Telegraph any more.

That was a small part of me.

-Shall we arrange another of these meetings?

I don’t say anything. I wait to hear what anyone has to say. So someone says they have run their course and there is no need. I feel cut off, and afterwards text someone who says if I had requested the meetings continue that would have happened, and if I request it now he will pass that on.

If I beg, they may in their mercy cast me a scrap.

Are Quakers transphobic? Not in a way they would realise it, but their aversion is worse for being unconscious. The irritation is greater, the fellow-feeling less.

If you want to hate me, or make others hate me, describe me. Turn me into a construct of words. Make me an abstraction, either as an individual or as part of my group. Of course not all trans women are criminals but enough of them are that it is reasonable for women to be frightened of them. Women should not be frightened so trans women should be excluded. See? It’s simple, it’s rational, it’s loving.

One of the purposes of natural justice is to humanise the accused. Audi alteram partem, hear both sides, is commanded because if youdon’t your sympathies naturally attach to the person you see. The person you don’t see is not a full person.

Hear both sides before making a decision. Otherwise your decision is prejudiced. Hearing after making a decision, you are biased against changing your mind. So you should put off making your mind up and always be open to changing it.

I thought of going there. I would hold them in love. They are loveable (see above) and my capacity for fellow-feeling and compassion is huge. However, when I find myself unable to communicate I regress to the distress of a pre-toddling baby. I could find myself in such a state.

I may, still. I wish to humanise myself in their eyes. However, if they are too far gone, they will not see me. They will see a problem not a person, even if I am there.

H told me when she was a child her nose was considered ugly, and she was mocked for it. I had never thought of it. She explained why. That is thought ugly? Since then I have noticed noses. Before, I considered eyes, mainly. Certain faces I thought beautiful or full of character I see through other eyes. That nose would be called ugly, so the face is, so the person is. It is a loss. My friend is not ugly.

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.

Trauma in Meeting

How can we accommodate deep hurt in Meeting? My Friend’s question on a facebook thread cuts to the heart of who we are and what we do, as Quakers, in our worship and in our communities.

The heart of who we are is our worship together. We sit together, opened up to God and turned towards the Light. “When two or three are gathered together I am with them.” Someone may be moved to speak, which we hope is the leading of the Spirit, but recognise may be partly from ego. It may immediately strike a chord with another worshipper, or they may need to work with it to find that of God in it. Vibrant conversation may go on after Meeting, teasing out the meaning of ministry and reconciling differing views.

We recognise that we are all growing in God. We are called, justified, glorified. We talk of spiritual growth, or spiritual journeys, though the lessons we learn on them are in a different order for each person. Some people drawn to us will be newly conscious of the journey, and some in our Meetings have a life-long experience of growing in God, living out the Love of God in their actions and relationships. We all have blind spots, hurts, scars, and moments of tiredness when we do what we might regret. We are all made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful and beautiful.

We appoint elders to take care of the Worship, to foster helpful vocal ministry and sometimes restrain unsuitable ministry, and to uphold the Meeting, though all present are responsible for the meeting.

And we get it wrong. Accepting what is involves sloughing off a great deal of expectation. I find myself going back to my old habits of expectation continually. Words fail: there is only the situation, and me in the situation, and when with words I seek to classify possibilities I only approximate them; and it seems they are two sides of the same coin, to be irritated by what is and to see a way of improving it, or at least something worth trying. Serenity, courage, wisdom is always a difficult balance. Love and forgiveness are continually necessary.

Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another.

Here we find sorrow and joy, difficulty and overcoming, creativity and achievement. If the encounter with God affects us, our petty ego self, self-concept, pretence, gets stripped away, and there is the full human being, God within shining through, Glorified.

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. We each need the love, support and help of the whole Meeting.

...

So what happens with trauma? We are all hurt, but someone comes with deep hurt to the Meeting, which we find hard to-

Everyone needs support from the meeting, and generally once we work out what support is needed we are happy to give it. A baby screaming is something else, but a baby chuntering and gurgling is beautiful in a meeting. We do not expect the child to be quiet and are delighted to support the parents and have them among us- if we have flowers on our table, how much lovelier are babies! We build ramps, and install hearing loops.

