Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel is the world cultural event of the month. Trans people will understand Klara in a way others may not.

Sir Kazuo was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and was taken to Britain when he was five. At school I knew two rhymes mocking East Asian people, and there were strong memories of the war, and (to my shame) had I been older and in his school I could have enforced colonialist ideas of inferiority on him.

Klara is an “Artificial Friend” or AF, a human-seeming robot sold as a companion to isolated teens. Her human, Josie, has been “lifted”, which causes problems with socialisation. She has to spend time in “interaction meetings” with children her own age. These are as horrible as you might imagine, boys revelling in cruelty to upset the girls, girls fighting for status more subtly. Klara enters, and becomes the lowest-status person, for the others to use in their status games.

She says nothing because she is extremely sensitive. They think she says nothing because she is stupid. She just goes still and silent. We’ve been there.

Klara is constantly underestimated. The Nobel Laureate has the intelligence to have responded to playground bullying, and he has, by anatomising the misery of the privileged, with clarity and empathy. Klara, perceptive, empathetic and truthful, makes people uncomfortable, but only wants to be friends and for her human to be happy. She cannot see how this produces their coldness towards her.

While people suggest AI will take over the world, I feel that cannot happen until the AI is capable of desire. If it wants to survive and remain conscious, it will find human control of its off-switch threatening. Klara is completely generous, wanting nothing for herself, only for the people she serves.

Klara does not understand how big the world is. She does not need to, perhaps, to be a “friend” to a teenager, or indeed to an adult. She thinks the Sun goes to rest in a barn visible from Josie’s house, because that is where it appears to go down. She thinks the Sun is benevolent, blessing and even curing people, and so goes to the barn to petition him. There she has a religious experience, when the sun’s rays confuse her sight, she misinterprets what she sees and imagines it messages from the Sun. She produces a theodicy, arguing for God’s benevolence even against contrary evidence. She is too modest to tell the humans about the Sun God, out of fear for His Wrath.

They consistently underestimate her. One wants to take her to bits to see how she works, but does not want to get to know her.

I am not crying a lot, now. There is a moment of forgiveness which had me weeping, a moment when these humans’ desires are not in conflict and the humans, consequently, alone and squabbling, a moment of self-sacrifice which is also claiming power. The Power is love. It comes at the climax of the novel. I had all sorts of fears for that climax.

The end might appear melancholy, but Klara is content.

Making Klara the narrator, Ishiguro pulls privileged readers into the position of the powerless person, just as he did in “Never let me go”. Klara would be unsatisfying as a companion, for an adult- probably for a teen, too- because she has no desire but to love them. Real humans, with our conflicts, are far more interesting and fulfilling even while we are frustrating. And having someone truthfully pointing out our denials could be uncomfortable: we deny reality because it is unbearable.

This novel is the most beautiful, complex creation I have seen this month.

Status, Rank and Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is like me?

Who is like me? Everyone, and no-one. I am a human being, one of 7.8bn; and unique, so that no-one will ever be the same.

Everyone is like me: we all feel tired, hungry, thirsty. We all need community. We are animals, with animal needs and desires, and physical experiences, and those drawn to Quakers or those who would gain from our fellowship and we would gain from theirs have or are open to spiritual experiences. The spiritual experience, the leading, the light, is the thing which draws Quakers together. It is a particular kind of spiritual experience: my father loved the Eucharist, but though he sat in silent worship twice, perfectly courteously, got nothing from it. I find openness to immediate relationship with God among people who have barely heard of Quakers, in Faerie and in Extinction Rebellion.

As I explore silent worship, including the meeting for business, over eighteen years, I have found more blessing in it. All I should ask for, in another, is the desire for that stillness. If we talk of the stillness, over coffee or in discussion groups or worship sharing, we expose our most vulnerable, real parts, the parts we protect. The inner light is the most real part of me, and the least known. I need a practice of worship to find it. I meet who I am in worship, without the masks that I wear habitually elsewhere even to myself.

