Are you normal?

I went to the local church today. I was warmly welcomed. A woman invited me to have coffee with the congregation after, introduced me to others, and I was still chatting forty minutes later. She is a lovely person. She told me how much she loved the church, how she started going there, the social events it has, and I told her a little of my church journey. I could enjoy going there. It is a community, and I could be part of that community.

The hall has an internal door from the church, and we sat at a table. A couple and a single woman joined us, and my first host introduced them. She interrupted our conversation for brief chats about church business, and I turned to A., sitting on my right.

What can I say about A? I have seen her on the road to the town. Once I was pushing my bicycle, and we chatted a little about cycling locally. I have said “hello” to her since. Now, she seemed to be looked after by the others. How has her week been? they ask, solicitously. “You were going to see a friend.” A, talking to me, seems not nervous but watchful. How is it to be with a crowd of strangers, she asks me. Oh, lovely, I say. New people! I am Extrovert! She speaks simply and slowly, and it seems possible to me she has reclusive, possibly depressive, tendencies like I have.

The new baby- just a week old!- is brought over. We look delightedly at her, and the mother offers her to A to hold. A is nervous of this, but is persuaded. People take photographs- A must be smiling at the camera. Oh, you moved your head again. Possibly, looking down lovingly at the baby would do. The third picture satisfies my hostess- third time lucky, she says.

My hostess feels the need to explain A to me. She leans over, drops her voice in a confiding way, and says, “A’s twin died last year.” Oh. There is nothing to say to that. I don’t ask if the twins were monozygotic, or whether it was a month or a year ago. I could be insulted for A, or for myself. My hostess feels A is a person for whom we must make allowances. Do you think I did not see something about A that would result in my being confused or offended by her manner? Did you sense any discomfort in me, talking to her, or project your own?

I would hate to be explained in that way. “She’s trans, you know.” I was going to write it might be just about bearable if the person who was explaining me was rebuking the person being explained to- ‘How could you say such a crass, offensive thing? Can’t you see she’s trans?’ But even then it is patronising. Don’t say offensive things to anyone. Don’t protect me from knowing how offensive some people are, defend me against their offensiveness.

And yet I can see that my hostess is a lovely person. Absolutely she means well.

alice-pike-barney-laura

Freedom

Tarot fool 1How could we be free of society? Social norms are there for a reason: transgress at your peril.

I find Scott Freeman and Anahad Ahluwalia provocative enough to merit an answer, but instead here are my own views.

I am unclear what Scott means by “Sex taboos”. I find bestiality disgusting, but am unclear on what basis I could recommend anyone else to feel that way. We have taboos around adultery, which have value: adultery betrays a partner and loosens the support the adulterer has from that partner, though some partners turn a blind eye. Our taboos against homosexuality and gender transition are weakening rapidly, because they are harmful; yet the weakening process is painful, and there are casualties.

tarot fool 2As Anahad says, on breaking one rule- children should not drink alcohol- adolescents are entrapped by the social pressures of their drinking culture. By middle age, we recognise there are more choices, and we grade the consequences better: from thinking “Not keeping up with every round is Social Death so Impossible” we find different goals and ways of achieving them. Society gives out conflicting signals: alcohol is the acceptable drug to drown out the misery of existence. We find our own way, which happens to be the way many have followed, and may choose social groups because they fit with our way, or fit our drinking habits to the social groups we find for other reasons.

“Why not tread our own path?” he asks. Because it is difficult. How to know even which of the role-models would best fit, leave alone invent our own way. In those social groups we test the boundaries, and find a way of rubbing along together. His suggestion of “giving yourself time” to find what really fits you is a good one.

tarot fool 3Scott says we should stick to the roads, which are for motorists; children playing should give way. If Scott meant gender expression, our rigid norms distort us. People do not fit 1950s ideals of masculinity or femininity. This is an age of experimentation. Some people go their own way. Lili Elbe, the first trans woman to have genital corrective surgery, was a pioneer, and now her path, of choosing to be reassigned and express oneself as the opposite sex is protected by gender recognition and equalities legislation. There is a new road we can drive down, which Lili walked alone and which has been tarmac’d and fenced by the legislators. People are finding new ways, and new words- genderqueer or neutrois (neither or both male and female); genderfuck to express anger at gender expectations.

The result will be enhanced freedom, with a greater range of human expression and a better fit for each person to how they see they can express themselves. The process is painful: the pain of seeing others transgress boundaries one feels should be sacred, the pain of not quite finding what fits and not, yet, being accepted. Scott would keep us Safe, and I see the attraction of that; but a lot of human creativity and individuality would go to waste.

It works for Society, though is hard on individuals, now. Sometimes, the end of all our exploring is just to stop.

Destructive addiction

Meghan StablerThe youngest old man I ever met was in his twenties. He was looked after by relatives, and he said things to me like, “I can remember school like it was yesterday, but I can’t remember yesterday”. He had been sniffing glue since age 14. He managed to give up twice, but when his grandmother died he was upset, and he went back on it. He is probably dead by now.

