A suit of armour

I had not spoken to my neighbour. I said “Hello” when we left our flats at the same time, and he barely responded; and then I walked to the bus stop, and they stopped six yards back, and stared at their phones. I went upstairs on the bus, and went to open all the windows; they went upstairs too, and went to the front. Having intended to go to the front anyway, I sat down opposite them and said,

-You know, you moved in a year ago, and I would be far more comfortable if we spoke to each other.

He explained that the last place they lived was a rough area, and they keep themselves to themselves. They chatted, and I listened in, interjecting occasionally. She likes the pretty houses. What do you think of those?

-They look sort of- Tudor? She is unsure of the reference.
-Yes, that’s the intention, the white and the wood.

-Cats are at landlord’s discretion, she quoted, but you cannot have a dog. I would not want a dog, because I would not want to clean up after it, and you have to clean up after it.

-Well, you use a plastic bag, you are not actually touching the stuff, I said. It was the wrong thing to say. She started talking about organising the right photographer, and the right “make-under”. This is not a conversation I could take part in. “It is important to look around,” she says. “The reviews are no good because they are only going to publish the glowing ones.”

She sounds a bit obsessive- yet she is upstairs on the bus, looking out the front window. It is a deeply unsophisticated pleasure, usually for children, and I can’t get enough of it. And on a hot, sunny day? I sense a kindred spirit. She complained about him swearing- “Language,” she said, half rebuking, half wheedling, and I said “Peeved” is a good substitute for “pissed off”. She said “See you.”

I was sitting in the yard and met Andrew/ Andy as he returned from work. He is at the outdoor centre, as were the other tenants in that flat. I had not known it was an avowedly Christian organisation: he is with a “new frontier” church in Zhuzhkov- he is hesitant, as if he does not expect me even to have heard of his denomination. He is going now to prepare a Bible study on Job. I like Job, I tell him.

I must have a change from Cranach, but here is Venus and Cupid the honey thief. Google translate has mixed success with the Latin: if you know better, please share.

dum puer alveolo furatur mella cupido
furanti digitum sedula punxit apis.
Sic etiam nobis brevis et moritura voluptas.
Quam petimus tristi mixta dolore nocet

When a child steals a bowl of honey Cupid
Furano finger careful punxit APIs.
So too short for us and die of pleasure.
He is seeking a melancholy mixed feelings hurt

However, a search found this. And this.

Blogging III

I don’t have to explain myself to you. You don’t have to read this. I started writing here because it felt I had made a huge leap in my spiritual growth, I wanted to share it, and I wanted to explore myself in writing, before witnesses. It pleases me that on Sunday 84 people from twenty countries read forty different posts on my blog, but I write for myself.

I heal. It’s what I do. I record it here: my realisations and my steps forward. It abashes me that I wrote some of what I intended to write today in a post three years ago, but I have moved on since then. “It is alright to be me,” I wrote. I knew that was where I needed to be, but did not see the distance I was from it. I am closer to it now, and still do not see the distance I am from it: if I did, there would not be that distance.

I love writing. I have a talent. I come here to wrestle with ideas and to play with expression, when I am ecstatic, hurting, angry, pleased. The challenge to write a good, politically focused article every 4 days touches me like that phone call from S yesterday- she had found all these brilliant jobs I could apply for! Oooh! Ta muchly for that, ducs. I have written about politics to work out what I think, to pursue ideas where they lead me, or in the case of equal marriage, to pursue self-acceptance against the homophobes. That’s done, now.

I had thought, How wonderful to be a columnist, to engage with news and write from the heart about it, and inspire people with something original! And how awful, to have to be thinking up angles all the time! What inspires me, what could motivate me? I wonder if that would always feel subconscious, something “popping” as if unbidden into my mind. If you have to work it out, you’ve got it wrong. There will be other political questions for me to write about, but I have no idea when or what.

Peter imagines himself to be a rational fellow. He asked, is “The Light” the same as the conscience? I am negative about conscience, seeing it as a conditioned tool of social control. The light is what makes you come alive. You were really motivated about that disciplinary hearing (he is a trustee of a charity). Yes, he said, but I analysed all the complaints and the evidence; and it was important. Yes. It is, objectively, important to get the right result for this good cause; but it was important to you. Everyone does rationality, a bit.