Sometimes it is more difficult. A Friend found it helped to centre down to knit. The movement of the hands quiets the mind. And others thought this was inappropriate for Meeting. And then there is a discomfort, which needs to be handled. If the Friend who objects to the knitting tolerates it, but is still irritated, they might, out of a belief in their own Spiritual Maturity, suppress the irritation and imagine they were in Acceptance; or they might live with their distress, not wanting to express it and show their own vulnerability and need; then they can hold it no longer, and burst out in anger. Or someone knits, and others whisper together about it.

I have had to leave the Meeting occasionally. I have needed a glass of water to calm a coughing fit. Or I have felt great distress and needed to pace it out in the garden. We are one context where quaking is seen as a sign of healthy humanity, rather than mental illness, but there are limits. My neighbour offered me her hand, and I clutched at it, then regained calm. We are dealing with deep matters. It is all blessing, but sometimes it does not immediately feel that way. There is unknowing, when something is taking time to work out rather than being quickly resolved.

Someone cries quietly in the Meeting. This can be disturbing. The human instinct is to give some consolation, but to expect that will stop the crying.

These are matters of Inclusion and diversity. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our weaknesses need support so our strengths can flourish and serve.

...

With trauma, a little consolation will not assuage it. The hurt is too deep. Someone might bring pain and anger to Meeting, week after week. What can a Friend do?

Don’t try to bear another’s burdens on your own. It’s not possible unless you are a bodhisattva. Anger must be acceptable in Meeting, or the whole human being is not acceptable. We become trapped in our petty selves, trying to appear acceptable. I feel we need a space for anger and pain to be expressed and heard, not necessarily during worship.

Recognise and state your own needs. Speak them before they become unbearable. Ask the help of the traumatised person. This is a radical statement of Equality, of each person having responsibility for the meeting. There is a problem. How may we deal with it, together? Vulnerability is difficult- the petty-self cannot bear it.

Some may feel a need for rules, and boundaries. I don’t like them. I don’t believe in freeloaders. I became aware that I was on a spiritual path, and one of my first lessons in that awesome month was that all people are doing our best, in difficult circumstances. (If you disagree, talking about it would be our way of showing respect to each other’s insight, trust in the process, and belief we might come to a better understanding together.) Rules are a shortcut when we cannot do any better, a quick way of assigning blame. But we are human beings, in infinitely varied situations, which do not fit words, or rules, closely enough.

Safety, and proper boundaries

I wanted us to revise the book of discipline as soon as I heard of the possibility, because of this sentence: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” I know it was 1987, but- not “PDAs during Meeting” or even “homosexual relationships” but the acceptance of “homosexuality” distressed some Friends. Some of them might have been elderly, and repressed gay themselves. Some might have thought their view integral to proper respect for the Bible, and seeing Quakers as Christian.

However brave 22.45 was in 1987, it is a bit clunky now. We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends. Of course! Why should it need to be said? But it was against the culture of the time to recognise that some gay Quakers might consider themselves married, and ask their meeting to celebrate their commitment.

In 1994 we minuted, The Yearly Meeting has struggled to find unity on this [subject of sexuality], which comes so close to the personal identity and choices of each one of us. We are still struggling for the words which will help us, so that we may come to know the balance which allows us both to deal with the personal tensions of our own response to sexuality and also to see ourselves as all equal in the sight of God… we recognise, in love, the Friend whose experience is not our own. We pray for ourselves, that we may not divide but keep together in our hearts.

Attending encounter groups, I was most distressed by the person who said they wanted to “feel safe”, or, worse, that “people should be safe”- that is, they wanted to restrict other people’s shares, and they were claiming it was a principled stand for the good of all. But you cannot feel safe in this process. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Today at Meeting my Anglican Friend was wearing his clerical collar, as he had celebrated the Eucharist before coming. That’s the first time he has not changed his shirt. I felt this was disrespect (I am speaking as a fool) and more so when I saw the Book of Common Prayer on his seat in Meeting. This, even though I am former Anglican. The prayer book made me feel uncomfortable.

