accidental good

I’ve been listening to some Ariana Grande.

A little less conversation and a little more touch my body

It is not aimed at me, but I see good in it. In the videos, the singer dances around in her underwear, but is clearly singing for female fans. “Dangerous woman” might even have a slight lesbian vibe. She sings that her boyfriend better shape up his ideas and consider her wants and needs. I am all for Millennial empowerment. This seemed a proper response to the Manchester bombing, to hear what the dead had gathered to hear, to spend time with what they loved.

Ministry this morning had a perfect shape. One spoke of Manchester coming together. I spoke of racial tensions: the picture is more complex than the stories we tell. Thesis- Antithesis: the synthesis was beautiful.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where will my help come?

He says the hills were the dangerous places, where there were bandits and lions. You might die. I had not thought of the psalm, whose words I know well, that way before. Ah. Complexity, darkness, comfort- in the Meeting.

I can’t remember what she said because I was interested in how, rather than what, she communicated. “It’s —— 4 ——-, written —– 4 ——” and she gestures in the air, writing the first word, the 4, then the second word. She repeats the gesture. “Oh, —– 4 ——” says the other, gesturing. They emphasise the 4 in their gestures. But both write from left to right as they would see it, in the air- so from the other’s point of view it is less comprehensible, seen right to left. I watch, intrigued. I would always, gesturing like that, use mirror-writing to be more comprehensible, and expect to get my meaning over immediately. You could say “The 4’s a digit”. We ended up absolutely clear, except that I do not remember what it was 4 what.

It’s worth listening to Ariana to understand how Millennials think. After all, when I am eighty they will be running the country, and I would like to not be completely confused. And, try to find something good in it. That is like in education, she says: however poor the student’s attempt, you should start with praise. No, actually, a teacher should encourage students, but this is different: you should find good in it because that is a better way to understanding it. If you are simply dismissive you don’t see it.

I share my joke. I am disappointed with it, because it works beautifully from a linguistic standpoint- the last word changes the idea round completely- but the concept is too horrible. So it does not work as a joke. Here it is:

I scatter lots of bird seed on my lawn. I do love to feed the cats.

One laughs, one does not. I hurry to explain that I don’t think it works, and that is the first time I have shared it.

The “Gifts reserved for age” in Little Gidding have haunted me since I first read them. In Meeting, a pastiche came to me, which I wrote down after to ensure I could remember it:

Things done right, and accidental Good
to show your “thoughtless bumblings” are virtue

Sometimes you can go into things in too much depth. We tell ourselves stories about reality, we have words and concepts, because understanding everything is impossible. Trying to understand too well may paralyse action. Know just enough to make the next step good enough. I am a good person really. Totally failed at life? From an absolute standpoint, possibly I have- no family, no job, no savings etc- but from a relative standpoint perhaps I have done alright- I am still alive!

Why I am a Christian

Because I was raised one; and when I was driven out, I had somewhere to go.

I think the Church is less poisonous in the UK than in the US. Here, we have had regulations forbidding discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in employment, supply of goods and services, housing and education since 2006, and the Sex Discrimination Act was extended to transsexual people before then. When the Church of England came out against equal marriage in the government consultation, many members opposed that stance: most female vicars would, I hope.

My mother went to church weekly before her marriage, and throughout her pregnancy, before my baptism, and when I needed to be carried there she carried me. Then I toddled there, and throughout childhood going to church was as regular as going to school. I carried on while at university, and have never stopped. I took my Christianity seriously, and read the Bible Speaks Today and the Daily Study Bible series of commentaries, as well as reading the Bible straight through more than once.

In healthy human development, the teenager separates herself from her parents, and I did not. My beliefs and attitudes were those of my parents, which were conservative and old-fashioned even for their generation, and they were forty years older than I. Only in my thirties did I come to understand that I needed to rebel against my parents in order to be my own person. I had a gradual liberalising of my views: my parents were strongly opposed to the ordination of women, I became weakly then strongly in favour.

