I-Thou

Of course transphobia exists. There are people I revolt, simply by existing. So if you doubt it-

What did you do to provoke him?

I came within his line of vision. That was it.

I want to be believed. That I might not be is difficult for me. I spoke to him. That was enough. He went off on one. Further questions perplex me. There is nothing more I can say. I can give examples of transphobia, from my own experience; I can make analogies to racism, homophobia or other prejudice; but either you believe someone you do not know might be revolted by my Clareness, my refusal to pretend to be a Real Man™, or you don’t.

You understand revulsion, right? A pile of vomit on a pavement outside a pub? A paedophile? (Yes, yes, I know, Quakers try to see the humanity of everyone, but that should be a sign of exceptional empathy and imagination, not their absence.) Some people appear perfectly normal until one day there’s a spider in the room and you see how they react. And you sympathise, because you understand arachnophobia, and they are ashamed, and you are delighted to dispose of the spider for them, and reassure them. The difference here is I am not a spider but a human being, and he is not ashamed but self-righteous about it. He does not accept there is anything wrong with him- it’s not him, it’s me.

Might I not be afraid of you?

If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. You will simply be aware that honest people carrying out honest procedures will produce the right result. If you are afraid, that is evidence of guilt, for the only possible fear is fear of discovery.

I could front it out. Nothing to see here- well, what do you think happened? Surely you cannot believe that I did anything remotely objectionable? But you continue, just sitting there, looking at me, and I start to sweat, and I can’t meet your gaze, and I break down sobbing All right I admit it! I transitioned! Of course I provoked him, I revolt him, I don’t deserve to be in the same room as him because I transitioned! I tried so hard not to! Please! You will see I bear guilt, for that is the guilt I bear.

This self-loathing is so hard, and has driven me into failed attempts to avoid it. If I can be a Real Man I will be alright. That does not work. Then, if I transition I will be alright- except that made me hunt Womanliness, and I am not “a woman”, I am Clare. Eventually, when there was nowhere I could hide from myself, I sought to find myself so I could come to accept myself.

Acceptance by others was a powerful way towards this. I became a member of the Religious Society of Friends in February 2002, and their acceptance and my sense of it gave me the courage to transition two months later. And more recently, perhaps in the past year, I have thought that this gives me an unhealthy attitude to my Quaker meeting. On the plus side, it gave me a serious commitment and desire to serve; and it gave me unrealistic expectations, demands that could not be met. It left me in a state of dependence. The Society was my source of acceptance, and I have to accept myself without that external source.

I get closer and closer to that. And now I recognise that if rejected I won’t die. It is such an odd saying- you see someone, distraught, and say “It’s not the end of the world”- well, it never is, the world goes on, and losses can feel that bad. “It’s not the end of the world” but we don’t always see that and we need it pointed out to us.

In meeting this morning I was thinking of Martin Buber, his “I-thou” or “I-it” relationships, his crying out against treating another person as an object to be used, an it, and requiring “I-thou”, the relationship of human beings. That requires an “I”, a being with a sense of self, because otherwise I cannot have a proper sense of the selfhood of others. I can have an “I-thou” relationship if I can say “I”. I am I. There was ministry about being damaged human beings and accepting others are damaged too. I can accept you are damaged only if I can accept I am damaged; if I am in terrified denial of that, I cannot accept that anyone else might be less than ideal.

I get closer to seeing myself, to self-acceptance. I might be able to see other human beings as other human beings, and that would be a good thing. “I-thou”, a relationship, with people, not quite so alone in the cold unfriendly darkness. Those training to be US Marines are not allowed the word “I”. Instead they say “This recruit” when they refer to themselves. They lose their identity and get it deliberately replaced with an identity as part of the Marine Corps, so that they can risk death, and kill others, because they are told to. “I” is precious. If I am I, I am human, and you can be human too.

olga-boznanska-portrait-of-panna-dygat

Transphobia II

Transphobia is like anti-semitism: people deny it exists. Just as there is clear anti-semitism, like the blood libel, and justified opinions which are not, such as opposing house demolitions in the Occupied Territories, there is clear transphobia and questionable opinions which are disputed. Some would say even the opinion that trans women should not use women’s public toilets is not transphobic, and work hard to produce the appearance of rationality and concern for the vulnerable, arguing that. Perhaps trans folk would extend the definition too far.