What do I mean by “speaking as a fool”? I am speaking from the ego, from a petty desire for safety in the sense of more or less being able to predict what is going to happen and knowing I will be comfortable until it is time to go home.

Meeting is not “safe” in this sense. Sometimes it is like a roller-coaster, where I see over the plunge and my stomach turns over. It is very rare that someone is hurt on a roller-coaster; but it is probably better not to ride one if you want to appear dignified.

I would definitely wonder what was going on if in Meeting I realised that someone was verminous.

I am angry. Excuse me while I go and chew the carpet for a moment. I may even scream at it.

Ah, that’s better.

My Friend’s clerical collar offended me. I could get righteous about it- what about the notional person who has been hurt by the Church and has been told we are somehow better? It’s the principle of the thing! (My law lecturer said principles are good, because they make money for lawyers.) There is the ego, or small self; and it is in me, and it reacts in that way. In this particular case, I can deal with it fairly easily: I spoke to him, sharing my love for particular Anglican prayers which I used to pray every week. I do not want to deny or suppress my reaction. It is me that objects. The Meeting itself gives me the way to deal with it, of emptying myself of the desire that the world be other than it is. Repeat as necessary. There is no harm- probably. All manner of thing shall be well. Any harm will be dealt with organically.

In another case I am angry, resentful, frustrated and frightened, and living with uncertainty. The uncertainty makes it harder to “respond in love”. Possibly a petty-self, or ego, desire assists me: I want my Meeting to be inclusive (even, possibly, that is a leading, something from my inner light). In the 1980s we might unobtrusively and without much fuss have sorted ourselves, so that in some meetings “homosexuals” felt unwelcome, and did not attend, and in others those “distressed by homosexuality” quietly left. I don’t know. If you were around at the time, were you aware of this happening? It might have felt safer, but it would not have been, really. It would have been a reduction in the Light available to those meetings, which is in our diversity. If we are all the same, we lose something.

So I keep telling myself, as I try to live with that anger.

I love what my Friend Rhiannon wrote: even the merest, softest touches of suggestion that in order to be a Proper Quaker one ought to [x]… sets me imagining ways in which I might find myself outside that boundary. I want my Meeting able to include trans folk, and those “distressed by trans” (or anxious sharing a toilet with me) but that might be uncomfortable. But then, it’s just possible that I will become homeless, in which case I might even get lice.

I thought, 22.45 is not so objectionable read as a whole, and it is good to show the history of our discernment. Chapter 16, last revised in 2015, shows where we are now, governing our marriage procedure. I wanted a beautiful quote from there to round this off. 16.03 is not really beautiful, but matter-of fact: “Friends understand marriage to be equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.” But then I see 16.07, which refers to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act: “It is, therefore, expected that our registering officers, on appointment, understand that they will be required to officiate at all marriages authorised by that area meeting.” The homophobes may still be with us, mostly keeping quiet about it.

Your silence will not protect you

When I did not see myself, I felt alone; but now I see myself, I see myself everywhere.

When they bully you, they cut out a part of you. They so mock and deride it that you think it shameful, and try to hide it. You deny it is you. But everyone sees through your pitiful attempts, and knows how to reduce you to a quivering wreck: they point out that part of you that shames you. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but we are no less vulnerable hiding the part that shames us. Hiding it, we have the work of hiding it, and we carry it for all to see.

I face my terror. I will not hide my shameful part any more. It is frightening not to, but trying to hide myself does not work. When I stop trying, my failure ceases to matter. When I fight myself it is a burden, but when I accept myself I find strength in what I denied, hated, sought to expunge.

When I am seen and accepted, I am enabled to see myself, in my power and beauty. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but they mean, come into our power.