I moved to Oldham, 240 miles from them, in 1995 to get a job, and attended the parish church. I put on a cassock-alb to serve at the altar- I still value the Otherworldliness we may obtain in worship by putting on special clothes and performing ritual actions. Then I found the Metropolitan Community Church and attended there, expressing myself female. I would go to the parish church in the morning, MCC in the afternoon on Sundays. But though we tried to be serious- I have my copy of the New Jerome Commentary, much of which I have read, because Andy led an evening class to get us to preach sermons- it felt to me like playing at religion.

In 2001, I decided I could no longer worship God disguised as a man. I told the priest, and he said that he would try to ensure that I was not driven out of the church, but when he saw me female it revolted him. I am 99% certain he was celibate, and 70% certain he was gay. So I went and joined the Quakers. My friend Barbara felt driven out of the URC she had worshiped in for decades. She had formerly¬†arranged the organ rota, and her replacement asked me to cover. I went, expressing myself female, and one woman warmly welcomed me and¬†took me into the hall for coffee after. No-one else talked to me but for a stiff, formal welcome from the preacher, and I was not asked to play the organ again. Fortunately in the Quakers I was welcome. We have a larger proportion of LGBT folk than the general population¬†since the publication in 1973 of “Homosexuality from the inside”¬†by David Blamires, who worships at Central¬†Manchester meeting where I first regularly attended.

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Why am I a Christian? I never stopped. Barbara told me, “I read Richard Dawkins, and the scales fell from my eyes”, though her conversation remains littered with Biblical allusion: it is to an extent who I am, and if I do not believe at various times, I am always a Cultural christian. My parish church in Oldham introduced me to my best friend there, and my Quaker meetings since have been my best source of friendship and company.

Beliefs? I do not believe in the virgin birth, it is based on a misunderstanding of Isaiah born of the use of the Septuagint by the author of Matthew. More seriously, I do not believe in the Crucifixion as the perfect sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for our sins- that puts me well outside the mainstream of Christianity, many would say outside it altogether. Afterlife? The image,

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun!

does not appeal to me. Indeed, I am so much more than the conscious I- the ancient Egyptians may have had it right, with their idea of 14 separate souls in each person- that I do not see how this conscious I could survive, or whether it would want to.

I believe in synchronicity. I believe in the value of Quaker worship and the Quaker business method. I value the Bible like a wonderful friend, alien and infuriating though it is. I have experiences which I call experiences of God, though what God is I am unsure.

God is. And, God is not.

Trannies

before

Andy lacked one quality essential in a pastor: discretion. Wrongfully, he told me that one woman, prominent in the community and whose transition memoir I had read, had told him “I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body”.

When Henrietta left Edinburgh for Manchester, the Edinburgh MCC sent our church a “good luck” card. Henrietta self-identified as transsexual. She had had a job earning about ¬£10,000, and fraudulently applied for multiple credit cards, then gone on a spree: travelling across the country, staying in hotels, she had maxed out her cards, gone bankrupt, and told me that all she had to show for it was one bottle of perfume. She thought she had Prader-Willi syndrome, an inability to sense that ones stomach is full: she could eat a tin of golden syrup as a light snack. She did not have a positive diagnosis of this. James told me that she might ignore cooking instructions, putting a chicken into an oven at 200¬į, say, for the requisite time, but not giving the oven time to heat up first. “Don’t eat with her”, he said. The sausages she cooked for me were unappetising. I watched her put on her tights, just stick her foot in and pull; predictably make a hole in them; and then pull down a loose handful to cover the hole. Andy told me he had been down Canal St with her when a drag queen had pulled her wig off her head, put it back on the right way round, and started back-combing it.

Another masculine apparition who wanted us to address her as “Mother”, from Glasgow, had stuck a perspex vase to the wall with bluetack, and put a lighted candle in it, then gone to sleep. She woke to find the candle, still alight, had fallen onto the television. So she poured a bucket of water on it to put it out, and set the television alight. She then panicked and ran out, leaving all the doors open. This was the second council flat she had burned out.

