Yearly Meeting 2022

What do love and justice require of us? Our theme was Faith, Community, Action, so we considered what we might do. Preparing, we heard of problematic Quaker history.

Quakers in Lancaster owned slave plantations in the Caribbean as late as 1796, and transported at least 3916 slaves. Research continues, and the number may be greater. Profits from slavery enriched Quakers who donated to the Society. Our capital is tainted.

A Friend ministered that other area meetings should research their own records, to see if other traders or holders of slaves were Quakers. We would not have minuted in 1761 that such people who would not be dissuaded should be disowned, if they were not amongst us. Janet Scott, of the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations, pointed out that other churches are doing their own work on finding their profits from slavery, and considering reparations, and we should learn from them, not start from scratch.

The British Empire remains a system of oppression. There are fourteen British Overseas Territories, remnants of that empire. They include the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, among the top ten tax havens in the world. I am part of systems of oppression when I buy food or clothes. Benjamin Lay avoided that by growing his own cotton.

We are proud of the work of Quakers against the slave trade, and of the achievements and writings of William Penn, who owned slaves. Penn, and our Society, did great good and great evil. I too do good and evil.

We automatically do wrong, but slowly come to notice it. For example when we welcomed Friends from other yearly meetings, a Friend said she came from what was “originally” the Welsh tract of Pennsylvania, where Welsh Quakers made their home. Later, she asked for her apology to be read out, saying she had been white supremacist. Originally, the land was the home of the Lenape people. The clerk apologised for not checking the pronunciation of Lenape- Wikipedia says it’s /ləˈnɑːpi/.

The draft epistle said, “we need to get outside our comfort zones and feel the pain of those less privileged”, as if we are the privileged people, and the less privileged among us are not part of us. Someone noticed, and that was deleted. Increasingly we challenge each other.

We are not all of one mind. A Friend ministered online that he had read replacing the word “overseer” was “decolonising” our language, because of the association with slave plantations, but elder and overseer are the correct translations of presbuteros and episkopos, and are part of our Gospel Order. I believe the testimony to equality requires us to work to counter the privilege in our thought, word and deed, and see the beauty in his view. Another stood repeatedly to speak of God’s grace, and was not called. When he stood to ask to add the phrase to the minute, it was not added as it had not been heard in ministry.

I was delighted that several people told me how they liked what I write in The Friend. A typical comment is, “Well-written and to the point”. I am tempted to name those whose names Friends will know. I stood to correct minute 17, with the additional word which met the meaning of the ministry. We are broken open by the Spirit. Several Friends thanked me. Too full of myself, I stood to alter minute 22. I wanted two questions at the end of the minute changed to statements. I prosed on about indicative and interrogative moods. It was changed, but I think not improved.

I counted three paid poets in the meeting. There may be more. From ministry, a phrase was added to the epistle: a Friend wanted to be “planting flowers as well as pulling up weeds,” an image I loved as soon as I heard it. Our words in ministry and minutes matter, because they encourage us, form us, and from them come our actions.

We are all complex people, being steadily purified by the Spirit of grace. We might like an achievable, comprehensible solution to hurry the process along, but it happens in God’s good time. I would feel so much more comfortable if I thought I was perfect, but my Friends and experiences slowly fit me for Heaven. I do good, as well as harm. I celebrate the beauty of my Friends and our Society.

The picture is of a pig farm, from the Taiwan Presidential Office.

Offence, hurt, fear and trust

There is a caricature of a trans person or woke ally, objecting to some phrase as not the latest, most correct language, and being “Offended”. When should you use the word “trans,” and when “transgender”? Someone in my mostly-safe space said that they “weren’t sure of the right words”, at the weekend, and I was in part irritated, in part frightened. It maintains a hard-Right myth that the powerful metropolitan elite, the radical Woke, and even trans people are oppressing ordinary people by demanding they talk and think in a particular way.

I am way beyond offence at misgendering. I will try to maintain an illusion that the other means well, just made a mistake, and mistakes are OK.

Or if I hear on the radio a fawning interview of an anti-trans campaigner, I am not offended, I am frightened. The outside world, where there is hostility to me simply because I am trans, has intruded into my house. I am interested in politics, and want to read mainstream centre-left commentary, but in the New Statesman, Guardian and BBC anti-trans views are regularly platformed uncritically. I am not the Elite, using being Offended to oppress others. Instead I hear the powerful broadcast their hostility to me simply because I am trans.