Autogynephilia is a false theory. We try so desperately to make men of ourselves, running from our femininity; and we are living in role as female, long after we cease to be aroused by it. So, if “gender dysphoria” had any meaning, and we were “really” men, we would be feeling terrible gender dysphoria.

But- what if there were something in the development of autogynephilia that prevented us from feeling that dysphoria? The dysphoria goes the other way- we can’t stand presenting male- what if that developed through erotic reinforcement?

Being transsexual is a difficult thing to cope with, sometimes. I might resent that I have this difficulty. And- Peter was killed in a motorbike accident, affecting all his family. Bad things happen to good people.

What if I had caused it? I should have treated it like an addiction, and found ways of avoiding it- I did for a year, once, I would have claimed to have “given up”- so it is my failure that leaves me where I am now. Andrea WaddellOther people kick addictions, lots of teenagers sniff glue, then stop, and I am too weak. I coulda been a contender! Still, human beings are a mix of good qualities and bad qualities. Where I am, now, is happy expressing myself female and revolted at the idea of presenting male. It is no more shameful than falling from a cliff because I could not hold on any longer, or a motorcyclist skidding in a patch of oil, and a lot less unpleasant than those things.

What difference would that make for changing rooms and loos? None. If I want to try on clothes or go swimming, I use the women’s changing room, I have a cubicle, and I behave normally, like everyone else in there.

What about the lesbian bar? Well, most people there are tolerant enough, and really don’t mind. You could get all political, and say I am a man, and men should not be in there, but such rigid categories are so last century.  Some lesbians have trans girlfriends- should they be ejected too? Tolerate me!

Beth ScottYou might notice this is not a particularly rigorous analysis, certainly not enough to satisfy a TERF. It does not have to be, for the reason that we are mostly harmless, far more murdered than assaulting others. If any woman is upset at my presence because I make her think of male violence against her, and she wants me out, let us talk about it. If any woman is concerned someone else might be upset, there is no problem, because it is so unlikely.

Tolerance of others is a good thing. As society gets more racially and culturally mixed, we meet people who don’t grow up in the same culture and see things the same way, and on the whole it is better if we can get on with them. Racism is bad. But humans are also sexual beings, with a strong sex drive, who have to find some way of not acting on it in order to function in society. Some homophobes do not like gay people because we make them think of sex. But that is not us, that is the homophobe. You still have to find a way of not acting on sexual thoughts, bracketing them for particular places. Homophobia is bad.

Autogynephilia is a symptom, and not a cause, of transsexuality. But even if it were not, so what?

Cultural expressions

File:Femminiello.jpgPeople must be Normal. But if you cannot manage that, there are tolerated paths of abnormality. These are not as good as proper Normal, but at least they are our Weird. The Femminielli of Naples are accepted as part of the culture, with roles in ritual and seen as good luck where “transsexuals” may be driven out. (Thanks to Lexi for introducing me to the concept.) The Galli were eunuch priests of Cybele.

So, my path is that of the trans woman. I saw a psychiatrist, and got a diagnosis. Then I “transition”- I change my name, have my facial hair permanently removed, get my genitals adjusted. Now I express myself female, making my voice higher, dressing female, using feminine body-language. I have undertaken to so express myself life long, and have had this confirmed by a psychiatrist and my GP, and so am rewarded with my gender recognition certificate and protected under the Equality Act 2010. Also in my culture are drag queens, female impersonators and transvestites- all of whom do their thing in particular locations, and not full time.

God, I want to fit in. So I am not certain whether I want to use a higher voice because I want it, or because that is the way to be a normal trans woman. That path was made for androphilic M-Fs, and lesbian M-Fs had The Script- “I knew there was something wrong aged 3, and I knew I was a girl aged 5, no I have never masturbated to fantasies of being female, no sir, not never not nohow” etc. We needed the script because we needed to tell the psychiatrist what he needed to hear before he could give us what we wanted. I think it is not quite so bad now. On the forums, we policed ourselves: the wrath awaiting those who were “Non-op” or thought they might be “autogynephiliac” was severe.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Sacrifice_to_Cybele_-_Ostia_Antica.JPGThis concerns how I see myself, how I feel, how I respond, unconsciously and consciously. It concerns where I am conflicted, dragged in two ways- my No, making me hide in my living room.

A Gallus could not be a Roman citizen, because Romans could not castrate themselves. There would be ways round it- use a different accent, blind eyes turned, no-one actually inspects you- and someone would be safe unless someone with a grudge dobbed her in, perhaps. The Rules, the Normal, never lets you survive, it only pretends to; you have to break the rules to survive.

The hermeneutic of suspicion works. The Bible is not this good thing given by God for our good, it is imperfect and written by men in patriarchy. Similarly, I must be suspicious of everything I have absorbed. Nothing can be trusted, each perception needs questioned.