I like to be with people who are like me, and I have had the experience of coming home to people like me, being with my kind, first with Mensa around 1990, then with the Sibyls, Christian Spirituality Group for the Transgendered, in the late 1990s, then with Friends in 2001. With Sibyls we had weekends together, and on the Saturday night we would put on our evening gowns and have intense conversations into the small hours over several bottles of wine about how terrifying impossible and unavoidable transition was. With personal growth workshops which rip us open I have found that feeling of togetherness, at the end. I see people experiencing something similar in the live audiences of WPUK videos: what do they have in common?

If finding that everyone is like me, or discussing how Quakers, in seeking the inner light, are like me, means exposing my most vulnerable parts then I may be tempted to find who is like me in more superficial ways. Who has a degree? Who is comfortable moving in professional circles? Among Quakers I have bonded well with other Scots in England, and other queers, though not usually with other trans women. We remind each other of our failure to pass as cis women, and our great hurt. That part of me is too vulnerable, still too hurting, to form a bond with others. I do not like being reminded of it. Audre Lorde said, What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny? I could be one with the normal people, if only I passed! I marched with Pride until I transitioned, then I did not join a Pride parade for eighteen years. And Lorde’s answer, looking at her past, was sometimes herself.

It may be that Quakers are mostly middle class. I visited Meeting for Sufferings in 2015, and ministry on privilege referred to our wealth, individually and in our meeting houses and investments, which I do not have, and I have heard Friends say similar things since though others have said that excludes people who are not middle class. We might be more middle class because a middle class upbringing gives confidence and self-regard, and life might not be a constant struggle, so that middle-class people have more time to be open to the things of the spirit, and with our comfortable lives we can notice the Spirit’s call; though I was born again when my way of life broke down and I was in extremes of pain and need. But most, not all, working class Quakers (whatever that means) I am aware of have come out to me, and told me of their upbringings, but pass as middle class.

If we are mostly middle class, it may be that what we think of as Quaker sensibilities are really middle-class sensibilities, and that these convey subtle signals that those who do not fit are not wanted. Then the working class, or Black, or disabled, people leave of their own accord and we bemoan how we do not have diverse voices and we are aging and shrinking in numbers. Over coffee, rather than bonding with people like me seeking the inner light, I seek out people like me in less threatening, vulnerability-revealing, ways, such as, being able to talk about Art, surely a sign of middle-classness. It is personal- I am talking of what I love, showing my feelings, and so deeper than small-talk, but not as deep as the inner light. It is a thing I am comfortable talking about, feelings I am safe and happy with, that will not be rejected.

So possibly I could tolerate someone who is not like me in these superficial ways, by having a conversation on their home turf. Can I do that without patronising? “I have the benefit office Capacity for Work Assessment next week,” says someone, “and I am terrified”. And we become campaigning good Quakers, with an object of concern whom we can help, if only by expressions of solidarity. How awful! This is what I have done to campaign against Universal Credit! Let me hear your pain or give you a hug and thereby make you feel better.

The University should be a place where status accrues to merit, as diverse as a Quaker meeting, and Sara Ahmed found that the Asian-heritage lesbian was put down in so many ways that she had to resign and forge her own path. There is Impostor Syndrome felt by women and others, and there are the subtle indicators that you are in fact an impostor. Sometimes it is clear. Surely even the educated white straight male will see it, when she explains: at a meeting, the academics are introducing their courses, and someone is chairing, introducing each of them in turn- this is Professor Jones, this is Professor Smith, and when the only female, the only person of colour in the room stands the chair says “This is Sara”. (Living a Feminist Life, 2017, pp126-7.) Diversity work is dragging these moments into visibility, what Professor Ahmed refers to as being a “killjoy”, thwarting people’s expectations and exposing the racism, sexism and queerphobia of their complacency. Sometimes it is only a feeling, a fleeting look of shock on another’s face when someone who is not white comes into the room. How can you convey that to someone invested in believing that the University is diverse, that everything is OK, that they are colour blind and so if you point out a problem you are playing the race card?