Well, what do you expect? Do you think society should support its members, and do you expect such support? That expectation, the basic trust that society is on my side, is a sign of privilege. Do you think the police support the population generally, or the powerful? A friend told me of going with three bus-loads of demonstrators. The police turned them back, closing a dual carriageway but for the buses with a police escort, which changed at each county boundary. They weren’t allowed to pee. Later, she got £5000 compensation. For her, the police are an oppressive force, and the courts work for her because she has the contacts with the knowledge and funds to use them. Not everyone has.

My bad experiences with policemen are not that bad, in the scheme of things, and I still feel some nervousness seeing a police van with seats for officers and a cage at the back for a prisoner parked in my street. Probably the person they have come for is violent or theftuous. I have some trust that their work has some value, but not a sunny expectation that if I am in a confrontation they will be on my side.

Society as a whole does not seek my good. I can survive and find allies. Much distress comes from the difference between expectation and reality. Surely the New Statesman and Guardian, even the BBC, should support the rights of minorities? That is not how the world is. I need to see reality as it is, however discomfiting the experience.

I remember Saira’s casual contempt when abused in the street. The men shouted “Fucking Paki!” She told me she thought, “Oh, get it right”- her parents were from Bangladesh. She is not cowed by them. Also at the weekend there was lovely, charming and just the tiniest bit creepy Alan. His delight and admiration at my femininity, beautiful hands, indeed personal beauty, was flattering, and I was perturbed for my boundaries. He told me the secret of good posture walking and standing was not to pull the shoulders back but to tighten the muscles of the lower back slightly, which support the rest of the body in a relaxed posture. Hold your head high. Pass through the hostility unashamed.

Of course it is frightening. Bad things may happen. Powerful men are inciting anger and hostility against trans people. I cannot trust society to support me. I can only trust myself. This is about stepping into power. The problem is that society tells us we will be safe, if only we don’t make a fuss, rock the boat, get noticed. I have tried that for too long. It does not work.

I had a wonderful weekend. I cycled to Peterborough, got the train to Diss, stopped off in Ely going, Norwich coming back, to see the cathedrals, and spent three nights with ten friends. The devoted love our hosts have for each other, in spite of difficulties, is inspiring. I also touristed a church, opened up for a prayer group, with a tower from 1500 but the rest rebuilt in the 19th century. The priest chatted a bit, of her six churches, testing out whether I might worship there. I don’t believe in God the Father Almighty, I told her, and she said there is also the Spirit, as if there is a choice.

At one point I spoke on “It’s not easy being trans” and a friend got up and walked away. I love her humour and intelligence and I sympathise with her resenting becoming a foreigner at Brexit. I want that friendship, but nothing is guaranteed.

Bewilderment and Complaint

The problem with privilege is that it is invisible to the privileged. When others defer to them, that just appears normal and reasonable to them.

Black people are menaced and marked because they are Black, and being gay or trans hardly makes that worse. White trans women or gay men might pass as a man, and so exercise white male privilege, but they lose that when they are seen to be queer. We might still seek safety in the conventions of white male straight privilege, which might work or might not. When they don’t work, it surprises us. We are bewildered. We complain. I get the analysis from James Baldwin, quoted by Shon Faye in The Transgender Issue.

“There’s an element of bewilderment and complaint.” But it always had worked, and now it does not. People seek safety as best we can, hence all the lonely hearts ads in the 1990s for a “straight-acting” partner. You could just be two best buds, hanging out. You could never make a public display of affection. You might have a man-hug, but there would be the temptation to go further, and let the disguise slip. Imagine being with the person you are lusting for, and having to conceal it.

Some gay men and trans women will always have been seen as effeminate, and bullied for it. They never had male privilege with men or boys, even if white. I always felt inadequate as a man, but I had a shell, a male act, which I managed, much of the time. I told a friend I was trans and she said, “I would never have guessed”. And, I still have class privilege to an extent: my clothes might indicate otherwise, my accent and use of words indicate educated person.

When people treat me as privileged, I like it. It keeps me safe. I might speak against white privilege, but do so mostly in white spaces, where I am showing my right-on-ness. With black people I see the risk of being the white saviour, but want at least to be an equal, an ally.

And how is it with cis women? Cis privilege is real. Where groups divide by gender I am nervous of being seen not to fit. And, by contrast, some anti-trans campaigners say that women relax among women, speaking more freely than in mixed company, and that this is liberating; but that it is constrained by the presence of trans women, who are privileged.

That could be a way of fomenting or bolstering resentment against trans women. Look, look, they behave like men, they are treated as men, therefore they should not be in women’s spaces. Look at that man, throwing his weight around.

And it makes me nervous. A woman treats me with courtesy. Is it her response to my male privilege? Is it just kindness? Questioning whether there is equality here makes me self-conscious.