I read Audre Lorde, and feel accepted. When she writes of herself, I see parts of me within her, and am enabled to see their beauty. As a child, she wrote poems which expressed what she felt. Poetry was her language, to communicate to others. She had difficulty comprehending how other people thought- it seemed to be in a logical progression, but for her non-verbal communication was more important. Her feelings were chaos and confusion, anchored in poetry.

The words were deceit, misleading her because they misled the speaker. Still the human communicated, beside or alongside the words. “I used to practise trying to think,” she says. She could not learn without a teacher she liked, to feel the truth of what was taught rather than pick up facts.

The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free.

Without her mother, she felt alone and worthless because only her mother could see her and accept her. I do not generalise from what she says to people of colour here, now, as she was in America, growing up in the ‘forties, writing in the ‘eighties, but it echoes what I feel, now: “White people [others] feel, Black people [her critics and mine] do.” White people have the luxury of feeling, in her world, but Black people had to just get on with the drudgery of mere survival.

I feel stung by the allegation that I do not Do. I ought first to Do, to earn, to produce, to support myself, before I can take time out to feel, but my feelings cry out to be heard and give me no quarter, they will not be silent until I hear them and honour them.

I feel more stung. Black women could not hear or see or love or accept or nurture or honour one another because they saw themselves in the other, she says. I am suspicious of trans women: Audre writes of the struggle, the need for Black women to confront and wade through the racist constructs underlying our deprivation of each other. When I see a trans woman, I see all the things I ought not to be, and I turn away in shame. I see her through a haze of transphobia; I see myself mirrored in her, and all that has been stolen from me, called shameful, all that I attempt futilely to hide, I see in her and therefore in me, and feel that imposed shame.

I am myself. I can be no other.

We are ourselves. We are beautiful, and when we see our beauty, when the mists of transphobia and bullying disperse, we come into our power.

Audre’s mother loved her, and showed her that, accepting her, nurturing her to be herself, then teaching her how to be herself in white america which never wanted her to even be alive. My mother loved me, but seeing herself as worthless could not accept me; she sought to force me into a mould so I might survive (even if only as an automaton) not knowing the mould would kill me. And yet I survived.

I feel seen. I read Audre, and she explains myself to me, and she validates and values and thereby nourishes and enriches me. I feel and therefore I can be free.

It ceases to be vulnerability when I accept those parts of myself that I sought to hide, and becomes dignity.

Now, I see myself everywhere. I see myself in the deep rich authentic feeling of my beautiful friend, in stories and portraits and cultural artifacts valuing cherishing and honouring people just like me, even in God who made me in God’s image, in all people who are part of me as I am part of them.

I am not alone.
I feel seen.

Partial inclusion

When I am not accepted, often I am tolerated. When I am not wholly valued or cherished, I may be partially included: I pretend to be a normal person, and am allowed to be that normal person in the group. So naming the way in which my difference is rejected may be a threat to me: it draws attention to my difference, so maybe my pretence at normality has been seen through, and I will be rejected. No, no, it’s no trouble, I say. Please don’t worry about it.

Though I am depressive, and need a lot of acceptance before it gets through to me; and I am hypervigilant for any sign of rejection. And, that could be seen more positively: particular aspects of me are appropriate for this group accomplishing this task, and others can come out at another time.

Our liberation is bound up together. If I can take off my masks, I can accept others without theirs, and even help them to remove them. We shall stand together naked and unashamed, but conscious and aware. Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.

This is a spiritual process, among Quakers. My Friend asked, What would it take to enable us to live in consciousness of peace, love and joy so that such issues as these and many others are resolved spontaneously? I think we need practice. I don’t know we will ever manage it spontaneously. I replied, For me, that is a continual process of emptying myself of my requirements of others and my false perceptions, and appreciating what is around me and within me. It is not instantaneous- noticing something and welcoming or emptying it, as it also involves things I desire or need to explore. There is love in me. I have blind spots where I do not notice- logs as well as specks in my eye- and it is a matter of seeing. I am pleased that I said there is love in me. I can acknowledge my goodness. Not everyone can.