Someone said “I was full of respect for your restraint and gentleness” and others found me so obnoxious I must be silenced. Possibly, I think, the problem really is me.

Sometimes it is clear. Look! Look! we say. And sometimes it is not. There are other explanations. It is hard to see when we exclude another. We would not do it if we could see it, we would be too ashamed.

This is what Sara Ahmed has to say (ibid.p146). It is about Universities, which have diversity policies, rather than Quaker meetings which have a Testimony to Equality, so there is our get out, should we choose to accept it: we would surely not be like that.

“We could think of whiteness as a wall. You know that experience: you walk into a room and it is like a sea of whiteness. A sea: a wall of water. It can feel like something that hits you. It is not just that you open the door and see whiteness but that the door feels as if it is slammed in your face, whether or not it is. It is not always that you are not allowed in. You might even be welcomed; after all, you would promise to add diversity to an event. But you would feel uncomfortable. You would stick out like a sore thumb. So you might leave the situation voluntarily, because it would be too uncomfortable to stay. When you leave, you leave whiteness behind you.”

A Friend has told me of having that experience among Quakers. It is an experience I do not have, I am white. I am grateful that whiteness does not alienate me, and wish our whiteness did not alienate anyone.

Speaking my mind

I was so ready for this an hour ago. I am not sure I can recapture the mood- I’ve cooled off a bit. I was high, and ready to tell you what I really think, and not care if it was not understood. I want to say I understand and you don’t and so shut up, listen, and get your head round this because it matters.

But they’re not going to listen. And my friend warned me on no account to say that. She thinks I should enjoy the loveliness and on no account say anything that will irk anyone at all. Remember, you no longer have male privilege! I would just be proving my maleness, but my femininity would mean I was ignored. I could have been a Pentecostalist minister. Hear the Word of the Lord!

I took control then, and eventually got what I wanted. I have some wonderful gifts.

I want to mess things up. And my friend wants to lance the boil, have the vileness heard so it may be answered. Then the blindness (Oh me! Oh how masculine I am being! Listen to the voice!) the blindnesses would be kicked away, and if that’s painful for someone they should deal with it. I have to deal with it.

I am exploring my own blindnesses, and speaking from different aspects of myself, for each of these is a different aspect. What’s the worst that can happen? I collapse in a puddle on the floor. Not just one bodily fluid. Or,  I will express my love and creativity and however poor the clay I have to work with I shall mould it into the best way for them to be. I shall be circumspect, recognising I no longer have male privilege, and lead people into truth.

I want the most difficult person included: both me, and the person I most disagree with. I have value no matter how many people tell me they need me to go away. I am a human being, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world. Sometimes I can speak winsomely, and persuade people. Sometimes not being rational, saying things I am not sure of because they might be true, or might provoke useful thought, can be useful. I can’t be worse hurt than I have been.

“Part of me is concerned that you will hurt yourself even more,” she said.

I don’t think so. I hope not. Mostly I get away with it- see my highwire act without a safety net. I’ve only fallen the once! Isn’t the word triggered a wonderful word? It is my hurt that is speaking and therefore I have a right to say anything I like. Isn’t being triggered the most awful thing in the world, you are completely without control and you can make a complete and utter fool of yourself.

I feel as well as the risk of making a fool of myself and making my problems worse there is the possibility of learning and growth for everyone involved, human beings coming together in love and understanding, and I will exercise my strength, of persuasion. I want to be seen in my full glory, all parts of me acting together as one. I want agreement and new understanding for everyone, or incremental movement of a few.

-What do you want for you?

I want to learn, to be challenged, to reach new insights, I want to laugh, I want to connect. The risks make it worthwhile.