He is also on the committee of the story-telling group. Yes! Us arty-types need to do our thing, but are not usually good at organising, and it is really good to have someone to handle all that stuff.

You have heard the quote, “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, for what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It is cliché because everyone recognises it is profoundly true.

I had thought to leave Cranach for a bit, but here is Samson and Delilah. It is the same redhead!

Cranach, Samson and Delilah

Experiment with Light

The Light is that power which illuminates, guides and strengthens us, which some of us call “God”. It can never be known from ratiocination, only experience. In the Experiment with Light (EwL) we sit in a circle in a guided meditation, and individually access the Light, or God, or the subconscious, which guides each of us with something in that person’s life, now. Today, it was mind-blowing.

After coffee and chatting, we gathered in the meeting room, and introduced ourselves. I said how that morning it had felt like reaching Enlightenment, and was actually a huge step forward. We had an introduction, and a practice of Centring:

Sit up straight, feet flat on the floor, hands folded in your lap. Tense all the muscles in your body, as tight as possible, then relax. Check feet, calves, thighs, for any sign of tension. Check your back and neck, which hold a great deal of our stress. Check that your head is properly balanced on your neck, pulling neither forward nor back. Relax your feelings and your mind. If there is any tension be aware of it and let it go. Be present.

After lunch and more chatting-
-Why was that business meeting so right?
-Because I allowed it to be, allowed us to be what we were.

we did the practice. It is in six stages:

Relax body and mind.
Let the real concerns of your life emerge.
Focus on one issue. Try to get a sense of this thing as a whole.
Ask what makes it like that.
Welcome it.
When you accept it, you will begin to feel different.

An image may come to you, or music, or sensations. F is not at all visual, so they explained there need be no visualisation.

I began to feel intense feelings: confusion, hurt, stress, tension, fear. I cried a little, I rocked a little, leaning forward so my chair would not creak. It seemed that I felt my feelings in turn, having time to identify each then move on to the next.

It then seemed that I got Answers. One was, I become that person I want to be– an impossible illusion.
Then, I was myself, just myself- but somehow sorted, not feeling like this. Again, illusion.
Then, I was me- like this, feeling that. Through me the gale of life blows high. I am safe enough, for the moment.

We finish. We have twenty minutes of silence, to mull it over, and may take notes, draw something, or go into the garden. I check my mascara has not run in the tears, and reapply my lipstick: all this contemplation is beautiful and worthwhile, but one has standards. I write some notes, then go into the garden and stare at a complex beautiful pink flower- not a camellia- then a tiny purple wild-flower. Then the brightly sunlit grass, the trees, and the other people.

We share. Godric does not want to come in to the small group.
-You’re very special, he said.
-I know! We grin like children.

Final discussion. This is not therapy, and can take you to dark difficult places, they say.

-I am particularly well supported at the moment, seeing my psychiatrist on Thursday and my psychotherapist on Friday; but when that is finished I will go on with the dark places, healing, because that is what I do. I cleanse out pus, which stinks, and is better gone; and I take off my shackles. Moving a limb long frozen is painful and difficult, but then it relaxes, the muscle stiffness and joint pain goes, and the limb dances. I am rarely comfortable, but always safe.

I was surprised Annie spoke so strongly in favour of Reason. Reason is all we have. How can we communicate what is in our hearts? All we have is words. Those terrorist attacks yesterday (Friday)- so someone was moved by God to behead someone? John Lampen says reason is a useful tool, not to be undervalued, but it has to be balanced with intuition. We may test the spirits, together.

You may feel tired after the EwL. It is deep work.

Several times I felt like saying, I was in a Light Group before. The others cancelled it after a few months. They said we had not got as deep as other groups did, and the problem was me. Perhaps they were right. I did not say it: I would have been asking for absolution, again. I can’t be sure, but it seems alright: I can be in a light group, I don’t need absolution.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes V

Biblical leadership

My latest follower is “Apostolic Mommy and Wife”. I am delighted that she should take an interest in this Christian blog, for much of my posting is about Biblical interpretation and Christian relationships with God and creation. Unfortunately I find her account of Christian marriage wanting.