Some people have a Yuck reaction to us. As with anti-semitism, many of them get self-righteous about it, like the woman who objects to the feminine presentation of trans women, claiming any feminist would find that presentation disempowers women, as if we had the power to be fashion leaders. How calm is that person, really? How far do they want to exclude us from ordinary life? What proportion of their writing concerns trans women, rather than other feminist concerns?

It seems to me that some people cannot imagine that yuck reaction, and I wonder how I can convince them. A man in the shopping mall who had never seen me before hissed “f–king nonce” as he passed me, and I wondered what I had done that he so hated me. A group of drunk young men on the train, and one shouts, “Oh look, it’s a tranny”, and they continue shouting until they get off. Fortunately my friend was in First Class, safely apart from them. Just possibly, that might be societal transphobia rather than individual, deliberate hatred; not all of them are repelled, but none stops the others from shouting and perhaps they would say, “But, it’s a tranny! Wouldn’t everyone shout at a tranny?” if asked why they were shouting. Just boisterous young men with normal animal spirits?

A shopper takes a second look at you, and exclaims, “It’s a man!” But she was just shocked and surprised, and vocalises a passing thought, as anyone might stare at someone a little out of the ordinary.

“F–king nonce,” though. Calling me a sex offender. No idea who I am beyond reading me as male, dressed female. That’s not a normal reaction to people like me, surely? Might you believe that it was phobic?

If someone I think of as a friend could imagine herself exclaiming “It’s a man,” the first time she had seen a trans woman in the street, could imagine herself feeling “Bless my soul” levels of shock, because, well, trans women really are out of the ordinary- even though perfectly acceptable-

could someone be my friend, chat happily with me, then say, “Well, you are a bit weird, really. You aren’t normal. I don’t hold it against you, I like you, really…”

but me being trans is if not the elephant then the sweaty runner’s shirt in the room, which we don’t see but which insinuates itself into everyone’s nostrils…

How widespread is the “I am perfectly accepting, but face it you are a bit weird” sort of attitude? Would they say, “Surely everyone’s like that, I would not shout abuse but I would notice, surely you can’t object to that?”

Am I too sensitive?

Transphobia exists. “F–king nonce” is an example of that. Yet friends don’t seem to realise.

A man. I hear he is now in prison: he did not attend the first sentencing hearing, threatening suicide, but did attend the second a day or two after I had the misfortune to meet him. He came to the Quaker meeting once and left after ten minutes, not liking the silence. Then he came a few weeks later just before we were about to finish, and we gave him a cup of coffee. He sat in the corner. We did not start a conversation with him, nor he with us, but I took him over the cup of coffee and offered him a biscuit which he declined.

People were leaving, and he made no sign of wanting to, so I told him we needed him to leave. He objected. I explained and he said, “I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman” and continued objecting, standing close to me, and waving his hand near my face. At this point people notice and come over to see what is going on. They see me in a confrontation with a man.

So after he has actually left, I explain what happened, and someone says, “Well, that’s your account of it.”

Honestly, what? It’s transphobia. Have you no memory, no gay friends, you never saw someone abused simply because he was gay? That man could only object to me if I had done something objectionable? The EEUghH reaction, the hatred, for Jews, black people, gays, Manchester United supporters- some people are prejudiced and react violently- you are aware it exists, right?

Can you not imagine that someone might be prejudiced against people like me, without any other reason? Do you sympathise with their shock or revulsion? So, you look at me, disbelievingly, without sympathy when I explain how horrible the situation had been, and how can I possibly get through to you?

giulio-aristide-sartorio-malaria

Acceptance LIX

I have the stubbornness to bash my head against the things I can’t change, the lassitude to tolerate the things I possibly could, and the idiocy not to see the difference.

I am pleased with that line. I said it in sardonic bitterness, but then thought, that’s close to what the twelve-steppers pray for. I even have the wisdom to tell the difference, just not as quickly as I might like.

I am sad. I am hurting. And this fills me with fear, in case I do something embarrassing because of it, like burst into tears, or behave like creepy stalker guy, which would be unbearable; contempt, because I should have recovered by now; and anger with myself for feeling this way, preventing me from useful action. I had two hours with the Samaritans bloke, which has enabled me to articulate that, and also to feel the depths of my sadness. I had a good cry. I would have denied it because the feeling was too unbearable, but no longer do that.