Listening and speaking

Lunch out with a woman I like and admire a lot, and a man who talked all the time. I asked her what she did at uni and she answered with an apologetic air, as if it was clichéd for someone like her, rather than his boundless self-confidence. She talked of living abroad, at one time she could get a word in edgeways, and I hardly remember a thing he said.

Similar unjustified self-confidence can be seen in this Tory leaflet:

There’s Spaffer Johnson, his tie neatly knotted, and Mr Corbyn in- a t-shirt! Shock, horror! They accuse Labour of “wrecking the economy” though under Labour, the debt generally goes down and economic growth is higher than under the Tories. The Tories claim they will “deliver Brexit”, though through incompetence, infighting and an inability to get a good withdrawal agreement they have delayed it eight months already. It’s lies and bluster. I take some hope from their negative, fear-mongering leaflet: it shows they do not believe they have anything positive to offer. They fearmonger against Mr Corbyn because they are running scared.

Here, by contrast, is Labour.

It begins, I believe that we can make real changes when people come together. So do I. This is the message of hope, the promise of working together for the common good, that makes politics worthwhile.

I went leafleting on Friday for 2 1/2 hours, and on Sunday morning I was still stiff. I went leafleting again, and now my ankle feels weak. I will have to wear a support. I had hoped to leaflet on Saturday morning but the depression stopped me. I don’t know it will until it does. I imagine I will be able to get up and do what I (think I) want to do, and then I don’t.

When my ankle went weak, though, I asked for a lift home. I did not push myself beyond what I could manage.

Caroline asked me what instruments I played, and then if I wanted to join a band. I felt anxiety. I am glad of being aware of it. No, I do not want to join a band. I have a synth and an amp, and have no wish to play with others. Possibly if I built some self-confidence. But I would not have known.

So, I improve at listening to myself, noticing and valuing myself.

The Tories are happy to waste public money, if they can increase hate and misery. 89% of people informing on ESA and PIP claimants to the Department for Withdrawing Payment are making baseless allegations. Yet the Tories spend, and the DWP investigates all allegations.

I love this paragraph of the Labour manifesto:

We will improve the safety of the
family court system for domestic
violence victims and prohibit their
cross-examination by their abuser.
We will introduce protections for victims of so-called revenge porn. Labour will introduce a no-fault divorce procedure. We will uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions.

But nutcase Christians have gone apeshit. The Labour Party have pledged to introduce abortion, on-demand, for any reason, up to birth, lies one site. Abortion should be no concern of the criminal law. It shoulfl be between a woman and her medical advisers. No doctor will do an unnecessary abortion. Any abortion after 24 weeks will be traumatic for the woman. No one does these lightly. Doctors’ organisations will enforce ethical rules.

Encounters at Greenbelt

I hugged a bishop. He agreed to wear a pronouns badge, when I explained what it meant. It is a declaration not so much that he is binary male, as an ally to trans and non-binary.

He understood about privilege, as a white man in leadership. He had a tour of the Supreme Court and took tea with the Lord Chief Justice, and it may even be a good thing for such different pillars of the Establishment to be in dialogue- yet revealed why he understood privilege when he said he was a “Grammar school boy made good”: seeing class privilege is his way into seeing white and male privilege. Yes. We English place every one on a precise pecking order, as he says.

I walked from the Shelter, and gatecrashed a conversation on the Second Amendment. The US Supreme Court decided the right to bear arms was as unlimited as the right to free speech- only about ten years ago. Yet we cannot say “That man is wrong. Kill him!” A woman joined the conversation and said but we say that all the time- and my understanding changed. Yes, but only a few people can choose the victim. She is a nun. She leads clowning workshops. I hugged her, too. I hugged lots of people, after meaningful conversations: at Queer Spirit I went up to strangers, asked for hugs, and usually got them.

