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.

“Cis privilege” and safe spaces

Do we regard women’s need for safe spaces as privilege?

Well, I don’t. Yet “cis privilege” exists. I try to create understanding and see from more than one perspective. I want to get beyond trump cards, the killer argument which makes one side win, or Oppression Olympics, where we compete to show our suffering is greater. I would welcome a response which might find some grain of value in this, and build on it.

I do not believe in “female privilege”, as Patriarchy favours men. The need for women’s safe spaces comes from Patriarchy. But Kyriarchy- rule by lords, or the privileged, over others, is a useful word: people of colour, queers and others are also oppressed. There are intersections.

Trans people are in all sorts of cultures around the world, over millennia. Trans people are those who think they are, want to be, or want to be seen as, the other sex. The word transsexual was coined to fit that, but it does not quite fit. Some thought that the word increases pressure on us to have surgery which some of us may not want, and some say that we fit a cultural perception of the other sex so “transgender” fits better. Then some object to being seen as culturally a woman: if by genes, gonads and genitals you are a woman, you are a woman no matter what the culture thinks.

Part of privilege is not having to explain yourself. We’re everywhere, and we always have been throughout recorded history. Still we have to explain ourselves. We have to explain ourselves to ourselves, to pluck up the courage to transition, and we have to explain ourselves to others, to justify doing what we want to do.

Being a Quaker, I value experience above belief. I observe that dressing in clothes deemed fit for women by my culture and a feminine name were what I wanted more than anything else in the world. This came after a period when I tried to make a man of myself, going for long walks with a rucksack filled with bricks, or joining the territorial army. Lots of trans women do. I now think of that as suffering social pressure to conform as a “normal” male.

Part of privilege is having spaces where you fit. At Yearly Meeting I noticed a queue outside the “All-gender” toilet, and wondered if I were female enough to use the women’s. I decided I was. I have only noticed all-gender toilets in the past year or so, and might be delaying a wheelchair-user’s use.

The need for safe spaces is the opposite of privilege. The common space is made for men- so when there is a sex murderer on the loose, the police tell women not to go out alone, rather than impose a curfew on men. And, the common space is not made for trans folk either. We don’t have our discrete spaces, we are lumped in together.

So we scrap amongst ourselves. I experience a great deal of sympathy from women. Some are proud to be allies, speaking up for trans people. Many say “trans women are women” which as a factual statement might be disputed, and its implications taken to the extreme are absurd. Non-trans women are women too. But it’s a statement of intent about practical arrangements, about how we treat people.

Some women are upset and angry to see a trans woman in women’s space. Some women are creeped out by it, and some collect stories of actual trans woman sex offenders, as if to tar us all with the same brush, but not all women are.

I tend to feel that temporary solidarity from women who are repulsed by a trans woman in a woman’s loo would advance feminist concerns and subvert conservative gender roles (conservatives hate trans women because we subvert gender roles by transitioning, even if we reinforce gender roles in our presentation after transition). So I feel recognising some trans disprivilege has value, even if you don’t feel privileged over us yourself.

If “trans” refers to one who crosses over, “cis” means one on the same side. I want a word which means “non-trans” without clearly excluding trans women from the class of “women”. Now, we have two sets of terms, one prioritising genes gonads and genitals as a way of moulding how people should react, and the other emphasising universal (though rare) human actions. Could we have one language?

Trans with the Quakers

Someone trans was near to tears, and I wondered, have they started on oestrogen?

Trans people are accepted by Quakers except when we’re not. We are not always understood. Waiting for the morning session, a woman asked me about her friend. “She- I can call her ‘she’ because she has gone back- was going to have surgery but found a partner, and decided not to,” she told me. She wanted to ask me, as a Friend, rather than ask the woman herself. She asked, “How does that work?”

Um. If we say “Trans men are men”, and I am glad people say that, what happens if they detransition? I said, I have heard of several people doing that. It’s because there are two questions: “Am I trans?” “Will I be happier if I transition?” The answers can be Yes; No. I did not say that when someone says I wanted it so much that I could do nothing else until I did it that they are not telling the truth. Someone told me that last night, and it’s how I felt.