I ministered on this, and the enforcement of conformity: the Legal Services Commission deciding that all files should be fastened in date order with a treasury tag or similar, and marking down on the Audit if they were not, and the Broad and Narrow Way, and after Liz said to me that a phrase should be translated

I am IS the way, the truth and the life

and that makes a huge difference to it.

Reincarnation

U, who fascinated and enchanted me, suggested we meet at her friend’s house (this was in October). But before we met, J had something very important to tell me. J believed that in a previous life I had been female, and that was why I felt female now, the former life was so strong in me. U suggested J did a Shamanic journey with me.

This was all too much for me, and I said I do not want a Shamanic journey, can we not just have a meal together? And U said, if I did not want to go to her friend’s, she did not want to see me. Oh well, if my fantasy of a relationship with her had not crashed down then, it would have crashed down very shortly after. It was my inner rationalist coming out, I find some of this New Age stuff very difficult to thole. Someone saying with complete belief, and as if it were as simple as speaking of her birth in “this” life, something which I find irrational remains difficult for me. And brought up Christian I had no exposure to serious belief in reincarnation.

The trouble is, I may very well feel female now because former lives are strong within me, but why am I lesbian? I have seen the suggestion that it is because I was male in a former life, so attracted to women. Where does that leave me? As a joke, I suggested that in a former life I was a butch lesbian, and I thought butches have a raw deal, it is far easier for Femmes, and prayed to come back as a Femme. And some demon heard me. M said that I do not come across as a girly-girl. Drat. Well, it was a Demon.

Here is a suggestion that gay people were the other sex in a former life. Trouble with that is that it suggests, for a lesbian who is not trans, that there is something male about her desiring a woman- that there is something incomplete in her Womanliness. There may be male or unfeminine bits in me but I resent the suggestion that being attracted to women is necessarily one of them.

Also it implies that some explanation is needed. It is OK for a woman to be attracted to another woman because she was a man in a former life. But being lesbian is as natural and normal as being straight. I need no reason to be lesbian rather than straight, or trans rather than cis. Some women appear male, and are attracted to women. That is the way it is.

Being trans has caused me a great deal of pain, and as I move towards self-acceptance two possibilities occur to me. Either this is a particularly difficult problem, and I have done exceptionally well over many previous lifetimes to face it now, or it is a comparatively simple problem, but I find it difficult because I have had few previous lifetimes.

Being trans is good for me and good for the World, and I seek the good in it.

First picture © Himalayan Academy Publications, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii.

A better “Normal”

At its worst, “Normal” can be a tyranny, as in the church of the evil pastor Sean Harris:

So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, “Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,” you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch.

I got that quote here, and a reference to Harris’s snivelling yet arrogant apology:

I did not say that children should be squashed.

Yes you did, Sean. It is frightening to see that in the US people are still expressing such views, when the UK has moved beyond them.

“Normal” need not be so poisonous. It can be reassuring, a way everyone behaves so that everyone can more or less know what to expect from others, a framework for society. It can be flexible enough to include others: Boris Johnson includes all, immigrants and provincials, as “Londoners”, and Justin Duckworth gets to be a bishop. Too wide a “Normal” can be frightening for some-

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.

I want to be free to be truly Myself, in my own creative and loving way. Knowledge of the Good may aid me in this, learning what others have found good and seeking in that what I find beautiful. The Archbishop of Canterbury summarises Robert and Edward Skidelsky in Prospect:

The good life is in some degree “contemplative”—that is, it requires the space in which I can scrutinise myself, learn something of self-criticism and thus, potentially, of irony. And for a habit of ironic self-awareness to be generated, we need some concept or image of what is normatively human that does not simply become an oppressive stereotype—a good myth, you might say; we need the saint or hero to illustrate what the well-lived life might look like. This in turn requires, as the authors indicate without too much elaborating the point, a doctrine of the cardinal virtues—another bit of revived Aristotelianism. What are the habits and practices that will educate our passions and allow us to shape a credible narrative of the self, understood against the backdrop of some idea of what the “excellence” of human nature might consist in?

How may I learn to be human, except from other humans? Then, how may I learn best how to be human?

Turn on, tune in

But no longer, drop out. When I became aware of the New Age around 1980, early teens, for me it was strongly differentiated from my bourgeois way of being, which was of course the optimal, sensible way of being. “Hippy” was as strong a term of abuse as any of the abusive terms for  gay people used without shame by people I knew.

That was how it started. Turn on, tune in- wake up, be born again, become aware, be in the moment or the Now, which are thoughts to be found in mediaeval Christian mysticism as well as Eastern religion- led inevitably to dropping out of conventional society, morality, jobs and living arrangements, and being opposed to that conventional bourgeois way of being in society which held the drop-outs in mutual contempt.

And now, no longer. Bourgeois culture takes to its own first the fashion and style of the Alternative, and then some of the morality, such as accepting and valuing diversity rather than condemning it. Mysticism which was accessible to the very few becomes wisdom which is common in discourse. People remain in bourgeois society while bringing into it new age ideals and ways of being which percolate through their acquaintance and the wider society, making it healthier and happier.