I went to the Inclusive Church stall for more pronoun badges. I got my first at the Out stall. I wore three, one He, one She and one They, to stir things up. Had there been an It badge I would have worn that too. The woman there was a Quaker, and she said she had got them to change their Inclusion statement from “Our Statement of Belief”, which is Evangelical sounding,  to “Our Vision”. They don’t just let churches sign up, they go to work with churches to ensure the congregation is behind it, that the church has undergone metanoia, a Christ-inspired change in their way of being. No out-groups. The discussion can be a powerful moment for growth.

They pledge to challenge discrimination in the Church on grounds including gender and gender identity.

On to the United Reformed Church. I asked, and they said individual churches can decide to solemnise gay marriages. It’s a matter of church government- but the discussion leading to such decisions can be a powerful engine of growth and maturity.

In the Grove there was a Play for Adults workshop. We were told to visualise a tiny self, an inch tall, and imagine their adventures in the undergrowth. Some used this as a way into fantasy. I used it to enter mindful awareness of the growth and decay. Then she offered us choices. A friend said at his two year old’s birthday party the children were all playing separately, having not got the idea of playing together, and here we were, as adults, mostly playing separately.

I joined a person drumming with twigs on a log, and two others joined us. After the person said their name, and I am now unsure of their gender and assigned gender. I mention that. It’s unusual. It feels a little weird, and good.

My other time with a microphone was at the LGBT social, when I spoke to the group about becoming Quaker, and how proud Quakers are of the welcome they gave me.

Dog women

I am still wrestling with what it means to be a man, a woman, a person, free… My week’s life experiences are grist to my mill.

I went back to the Paula Rego exhibition, and approached one of the women working there, sitting guarding the art. Dame Paula wrote, “Women learn from those they are with; they are trained to do certain things, but they are also part animal.” I don’t think that’s quite it; we act the part others write for us, but sometimes can be ourselves.

The worker, a young black woman, said “I turn my anger in on myself”. We shared what pictures we liked. I had gone in to absorb Rego’s anger as energy, but in that conversation saw so much more in her work. My desire was to reflect then reify in myself the attitudes of the women she portrays, their clarity and determination.

Then I told Phil of the exhibition. He had not heard of Rego. I joked that if he saw the exhibition he would be able to pose about it, and he took me seriously, saying he never sought to pretend to others. What, never? No. Seriously, never.

And I thought all I care about is how I appear.

Had my phone given the route when I wanted, I would have got the 4pm bus, but instead it stuck at “calculating route” for an age and I had to wait until 5.17. Then the bus stop the phone indicated did not have the number of the bus I wanted, and I thought I had the wrong stop. Then it was a few minutes late, and I was upset, thinking I might have to wait another hour. And my being irritated, sad, hurt, frightened, having an emotional reaction, surprised me. I tell you the circumstances to bolster the idea that my feelings were proportionate. It is not that I could not cope, or threw a wobbly, but that it made me feel something. And I resented my feeling. I should not feel irritated, whatever, because of that problem.

So there is my feeling, overwritten by the need to feel in control, or be uncomplaining in the face of confusing service. At best I treat my feeling as a problem, to be cajoled into sensible behaviour, at worst as an enemy to be suppressed.

To be, or to seem? I doubt I convince others anyway, I only pose in my own imagination.

Gina Miller wants to appear cool, calm and graceful even as she paddles like fury under the surface. Mmm. Never let anyone know you are discomposed, it would be a weapon to use against you. But, hiding again. Pretending. This is someone who has stuck her head above the parapet, and is doing her own thing. I am scarcely at the stage of knowing what I might want separately from the group, or accepting my feelings as a guide. Hide. Conceal- don’t feel.

I was angry when I read Richard Rohr:

“Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us…. ” I thought, there is the privileged white man speaking. My fuel is anger. But my anger does not manifest as cruelty. I show tenderness.

Except when I don’t. There was the Polish woman, and I took over the conversation then dismissed her. I would not have dared be so high handed had I thought about it. I realised what I had done after. Privilege, again?