I showed courage. I went somewhere, facing my distress, fearing that I would do something embarrassing. I am rewarded: I see that I did not. Perhaps I could trust myself more. Perhaps I could trust others, not to hurt me, not to want to hurt me. Of course just because my suspicion is greater than it need be does not mean it is never appropriate; but too much self-protection just restricts me, as I protect myself by withdrawing, and that is tedious, dull and uncreative.

He did his thing. No, I am not suicidal. I don’t want to discuss options or goals. Society gives us so many conventional ways of having fun or advancing to useful goals, and sometimes we might even fool ourselves we are enjoying ourselves or being fulfilled; but I am utterly sick of that. I have these intense emotions which I find nearly unbearable- the sadness as well as the fear and anger; and I want to come to accept them. I am in a sulk, I have been for years, and growing acceptance and trust might make me more effectual, and happy; but even if it doesn’t, acceptance is what I am working on now.

What will you do now? he asked. I will cook. I have bacon, egg, spaghetti, onion, and will do a Carbonara. Then I will blog about this: two thousand people a month visit my blog. That at least is a useful question. And the session has been useful, it has moved me from overwhelm towards equanimity. I have these overwhelm moments; acceptance is a tool I can develop to make them less paralysing. My sadness is about much of my life, and one situation; symbols and reality, many things which do not really contradict each other, and all are important. It is about not accepting reality, even while acceptance is the way through it.

Some of the equanimity is about words: I move from AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH to “I feel sad”. The sadness wells up craving conscious attention, and naming it makes it bearable; and acknowledging it with him as my witness helps me accept it. And, I said that about lassitude and stubbornness through tears- I keep minimising my feelings.

 ♥♥♥

In other news: I cycled to K– meeting this morning. The clear blue sky, with a kite, flocks of birds, trees changing colour, open fields and majestic wind-turbines, it was all too beautiful not to. We are amazed at the horror of Trump’s election. I said I must take pleasure in the beauty- people here are beautiful- and in what I can do; that was my exercise in meeting. H wants collective action- but she was with the Women’s Equality Party yesterday, and that must be enough for the moment. We will not have a mass movement in an “if there is hope, it lies in the Proles” kind of way; exhilarating certainty that you are part of a great people, all working together for Right, is only for the Dark side- “Build that Wall!”

Yesterday was my last AM as clerk. We disagreed, and we took the time to express the disagreement, and consider all sides; and we found a minute we could unite behind. It is beautiful. We do this without a leader to defer to. It is work. It is worthwhile.  Then we watched the one-woman show about the life of Ada Salter, working in Bermondsey between 1909 and 1921 with young women who were rag pickers or collectors of dog mess for leather tanning. She emphasised the horror- sheets from death beds, bandages from wounds, all kinds of human excretion and infection, and possibly broken glass inmixed, painstakingly collected for a few coppers from the paper factory. Yet that was hopeful, too: people do what people must.

Symbols

Symbols matter a great deal in my decisions, which is why so much of what I do is pointless. There was joking yesterday about having bought a book but not read it. I do that. I am the cultured/politically engaged/intelligent/sophisticated person who would like such a thing, so I buy it as a symbol, except I am not so I don’t read it. I buy food for particular meals, but some people buy food the same way. “I have bought a lettuce- should I throw it out now, or leave it in my fridge for two weeks before throwing it out, as usual?”

I didn’t pay for the book. Neither of us had change, so my friend said, “Oh, you can owe me £10”. I won’t see them for a month, perhaps two months, and wonder whether to cycle over with it, or alternatively to assume (90% certain) that this was a verbal phrase to prevent formal expostulation at the time. Oh, they have lots of money. They won’t miss it. They don’t really want it. That doubt could lessen a friendship if I need to know. How would not at least offering £10 appear? How can I honour her? What would she want?

We had lots of food after the shared lunch, so I kept up my usual practice of not bringing food to share, but taking it away. This is a useful service as people do not like throwing it out. I was even offered cucumber- lovely, except it had been sliced and was already half way dry. I ate it then and there: always showing willing.