It was a shock to find the writer on such a pink site, so clearly aimed at women, refer to “our wives”. Is this a man writing? It is unlikely to be a lesbian. I googled it, and found the article was plagiarized from here, or possibly this pdf:  lifted whole, rather than “adapted from” as she claims. This is objectionable, given that she wishes to make money from her site, asking readers to “Donate”, “Advertise with us” or go to “Our Youtube channel”. I am unclear whether the companies she reviews, including Kosher CasualI wore this dress to church today. I was able to sing, dance and shout to praise God’s name – All while feeling assured I was modestly covered- paid for the review.

On modesty, I saw a woman in a niqab yesterday walk across the square. Her loose summer burqa did not disguise the glorious sexiness of her relaxed, confident walk. Modesty rules can never prevent free people expressing ourselves; and as the Muslims recognise, arms and ankles, and singing and dancing, are sexy. The only way to be “modest” in this sense is to erase yourself.

The real author, Dennis Raney, recognises that some women wear the trousers, and even that some men are not strong or natural leaders, but still says that men should lead. God has placed the husband in the position of responsibility. It does not matter what kind of personality a man may have. Nor the woman: in fact Raney does not acknowledge different personalities among women, claiming that all wives want and need leadership.

Raney says husbands should give to their wives, but bizarrely claims it should be giving up: something you genuinely valued, like your golf game, a fishing trip, or your hobby. Rather, he needs to find ways of being with her to enrich them both. There must be room for two in a marriage. I get the impression that the husband Raney writes for finds his wife a mystery, but gives up his golf game because them’s the rules- rather than choosing to do something with her, because he prefers to. No wonder she “resists, fights and spurns” him. I am horrified that Raney imagines that couple could have been living together so long that their children are grown and gone.

The article is not wholly worthless. He correctly says women at different stages of life have different needs; but gives no Bible quote for that. The tiny amount of sanity in the article comes from contemporary morality and understanding. The Biblical bits lead him to make ridiculous assertions, missing the complexity of real life.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes IV

Desire, action, achievement

I discover what I want, when I observe what I do. That is, the desires I actually act upon are opaque to me until I look back and see what I have done, where I have gone.

For example, either two and a half years ago I went from almost complete inadequacy, applying for a few jobs, doing voluntary work badly, to utter complete inadequacy, moping round the house all the time; or, alternatively, I withdrew from the World in order to have time and space for my psycho-spiritual healing. I would rather believe the latter, and it makes some sort of sense. I have healed, having greater acceptance and less pain.

There was certainly no conscious intention behind it. It felt like a failure, being unable to go on any more. Yet I could say that my whole organism, unconscious as well as conscious, has benefited, and perhaps moved towards what she knew would benefit her. On one view, I have Failed, on the other I have Acted, for my own good. Which would you rather believe?

I would rather believe the truth: but belief in failure makes me despair; and belief in my action is at least arguable.

I shared on facebook the mystic cryptic phrase I learn what I want when I see what I do and Lena misinterpreted it, thinking I wrote about what I chose to learn, rather than learning as a matter of observing what was in front of me. Derek got it: his Psychosexual Somatics Therapy course was very much about shadow motivations.

I used to think that I thought things through, made a rational decision, then carried it out. However what I did for that rational decision often had no real motivation behind it, and I did not follow through. Rather, I achieve worthwhile goals; but I start pursuing them before I realise, consciously, what the goal is. This thought comes from Serra considering a particular incident. I wanted that, but did not consciously understand it immediately.

It was a shadow desire, to heal, not one I could consciously admit. Consciously, I imagined I needed to get a job, and could do it. I want to allow my desires to be conscious, like my emotions become. It is hard for me to kick against the goads, hard for me to have conscious and unconscious at war, mutually despising.