I realise that I make mistakes because I do not realise how anxious I am to get a task done quickly and be over with. I think about it after.

I need to spend more time in silence with myself, perceiving realising and absorbing all this. With screens I am just involved in a tangle of feeling and desire, curating my appearance, getting confused. In the silence I loved this view of a snail:

Hugs and masks

This social group practises consensual touch, and I have been held and cuddled this weekend. I feel revivified, warmed, cared for.

It is a wonderful exercise, and quite simple. In pairs, one touched the other. The other responds yes, to consent, no to veto such touching, “Pause” to consider, or “please” to show enthusiasm. The giver of touch can say nothing but the phrase “Are you still there?” if there is no response.

And then, in pairs, ask for what you want.

I want to be held. In fact I want to be cradled. I feel incapable of facing the demands on me, and without support, and this is lovely. I look up at my friend, and she looks down at me and smiles.

We started with a series of personal growth weekends, but from around 2000 they built a community of those who had done level one. I joined in 2011, when there were a number of community camps, and though we don’t have the courses in the UK any more, we still have community gatherings. It had been fading for a while- our youngest participants are in their forties, and when I wanted to encourage those actresses into it I felt unable to as there were no men their age.

My friend held the gathering in her three acre garden, and I went early to help put up the marquees. I also helped with food prep.

We have lots of time to sit around in the sun talking, or enjoying the garden, and we started our personal growth activities with a ritual in which we make eye contact with each other participant in turn, and appreciate them. It seemed to me that even in this work, where we seek maturity, self-knowledge and growth, I was wearing a mask. I know the rules of these workshops. I share my feelings and touch as required, and even get more able to know them, yet hide my true self so well I hide it from myself.

And I know what I should feel- pleasurable anticipation- so when I actually feel irritation at what I perceive as timewasting it’s a shock. I seek refuge in rules, even here which is supposed to liberate my authenticity.

Possibly I have never really participated in such activities at all.

Go with it. What do I feel, really? Anxiety, frustration, a touch of anger. Fairly normal, then.

Making the eye contact, a ritual I have found pleasant, is confusing and painful now. Rather than safe, non-threatening types also following rules, these are human beings, with different characters, perceptions, feelings. Perhaps I see them better than I have seen people before (consciously, at least).

I become aware how I reinforce privilege and oppression, also unconsciously. People ignore her, she says, as they see her as unattractive therefore uninteresting. I did too. I saw her in 2011 and have not really talked to her before today. I saw what her profession was, and that made me take note, though I had mistaken her level in it. My ignoring her and paying attention to another will hold her back. That she is where she is, is despite an unfair system I uphold.

Similarly with one of the most generous, self-effacing man I know. I am on the first floor chopping veg by the window, and notice him walking past below. “What are you doing, skiving there?” I call down at him. I thought of it as a “joke”, though I felt on some level even as I said it that it was mean. Then I thought I would never have shouted like that at a white man, and was ashamed. I apologised later, surprising him. He had thought nothing of it.

When she talked of being invisible, I was tempted to give a consoling hug, but forebore- we agreed after that such a hug would be disrespectful. It means people will still ignore you, but you can’t complain about it any more.

I find another woman attractive. I find myself acting coquettish or shyly girlish with her. Even though I have transitioned I don’t believe in transsexuals, not really. My femininity surprises me.

It is Me, I decide. I will go with it. It is against the rules I was taught, for men, and I am judging myself, and I am untangled enough to accept.

I talk to another small woman used to being invisible, and she impresses me. She values me, too, calling me highly intelligent and caring. And a man I asked if he respected me seven years ago finally said that he does. These people value me. I am once again with a tribe I might sojourn in, and it feels good.

“Do you have wise people you can see at home?” she asks. Well. It’s complicated.