Having privilege in some matters, and not in others, makes it harder to find God within. Quakers talk of the inner light, or that of God in each of us. The concept is linked to God the Father Almighty, the imperial God that Constantine and the Empress Victoria used as their imperial ideology, a God of Power and Might.

If power for me means maleness, the shell, then it is not power at all. It is a pretence, acting in conformity with Kyriarchy because I have no better way of feeling safe, and a terrible feeling of unsafety and need to feel safe. It is the same safety as when in conversation with a man I realise that the purpose of this conversation is for him to speak, work out what he thinks, tell me the truth, or express his feelings and get affirmation support and sympathy, and relax into my supportive role. Safety which supports kyriarchy is no safety at all, but constraint.

I do not believe in God the Father Almighty, and am rethinking God within. Mary Oliver may have it right: “the soft animal of your body”. “You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” That gets rid of any concept that God in me is power and control. God in me is seeing the good I may achieve, and flowing like water to achieve it.

Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

It is a choice, between my true power, from being who I am, or a false power gained by conformity to rules which occasionally benefit me but really keep me in check. If I have any shard of male privilege I can only liberate the soft animal by letting it go.

I have been reading The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula le Guin. At first, Miss Lelache the lawyer sees George Orr as “A born victim… if she stepped on him he wouldn’t even crunch… revoltingly simple”. After talking to him, she sees him differently: “she now thought that he certainly would not squash if she stepped on him… he was peculiarly solid”.

Quakers and Equality

Quakers have no hierarchy, but we have leadership. Every time someone speaks in ministry in the business meeting, they offer leadership. The rest decide whether to follow or not. With a single leader, decisions might be made more quickly, and not necessarily less well, if that leader listens to others. If anyone can lead, everyone has to be willing and able to follow when appropriate, or we just bicker pointlessly.

This is difficult, and requires practice. On listening to others, Britain YM’s Advices and Queries says, “try to sense where [the words] come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language.” We have to be careful in both speaking and listening.

Every human being has inexpressible value. We are made in the image of God. Jesus says the hairs of your head are numbered, all valued by God. Quakers say there is that of God in every one. I am materialist, averse to the idea of a mind or soul in a body, so think of it as the incomprehensibility of the whole human, responding in the moment, so much greater than ego or consciousness which is just a part of it.

On the spiritual path, we learn our value, and the value of every other human being.

Unfortunately, out in the world, we learn the opposite. Capitalism values people for what they produce. White supremacy and the ideology of empire values white people higher than others. Men are valued higher than women. People who have been to university or have higher status jobs are valued higher than others. Certain accents are valued more highly.

My autistic friend is devalued because of his difficulty reading certain social cues, rather than valued for his excellent memory and systematising ability.

In hierarchy, life is a struggle. How can I exalt myself, and do others down? Or, how can I keep up? In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is among us, ready for us to step into it, everything is beautiful. Just as we seek the value in others’ words, we seek the value in everything, and are rewarded by seeing it. What is there that is good, in this moment, situation, encounter?

We grow up in the world, we are steeped in the world, and we are imbued with the world’s habits of hierarchy. It teaches us not to see God in the other. Seeing God needs practice, effort and thought. The unconscious reaction that another is a lower status person is hard to shake off. First we have to become conscious of it. My source of pride, that I am white and educated, is an invisible barrier preventing me from seeing the value of others. It is painful to lose something that is a source of pride, and gives a sense of entitlement and safety in the world, yet felt so normal and natural I thought no more of it than I think about gravity.

Quakers are wrestling with these matters now. Iowa YM (Conservative) asked “How is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” Well, by making Black people uncomfortable amongst us, so that they do not stay, or do not imagine they will be welcome, and by making white people think less of Black people’s ministry. More widely, our privilege stops us listening to the disprivileged, and makes them feel unwelcome. We do not hear the voice of God in the words of those we subtly devalue.

I am aware that the Black person’s experience of a Quaker gathering may differ from my own. I feel assured of my welcome and that if I speak I will be listened to. A Friend told me of Quakers touching her hair, a put-down so cliched that it made a book title. Perhaps the white Friend thought she was being friendly. She meant no harm. She was blind to the disrespect she exuded.

With LGBT folk, in the 1950s Quakers might tell them their love was sinful. Since then we did a great deal of discernment to come to the point where we support equal marriage, but Meetings have split over the matter, and even now some LGBT folk feel pressure to appear normal among Quakers.