I don’t really mind her asking, but some would. It should not be our job to explain, over and over, simple things about trans with all these books and websites published. I told her that everyone has fairly superficial relations with a lot of people, who might see them or might neither see nor accept them, and everyone needs a few close relationships with people who accept them unconditionally. If others accept me as I am, and I can be myself without masks, what does it matter what I am wearing?

She also told me her friend had been amazed at male privilege. When she started being seen as male, she was just treated with more respect, and as a teenager she could not understand it. Why boys but not girls?

I was delighted to meet Ruth. I loved her “Be more Becky” badge. I don’t think I have talked to her since I was raging at her nine years ago. “Will you be worried about it in ten years’ time?” is always a good question: after I heard she was supporting H, I had hoped to see her. “H wants a win,” she said, which some people might object to; but well, after all this time why begrudge H a win? It would be a win for everyone. H was so clever, she told me, she would see where we should be immediately (she mimes cogwheels spinning inside her head). Other people would get there very slowly (mimes cogs creaking round) and Ruth would want H to realise: give them time to get it. She was too impatient.

We have hugged. We have expressed our sorrow for the falling out, and our forgiveness for each other, and Ruth asks me if, on the hormones, it might be right to say that- trans women are like teenage girls?

Oh fuckyeah.

It can be awful. Women learn to live with their feelings, if unlucky suppress them but if lucky just feel them and not give an outward sign, because outward signs of emotionality in women are a weapon to be used against them. And I never have. It’s like being a teenage girl.

Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community had a meeting, and the gender-critical feminists turned up mob-handed. One read out an Area Meeting Minute pledging support for “single sex services as permitted by legislation”, and I saw that as unfriendly to trans people. They wanted to challenge our speaker from Stonewall. And yet still they came out with the trope about being frightened to speak, about how women and one or two men said how brave they were to speak out. It’s as if their allies on the hard Right don’t count. They know Lefties will mostly disagree with them. Most there support trans rights.

To me, the Left opposition to trans rights is a crying shame, because they give aid to the Patriarchy wanting to suppress trans, and prevent trans people moving on. I am sure surgery, and probably taking hormones, is bad for us. Without all this hostility, trans people could find new ways of being.

What about Quakers? Quakers are supportive, up to a point. We invited a non-binary person to speak, and we value trans women as a concept. And yet I know four of us who have got into trouble with our Meetings, or been tolerated, not for long periods been asked to do any of the work of the meeting, or walked away in dudgeon. The concept of a trans woman is perfectly acceptable. No-one is going to try to dead-name us, and they talk of how brave we are to transition. But when we behave like trans women- or like teenage girls- we get into trouble. Junior Yearly Meeting minuted, “Are we presenting ourselves openly?” It’s not good to lose my temper, but being emotional is being myself.

I feel that is a shame. My depth of feeling, whether it is induced by artificial hormones or not, is a gift, and my ongoing struggle to come to terms with it is a valuable spiritual journey. I am mortified and abashed that I lost my temper that time. Given the volcanic pressures inside, I feel I do quite well to express them as little as I do. If I could be accepted as me, rather than only if I appear as a cardboard Quaker, softly and evenly spoken, never rocking the boat, Quakers would be enriched. The fear-filled reaction of “Oh my God what is she doing now?” does no-one any good.

Are you safe?

I looked down into Cerys’s face as she breastfed. My mirror neurons got to work: the profound contentment and relaxation I read there flooded me for a moment. Her happiness was my happiness. Then I looked away, and the trance lifted. I was back in the room, bewildered by the strength of that feeling.

It was lovely to meet C, who reads Sartre plays in French “for fun” and apologised for not reading The Master and Margarita in the original, who enthused about studying different choreographers and gave me time for my own enthusiasm. And F, who works with people long term sick, trying to get them moving. Not back into work, they don’t manage that often, but into training. She mentioned training for fork-lift truck driving, which made me think of a sudden flood of unemployed fork-lift drivers, and for unskilled labouring, training called “basic work skills” telling people they had to get to work on time. It was a pity that she was sitting listening rather than telling more. Two women, making their way and doing worthwhile things.

Privilege is believing everything will turn out all right. The world as it is fits you. If nothing bad can happen, then you can take risks. If you are not worried about imminent threats, you can make long-term plans. That sense of safety is empowering. If you trust your society, you move freely in it.