It is strange, taking pride in what shamed me so deeply: the old pain of that shame washes over me, and as I delight in the pride, joy weeps.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes II

The intersex analogy

In explaining ourselves to cis people, should trans folk compare ourselves to intersex people? Probably not; but helloanonme gives wrong, offensively transphobic reasons to argue that.

Arguably, transsexualism syndrome is similar to intersex conditions. Gender identity as female is as much a sex-marker as having ovaries or a feminine pelvis. If someone really does not get why I would want to express myself female, I could explain not all my sex-markers point the same way- just like an intersex person. In some intersex conditions it would be more accurate to say that sex-markers have not fully developed- so in partial androgen insensitivity, someone XY may have a slightly enlarged clitoris rather than a fully developed penis. Categorisers have produced the Quigley Scale.

Helloanonme argues that intersex people have a hard time, and intersex people should be the ones to explain themselves. However that does not work as an argument: if the straight person has no idea what intersex conditions are, then the analogy will do no good.

The problem with the analogy is that it is a way of claiming that my desire to express myself female is not weird or reprehensible. I have no control over it, any more than an intersex person, so it is unfair of you to mock me for it.

However transsexualism is not weird or reprehensible. Transition is perfectly reasonable, for anyone who wishes to undertake it. No-one has a right to object. So the analogy is useless. Anyone who thinks my transition immoral- Thanks very much, Frankie– won’t be persuaded.

I don’t want to use that analogy any more. I am happy with my choice. Three years ago, when I commented on Helloanonme’s post, I was dealing with my internalised transphobia. It was not the hater whom I wanted to persuade, but myself.

But why would anyone object to the analogy? Helloanonme says intersex people can have a hard time, with other symptoms beside genital ones. OK- but does my analogy of transsexualism to intersex actually decrease understanding of intersex? Only, possibly, in this way: the hater, hearing us compared, hates intersex people as weird and disgusting as well as trans people. The intersex person objecting is saying “I may be weird, but at least I’m not as weird as them“. Arguments from how hard it is to live with a condition are ablist. Conditions affect different people in different ways. No, ways of being- calling these things “conditions”, as deviations from the illusory Normal, is also wrong: there is ordinary human diversity, and there are ways of living it.

I don’t want to use the analogy any more. But you have no right to object to me using it. You don’t get to define how I explain myself to the world.

I realised, writing this, that a strong motivator to activism- the need to persuade myself that it is OK to be me- no longer applies to me. Perhaps now is the time I should become activist. I can be a street fighter, now I am less easily hurt. I hate this guy’s argument, but I love his chutzpah: faced with an incident showing the complete moral bankruptcy of his position, Erick Erickson comes out fighting. It’s the Liberals’ fault, just like everything bad.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes III

A life of achievement

Possibly I should not compare myself to Rachel or Caroline, but to Louise.

I would not say life has been easy for Rachel, but she has what I might like- good job, house, partner, children, pension fund… Her husband was joshing her son, who is going to Princeton, that he should call up Harvard, explain Princeton’s offer and ask if they could do better. This matters. These are good things. Comparing myself to Rachel makes me feel wholly inadequate. I was weeping about it this morning again: the dual matter of my wasted life, 49 years and so many experiences missed, and my precarious position- how will I support myself, now? I am sad, frightened, resentful, strong emotions in response to the real situation.

Life has not been easy for Louise, either. She has been in a wheelchair in institutions since childhood, being pushed around, washed and dressed. She can feed herself. I have not spoken to her much. Once, when Richard and I were in missed communication in part from my pomposity, her laughter pricked that bubble- I feel amused and rueful. I would not judge her for not having house, car, savings etc.

What do I WANT? I want security. Safety. That desire has led me to push away uncertainty and responsibility, without which gaining partner, children, pension fund is impossible. I have achieved what I wanted, whether I judge that a rational desire or not- time alone with low levels of stimulation has destressed me to the level of tolerable stress I feel now.

H absolved me, early Saturday evening. My absolution of myself is what matters: without it hers is insufficient, and with it, unnecessary- but it is nice. I had too much wine to remember exactly, but it was around four years being entirely reasonable to take time out for healing.