Our initial steps to include disabled people can feel othering: it is what we, the good Quakers, who are able-bodied, do for them, the disabled. A ramp gets a wheelchair into the building, but not necessarily its occupant into the position of trust and service fitting their potential. Or some talk of how “we Quakers” are well-off, which can make people who are struggling financially feel excluded. In reality it should be what we can do for us- every person has gifts, strengths, needs and weaknesses, and we must care for each other, allowing each to serve.

When we restrict the range of people in our meetings we restrict the range of perspectives we hear. The Spirit speaks through people, and cannot say what her instruments are incapable of saying. White supremacy restricts God’s voice among us.

Most Quakers come to the Society as adults. We are on a spiritual path. We are not perfect. We do the work necessary as we become aware it needs done.

Cis privilege

Whom do you value? Do you value anyone more than others?

Probably you do. You might care more about your family than some random stranger you meet. You could show empathy hearing that stranger’s hurts, but might not take action to rectify them. You care more about people of your town or your country than those further away. McLurg’s Law makes sense: “The newsworthiness of a disaster diminishes in proportion to the disaster’s distance from the newsroom.” Even if you express it in more familiar form, “One dead Briton is worth 1000 dead Chinese,” it evokes queasy recognition. I care a lot about a murder in my town. I don’t know if I use the products of “re-education camps” of Uighurs.

We don’t notice social rules until they are pointed out to us, any more than a fish notices water. Privilege is unconscious in most people- white, male, able-bodied, straight, educational, class, thin, cis privilege gains people advantage. The disprivileged automatically defer. The privileged assume leadership.

With safe spaces amongst themselves, the disprivileged can find their power. The privileged can move from unconsciously assuming power in any interaction to relating as equals and allies, but that takes sustained effort. Without such effort, both privileged and disprivileged value the privileged more. For the privileged, it is much easier to pretend that you seek equality- “I don’t see colour”- than to work for it.

Sometimes there are zero-sum games. I remain haunted by a trivial interaction which symbolises so much for me. In the Quaker meeting I sit beside the elder, a Black man, and when we go to shake hands at the end of the meeting our hands slip past each other, because neither of us performs the unconscious deferential act of looking down to see they will meet. A Black man, a trans woman, both disprivileged, both welcome in a Quaker meeting which has a testimony to equality and where both are valued.

One or both, momentarily, subconsciously glancing down in a handshake, sets the relationship between them.

There is a feminist case for trans exclusion. Some cis women might be scared by trans women. The answer is to care for both, because both are vulnerable, not to exclude the trans woman automatically.

Beyond that, it is necessary for feminists to pay attention to female empowerment, to be the safe space where the disprivileged- women- claim their power. This is the root of the feminist trans-excluders’ different attitudes to trans men and trans women. Trans men are seen as mutilated victims fooled into having their breasts removed. Trans women might be grudgingly tolerated if they have had their testicles removed.

On claiming your power you may feel anger at the oppression you have unconsciously facilitated. Fully feeling and accepting the anger, grief and hurt helps us move into our power as autonomous individuals. The anger can then be energy for nonviolent resistance. It ceases to be something you must suppress, creating an inner conflict which disempowers you.

However, intersectional feminism recognises that there are additional problems for Black, disabled, queer, fat, or lower class women in comparatively privileged women’s spaces. We have to consider the disprivilege of all.

Cis privilege is clearest where men, attempting to be allies of feminists, bully trans women. Elliot would not have brooked any argument. Had I accepted that for some purposes I might be seen as a man, he would have insisted that I forego women’s spaces, then stop expressing myself as female or using a feminine name online. He can feel righteous ignoring my needs because he thinks he is standing up for women. This is called “white-knighting”. Graham Linehan is a more famous example. White knights can feel they are allies while suffering no reduction in their own privilege or status. Linehan told a House of Lords committee that his anti-trans activism had caused “such a strain that my wife and I finally agreed to separate”.

Cis privilege is intensely disputed when feminist anti-trans campaigners seek to exclude trans women. For some, we are men, a threat, the privileged people who must be rebelled against for women’s empowerment. Their campaign is discredited, at least among people in favour of equality, if trans women are also disprivileged. So the anti-trans campaigners are keen to show that we are not worthy of sympathy, by dwelling on the violence of individuals, or spreading the discredited myth of autogynephilia– claiming we are male sexual perverts.

Anyone interested in equality should seek to be conscious of the workings of privilege and to subvert it. Anyone seeking the right way forward on trans rights should be aware of the good points of the opposing position, in order to find common ground. Quakers seeking unity should value all the people involved, and not simply discount any individual or any view. Feminist anti-trans campaigners are seeking liberation from their own disprivilege through denial of trans women’s: their goal is just, their route is not.

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.