I am blogging again, thinking as I write, seeking to unite that sense of safety and the feeling it evokes with a rational sense of the actual threats, and with tolerance or campaigning against wrong, with particular reference to trans issues as always. Consider my friend Fiona, who cross-dressed habitually and often, and went out dressed female. I thought she looked ridiculous, but she thought she passed well: once, a teenager called out “Wig!” which led her to reason that had she read her as trans, she would have called that out too. Once she spent a week cross-dressed, and was utterly sick of it by the end.

I don’t think she would do much harm in a women’s loo. She would go in, use it, wash and dry her hands, leave, like most people. She is not protected by the Equality Act, she shouldn’t be in a women’s refuge or a women’s prison, but she does no harm. Or a gender non-conforming or gender non-binary person, AMAB, not trying to pass as a woman, wants to try on a top in the women’s section so goes into the womens’ changing rooms. Well, there are individual cubicles, so they won’t see anyone undressed and nor will others see them. Great Hoo-ha in press. “I tend to use whichever changing room is nearer,” said my AFAB friend.

Three pairs. Do you object to Fiona in the Ladies’?

There’s that privileged sense that all’s right with the world, and a woke “You will not trample on our rights” resentment of it motivating action.

There’s a sense that society generally supports me, and so it’s going to be alright, and experience that it doesn’t, so that I have to support myself and my rights. The comfortable cis woman can include Fiona as part of her in-group. The woke feminist oppressed by patriarchy won’t.

There’s an optimistic way of looking at opportunities, and a pessimistic concern with threats.

There’s also making your own decision about a threat, and following blindly when the hard Right tells you to punch down on some group.

What is going on with the trans debate? How do I bring those strands together and make them work for inclusion? How do I understand where my opponent is coming from, and bring us together? There is such a thing as society– how can there be a “we” here?

Cerys, sitting on her mother’s knee and just starting to sit up by herself, not yet crawling, has a super-power. She can make adults around her blissful by showing contentment, or distracted by her cries. I don’t know her or her mother, and was affected instantly. There is a clear evolutionary advantage to this, I see. We are bound to each other in sympathy and interest, and split apart. Cerys is safe, with her mother and father and community caring for her. One of the problems we face in the terrible Twos is that our joy and grief no longer have that power, automatically- so how to preserve it? By privilege, by community and by Righteous Truth.

How can there be room in the World, for two people who disagree? How might both of them be safe?

Partial inclusion

When I am not accepted, often I am tolerated. When I am not wholly valued or cherished, I may be partially included: I pretend to be a normal person, and am allowed to be that normal person in the group. So naming the way in which my difference is rejected may be a threat to me: it draws attention to my difference, so maybe my pretence at normality has been seen through, and I will be rejected. No, no, it’s no trouble, I say. Please don’t worry about it.

Though I am depressive, and need a lot of acceptance before it gets through to me; and I am hypervigilant for any sign of rejection. And, that could be seen more positively: particular aspects of me are appropriate for this group accomplishing this task, and others can come out at another time.

Our liberation is bound up together. If I can take off my masks, I can accept others without theirs, and even help them to remove them. We shall stand together naked and unashamed, but conscious and aware. Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.

This is a spiritual process, among Quakers. My Friend asked, What would it take to enable us to live in consciousness of peace, love and joy so that such issues as these and many others are resolved spontaneously? I think we need practice. I don’t know we will ever manage it spontaneously. I replied, For me, that is a continual process of emptying myself of my requirements of others and my false perceptions, and appreciating what is around me and within me. It is not instantaneous- noticing something and welcoming or emptying it, as it also involves things I desire or need to explore. There is love in me. I have blind spots where I do not notice- logs as well as specks in my eye- and it is a matter of seeing. I am pleased that I said there is love in me. I can acknowledge my goodness. Not everyone can.

Trans people are bound up in the concept of a real self, a kernel which is unchanging, which is the sex not assigned at birth. That might be a chimera. I can imagine a person’s self-concept being exhaustively defined, all the things they think they are and ought to be, but not the organismic self because it is an organism. I am an organism that reacts to circumstances, taking in ideas, responding to stimuli, so I cannot know how I will react until I am provoked. As the world I am in changes, I change.