Trans people are bound up in the concept of a real self, a kernel which is unchanging, which is the sex not assigned at birth. That might be a chimera. I can imagine a person’s self-concept being exhaustively defined, all the things they think they are and ought to be, but not the organismic self because it is an organism. I am an organism that reacts to circumstances, taking in ideas, responding to stimuli, so I cannot know how I will react until I am provoked. As the world I am in changes, I change.

How comfortable are you? There is a Quaker booklet, Owning power and privilege, which considers how some of us are advantaged, and the first voice in the text is a “white, middle class, educated, affluent” person who calls himself a “typical Quaker”. My voice comes later: For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides- how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures. I am white, middle class by origin at least, educated, and I have refused policemen peremptorily demanding to come in to my house, unlike that typical Quaker who acknowledges “police attention bypasses me”. I know he is a man, from the pronouns he uses of himself. I think he’s straight. He does not mention being a straight man in that list of privileges. Fair enough, it’s a toolkit for recognising privilege in onesself, but the most privileged person is heard first.

Though the toolkit’s epigraph is by an “Aboriginal” activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. She could be educated, too.

How comfortable are you? Bud Tillinghast has started a blog on the Roman Empire as a way of understanding the Bible. He quotes an English publication: August is named after Augustus Caesar…[who] brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire… The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity. He points out that “peace” was in the interests of the Roman elite, at the expense of the rest, and that those roads helped soldiers march easily to places the Pax Romana was threatened. Tacitus said, They make a desolation and call it peace. If we think of that “peace” as a good thing, it is because we think of our own imperial adventures as beneficent, spreading order, rather than rapacious.

The way to equality is owning our power and privilege. It might help us get people of colour in if we recognised our privilege, as part of the emotions, attitudes and prejudices in [ourselves] which lie at the root of destructive conflict, the things we can’t see because they are so normal and expected. This is just how things are. This is not how things should be.

I am seeking my own liberation here, not just as a trans woman oppressed by the Patriarchy but as an educated white person oppressed by my education, which blinds me to other perspectives. When the least of us is free we are all entirely free.

Distress

The amount of distress you carry is enormous. That is what is exhausting you- not low energy or motivation.

“How can I mitigate it?” I asked.

The question is, what is at the root of it. Stop trying to prove to yourself that you are loveable.

I see you appreciate some of your strengths. I know you appreciate your brain and your aesthetic appreciation of life but I’m not at all sure that you know you are loveable. You seek people’s happiness. I think you have enormous capacity that is utterly disabled by distress. You said something about vulnerability, you described one of your friends as “A fairly chaotic individual, generally means well, quite easily hurt,” and you laughed and you said “Who does that remind you of?” And the laughter went straight into utter distress.

It’s that fragility, that vulnerability- You have tremendous energy, but it’s distress that saps you. To be in such distress for so long, it’s like living with pain. It is living with pain. And with the strength of your intellect and with the depth of your emotions and with the power of your aesthetic appreciation and with your generosity you should be able to get the pain out, but how I have no idea. Part of you is screaming, and it’s been screaming for a ruddy long time. Possibly life long.

And I know that you can get on in spite of it, I know that you can distract yourself from it, I know that you can focus on lots of different things, but it hasn’t stopped screaming, and you need to tend to it.

Part of you is always in panic. You have such an appreciation of beauty and of love and awe and such an intellect, but the letter from the benefits office must have knocked the knees out from under you, again. I think if all of you believed that you were loveable the part of you that is screaming would stop. It might be worthwhile then letting it speak and giving it a cuddle.

Well, there’s feedback, from someone who knows me well. And even naming it “distress” is difficult: I call it “self-pity”, or inadequacy, or a sense of entitlement, or weakness. That I might be worthy of my own care surprises me sometimes. Does the feedback fit? I don’t know. I might call it “discomfort”, but then label it mild, and the superego which rides me so hard, or the transactional analysis “Parent”, would say “Everyone suffers discomfort, what are you complaining about?” It would make “enormous capacity” into an accusation: What are you doing with it?