I loved the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition. I sat in ecstasy before “He took enema Five times a day” and “At the end of the day iron ingots came out” feeling pity, pain, empathy and fellow-feeling, and delight in his courage and delicacy of expression, revealing the pain of his cancer so viscerally. I sat in the drama of my feelings, yet in part I am there because of the symbol of my sophistication- though such strong feeling comes from this art because it is not serious, high art.

I thought about this post initially as an anguished rant. I regret/don’t regret my op. I would like a working penis. And yet having one would not necessarily transform sex from something in my imagination which isolates me into something in reality uniting me to (an)other(s). A year ago Jim gave me a wonderful gift, taking me to bed, paying me attention, as I just lay there expressing my own feeling yet not active at all. This is just not how I am supposed to be- my understanding increases my confusion and distress. Is that what you like? Really? You might find someone complementary-

and the thought crossed my mind of reverting being Honesty, or the full circle of the Spiritual Journey- total illusion, totally ridiculous, craving a symbol rather than reality. And I would rant about the worthlessness of symbols and my continued attraction to them which I cannot shake. But I know this stuff, and the temptation has far less force than it did.

Poppy

poppies 2

I commune with the poppies. Like them, I have this long, ungainly, spiky stalk, and the beautiful petals. The whole shakes in the breeze, and the petals fold and twist, yet do not tear- it is not as fragile as it looks. I can learn from them; I can take their nature into myself, that beauty, that yielding strength.

In meeting I speak. The Spirit speaks through us. Each of us, ministering, gives of ourselves, like light through stained glass, a myriad of beautiful colours. I want to hear you. J, visiting, speaks of singing hymns in a rarely used country church. They sang, and suddenly there was a violent hail-storm, its noise drowning them out; and then the sun shone.

Over coffee I talked to J of the radical feminist at YM, objecting to me in women’s loos. I see her point. “You think like a woman,” J said. This was the part-absolution I needed, to begin to absolve myself.

 ♥♥♥

I find myself thinking of her, and get enraged with myself. The most distant connection brings her to mind- there is a lot of cello music at the Proms this year. I must recover from this!

OK- it keeps coming to my conscious mind, so I will let my conscious mind think of it. What is the situation now? How has it been? Who is she, really? What is possible? What is or has been good?

So much of my habitual way is resistance. My No is strong. My slow thinking, working things out, overcoming those habits, has a lot of work to do; yet acceptance is just so much nicer!

poppies in MH bookplate

Party in the park

That woman- he has seen her too- in the sleeveless short black dress, long blonde hair, is so deliciously sexy, it just breathes out of her. Others here, that woman is confident, that one is playful, but none is as sexy as she. We notice and appreciate without staring, just wee glances.

The stage show is dire, reaching “Please God Make it Stop” levels in the Disney Princess show. “Did everyone make a wish? Did you? I wished for everyone here to have just the loveliest afternoon ever.” A can’t understand why they have American accents. Because they’re Disney, I explain. She did not mind Mickey Mouse, but hated the way they ruined Winnie the Pooh. Tigger didn’t look anything like that! Why couldn’t they just do it like EH Shepherd? After, the Princesses wander round the field, letting themselves be photographed with little girls who wish it: full grown women in bigged-up four year olds’ party dresses.

The Mayor knew A, and came over to chat to him, reminiscing about work and showing off the chain of office- helm, a lion and a bull as supporters, the motto “Forward Together”. They josh a little about politics, the Tory and the Quaker. I went to the next gazebo down, to the Race Equality Council. They do a few Employment Tribunals still, but most settle because the clients can’t afford the tribunal fees, and there is very little funding. They had half the staff redundant two years ago but they have just had a Heritage Lottery grant so are safe for a bit, but the advice shop, Nupton’s legal aid franchise, is closing in Swanston.

I wandered off and got an ice cream. There’s the fun fair, Waltzers and dodgems and dodgem boats in an inflatable pool. I watch a child trying to climb a stair where the steps move up and down. From off it, you can see that alternate steps would lift him up without effort, but he steps on a stair just as it starts to move downwards, so gets nowhere. The tinies on the short zip wire, and the inflatable long slide, bouncing up and down, climbing back up determinedly, have far more fun.