James’ hobby was rescuing such folk. He said one had phoned him at four am talking of suicide, so he had driven over to console him. The fourth time he phoned like that, James had replied, “Well, do it then” and left the phone off the hook. James, a sensible man who had had a good job with the council, and divorced when he could no longer deny he was gay, was lonely.

Morag, 5′ 16″ with a deep baritone, talked of staying with various friends leading me to draw the conclusion that they were rescuing her in a similar way. When I told her of the supportive community of MCC Manchester, she evinced interest. I later found that Andy had managed to persuade her not to move there. James told me that MCC Manchester was more of a first aid station than a church community: people would join, get patched up, reconcile their faith with their homosexuality, and move on. Andy had to stop the extempore prayer segment of worship, because of the people who used it to moan about what an awful week they had had.

Sandra had transitioned and worked as a nurse, but when she had to move back with her parents they insisted that she present male. She had taken her credit card, in her female name, to Next, and when she could not use it there had made such a scene that she was sectioned. She got a commission-only job selling ¬£1000 vacuum cleaners- wonderful things, but not appropriate for Oldham’s terraced houses- and her enthusiasm increased until she was sectioned again. She introduced me to the electrologist who dealt with my facial hair problem.

I only went in the old, 19th century “Bottom Block” once, its long corridor with a 6″ wide floral border pasted to the wall would have made me desperate had I not known when I could get out. But Sandra preferred it to the all new Parklands House- individual rooms for the patients, they could even lock their doors- because Parklands had no exercise equipment, so being locked in for weeks drove you up the wall. Not even table-tennis.

We do what we can.

 ‚ô•‚ô•‚ô•

That was then, this is now. At karate this morning, I take a moment before we start to become Present, in the moment. The fire door is open, as it is sunny, and I am with the fence outside. It is sharp, hard, cold, straight, erect, unyielding, unbending, pointed, effective,  fitting. I find that part of me which is in the Fence. I relate to it. Here, and elsewhere, I need to be these things: it is good to access these things in me. I dance with the spirit of the fence.

In karate, we practise combinations: make it flow, not one move after another but one moving naturally into the next. Not, block, then think, what next- blockstrike, blockstrike.

Then there is that wonderful leaping kick. From short fighting stance, jump forward, lifting the back leg up into a half-kick which is a feint, landing on that foot and kicking forward with the other. With practice, one could be a yard forward, forcing a block which goes the wrong way, and kicking through the person.

More practice kicking, then hold the foot in the air for a moment after, then place it down. The body is always under control.

Vulnerabilities

I meet people, and a few I feel privileged to get to know. I see first a mask for a new acquaintance, a cocktail-party or professional¬†persona, pleasant enough,¬†then perhaps strength of will and a fierce questing intelligence. (Some say I am intelligent, though not intelligent enough for my liking- too often my “Oh, Right” moment is also, Oh, bugger.)

And then, as I see more, I hope to see playfulness. I find it hard to like someone in whom I see no sign of playfulness- it is a core characteristic in me as deep as seeking out community and connection, which I understand is a species characteristic- I was going to say characteristic of the Order, but I understand there are some solitary primate species.

And, sometimes, I see vulnerabilities, and this feels like a great privilege to me, a sign of trust. They are¬†real¬†even if¬†about nothing: “No, it is beautiful, genuinely. I see nothing wrong there.” In other groups, swapping vulnerabilities is a good way of bonding. A common one is Does my bum look big in this? If you tell me yes, you will make me very happy.