I lay in my grave, and my mother said to me, “I didn’t want you”. No, really. The exercise was to imagine myself in an open grave, looking up at people passing by, and my unconscious rewarded me with that vision. Of course I believe it. The subconscious knows.

What does distress achieve? It might make the sufferer uncomfortable, so that they realise there is something wrong, which needs fixed. It might make them stop what they are doing. I did not immediately think of, but added later- it could prompt care from another- though I do not believe I could deserve it. If I am right about my mother it is childhood distress, or even inherited distress. She was frightened of the world, and yet still managed to keep a job, but she had me not because she wanted me but because that was the conventional thing to do. I can see my anger, frustration, resentment and fear in her, and if she had accepted my distress as a child I would know I was loveable and would not feel this way.

And now those inner voices are saying, don’t be stupid and self-indulgent, of course it could not be life-long, stop complaining. And they are projecting onto you, my reader(s)- you will think me a self-indulgent, inadequate, ridiculous, self-pitying etc etc fool. Yet I am a human being, and am at least worthy of my own love.

A blogger’s questions

I don’t pass on “blogging awards”, but I do like the questions. MarymaryOhMy asked, “Is music universal?” and “What is Love?”

Well. I am flattered. I am a dilettante, interested in all sorts of things, and with opinions on most. Everyone sings, and stone age cave sites contain flutes made with stone tools. Music is ubiquitous, and important to almost everyone. The pentatonic scale is in Scottish folk music such as the Skye Boat Song and in the Raag Bhimpalsi of India as well as Chinese and Mongolian music (yeah, I thought I would just reply from my own knowledge but I looked that bit up). And, western music with its thirteenth chords in Mahler and in jazz follows specific rules. You don’t need to be able to describe the rules in words- you don’t need to know what a plagal cadence, a tierce de Picardie, or Sonata form is- but if you have heard a lot of such music, especially from childhood, it will move you as it pushes the boundaries of those rules, and if you are unfamiliar with the tradition some of it will bore you. I am unfamiliar with Indian and Chinese music, and do not get the subtleties, though much of it moves me on a visceral level. Music is universal on a basic level, but worth getting to know, even studying in depth.

What is Love, in your own words?

In the air. An open door. Patient. Blind. A battlefield. What will survive of us.

Love is a second-hand emotion
always moving and changing
not an hour-hand emotion
seeming still.

Oh, OK. My own words. Love is the leap of my heart when someone walks into a room- even the first time I saw her; a steady commitment between two people; an inescapable part of being human; a great blessing, even when most painful; something we need, just as we need food and oxygen. For further reading may I recommend Plato’s Symposium.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I would make myself rich. Seriously. With one wish, I would rid myself of my most draining worries, and increase my influence. Stopping war or famine would be nice, but call me shallow and selfish. I would use my influence for Good once I had it.

Your biggest pet peeve?

Not being rich. The World should recognise my talents!

Is it Black and White or simply Gray?

Complexly grey, I would say. Just as there are 254 tones of grey between pure white and black on this blog with hex codes even if there is no admixture of colour, there is very little pure evil or good in the world, and many mixtures, from fatal flaws to mild imperfections. Every situation may be made darker or lighter. You may think it is unrelieved black, only to see how much worse it can get.

What makes a real man or woman?

Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, mostly; a little potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Those account for 99.85%. A fictional person can be “real” in that they can live in others’ minds, and influence them: George Eliot has moved and changed me with Dorothea Brooke, who is now part of me; but any moral judgment of what makes a “real man”- never wears pink shirts, according to one woman- is ridiculous and damaging. Same with “real woman”.

Favourite comfort food?

Spaghetti Carbonara. I am just off to make one now.

Ah. That’s better. I love the ritual of preparation, as well. I quite enjoy frying up leftover haggis with mushroom and onion, and dousing it in cider which I boil off- it produces a greyish sludge which I have been spooning into me since I was a student, with great pleasure- but a carbonara is my favourite.

You can learn something about people with this game. Perhaps I will address her other questions later. If you have your own answers to these questions, please share them below.