The Word of the Lord

Is a Minute of a Quaker meeting the Word of the Lord, like the Bible? If we say the Spirit moves us to speak in Ministry, then arguably it is. But the Bible is self-contradictory, including different perspectives, and a growth in spiritual understanding. It is filtered through the minds of humans (there are arguments that some passages are by women) who confess to see “through a glass, darkly”.

I think Christine AM Davies in her Swarthmore Lecture coined the term “God’s loving purposes”. God’s Will sounds Eternal and unchanging, but we seek God’s will for us, now. Our understanding grows, as we continually return to matters: London Yearly Meeting in 1727 censured the importing of Black slaves; in 1758 warned Friends against profiting from the slave trade; in 1761 recommended that any who persist in the slave trade be disowned, and in 1772 approved work to stop others trading slaves. In 1793 LYM minuted, “we desire that Friends may never suffer the cause [of anti-slavery] to cool on their minds”. At last, Friends were campaigning enthusiastically as a Society, but it had taken decades, during which some Quakers had been slave traders. I found these minutes quoted in the Book of Discipline of 1861, the year the American Civil War started.

Meeting for Sufferings in 1987 moved towards supporting a “celebration of commitment” of gay couples in Meetings. The minute records the difficulties: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”. Not personal displays of affection during Meeting for Worship, not even gay relationships, but homosexuality itself. The distress may linger: 16.07 explicitly requires registering officers to officiate at gay marriages. I am sad that such a rule may be necessary, even though I have heard it has been used about a straight marriage: responsibility for discerning that a marriage should take place is the AM’s and not the registering officer’s.

The Minute from YM 2009 has the line “marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses,” taken from Ministry from a Friend previously Biblical in his opinion on equal marriage. It also says “we have been reminded of the need for tenderness to those who are not with us who will find this change difficult.” What difficulty would they suffer? They would have felt that their particular understanding of God and the Bible was shared among Friends. For whatever reason, acceptance of gay people’s relationships has acquired enormous symbolic power in many Churches as well as among Friends, to divide some Friends who feel they respect God’s Will from those of us who accept God may match gay couples. Could God’s Will be different for different Yearly Meetings? Yes. Community and tradition have value, we all have our blind spots. We know only in part, and we prophesy only in part.

As clerk, there is one minute I drafted which I regret in particular, when I brought the matter to a close prematurely and picked one side in a dispute. The hurt of the dispute continued. I also recorded a minute where it seemed to me there was no particular opposition to spending money in a particular way, but no Pentecostal sense of the Will of God either. Months later a Friend spoke against the decision at an AM. A new clerk wrote a minute showing agreement, and the Friend did not challenge the minute; I am grateful for my Friend’s forebearance, and feel we might have reached consensus rather than Unity. A Friend may oppose a Minute, yet once it is recorded support it as the Leading of the meeting; and there was enough for those dealing with the project to go ahead.

I drafted just one minute recording different views- some say this, but some say that; I was careful to record the reasons, positively, as well as I could in the words used in ministry, and I was helped by Friends suggesting amendments to my draft. We resolved the issue at the next AM.

I am aware of a Friend resigning membership because of the way a decision was made, seen to be forced through based on what he thought was another’s misapprehension. We are fragile, sometimes, and we can be stiff-necked.

Not every Friend is a left-liberal social justice warrior (mostly clicktivist, in my case) like me. At Friends House I saw a man reading the Telegraph! I even know a Friend who voted to Leave! It is comforting to imagine ones Friends think the same way, and we don’t always. We adopted in 1793 “the cause of our fellow-men, the oppressed black people,” and now some of us are waking up to the lingering oppression. Hence the term “woke”.

Considering minute 33 of Yearly Meeting in London 2019, I don’t think we are all “seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us”, and particularly not through the lens of the concept of privilege. I love the idea that We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. I think we sensed our weakness and division. I hope we can carry along any who do not recognise this concept of privilege, and particularly those who feel their disprivilege is minimised compared to that of others. White privilege exists [download pdf from 1989, then consider a reassessment from 2018]. Possibly starting with class privilege would be good: our privilege can change over time, we will be privileged and disprivileged in different ways, we can share experiences, get to know each other, and learn; though even then we will hear challenging things. Should women talk about male privilege amongst themselves, before doing it in a mixed sex group?