All this is very different from the benefits tribunal, where people say what they cannot do, and are judged, and may be found more capable- how horrible, to reveal your difficulties and be disbelieved! In my interviewing, I¬†am careful to show respect to¬†people so that they will open up and tell me their difficulties.¬†Sarah Breach, horrid chairman in Manchester, leans forward with an expression on her face like a visitor to the zoo who hates animals, and says, “Do you wet yourself?” The mental health ones, with the poor cripple surrounded by articulate middle-class people and with no paid representation, are nastier.

This is the same subject as last week’s Masks, though addressed from the opposite side. We soldier on, hiding our vulnerabilities, until in my case I could no longer, and I stopped, and have to find some other way of dealing with them. What I am trying is to realise that those things I am shy about are nothing to fear.

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Lovely comment- “your identity honours us all as women. xx”. Thank you. I am tempted in my old pattern of discounting such a compliment, and I will not. But my existence does raise stuff for people. That woman the other day really needed to assert that I was a man, did not like admitting that I am a woman, and apologised as ungraciously as possible. This brings forth dark echoes in me, of my own shame, which I work to reduce. But unless the bigot physically attacks me, his strongly or subtly expressed contempt or derision can only hurt me insofar as it is echoed within me. If I accept myself then it is actually true that “names will never hurt me”.

And my vulnerability is my shame projected onto other people. If I am ashamed of an aspect of myself I imagine that others will judge me for it. Very often they will not. Understanding that takes away that vulnerability.

My facebook friend unfriended me, because she said there was too much tranny stuff on my news feed. She does not wish to be associated with it. She does not object if the subject comes up, but she wants no cause for it to come up. She has left all that behind. She calls it a “birth defect”, I call it “natural human diversity”. I think this is sad: such thoughts stop us from associating with each other, isolate TS folk, and deprive us of the support our kind can give. A lot of us say, “I am a woman, I am not transsexual because I am not crossing anything, I have done that”. I still hang between.

Men kissing

I love the art gallery in Oldham. I know the Turbine Hall, say, is a wonderful space, and they do good stuff in it, but I used to love when walking along Union St looking up at that third floor gallery, north and south walls all glass. The twenty-foot steel dandelion seeds in particular were visible from the street. There has been an art gallery over the library for decades. They get out their Turner and their Gainsborough occasionally or their collection of Chartist or Suffragette memorabilia and show impressive and beautiful touring exhibitions, and there was a large expansion in the 1990s.

When the BNP were doing their worst in Oldham, seeking to foment¬†support by building suspicion and self-pity and resentment (they never got a single councillor) and people expressed to me their misery and anger- ‚ÄúThey come here and They get everything and we get nothing‚ÄĚ- the Gallery helped sustain my hope. The one single art work which did this more than any other was a picture of two men kissing, and as I looked at this celebration I felt my own queerness might have a place in the World.

Peregrine Worsthorne writes in the Spectator that gay men kissing in public inspire revulsion, and that gay sex scenes in books might provoke a straight backlash. So I asked some straight friends, who agreed that a hetero couple making out can provoke irritation or disapproval too- Get a Room! He thinks that the kissing couple would be assaulted, were it not for ‚Äúpolitically correct culture imposed from above‚ÄĚ, and I think they are protected from assault by basic English courtesy and decency, as the different-sex couple are. If you want to see a British way of treating a gay couple, watch The Great British Bakeoff.

A high-functioning sociopath

The doctor began his remarks at Manchester by saying, ‚ÄúRespect for doctors is at a low ebb at the moment, due to certain unfortunate events which happened not far from here‚ÄĚ. And I thought, my God, he‚Äôs talking about Shipman. He was the chief medical officer of the Department of  Work and Pensions, giving a presentation to welfare rights officers in the town hall.

Dr Shipman did his murders only a few miles from Manchester town hall, in Ashton under Lyne it was, actually. But calling a murder an ‚Äúunfortunate event‚ÄĚ, or thinking that it is appropriate to lament that this reduces respect for doctors, shows that this man does not think like most people do, and does not see the World in the same way. And, later, when he told a black lie, serving his interests and efficiently hurting my clients, my view was consolidated.