Life has not been easy for me. I don’t know what other life I might want. Being a solicitor in Edinburgh with a wife and children- would I have transitioned, and if not would that be bearable? Probably not. Down the road I did not take, through the door I did not open, I am not sure there is anything which I now would find preferable.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes, his head

My achievement has been to become conscious of my bonds, and to loosen them. I have found how I fear and resist all my emotions. I have learned to be conscious of emotion as it happens, and am learning to accept it without resistance. Being hypersensitive, this is huge. Fighting myself less, I might-

who knows what I might do? I have no idea. My overwhelming desire for safety picks on a steady income, has no idea how to achieve that, and feels anxiety. My other desires, for heartfelt human connection, and to be the centre of attention on stage, with the adulation of crowds, seem equally impossible. I am so disconnected from my desires that I find out what I want when I observe what I do.

However on Saturday I achieved something Wonderful, after a two year effort.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes

Positive thinking

I told Serra at the gender identity clinic about my visit to the post office. She said, perhaps it was a success even though the woman did not complete her transaction. Perhaps she had not entered the door of a shop before. Perhaps she had only needed the practice, not the transaction itself. I had thought my view of the incident was positive, but Serra did better.

I woke early on Friday, anxious about Saturday- I had not arranged a lift, I had a lot to do, there was the encounter later. It all mattered. Instant resistance to the emotion. I should not be feeling like this, it should not get to me like this. I feared it, feeling inadequate. I know where the resistance comes from. It is a judgment from childhood, when I took the judgment into myself. Yet the anxiety moved me to email, to deal with the transport at least. It made me do what I needed to do. The resistance did not stop it. I saw the resistance quickly, and knew it was false to me, now, however it saved me in the past.

Thursday, I sat outside in the sun and read. I have little to do. I felt bored and lonely. Serra connects my words about my need for a lift, when everyone’s car is full- “I need someone to make space for me”- to this feeling. I have suppressed, feared and hated my feelings. I come alive to them. With practice, I may even come alive to my wants and desires. They cannot be rationally explained, but they do make me happy. That is why I want to extend my time with Serra, possibly three extra sessions: I am extending my way of thinking, feeling, perceiving, being, accepting my reactions, and she may help me do this.

I do not want to fall back.

I was in her room, looking down and to the side, staring at my date of birth on her file. I noticed. “I am not looking at you.” Because I felt anxiety, which was then paranoia about the following day not going well. I was hurting. I can meet your eyes when I connect to my joy.

You care. It makes you alive, she says. Some people suppress emotions-
-like Permafrost. Steve Hauptman’s analogy pleases her. I am defrosting.

In the waiting room I met a bloke from rural Greece, who told me how stereotyped people were there, the men so macho- he mimed- the women so feminine- he said, high pitched. He does not see his mother. He has told her: she realised. “You want to be a man.” Oh! She spoiled the surprise!  I love his self-deprecating humour. He has come here for first assessment, aged nearly forty, after getting hormones privately. When I came here in 2001 they would not treat anyone who had gone private at all. He has curly side-burns.Then a doctor calls for him by a female name, and I feel such sadness.

Cranach, Madonna and child

Gender essentialism

You are either a man or a woman. Between the two there is a great gulf fixed. This matters to me when my friend insists I am a man. There is a package, of all the things which make you a “trans woman”- which bits matter to me? How much of that is social pressure and internalised self-phobia, and how much, well, essential?

There is social pressure. A trans woman is accepted in a way transvestites are not, despite the work of Grayson Perry and Eddie Izzard. We are legally protected, they are not- well, I thought so until I looked again at the  Equality Act 2010 s.7. I am unclear what “other” attributes could be meant.

I use a female name, dress in women’s clothes rather than feminine or flamboyant men’s clothes, and have breasts and a vagina. Where does the continuing desire to be like this come from? I understand androgynous people, mostly AFAB, have greater difficulty, so do I want to pass as binary because of social pressure or because of an innate Real Me?

I feel that if I do things from my Real Me, my organismic self, I have integrity, I am more free and truthful, though of course I am a social animal and epigenetics shows that nurture in some way creates nature. I am hyper-feminine, and that is Real and beautiful: but should it govern the name I use?