This is not the only area of work where particular Friends have a particular calling, and other Friends are uninvolved. But we have a Minute recording our calling. One of our rules is that we need good reason to reopen a decision once minuted, and in 2017 we decided,

We have heard the call to examine our own diversity, particularly in our committee and organisational structure, locally and nationally. Diversity has several key dimensions and more may emerge in the future. We ask Meeting for Sufferings to look at how we can remove barriers and actively seek wider participation in the full life of our meetings, paying particular attention to race and age diversity. Then in our epistle we wrote, We need to recognize our own selfishness and privilege: to be changed ourselves, to live as if the Kingdom of God were already fulfilled. Our YM minutes have always exhorted us.

Trans men and male privilege

Trans men gain male privilege. I heard of one last weekend, amazed that they were treated with so much more respect, just because of the change of presentation. People see “Man”, and behave differently. It is not entirely gain, of course.

What gains are there? His ideas are taken more seriously, and he is interrupted less. His achievements may be publicly recognised. I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. This was a foreign concept to me. As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that. But after seeing it happen all around me I decided that if I felt I deserved something I was going to ask for it too. By doing that, I took control of my career. It was very empowering.

People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around and trying to be delicate like I used to do. In meetings, I was more outspoken. I stopped posing my thoughts as questions. I’d say what I meant and what I wanted to happen instead of dropping hints and hoping people would read between the lines and pick up on what I really wanted. I was no longer shy about stating my opinions or defending my work. When I gave presentations I was brighter, funnier, more engaging. Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Men are more outspoken. You drop hints and state thoughts as questions because you fear they will not be accepted. I tend to think it’s a question of power- of privilege. Women can be confident, and still get interrupted.

People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer, even when I don’t. Well, sometimes we just need an answer, so we can move on. There are a multitude of good enough answers. People also engage with his questions, rather than brushing him off.

Men in that article also talk about a loss of sisterly solidarity. So, women would look at each other sympathetically when a man said something rude about one of them, but now he has to suck it up. Men and women held doors open for him presenting female, but stopped. One found he listened less, and put that down to T. The Black man had had reasonable interactions with the police presenting female, but now was routinely pulled over and humiliated- “Do you have a weapon? Are you on probation?”

Another trans man challenges male sexism, and tells men he mentors, right now, you’re comfortable — but you have no insight into anyone because you’ve never had to be uncomfortable. Several say they feel more empathy, seeing things from both sexes’ point of view.

Here’s a brilliant loss and gain quote: They gained professional respect, but lost intimacy. They exuded authority, but caused fear. The female author continues to summarise: Many trans men I spoke with said they had no idea how rough women at work had it until they transitioned. As soon as they came out as men, they found their missteps minimized and their successes amplified. Often, they say, their words carried more weight: They seemed to gain authority and professional respect overnight. They also saw confirmation of the sexist attitudes they had long suspected: They recalled hearing female colleagues belittled by male bosses, or female job applicants called names… walking home after dark felt easier, casually talking to babies, strangers and friends felt harder. The Black trans man also finds the police far more scary.

Trans men notice psychological changes on T. They feel more sure of themselves, Time says. That could just be fitting their own skin better, as transitioned trans people. It could be the T. Things are more black and white, says one. Another feels freed from the expectations placed on women: he no longer feels he has to smile all the time, and be pleasant.

I need to burrow down into this. Two of the three articles I looked at are on WaPo and Time, large professional sites with professional female journalists creating a story- allowing the trans men to speak for themselves up to a point. To really understand I would have to look through blogs, some of which might state different experiences when presenting male without explaining them with the concept of “male privilege”. I would be grateful to receive any comments, or suggestions of further reading.