The last band did Ska, or Two-tone, which K. from Seattle had not heard of. Very fast reggae, rhythm section playing on the 2nd and 4th beat. They were fun, but by that time I was so bored. I had been there since 10.45, when we took an hour to set up the gazebo. We set up the table and put out the leaflets. I had a few good conversations, but mostly with other Quakers and none introducing others to Quakerism. I chatted to a bloke in a motorised wheelchair, who was here with the Royal British Legion. I sat at the front of the gazebo, gazing out to try to catch the eye of passers by, and say hello- but they were walking past too far away, not interested, and the other Quakers sat further back inside the gazebo so that anyone would actually have had to come in before talking to anyone. It was a nice day out but useless for Outreach, yet our main Outreach activity this year and taking energy and worry for months.

After YM

Moving through life, making myself memorable…

Why should you not cycle in a dress? Well, it might catch in the chain, so the back wheel jams, and you go over the handlebars as the dress is torn from you. But that is unlikely. Actually the buttoned front stuck on a clamp on the frame, but I freed it easily enough. At another time the torch I was using as a headlight showed its objection to the juddering by going out- but I hit it, and it came back on.

-Yer shawn yer knickers! shouted a woman from a car. This was unlikely, as I was sitting on my dress. Hurrah! I shouted back.

I had many worthwhile conversations at YM, and then after lunch on Monday I was satiated. I have nothing more to say, nothing more to share. I walked towards the baggage store, and saw Jeffrey. I said that to him. “I have nothing to say! but that it is lovely to see you, and hear you.” He and his wife smiled, and we hugged, and I went on. I collected my bag, and went to the door. This is a definite change of way of being, walking out that door- many felt it; the clerks warned that even though we are at Yearly Meeting, we are in the centre of London, and please challenge anyone without a name badge. There is that sense of being out of the normal world. Yet, it is complete for me. It has been wonderful. I walked away.

In the train, a man got out a book on the philosophy of aesthetics, and I read a bit over his shoulder. I got chatting by saying how fascinating that looked. Friends House had been giving out remaindered books for free, so I was reading one: I gave it to him. Who knows, he might read it.

When I met R in the tea-shop, we saw we had made a difference, and feel rightly proud. Previously we had loudly mocked the feedback slips, which had read “Your opinion matter’s to us”. The ones now available read “Your opinions matter to us”.

TItian, the worship of Venus

Getting it right

On Monday morning at yearly meeting, I heard a call for us to create policy. What should we be doing together to change the world? What I hear is not necessarily what anyone else hears, or even what was said, especially as I lost all my notes of the YM because my lap-top saved only the wrong version of the document. However, we do not need policies. It took few of us to campaign for equal marriage in worship; the response to the consultation came from paid employees. We know we all should oppose Trident, even though it will probably be bought, sinking over a hundred billion pounds into machines to kill billions, some of them slowly and painfully. So we will talk, and make facebook posts, and lobby MPs, but this will be the focus of the lives of few of us.

And we all know we should live more sustainable, lower carbon lives; and many of us want to boycott Israeli settlements; and these are small parts of many lives, incremental spiritual growth not great Conversion.

In YM, a woman stood to minister, and was not called; and stood again and again until someone shouted out from the side that she had stood and never been called. The clerks say they check to see everyone standing, and make a positive decision whom to call to speak. In conversation between sessions, I said standing so many times breaks the rules: you listen to the flow of ministry. Yours may cease to be relevant. Caroline said, no, you check whether you are still moved to speak. The minister and the clerks sense the calling, the rest of us must trust. The clerks had called that woman to speak, and she had told a story I had thought of doubtful relevance. They put a reference to it in the draft minute, but then someone stood to question that, and it was removed. I was left dissatisfied: not calling, then calling her; referring to her ministry, then not, could all have been wrong.

There were calls for us to use our ways of testing concerns more. Is your calling true? Have it tested in meetings for clearness, or business meetings. This could be like the difference between a series of unsatisfactory dates, and falling in love: we say, I think this is important, and others say, that appears rational; we record what looks like a minute, but there is no Calling. I fear an increase in pointless activity, and common sense, not inspiration.

How could I know? Would a true leading make my heart sing, and elicit a great Yes from all Friends to whom I opened it? Would patient obedience in small things be my way? Am I missing something??? Being clear would be lovely, but is not always possible; I must resign myself to getting things wrong, if I am to do anything at all; and delight in every good thing I see.