I feel desire to use my name, and revulsion at the thought of using my former name. I would experience it as crushing. I am glad to have breasts. I felt such happiness when the vaginoplasty was recommended, and such revulsion at the thought of the loss of a toe, that I feel this is Who I Am, not merely a response to social pressure.

After the Essence Process, it no longer matters to me when people call me or refer to me as a man. I experience this as liberation: people could hurt me, and they cannot in that way any more. I feel that it is a change in me, that now I am sure of my own femininity so do not need reinforcement from others; and that when others challenge my femininity, it does not raise painful echoes in me. In the same way, being able to present myself in different ways could also be liberating. I want to use my baritone rather than counter-tenor voice because the deep one is stronger with a better range and holds the note better. I want to develop both.

It matters what I think, not others. Being called “particularly masculine” really hurt. Now it does not. Possibly, my other desires come from my fear of rejection and my judgement of myself as wrong- internalised self-phobia- rather than from reality. I am not saying that they are wrongful desires, but that not having the desire, not caring one way or the other, would give me more options, make me more free.

Here is a third Cranach Melancholy, with subtle differences from André’s book.

Cranach Melancholia

From another perspective:

Patriarchy has created an ideal woman, a person exactly how the dominant males would want women to be. However, no woman could be like that, surely: it is repulsive, a simulacrum rather than a living breathing human, any woman wanting that would be in servile self-abnegation, distorted by the culture, needing her consciousness raised. Any free human being wants autonomy, self-determination and equality.

No woman is “feminine” in that way, so these feminine men, “trans women”, M-T are completely confusing. They are the shock troops of patriarchy, enforcing false consciousness on women. They are the enemy.

Mindfulness and feelings

Christophe André’s beautiful book Mindfulness- 25 ways to live in the moment through art uses paintings from Rembrandt, Lucas Cranach, Peter Doig and others to teach presence and control of awareness and attention. As I cease to resist myself and the beautiful world, and become positive, his challenging lessons help me grow in love and appreciation.

I know that my feelings are proper to my situation, and yet I find them difficult. André recognises the confusion and pain. I unlearn suppression of and resistance to feelings, and change the goal of my spiritual growth quest from “never feeling emotions I find unpleasant” to something more achievable on Earth, and doubted the wisdom of his earlier comments: it is one of the hardest processes of mental life to distance ourselves from thoughts saturated with emotion, which we struggle to prevent or dismiss. It is easier to establish this necessary distance by noticing our emotional states than struggling to suppress them. Moods come from suppressed emotion.

Obviously we can’t do it by obeying them- well, sometimes I want to go with my emotion instantly, and sometimes I want to make a long term plan based on a feeling.

He names where I was: hypersensitive patients who have managed to freeze painful emotions, like permafrost in which nothing can grow. This is no longer me. Thanks be to God.

Like a toddler tugging on Mummy’s arm, desperate for attention, feelings may only be quieted by hearing them. Despite the unpleasantness, allow them to be, and observe them. What thoughts do they lead to? What state do they put my body in? What do they make me do? If I acknowledge my anger I need not project it on the situation, and can respond better.

At any moment in the day, take time to feel, gently connecting with our emotional state. Practise introspection in calm and rest, and we can adopt it when we are suffering, without trying to change the feeling.

Having passed through this recognition of the difficulties, his final conclusion that first we accept that suffering and discomfort exist within us, then we can listen to and believe our own words of comfort- it doesn’t really matter, it will pass, etc.

The seeds of serenity can only grow in the soil of lucidity.

This is only one chapter, much richer than my summary, with a lucid commentary on a slightly different Cranach painting of melancholy.

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy

A fbfnd shared Karla McLaren on multiple emotions: allow the confusion, they are all good, but we frustrate this by commonly accepted ideas: there are good and “negative” emotions, the thought that sometimes we are unemotional, imagining we only feel one emotion at a time, and the thought that the only options are acting instantly on a feeling, and suppressing it. She writes on developing empathic skills.

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy detail