How comfortable are you? There is a Quaker booklet, Owning power and privilege, which considers how some of us are advantaged, and the first voice in the text is a “white, middle class, educated, affluent” person who calls himself a “typical Quaker”. My voice comes later: For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides- how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures. I am white, middle class by origin at least, educated, and I have refused policemen peremptorily demanding to come in to my house, unlike that typical Quaker who acknowledges “police attention bypasses me”. I know he is a man, from the pronouns he uses of himself. I think he’s straight. He does not mention being a straight man in that list of privileges. Fair enough, it’s a toolkit for recognising privilege in onesself, but the most privileged person is heard first.

Though the toolkit’s epigraph is by an “Aboriginal” activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. She could be educated, too.

How comfortable are you? Bud Tillinghast has started a blog on the Roman Empire as a way of understanding the Bible. He quotes an English publication: August is named after Augustus Caesar…[who] brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire… The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity. He points out that “peace” was in the interests of the Roman elite, at the expense of the rest, and that those roads helped soldiers march easily to places the Pax Romana was threatened. Tacitus said, They make a desolation and call it peace. If we think of that “peace” as a good thing, it is because we think of our own imperial adventures as beneficent, spreading order, rather than rapacious.

The way to equality is owning our power and privilege. It might help us get people of colour in if we recognised our privilege, as part of the emotions, attitudes and prejudices in [ourselves] which lie at the root of destructive conflict, the things we can’t see because they are so normal and expected. This is just how things are. This is not how things should be.

I am seeking my own liberation here, not just as a trans woman oppressed by the Patriarchy but as an educated white person oppressed by my education, which blinds me to other perspectives. When the least of us is free we are all entirely free.

Liberation II

“You’re looking very good today,” said the beggar. Just in case I did not understand the compliment, he continued, “I think you’re very brave.”

I had stopped when he asked me for 35p. “I’m not on the street or anything,” he said. “I can give you 35p,” I said, and started rooting around for the exact change. I had only looked at him so we would not collide on the street. I was feeling good, striding along in the bright warm sunshine, in a summer dress I love.

When he said that, I sprang backwards and put my purse away. I turned my back on him and was walking away as he protested, hurt: what was the problem, he was trying to be nice, he has a friend going through the same thing, he thought I looked good. At that I turned round, facing from a few yards away, and explained.

“Because it’s my thing, and I don’t want it remarked upon. Because it is a source of pain and misery for me, and a great deal of work.”

He continued to expostulate, but I had stopped listening.

On the platform, three people were Signing. I did not tell them how brave they were, going out on their own, and showing off their difference. Even had I known more Sign than the word for telephone, which has entered widespread use, I would probably not have interrupted.

Or the black woman I sat beside on the train, who reminded me to pick up my book on getting off- I had indeed forgotten it, so that was not impertinent of her. She is checking up for Lambeth council what services are still running, and which will take self-referrrals. I overheard her phone call, and might even have remarked on the closure of public services had we been going further. But not on her blackness and how that must give her special insight and sympathy with the Windrush immigrants so cruelly deported.

Sitting on the train, I wondered if I were taking the wrong approach. I should stand and say “Hello everyone, I am a trans woman.” And they would all feel better for my bravery, and empowered to accept their own idiosyncrasies. After, a little huddle would form of people wanting to praise me, and come out to me about the secret shame they had never shared with anyone before. I would absolve them, they would gain instant self acceptance, and then start writing their one-person shows about what it was like to be a person like that. Then ripples of self-acceptance would disrupt the Space-time continuum, and no-one would vote Tory ever again.

Lucy got it. “It’s privilege,” she said, which is hard to imagine in a beggar. He is arrogating to himself the right to define my existence, and comment on it. He has no right. Or, he is putting me in my place, and patronising me. I am so much more than “a trans woman”. Yet, if we could share our secret shames, how much freer we would all be!

I got the late bus home, leaving Swanston at 11.05pm. After years when the last bus left at around six, and given that the bus service is so quiet, so much of the time, I joked I won’t believe in it until I am sitting on it, and perhaps not even then. The bus from Nupton was ten minutes later than I thought the timetable said, and I don’t think I am that bad at reading timetables, so I feared missing it, and sat in miserable resignation, unable to affect my fate. But I closed a window with a satisfying snap, which motivated two women on the other side of the bus to close theirs, and then go down the bus closing the others. I caught their eye and smiled.