Titian, the feast of the Gods

Spiritual Gifts

The door closed, and I am outside. It feels as if I could have been earning more than I ever had, doing something fulfilling and worthwhile, something I could delight in devoting myself to; had I just taken an opportunity, at some time last year. Perhaps it closed some time ago, and the fact of it was stated on 25 May; and on 28 May at Yearly Meeting I was in mourning, feeling intense shame, and vulnerability, and Yearly Meeting brought me to peace.

On Saturday morning, we considered our spiritual gifts, and the questions,
1. What do we mean when we speak of gifts of the Spirit?
2. Can you think of times when someone you know acted on a Spirit-given gift?
3. How are you acting on your gifts?

We first did this in pairs. I turn to Marian, and burst into tears. She offered to hold my hand and I accepted. One would rather be doing the supporting, but being supported is nice. And now, my answer is, how am I acting on my gifts? As well as I can, right now. Not as well as I might hope, not like perfect-me, in a way I have been quite judgmental of; and as well as I can.

Next morning I caught her up walking from St Pancras, and recognised her, but did not know from when. Another woman recognised me from K–, the singing bowls, and I did not recognise her, either, I was having a spiritual experience then, too. She remembered how moved I had been.

Two pieces of ministry spoke to me. As always with ministry, what I hear is not necessarily what was said or what others heard. One seemed to be about following ones heart to greater and greater things- as one would want; and the other ended,

We could not have done any different.
We can now do differently.

Can I put that any better? We do our best. We see when we see. We have to live with it, perhaps even forgive it; and there is always a chance in the moment of behaving differently because what I will do has not been done yet.

That door: it is a unique situation, and I don’t want to explain it because it is other people’s stuff as well as my own. So I sort-of explained and generalised, and Yvonne said, “Oh I hate it when-” and I had to say, that was not how it was at all. Just a way of not explaining without details. And I thought if I can be understanding of others, perhaps I can be understanding of myself. I did my mourning with Friends at Yearly Meeting, and might find some peace.

Paolo Veronese, the angel appears to Hagar in the desert, featured

An Oak Tree

Before Yearly Meeting, I am alone in the Tate Britain exhibition of conceptual art with two staff members. One comes over to chat as I look up at “An oak tree”. If you did not know it was an oak tree, you might think it was a glass of water on a transparent shelf about ten feet high on the wall. At eye level, there is a transcript of a real or imagined conversation about the oak tree. It is not a symbol of an oak tree, but an oak tree. The artist has made it one. This cannot be taught. It has the “substance and accidents” of an oak tree, which reminds me vaguely of the theology of transubstantiation.

We discuss whether when the water evaporates, they replace it- with special oak tree water produced by the artist? He does not know, you would have to ask the technicians. I came here for beauty- he says I would find that in the Painting with Light exhibition downstairs.

I don’t know, either, whether the shelf is part of the art work, or indeed its height and the spatial relationship with the conversation. I spend a little time reading the conversation, some time thinking of it, and very little time looking at the glass itself.

In the first room, there are a pile of oranges, and a pile of sand, roughly in a volcano shape. The sand moved me- the shape is precise, and not replicable once removed from this gallery floor. It is protected only by a line on the floor and an instruction, and our respect- for it, or for rules. So vulnerable, and so- unimportant, really, it is only a pile of sand. The staff member said the pile of oranges are replaced regularly: there was a smell, when the work was first exhibited.

There are three or four black squares. One is a secret painting, only the artist knows what it is. Another is four successive colours of acrylic paint on about five feet square, black then blue. It is mostly uniform black, and there is a thin strip of lovely blue at the very top. I could spend time looking at it.

Two congruent grey rectangles, one marked “PAINTING”, the other “SCULPTURE”. Again, there is the intention, perception, thing, and description; I can tell you of this because there is little more in seeing it than reading my description. I am unfamiliar with conceptual art because it was work expanding the concept of what art could be, and now the concept is wider, art works can do so much more.

In the Duveen gallery three dancers in black tights, short red tops, and clownish long necklace of large white globes dance, then move along black stripes on the floor. Oh, that one is a man! The Tate has just purchased its first performance art work.